NCAA Football News

Jalen Pitre Comments on Remaining Committed to Baylor Despite Art Briles' Firing

Baylor is in the process of trying to rebuild its image in the midst of a sexual assault scandal involving numerous allegations against former football players, which has led to substantial changes behind the scenes. 

The biggest change for the football program was head coach Art Briles parting ways with the program after the two sides reached a contract settlement. His departure has had a profound effect on future recruits with the exception of 2017 defensive back Jalen Pitre.   

As Andy Hutchins and Bud Elliott of SB Nation noted in June, seven recruits for next year have decommitted from the program and reopened their recruiting. 

Pitre is the lone commit right now for 2017. He is a 3-star recruit and the 58th-ranked safety in the 2017 recruiting class, per 247Sports

In an interview with Max Olson of ESPN.com, Pitre explained that his decision to remain committed to Baylor was partly because the school did not pull its scholarship offer to him after he tore his ACL last October. 

In the time since Briles has been fired, Pitre did note that he has not yet spoken with new acting head coach Jim Grobe:

I haven’t talked to Coach (Grobe), but I’ve talked to Coach [Cris] Dishman recently. He just told me to keep working, keep getting my knee stronger and he wants me to make the best decision for my family. I’m trying to head up to one of their practices and want to build up a good relationship with Coach Grobe.

Pitre did say that being the only 2017 commit to the school is "lonely at times" because he doesn't "have any other commits to talk to," but he remains grateful for "the big picture of college and trying to go get an education for free."

As far as the information that has come out about Baylor over the last two months, Pitre said "it’s not really good" before stating that one reason he remains committed to the program is he doesn't "believe some of the stuff that’s been coming out."

Grobe is Baylor's head football coach on an acting basis. Pitre admitted that if the school decides to bring in all new coaches that it "would have a big effect," though he did say he thinks he would still stay.

Pitre concluded by saying that he hopes to be enrolled in school early in an effort to help recruit for the 2017 class. 

Baylor is still dealing with the serious allegations that have come out against the football program and university. It is doing all it can to move forward, including giving Brenda Tracy, who says she survived a 1998 gang rape that involved two Oregon State football players, an opportunity to speak with the football players. 

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Meet JK Dobbins, 2016 Nike Football Ratings National Champion

BEAVERTON, Oregon —In the aftermath of claiming the 2016 Nike Football Ratings National Championship, 4-star running back and current Ohio State commitment JK Dobbins wasn’t satisfied with his performance. 

The 5’9 ½”, 199-pounder out of LaGrange High School in Texas captured the crown as the nation’s most athletic talent in the 2017 cycle with a cumulative score of 146.76.

To claim the top spot, Dobbins busted off a time of 4.45 seconds in the 40-yard dash, jumped 43.1 inches in the vertical jump, threw the powerball 42 feet and posted a time of 4.09 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle.

It was impressive enough to best more than 160 of his peers on hand at The Opening. The super intense and hyper-competitive Lone Star State standout didn’t hesitate when asked which of his individual scores he was pleased with. 

“None of them. Honestly, I felt I should’ve done better,” Dobbins told Bleacher Report. “But, I came out on top and that’s been the main goal the whole time.”

In particular, his 40-yard dash time irked him—even though he was 0.01 off from the best time he’s ever run.

“I wasn’t happy with my 40 time. The fastest I ever ran it is 4.44. But I wanted to go 4.3 today. I didn’t get it so that just tells me I need to keep working harder so I can make that goal,” he said.

Dobbins, who is rated as the nation’s No. 3 all-purpose back and the No. 50 player overall in the 2017 cycle, has also gotten it done on the field. 

Over the last two years, he’s rushed for 4,971 yards and 72 touchdowns while averaging more than 10 yards per carry.

He admits that one of his goals was to show that he’s more than just a speed back. 

If any benefits are to come from his most recent achievement, he’s hoping it erases any doubt about his power and strength.

“Yeah, [my score] also shows my power too. You have to throw the powerball pretty far to be in this competition and I did that. I’m just trying to prove to everybody that I’m one of the best in the country,” Dobbins said.

As an added bonus, he was thrilled to meet former Buckeyes star and current Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott—who is at The Opening to serve as one of the college counselors at the event. 

Dobbins accepted the trophy from Elliott, who made sure to give him some good-natured ribbing about how to accept the trophy.

“It’s cool, man. He was an Ohio State running back and I’m going to be the future there, hopefully. He’s a great guy,” Dobbins said.

For his part, Elliott admits he's proud to see the future of the Buckeyes' backfield is in good hands with a talent such as Dobbins on the way.

"The thing that motivated me at Ohio State was continuing the lineage and upholding the reputation of the great pedigree of running backs," Elliott told Bleacher Report's Damon Sayles. "To see the next guy up, come out and represent for the Buckeyes, for that running back role that so many greats played in, it’s really good to see that."

To earn the title, Dobbins beat out his good friend and fellow Texas native 5-star safety Jeffrey Okudah—who finished second.

But instead of rubbing it in, Dobbins plans to put on his recruiter hat for head coach Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes.

He’s one of 10 current Ohio State commitments who made The Opening roster from a class currently rated as the nation’s top overall group. If he has his way, that number will increase sooner than later.

“You know what, that’s my boy," Dobbins said, referring to Okudah. "Jeff needs to come join me at Ohio State, too."

Don’t expect Dobbins to slow down anytime soon. After all, his competitive spirit has been a large part of what has helped him arrive on this stage.

“It means a lot. This is what I work for. I knew I was one of the best, but I just have to keep working. This doesn’t change anything for me. I won’t stop,” Dobbins said. “My mindset is just to go out and work every single day. That’s all I do. I’m going to keep working and keep going hard with the same type of drive. I just have to keep going.”

 

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

Alabama Football: Strengths, Weaknesses and Secret Weapons

The cast of characters will be different for defending national champion Alabama in 2016—a new defensive coordinator for the first time in the Nick Saban era, an inexperienced first-string backfield and replacements for key players in the trenches.

But that doesn't change much for the Crimson Tide, who are projected to start the upcoming season once again as the No. 1 team in the country. College football's biggest target continues to stay put on Alabama's back, and several powerhouse teams in a loaded SEC will be gunning for its conference crown.

The strengths of this 2016 Alabama team are clearly defined, as a tradition of stifling defense is showing no signs of slowing down after years of collecting the best recruiting classes in the game. The weaknesses, however, will be more evident when the Tide have the ball in their own hands.

There's a distinct mixture of the familiar and the unfamiliar in Tuscaloosa this season as Alabama looks to defend another national title under Saban. And the Tide will hope that generates a few pleasant surprises across the depth chart.

With SEC media days—the unofficial start to college football season—coming up next week, let's take a look at the strengths, weaknesses and possible secret weapons for the 2016 Crimson Tide.

    

Strengths

Devastating defensive front

The Alabama defensive front played at an incredible level last season, as the Tide allowed just 75.73 rushing yards per game, 2.43 yards per carry and seven rushing touchdowns in what turned out to be a 15-game national championship season. They were also third nationally in sacks per game and second in sack yardage.

Yet even with the losses of players such as Jarran Reed, Reggie Ragland and A'Shawn Robinson from that elite defensive front, Alabama has the potential to be even better in the trenches this fall.

The Tide will continue to be able to go as many as three-deep across the front seven with former blue-chip players. Defensive star Jonathan Allen, ace pass-rusher Tim Williams and veteran outside linebacker Ryan Anderson combined for 28.5 sacks last season. Reuben Foster was second on the team in tackles. They're all back for 2016.

Sure, Alabama will have to replace Reed and Robinson on the defensive line, and Ragland is a tremendous loss at middle linebacker. But when the rising reserves include former 5-stars Da'Shawn Hand, Daron Payne and Rashaan Evans—more on him later—there are plenty of reasons to be confident.

"There are some new faces we have to get used to on the defensive line, but we are still a big family," senior defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson said, per Charlie Potter of 247Sports. "It won't be different for too much longer."

Alabama should continue to be like a boa constrictor in run defense, and more of its efficient pass-rushing specialists from last season should see more of the field in bigger roles. You won't find a better collection of defensive talent anywhere else in college football.

    

A secondary that could improve even more 

The Alabama defensive front has numbers and star power. The Alabama secondary, though, has numbers, star power and additional starting experience.

Once the weakest link in Tuscaloosa, the Alabama secondary stepped its game up in a huge way last season. Opponents had the eighth-worst combined QB rating against the Tide pass defense, and it ranked in the top 10 in interceptions. Not bad for a unit that entered the season with only one returning starter at the cornerback, safety, nickel and dime positions.

Now, in 2016, Alabama welcomes back All-American cornerback-turned-safety Eddie Jackson and young star cornerbacks Minkah Fitzpatrick and Marlon Humphrey to its starting lineup. Ronnie Harrison, who picked up a start as a true freshman last season, is set to take over for Geno Matias-Smith at free safety.

As Bleacher Report's Christopher Walsh wrote earlier this year, the talented depth Alabama boasts up front carries over into the secondary. Almost all of the defensive backs on the roster were 5- or 4-star recruits. One of the lone 3-stars was none other than Jackson, who became a household name with six interceptions and two touchdowns last year after his position switch.

"Similar to how Alabama's defensive line could attack in waves this past season, the secondary might be able to do likewise in 2016 and give opposing offenses a multitude of looks," Walsh wrote. "The talent is there again, with some experience mixed in that will only improve over the [offseason]."

The Alabama defensive front will get a ton of deserved attention this fall for the huge amount of collective size and skill it has built up there. But the secondary could be the unit that leads the way for another potentially legendary Saban defense.

     

Deep talent pool at receiver

While there is still a question mark at quarterback for Alabama heading into fall camp, whoever wins the job is going to have plenty of weapons to spread the ball to this upcoming season.

Alabama brings back its top two receivers from last season—Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart—and a tight end in O.J. Howard who had the game of his life in the national championship victory over Clemson.

Ridley averaged nearly six catches per game as a true freshman and posted four 100-yard performances. He has the look of a potential All-American in 2016. Stewart was ultra-reliable, catching multiple passes in all but one game last season for the Crimson Tide. The experienced Howard might be the most skilled tight end in the country with more consistency.

Alabama also replaces breakout transfer Richard Mullaney with Gehrig Dieter, who caught the ninth-most passes in the country last season as a key figure in Bowling Green's uptempo attack. The 6'3" Dieter won't be expected to put up the same kind of numbers in Lane Kiffin's offense, but he has the tools to be a game-changer this fall for the Crimson Tide.

