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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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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.

Begin Slideshow

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why Satellite Camps May Not Be for Ohio State and Urban Meyer Moving Forward

GENEVA, Ohio — Once he had settled into his new gig as the tight ends coach at UNC-Charlotte, Dean Hood approached Urban Meyer with a proposition.

"I told Urban, 'Why don't you come and do a camp at Charlotte," Hood recalled on Wednesday at his annual youth camp outside of Ashtabula, Ohio, which he co-hosts alongside his childhood friend, Meyer.

The Ohio State head coach wasn't interested.

"I'm tired of those satellite camps," Meyer responded. "I already do this many."

"Yeah," replied Hood. "But we can hang out for a day."

Meyer was catching on.

"That's a solid point," he relented.

The future of satellite camps remains very much up in the air—both from the standpoints of their legality in college football and overall cost-effectiveness for programs—but when it comes to the Buckeyes, it may take special examples like Hood's proposal for Meyer to make an exception moving forward.

After dabbling in the practice a year ago with a single camp in Florida, Ohio State expanded its efforts this summer throughout the month of June. But thus far, Meyer remains skeptical of the benefits.

If anything, he seems to see more harm than good.

"It's been tough," Meyer admitted. "You worry about our staff, you worry about burnout. At some point, when do you get to watch your kids play baseball? I know what I'm going to do: I'm going to watch my kid play baseball. I want our coaches to do that."

That may seem like a departure from Meyer's stance on satellite camps from the spring, when he joined Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh in the fight to keep the practice legal in the midst of what was ultimately a three-week ban that was both placed and lifted in April.

Back then, the three-time national champion head coach was adamant about college coaches being allowed to attend camps on other campuses, given how he used to benefit as the head coach at Bowling Green from being able to evaluate players at camps like Ohio State's.

But from that perspective, Meyer's viewpoint hasn't changed.

"It's a must for the non-Power Five [schools]," Meyer said. "We have the Ohio State camp and all the MAC schools are there. And they say there were over 100 scholarships offered in that camp alone, because not everybody can play at the Ohio State level."

What has changed, however, appears to be Meyer's stance on larger programs—like his own—setting up shop at camps across the country, promoting their brand and, yes, recruiting. Call it a case of keeping up with the Joneses, but as Michigan expanded its reach to nearly 40 camps, Ohio State increased its camp presence this summer as well, although admittedly on a smaller scale.

According to Meyer, the Buckeyes only attended "three or four" off-camps in June, but Rivals.com's Ryan Donnelly tracked at least nine summer stops for Ohio State staff members, including multiple trips to Florida and Texas, as well as camps in New Jersey and Georgia, in addition to hosting its own traditional camps in Columbus.

Last year, the Buckeyes first dipped their toes in the satellite camp waters with a trip to Florida Atlantic's campus in Boca Raton, while the annual Sound Mind Sound Body camp in Detroit has been a summer staple for Meyer throughout his time at Ohio State.

Listening to Meyer, the lighter load certainly sounds like his preference—although he's never been one to let hard work stop him from doing what's best for his program.

"You have to do what you have to do to stay up in the world of recruiting," said Meyer. "But there's also an element of freshness with our staff, too. Those are all things we're going to evaluate, because this is really the first year we've done it in earnest."

When Meyer does do his evaluations, he may ultimately find the rewards don't outweigh the risks.

After all, even without the initial aid of satellite camps, the Buckeyes have managed to lay claim to the nation's top-ranked class throughout the majority of the 2017 cycle.

And despite its prominence on the satellite camp circuit, Michigan has seen minimal returns on its investment thus far, with June's worldwide tour drawing immediate commitments from just four total prospects over the course of the Wolverines' 2017 and 2018 classes.

Even in Michigan's 2016 class, the overall impact of Harbaugh's first "Summer Swarm Tour" was minimal.

"The satellite camps were a little overblown," Rivals.com National Recruiting Director Mike Farrell told Bleacher Report of the Wolverines' efforts. "They did get some players from those satellite camps, but they aren't the highest ranked players in their class. It wasn't this sweeping success that a lot of people think it was."

To satellite camp or not satellite camp?

For Meyer, the answer may be a happy medium, which includes his traditional stops in Cleveland and Detroit, in addition to cherry-picking trips to talent-rich states like Florida and Georgia. After all, the Buckeyes' 2015 trip to South Florida appeared to help in the recruitment of 5-star receiver Trevon Grimes, who 247Sports' Crystal Ball projections currently peg as an Ohio State favorite.

But continuing to follow the now-nationwide Sound Mind Sound Body tour across the country or adopting a June schedule that even remotely mirrors Michigan's? That certainly seems out of the question.

For now, Meyer will continue to weigh the pros and cons, but it already appears he's favoring less instead of more when it comes to satellite camps.

That is, unless a trip to Charlotte to see his buddy is involved.

 

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.

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Is Christian McCaffrey or Leonard Fournette College Football's Best Back?

They’re so talented, yet so different. Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey are unquestionably college football’s top-two tailbacks, but their differences make them intriguing. As both enter their junior seasons, they’ve dazzled fans with their skill sets.

Fournette, LSU’s star back, runs with power and violence. McCaffrey, Stanford’s versatile superstar, moves with speed and agility and has tremendous versatility. As we prepare for 2016, it’s easy to see that, barring injury, they’ll be the top-two runners in America; after all, they’re the top returning rushers following Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry’s dash to the NFL.

But which runner is better? Fournette or McCaffrey? Their differing styles make it hard to choose, but here’s a look at which back will be college football’s best this fall.

As it turned out, all Christian McCaffrey needed was a chance. Two years ago, he had just 42 carries for 300 yards in a rather middling Stanford rushing attack. He showed promise near that season's end, carrying 11 times for 64 yards in a rout of UCLA and averaging 8.1 yards on seven carries in a Foster Farms Bowl romp over Maryland.

His 2015 debut was inauspicious (12 carries, 66 yards in a 16-6 loss to Northwestern), but once McCaffrey hit his stride, he never looked back. He rushed for at least 100 yards in 11 of Stanford’s final 12 games (rushing for 94 yards in a 38-36 win over Notre Dame). It’s no coincidence that the Cardinal went 11-1 in that stretch, won the Pac-12 and demolished Iowa in the Rose Bowl to cap the season.

