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The 25 Most Loaded College Football Rosters Heading into the 2015 Season

Every FBS program has up to 85 scholarships at its disposal, yet even though each school is drawing from the same deck, there are those who end up with a far better hand in the end.

Thanks to strong recruiting and depth development, some teams don't seem to ever find themselves in a situation where graduation, early NFL entry and injuries lead to a rebuilding year. Instead, they're almost constantly reloading, employing a next-man-up strategy that rarely leaves them with many noticeable talent holes.

And for those who do have a hole or two to fill, the overabundance of talent at other positions significantly lessens their impact.

In determining which FBS teams had the most loaded rosters heading into the 2015 season, we looked at factors such as the number of starters returning, projected 2016 first-round draft picks, per WalterFootball.com, players named to Bleacher Report's top 25 freshmen and sophomores lists and recent recruiting class rankings.

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Notre Dame Football: 2016 Sleeper Recruits Brian Kelly Should Target

Notre Dame has been on a tear in the 2016 recruiting cycle. The Fighting Irish are returning a lot of talent but are also looking to stockpile some more. 

Stephen Nelson sits down with 247Sports Notre Dame Recruiting Analyst Tom Loy to discuss Notre Dame's under-the-radar recruits for 2016. 

What kind of team will the Irish have next season? Check out the video and let us know! 

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Florida Football: Gators Need 5-Star Martez Ivey to Make Immediate Impact

Here's hoping 5-star incoming freshman Martez Ivey gets acclimated to college life at Florida quickly, because he's about to get a crash course in collegiate football. 

The crown jewel of the Gators' 2015 recruiting class was already projected to contribute in some way as freshman, but his role along the offensive line may have grown without him even having stepped on campus yet. In an official release, Florida confirmed that offensive lineman Rod Johnson's career is officially over after being diagnosed with congenital cervical stenosis, a narrowing of the spine.

Robbie Andreu of The Gainesville Sun reports that the injury occurred on April 3 in what was originally believed to be a stinger-type injury. 

Below is the statement from Florida, courtesy of John Taylor at College Football Talk:

The condition is a narrowing of the spinal canal enveloping the spinal cord, preventing enough fluid to gather around the spinal cord to properly protect it from injury.

Cervical stenosis ended the career of New York Giants running back David Wilson last year and forced Cooper Manning, the brother of NFL quarterbacks Eli and Peyton Manning, to retire from football during his college career at Ole Miss.

As sad as this is for Johnson, it leaves Florida in a tough spot. Depth at offensive line was already at a premium, and Johnson's departure makes a dire situation even worse. 

Just how big is Johnson's career-ending injury? He was a projected starter at right tackle, per Thomas Goldkamp of 247Sports, and was one of only two players along the O-line with starting experience. He played in every game for the Gators last year, notching three starts. 

Trip Thurman, a starter of 10 games last season at guard who is projected to make the move to center, has been out with a shoulder injury. 

"That's a big loss to the team," quarterback Treon Harris said of Johnson, via Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel. "Rod was coming back for his third year; it'd be his second year on the field. That loss killed us a lot, so we have to get the young guys ready and the guys coming in in the summer ready to go."

Offensive line experience is paramount. It's the one unit on the field, if there ever was one, that must grow together. Now, head coach Jim McElwain is struggling just field a complete starting five.

The good news is that reinforcements are on their way. McElwain saw what he was dealing with and closed a recruiting class that was heavy on offensive linemen.

The not-so-great news is that many, if not all, of these freshmen will be thrown into the fire right away. Duty calls, and these '15 recruits are being called upon. 

McElwain can adjust practices to make sure depth concerns are addressed—you limit the number of scrimmage snaps and modify practice structures. Once you get into the season, however, that's no longer in your control. 

This means players like Ivey have to digest concepts faster and be able to execute them immediately. It's not always fair to have to bring someone along that quickly, but that's the world McElwain's Gators live in now. 

This has gone from a situation where Ivey could contribute some while he learns the ropes of the game to one where he could be asked to rotate in, or even start, on a regular basis. 

Of course, the possibility of playing right away is probably exciting to Ivey. This should be what he's dreamed about for years. That's the right attitude to have, but the real test will be whether he (and everyone else) can keep that attitude while taking on growing pains. 

