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Coveted DT Recruit Corey Bolds Plans SEC Tour, Has 'Big Brothers' at Michigan

The Michigan Wolverines secured six New Jersey prospects in a 2016 recruiting class that ranked among college football's finest national signing day hauls. Head coach Jim Harbaugh again has sights set on the Garden State in the 2017 cycle, with defensive tackle Corey Bolds emerging as a primary target.

The 6'3", 260-pound Paramus Catholic High School junior shares a tight bond with several members of Michigan's latest class. Most notably, he spent the past two seasons playing alongside No. 1 overall 2016 prospect Rashan Gary.

"I learned a lot from Rashan watching him be the guy who offenses game-planned around," Bolds told Bleacher Report. "He never let all the pressure get to him, on the field and with his recruitment. I saw how he handled it and now I need to go handle things the same way."

Gary, now just a month shy of enrolling in Ann Arbor, spent time with his high school teammate on the sidelines of New York Jets facilities Sunday in Florham Park. Bolds participated in The Opening's New Jersey Regional, where Gary earned invitations to The Opening National Finals in 2014 and 2015.

The pipeline between Bolds' home turf and Michigan run deeper than his fellow Paladins lineman. Wolverines assistant coach Chris Partridge previously served as Paramus Catholic head coach before accepting a position on Harbaugh's staff last year.

"I'm very close with Coach Partridge," Bolds said. "He's someone I can text or call anytime, and it doesn't have to be about football. He's there to listen and help me any way he can."

Partridge plays a pivotal role in Michigan's attempts to lure top talent out of New Jersey. Among the six athletes he helped sign this past winter, several have a close relationship with Bolds. 

"Those guys are like big brothers to me, and I can always look to them for advice," he said.

Along with those Wolverines newcomers, Bolds also looks up to former Paramus Catholic standouts Jabrill Peppers and Juwann Bushell-Beatty, who are both entering their third year at Michigan.

Considering these personal ties to the program, it's understood turning down a Wolverines offer wouldn't be easy.

"It would be pretty hard to say no, but none of those guys are making me feel forced," he said. "They want me to come play with them but they all remind me to go through my recruitment like they did and find the best place for me."

Bolds' search for an ideal collegiate fit hasn't been lonely. Paramus Catholic junior Drew Singleton consistently accompanies him on recruiting trips. Coaches typically speak with them together, rather than separating into one-on-one sessions. 

"I call him my brother," Bolds said. "We talk about everything in the recruiting process and we've been planning since freshman year to go to the same college. We speak to each other about which schools we like and which schools we don't like. It takes some of the weight off when you have someone going though the same thing as you."

He referred to the possibility of a "package deal" that would place this defensive duo in the same recruiting class. They explored various possibilities in April, traveling to spring games at Michigan, Clemson and Rutgers.

The Wolverines were first in their itinerary, and it was Bolds' third trip to Ann Arbor.

"The atmosphere was special," he said. "I had fans come up to ask for my autograph and take pictures with me. You can feel the overall love there, and it's just an amazing place to be."

Clemson hosted them the following weekend. Bolds previously spent time with the Tigers in January, and this latest stay presented the chance to gain a greater sense of the university's environment.

"It was pretty exciting," he said. "They're just coming off a trip to the national championship and the whole campus had a lot of excitement. The fans love you, they love the team. I signed a bunch of autographs there too."

In-state Rutgers had an opportunity to impress two weeks later when first-year head coach Chris Ash welcomed the local standouts for spring game festivities. Bolds departed Piscataway feeling positive vibes.

"I'm definitely impressed so far," he said. "They've picked up some big commitments lately, and I love what Coach Ash is doing. I love his intensity and the staff's energy as a whole. They're looking to build something special and really harping on New Jersey guys to stay home."

While Bolds wouldn't deem this trio of universities as an outright top three, each presents a high comfort level for him. He expects to spend some time sorting through various collegiate opportunities with family while eventually figuring out definitive favorites.

The situation could look drastically different within a few weeks.

Bolds will visit Penn State later this month, marking his first trip to Happy Valley since he attended the team's 2015 matchup with Michigan (a 28-16 Wolverines win). He'll then turn his attention south in June, lining up a four-school tour of SEC territory.

Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi State and Ole Miss are anticipated destinations during an eventual journey. Among that group, only Mississippi State has yet to extend a scholarship offer.

While Knoxville isn't a stop on his upcoming trip, Bolds expects to separately spend a weekend at Tennessee sometime soon. He hoped to be in the bleachers for the Volunteers spring game but wasn't able to attend.

With at least six schools in line to host him before the season, there's a strong likelihood this recruiting process will undergo alterations as Bolds attempts to focus on favorites. He's taking plenty into consideration during each stop along the way. 

"When I visit schools, I don't like thinking about being a football player," Bolds said. "I like to think about if I'd be happy there as a regular student going to class every day, studying and living on campus. Football can come and go, so I need to be at a place where I feel comfortable."

When it comes to comfort, competitors will have a tough time contending with Michigan. He aims to visit Ann Arbor again this summer after Gary arrives on campus and intends to use an official visit for a Wolverines game. 

Bolds may not need to utilize many official visits this fall if his recruitment reaches its conclusion within a desired time frame.

"I want to commit by my birthday (Sept. 28), but if I don't feel like the time is right I'm going to hold it out, take all my official visits and make the best decision I can," he said.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

10 College Football Teams with Most Players in NFL Today

The NFL welcomed a new class of college football's brightest young talents over the past weekend, and it's no surprise which schools were the most represented in the 253 selections.

Ohio State went after a NFL draft record with the massive amount of talent that left Columbus this offseason, led by defensive end Joey Bosa and running back Ezekiel Elliott.

The two teams that played in last season's national championship game, Alabama and Clemson, pumped out huge classes of their own. Talent-filled mainstays in Florida and California continued to be impressive pro pipelines as well.

The infusion of hundreds of new NFL players, including those who signed undrafted free agent deals (UDFA) in the past few days, has created a shakeup of which college football teams are the most represented in the pros right now. 

Using the Alumni Tracker at ESPN.com, which has been updated with 2016 draftees and confirmed UDFA deals, let's take a fresh tally of the Top 10 college programs with the most players in the NFL at this moment.

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Despite First-Round Setbacks, NFL Draft Helps Show Alabama's Approach Evolving

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It was an interesting exchange that ESPN analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay had during a joint conference call with reporters on Monday, when discussing why one of the former University of Alabama players dropped to the second round in last week’s NFL draft.

Specifically, they were commenting on defensive lineman Jarran Reed, who had been almost universally projected to be a first-round pick.

McShay: “I think he fell to 49, in the second round to Seattle, because if you don’t develop him as a pass-rusher he may just be a one-down player. I think that was a theme this entire draft."

“[Teams are thinking] I’m not going to use a first-round pick on a player who might only be on the field for one out of three downs. So that’s the issue, but I think Reed has more tools than people think as a pass-rusher and Seattle got one of the steals of the draft.”

Kiper: “One more thing about Jarran Reed, he plays as hard as anyone. Effort, hustle …”

McShay: “Yes. It’s not just taking on blocks and eating up space, he gets off of blocks and goes and makes plays. He’s fast on a straight line for his size.”

They probably could have said the same thing about A’Shawn Robinson, who everyone knew can pass-rush as he had 5.5 sacks as a freshman defensive end before sliding inside more, and nine for his career.

There was a similar talk with linebacker Reggie Ragland and his ability to effectively defend in pass coverage at the NFL level. Combined with an ill-timed report about having an enlarged aorta (which shouldn’t affect his career) he dropped into the second round as well before Buffalo traded up to snare him.

“I can be a three-down linebacker,” Ragland subsequently told WGR Radio (h/t Chris Brown, BuffaloBills.com). “I did it. I played all three downs in my last year."

“Against Texas A&M I played the ‘mike’ the whole game, the inside backer covering backs and tight ends. Against other teams I played outside and played all three downs. I rushed and dropped from the end position. I can drop and I can cover. I don’t know why people feel that way.” 

Buffalo general manager Doug Whaley disclosed afterward that the Bills had a first-round grade on Ragland, while Reed and Robinson had the misfortune of being in a draft that was loaded with defensive linemen.