He finished the year with 2,019 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, averaging 6.0 yards per carry. McCaffrey also led Stanford in receptions and receiving yards with 45 catches for 645 yards and five touchdowns.

Oh, and he was also a standout special teams player. He averaged 8.6 yards on 15 punt returns (including a 66-yard score) and 28.9 yards on 37 kick returns, including a 98-yard touchdown.

The 45-16 Rose Bowl rout of Iowa was a perfect showcase for his skills. On the opening play from scrimmage, McCaffrey took a screen pass 75 yards for a touchdown. He added a 66-yard punt return score and rolled up a bowl-record 368 all-purpose yards, with 172 on the ground and 105 through the air. He became the first player ever to surpass 100 yards rushing and receiving in a Rose Bowl game.

McCaffrey led the nation in all-purpose yardage and finished second behind Henry in the Heisman Trophy voting, with his Rose Bowl tour de force giving voters a reason to regret their choice.

Stanford director of sports performance Shannon Turley told ESPN.com’s David Lombardi that McCaffrey is Stanford's most unique player ever. 

“Christian is authoring his own binder,” Turley said. “He’s carving his own path. He’s unlike anybody we’ve ever had.”

Fournette arrived in Baton Rouge with the burden of hype. He was considered the nation’s consensus top recruit (247Sports), and he faced additional pressure as a New Orleans native playing for LSU, Louisiana’s flagship program.

2014 was an up-and-down beginning. Fournette managed just 18 yards on eight carries in his college debut against Wisconsin and didn’t get his first 100-yard game until the fifth week against New Mexico State, going for 122 yards and two scores.

He had five 100-yard rushing games, but he saved his best for last in the Music City Bowl against Notre Dame. Fournette carried 11 times for 143 yards and two touchdowns (including an 89-yard dash). He also returned a kick 100 yards for a touchdown in a 31-28 defeat, finishing his freshman season with 1,034 rushing yards and 10 scores.

That was good. 2015 was great. Even though LSU’s opener against McNeese State was cancelled by persistent thunderstorms, Fournette still rushed for 1,953 yards in 12 games, averaging 162.8 rushing yards per game. By comparison, McCaffrey played 14 games, averaging 144.2 rushing yards per game.

He reached at least 100 yards in 10 of 12 games, surpassing the 200-yard mark four times (against Auburn, Syracuse, Eastern Michigan and in the Alamo Bowl against Texas Tech).

Per Athlon’s Lance Dozier, Fournette had the third-most “explosive” runs (30-plus yards) in college football last season.

A seven-game stretch of 150-yard rushing games placed Fournette at the forefront of the Heisman Trophy discussion and thrust LSU into College Football Playoff discussion. However, when his team needed him most, Fournette was missing in action.

Alabama shut him down in a 30-16 defeat, yielding just 31 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. The following week, Fournette improved somewhat, going for 91 yards and a score on 19 carries in a 31-14 loss to Arkansas. The next week was more of the same; 108 yards on 25 carries in a 38-17 loss to Ole Miss.

Fournette wasn’t the same back, and he fell out of the Heisman race while head coach Les Miles nearly lost his job. He rebounded against Texas A&M and Texas Tech, going for a combined 371 yards and five touchdowns in a pair of victories.

As goes Fournette, so goes LSU. It’s also worth noting that as a freshman, he managed a combined 88 yards and no touchdowns on 26 carries in losses to the Crimson Tide and Razorbacks.

There’s no denying his raw talent and his ability to run around, over and through tacklers with a blend of power and speed. But Fournette’s track record in big games is a concern, and while he can catch balls out of the backfield (19 receptions for 253 yards and a touchdown as a sophomore), he doesn’t match McCaffrey’s marks there. He has also shown skills as a kick returner, but he didn’t return a single kick in 2015.

It’s a very close race, but McCaffrey’s wide skill base and overall consistency make him the nation’s best back. The best part, of course? We have all of 2016 to make a final decision, and that’ll be a lot of fun.

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Mackey Award Watch List 2016: Full List Released

The battle to become the nation's top tight end has officially begun. The NCAA released its watch list for the 2016 Mackey Award on Wednesday night, featuring a number of high-profile names and a few who should ascend to the forefront this season.

Michigan's Jake Butt, Alabama's O.J. Howard and Ole Miss' Evan Engram lead the charge in a solid group of pass-catchers who should be playing on Sundays a year from now. Clemson's Jordan Leggett, Virginia Tech's Bucky Hodges and Arkansas' Jeremy Sprinkle are among the notables on the full list of players, according to NCAA.com:

A day after being named the only tight ends on the Maxwell Award watch list, Butt and Howard are the prohibitive favorites here.

Butt emerged as a first-team All-American and All-Big Ten selection last season, setting a career high with 51 receptions for 654 yards and three touchdowns. He chose to return for his senior campaign rather than entering the 2016 draft, where he likely would have been picked within the first three rounds.

“I truly think that we can win it all,” Butt told ESPN in April, per Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press. “I truly, truly believe that, and that’s where it starts. But it’s going to be one game at a time when the fall comes around. Just because spring’s over, we’re going to be working all summer just to improve our game. And Week 1, come Hawaii, we’ll be ready.”

Howard recorded 38 receptions for 602 yards and two touchdowns as a junior. Between Howard, Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart, the Crimson Tide have one of their most talented pass-catching corps in history. The tight end averaged the highest yards per reception among the three (15.8) and might wind up being the best pro among this class at his position.

"It was kind of a decision where I thought I have so much left on the table in college," Howard said of why he stayed at Alabama, per John Talty of AL.com. "How I can mature on and off the field. It really wasn't a hard decision at the end of the day. We thought about it a lot."

Engram saw his numbers take a dip from his sophomore to junior seasons, catching the same amount of passes but averaging 5.2 fewer yards per reception. His numbers were down in part due to improvements as a blocker, yet he's still a little slight for the next level. With Chad Kelly expected to take another leap under center in 2016, Engram should be in store for a bounce-back campaign.

Leggett was an underrated cog in Clemson's explosive offense last season. He caught eight touchdowns as a big red-zone threat as part of a 40-reception, 525-yard season. The ascent came seemingly out of nowhere, as Leggett more than doubled his receptions and yards from his first two years at Clemson.

Sprinkle will be hoping for a similar leap in performance as he replaces Chargers second-round pick Hunter Henry as Arkansas' primary tight end. He made 27 receptions for 389 yards and six touchdowns last season in a secondary role.