Ready or not, Ivey is going to see the field this fall. Given his high recruiting ranking, there's hope that he'll be more ready than not. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports

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Jarrett Guarantano Commits to Tennessee: 4-Star QB Great Fit for Vols Offense

Jarrett Guarantano's commitment to Tennessee on Wednesday afternoon was huge for several reasons, but the biggest is the skill set he brings to the Vols' race for quarterback of the future.

For the past few years, coach Butch Jones and his staff have excelled in recruiting the position. But not since Joshua Dobbs pledged to UT on national signing day in 2013 have the Vols snagged a marquee signal-caller who is an ideal fit for their scheme.

Guarantano is that guy.

The 4-star quarterback is the best available prospect at the position for Tennessee's offense in either of the past two recruiting cycles. He pledged to the Vols with an exclusive B/R video from Times Square.

At 6'4", 200 pounds, the Oradell, New Jersey, standout who preps at Bergen Catholic High School has prototypical size with a projectable frame that should add even more weight. He also has what appears to be one of the strongest arms in the entire class.

Just because the nation's sixth-ranked pro-style passer is classified that way doesn't mean he's statuesque, either. Much like Dobbs (who also was rated as a pro-style rather than a dual-threat quarterback), Guarantano has some serious wheels.

He may not run away from everybody in the open field, but his 247Sports profile has him at a 4.59 40-yard dash, which is fast enough to side-step most defenders.

The three key components that make Jones' power zone-read offense click are tempo, tempo and more tempo. Guarantano not only has the arm strength to make all the quick and deep throws within the framework of the playbook, but he can pull and run on the zone read as well.

That element of confusion is pivotal in any read-option offense. Guarantano's first step, shiftiness in the hole and ability to get to the second level are elite.

His athleticism, long strides and angle awareness make the comparisons to San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick less of a stretch, even if those are high expectations to put on a high school junior.

Guarantano told B/R's Tyler Donohue recently that Ohio State coach Urban Meyer likened his passing to former No. 1 draft pick Alex Smith and his running to current Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller.

Those are lofty comparisons, and while every coach uses the success of former players in their recruiting pitches, one glimpse at Guarantano's HUDL film shows why more than 30 teams, including a laundry list of the nation's top programs, offered.

Ultimately, Tennessee won the Guarantano sweepstakes, as he chose the Vols over Ohio State and Rutgers.

It's another extremely impressive win on the recruiting trail for Jones, who beat the legacy factor (Guarantano's father starred for the Scarlet Knights) and the defending national champion Buckeyes.

Obviously, his heart was in Tennessee—and getting Guarantano is a massive win for the Vols.

Dobbs will have just one year of eligibility remaining once Guarantano gets on campus. So, the prospect only will have to battle the trio of signal-callers UT signed in the 2015 recruiting class to take over in 2017:

  • Quinten Dormady is the mid-term quarterback who has generated the most buzz this spring as a player showing "tremendous progress," according to GoVols247's Ryan Callahan. While he has size, arm strength and sneaky athleticism, Dormady is a little more in the traditional dropback-passer style than Guarantano.
  • Fellow January enrollee Jauan Jennings has struggled a little more with the mechanics of being a quarterback this spring but will be a true dual-threat player if he sticks at the position.
  • The third of the 4-star quarterbacks, Sheriron Jones, has yet to arrive on campus but is also considered a dual-threat athlete. Though he needs some work in the weight room, he is a player UT liked a lot as well.

Any of those players may be the next great Tennessee quarterback, but Guarantano fits the mold of what the Vols want behind center better than any. It was obvious by his comments to B/R that the fit was mutual:

UT coaches may tailor their scheme to a pro-style quarterback if that becomes a necessity, but last season is all the proof you need to see that it runs smoother with some elusiveness back there. Justin Worley never fooled anybody when he ran the read-option, so defenses didn't have to worry.

When Dobbs took over, the offense turned dynamic. Line woes improved significantly and defenses were confused—even an Alabama team that came within a game of playing for the national championship struggled to stop the Vols.

Transitioning from Dobbs to Guarantano—if that indeed winds up being the case—would be seamless. They possess much the same skill set, except Guarantano's arm appears more advanced at this stage.