The Crimson Tide also get back Robert Foster and Cam Sims this season. Derek Kief caught the lone touchdown of Alabama's A-Day game, and he has the chance to break into what is a deep rotation. 

Alabama has the talented bodies to keep up a high level of competition among the receiving ranks throughout the rest of this offseason and into the regular season. That should turn into even more improvement for the wide receivers and tight ends in what is now an experienced corps.

            

Weaknesses

Inexperience in the backfield

A new starting quarterback is nothing new for Alabama. In the last two seasons, the Tide have had first- and only-year starters at signal-caller, and they won the SEC both times. 

Breaking in new running backs isn't completely unexplored territory for the Tide under Saban, either. Alabama had a different top rusher each year between 2010 and 2014. Once again, the depth of the Crimson Tide is a huge advantage when faced with major roster turnover.

However, Alabama is facing a combination of the two scenarios in 2016. Another large quarterback derby is set to continue into fall camp, while a new starting running back must replace Heisman winner Derrick Henry.

Junior Cooper Bateman has one game of starting experience at quarterback for Alabama, and younger players with high potential such as Blake Barnett and Jalen Hurts will continue to push for the top job. The lack of offensive production at A-Day was discouraging for the Tide, but it did come against what could be the best defense in the entire country by season's end.

Running back, on the other hand, is filled with inexperience. Alabama returns just 296 rushing yards from last season, which is by far the fewest in the Saban era. In the past, the Tide have been able to replace their No. 1 back with an established reserve. That's not the case this year with Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris.

Both Scarbrough, a Henry clone who put up ridiculous numbers in spring scrimmages, and Harris, one of the lone bright spots on offense at A-Day, are extremely talented. But they will both be thrown into the fire this fall alongside a brand-new starting quarterback. That's a rather unfamiliar issue Alabama will have to work through in 2016.

     

Consistency, new blood on special teams 

All in all, the special teams unit for Alabama played well at the perfect time last year. Shaky starts gave way to top-notch play for both kicker Adam Griffith and punter JK Scott as the Tide rolled their way to another title.

But the consistency issues reared their ugly heads this spring, especially for Griffith. The up-and-down kicker missed four field goals in A-Day before tacking on a pitch-shot effort from 21 yards out. In the two seasons that Griffith has been the top kicker for Alabama, the team has finished 97th and 82nd nationally in field-goal percentage.

Griffith has shown incredible power and accuracy at times for Alabama, as he drilled several clutch field goals in wins last season over Tennessee, LSU and Auburn. Scott can make a claim as the nation's best punter when he's on his game, like when he averaged more than 48 yards per boot in five different contests last season.

The key for Alabama's special teams unit, which will now be led by running backs coach Burton Burns, will be keeping that consistency throughout the 2016 season. The Tide need to re-establish that beginning-to-end confidence while also breaking in new starters—possibly Ridley and Xavian Marks—at both kick and punt returner.

"If you're going to be in those positions as a punt returner or kickoff returner or even as a slot receiver, your ball security has to be something that everyone can depend on," Saban said this spring, per Michael Casagrande of AL.com. "And I would say that to anybody that was going to do that on our team."

The punt-return game will be a special spotlight this fall, as Cyrus Jones gave the Crimson Tide four big-time touchdowns in that category last year. Alabama had some newfound success on special teams in 2015, and several question marks stand in its way of a repeat performance this season.

              

Secret Weapons

LB Rashaan Evans

In his first two seasons at Alabama, Evans lined up at outside linebacker and had modest success there as a reserve. Last year, Evans was fourth on the team in sacks with four, including two against Deshaun Watson in the national title game win over Clemson.

But Evans was at a new position this spring at Alabama, and he took full advantage of it. The Crimson Tide moved him inside to help with the loss of Ragland. Evans then recorded a team-high 17 tackles at A-Day—a number that was far bigger than any other Tide defender in the scrimmage.

"We recruited him because he had a great fast-twitch ability to rush on the edge, and he did a good job of that last year," Saban said in the spring, per Marq Burnett of SEC Country. "We still have every plan to use him at that, but we were looking at where can he develop as an every-down position player the best."

Evans brings an added injection of speed and pursuit to the inside linebacker spot with the likes of Foster, Shaun Dion Hamilton and Keith Holcombe. Whether he lines up there in special packages or becomes a regular at inside linebacker, the Tide can use him to provide extra pressure up the middle and security in passing situations.

"I've seen greatness in him, like footwork, all that," Foster, who played with Evans in high school at Auburn, told Potter. "He brings a lot. For our defense, he moves quick, and he can get to the ball much faster, so that's a win."

Evans' move makes the Alabama defensive front even more dangerous for 2016. He should bring an additional dimension to a defense that offenses aren't used to seeing from the Crimson Tide.

     

WR Robert Foster 

Foster won't be a completely secret weapon to anyone who was paying attention during the first three weeks of Alabama's 2015 campaign. But his return has been somewhat overshadowed with Ridley, Stewart and Howard set to start again for the Tide.

The junior was in that starting lineup for Alabama early last season, starting in the opening trio of games against Wisconsin, Middle Tennessee and Ole Miss. Foster posted nearly identical stat lines—four catches for around 50 yards and a touchdown—against the Badgers and the Blue Raiders before suffering a torn rotator cuff against the Rebels.

Foster got back into action this spring for the Crimson Tide, and he picked up right where he left off in the fall. Saban sounded pleased with his improvement and consistency after the injury.

"He's playing with a lot more confidence and has got better knowledge of the position," Saban said in March, per Walsh. "I think sometimes you can learn a lot when you don't play."

The former 5-star recruit has the talent to be a breakout star for the Alabama offense, as he has both the height (6'2") and speed that teams love to see in a top-notch wide receiver. He's reportedly the fastest receiver on the team, as Matt Zenitz of AL.com noted he was clocked at a 4.34 in the 40-yard dash. 

Foster was just beginning to become a key playmaker for the Crimson Tide when he suffered a season-ending injury. Now armed with the lessons he learned from the sidelines, Foster should take that huge leap forward in 2016.

          

CB Anthony Averett 

One of the secret weapons Alabama could deploy in its deep and experienced secondary this season is junior Anthony Averett, who has been patiently waiting as a reserve cornerback for the last couple of seasons.

Averett has a great shot at some major playing time this season. Fitzpatrick slid over to nickelback last season for the Crimson Tide when they went with five-defensive back sets. That leaves a hole at cornerback opposite Humphrey, and Averett fits that position well.

Like Humphrey, Tony Brown and several other defensive backs on Alabama's roster, Averett is a high-quality speedster. According to Zenitz, he is a former New Jersey high school state champion in the 55-meter sprint, and he's been clocked in the 40-yard dash at a team-high 4.34 seconds.

That amount of speed will be a real weapon at cornerback for Alabama, especially when it moves Fitzpatrick to his favored nickel role. Although he doesn't have the bulk of most Tide defensive backs, Averett is tough to beat on deep balls and brings plenty of experience in the system.

"He's come a long way since freshman year and even since last year," former Alabama defensive back Maurice Smith said, per Zenitz. "He's learned a lot of the plays, and he's starting to play faster on the field. You can definitely tell. And with his speed, it makes it a lot easier playing corner on that island."

Averett was one of the winners of the Bart Starr Award this spring, which is given to the most improved players on the roster. Don't be surprised if he keeps that momentum going toward a key role on another fantastic Alabama defense.

          

Stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com. Recruiting rankings are courtesy of 247Sports.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Kirk Merritt Transfers to Texas A&M: Latest Details, Comments, Reaction

Former 4-star recruit Kirk Merritt announced his intention to transfer to the Texas A&M Aggies on Friday, according to a post on his official Twitter account

Merritt played for the Oregon Ducks in 2015 after committing to the Pac-12 power following a standout career at Destrehan High School in Louisiana, but the electric playmaker decided to bolt from the program after just one season. 

A heralded athlete prospect during his time at Destrehan, Merritt emerged as the seventh-ranked player in the state of Louisiana and the fifth-ranked all-purpose back among 2015 recruits. Overall, he ranked No. 171 nationally in his recruiting class. 

During his lone season with the Ducks, Merritt largely saw time in a multitude of roles on special teams. According to Sports-Reference.com, he caught five passes for 61 yards and carried the rock just three times for 13 yards as a freshman. 

He also tallied seven total tackles and returned one kick for 28 yards. 

With the Aggies, Merritt should get more opportunities to showcase his athleticism and flaunt his game-breaking capabilities. 

Adding Merritt to the mix will also give head coach Kevin Sumlin another weapon to deploy in an offense that flirted with explosive potential throughout the 2015 season to the tune of 425 yards per game

    

Recruit rankings courtesy of 247Sports.com

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Jarrett Stidham's Baylor Exit Gets 2017's Transfer QB Market off to Early Start

That sound you heard Thursday afternoon was the opening bell to college football's next quarterback transfer market.

Jarrett Stidham, who was expected to be the No. 2 quarterback at Baylor this fall, tweeted that he would be transferring from the Bears program that continues to lose players in the aftermath of the school's sexual assault scandal:

Last month, Stidham made an Instagram post that seemed to confirm he would stay at Baylor. But whispers of a transfer picked up Wednesday morning, and he confirmed them later that day.

As Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer and Barrett Sallee put it on Twitter, the news of Stidham's departure should excite a lot of college football coaches across the country:

By announcing that he was leaving Baylor, Stidham immediately became the hottest quarterback recruit in the entire country for the 2017 season. He'll start an early recruiting war among programs that could use a dual-threat quarterback of his caliber.

Stidham came off the bench last year for Baylor after an injury to No. 1 quarterback Seth Russell and put up 419 yards and three touchdowns against Kansas State in his first career start. He had two more starts before suffering a season-ending injury of his own. For a true freshman, his numbers were phenomenal:

The Texas native would be an extremely talented option at quarterback for any program looking for an instant-impact player. Stidham would be an immediate upgrade at starting quarterback for a lot of teams.

Stidham was the No. 2 dual-threat quarterback and the No. 38 overall recruit in the class of 2017, according to 247Sports' Composite Rankings. 247Sports' own ratings had him as a 5-star. 

That's like throwing another elite quarterback into a Class of 2017 that is almost completely booked up when it comes to blue-chip commitments at the position. Of the 25 5- and 4-star quarterback recruits in the Class of 2017, only one of them—Jack Sears—is uncommitted.