Hodges, meanwhile, will be hoping to build on solid freshman and sophomore seasons in a starring role. He put up 85 receptions for 1,056 yards and 13 touchdowns over the first two years at Virginia Tech, turning in nearly identical campaigns. If he hopes to catch the aforementioned guys ahead of him, it's time he realizes his immense potential.

The Mackey Award has typically resulted in a near-guarantee of playing on Sundays. Tim Stratton, the winner of the inaugural Mackey Award in 2000, is the only player not drafted after taking home the trophy. A majority of the others have been selected within the first three rounds. 

   

Follow Tyler Conway (@jtylerconway) on Twitter.

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4-Star Nico Collins Explains Why Michigan Leads, Reveals 5 Official Visits

BEAVERTON, Oregon — The Michigan Wolverines continue to emerge as front-runners for one of the Southeast region's finest offensive talents.

Nico Collins, a 4-star receiver from Clay-Chalkville High School near Birmingham, Alabama, confirmed Michigan leads his recruitment shortly after a Wednesday morning practice session at The Opening.

The 6'5", 195-pound playmaker, one of 166 total athletes selected to compete through July 10 at Nike's world headquarters, admits things are rapidly moving in a positive direction with head coach Jim Harbaugh and company.

"There's a lot of stuff about Michigan" Collins told Bleacher Report. "That's an old-fashioned school...and the academics, they care about you after football, what you plan on doing after football. That, and football itself, plays a big role in that. ... The coaching staff, everything is just set up right up there."

Rated No. 13 nationally among receivers in composite rankings, he opted to go public about the Wolverines' spot atop his list after a May campus visit and ensuing conversations with his parents.

"They really loved it, and I really loved it," Collins said.

Collins claims more than 20 scholarship offers, including several from SEC and ACC squads. He never quite envisioned this much reciprocated interest between himself and a Big Ten team.

"I would never have thought [when I was] younger that Michigan, in the north, would be recruiting me right now," Collins said.

The Wolverines consistently targeted Alabama during the past two recruiting cycles under Harbaugh. Michigan currently carres a commitment from Yellowhammer State defensive back J'Marick Woods

Collins, who caught 60 passes for 1,103 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2015, described a family connection to the program and region during an April conversation with Shane Kinnee of The Wolverine Daily.

“I do have a lot of family in the state of Michigan,” he told Kinnee. “So that kind of helps out Michigan when they are recruiting me. My father having been a Michigan fan and from the state of Michigan plays a big role to me, but he knows it’s my decision.”

His evaluation of a potential future in Ann Arbor could alter dramatically at The Opening, where Collins continues to work alongside 5-star Wolverines quarterback commit Dylan McCaffrey as seven-on-seven tournament teammates.

He didn't undervalue the potential pull a premier passer could provide in his recruitment process.

"It plays a big part because that might be my quarterback the next three or four years," Collins told B/R. "He wants me there pretty bad, and I'm kind of loving Michigan. ... Having Dylan in my class at quarterback I know somebody will get me the ball."

While Wolverines fans ponder the possibility of a future duo, this pair will spend significant time together in Beaverton.

"It means a lot to me," Collins said. "I've talked to him every day in the hotel, just hanging out and talking to each other. We're building a relationship and getting kind of close to each other. Coming out here on the field, when it's time to shine, he's throwing the ball. Coming out here and hanging out with him is pretty fun."

McCaffrey, an Elite 11 finalist rated No. 2 nationally among pro-style quarterbacks, agreed these days at The Opening could prove pivotal.

"He's looking at me, seeing how I play, seeing if he can jell with me for the next four years, so I'm taking it like a tryout...like I'm getting evaluated by the top guys," he said.

McCaffrey is also joined on Team Hyper Cool by 5-star Detroit receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones—another primary Michigan target. Collins didn't dismiss the chance of an eventual reunion in Ann Arbor.

"It's a possibility...it can happen, really," he said. "It's a crazy duo. You don't know who to check. Me and him, you don't know who's going to get the ball."

Collins expects to use one of his five official visits at Michigan, spending the remaining trips closer to home. Planning is underway for alternative official visits to Alabama, Clemson, Florida State and Georgia.

The Bulldogs have made a strong impression since the arrival of first-year head coach Kirby Smart. Collins' multiple trips to Athens include the new regime's first spring game.

"I had to go up there and see what the new Georgia looks like after Coach [Mark] Richt left," Collins said. "What Kirby's doing with them, you know he's doing pretty good. He's got [5-star 2016 quarterback signee] Jacob Eason, [2016 Elite 11 finalist] Jake Fromm... those two are trying to get me up there to hang out with them."

Fromm identified the coveted Alabama pass-catcher as a priority target during Elite 11 finals.

"We gotta get Nico Collins," Fromm said. "He's a great receiver and one of those guys out there who can really make a big difference for us at Georgia."

Though Michigan leads, the Bulldogs are undoubtedly on Collins' mind.

"I could see myself there," he said.

Alabama provides serious competition within the SEC, though a crowded field of top-tier receiver recruits creates an interesting dynamic in Tuscaloosa. Devonta SmithJerry Jeudy and Jeff Thomas are fellow Opening competitors on the Crimson Tide's radar, and any could elect to take a spot in head coach Nick Saban's latest talent-laden class before Collins is prepared to pull the trigger.

Collins doesn't anticipate a commitment announcement until after he utilizes all five official visits. That could push a decision deep into the winter, though Alabama has made it clear this in-state stud is important for the long haul.

"[Receivers coach Billy Napier] said I'm a big priority for them," Collins said. "A big-sized receiver like me, on the outside playing the 'X' position. He said he's got a lot of big plans for me if I come. He really wants me to come, he’s saying how he could use me in different ways.”

Saban spoke with Collins last month, according to the receiver, and suggested he attend an upcoming BBQ event in Tuscaloosa. It remains to be seen whether Alabama will lock in another visit this summer.

Clemson is set to host Collins next week, while LSU is also under consideration as a preseason destination. Michigan may be the program to beat right now, but there's plenty of company in this widespread pursuit.

 

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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Brandon Martin Decommits from Auburn: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

Class of 2017 JUCO 4-star wide receiver recruit Brandon Martin announced on Wednesday night he has decommitted from Auburn University:

His announcement came just five days after joining the school, per Keith Niebuhr of 247Sports.