Actually, the more telling draft picks from Alabama came after them with cornerback Cyrus Jones to New England in the second round and running back Kenyan Drake by Miami in the third round.

Those sent a message that speed has never been more important in the NFL, something that Alabama already figured out and has been building toward.

For example, last year Alabama made an unprecedented move by moving two cornerbacks to start at safety, which Saban deemed risky because he didn’t know how they’d hold up against physical teams like LSU and Arkansas.

Although, it was in part due to having depleted numbers at safety and trying to get the best players on the field. The other factor was speed and having players who could go sideline to sideline.

That’s not to say that Alabama wouldn’t recruit a hard-hitting safety like Landon Collins or Mark Barron again—it would in a heartbeat—but it’s hard to argue against Eddie Jackson making six interceptions and returning two for touchdowns. 

Previous to that, Alabama made a shift in recruiting linebackers after Trey DePriest was considered one of the nation’s top prospects in 2011 and Ragland in 2012.

While dealing with so many pass-happy, no-huddle tempo offenses, Alabama learned that it had to get faster, especially in the interior where slower linebackers could be exposed. Since then the corps has gotten much faster with the likes of Reuben Foster, Tim Williams and Christian Miller. 

"He's improving a lot,” linebacker Ryan Anderson said about Miller, who is on the verge of earning a lot more playing time. “He's already a long kid, can rush the passer, he's fast, he's quick. He's working on some of the other stuff, stopping the run and bulking up, stuff like that. He's going to be a good player."

Williams has already shown he can get to the quarterback, with 10.5 sacks last season. He just has to show he can handle the physical toll of being an every-down player.

Moreover, Alabama moved Rashaan Evans from outside linebacker to inside linebacker during the spring. He responded in a big way and led all players with 17 tackles during the Crimson Tide’s spring game.

Evans might have been playing against the second-team offense on A-Day, but he still seemed to be everywhere.

“He brings a lot,” Foster said. “He brings quick. He can get to the ball much faster, so that’s a win.”

Consequently, Alabama is set to have its fastest defense ever, and probably its fastest team. If so, everyone will see the difference in next year’s draft, which could potentially be nothing short of historic. 

"Man, that guy flashes," McShay said about Williams. "Like the spin, club move he used for that one sack [against Michigan State], he was an absolute terror."

“If he can duplicate or build on what he did, Tim Williams is a top-five pick,” Kiper added. “He’s like a Khalil Mack, that kind of player.”

Mack was the fifth overall selection in the 2014 draft.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ishmael Adams Reportedly Pleads No Contest to Misdemeanor Battery

UCLA defensive back Ishmael Adams reportedly agreed to plead no contest to misdemeanor battery in a case stemming from an August confrontation with an Uber driver, per TMZ Sports.   

The plea will reportedly result in three years of probation but won't include any jail time, according to TMZ.

Adams was accused of forcefully robbing an Uber driver of a cellphone after being arrested in Westwood, California, on Aug. 30. The Bruins suspended him indefinitely but reinstated him after felony charges weren't filed in the case. He missed three games.

Adams, who made the All-Pac-12 Conference first team in 2014, started every game for the team in 2013 and 2014 seasons. He started eight games for the Bruins last year, accumulating 35 tackles and two interceptions.

He's been making the adjustment to wide receiver this offseason at the request of head coach Jim Mora. 

“We see a guy that can catch the ball in the flat or, like we talked about the other day, that short-area quickness to make people miss and get vertical in a hurry," Mora told Kyle Bonagura of ESPN.com. "And he’s competitive and he’s tough, and those are traits you like to see offensively.”

It remains unclear if Adams' no-contest plea will result in another suspension, or if it will affect his status with the team in any way before the 2016 season.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Stock Watch: Who Is Rising and Falling Post-Spring Games?

College football's busiest season outside of the fall is complete, with spring games wrapped up all across the country and teams getting ready to transition to summer workouts.

(Never mind that summer doesn't start for another month-and-a-half. This sport has no time for your equinoxes and solstices.)

While there's always a danger of overreaction or no reaction to what happened in spring practices and scrimmages, several programs saw their stocks rise with impressive play over the last several weeks. Others took some hits due to injuries and added question marks.

Let's take a look at the players, positions and programs that improved in perception at the conclusion of their respective spring games and those that saw a downturn. Whether their stocks improved or worsened, there's still plenty of time for the market to fluctuate between now and the start of the 2016 regular season.

Who do you think improved their stocks the most during spring practices, and who do you think took a hit? Sound off in the comments below.

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5-Star RB D'Andre Swift Impressed by 'Up-and-Coming' Georgia, Eyes FSU Visit

Philadelphia running back D'Andre Swift understands he's a wanted man.

The St. Joseph's High School junior holds dozens of scholarship offers, routinely hears from many of college football's most marquee programs and still has nine months to weigh options before national signing day. While he isn't restricting himself to a designated decision timetable, Swift is starting to whittle down his potential landing spots.

The 5-star prospect revealed a top-10 list April 15, with a group of favorites that features the past three national champions:

Swift, a 5'9", 204-pound playmaker, plans to take this process even further in the near future. His ongoing evaluation of various universities will result in a top five before football season.

"It's getting a little bit later in my recruitment now so I just need to narrow things down and start thinking about this decision," he told Bleacher Report.

More than two weeks since dropping his initial collection of favorites, Swift maintains things haven't changed. All 10 programs still play a factor in his recruitment.

"Every school is different in its own way, but they all have a great atmosphere and excellent facilities," he said.

Due to a busy schedule, Swift hasn't been able to spend time at every facility. Clemson, Georgia, Penn State and Ohio State hosted him in the past, but he hopes to expand his travel itinerary in coming months.

"I'm trying to get out this summer and see as many schools as I can," Swift said. 

Ohio State could be due for a return trip, according to the coveted recruit, as the Buckeyes haven't welcomed him to campus since his freshman year. While no visit dates have been finalized at this stage, Swift has sights set on Tallahassee as his next destination. 

Florida State will "probably" receive a visit before other schools and he may have company on the journey. Close friend Naseir Upshur, a 2016 Seminoles signee and fellow Philadelphia product, could accompany him.

"We talk about going down to Florida State all the time," Swift said. 

The 4-star tight end enrolls this summer, so even if they don't make a tandem trip together before then, Swift knows he'll have a personal connection to the program. His most recent recruiting travels also took him south.

Swift attended the Georgia Bulldogs spring game last month, just weeks after a previous visit to Athens. This pair of long-distance trips clearly caught attention from recruiting analysts across the country.

The past five experts' commitment predictions in his 247Sports crystal ball project him to join Georgia's class.

"Everybody in Athens loves Georgia football. It's easy to tell," he said. "You can't beat that atmosphere for a spring game."

Head coach Kirby Smart, hired in December, has enjoyed instant success on the recruiting trail. His staff capped off 2016 in strong fashion and currently claims the No. 6 overall class in 2017 composite rankings.

"Coach Smart is doing some great things with the program right now. I believe they're up-and-coming," said Swift, who also cited a solid relationship with Bulldogs running backs coach Dell McGee.

Closer to home, there is still a spotlight on Penn State. The Nittany Lions have long led his crystal ball projection, though each of those predictions occurred before his junior campaign and that total has dipped to 47 percent.

"They're still in the back of my head and Penn State is always a fun place to visit," he said. "One of my best friends—[defensive back] John Reid—is up there and he's doing really well so that's exciting for me."

Offensive assistants Charles Huff and Josh Gattis have helped the Nittany Lions maintain dialogue with this priority in-state prospect. Penn State last hosted him in Happy Valley for a February junior day.

The Nittany Lions feature a loaded offensive backfield stocked with young talent. This sentiment extends to several of Swift's top options, and while it's certainly a dynamic he monitors, roster numbers won't deter him from pulling the trigger on a pledge.

"I'm a competitor so if I like the school I'm going to come in and compete no matter who is there," Swift said. "I definitely do look at the depth chart but I know nothing is going to be handed to me wherever I go."