Programs that need a quarterback for 2017 could flip one of these pledges, but that would almost definitely require them to have had a good relationship with the recruit before his commitment. It's extremely tough to pull off, even for powerhouse programs.

With Stidham, though, things are different. It's a wide-open recruiting battle again for a blue-chip, dual-threat quarterback who now has collegiate starting experience in a Power Five conference. Any school that wants him can get to work right now at recruiting him.

According to David Ubben of Sports on Earth, Stidham is "considering enrolling at McLennan Community College in Waco and working out during the season." By not playing anywhere this fall, Stidham would maintain the remaining three years of his eligibility and be able to transfer to any FBS school for 2017.

There's also a chance Stidham could directly transfer to another FBS program and use 2016 as a redshirt year, keeping the three eligible seasons intact. But as Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated reported, if Stidham goes that route, his options might be limited to schools outside the Big 12:

Stidham could also transfer to schools in nine FBS conferences right now and use 2016 as his redshirt year, but he could not do that in the Big 12. Big 12 transfer rules require players transferring between conference schools to lose a year of playing eligibility. This is why Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield initially lost a year while sitting out 2014 after transferring from Texas Tech. Mayfield got 2014 turned into a redshirt year because of a conference rule tweak that lifted the penalty for walk-ons leaving to be walk-ons elsewhere in the league. Stidham, who was on scholarship at Baylor, won't be able to do that.

Either way, the race is on for Stidham, and plenty of schools could come calling for the quarterback who picked up 23 scholarship offers as a high schooler.

Stidham could stay in-state with Texas A&M, which has a thin depth chart at quarterback and only one year of Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight. He would be the perfect fit for the Aggies' high-powered offense and would keep them from possibly having to start true freshman Kellen Mond in 2017.

There's a chance Stidham would go with one of the other Big 12 schools in the Lone Star State. Texas could use another talented quarterback in its new-look offense. Texas Tech, the school Stidham was originally committed to in high school, might lose the strong-armed Patrick Mahomes to the NFL this offseason.

Schools outside the Big 12's footprint will clamor for Stidham as well. Auburn and Oregon, two famous spread-offense programs that have had great success with transfer quarterbacks, will undoubtedly go after Stidham again.

Ubben also noted that if current Baylor offensive coordinator Kendal Briles—the son of former head coach Art Briles—doesn't stay with the Bears past this season, Stidham could follow him to his next school. Kendal Briles was Stidham's primary recruiter at Baylor and helped flip him from Texas Tech:

The race to secure an elite quarterback on the recruiting trail is a long and difficult process, and almost all of the options out there right now for 2017 are already claimed. 

But Stidham's transfer gives a fresh start to plenty of schools in what will be a complex and highly publicized second recruitment. 

It gives an early and eye-opening start to 2017's transfer quarterback market, the form of college football "free agency" that has overtaken the last several offseasons, especially in Stidham's home state of Texas.

Recruiting never stops, and Stidham's summer departure from Baylor should start a domino effect of quarterback decisions among high schoolers, JUCO players and graduate transfers for the rest of the 2017 cycle.

Those who respond the quickest to the market's opening bell could leave with what might be its most coveted asset.

 

Stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com. Recruiting rankings are courtesy of 247Sports.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

4-Star WR KJ Hamler Knows 3 Official Visits, Says Oregon Is 'On Top'

BEAVERTON, Ore.  A native of Big Ten Conference territory, 4-star receiver recruit KJ Hamler is favoring a West Coast university.

The 5'9", 155-pound playmaker, currently at Nike's world headquarters for The Opening prospect showcase, pointed to Oregon as a program of particular interest. Though he's yet to visit Eugene, the Ducks have made a strong impression since extending an offer in late May.

“That offer meant a lot because Oregon has been one of my top schools for a while now," Hamler told Bleacher Report. "When I got it, I couldn’t really believe that happened. A lot of people don’t get an Oregon offer where I’m from [Detroit area]. They’re up on top for me.”

Though he's reluctant to declare an outright favorite and prefers to focus on a collection of schools, Hamler confirmed Oregon is in an enviable position when it comes to his recruiting process.

“I can say they’re at the top," he said.

Rated No. 40 nationally among receivers in composite rankings, Hamler will wrap up his high school career at Florida powerhouse IMG Academy. He spent the past three years at St. Mary's Prep near Detroit, winning four state titles—two on the football field and two on the track.

Hamler joins a loaded collection of talent at IMG, where he anticipates new challenges. 

“The roster is stacked," Hamler said. "There’s a lot of talent on IMG and I’m excited to meet those guys. That competition drives you to be better. This decision wasn’t personal. It was mostly for growth. The focus is on getting mentally and physically better, and ready for college.”

The ability to potentially enroll early at college next winter also motivated him to make the move. He will relocate to the Sunshine State later this month, but will return to Big Ten country before long.

Along with Oregon and fellow Pac-12 member Arizona, Hamler plans to use an official visit at Penn State. He's yet to determine if other official visits will occur beyond those three, and trips to Eugene and Tucson would both be his first.

Nittany Lions quarterback commit Sean Clifford, an Elite 11 finalist who is also at The Opening, continues to make Hamler a priority target. Overall, Penn State is perhaps the most persistent pursuer in this chase.

“I talk to them every day," Hamler said. "If I decide to go there, I know I have a quarterback on my side with Sean. We’re cool and we’re kind of close now. Sean keeps in contact all the time, so does [receivers coach Josh] Gattis and [head coach James] Franklin.”

He cites Penn State's need for a field-stretching deep threat as motivation to further explore options in Happy Valley.

“I could bring a different kind of playmaker to their system," Hamler said. "But, then again, a lot of teams think I bring something new to the offense. Coaches think I can be an electrifying playmaker and provide that for their team.”

He has been to Penn State multiple times already, but no school has hosted him more than Michigan State. Significant familiarity with the program will likely prevent Hamler from implementing an official visit in East Lansing.

“I don’t really need an official visit to Michigan State because I’ve been spending time there since eighth grade," he said. "I’ve got things pretty figured out there and already know everyone with the team."

The Spartans were the second team to offer Hamler, who carries a high comfort level with Michigan State coaches and players alike.

“They’ve been with me through thick and thin, through tough times and good times," he said. "I have a great relationship with the coaches and still stay in contact with them often.”

Michigan State leads his 247Sports "crystal ball" predictions with 60 percent of commitment projections, while Oregon carries the remaining 40 percent. An upcoming series of official visits, including his first trip to Eugene, should continue to reshape this evolving recruitment, with an anticipated commitment unlikely before winter.

“My family wants to fully understand the education part at each school but the rest of the process is up to me," Hamler said. "The official visits are going to be important."

   

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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Ultimate Guide to 2016 SEC Media Days

The circus is coming to town.

SEC media days—the annual event held at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham - The Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Alabama, kicks off on Monday and will go through Thursday afternoon.

The event, which features each SEC head coach, three players from each team, commissioner Greg Sankey and a radio row that resembles the one created prior to every Super Bowl, serves as the unofficial kickoff to the college football season.

What should you expect during the four days in Hoover?

Begin Slideshow

Big Ten Q&A: Is the Revival of the Notre Dame Rivalry Good or Bad for Michigan?

Satellite camps have wrapped up, media days are on their way and the start of the 2016 college football season is officially fewer than two months away.

With that in mind, let's get to this week's Big Ten Q&A, where we'll tackle the rebirth of the Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry, LeBron James' presence at Ohio State, Michigan's quarterback situation and the best media food spread in the conference.

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

Let's get started.

   

As a college football fan/observer/critic, I love it. Some of my most vivid early-life memories related to the sport pertain to September battles between the Wolverines and Fighting Irish, which always had a way of shaping each team's respective path throughout each season.

Add Jim Harbaugh and Brian Kelly to the mix, and one would imagine that some of the most intense battles between two of the most storied programs in all of college football will be upon us when the rivalry resumes in 2018.

But for that very reason, I wouldn't necessarily love this move if I happened to be a fan of Michigan football.

Already playing in the ultracompetitive Big Ten East, adding another annual quality opponent to their schedule leaves little to gain and plenty to lose for the Wolverines. Win, and you add just another quality win to your resume, which will already be full with opportunities to do as much thanks to Ohio State, Michigan State and, in most years, Penn State.

Lose, and you leave yourself with little room for error, one more loss away from your playoff hopes officially being on life support.

And while I ultimately believe that winning the Big Ten championship—especially from the East side of the division—will usually be enough to crash the playoff, we're two years in and yet to see a two-loss team make college football's Final Four.

With the series not being revived for at least another two years, a lot can change, both in terms of the landscape of the sport as well as the Michigan and Notre Dame programs.

But for now—and purely from a competitive standpoint—it's tough to see how bringing back a part of the Wolverines' past will help them in the future.

    

Since Urban Meyer arrived at Ohio State, his "good friend LeBron" (Meyer's words, not mine), has attended three Ohio State games: the Buckeyes' 2013 Big Ten opener against Wisconsin, their 2014 prime-time showdown with Virginia Tech and the 2015 College Football Playoff championship game.

And while King James was absent from Ohio Stadium throughout the 2015 campaign, it'd be surprising not to see him on the sideline for at least one Buckeyes game this fall.

Which one? It's tough to tell based on his and Ohio State's conflicting schedules.

But if you look at his history of having attended games at The Horseshoe, a clear pattern appears to have developed.

For one, the game has to be big enough for a megastar of James' magnitude to attend. This is a four-time MVP and three-time NBA champion, after all. Despite his love for Northeast Ohio, he's not showing up to watch the Buckeyes blow out Akron or Kent State. Plus, Meyer wouldn't want to waste a valuable photo op with James on a game unlikely to be attended by a who's who of Ohio State recruiting targets.

In theory, the game also has to be early enough in the schedule that it doesn't conflict with LeBron's training-camp schedule with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Then again, James did leave a Cavs road trip to attend the national title game in Dallas, so perhaps he could make an exception should the right opportunity present itself, as it did in 2008 when he served as a guest-picker on College GameDay for a late-October battle between the Buckeyes and Penn State.

The only problem is that with an early-season game against Oklahoma being played in Norman, prime-time home games in the first half of Ohio State's schedule are lacking. Right now, I'd pencil James in for an appearance at the Buckeyes' Oct. 29 showdown with Northwestern—especially with the world champion Cavs opening the season at home, where they'll receive their rings—but beyond that, there aren't many other opportunities that meet the King's worthiness.

    

I'm assuming the "M" in question here represents Michigan.