Martin spent last season at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College where he never played a down at the school because he redshirted in order to get his grades up. Originally coming out of Prime Prep Academy in Dallas, Martin had signed with LSU, but wasn't able to attend the school due to his poor academic standing, according to Niebuhr. 

Per 247Sports' composite ratings, the 6'4", 205-pound receiver was ranked the No. 1 JUCO wide receiver prospect in the nation, the No. 2 overall JUCO recruit to come out of the state of Texas and the No. 6 overall JUCO player in the country. 

Despite his large frame, Martin's footwork makes him a solid route-runner and an even more difficult ball- carrier to bring down. 

He also uses his size to his advantage where he can simply shrug off would-be tacklers:

With Martin back on the market, there is a list of at least six teams that could be in contention to acquire the big receiver. 

Per 247Sports, he had previously received offers from Arizona State, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa State, Louisville and Mississippi State. So it's safe to say Martin will be hearing from a few possible suitors in the next few days.

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The Opening 2016: Biggest Takeaways from Day 2

BEAVERTON, Ore. — Wednesday was the second day of The Opening, and it was another day for the quarterbacks to get acquainted—and, in some cases, reacquainted—with wide receivers and tight ends.

Nike World Headquarters saw everything from talented football players to talented football players playing basketball. A morning session highlighted the day, and a slam-dunk contest featuring five athletes served as a solid break and precursor, of sorts, to a private afternoon session.

Wednesday featured roughly 40 athletes and was the last day before the rest of the 166 members of The Opening roster arrives in Beaverton. Here are some takeaways from Wednesday's action:

 

Nothing's changed: Martell about building Ohio State's class

The opportunity for quarterbacks to bond with wide receivers and tight ends two days earlier—something new to The Opening—is something quarterback Tate Martell is a big fan of, particularly as the nation's top-ranked dual-threat signal-caller.

The Ohio State 4-star commit has been connecting with recruiting targets old and new since first arriving in Oregon, and he's building chemistry on the football field in time for the upcoming seven-on-seven competition at The Opening. Martell on Wednesday was seen having fun with two targets Ohio State fans are well-aware of.

"I feel like I've gravitated toward Tyjon and Trevon a lot," Martell said of 5-star wide receivers Tyjon Lindsey and Trevon Grimes. "I think we're in a good position to land both of them, but we'll see how it turns out."

One thing about the previous workouts, Martell said, is that he's had a chance to bond with athletes who may not be considered targets to some. One guy Martell said he's looking to recruit is Joseph Lewis, another 5-star receiver who has been impressive since the start of The Opening.

"Hopefully we'll try to go after Joseph," Martell said. "He's such a good receiver. I think one of the only interceptions I've thrown in seven-on-seven was to Joseph playing safety. He's a baller, and obviously, I'd love to play with him at Ohio State. He's someone you would much rather play with than play against."

 

Can the SEC sway a Big Ten lean?

While Ohio State fans appreciate the work that Martell is contributing as a player-recruiter, some fans are hoping Grimes pulls the trigger and commits soon.

Grimes, representing revered St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, admitted that Ohio State is a leader, but there's one school that is doing a solid job in recruiting him and keeping him as a priority.

"Florida's really been on me," Grimes said. "My quarterback at my school [Jake Allen] is committed there. We have a great connection. The coaches are phenomenal, and the facilities are phenomenal. I have class with [Allen], and he pushes Florida to me. They definitely fulfill everything he's said about them."

Florida is in the running, but many believe it'll be tough to sway Grimes from Ohio State. Grimes is a heavy lean to Ohio State, according to his 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions.

Grimes, who recently released a top six of Ohio State, Florida, Florida State, Alabama, Georgia and Miami, reiterated that he will make an verbal commitment on Aug. 24. Grimes added that he may cut his list to three schools in roughly three weeks.

"That's the start before my senior season," he said of the date. "I want to get it over with before my senior season so I can focus on my team and my school and winning another state championship."

 

Friends first, rivals later with QBs Robison, Ehlinger

Watching 4-star quarterbacks Chris Robison and Sam Ehlinger in Oregon has been a bit of comedic relief. The two are good friends, and they love cracking jokes on each other.

Their friendship happens to be enhanced with their college futures. Robison is an Oklahoma commit. Ehlinger is committed to heated rival Texas.

"We mess with each other and talk crap to each other about the rivalry, but at the end of the day, it's all fun and games," Ehlinger said. "We're out here competing against each other but also making each other better. I look forward to competing against him in the future."

Robison added: "Since we're both from Texas, and since people from Texas love being with other people from Texas, I think that bonds us. Even though we're going to be rivals, we're still going to be good friends, even through the rivalry."

The annual Red River Rivalry pitting the Longhorns and Sooners could be the major talking point between the two friends for the next few years. For now, the topic of discussion is The Opening, being a part of the Elite 11 and ultimately competing for quarterback MVP honors of the week.

Whatever happens, know that both athletes hold each other in high regard, and both are each other's biggest supporters.

"He's a dog. He can do anything on the field," Robison said of Ehlinger. "He can throw, he can run, plus he's a big dude. Off the field, he's a great person. You can talk to him about anything."

Ehlinger, in discussing Robison, said: "He's very fluid. He's like an artist; it's all artistic to him. He flows very well, and everything looks really good."

 

Impressive in workouts, TE Falo still wide open

At first glance, Josh Falo passes the eyeball test. At 6'5" and 227 pounds, he looks like the guy coaches would love to incorporate into their passing games.

Falo, the nation's No. 5 tight end, was hard to miss in Tuesday workouts, and he didn't disappoint on Wednesday. Falo claims 23 offers and said he's looking to trim his list soon.

"I was thinking about making a top 10 or top 15 before my season and then cut it down to a top five during the season," Falo said. "There might be a possibility that I commit during or after the season."

Falo said he isn't in any rush to make any major decisions and is enjoying the process altogether. He added that schools like Oregon, USC, Michigan, Colorado, Alabama, Nebraska, Auburn and Arkansas are the ones he hears most from.

"There are a lot of schools busting their butts to get me, and that means a lot to me," he said. "But at some point, I know I'm going to have to cut it to just one school."

Falo said he doesn't have a current favorite and is going to use the end of the summer to finalize his official visit schedule. His definition of a winning school is pretty cut and dry.

"I want a great football program and a great school for academics," he said. "I'm also looking at the environment and how the people are."