Once former 2016 quarterback commit Austin Kendall parted ways—in part because former offensive coordinator and lead recruiter Mike Bajakian left for the NFL and also because he wasn't an ideal schematic fit—all the focus centered on Guarantano.

Volquest.com's Paul Fortenberry said the split between UT and Kendall was "more mutual than anything."

The courtship between Guarantano and the Vols escalated quickly.

He visited Knoxville recently before ultimately committing to Tennessee on Wednesday. Ironically, Guarantano attends Bajakian's alma mater but struck up a rapport with new UT coordinator Mike DeBord on his visit.

Also, the family had a relationship with Jones dating back to his time as a graduate assistant for the Scarlet Knights when Guarantano's father played there. Those may have been pivotal inroads for the Vols.

While UT isn't expected to sign a huge class like it has the past two seasons, perhaps getting a quarterback secured will jumpstart what has been a slower start in this recruiting cycle than Jones has been accustomed to in his Tennessee tenure.

Getting the quarterback they coveted most—the perfect player to usher Tennessee's offense into the post-Dobbs era—makes this a huge victory for the Vols on the recruiting trail.

 

All recruiting information gathered from 247Sports, unless otherwise noted. Quotes and observations obtained firsthand, 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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Penn State Football: Complete Spring Game Preview

A year ago, James Franklin helped usher in a new era of Penn State football when he coached his first spring game as the Nittany Lions head coach. And while this year's exhibition may not possess as much excitement—or meet the expectations of offensive line coach Herb Hand—there will still be plenty to keep an eye on in Happy Valley this Saturday.

The Nittany Lions return 16 combined starters on offense and defense from a year ago, including star quarterback Christian Hackenberg. But finally back at a full scholarship limit following the reduction of sanctions stemming from the Jerry Sandusky scandal, the junior signal-caller should be better protected while having more toys to play with, some of which will be on the field on Saturday.

 

Date: Saturday, April 18

Time: 4 p.m. ET

Place: Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pa.

TV: Big Ten Network

Radio: Penn State Sports Network

 

Who to Watch on Offense

Although Hackenberg's status as a starter isn't in question and Akeel Lynch appears to have locked up the Nittany Lions' No. 1 running back spot, there should be no shortage of intrigue in the backfield for this year's Blue-White Game.

With Hackenberg potentially headed to the NFL after this season, Saturday could be the start of a battle between Trace McSorley and Tommy Stevens to be Penn State's starting signal-caller in 2016. McSorley currently has an edge over the early enrollee Stevens based on experience alone, but the spring game should provide a platform for both to receive valuable snaps in front of a live crowd.

As for the immediate future, count on McSorley to be Hackenberg's primary backup, with Stevens expected to redshirt.

"He was getting all the No. 2 reps in practice,'' Franklin said of McSorley, who will be a redshirt freshman this season. "That's not really going to change."

In the race to back up Lynch, Mark Allen and Nick Scott should each see significant carries on Saturday.

At 5'7" and 186 pounds, Allen is more of a speedster while the 5'11", 201-pound Scott possesses more of a bruising running style, providing options for Franklin when it comes to complementing Lynch, who rushed for 678 yards and four touchdowns in 2014.

As for the aforementioned weapons in the aerial attack Hackenberg will have, three of them could come at the tight end position. Kyle Carter (70 career receptions, 828 yards and four touchdowns) returns for his senior season, while Mike Gesicki (11 receptions, 114 yards) will be a sophomore and Adam Breneman (15 receptions, 186 yards, three touchdowns in 2013) is looking to recover from knee surgery that brought his 2014 season to an end before it started.

While the Nittany Lions' tight end trio offers plenty to Hackenberg as pass-catchers, Franklin said they'll need to prove their ability as blockers before they get on the field.

"A tight end on the field that's not a threat to cause problems in the running game is basically a slow wide receiver," Franklin said. "We might as well put another wide receiver on the field if we're not going to be physical and nasty and aggressive at the tight end position. I think that needs to be a major focus this year."

It could be a major focus on Saturday as well.

 

Who to Watch on Defense

With Deion Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan out the door, Penn State will find itself breaking in two new starting defensive ends in 2015. The current crop of Nittany Lion ends may not have as much talent as its predecessors, but what it lacks in quality, it could make up for in quantity.