If that's the case, I'll rely on the same line of logic I typically follow when forecasting recruitments, or even NBA free agency for that matter: follow the momentum.

In most situations, momentum is everything and obviously the best indicator of where something is headed.

Applying that to the Wolverines' starting quarterback vacancy, the front-runner at the moment would have to be Houston transfer John O'Korn. Even before Jake Rudock's time in Ann Arbor had come to an end, most had pegged O'Korn to be his successor, although Wilton Speight's strong spring certainly seemed to shake the situation up.

But coming off his victory in the QB Challenge at the Manning Passing Academy, momentum once again appears to be in O'Korn's favor. Obviously, an offseason skills championship isn't going to sway Harbaugh's opinion when picking his starting quarterback next month, but winning such competition certainly seems indicative of O'Korn possessing the talent many believed he did when they first touted him as the next UM starter.

Obviously, a lot can change between now and next month, and it wasn't too long ago that momentum seemed to be favor Speight.

But at the moment, it's in the corner of O'Korn, and the finish line is closer than you'd think.

   

Since sportswriters (like myself) are often self-important—sometimes more so than the athletes they cover—fans following on Twitter are often inundated with tweets about every game-day experience, right down to what they're served in the press box.

After all, who could forget Maryland's official indoctrination into its new conference with the Big Ten ice cream it served during halftime of a 2014 showdown against Ohio State.

Having traveled to almost every Big Ten stadium in my four years of covering the conference, I fancy myself as somewhat of an expert when it comes to the conference's press box cuisine. As far as the best, I'd have to go with Penn State, which adds some local-ish flavor by serving Philly cheesesteaks to reporters before each game.

The worst? That's not a particularly close call, as Michigan State relies on meal vouchers, which allow visiting media members their choice of a brat or hot dog before each game. I know, I know, free food is free food, but one hot dog is hardly enough to stay full throughout the 8-10 hours that are often required for covering a game.

To be fair, I haven't covered a game at Spartan Stadium since 2014, so perhaps their policy has changed. But rest assured, whether the food is good or bad, you'll be hearing about it from me—and other sportswriters—on Twitter in the coming year.

    

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Every Top 25 College Football Team's Most Under-the-Radar Player

Being among the best teams in college football requires a healthy dose of star power, those well-known players everyone can identify. But just as important, if not more so, are the ones who operate outside of the spotlight yet still have a major impact on a team's performance.

These are the players you wouldn't normally mention first, second or even third when discussing a team's best assets.

It's not meant to be a slight against them but rather an indication that they've flown under the radar to this point and haven't caught everyone's attention.

That could all change this season.

Using Bleacher Report's most recent Top 25 rankings, we've picked out an under-the-radar player from each team. These may still not end up being their squad's best performers, but as the 2016 season progresses, you should start hearing their names more often.

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Ohio State Football: J.T. Barrett's 4 Biggest Hurdles to Winning Heisman Trophy

The starting quarterback at Ohio State has to be a Heisman Trophy candidate.

At least, that's the opinion of head coach Urban Meyer, who revealed those high expectations at the tail end of spring practice this April.

"The message was very clear to our team, and if you're going to play quarterback at Ohio State, you need to be a Heisman candidate," Meyer said, according to Bill Landis of the Plain Dealer. He later added, "If you play quarterback at Ohio State in this offense, you have to be a Heisman candidate, or we're going to suffer."

With the latest odds released by Bovada (h/t Patrick Murphy of The Ozone), the Buckeyes have their candidate in J.T. Barrett.

The dual-threat signal-caller already rewrote the school and Big Ten record books in 2014, breaking the single-season conference touchdown mark as a redshirt freshman. He was good enough in his first year to finish fifth in the Heisman voting.

But a broken ankle suffered against Michigan opened a quarterback competition with Cardale Jones, which derailed a followup campaign and another run at college football's highest individual honor.

Now a redshirt junior and the clear-cut leader of both the offense and the team as a whole, Barrett has an opportunity to bring Ohio State its eighth Heisman Trophy in school history.

What are the biggest obstacles he'll face this fall?

   

The Schedule 

Ohio State has been lambasted in recent years for a perceived lack of schedule strength, as a downturn in quality nonconference opponents was paired with a declining Big Ten.

That won't be the case this year when the Buckeyes take on one of the most challenging slates in the country. 

The Big Ten itself is well on the rise after Ohio State won the national title two years ago, and as a whole, the conference has gone 11-10 in the postseason since 2014. Michigan State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Northwestern, all of which are on the Buckeyes' schedule this fall, are projected as Top 25 teams by Bleacher Report's Ryan McCrystal.

The biggest challenge, however, will come early when Ohio State travels for a prime-time showdown with playoff contender Oklahoma in Week 3.

With five night games already on the docket, Barrett will have plenty of opportunities to shine this fall. But the quality of opponent will make it extremely tough for him to put up the video game numbers of recent Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks.

   

The Play-Calling

With two big-time quarterbacks, Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield and loads of playmaking ability on the perimeter, Ohio State's offense was supposed to be one of the most explosive in all of college football last year.

That explosiveness didn't truly materialize until the final week of the regular season, and much of that was due to a lack of quality play-calling.

The Buckeyes were transitioning from former offensive coordinator Tom Herman (who moved on to be the head coach at Houston) to offensive coordinator Tim Beck, who held the same position under Bo Pelini at Nebraska. Beck struggled to utilize all the tools he inherited, as Ohio State's pass offense ranked No. 100 nationally.

Ohio State figured some things out in its final two games when co-offensive coordinator Ed Warinner moved from the sideline to the booth to call plays alongside Beck. The Buckeyes shifted to an uptempo offense, which yielded much better results in routs of Michigan and Notre Dame.

But most of the damage was done on the ground, as the rushing offense accounted for 654 of the 978 total yards Ohio State amassed against the Wolverines and Irish.

If Beck and Warinner can't find the aerial groove the Buckeyes had under Herman, Barrett might not have the numbers to get to New York City.

   

The Supporting Cast

Another thing that could affect Barrett's numbers is a new and relatively young supporting cast.

The Buckeyes are replacing all of their offensive skill players with the loss of all three starting wideouts (Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall and Braxton Miller), tight end Nick Vannett and, of course, Elliott at running back.

Ohio State has loads of promising options on the perimeter, starting with Noah Brown and Corey Smith—two relative vets who were supposed to contribute last year before broken legs derailed their seasons. Parris Campbell, Curtis Samuel, Torrance Gibson and Austin Mack give the Buckeyes plenty of potential superstars out wide, but there isn't a whole lot of game-time experience in the group.

When Barrett was at his best during the 2014 season, he worked as a distributor in Ohio State's offense. His two primary targets—Devin Smith and Thomas—are now playing their football in the NFL as second-round draft selections. 

If Ohio State can't identify a few reliable targets for Barrett to lean on, his chances of orchestrating a notable offense diminish greatly. 

   

The Strong Field

Even if Barrett is able to tame the tough schedule, the passing attack evolves and the supporting cast emerges quickly, it will still be tough to prove himself as the most outstanding player in college football.

The 2016 Heisman candidate field is absolutely stacked.

Ahead of Barrett on Bovada's latest Heisman odds are LSU running back Leonard Fournette (who ran for 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns last year), Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson (who led his team to the national title game and amassed 5,209 yards and 47 total touchdowns) and Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey (who totaled 2,703 yards and 17 total touchdowns).

Barrett has even odds with do-everything Florida State running back Dalvin Cook and Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield.

It's one of the strongest fields in recent memory, and Barrett will need to elevate his game to uncharted territory to come out on top.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The Next Honey Badger? 4-Star Jamyest Williams Dominates at 5'9"

A high school prospect who measures 5'9", 170 pounds has the kind of frame that typically makes college football coaches skip a recruit's film and move on to the next.

Four-star corner Jamyest Williams—a player approaching 50 offers heading into his senior season—wears those measurables as a badge of pride.

The Peach State standout is a man of action. Words are seemingly hard to come by, especially when he's asked to describe himself.

Between the lines, he's a quick-twitch bundle of dynamite ready to explode at the snap of the ball—whether he's eluding defenders as a kick returner, carrying the ball, catching it or trying to take it away from opponents.

"It's about going out and proving yourself every single play. Some people talk, but it's about earning that respect on the field with how you play and perform," Williams told Bleacher Report. 'There's some kids who get caught up in all of the talk and forget that you still have to prove it every day."

Away from the field, Williams—who recently transferred schools and will play his senior season at Grayson High School in Loganville, Georgia—understands the importance of the decisions and experiences he will encounter in the next few months.

While he's talented enough to play on both sides of the ball in college, his future appears to lie on defense. Moreover, his stature, demeanor and play resemble another diminutive athlete who thrived on proving his detractors wrong—current Arizona Cardinals All-Pro defensive back Tyrann Mathieu.

What makes Williams similar to the Honey Badger is his fiery mentality and competitive streak on the field.

"Tyrann Mathieu is a guy I really look up to. I study his game, and I know he went through a lot in his life, but he also got through it, and he's just an awesome player," Williams said. "He makes plays wherever he is on the field, and that's what I try to do when I'm out there."

Williams notes that he didn't initially start out rated as a Top 100 prospect overall in his class. Instead, he steadily climbed the rankings thanks to two years of dominant play at Archer High School in Lawrenceville, Georgia—his home for the previous two seasons—sandwiched between a stellar spring and summer camp circuit in 2015.

Even with his accolades, he remembers attacks every snap with the hunger of an athlete searching for his first letter.

That's because he carries the weight of the undersized and overlooked athlete on his shoulders.

At the crossroads of Williams' rise was a father who doubled as his coach until the eighth grade. Lessons were learned through tough love and a Jedi mind trick or two.

"[Football] is all mental. In my mind, once he could get beyond the mental aspect of playing football, as far as making and overcoming mistakes on the field—things such as coming back strong on the next down without getting down on yourself after a mistake—I knew he could be special if he could do that," Jamyest's father, JJ Williams, said.

"To me, it was about challenging him and pushing his buttons to see how he would respond. I figured once I challenged him in a way that no one else could possibly challenge him, and then I knew he could take anything from anybody and be able to succeed at a high level."

JJ Williams admits he's heard the whispers from other parents in his community that he's too hard on his son.

They thought he was crazy for pushing Jamyest to the brink mentally and physically during his career in youth leagues.

JJ, undeterred by criticism, carried on. On the field, he wasn't "Dad" to Jamyest. He was "Coach." JJ admits that he was harder on his son than the other kids on his team.