 

Superman rises: Reagor wins B/R Dunk Contest

The Bleacher Report Dunk Contest took place Wednesday afternoon, and Oklahoma wide receiver commit Jalen Reagor walked out of the gymnasium as the contest's winner. Reagor competed against wide receiver Devonta Smith, Wisconsin flex tight end pledge Jake Ferguson and the Clemson commitment duo of quarterback Hunter Johnson and wide receiver Tee Higgins.

Reagor competed in the finals against Smith, a springy athlete who opened the contest with an impressive double-pump slam through the legs. Reagor, however, captured the title with the help of his final attempt, a dunk over a Bleacher Report barrier.

Reagor may have further intrigued the judges when he put on a Superman shirt before attempting his final dunks. The Waxahachie, Texas, standout is the son of former NFL defensive lineman Montae Reagor.

 

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

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Urban Meyer Comments on Possible Underclass Combine for NFL Draft Prospects

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer is formulating a plan with other coaches and the American Football Coaches Association that would allow college football's underclassmen, who are mostly juniors, to work out for NFL scouts without losing their NCAA eligibility, per Zac Jackson of Pro Football Talk. 

Meyer believes that these young football stars and NFL teams aren't getting proper information. For the players, it's whether to enter the draft. Those who are willing to take that leap of faith and then aren't drafted face the realization that they can't return to college on their football scholarship.  

For the teams, they aren't able to get too close to these prospects and get a full read on their potential.

"It’s not a process that’s well done right now,” Meyer said. “There’s a rule that says the NFL can’t look at juniors. Well of course the NFL [scouts] are going to look at a junior. And they should look at a junior."

Of the 12 Ohio State players selected in the 2016 draft, seven were underclassmen. A total of nine Buckeyes underclassmen declared for the draft:

Meyer has spoken about this combine to University of Alabama head coach Nick Saban, who along with Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema expressed a desire to tap into the younger players' class back in May, via Jackson.

Meyer broke down the mission of this kind of workout session:

We’re going to try to get something where there’s a time those [scouts] can actually come in and they can work out the juniors. Because information is good. [The players] are getting their information somewhere, so why not get it from the experts — the scouts, the general managers, people who have the right information? They’re getting it from agents and they’re getting it from wannabes, and that’s not good information.

An open system that would allow this kind of event could eliminate a lot of mystery surrounding these younger players, which could cut down on potential busts.

It will give teams a chance to bring their best personnel and evaluators to formulate an opinion instead of building them off agents and people close to these prospects who are nothing more than glorified hype men. 

More importantly, it gives college players a second chance to return to college instead of risking it all for a shot at the pros that they might not be ready for. 

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Deon Jones to Maryland: Terrapins Land 4-Star CB Prospect

Maryland strengthened its secondary in a big way for the next few years on Wednesday after securing the commitment of 4-star recruit Deon Jones, per Rivals.com's Adam Friedman

According to 247Sports' composite rankings, Jones is the No. 13 cornerback and No. 105 overall in the 2017 recruiting class. He's also the third-best player from the state of Maryland.

Counting the number of top schools that didn't offer Jones a scholarship is nearly as easy as keeping track of those who did. He had heavy interest from Clemson, Auburn, Ohio State, Florida State, Florida, Michigan State and UCLA, among others, per 247Sports.

Listed by 247Sports at 6'1", Jones has ideal height for his position. Being under 6'0" doesn't exclude a player from playing cornerback, but it can make his job a little bit harder, especially when he's covering taller receivers.

Jones' weight does present a bit of an issue. His 180 pounds stretched over his 6'1" frame could serve as a bit of a detriment when he looks to get physical with an opposing wide receiver. It's a problem he could easily remedy once he arrives at Maryland and the team puts him on a regular training regimen.

Strictly in terms of talent, Jones can be a potential all-conference or even an All-American cornerback at the next level.

He doesn't possess blinding speed but can quickly close on a wideout as a result of his short-yardage acceleration. For the most part, Jones excels in man coverage, smothering his opposite number.

Jones still has a lot of room to grow. Like most high school juniors—even those of the blue-chip variety—his technique leaves a little to be desired at times. He can also sometimes float out of position to the extent he takes himself out of the play completely.

There's no question, though, that Jones should become a tremendous cover corner in college. He has the physical tools you can't coach—height and reach—which make his flaws all the more manageable. A coaching staff can iron out most of the wrinkles in Jones' game.

Ideally, Jones will be allowed some time to grow upon joining the team. He could potentially be an auxiliary cornerback in nickel packages, but the Terrapins might want to let their home-state product learn as he goes with early playing time as a means of expediting his development.

 

Star rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Top Uncommitted QB Recruit Jack Sears Opens Up on Visits, Decision Timeline

BEAVERTON, Oregon — The lone uncommitted recruit in a talented 2016 Elite 11 class, Jack Sears understands college coaching staffs may be growing a bit antsy in anticipation of his pledge.

"Schools made it clear to me they're kind of waiting to see where I go before they pursue other quarterbacks," he told Bleacher Report. "They definitely want to figure things out, but I'm not feeling pressure." 

Rated No. 10 nationally among pro-style passers, Sears is in the final stages of sorting through options. He told B/R the plan is to announce his intentions sometime this month, in advance of one final summer training camp at San Clemente High School in Southern California.

"I want to get it done so I can focus on this senior season with my team," Sears said.

The 6'3", 200-pound prospect is currently competing for Elite 11 MVP honors at The Opening, an invite-only player showcase held at Nike's world headquarters in Beaverton. It's the latest travel endeavor for Sears during a busy start to summer break. 

Since claiming a spot at The Opening at Elite 11 finals during the first weekend of June, his itinerary includes stops at Texas A&M, Tennessee, Duke and North Carolina. Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin added 4-star quarterback Kellen Mond to his class soon after that visit, giving Texas A&M two pledges at the position this cycle.

It was Sears' second time at Duke and Tennessee, allowing him to develop an expanded impression of each institution.

"The purpose of that second trip was about getting more situated and comfortable with the staff," Sears said. "I wanted to see what it's like to be a student and an athlete there on a day-to-day basis."

Utah is another out-of-state program that has caught his attention. Former San Clemente quarterback Travis Wilson started for the Utes in recent years.

Though Sears enjoys life on the West Coast, he would welcome a change of scenery if an ideal opportunity presents itself.