His ability to contribute in a variety of roles may ultimately expedite Swift's path to playing time in college. He is an outstanding pass-catcher and has the physical frame to handle a high volume of carries.

"I'm an every-down back and I don't think a lot of backs bring what I can," Swift said. "My style of play is versatile. I can play at receiver or the slot, make guys miss in the open field and also run through tackles."

This skill set sent him surging to No. 31 overall in 2017 composite recruit rankings, which place him atop the list of all-purpose backs. Swift continued to impress Sunday at The Opening's New Jersey regional, where he punched his ticket to The Opening national finals for a second consecutive year.

This invite-only event, held at Nike's world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, features elite competition during multiple days of action. Swift was a rare underclassman qualifier last summer and will return in July as a veteran.

"If you look at the history of guys who went to The Opening twice, they're doing really good things in their career," he said. "It's definitely an amazing opportunity."

Swift is likely to enter his senior season uncommitted and focused on five universities. While he doesn't discount the possibility of an early decision, this recruitment seems headed deep toward signing day and could feature all five official visits.

"I want to hold it off but if I feel as though if some place fits me perfectly, I would decide right then and there," Swift said.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Satellite Camps May Not Be Madness After All

GREENSBORO, Ga. — The ebbs and flows of the satellite camp debate in college football are as choppy as the ocean shortly before a big storm.

They've been on for some, off for all and, on Thursday, the NCAA announced that—for this summer anyway—they're on for all.

It certainly seems like it's going to be the "wild, wild west" this summer, with staff members "guest coaching" at smaller colleges, junior colleges and high schools all over the country.

Some schools are going to blow out the satellite camp circuit like it's a bachelor party in Las Vegas, right?

Ole Miss and Georgia have satellite camps set up with the face of the pro-satellite camp movement, Michigan's Jim Harbaugh, according to Angelique S. Chengelis of the Detroit News. LSU has signed on to work at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College's camp, per MGCCC Athletics. Former Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville is working to lure his former school to a camp with his new school, Cincinnati, as reported by Brandon Marcello of SEC Country.

This has the chance to get out of control in a hurry.

But while Harbaugh's "Swarm Tour" is back on, most coaches seem to be approaching the lifting of the ban with caution.

"We have a bunch of them that people are calling us about, but we have to be selective," Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Challenge. "Our time is valuable, and we want kids on our campus. So there's a fine line.

"We have a calendar right now that has every satellite camp on it. If you look at the dates of them and the amount of them, they're going to get really diluted. You want your coaches to go where the players are, and we want to be really selective about that."

In fact, some programs are passing on satellite camps altogether.

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney is known for his outgoing personality and ability to market his program to the national audience. Despite that, the defending ACC champion and national runner-up will be staying in the Upstate during the camp circuit this summer despite the ACC's ban being lifted.

"It's business as usual for us at Clemson," Swinney said prior to playing in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Challenge. "We're going to continue to have our camps at Clemson and hope that kids who are interested in Clemson will come and see us. I don't need to go somewhere to evaluate a young person. I can do all of that. I do need them to come to Clemson to make sure it's the right match."

He won't be alone.

His opponent in the ACC Championship Game, North Carolina's Larry Fedora, won't be hitting the satellite camp circuit either.

"We don't have any satellite camps this year," Fedora said. "All of our camps are set up on campus. It doesn't matter to me one way or the other. Just tell me what the rules are.

"We still feel like it's important to get players on our campus rather than going to them, and we haven't had a problem getting players to our campus over the last four years."

The Tar Heels will be on the sideline this year but, like Smart, will be selective in the future if they decide to hit the road in the summer of 2017.

"If we do, we'll probably go outside of our footprint," he said. "Because the kids within our footprint seem to get to our campus. We might step outside of our footprint. We may go up north into New Jersey area or into Birmingham. There are a lot of great areas to go into. We could go as far as Texas."

It's not just Power Five schools that are approaching satellite camps with caution; Group of Five schools are too.

Houston made national headlines last year when it earned a New Year's Six bowl berth and topped Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. If you thought head coach Tom Herman wanted to hit the road and capitalize on the momentum generated from last year, you'd be mistaken.

"We all know why the NCAA voted to ban satellite camps [initially]," Herman said. "They wanted recruiting to stay regional—at least the camp version of recruiting. I was thrilled to death that we were going to keep all of these schools out of Texas, and we would get an opportunity to put a fence around our state a little bit. But they went too far, and there has to be a happy medium.

"There's got to be a way to close the loophole that exists that we don't like, but yet, let's still make it beneficial for the student-athletes."

Instead of taking his program regional or national, Herman is content hitting key areas in the Lone Star State and cleaning up in the Houston metro area.

"For us, we will still have our camps in Dallas, Austin and East Texas like we did last year, but it won't change anything other than that," he said."

While Clemson and North Carolina won't be going out actively on the camp circuit, Swinney understands how important the lifting of the ban is for some of his younger coaches who are looking to make an impact in the coaching industry.

"It does free up some of our younger guys, if they're interested in going to work another camp somewhere, they can go do that," he said." In the past, you could only work on campus. So we might have some graduate assistants who have friends at other places and are trying to advance their coaching careers, so that's a good opportunity."

The satellite camp debate has dominated the offseason for three straight years, but it doesn't seem like the uniform set of rules this summer is going to make a big impact or change the plans of coaches who suddenly have the ability to hit the road.

 

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

JUCO Transfers Who Have Dominated College Football This Spring

College football is a game of second chances. Maybe a player didn’t have the grades coming out of high school. Maybe he clashed with his coaches. Maybe he just wasn’t a good fit at his first program. That’s what the junior college ranks are for.

A junior college stint is the perfect way to improve your academic standing, repair your image or maybe just get noticed after falling through the cracks of the recruiting process following your prep career. Countless players have made the transition from junior college obscurity to big-time stardom, and a number of players are poised to follow them in 2016.

Here’s a look at eight junior college transfers who dominated the FBS level this spring and are set for big seasons in the spotlight.

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Charity, Chip Shots and Chicken: Inside the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Challenge

GREENSBORO, Ga. — When you think of high-profile college head coaches, you typically think of packed stadiums, rabid fanbases cheering their teams on and the bright lights of being modern-day coaching celebrities.

Those coaches are constantly battling each other for conference supremacy, recruiting dominance and national titles in the 24/7/365 world of college football.

For the last nine years, all of that has taken a back seat every spring.

Ten minutes south of I-20 down Georgia State Route 44—a two-lane country road halfway between Atlanta and Augusta—they all come together for the greater good in an event that serves the community and keeps that competitive flame coaches must have to succeed burning bright.

The Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Challenge has evolved from one of several college football-related charity golf tournaments on the calendar to an event that draws the best of the best to the Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee for good causes, family fun, camaraderie and the chance to settle some scores on the links rather than between the white lines.

Complete with delayed television coverage on ESPN's family of networks, the personalities and exposure associated with the event make it the highest-profile college football-specific tournament in the country.

"We created this event to help fulfill our mission to positively impact people's lives through best-in-class events that create scholarships and charitable donations," said Gary Stokan, president and CEO of Peach Bowl, Inc., the host of the event.

The event truly shines from a charitable standpoint.

The Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Challenge has provided $5.3 million in charitable and scholarship contributions during its first nine years of existence, making it one of the premier charity golf tournaments in the country. Head coaches team up with one school "celebrity" to compete in a two-man scramble with confirmed handicap adjustments in the 18-hole battle for golfing supremacy.

In addition to the main event, the challenge also includes a closest-to-the-pin event, a long-drive competition, various amateur tournaments and a silent auction that benefit charities as well.

In this year's edition of the challenge, Ole Miss went six under over the final five holes to finish 11-under par—two shots ahead of Georgia, Georgia Tech and NC State. The late charge from the Rebels started with head coach Hugh Freeze holing out for eagle from 150 yards away on the 14th and finished with birdies on the final four holes.

"The ball was jumping off my irons and I knew I hit it good," Freeze said of the eagle on 14. "Then Wesley [Walls] said he thought he saw it disappear. I thought it was long but I started walking to the hole pretty fast and found out it went in. That's when we thought we had a chance."