"I held him to a higher standard than everyone else because he is my son. It was all a mental challenge, but he responded," JJ said. "He's been able to overcome the questions about size or anything else that could deter him from conquering his goal in any situation."

Even though he isn't coaching Jamyest in an official capacity anymore, the lessons he taught years ago are the foundation for his son today.

JJ passed the baton to Derrick Tatum, a trainer at Elite Talent Football Academy in Atlanta who has worked with Jaymest since he was in the eighth grade.

They set a plan in motion for him to transition from quarterback to skill positions on both sides of the ball. Tatum—who also serves as the defensive backs coach at Pace Academy in Atlanta—specializes in molding defensive backs.

From the moment he started working with Jamyest, he coined a term that has stuck with his pupil.

"Honestly, I think it's just 'little-man syndrome,'" Jamyest said.

Tatum laughs at the phrase while noting that JJ's influence on Jamyest's attitude is evident and prevalent on the field.

"His dad is a really intense guy. He gets that dog mentality from his dad," Tatum said. "I think because he was so overlooked during his first few years at the high school level, he just got tired of hearing that he wasn't good enough. He just really locked in."

Jamyest dominated as a skill player playing mostly quarterback until his ninth-grade year.

But because JJ had been preparing him mentally for the challenges that awaited him, his attitude and determination have helped him continue to find success as the competition and stakes have been raised.

Jamyest's ascent into a recruiting phenom wasn't by accident.

Instead, JJ insists he knew respect would come slowly because of his son's smallish build.

There's data to back up his logic.

Since the 2013 cycle, Jamyest is one of only 15 recruits shorter than 5'10" who have landed in the top 100 overall rankings in their respective classes. Furthermore, he's one of only five of those who play corner.

So together, father and son hatched a plan that would essentially send him to scouting camps and college camps from coast to coast during the spring and summer of 2015.

The mindset was simple. If there were touted receiver prospects or defensive backs who were rated higher, Jamyest wanted the chance to compete alongside them in a camp setting to prove them wrong.

"I told him, 'You don't want anything given to you.' I would tell him, 'If this guy is better than you, let's go see him,'" JJ said. "'Where are they at? Let's go find them. If they are better than you, then give respect where respect is due.' That's just the mentality you have to have when you are playing football. If he's better than me, show me and beat me on the field."

The first opportunity to make a name for himself on a national stage came at the Atlanta Nike Opening Regional in March 2015.

In a field littered with stud 2016 prospects such as LSU signee Saivion Smith, Williams won the MVP for the defensive backs segment as an underclassman. (Warning: NSFW lyrics in the following video.)

He would go on to stand out at similar camps such as the Adidas Chicago Showcase and the Sound Mind, Sound Body camp in Detroit.

But he was far from done.

Williams estimates he visited more than 20 colleges in the spring and summer. Included in that spree were visits to Auburn, Baylor, Clemson, Florida State, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Texas to name a few.

Roughly half of his 49 offers came during that time period.

If that weren't enough, he cemented his place as an elite talent with a standout performance last summer at The Opening, which is the premier summer camp showcase featuring the nation's top talent.

Williams, one of a handful of underclassmen invited to the event, was the only 2017 defensive prospect to make the event's all-tournament team, as detailed by Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports.

Wiltfong, who is the director of recruiting at 247Sports, said Williams answered a lot of the questions about his ability to play at the next level with his play on the field and during the camp circuit.

"To [rank] Jamyest that high, obviously what he's done on defense speaks for itself," Wiltfong said. "To be 5'9", I don't question the fact that he can tackle. He's going to be able to wrap up and play the game the right way. He's going to be physical enough to do that.

"Whenever you see him at camps, he's usually the best player on the field. You just roll the dice on those type of guys. You don't do that with many guys his size, but that's why he's special."

But Jamyest wasn't satisfied. He moved to shatter any lingering doubts with a monster junior year for Archer where he lined up at running back and corner and returned punts and kicks.

According to MaxPreps, Williams racked up 1,249 yards rushing while averaging more than six yards per carry with 23 touchdowns.

Over the course of 2015, nothing was given to Jamyest in terms of offers or respect from his peers. He spent those 12 months doing what his father had prepared him for some 12 years earlier. He didn't wait for opportunities to come to him. Instead, he put opportunity in a chokehold.

He did what Mathieu would do. He took what he felt was his.

And that was more meaningful than a ranking or even an offer.

With Jamyest, it's all about respect.

Respect for his abilities, respect for his competitive drive, respect for his work ethic and respect for the game.

Those qualities and his measurables, or lack thereof, are what make him a worthy successor to the star defensive back nicknamed the Honey Badger.

Tatum admits his star pupil has a lot of work to reach that status. Still, he feels Jamyest can get to that level if he continues on his current trajectory and says there are a few characteristics he sees in Jamyest that are critical elements of what has turned Mathieu into a superstar.

"[Jamyest is] hungry. He works hard. He's humble, but he's mad at the guy in front of him on the field. He's mad at anyone who thinks they can beat him on the field," Tatum said.

As he heads into his senior season, he will have to make a choice among the nearly 50 programs that have offered him. Programs such as Clemson, Florida State, Georgia, Ohio State and South Carolina are pursuing him aggressively.

JJ said the size issue is rarely brought up by college coaches recruiting his son. In fact, if it is brought up in a negative manner, it's essentially a deal-breaker.

"Basically, how Jamyest and I gauge a coach is that when we can talk football without the size thing even being mentioned, then we know we have a real coach," JJ said. "Real coaches value football players more than size or measurables. We don't need to talk about size. Either you are a football player or you are not. That's the bottom line."

JJ recalls dealing with coaches such as Florida State's Jimbo Fisher and Ohio State's Urban Meyer who expressed affinity for the way his son competes on the field.

"It's funny and consistent that the one aspect they enjoy the most about my son, they love his dog mentality. They love that spirit within him on the field. His competitiveness is something that they really see and appreciate," JJ said.

Regardless, wherever he lands, don't expect his mentality to change in lieu of the increased fame surrounding his ability to be a game-changer at the next level.

Jamyest Williams is used to being an underdog. He knows what it's like being dismissed on sight alone. He's taken the feelings of being doubted and willed himself into one of the nation's elite prospects in the 2017 cycle.

"I just want to go out and prove my worth to everyone. Another thing with that is getting in front of the coaches and working out with them and observing how they coach you," Jamyest said. "It's a whole different level in college. You have to start over and prove yourself on a daily basis. That's what I love to do anyway."

But don't expect him to celebrate the respect he's fought so hard to earn. After all, that underdog spirit is part of his fabric and is one of the primary elements that has fueled his meteoric rise.

"For all of the guys that always hear that they are 'too small' or 'undersized,' he really takes it to heart and carries that on his shoulders," Tatum said. "He proves it every time he's out there."

 

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

Is Clemson Becoming Tennessee's Biggest Threat on the Recruiting Trail?

Tennessee's football program routinely butts heads in the cutthroat Southeastern Conference recruiting circles with the likes of Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Auburn. But there's a new nemesis in town.

Literally in town; like, in the Volunteers' back yard.

That would be the Clemson Tigers, and head coach Dabo Swinney's defending national runners-up are painting the Volunteer State a deeper shade of orange so far in the 2017 recruiting cycle.

As a matter of fact, there's no doubt who Vols coach Butch Jones' biggest rival on the trail has been so far this year.

Swinney is swinging for the fences in Tennessee. He's hit several home runs, too, including July 4's bombshell commitment from 5-star wide receiver Tee Higgins, who's from Oak Ridge, a town in Knoxville's shadow. Higgins' decision came via an explosive Bleacher Report video:

Higgins pledged to the Tigers after once being committed to the Vols, sending shock waves across Big Orange Country. How could a kid who seemed to have genuine love for UT growing up spurn his hometown team?

Part of the reason is his budding relationship with a pair of players whom it also hurt Vols fans to see on the Clemson commitment list—5-star quarterback Hunter Johnson and Knoxville native Amari Rodgers.

Johnson is the nation's top-ranked pro-style passer, according to the 247Sports composite rankings, and he was committed to the Vols for a while, building a relationship with Higgins. The day after Johnson flipped from UT to the other orange team, Higgins decommitted, too.

They wound up together again, at least for now.

Rodgers is a local product who just so happens to be the son of former Tennessee national champion quarterback and current Southern Cal offensive coordinator Tee Martin. So, as good as Jones has been in swaying legacies to UT, the one with perhaps the most decorated father chose to play for Swinney.

It doesn't stop with that trio, either.

Four-star running back Cordarrian Richardson is from Memphis and had a Tennessee offer when he chose the Tigers. Though UT had runners higher on their board at the time, Richardson's pledge foreshadowed the foe. Clemson tackle pledge Blake Vinson was high on UT before committing to the Tigers, too.

The list goes on and on.

According to the State's Phil Kornblut, the Vols and Tigers are both in the final four for 4-star Virginia Beach defensive end Jordan Williams

On Friday, North Carolina linebacker Justin Foster, who has named the Vols his leader, told 247Sports' Ryan Bartow (via GoVols247's Wes Rucker) that the Tigers are pushing UT for his services.

"I know all the coaches well," Foster told 247Sports' Ryan Bartow when asked about Clemson. "I've been down there many times. I know my way around campus. It's just a great relationship, great people. And it's kind of where everyone in my hometown wants me to go."

Most people around Higgins in his hometown wanted him to go to Knoxville, but that didn't stop him from committing elsewhere.

UT has also recruited well in Jackson, Tennessee, which is the home of elite 5-star offensive tackle Trey Smith. Though the Vols are in the thick of that race, Clemson, Alabama and Ole Miss are at the top, too.

Clemson is a constant, nagging presence for the Vols, and it's a battle they're routinely losing. After all, Swinney's Tigers are one of the hottest names in all of college football right now, he's always been known for his recruiting acumen, and quarterback Deshaun Watson is throwing up huge numbers in Death Valley.

They've got that recruiting swagger, and it's a happening place for kids to go these days.

With the Vols and Tigers recruiting in the same circles, that hasn't been good news for UT. Clemson routinely has been a team Tennessee battled for prospects in recent years, but Swinney's team is easily the biggest villain for the Vols in this year's cycle.

This was supposed to be the year when Tennessee restocked the pantry with top-shelf talent. The Vols are losing a ton of quality, experienced players after this season, and the Vols have things set up for a huge year on the recruiting trail since they're able to sign a full class.