"Those schools are all different environments than Southern California, which is nice because college should be a separate experience from what you're used to," Sears said. "It was nice to meet the coaching staffs, get on campus and see how I would fit in there."

Closer to home, UCLA and USC remain in the mix. Both programs have yet to claim a quarterback commitment this cycle, hosting Sears multiple times along the way.

"They're both phenomenal schools with great coaching staffs and traditions," he said. "The question is, when I step on both campuses, where do I feel most comfortable? That's probably what it's going to come down to."

The Bruins claim all three commitment projections in Sears' 247Sports "crystal ball," though he presently has stronger personal ties to the Trojans. Sam Darnold, a 2014 Elite 11 finalist who was his predecessor behind center at San Clemente, is nearing his second season with USC.

"It's great having Sam there because I know I can trust him to give me his thoughts straight up," Sears said. "He always talks about how much he loves it there."

Aside from possible last-minute trips to USC or UCLA, he doesn't anticipate visiting any more schools before reaching a decision. He aims to use these remaining days of his recruitment to evaluate pros and cons for each situation.

"You have to make sure you're going to a school for the right reasons because a lot can change while you're there," Sears said. "The coaching staff can change, players can transfer out. It's kind of a cliche, but where can you see yourself going if you weren't playing football? That's what I try to follow."

Sears, who threw for 2,697 yards and 37 touchdowns in 2015, will refocus on recruiting after The Opening. While every other Elite 11 finalist identified his collegiate destination earlier in the process, he is completely content with his approach to this point.

"I like to go down my own path, and that's exactly how I'm handling the recruitment process," Sears said. "I know some quarterbacks have been committed for more than a year now, but I'm OK with taking my time while finding the right fit. I want to make my decision once, stick with it and have that be my home for the next four or five years."

 

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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Brandon Bowen to TCU: Horned Frogs Land 4-Star DE Prospect

After initially committing to play at Baylor, 4-star defensive end Brandon Bowen decided to stay in Texas during his collegiate career, as he committed to TCU on Wednesday.

Greg Powers of Scout.com was the first to report Bowen's decision.  

Baylor granted Bowen his release on Friday after the sexual assault scandal that led to the dismissal of head coach Art Briles, per ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach.

According to 247Sports' composite rankings, Bowen is the No. 12 weak-side defensive end, the No. 23 player from the state of Texas and the No. 147 overall recruit in the class of 2016.

Bowen will be eligible to play immediately for the Horned Frogs, and he could provide an instant boost to their pass rush.

The Trophy Club, Texas, native is on the small side for a defensive end at 6'5" and 227 pounds, but with a 40-yard-dash time of 4.63 seconds, per 247Sports, he has the speed, the quickness and the agility needed to beat offensive tackles off the edge.

TCU ranked 33rd in the nation in sacks last season, and while Bowen may need some seasoning and to work on bulking up before becoming a big-time contributor, he has a legitimate chance to work his way into the rotation early on.

Not only does adding Bowen brighten the future of TCU's defense significantly, but it also damages one of its chief Big 12 rivals in Baylor. And that is integral as the two schools perennially jockey for College Football Playoff positioning.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

 

Star ranking courtesy of 247Sports.

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Art Briles Requests Judge Remove Him from Baylor Sexual Assault Lawsuit

Former Baylor head football coach Art Briles filed a motion on Wednesday to remove his name as a defendant from a lawsuit that alleges the school didn't respond to a woman who said she was sexual assaulted by a football player.

The Associated Press' Jim Vertuno reported the news, indicating Briles' motion to a federal judge says the claims against him are based on hearsay.

According to Vertuno, Briles' motion says, in compliance with state and federal law, he can't be sued as an individual in a lawsuit against the university

Briles was fired in May in the aftermath of Baylor's sexual assault scandal, which featured multiple instances in which the school failed to adequately investigate alleged instances of sexual violence. Some Baylor players were also implicated in domestic violence allegations.

In the particular lawsuit Briles has been involved in, the family of a woman who said she was sexually assaulted told Briles one of his players was a sexual predator, but Briles ignored the information, per Vertuno.  

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Notre Dame Football: Strengths, Weaknesses and Secret Weapons

Notre Dame football has championship aspirations and expectations in 2016, but the Fighting Irish must overcome some notable weaknesses to reach their ultimate goals.

Fortunately for Brian Kelly's squad, there isn't a program better prepared to overcome a string of misfortune under center. However, injuries continue to plague the Irish, whose roster already needs to replace several key starters.

But the program will encounter a relatively favorable and home-heavy schedule. If the Irish consistently play to their strengths, the College Football Playoff might come calling.

  

Strengths

Best Quarterback Depth Chart in the Nation

The saying goes, "If you have two quarterbacks, you have none." However, that applies more to two-quarterback systems on game day than a competition with multiple answers.

DeShone Kizer has the most experience. After assuming the starting role in 2015, he helped lead Notre Dame to a 10-3 final record. Kizer completed 62.9 percent of his 334 passes for 2,880 yards and 21 touchdowns, adding 520 rushing yards and 10 scores.

Kizer's primary competition is Malik Zaire, who overtook Everett Golson late in 2014 and initially won the starting job last year. Zaire managed 428 yards and four touchdowns through the air while scampering for 103 yards in seven quarters of action. His season ended due to a broken right ankle at Virginia.

The Irish will find a resolution to the competition during fall camp. Either way, Brandon Wimbush—the No. 3 dual-threat quarterback of the 2015 class—will be available if necessary.

  

Well-Rounded Special Teams

Winning a football game is immensely difficult without earning an advantage in two of the three phases. Notre Dame's special teams will provide a regular boost in 2016.

Tyler Newsome notched 44.5 yards per punt—which ranked 15th in the Football Bowl Subdivision—and also handled kickoff duties. After blasting seven punts for an average of 52.7 yards during the spring game, Newsome earned MVP honors.

Justin Yoon drilled 15 of 17 field-goal attempts, including his final 12. He connected on 50 of 52 extra-point attempts.

C.J. Sanders scored twice as a returner, taking one punt and one kickoff to the house. He tallied 7.3 and 22.9 yards on punts and kickoffs, respectively.

The coverage units must improve, but the Irish can dramatically affect a game's outcome in this phase. Specialists are people, too.

  

Weaknesses

New Set of Receiving Options

Will Fuller was a first-round pick. Nobody should be expected to perfectly replace someone of his caliber, especially a speedster who averaged 20.3 yards on 62 receptions with 14 scores.