As a result of the victory, the team of Freeze and Walls won $100,000 for the Hugh and Jill Freeze Foundation, with the rest of the $540,000 total purse being split among the 12 other schools.

"Congratulations to Ole Miss' Hugh Freeze and Wesley Walls for an outstanding come-from-behind victory today," Stokan said. "The Rebels have been a wonderful partner of the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, our Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game and now as champions of our Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Challenge. We are thrilled to donate $100,000 to them for university scholarships and the Hugh and Jill Freeze Foundation."

That's not fake enthusiasm from Ole Miss. When the ball gets teed up, it's all business.

First-year Georgia head coach Kirby Smart and his partner and former Georgia quarterback David Dukes shot eight under in their practice round Monday and knew that, in order to defeat intrastate rival and two-time defending tournament champions Paul Johnson and Jon Barry of Georgia Tech, he needed to be better.

"Not good enough," Smart said after the practice round, clearly disappointed with his game. "Eight under won't cut it. Not in this event. You have to go low.

"Paul Johnson wins it all the time with Barry, so you have to have a good partner to win it."

It's more than a charity golf event.

It's an escape. A vacation. A chance for head coaches to put rivalries aside and enjoy a few days combining work with pleasure with their families—something that rarely happens in this day and age of nonstop recruiting, satellite-camp planning, offseason training and everything else that dominates the world of a head coach.

"My wife actually said something profound on the way here," Houston head coach Tom Herman said. "She said that I should actually be proud of how bad I am at golf, because it means I'm either working or spending time with family."

This event brings together the best of both worlds.

While the families enjoy the resort, lake and other amenities that are in the area, coaches use their platform to make a difference and have a little fun.

Where else will you see coaches, former players and a cow mascot participating in the "running man challenge"?

This year's edition of the program had a bit of a plot twist.

Steve Spurrier and Frank Beamer retired as head coaches of South Carolina and Virginia Tech, respectively, in 2015. But with $832,000 in combined winnings between the two, they couldn't resist teeing it up one more time together without football getting in the way.

"I'll miss this," Beamer said. "What I really like are things like this and the Nike trips. The bottom line is that you get to know these coaches and their wives in a different way than out there on Saturdays. Somebody asked who I liked the best and if there's anybody who I dislike. I can honestly say that, of all the coaches I know, they seem like OK guys to me."

"OK" is an understatement based on the financial windfall the event brings to the charity of choice for participating coaches.

The unofficial start to summer took place over a three-day period in East Central Georgia this week for good causes and good fun, in an event where rivalries are set aside.

Well, until the back nine of the main event, anyway.

 

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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Jabrill Peppers Is Already the 2017 NFL Draft's Most Intriguing Prospect

With the 2016 NFL draft having officially passed, fans and prognosticators alike have already turned their attention toward next year's selection show.

And if you've looked at any one of the many "way-too-early" 2017 mock drafts that seem to flood the market this time of year, you may have noticed an emerging trend—aside from Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson's seemingly inevitable future as a Cleveland Brown.

While you'd have to go back to 2008 to find the last time Michigan possessed a heavy first-round presence, the early forecast for 2017 calls for the Wolverines' return to the forefront of the draft. And although much can change in both the NFL and Ann Arbor in the next 12 months, Jabrill Peppers is the player garnering the most interest from those who follow the draft closest.

"Get ready for the comparisons between Jabrill Peppers and [Jacksonville Jaguars No. 5 overall pick] Jalen Ramsey," Bleacher Report NFL Draft Lead Analyst Matt Miller wrote in his "way-too-early" predictions piece.

"The former 5-star recruit has been turning heads since high school, and now that he's unleashed in Jim Harbaugh's system, Peppers is making NFL-level plays."

With minicamps following the 2016 draft yet to have even started, opinions on Peppers' prospects for 2017 vary.

Miller slotted the Michigan safety as his No. 10 overall pick, while Pro Football Focus slotted him at No. 22. WalterFootball.com pegged Peppers as its No. 8 pick and SBNation.com placed the 6'1", 208-pounder at its No. 23 pick.

For a player who will still have two years of eligibility available to him after he completes his upcoming redshirt sophomore season, it should hardly come as a surprise that there's little consensus to be found in mock drafts that will likely change at least a dozen times over the course of the next year.

But even with just one year of significant playing time to his credit at the college level, this much appears to be agreed upon: Peppers is a fascinating pro prospect, even if we don't yet know what position he'll be playing at the next level.

"He's the athletic hybrid player for which the NFL is looking," PFF's Steve Palazzolo wrote in his 2017 mock draft on Tuesday.

The nation's top-ranked athlete in the 2014 recruiting class, Peppers was thought by some to be a future cornerback upon arriving in Ann Arbor, where a lower body injury forced him to miss the majority of his freshman season and ultimately take a redshirt.

In 2015, the New Jersey native proved to be one of the nation's most versatile players, playing safety at an All-Big Ten level, while also averaging 5.8 yards per touch (151 yards on 26 touches) and scoring two touchdowns after becoming a two-way player at the midway point of the season.

"I can think of five different positions he could be really good at in football. Can somebody be the Willie Mays of football? Can somebody be the five-tool player, the five-position player? Maybe. Maybe that'll end up being Jabrill Peppers," Harbaugh said near the end of last season. "He'll find his absolute best position as you go along. It's interesting to think about and consider the possibilities."

This offseason, the Wolverines staff has dreamed up another one of those possibilities, slotting Peppers as an outside linebacker in new defensive coordinator Don Brown's system.

If Brown's history at Boston College and Connecticut before that is any indication, Peppers' latest position switch should only help improve his rising draft stock.

Current Indianapolis Colts linebacker Sio Moore totaled 31.5 tackles for loss while playing a similar role under Brown at UConn in 2011 and 2012, and Seattle Seahawk Kevin Pierre-Louis recorded 108 tackles, 10.5 of which came for a loss, and six sacks at Boston College in 2013.

Tampa Bay Buccaneer Josh Keyes tallied 11.5 tackles for loss and four sacks in 2014, a year before junior Matt Milano racked up 17.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks in Brown's final season with the Eagles.

For all of those impressive stat lines—and in the case of Moore and Pierre-Louis, increased draft stocks as a result—none of them possessed the same type of 5-star talent apparent in Peppers. That will likely lead to the premier position in Brown's defense making an even greater impact in the coming year, given the safety-turned-linebacker's ability to not only blitz, but effectively drop into coverage.

"He's playing at a high level there, so I'm happy with him. From a coverage standpoint, it's everything we expected. I think he's picked up the linebacker pieces of it pretty well," Brown said in the spring. "The last three guys are in the NFL that I've coached that have played that position. You expect a lot at that spot, so we're going to get what we expect."

As for his NFL future, Peppers figures to eventually make a return to safety, a position he won't completely abandon in the Wolverines scheme in 2016. It's also worth noting the first-team All-Big Ten selection may ultimately opt for multiple of years of development at his new spot, as he's previously vowed to obtain his degree before declaring for the draft, in a since-deleted tweet.

But if Peppers learns as quickly in the classroom as he did on the field, graduating in just three years isn't out of the realm of possibility. Plus, tweets aren't binding, and a lot can obviously change between now and next spring.

For now, Peppers remains the most intriguing prospect in a process that's built on—and often rewards—the unknown.

 

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

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Post-Spring College Football Bowl Game Predictions for 2016-17 Season

Lost in all the attention given to various NCAA rulings on satellite camps, text messaging of recruits and social-media usage was an edict from above that has a real impact on college football: no more new bowl games, at least for the foreseeable future.

That means cities such as Austin, Texas; Little Rock, Arkansas; and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, have to wait a little while for their chance to join the bowl scene, one that took flack last season when a trio of 5-7 teams earned bids due to the lack of eligible options.

Thankfully, we still have 40 bowl games—41, if you include the national championship in Tampa Bay, Florida—to look forward to. And to remind you how wonderful these mostly meaningless contests are, we've gone ahead and made some super-early predictions on who will face whom in each one.

These projections fall mostly in line with the way the bowls are expected to select teams, starting with those included in the College Football Playoff and then trickling down, though some adjustments have been made to account for the annual swaps and back-door deals that tend to happen between lesser bowls.