With arguably the best crop of in-state talent ever in the Volunteer State, things set up nicely. But Clemson is putting a huge paw print on those plans.

The Vols aren't devoid of recruiting momentum in the least, currently ranked 12th nationally with 17 commitments, but that class could look a whole lot better with some of those Tigers' pledges. Especially if Higgins was the centerpiece.

Rucker doesn't think UT fans should give up on the star target just yet, given the local pressure, even though he seems firmly committed.

 

Back in the 1990s, former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer was one of the nation's most elite recruiters, and he regularly raided South Carolina for talent such as Albert Haynesworth, Darwin Walker, Shaun Ellis and Dominique Stevenson.

Those guys outfitted championship teams for a dominant program. 

Now, the Tigers are returning the favor, years later. These are players who could be cornerstones for UT's future, but if they stick with their pledges, they'll be playing in the ACC rather than the SEC.

"Balling out," the Greenville News' Scott Keepfer wrote after Higgins' commitment, "That’s pretty much what Clemson has been doing on the recruiting trails of Tennessee."

It's becoming a national story how Clemson is pilfering talent in a state Jones promised to batten the hatches on, and that's not positive publicity for the Vols' coach, who has built a ton of momentum in recruiting and in a steady uptick of the on-field product since coming to Knoxville.

Perhaps some of these prospects are taking a wait-and-see approach on whether the Vols are ready to back up what they've been selling these past few years in '16, as they're trying to go where the Tigers already are. Clemson is established, and given its easy schedule this year, it may be right back battling for the title.

In other words, this nemesis likely isn't going anywhere. 

The Vols are going to have to win on the football field to keep securing elite recruits, and it just so happens that so far in this year's cycle, they've failed to convince some of their top targets (who are also Clemson's top targets) that they're in as good a shape as the Tigers.

Jones is a dynamic recruiter, but so is Swinney. Considering UT is just now coming out of its decade-long slumber, hardly any of these in-state kids grew up thinking Tennessee was a national power.

Over the past three recruiting cycles, Jones has been able to convince star prospects within state borders—such as Jalen Hurd, Derek Barnett, Todd Kelly Jr., Josh Malone, Drew Richmond, Kyle Phillips—that they're heading back to the top.

Those kids bought in; so far this year, the 2017 class of Tennessee kids haven't.

Maybe they're just wowed by Clemson's new-car smell. After all, the Tigers fell just short of beating hated UT rival Alabama for last year's national title. Swinney swooped in and sold Johnson that his system was a better fit for a pro-style passer, and the peer recruiting took over.

Rodgers and Higgins followed, and that left Tennessee in the cold for three of its most important pieces to the 2017 puzzle. That's recruiting, and Swinney played that game perfectly.

All is not lost for the Vols, however. Tennessee's class is off to a solid start, and with a big year on the gridiron possible, the Vols could build all the recruiting momentum they need by performing when it counts. It's July, after all, not February.

Most importantly, it's not yet September or October. That's when Jones and his Vols get the opportunity to really sell its product—when all those recruiting victories Jones won on the trail the past two years have the chance to shine when it matters most.

If they win those battles, they'll win their fair share in recruiting, and that includes ripping that Swinney-sized thorn from their side. 

For now, though, "Clemson" will remain a cringeworthy name around Tennessee recruiting circles. Unfortunately for the Vols, it appears it'll keep being a hot one with UT targets, too.

 

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The Opening 2016: Biggest Takeaways from Day 3

BEAVERTON, Oregon — Thursday was the last day when just quarterbacks, receivers and tight ends dominated the action at The Opening.

Those position groups held a workout for the third consecutive day in preparation for the seven-on-seven tournament beginning Saturday.

While they were busy practicing, the rest of the position groups—running backs, offensive and defensive linemen, linebackers and defensive backs—arrived in the metro Portland area.

With new players coming in and more action on the field, there were plenty of newsworthy nuggets to digest Thursday.

Let’s take a look at a few of the biggest takeaways from the third day of The Opening.

     

Nation’s Top ILB Drops Top 10

The public recruiting process of 4-star linebacker Anthony Hines III reached a new chapter when the nation's No. 1 inside linebacker chopped his list of 90 reported offers to 10. 

Hines released a top-10 video he put together by way of YouTube, and Auburn, Florida, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, SMU, TCU, Texas, Texas A&M and UCLA all made the cut.

After releasing a top 20 back in August 2015, he's whittled his list of suitors in half—with Auburn representing the only new program to enter into his list of finalists.

"It was tough, very tough," Hines told Bleacher Report's Damon Sayles. "A lot of schools were really close but didn't quite make [the top 10]. We'll see if the other schools continue to recruit me."

Hines, ranked No. 72 overall in the 2017 class, arrived in Oregon Thursday afternoon and dropped the video shortly after his arrival. He's a linebacker who finished his junior season with 205 tackles.

The next step? Hines is hoping his next big announcement will be a verbal commitment.

He is expected to be an early enrollee at the college he chooses.

"I want that to be the final step," he said. "I know it's going to be tough, though. If it's harder than what I think it'll be, I'll just cut my list down to a top three first."

    

Wide Receivers Benefit from Early Arrival

As we noted Tuesday, format changes to the event brought in tight ends and receivers early in an effort to gain more synergy on the offensive side of things.

Curtis Conway, a former NFL receiver on The Opening’s staff who now coaches young pass-catchers, is a big fan of getting his guys in with the quarterbacks.

“I think the biggest thing for a wide receiver is to be on the same page as the quarterback,” Conway told Bleacher Report. “You don’t want to come in the day before or the day of something like this and not have chemistry with the quarterback. That’s one thing about that pairing. You have to work together and develop that comfort zone.”

That chemistry has grown each day, as the players have earned more and more reps.

Working out the kinks and earning the trust of the quarterback are critical factors he believes will help his unit when the tournament begins.

“Last year, the difference was that the guy had to get wide open. Then, the quarterback might throw it, or he just threw it to the first open progression,” Conway explained. “Now, he may see a guy that is his first progression who may be covered, but he understands the guy can go get the ball since they’ve worked together the last two days.”

While he admits he’s been hard on his group and wants to see them perform well against the defensive backs, the former USC All-American and 12-year NFL veteran has noticed a trend of bigger receivers among this year’s crop.

He plans to work with them on the finer points of using their size to their advantage.

“Receivers come in so many different sizes, so you have to understand who you are and use who you are,” Conway said. “The bigger guys have to learn to use their bodies as a weapon, and that’s something they don’t really understand right now. But you can see them learning it. I’m recognizing that’s one thing I’m going to be focusing on moving forward.”

     

Gibbs Out to Reclaim 5-Star Status

Even though he’s making his second consecutive trip to The Opening, 4-star corner Deangelo Gibbs is treating it as a proving ground.

The 6’2”, 204-pound junior from Grayson High School in Loganville, Georgia, is quick to note that rankings don’t mean much to him at this stage. He was one of a handful of players who dropped in the latest batch of 247Sports composite rankings, according to Chad Carson of 247Sports.

Still, the competitor inside of him is anxious to show why he’s worthy of being billed as one of the elite talents in the 2017 cycle.

“This is the biggest stage, and I want to compete and show my talent,” Gibbs said. “There’s nothing I can really say. I just have to go out and prove it on the field. Actions speak louder than words to me.”

He's the nation's No. 4 corner and No. 34 player overall and is scheduled to be an early enrollee at whichever school he chooses, so the time to make a decision is rapidly approaching.

However, Gibbs insists he’s in no rush to commit.

SEC members Florida and Tennessee were the last two schools to host the Peach State standout on campus. Those two programs, along with Auburn, Georgia and Miami, are among the schools he said are coming after him the hardest.

However, a powerhouse from the ACC has jumped into the mix for Gibbs and is hoping for an opportunity to get a visit from him before his senior season begins. 

“I want to get down to Florida State. I haven’t been down there yet. They’ve been in contact with me recently,” Gibbs said.

He doesn’t have any other visit plans but admits he has a “couple of ideas” for trips to potentially take in the fall.

He will take into account a few factors when making his decision.

“How I fit into the environment of the school and how I fit into the system at a school," he said. "I’m also looking at the opportunity to play early.”

     

2019 Phenom LB Excited to Meet 2017’s Top LB

Among the field of 166 athletes on Nike’s campus this week, class of 2019 linebacker Owen Pappoe has already done something no one before him has achieved.

The 6’0”, 200-pounder from Grayson High School in Loganville, Georgia, is the first rising sophomore ever invited to the nation’s premier summer camp showcase, according to Bleacher Report’s Tyler Donohue.

Pappoe described the moment he found out that he made history.

“I was with a bunch of my friends and people started DM’ing me on Twitter. The guys [at The Opening] sent me the invitation and I was just super excited,” Pappoe said. "I want to be the first player to get here three years straight. Each year at the regionals, I’m going to come out and compete just like I did this year. I just want to compete.

Additionally, his arrival in Oregon will give him a chance to meet a player who is probably more familiar with his journey than most—2017 5-star linebacker Dylan Moses.

Moses has been a household name in recruiting circles since he was a freshman, and he’s making his second consecutive trip to The Opening.

“I’ve watched Dylan’s film a lot. It’s going to be nice to finally meet him. He was in a similar position I’m in now so that will be cool to pick his brain a little bit,” Pappoe said.

With more than 30 offers under his belt, Pappoe has already garnered attention from some of the nation’s top programs, including Alabama, Georgia, Nebraska and Tennessee.

The Volunteers were the last school to host him, and a trip to a Big 12 powerhouse is next up on his agenda. 

“I'll be visiting Oklahoma later this month,” he said.

      

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

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Jarrett Stidham to Transfer from Baylor: Latest Comments and Reaction

Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham announced Thursday he intends to transfer from the school:  

Stidham threw for 1,265 yards, 12 touchdowns and two interceptions last year and projected to be the backup QB behind Seth Russell for the 2016 season. Baylor interim head coach Jim Grobe said the sophomore wasn't content to sit on the bench for the upcoming season, per John Werner of the Waco Tribune-Herald.

According to KWTX in Waco, Texas, Stidham will transfer to McLennan Community College, where he'll sit out the year so he doesn't lose any eligibility come 2017.

Stidham arrived with high expectations. He was the No. 2 dual-threat QB in the 2015 recruiting class, per 247Sports' composite rankings. The Stephenville, Texas, native was a perfect fit for then-head coach Art Briles' high-powered offense.