Carl Nassib, Garrett Sickels, Curtis Cothran and Torrence Brown are all defensive ends who have been mentioned by Franklin as having had strong spring sessions this year. Saturday could go a long way toward two establishing themselves as starters heading into fall camp. However it shakes out, expect all to see plenty of snaps next season.

"Those guys have played with great technique, great fundamentals, they're playing with really good confidence now," Franklin said. "I'm excited about our D-ends, I really am.''

Behind the Penn State defensive line, questions exist too, especially when it comes to replacing the heart and soul of last year's defense, middle linebacker Mike Hull. Nyeem Wartman, who played outside linebacker in 2014, has shifted over to take snaps in Hull's old spot. Seeing how he performs on Saturday could help Franklin and his staff decide whether that will be a long-term solution.

"Big, strong, physical guy who moves very, very well," Franklin said of Wartman. "He's got experience now playing the position. You'd like to have a linebacker who is a guy who has played enough football."

The Nittany Lions secondary will also bare watching, with sophomore Grant Haley stepping in to replace Jordan Lucas, who is shifting to safety this season. Daquan Worley could also be in the mix to start opposite Trevor Williams at corner, after recovering from a torn ACL that forced him to redshirt in 2014.

 

What's Ahead?

With so many starters returning, it has been somewhat of a low-key spring in Happy Valley, with very few position battles capturing the attention of the blue-and-white faithful. This upcoming season will be more about building on the momentum of Franklin's first season at the helm than starting over, which will be a welcomed change of pace for the program that has endured so much turnover in the past four years.

Adding optimism to the Nittany Lions' 2015 campaign is the team's return to 85 scholarship players, although the initial impact of that won't be felt until Penn State's most recent recruiting class arrives on campus. Only in his second season in State College after the departure of Bill O'Brien, it won't even be until the Nittany Lions' 2016 class that Franklin will be recruiting at full capacity.

So while this spring has been instrumental in staying on track, it won't be until the fall that Penn State reaches its full potential. That's true for most teams, but especially the Nittany Lions, who already find themselves flying under the radar in a Big Ten East that also includes Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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What Michigan State Football Needs to Do to Win the 2015 Big Ten Championship

Michigan State football is not garnering the same buzz as Ohio State or Michigan, but their consistent success in an improved Big Ten should not be overlooked.

The Spartans put a stake in the AT&T Stadium turf to stave off regression in their comeback win over Baylor in the Cotton Bowl, likely earning themselves a high ranking heading into 2015. However, to hold the line, MSU will need to win from within this spring.

Michigan State's Big Ten Championship aspirations for 2015 were greatly aided by the returns of quarterback Connor Cook and defensive end Shilique Calhoun. Without them, MSU would not fit the mold of a contender in the loaded Big Ten East. 

That said, Cook and Calhoun cannot will this team to another title by themselves.

Michigan State has been praised for identifying recruits that fit its style—regardless of their recruiting rankings—and coaching them into well-rounded football players. This recipe will be put to the test this season, as MSU must replace several key players.

While Rant Sports' Jerry Landry points to halfback and receiver as the Spartans' biggest issues following the departures of running back Jeremy Langford and wide receiver Tony Lippett, that's not the case.

MSU will indeed be starting from scratch at RB without Langford and backup Nick Hill, and the recent arrest of leading returning rusher Delton Williams exacerbates this opening. However, even without Williams, the Spartans boast a bevy of capable ball-carriers in redshirt freshman Madre London, sophomore Gerald Holmes, redshirt freshman Gerald Owens and true freshman L.J. Scott.

The situation is similar at receiver, as Lippett and Keith Mumphery have graduated, and leading returning receiver Macgarrett Kings Jr. is in hot water after an arrest. However, breakout candidates Aaron Burbridge, DeAnthony Arnett and AJ Troup are waiting in the wings, as well.

This collection of talent can make up for the loss of production—especially with a chef like Cook in charge of the kitchen.

The Spartans' biggest question mark actually looms over MSU's "No Fly Zone" following the departures of cornerback Trae Waynes, safety Kurtis Drummond and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi.