Last year, we managed to place nine teams in their correct bowls, including perfectly nailing the Camellia Bowl matchup between Appalachian State and Ohio.

And at least from our numbers, none of the 80 bowl participants should enter these games with fewer than the six wins necessary to be bowl-eligible.

 

NOTE: The New Year's Six and playoff-affiliated bowls are listed last. The rest are listed in chronological order, based on last year's spot on the schedule, unless a date has already been announced.

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Ohio State Football: Realistic Expectations for the Buckeyes' 2016 Season

Many college football fans and experts anticipated Ohio State running to—and through—the College Football Playoff in 2015, but head coach Urban Meyer's loaded team failed to defend its title and live up to the hype.

And after losing 16 starters—11 of whom were taken in the NFL draft last week—expectations for the 2016 campaign aren't nearly as high.

There's certainly optimism among the Buckeyes despite returning only three starters on each side of the ball, and in fact, it's those starters who are the biggest reason for hope. 

Offensively, the Buckeyes will be strong up the middle with center Pat Elflein (who's transitioning from right guard), left guard Billy Price and quarterback J.T. Barrett all back for another year. The Buckeyes' coaching staff is using those three as the foundation for what it's building on offense—which will move at a much faster pace than it has in the past this fall.

"The two things that you sleep good at night are when Pat Elflein’s your center and J.T. Barrett’s your quarterback," co-offensive coordinator Ed Warinner said, according to Tony Gerdeman of The-Ozone.net. "You sleep good at night."

On the other side of the ball, Ohio State returns a starter at every level of its defense with defensive end Tyquan Lewis, middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan and cornerback Gareon Conley in the fold. McMillan's presence is particularly vital because he serves as the natural leader in the middle of the defense.

"I don’t care what sport you’re in. I know I can look across the ball and see Pat Elflein there at center and J.T. Barrett at quarterback and Raekwon McMillan standing in the middle of your defense, and you’ve got an opportunity to be really good," co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said, per Gerdeman.

The Buckeyes will lean heavily on those six to guide a young team through one of college football's most difficult schedules this fall.

 

The Slate

Ohio State's 2016 schedule starts off with two tricky games in reigning MAC champion Bowling Green and an explosive Tulsa squad, but things will take a decidedly difficult turn in Week 3 when the Buckeyes hit the road for a showdown with playoff contender Oklahoma.

Ohio State's conference lineup will see a spike in difficulty as the Big Ten shifts to its new nine-game league slate. The Buckeyes' three cross-divisional matchups are Wisconsin, Northwestern and Nebraska, all of which are expected to compete for the Big Ten West in 2016.

A pair of tough two-game stretches—on the road against Wisconsin and Penn State in October; a road tilt against Michigan State and the home bout against Michigan to close out the regular season—will define Ohio State's title chances.

It's a tough slate for such a young team, which will take the field in prime time under the lights four times during league play and almost certainly on the road against Oklahoma:

This gauntlet would have challenged even last year's loaded team. 

 

The Land of the Wolves

Unlike last year, Ohio State will shift from being the hunted to the hunter—and in doing so, the team has adopted a new mantra for the 2016 season.

Ohio State is officially "The Land of the Wolves."

That saying—and the coinciding attitude shift—has been plastered around the Woody Hayes Athletic Center this offseason. The Buckeyes lifted and practiced under a big screen that looped and reinforced the wolf-like mentality, and the team is gladly embracing it. 

"The land of the wolves mindset is as a wolf every day, I feel like you wake up and you’re just trying to find your next meal," Barrett said this spring, according to Eric Seger of Eleven Warriors. "You're always attacking."

That attacking attitude will be a welcome change after last year's pressure-packed campaign. Ohio State's experienced team was expected to march its way to another title while churning out blowouts on a weekly basis, but those results never materialized.

All-American defensive end Joey Bosa admitted that the pressure of perfection got to the team and impacted the season. But that burden has been lifted—similar to the 2014 season, when Ohio State gained momentum instead of trying to maintain it, during its improbable playoff run.

If the Buckeyes recapture the magic created two seasons ago, it could be a special season in Columbus. 

 

The Expectations

So what are the realistic expectations for this year's Buckeyes team?

With the lack of experience and the brutal schedule, it's easy to envision Ohio State falling behind in the College Football Playoff race this fall. The trip south to Oklahoma will be tough to survive, and back-to-back road games against Wisconsin and Penn State in prime time will be hard to navigate early in the Big Ten season.

Ten regular-season wins would be a huge accomplishment for Meyer and the Ohio State coaching staff. Losing as many as four games this fall is in the realm of possibility, but looking back at the 2014 season, it would be foolish to completely rule out a playoff run as well.

It will all depend on how the team comes together this fall. If perimeter weapons emerge to replace lost receiver starters Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall and Braxton Miller, and if Mike Weber proves a suitable replacement for running back Ezekiel Elliott, this team could surge. 

 

All recruiting information via 247 Sports.

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

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Ryan Kelley Decommits from Oregon: Latest Details, Comments, Reaction

The Oregon Ducks lost a big prize Tuesday when 4-star quarterback Ryan Kelley decommitted from the program. 

Kelley, who originally announced his intention to play for the Ducks on Nov. 12, posted a message on Twitter confirming the decision:  

Among class of 2017 recruits, Kelley ranks No. 5 among pro-style quarterback prospects and No. 2 among all recruits in the state of Arizona. In 247Sports' composite rankings, Kelley checks in at 112th overall.

While Kelley didn't expound on the reasons behind his decommitment in the brief message on Twitter, there are some dots that can be connected regarding his change of heart. 

According to the Register-Guard's Steve Mims, "Oregon is expected to have three freshmen quarterbacks on the roster next season including Travis Jonsen, who sat out a redshirt season last year. True freshman Terry Wilson joined the Ducks for spring football and Sheldon senior Justin Herbert will arrive in the fall."

Furthermore, former Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost served as Kelley's chief recruiter before accepting the job of head coach at the University of Central Florida. 

And while Kelley previously told the Oregonian's Andrew Nemec that Frost's decision to bolt from the Pacific Northwest wouldn't impact his commitment, Tuesday's news could make that information relevant once more. 

Looking ahead, Kelley should have plenty of suitors now that he's a recruiting free agent again. 

Arizona State University was hot on Kelley's trail before he committed to Oregon, and the Sun Devils were listed as having the second-best odds to land his services prior to his decision last year, per 247Sports.

Furthermore, Bleacher Report's Sanjay Kirpalani listed ASU as the most likely landing spot for the signal-caller if he didn't choose Oregon last November. 

But regardless of where Kelley lands, it's clear Oregon's loss will be another program's gain when the 2017 season rolls around.  

  

Recruit rankings courtesy of 247Sports.com.

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Tennessee Football: Realistic Expectations for the Vols' 2016 Season

Once upon a time—for Tennessee football fans, it probably feels like back when dinosaurs roamed the earth—the Volunteers expected to win every game. They were staples in the rankings and churned out NFL players by the dozens. 

Those days ended with the malaise of Phillip Fulmer's final few years and the disastrous hirings of Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley, the latter of which may be the worst head coaching hire in the history of the Power Five.

In 2016, however, the Vols will travel back to the future.

With coach Butch Jones at the helm in Knoxville, the program is surging and recruiting is going swimmingly. He's won with virtually no NFL-ready upperclassmen during the past two years, and last year officially marked the end of the Dark Ages.

The Vols are expected to win big, and the Vols expect to win big.

After running back Jalen Hurd shredded Northwestern in last year's Outback Bowl whipping, the game's MVP was asked by a reporter about returning to Raymond James Stadium, the site of this year's national championship game.

"We're already prepared for it," he said.

Tennessee has improved every year under Jones, going from 5-7 to 7-6 to 9-4. More importantly, it isn't just paper progress. The Vols' talent has soared, and the transformation has been thorough.

With that kind of improvement, there's reason for excitement, as B/R colleague Barrett Sallee recently reiterated with this tweet:

Can this be the year they surpass even the highest expectations?