But it also doesn't help that Chris Brown (48 catches, 597 yards and four touchdowns), Amir Carlisle (31/351/1), C.J. Prosise (26/308/1) and Corey Robinson (16/200/1) are each gone.

Consequently, Torii Hunter Jr. (28/363/1) is the only top-six receiver who returns in 2016.

Now, by no means is Notre Dame unprepared to address the departures. Equanimeous St. Brown, Corey Holmes, Miles Boykin, Alize Jones (13/190/0) and Sanders were all 4-star recruits.

They'll fill the spaces around Hunter while Durham Smythe starts at tight end and the backfield attempts to replace Prosise's pass-catching production.

However, the question that lingers is how quickly a collection of young and inexperienced reserves will consistently contribute.

  

An Average Front Seven

The Irish won't have an elite defense in 2016. Kelly essentially admitted as much without directly saying it.

Since the unit mustered a No. 45 finish nationally with Sheldon Day, Romeo Okwara and Jaylon Smith on the field, the Irish shouldn't be expected to excel without the trio.

Replacing Day and Okwara—who accumulated 29 tackles for loss and 13 sacks combined—will be particularly difficult. That process began during spring practice.

"The young guys are learning how to step up and play," defensive line coach Keith Gilmore said, per Tim Prister of Scout. "(But when) you've lost Sheldon and you've lost Romeo, I've got to find some guys to be physical at the point."

While Nyles Morgan, who is stepping in for Joe Schmidt, carries larger responsibilities as the defense's vocal leader, Smith had 114 tackles. Te'von Coney and Greer Martini will attempt to replace Smith.

Although the defense doesn't need to be shockingly great, "pleasantly respectable" would suit Notre Dame. But there's no guarantee that it'll be anything better than average.

  

Secret Weapon

Mike Sanford, Offensive Coordinator and QB Coach

Coaches bear the majority of the blame when things go wrong, while players often receive the praise when a team has success.

Mike Sanford helped the Irish avoid a lot more problems in 2015.

When a quarterback gets injured and a redshirt freshman takes over under center, losses are supposed to follow. That didn't happen, largely thanks to Sanford's impact.

He'll need to replicate the success this season, working with associate head coach Mike Denbrock to shift the burden of producing from a veteran receiving corps onto the quarterback—but doing so without overloading Kizer or Zaire.

The simple version? Notre Dame will lean on its offense in 2016. What does this mean? The Irish are relying on Sanford.

  

All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from CFBStats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oklahoma AD Joe Castiglione Comments on Big 12 Expansion

The Big 12 expansion, seen as necessary by some members for the long-term viability of the conference, is not happening anytime soon. 

"There aren't any signs that we'll talk anymore about expansion for a little while," Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione told Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports. "We don't have a timeline on it."

The Big 12 has been stuck at 10 full-time members since Colorado and Nebraska left in 2011. The conference brought in West Virginia and TCU in 2012 as replacements for the departing Missouri and Texas A&M, which went to the SEC.

For the past half-decade, the Big 12 has struggled to keep up with other Power Five conferences—particularly in football. It was the only one without a conference championship game, and the advent of the Longhorn Network—the very thing that saved the Big 12 from dissolution a half-decade ago—has prevented a league-owned television station.

The Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12 all have their own networks, which have varying levels of success.

In recent years, expansion has been seen as necessary to increase the competition level and the revenue of the Big 12. Adding two teams would allow the conference to have a more traditional alignment of a split into two divisions and the reinstitution of a championship game.

The Big 12 took the first step earlier this year. It will bring back the conference title game in 2017 thanks to an NCAA rule change that allows conferences with fewer than 12 teams to hold a championship. 

The topic of expansion has been much more muddied. A source told Dodd an expansion regarding "those teams"—alluding to Brigham Young, UCF, Cincinnati, Colorado State, UConn, Houston and Memphis as potential candidates—didn't have a chance of happening. There was no resolution to expansion talks when Big 12 officials met in June, and Castiglione was not optimistic about a change in heart.

"I stop short of speaking in absolutes about anything regarding conference realignment outside the contracts that exist," Castiglione said. "We've seen things happen that one could never imagine...[but] I don't see any conversation in the near future."

The Big 12 will not launch a league-owned network at this time. Texas, which gets a massive financial windfall from the Longhorn Network, is seen as the biggest holdout against both expansion and a change to the television structure. The school was in a position of historic power when negotiating to stay in the Big 12 over joining the Pac-12, and there is not much financial incentive for it to split the pie more.

"I don't know where we're at," Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby told Dodd. "I know we haven't brought it to a conclusion. That conclusion may very well be status quo. Until we get together and the chancellors and presidents make it a decision, I consider it a pending issue."

Big 12 officials are expected to meet again July 19. Oklahoma president David Boren said the conference "may need a unanimous vote" to realistically expand, per Sports Illustrated.  

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@jtylerconway) on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Predicting Win-Loss Records for Vegas' Top College Football Favorites in 2016

Savvy sports fans know never to question Las Vegas, whose oddsmakers tend to be spot on when it comes to setting lines and championship probabilities. If Vegas considers a college football team a national title contender, there's a good chance that's going to be the case.

But what those Vegas odds don't tell us is how well each team is going to do during the season in terms of wins and losses. That's where we come in.

Using the 13 schools that Odds Shark gives the best championship odds to, we've gone through the 2016 regular season and projected what each team's record will be. Who knows if any of these predictions will be right—we got Florida State, Michigan State, Notre Dame and Oregon spot on a year ago but were way off on some others—but anything is possible at this point.

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Urban Meyer Comments on Potential Combine for Underclassmen

In the interest of allowing early NFL draft entrants to accurately gauge their stock, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer is actively pushing for a scouting combine meant exclusively for underclassmen.

According to Zac Jackson of Pro Football Talk, Meyer wants to help spearhead an effort that will allow scouts to look at juniors ahead of the draft process without forcing the underclassmen to declare and lose their college eligibility:

It's not a process that's well done right now. There's a rule that says the NFL can't look at juniors. Well of course the NFL [scouts] are going to look at a junior. And they should look at a junior.

We're going to try to get something where there's a time those [scouts] can actually come in and they can work out the juniors. Because information is good. [The players] are getting their information somewhere, so why not get it from the experts—the scouts, the general managers, people who have the right information? They're getting it from agents and they're getting it from wannabes, and that's not good information.