Everything changed following an investigation by law firm Pepper Hamilton into Baylor's handling of sexual assault allegations. Upon the conclusion of the investigation, the school's board of regents announced in May it would move to terminate Briles' contract. The school reached a settlement with Briles in June to finalize his firing.

His departure resulted in upheaval on the recruiting trail. ESPN.com's Max Olson noted how many players Baylor lost from its 2016 class:

Stidham's transfer is arguably a far bigger blow. Even if he didn't win the starting job from Russell this year, he's only a sophomore, so he would've had two more years to lead the Bears offense. His performance last year following Russell's season-ending injury showed Stidham has a bright future in college football.

Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee assumes Stidham will have plenty of interested suitors when he's eligible to transfer again:

Sports on Earth's David Ubben foresees a reunion between Stidham and his former offensive coordinator down the line:

With Stidham gone, true freshman Zach Smith is the likeliest candidate to back up Russell in 2016. According to 247Sports' composite rankings, Smith was the No. 16 pro-style QB in the 2016 recruiting class.

Should Russell go down with an injury again next year, the Baylor offense could be in serious trouble.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Power Ranking the Top 25 Fastest College Football Players for 2016

Since this is an Olympic summer, the elite track athletes of the United States will get their biggest times to shine. This will be a season of speed, and that reaches into the world of college football, too.

A pair of Pac-12 football players went through the qualification process of making the United States' Olympic track team, and one of those speedsters still has a shot at making it to Rio.

With the Olympics set to run from Aug. 5-21 and an entire season of NCAA track times now officially in the books, let's revisit January's power rankings of the top 25 fastest college football players for the 2016 season. While a lot of fans and analysts like to compare 40 times to determine the fastest of the fast, 40s are unreliable due to different timing methods and track conditions.

In these rankings, I used the fully automatic time system used in official track and field records from sites such as Track & Field Results Reporting SystemTrack & Field News and DyeStat. In this countdown, I listed recent top track times for many of college football's fastest players.

The 100-meter dash was the most common measuring stick, although more great indoor times in the 60-meter dash and overall times in hurdles made the cut in this update (more recent times held more weight than old high school ones).

As Chris Huston of Heisman Pundit wrote in his similar columns from 2005 to 2014, there's no difference between "football speed" and "track speed." Speed is speed, and some players just do a better job of harnessing that speed on the football field than others. Some readers will disagree, and that's fine. But track times are the best way to objectively rank the fastest without a lot of opinion or guesswork. 

Now, let's take a look at this summer's updated list of the 25 fastest players who will play in 2016, ranging from speedy incoming freshmen to experienced veterans of the gridiron and the track. If you notice a missed time or an inadvertently left-off player, let me know in the comments section below.

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Oregon State Rape Victim Brenda Tracy to Speak to Baylor Football Program

Brenda Tracy, who two years ago told her story of surviving a gang rape by four football players, including two from Oregon State, will speak at Baylor University.   

Per Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports, Tracy said that Baylor's acting head football coach, Jim Grobe, contacted her about speaking at the university: "I had talked to Coach Grobe. He's possibly going to invite other teams to come. I said, 'Yeah, invite as many [athletes] as you want.'"

Last month, Tracy spoke with Nebraska's football team, where Mike Riley is now the head coach. Riley coached Oregon State's football team when Tracy told police she was the victim of a gang rape in 1998. 

Per Nicole Auerbach of USA Today, Tracy shared the message she delivered to the Nebraska players:

I told them, "At one point I hated this man (Riley) more than my rapists. ... We talked about how it's OK to say sorry. It's OK to be accountable. It's OK to stand up and say, 'I didn't do something right,' or 'I did something wrong,' and move on from there. Sometimes when you wrong another person, all they really want is an apology."

Tracy made her story public when she told it to John Canzano of the Oregonian in November 2014. In May, as the Baylor sexual assault scandal was at its apex, she told Dodd the school needed to "get rid of everybody and shut down the football program for one year. I think they need to start over."

Baylor did take action by firing former head football coach Art Briles, reassigning president Ken Starr and letting athletic director Ian McCaw resign after ESPN's Outside the Lines released documents it obtained that detailed "largely unknown allegations of sexual assault, domestic violence and other acts of violence involving several Baylor football players."

Dodd noted that Tracy has also met with NCAA President Mark Emmert in an effort to get stronger legislation passed to prevent student-athletes involved in sexual assault from being able to play sports again during their collegiate careers.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan and Notre Dame Announce Home-And-Home Football Series

The long-running college football rivalry between Michigan and Notre Dame came to a screeching halt last season, but it will resume in 2018 and 2019 with a home-and-home series. 

Brian Hamilton of Sports Illustrated provided the schedule for the upcoming renewal of the feud between the Wolverines and Fighting Irish on Thursday:

Michigan currently leads the all-time series 24-17-1.

Michigan and Notre Dame's rivalry began in 1887, and prior to last season, they had clashed every year from 2002 through 2014.

Per Angelique S. Chengelis of the Detroit News, it is likely that the new schedule between the teams will result in them playing each other in back-to-back years before taking two years off.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly is hopeful the gap doesn't get any bigger than that:

Ideally, if we're just taking a step back and looking at it, we don't want a gap. It doesn't make sense to have a huge gap. There were other factors that forced that gap, that was the impending move to the ACC, the uncertainty of what the landscape of college football looked like and two ADs that were not on the same page. That has all changed. We have stable ground. We have two coaches who want to play. I think we're moving more toward something that makes sense. 

We want to play.

The Irish have been perennial contenders during Kelly's tenure, while the Wolverines are very much on the rise toward becoming one of college football's premier programs once again under the leadership of head coach Jim Harbaugh.

Although it hasn't been continuous, Michigan versus Notre Dame is one of the oldest and most storied rivalries in college football.

The fact that both teams are trending toward being in the College Football Playoff picture for a long time to come adds even more intrigue to the conflict, and it should make their meetings in 2018 and 2019 among the most highly anticipated games on the schedule.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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College Football's Top Go-To Wide Receivers for 2016

A go-to wide receiver is a quarterback's best friend, and the 2016 college football season will feature several targets who can shoulder a heavy burden on offense.

In clutch moments, a program's signal-caller will often identify this receiver as the first option. Of course, that might also mean the quarterback becomes fixated on the wideout throughout the game.

Whether or not heavily relying on one target is a good thing depends on an offense's style, but these are 10 of the best, regardless.

Overall production, targets, team target share and completion percentage each factored into the list, which includes most of the nation's premier non-power-conference receivers.

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No. 1 WR Donovan Peoples-Jones Making Statements On and Off the Field

BEAVERTON, Ore. — Being the nation's top-ranked wide receiver and the No. 6 player overall in the 2017 class is something Detroit's Donovan Peoples-Jones appreciates. But it doesn't motivate him. Rankings never have.

When Peoples-Jones is asked about his Top 10 national ranking and his 5-star rating, he rarely speaks of the subject with fanfare. He is well aware that he's a benchmark for other wide receivers and a target for defensive backs looking to prove themselves.

He also is a firm believer in actual performance over what's seen on paper.

That's what motivates him—transforming potential energy into kinetic energy and parlaying his efforts into something greater than him.

"It's a blessing and honor to be ranked so highly, but I have to realize that rankings are just temporary measurements," Peoples-Jones said. "Rankings don't matter unless you put in the work to solidify the ranking. I've got to keep working my hardest."

That's also what's frustrating him, at least for this week. A nagging hamstring injury has sidelined Peoples-Jones from much of The Opening activities thus far. He's hoping to be ready in time for seven-on-seven competition later this week.

The Cass Tech High School standout put rankings and ratings in perspective: If he truly is the No. 1 receiver in the 2017 class, he wants to be judged on what he does daily and not on what is said about him through evaluation.

Whether or not his actions will be temporarily on hold the rest of this week is still to be determined.

                                                                                                                                                     

Find flaws, correct flaws

Peoples-Jones may be his own worst critic—and that's not a bad thing, as he expects perfection each time he steps on the field. As a junior, he caught 39 passes for 1,012 yards and 14 touchdowns. That's an insane 25.9 yards-per-catch average.

He has 23 reported offers but announced a top 10 via Twitter of Alabama, Florida, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Stanford, Tennessee, Texas A&M and USC back in January. He said on Monday that those schools are still in play to ultimately land him.

Per Zach Abolverdi of SEC Country, Peoples-Jones is planning to take an official visit to Florida.

"The process is what you make of it," he said. "I've had a lot of people who have helped me out with the process. They told me to enjoy it while it lasts and to enjoy every minute of it."

Prior to the start of his junior season, Peoples-Jones made history at The Opening last year, becoming the first underclassman to win the Nike Football Ratings Championship. His ratings score of 149.49 was produced by impressive numbers in the 40-yard dash (4.42 seconds), the 20-yard shuttle (4.0 seconds), the power ball toss (42.4 feet) and the vertical jump (43.5 inches).

Even after earning his second consecutive invitation to The Opening in May, Peoples-Jones always has found ways to improve his game. And while it's his highlights that garner the majority of the attention, it's the flaws—and the heavy desire to correct them—that make him the elite athlete.

Correcting the errors from last year—or last month, or even last week—and then seeing the results from the tweaking holds more weight than any ranking to Peoples-Jones as a football player. Making plays to put his team in a position to win is something he enjoys doing.

Damon Griffin, one of the wide receivers coaches at The Opening, has watched the 6'2", 192-pound receiver emerge into a player who isn't afraid of growth. He remembers Peoples-Jones at last year's The Opening and sees a definite change in the athlete.

"He's a proven fact that you need technique. That was one of the reasons why I was excited to see him in comparison to last year," said Griffin, a two-time all-Pac 12 wide receiver selection at Oregon who played college ball from 1994-98 and spent four years in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers, Cincinnati Bengals and St. Louis Rams.

"You could tell there was some fear then, and everything was kind of big for him, especially the complex things going on that didn't allow him to be the type of player he can be. He had all the athletic tools, but he needed to be a lot more technically sound."

Griffin has never been one to mix words, particularly with athletes who he sees potential in. Peoples-Jones took the constructive criticism to heart and made himself one of the most respected, coveted recruits in the 2017 class. He is the top-ranked receiver nationally over studs like Joseph Lewis, Tyjon Lindsey, Trevon Grimes and Tennessee commit Tee Higgins.

Additionally, Peoples-Jones plays with more confidence. He describes himself in three words.

"Strong, big, athletic," he said. And when asked if there was a defensive back who could keep him in check, he simply answered, "No, sir, I don't think so."