Jones proved this offseason that he had the guts to make bold moves to take UT to the next level, parting ways with steady defensive coordinator John Jancek and hiring reputable, respected Bob Shoop.

The Vols also upgraded when tight ends coach Mark Elder left, hiring former Miami interim head coach and ace recruiter Larry Scott. They, too, have added some elite attitudes to UT's program.

It's good to be confident—and Tennessee players are certainly that, allowing themselves a little swagger this offseason.

But how much of it is real, and how much of it is lip service? When you strip away all the excitement the UT fanbase is basking in right now, what should the expectations for this season truly be?

Let's wade through the hype and churn out some truth about what 2016 should hold for the Vols on both sides of the ball and what fans should ultimately expect.

 

Offense

There are multiple reasons to be excited about the prospects of the Vols this year, but glee starts on the ground.

The triumvirate of Hurd, fellow junior running back Alvin Kamara and dual-threat quarterback Joshua Dobbs should strike fear into the hearts of even the staunchest defenses. Last year, the trio fueled the Vols to 2,908 rushing yards—the second-highest total in school history.

With an improved, veteran offensive line and all three of those guys returning in '16, it wouldn't be out of the ordinary to see Tennessee eclipse 3,700 rushing yards. 

Though the Vols were methodical, punishing and consistent, even against quality competition a season ago, they were far from dominant. Too many times, when they needed to get important yardage at key moments, they didn't. Also, they rarely broke any big plays.

While the Vols were 15th nationally with 95 runs of 10-plus yards, they were 22nd in runs of 20-plus, 63rd in runs of 30-plus and steadily declined from there.

With better blocking and three quality runners returning (not to mention budding sophomore John Kelly) the Vols should improve those numbers, both in short yardage and long. That will equal a bigger year on the ground.

Nobody doubts the Vols' ability to grind games out, but if UT is going to compete for bigger, more important things, Dobbs has to be more accurate and get some chunk plays through the air. 

Last season, the junior signal-caller threw for just 2,291 yards and completed less than 60 percent of his passes. That just won't cut it. No, he didn't get a lot of help from his receiving corps, but Dobbs wasn't sharp, either.

This season, the Vols appear to have a true, emerging alpha pass-catcher in Preston Williams, and he should team with Josh Malone to give UT a strong one-two punch. Josh Smith and Jauan Jennings are also able players with a lot of game reps, and a slew of young talent will help, too.

Dobbs is a veteran quarterback and should soon start throwing like one. If he can elevate his throwing game to finish with 2,800 passing yards and increase his completion percentage (which should be fueled by a short-passing philosophy and more yards-after-catch guys) it will be a much more balanced year.

As far as offseason awards go, there's little chance for any major hardware such as a Heisman Trophy with so many quality players on offense, but if the Vols live up to expectations, it wouldn't be a surprise to see any of the Big Three on first-team All-SEC lists, with potentially an All-American sprinkled in there, too.

 

Defense

So much for quietly sneaking into the national spotlight.

Since he's arrived on campus, the ever-confident Shoop has brought with him a brand of swagger and hasn't shied away at all from all the praise heaped on his new team and the defense he inherited.

When you've got stars who are also your leaders, such as outside linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, cornerback Cameron Sutton, defensive end Derek Barnett and middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr., you let your tongue wag a little.

Shoop's done it. First, he told GoVols247's Wes Rucker that you can't run from the headlines.

"You have to embrace it," he said. "The thing I'm so excited about with Team 120 is that they're so confident coming off last season, but they've embraced the winter program. They're worked hard in the weight room in the winter program, and they've watched a significant part of film on their own, and they're not satisfied."

Then, just this week, Shoop went on Knoxville radio and boasted about a rush defense whose fortunes he intends to improve from last year's No. 45 national ranking:

If they can back him up, that'll be huge news for the Vols, especially considering that depth in the defensive interior is one of the biggest question marks on the entire team.

With comments like that, you know Shoop knows the kind of talent he has. A coordinator with his track record doesn't say things like that without a loaded gun. So what should you expect?

The rush defense may be improved, but it still won't be the strength of the team. That's going to come when teams try to pass against a secondary that got much better throughout last season and will have a veteran, talented group on the back end.

UT wasn't very good rushing the quarterback last year (30 sacks), so regaining some of that firepower off the edge will be a major point of emphasis this season.

The ultimate success of Tennessee's defense will hinge on two factors: pressure and turnovers. They go hand in hand, and with Shoop at the helm, the Vols have the perfect personnel to run his attacking, aggressive scheme.

While the Vols were 28th in turnover margin a season ago, they were an awful 74th in takeaways; they simply didn't cause ball disruptions. This year, that'll change. With Barnett, Reeves-Maybin, Quart'e Sapp, Corey Vereen, Jonathan Kongbo, Kyle Phillips, Darrell Taylor and others, UT will get after quarterbacks.

While Jancek was a solid coordinator, he was too conservative, rarely coaching to complement his talent level, as demonstrated by the quarterback spy on 4th-and-14 against Florida that will haunt UT nightmares for decades. Shoop will.

More blitzing will equal more sacks and more backfield harassment. That will create more turnovers, and UT will be a better defense because of it. This season, Tennessee will be a top-20 team in creating turnovers and will have a top-15 defense under Shoop.

The past four years, Shoop's defenses at Penn State and Vanderbilt have respectively ranked 14th, second, 23rd and 19th nationally. Now he inherits the best talent he's ever coached.

That's bad news for the rest of the SEC.

 

Special Teams

The Vols had arguably the best all-around special teams in the nation last year, and there's no reason to believe they won't duplicate that this season.

In punter Trevor Daniel, UT has a potential All-American. After some vital moments of shakiness (see: missed big, long kicks against Alabama and Florida) Aaron Medley had a solid year, and the strong-legged junior should only get better.

In kick returner Evan Berry and punt returners Sutton and Kamara, the Vols have three of the best specialists in the nation, and the kick coverage units have been consistently brilliant.

This will be a team strength again.

 

Bottom Line

So, all of that gets us here. But what does it tell us?

A team that's going to be better running, better passing, boast a defense that creates more possessions for a potent offense, employ a special teams full of house-callers and unleash a slew of players with postseason accolades is going to go all the way to the national championship, right?

Well, the Vols certainly have that ability.

But to predict that after a four-loss season—even when those losses were to four strong teams by just 17 points and included two total collapses—is a large leap.

There are just too many pitfalls. Tennessee is going to be an aggressor this year, and the Vols will win many more than they lose, but a four-game stretch that includes a home game against Florida, road games at Georgia and Texas A&M and a return to Neyland Stadium to play rival Alabama is wince-worthy.

When you factor in that the Crimson Tide is the last game of seven consecutive weeks of games and on the back end of that rugged run, UT could be weathered and weary. It's difficult to imagine the Vols going unscathed in that stretch.

But winning the SEC East should be the goal. As a matter of fact, anything less will be a disappointment, and most of the Vols players or coaches should probably say the same.

This year's Vols have the leadership, veterans, top-tier talent and depth (in most places) to not only win but win big. They should finally beat Florida and set up a Battle Royal with Georgia in Athens to see who goes to Atlanta. If UT gets there, the season will be a success.

Who knows what can happen in the conference championship game? If Tennessee gets there, it has the talent to win there. When that happens, the victor normally finds itself in the College Football Playoff.

The expectation here is an 11-3 season with a loss in the SEC championship game and a major bowl win. But reaching that pivot point and getting over the hump in Atlanta could send the program back to the next level.

One thing is certain: That feeling where Vols fans expect to win every single game and the team can actually back it up on Saturdays? It's back on Rocky Top.

Now it's up to the Vols to turn that potential into production.

 

All quotes and 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.

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Memphis Reportedly Looks to Join Big 12 as Part of Potential Expansion

The Memphis Tigers football program has been on the rise the past couple of seasons, and it reportedly wants to continue that ascension all the way to the Big 12.   

According to Phil Stukenborg of the Commercial Appeal, “Memphis is among several schools seeking a move to the more lucrative Power Five conference, and the Big 12 may be considering two additional programs to get to 12.”

Memphis is currently in the American Athletic Conference.