Taking part in the actual NFL Scouting Combine requires players to officially declare for the draft, and a poor performance can often damage their viability and cost them millions without the option of returning to school.

The NBA has made strides in that area, as players are allowed to declare for the draft without an agent and then withdraw and go back to college after the combine if they are dissatisfied with their performance or stock.

The NFL and college football don't currently have that type of arrangement in place, but an alternative combine could go a long way toward accomplishing that and ensuring that underclassmen are maximizing their value moving forward.  

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Football: Strengths, Weaknesses and Secret Weapons

Expectations around Michigan football varied last year, but the college football world has a clear idea of what Jim Harbaugh's Wolverines are capable of accomplishing in 2016.

The Maize and Blue will rely on an elite defense to guide a championship chase—one that has College Football Playoff potential.

However, Michigan needs to overcome a few weaknesses along the way. Although the starting lineup remains mostly intact, a couple of vacancies are at critical spots. But as long as the Wolverines address those needs, they'll compete for a title.

 

Strengths

Experienced Players Under NFL and Veteran Coaches

An imperfect yet significant statistic is the number of returning starters.

On offense, Michigan brings back four linemen, two wide receivers, a tight end and its leading rusher, as well as other notable reserves. Defensively, the Wolverines return most of the contributors up front and in the secondary.

Tight end Jake Butt and cornerback Jourdan Lewis earned second-team AP All-America honors. They, along with wide receiver Jehu Chesson and then-defensive back Jabrill Peppers, received first-team All-Big Ten nods.

*That number includes Peppers, who has since moved to outside linebacker but will contribute as a nickelback in 2016.

But utilizing the right players is only half the battle. Led by Harbaugh, Michigan's staff is loaded with NFL experience and longtime college coaches.

Offensive coordinator Tim Drevno and passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch create the game plans. In 12 of 13 games last season, it was good enough to win. Defensive coordinator Don Brown led Boston College to a No. 1 defensive ranking in 2015.

Six of the seven remaining assistants—Greg Mattison, Brian Smith, Tyrone Wheatley, Michael Zordich, Kevin Tolbert and Jay Harbaugh—were in the NFL either immediately or shortly before going to Ann Arbor.

When you combine veterans with veterans at a power-conference program, the result could be a championship.

 

An Elite Defense

Michigan boasted the nation's No. 4 defense in 2015. The unit could be even better this season.

Potential first-round NFL draft pick Chris Wormley registered 14.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks last year. Along with him, Taco Charlton starts at defensive end. Bryan Mone and either Ryan Glasgow or Maurice Hurst Jr. will man the middle.

Rashan Gary, the No. 1 prospect in the 2016 class, headlines the reserve unit. Chase Winovich and Matt Godin round out the rotation.

The defensive line can help atone for some struggles at linebacker, which needs to replace three starters. Plus, Peppers' move to "Sam" linebacker lessened the burden on career reserves. Ben Gedeon is the undisputed "Mike," and Mike McCray is the favorite to start at "Will."

Plus, they can be confident in the last line of defense. Lewis headlines a strong secondary that returns four rotational players in Channing Stribling, Jeremy Clark, Dymonte Thomas and Delano Hill.

 

Weaknesses

Uncertainty at Quarterback

What we know: Jake Rudock graduated, opening a five-man quarterback battle. Brandon Peters and Alex Malzone trailed off during spring practice, essentially as expected.

That leaves Wilton Speight, John O'Korn and Shane Morris vying for the job. However, the prevailing thought is Morris—despite his physical tools—just isn't quite on the same level as his competition.

"He has a tendency to let one mistake turn into two or three, which really makes it tough to completely trust him," MLive's Nick Baumgardner said of Morris. "He wanted to redshirt last season, which pushed him down the depth chart. But he also slid down the chart because Speight passed him after Jake Rudock won the starting battle."

So, will it be Speight or O'Korn?

The former initially spent 2015 as the garbage-time quarterback to preserve a redshirt season for Morris. But midway through the year, Speight ascended to No. 2 on the depth chart and led a game-winning drive on the road against Minnesota.

Since he doesn't have a strong arm and isn't particularly mobile, the "game manager" label will follow Speight. Granted, that might be all the Wolverines need to succeed in 2016.

When considering raw talent, O'Korn—who sat out last year after transferring from Houston—is the more appealing option. He has a stronger arm and is a legitimate scrambling threat, but O'Korn needs to protect the ball.

Though a soft nonconference schedule to begin the campaign will aid Michigan's new starter, a late-season gauntlet awaits Speight or O'Korn. Fall camp will determine the winner of this battle.

 

Run Blocking

Without question, the Wolverines offensive line made enormous strides last year compared to 2014, especially in pass protection. However, the unit seldom controlled the trenches in the running game.

Experience and continuity under Drevno should result in further improvement. The only new projected starter is Grant Newsome.

"They're a year older, so once they're comfortable with me, they understand what I'm teaching and what I expect from them," Drevno said, per Orion Sang of the Michigan Daily.

Simple rushing averages often don't tell the whole story. Advanced stats from Football Outsiders are better metrics.

Standard downs are defined as first down, 2nd-and-7 or fewer, 3rd-and-4 or fewer, and 4th-and-4 or fewer. Michigan trudged to a 2.75-yard average, which ranked 88th nationally. Only 34.8 percent of the Wolverines' rushing attempts gained at least five yards when five yards were available. Of 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams, that ranked 107th.

The reason for optimism? Only 17.3 percent (No. 33) of the carries were stopped at or before the line of scrimmage. With four returning starters, that percentage should drop—a good thing.

But saying it on paper is easier than consistently winning in the trenches.

 

Secret Weapon

Bryan Mone, Defensive Tackle

Peppers is the ultimate weapon. He'll start at outside linebacker, can play any spot in the secondary, will contribute on offense and could return kicks. But everybody knows about Peppers.

Mone, however, might sneak onto the national radar. The defensive tackle is already squarely on the coaches' minds.

As a freshman in 2014, Mone appeared in all 12 games and managed nine total tackles. Last season, though, a broken ankle ended his campaign before it began.

Mone probably won't be the featured player. Wormley and Charlton should put up shiny numbers and grab most of the attention. In all likelihood, though, those stats will be a direct result of the 6'4", 320-pound Mone clogging the middle.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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