                                                                                                                                                  

Wins off the football field

Peoples-Jones receives plenty of love on the field, but it recently has been his off-the-field moves that've garnered the most attention. In April, shortly after the NCAA voted to ban satellite camps, he took to social media to voice his opinion on his displeasure with the decision. He stressed that he was a product of satellite camps and spoke highly of Sound Mind Sound Body, a camp he first began attending in middle school.

"I can't stress enough how much this camp has developed on and off the field," Peoples-Jones said in the message via Twitter. "This camp has taught me very essential life lessons that have helped solidify my foundation today."

Peoples-Jones' mother, Rozlyn Peoples, did her part in the manner by setting up an online petition to fight the NCAA's decision. The petition was just south of 15,000 supporters.

The NCAA's decision was on April 7. Three weeks later, the NCAA Board of Governors voted to overturn the decision on satellite camps. Peoples-Jones knows that it wasn't just his actions that forced the veto, but he also knows that his words didn't hurt the cause.

“We've taught a different discipline and work ethic and honor and humbleness, and it's done well for his character," his mother told 247Sports' Steve Wiltfong in October 2015.

Academics and a Christian-based faith also are a major part of his character. Peoples-Jones is an A student in the classroom, and he has an interest in the medical field upon graduating. As for his religious background, Peoples-Jones displayed what he called "God's work" on June 18.

"I'd just reached 10,000 followers [on Twitter], and I was just thinking of a way to spread positivity down my timeline," he said. "What better way to spread positivity than to have people tweet out Bible verses for a follow-back?"

He announced his proposition via Twitter, and the request received several responses. He even picked up a few new verses to use for motivation and spiritual gain.

"It was all about spreading the word," he said.

His favorite Bible verse is Luke 13:24, which can be paraphrased as living a good, prosperous life in the presence of Jesus Christ, as many will attempt to live and not be granted spiritual happiness.

Peoples-Jones is constantly focused on working to turn as many wrongs into rights as possible, and those words are perfect examples of the testimony he walks. Once he chooses a college to attend, that football program will see the kind of individual he is—as a wide receiver and as a person.

Currently, Michigan is the team to beat in Peoples-Jones' recruiting, according to prognosticators around the country. The Wolverines are trending in his 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions.

And what is Peoples-Jones looking for in a winning program?

"No. 1, it's about academics," he said. "I want to go to a school with a good medical program and study sports medicine. No. 2, I want to play with the best, whether that means the best coaches or the best players. No. 3, I want to be in a comfortable environment."

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Extra Points: What to Make of the Current SEC Championship Odds

Media days are just around the corner, fall camp is a month away and we are inching closer to the kickoff of the 2016 college football season.

Las Vegas and offshore oddsmakers have you covered.

Bovada (via Kevin McGuire of College Football Talk) released its odds to win each SEC division as well as the SEC Championship Game, and there are a few surprises in there:

The first thing that jumps out to me is the lack of love for defending SEC East champion Florida.

The Gators have 18-1 odds to win the SEC title? The same odds as Auburn and worse odds than Texas A&M? 

Really?

I'm not into giving unsolicited gambling advice. But here's some unsolicited gambling advice—throw a few bucks on Florida with those odds.

Head coach Jim McElwain and Co. have one of the best defenses in the country that includes stars like lineman Caleb Brantley, linebacker Jarrad Davis, safety Marcus Maye and cornerbacks Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson.

That's a foundation that Auburn, Texas A&M and Ole Miss—all with better SEC title odds than the Gators and with more difficult paths to the SEC Championship Game out of the SEC West—simply can't boast.

That's not to say that those three SEC West teams won't be competitive. They will be. But Florida has a much better foundation to build off of, an easier path to Atlanta and has already tasted that success in McElwain's first year as a head coach

Do the Gators have questions? 

Of course. 

The offensive line was an abject disaster down the stretch last year, Kelvin Taylor was a reliable running back and the quarterback situation is still somewhat of a question heading into the 2016 season. But the struggles of the line last year should help the youngsters grow; the trio of Mark Thompson, Jordan Cronkrite and Jordan Scarlett should be able to shoulder much of the load on the ground, and Luke Del Rio looked solid in the spring game when he completed 10 of 11 passes and tossed two touchdowns.

But it seems like the failed Treon Harris experiment during the final eight games of 2015 has left a sour taste in the public's mouth, which seems hesitant to buy into the Gators. Don't fall into that trap. They'll be the primary contender to presumptive favorite Tennessee in the SEC East. If they get to Atlanta, they'll only be 60 minutes away from cashing in on those long odds.

The other primary thing that jumps out is the expectation for LSU to bounce back from two subpar seasons for head coach Les Miles

There are plenty of reasons for that buzz, including the return of several key defensive players, the presence of new defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and Heisman Trophy contender Leonard Fournette at running back. But LSU has its detractors—present company included—who aren't buying into this team being much different than last year's squad due to a rigid and ultraconservative offensive philosophy.

What isn't debatable, though, is that the high expectations that exist nationwide for the Tigers puts even more pressure on Miles—who nearly lost his job last November when his crew dropped three games and fell out of the national title race.

Would 9-3 with a loss to Alabama and no SEC West title keep Miles safe? At this point, I'd lean toward "no" due in part to the fact that those 7-2 odds to win the SEC title have raised expectations to a point where last year's late-season fade route is almost an afterthought this offseason.

Lastly, Vanderbilt should absolutely not be the least likely team to win the SEC East and the SEC title.

In fact, it shouldn't be anywhere near the cellar.

The Commodores finished fourth in the SEC East last year, boasted a defense that finished fourth in the nation in red-zone touchdown percentage (38.78 percent) and sixth in third-down defense (28.16 percent).

With a solid defense, a 1,000-yard rusher in Ralph Webb who accomplished that with virtually no help from his passing game and a newly established starting quarterback in Kyle Shurmur heading into fall camp, the Commodores aren't the worst team in the SEC. At worst, they're the fourth-best team in the East heading into the season.

   

It's Settled

Tennessee settled the sexual assault lawsuit brought forth by eight women for $2.48 million, according to Nate Rau and Anita Wadhwani of the Tennessean. According to the report, that figure includes legal fees.

As a result of the settlement, head football coach Butch Jones, athletics director Dave Hart and other administrators will not be deposed or face questioning for various aspects of the case. While the settlement doesn't put to rest the Title IX aspect of the case, it does put one huge aspect of the scandal in the rearview mirror and eliminates a few of the possible distractions that could have popped up this year for the Vols.

For Jones, that's important, because from a pure football perspective, he'd be the primary person associated with the football program who conceivably could be distracted during the ongoing case. 

The question I have for Tennessee is why did it come to this?

In the grand scheme of things, $2.48 million isn't that much money for a $126.6 million athletic department when you subtract legal fees and divide it among eight people. The plaintiffs also released a statement acknowledging that the university "has made significant progress in the way they educate and respond to sexual assault cases." If that's what it took to settle the case, why did Tennessee take so long to provide those concessions and let this drag on essentially all offseason?

Tennessee has rightfully been cast in an extremely negative light by the case during a year in which sexual assault allegations—particularly the Baylor case which resulted in the dismissal of head coach Art Briles—have been at the forefront of the national conversation.

The program could have saved itself a lot of national embarrassment by taking action a long time ago.

   

Sudden Depth

When former Oklahoma running back Alex Ross signed with Missouri last month as a graduate transfer, it was a welcome addition at a position that the Tigers desperately needed immediate help.

Why? At the time, it looked like junior college transfer Natereace Strong wouldn't make the required grades until January.

Yeah...about that.

According to Gabe DeArmond of PowerMizzou.com, Strong has qualified academically and enrolled at the school. 

Suddenly, Missouri's ground attack seems to be in good hands with Ross' home run-hitting ability and Strong—a 6'1", 210-pound former 4-star prospect at Hinds Community College—who is a pure all-purpose back that can handle the work between the tackles. 

Will it lead Missouri back to a bowl game?

That hinges on the offensive line's ability to protect and quarterback Drew Lock taking the next step. But Strong's presence on the roster provides a little stability to a position that desperately needed it about a month ago.

   

Year of the Linebacker

While the quarterback position might be at its most depressing state in recent memory, the linebacker position is the polar opposite.

NFL.com's Lance Zierlein ranked the top linebackers to watch during the 2016 college football season, and his list contains a distinct SEC flavor. His rankings were as follows: Florida's Jarrad Davis (No. 1), Alabama's Reuben Foster (No. 4), Tennessee's Jalen Reeves-Maybin (No. 5), Vanderbilt's Zach Cunningham (No. 6) and LSU's Kendell Beckwith (No. 9).

The SEC boasts half of the top 10 linebackers in the country—without including Arkansas' Brooks Ellis, Mississippi State's Richie Brown, Alabama pass-rusher extraordinaire Tim Williams, Auburn graduate transfer T.J. Neal, Texas A&M's Otaro Alaka or Georgia's Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy.

I could list more, but I think you get the point.

While many will peg this as the "year of the running back" in the SEC with guys like Fournette, Georgia's Nick Chubb, Tennessee's Jalen Hurd, Auburn's Jovon Robinson in the fold, it's actually the "year of the linebacker."

And that battle isn't even close.

     

Quick Outs

  • Ryan Krasnoo of Sports Illustrated reported on Wednesday that, as a result of Michigan renewing its rivalry with Notre Dame, the Wolverines will be forced to cancel its scheduled home date with Arkansas. While it's great for the sport to have Michigan and Notre Dame square off, it would have been nice to see Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema return to Big Ten country. 
  • Auburn and Southern Miss announced games in Auburn on Sept. 29, 2018, and Sept. 26, 2020. While many will peg this as a "cupcake," the Golden Eagles were 9-5 last year and somewhat of a regional rival that would love nothing more than to knock the Tigers off. It's a solid out-of-conference matchup in seasons in which Auburn is still waiting to fill the Power Five mandate that the SEC requires.
  • Alabama linebacker Adonis Thomas, a redshirt freshman and former 4-star prospect from Lawrenceville, Georgia, will leave the program in search of more playing time, AL.com's Matt Zenitz reported. Thomas wasn't listed on my Bleacher Report colleague Christopher Walsh's post-spring depth chart projection, and would likely have been relegated to special teams work in 2016. Thomas is too talented to ride the pine, so it's no shock that he's seeking greener pastures. When you win five straight recruiting national titles like Alabama has, sometimes you can't keep all of your prospects happy.

   

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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