This comes after the Big 12 hired Navigate Research to study the conference’s position in the national landscape. Stukenborg noted Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby announced the firm’s findings, which said “adding two teams would increase the league’s chances of being in the four-team College Football Playoff by ‘4-5 percent.’”

The Tigers would apparently love to be one of those two teams because university president M. David Rudd sent a promotional publication to University of Texas president Dr. Gregory Fenves back in December that highlighted the city of Memphis’ Fortune 500 companies, other attributes of the school and the recent run from the football team that went 19-7 the last two years, per Stukenborg.

The purpose of the promotion—titled “Memphis Soul of a City”—was to raise the idea of Memphis as a Big 12 expansion candidate.

Rudd even tweeted a link showcasing the school and its athletic achievements:

Stukenborg pointed out Memphis isn’t the only program from the American Athletic Conference that is looking to join the Big 12. He listed Cincinnati, Central Florida, Connecticut and Houston as other potential candidates, as well as football independent BYU.

To the Tigers’ credit, they have quickly developed into a winning football team after a few lackluster seasons:

Head coach Justin Fuente was with the program since 2012 and was the architect behind the turnaround, but Virginia Tech hired him to replace the retired Frank Beamer. It will be up to former Arizona State offensive coordinator Mike Norvell to maintain that momentum after the Tigers hired him as Fuente’s replacement.

Memphis will also need to replace quarterback Paxton Lynch, who was selected by the Denver Broncos at No. 26 in the first round of Thursday’s NFL draft. Lynch threw for 3,776 yards and 28 touchdowns last season for the 9-4 Tigers and helped them knock off the SEC’s Ole Miss and start a perfect 8-0.

As for the Big 12, it has made the College Football Playoff one time in the system's two years of existence. Oklahoma lost to Clemson in the national semifinals last season, but there was a feeling the selection committee left the conference on the outside looking in during the 2014 campaign.

Ohio State leapfrogged both Baylor and TCU that season when the final standings were released after the Buckeyes destroyed Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. The Big 12 did not have a corresponding championship game, which gave Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer’s team one final opportunity to showcase its talent on a national stage.

Ohio State went on to win the national championship that year, but Bleacher Report’s Michael Felder indicated that expansion from the Big 12 may be an overreaction to a unique situation involving one of the country's top programs from 2014:

While that may be the case, the possibility of joining a Power Five conference like the Big 12 would be a major opportunity for Memphis and the next step for a program on the rise.

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2016 All-Spring Game College Football Team

Spring game statistics are, for the most part, completely uninteresting. With the way teams divide their starters and how they limit snaps in these scrimmages, not much can be gleaned from them.

Every huge performance should be looked at in its proper context, and every quiet day from a star player should be forgiven. Spring games are about entertaining fans and trying out different units and situations without giving too much away.

Still, there's no denying that a number of players across the country upped their individual stock during their respective spring games with standout performances. While those outings won't necessarily be a reflection of what's to come this fall, they can provide much-needed momentum for position battles and development.

Based on the box scores and production on the field, we've compiled a position-by-position look at the single best performances from the scrimmages to fill out an All-Spring Game Team for the 2016 offseason. Which of these top spring game performers do you see having the most success in the regular season? Shout them out in the comments below.

Begin Slideshow

4-Star DE Luiji Vilain Reveals Top Schools, Plans for Summer Commitment

Prized defensive prospect Luiji Vilain already carried a quality collection of collegiate scholarship offers before he transferred to an American high school, but he admits that the recruitment process has exploded since his arrival.

"I've had a chance to prove myself and become a lot better," the Canadian native told Bleacher Report on Sunday while attending The Opening's New Jersey regional. 

Rated No. 8 nationally among weak-side defensive ends and No. 92 overall in 247Sports composite rankings, Vilain holds nearly 30 scholarship offers. When he left Ontario last year, his options were limited to Penn State, Syracuse, Minnesota, Rutgers and South Florida.

While Vilain hasn't entirely ruled out other programs, he's currently focused on a condensed group of schools. He identified North Carolina, USC, Virginia Tech, Georgia, Michigan and Tennessee as schools sitting a stride ahead of other suitors at this stage.

"All those schools have great academics and excellent coaching staffs that stand out to me," Vilain said.

The 6'4", 240-pound junior at Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia, joined a vast collection of competitors at the New York Jets' facilities Sunday. He believed the camp featured few contemporaries in terms of skill set, and that sentiment extends across the country.

"I think I have the best get-off out of everybody at my position," Vilain said. "I'm a technician, and that helps me a lot with pass-rushing. I can do great things against the run and cover the option, which is really important."

Now sorting through dozens of opportunities in different corners of a foreign nation, he's ready to simplify the process. Vilain plans to use upcoming campus visits and continued dialogue with coaching staffs as a method to trim his list to four or five universities by the end of May.

A final decision won't be much further down the road. He anticipates announcing a commitment before his senior season and possibly as early as June. 

Vilain is in the process of lining up trips, which he expects to occur later this month and potentially extending into the early stages of summer. Georgia, Virginia Tech and Michigan are main priorities when it comes to establishing his travel itinerary.

Vilain has been particularly impressed by the efforts of a new Georgia regime. He's consistently heard from Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart and outside linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer.

Prior to taking over in Athens, Smart built a highly regarded reputation as defensive coordinator at Alabama. The role he played during multiple national championship runs resonates strongly with Vilain. 

"It carries a lot of weight," he said. "I could have a chance to come in and play early for one of college football's greatest defensive coaches. He told me they don't have a lot of outside linebackers who were signed in the last class, and they had a few who were drafted."

Leonard Floyd was selected at No. 9 overall by the Chicago Bears, while Jordan Jenkins landed with the New York Jets as a third-round pick.

Opinions vary from collegiate coaching staffs when it comes to projecting Vilain's ideal landing spot within a defensive unit. Those implementing a 3-4 front typically slot him into an outside linebacker role that would allow him to attack off the edge, while many programs predominately utilizing a 4-3 scheme would prefer he put his hand in the dirt as an end.

Michigan and USC are a pair of programs that envision him at defensive end.

He relished the chance to spend time with the Trojans up close and personal earlier this year. Vilain traveled to California during spring break for a seven-on-seven event and took advantage of the trip by taking a look at USC.

"It was really cool. I really like the vibe of the coaches there, and I got a great feeling from it," he said.

While he has yet to visit Ann Arbor, Vilain maintains contact with Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh and defensive line coach Greg Mattison. He hopes to further build their rapport when he pays a visit to Michigan sometime soon.

This impending stretch of campus tours may ultimately be the final time he sees several of these schools until he potentially returns on the visitors' sidelines. Vilain expressed intentions to use just one official visit this fall—to whichever school he selects before the season.

 

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

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Nick Saban Can Reload on Assistant Coaches as Well as He Builds a Roster

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Wouldn’t you love to see Nick Saban’s Rolodex? 

Just imagine some of the names and phone numbers that the University of Alabama head coach has at his fingertips. They include essentially everyone in football, the people he lines up to be guest speakers and some of the most influential figures in the world.

Yet one can almost picture a second set of numbers belonging to the people he trusts most and calls when his coaching staff has an opening. It’s obviously a much shorter list, but the one he considers more important, especially the way Saban values the notion of loyalty.

Curt Cignetti? Saban worked for his father, Frank.

Joe Pendry? Like Saban, he’s a West Virginia guy. They traveled in the same circles.

Bobby Williams? His former assistant came aboard a year later in 2008 and until two months ago was Alabama’s special teams and tight ends coach.

Jeff Stoutland? He was Williams’ offensive line coach at Michigan State. 

It wasn’t like Saban suddenly heard about any of them overnight.

Really good teams in the NFL always have contingency plans for every player on the roster, from the starting quarterback down to long snapper. If there’s an injury there’s already a plan for who moves up and for how that player’s spot will be filled as well.

A good example is the kicker position, because no NFL team carries a backup on the roster. Should he get hurt, there’s essentially an automatic move regarding a replacement or which players will come in and try out for the job.

Saban essentially has the same thing for his coaches. If someone left today, he would already have a good idea of who would be filling that office space tomorrow, and if necessary he could probably replace the entire staff by the weekend.

He recently had to go to that list with the sudden departure of defensive line coach Bo Davis.

Almost immediately, AL.com's Matt Zenitz reported that Alabama was poised to hire Karl Dunbar, an NFL defensive line coach who had previously worked for the Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings, New York Jets, and most recently, the Buffalo Bills. It was like a military reaction to an insurrection: direct, immediate and proportional.

It would be a very Saban-type move.

Although he keeps an eye out for fast-rising coaches and has been known to hire former opposing head coaches who impressed him, (like Lane Kiffin and Mario Cristobal) when it comes to Saban’s coaching staff there are some specific things he covets in addition to being a good recruiter—especially on the defensive side and with the coordinators.

One is that they have both NFL and college coaching experience. Another, which can trump the former, is that he’s worked with them before.

Yes, Saban has a reputation for being very demanding, but few critics mention how regularly he rehires people.

Saban was so familiar with Kirby Smart, who went all the way back to his LSU years, that at times he didn’t even have to say anything for the former defensive coordinator to know what was wanted. Even when he did, it could be like listening to a conversation in a foreign language.

So when Smart recently left to become Georgia’s head coach, Saban only interviewed one person, the man whom he had initially been grooming as a replacement, Jeremy Pruitt.

He called the decision a “no-brainer.”

Pruitt began his coaching career as a student assistant coach at Alabama during the 1997 season, but it was during his years at Hoover High School that led to his return. He first joined Saban’s staff as the Director of Player Development in 2007, and the fast-riser was promoted to defensive backs coach in 2010.

For three seasons, the two worked on the field together as Saban oversees the cornerbacks during practices. Had Smart left in 2011 or 2012, there’s a good chance Pruitt would have been directly promoted.

Instead, he was hired away by former Saban assistant Jimbo Fisher to be Florida State’s defensive coordinator during its 2013 national championship season. The Seminoles led the nation in scoring defense (12.1 points per game), were second in team passing-efficiency defense (93.77 rating), third in total defense (281.4 yards) and 18th in rushing defense (124.8). He subsequently spent two years at Georgia.

“It's always difficult to find someone who knows our system and our scheme,” Saban said. “So to be able to bring somebody back like that helps. New energy, new enthusiasm, new ideas, but somebody who really understands what we do.”

Consequently, few expect there to be any sort of drop-off with Alabama’s defense this season even though the Crimson Tide just had four former starters selected during the second round of last week’s NFL draft. There’s still an incredible amount of talent left on the roster, including some of the players Pruitt helped recruit like linebacker Ryan Anderson.

Pruitt was also the primary recruiter for running backs Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon, and linebacker Reggie Ragland.

“They’re both aggressive,” said senior defensive back Maurice Smith about the different coaching styles of Pruitt and Smart. “I can definitely say that, and they both bring a swag about themselves. One [area] they do show similarities with is not taking any slack, making sure he presses on us and that we do things until we can’t do them wrong.”

Davis was also considered a prototypical Saban assistant, having worked for him four different times. The first was when the former All-SEC defensive lineman for LSU joined the Tigers strength and conditioning staff as assistant coordinator under Tommy Moffitt in June 2002.

When he left to be the defensive line coach at Oklahoma State, Dunbar was hired to be a part of the weight room staff that also included current Alabama strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran.

Saban obviously kept tabs on him just like he never lost the phone number for Derrick Ansley, who was Alabama’s defensive graduate assistant during the 2010-11 seasons. He served as Tennessee’s defensive backs coach in 2012 before moving on to Kentucky.

“He's an outstanding coach,” Saban said about Ansley before Alabama played the Wildcats in 2013. “Did a great job when he was here. Very bright guy. Learned a lot. Worked hard. I think he's done a really good job in coaching where he's been.

“I can't say enough good things about Derrick Ansley. He did a fantastic job for us here and I've heard nothing but good things about him from other people in other places.”

To the surprise of no one, Ansley’s back in Tuscaloosa as Alabama’s secondary coach despite having just been promoted to be Kentucky’s co-defensive coordinator.

At this point, it’s all just part Saban’s reloading process, a phrase and approach that doesn’t only apply to the high level of his recruits.

  

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

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Notre Dame Football: Fighting Irish's Top 2017 NFL Draft Prospects

The 2017 NFL draft will feature a few respectable Notre Dame prospects, but the Fighting Irish would need a few early declarations to match their 2016 success.

Ronnie Stanley and Jaylon Smith highlighted the elite talents from South Bend, while Will Fuller, Nick Martin and C.J. Prosise were among the first selected at their respective positions. Only Martin wasn't an underclassman, however.

That exodus left Notre Dame's roster with only a couple of NFL-caliber seniors. Unless the best draft-eligible prospects—redshirt sophomores or juniors—depart early, 2017 will be a quiet cycle for the Irish.

But if those youngsters—three of which are included on this list—forgo a final year or two of eligibility, Notre Dame will celebrate another respectable showing on Days 1 and 2.

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College Football's Most Important Offers of the Week

Lanier High School in Buford, Georgia, is no stranger to seeing college football coaches from around the country showing on its campus.

After all, the Longhorns program was represented in the 2016 class by 5-star defensive tackle and eventual Auburn signee Derrick Brown.

This year, another pair of stud defenders are racking up offers at a rapid rate in 4-star linebacker Tyler Taylor and 3-star defensive end Michael Allen

Last week, SEC West power Ole Miss tendered both Taylor and Allen.

Taylor—who also netted an offer from fellow SEC juggernaut LSU last week—is a 6’1”, 213-pounder who rates as the nation’s No. 10 inside linebacker and the No. 307 player overall in the 2017 cycle.

Since February, Taylor has added more than 20 offers to his credit—with schools such as Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and Tennessee among the programs involved with him in the early stages of his recruitment.

Meanwhile, Allen is a 6’6”, 241-pounder who rates as the nation’s No. 22 weak-side defensive end and the No. 340 player overall in the 2017 cycle.

Similar to Taylor, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee are all in the mix with him heading into the summer.

However, the Rebels have had some success in pulling studs out of the metro Atlanta area in recent years.

Head coach Hugh Freeze and his staff will try to replicate that feat with both Taylor and Allen moving forward.

 


USC After In-State CB

One of the primary factors that have helped USC regain its footing as a Pac-12 titan has been its ability to reel in top homegrown recruits from the Golden State.

Last week, Trojans head coach Clay Helton and his staff extended an offer to prized 4-star corner and Los Angeles native Deommodore Lenoir, according to Barton Simmons of 247Sports.

The 6’1”, 180-pound Lenoir rates as the nation’s No. 8 corner and the No. 80 player overall in the 2017 cycle. He has programs such as Michigan, Oregon, Stanford and UCLA among the schools showing heavy interest in him. 

However, with the Trojans now in the mix, his recruitment may shift gears with a push from Helton and his staff to keep him close to home for his college career.

 

Texas DB Nets Trio of Offers

One rising 2017 prospect whose recruitment has picked up significant steam in the spring is 4-star safety Grant Delpit

Last week, the 6’1”, 200-pounder out of Lamar High School in Houston added to his swelling offer list when Arizona, Clemson and Florida State all tendered him. 

Delpit is another player who has added more than 20 offers since the beginning of February.

Delpit has programs such as Alabama, Baylor, Florida, LSU and Notre Dame pursuing him aggressively at this stage of his recruitment.

Among his three newest offers, the competition to pluck Delpit out of the state of Texas is sure to keep intensifying in the coming months.

 

Notre Dame Offers Top 2018 OL

Notre Dame staged a coup in its 2016 class by landing a prized pair of offensive linemen out of the state of Ohio. 

Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly and his staff are hoping to do it again in the 2018 class with offensive lineman Jackson Carman—who landed an offer from the Irish last week.

The 6’6”, 305-pounder has already landed 15 offers to date—with programs such as Alabama, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State among his early group of suitors.

As detailed by Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports, Carman is still in the learning phase of finding out about the Irish program. Still, the Irish figure to become one of the more serious threats to lure him away from the state of Ohio moving forward.

 

Best of the Rest

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2019

 

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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