Although Waynes and Drummond earned All-Big Ten honors last season, MSU was already more vulnerable through the air with them than they were in 2013, surrendering 300 or more passing yards in losses to Oregon and Ohio State, and giving up 603 passing yards against Baylor.

In comparison, Spartan DBs didn't give up 260 passing yards in a single game in 2013.

Eliminating these aerial attacks with a revamped secondary will require substantial leaps from players like junior CB Darian Hicks—who lost his starting job late last season—or it will require more consistent players to overtake him.

The latter outcome has been trending in spring camp, as junior Jermaine Edmondson and senior Arjen Colquhoun are honing in on a starting spot.

Although junior Demetrious Cox is a natural safety and played there at times this spring, head coach Mark Dantonio indicated to 247Sports' Mike Wilson that Cox will also be starting at corner with RJ Williamson and Montae Nicholson entrenched as the safeties.

"Montae Nicholson, [RJ] Williamson, Cox—those three guys have to be out there," he said.

Even if Hicks does manage to reclaim his job—his 83-yard interception return for a touchdown in MSU's first intrasquad scrimmage certainly helped his case—co-defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett says fans should expect two new cornerbacks this season.

"There's gonna be two new corners starting for Michigan State this year," Barnett said, via Joe Rexrode of the Detroit Free Press. "I don't know who they are. They could be freshmen; they could be guys who are returning. But it won't be Darian Hicks from 2014. It'll be Darian Hicks from 2015. It'll be a new guy."

While a new secondary typically indicates rebuilding, the MSU defense's victory over the offense in the first scrimmage gives hope that these new guys could be up to the task.

The returns of Cook and an experienced offensive line ensure Michigan State will have an explosive offensive attack, but the Spartans can't score 40 points every game. Field position is key to championship drives, and if MSU wants to retake the wheel from OSU, they'll need their defensive backs to live up to their billings.

The Spartans have become a model of consistency under Dantonio, but that will lose its luster if they can't win the championship when the Big Ten is at its peak. Ohio State remains the roadblock between Michigan State and its destination, but getting past the Buckeyes will require MSU's best players to win their own battles first.

As long as the recipe hasn't changed, the ingredients are already in place. We'll find out soon if they have the drive to get there.

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B/R Exclusive Trailer: Stud QB Jarrett Guarantano Commits in Times Square

Star quarterback Jarrett Guarantano hails from Oradell, New Jersey, and is one of the top prospects in the class of 2016. Guarantano has been pursued by many of the best college football programs in the country, but he has decided to end the recruiting process and make his decision.

Guarantano teamed up with Bleacher Report to put together an epic trailer in Times Square to announce where he will be playing his college ball.

Watch the video and find out where the signal-caller will be playing in the years to come.

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Robert Washington Compared to Marshawn Lynch by Saban, Is Harbaugh's No. 1 RB

Running back Robert Washington whittled an offer list of more than 40 college football programs to just six squads this spring. His methodical approach to a nationwide recruitment is nearly complete.

An April 25 decision date looms large for Washington, a 4-star prospect from SouthLake Christian Academy in North Carolina. The 5'10", 215-pound playmaker is among the most heavily pursued high school juniors in America and landed his first offer from Ole Miss in eighth grade.

"It's been amazing," Washington told Bleacher Report. "Receiving that first offer took my breath away, and I didn't fully comprehend what it all meant until I grew up during high school."

His sheet of scholarship options expanded to include Ohio State, Stanford, Tennessee, USC and enough universities to keep Washington's mailbox stuffed with recruiting mail on a regular basis.

While working to focus on a group of finalists, he adopted an unorthodox approach. Rather than release the group all at once, Washington unveiled the list during the course of several weeks.

"This recruitment process is something you get to do just one time, so I decided to make it a little more interesting with the way I put together my top six teams," he said. "Instead of putting the whole list out there, I kept people guessing by doing it one by one. It's been fun."

Syracuse became his first finalist in February. UNC joined the list soon afterward, followed by TCU, Alabama and Michigan. Florida finally wrapped up the six-team collection of schools under consideration.

"There are four things that stand out about each finalist," Washington said. "I have a great relationship with the running back coaches and head coaches; I've visited them all and feel at home on campus; I can push for early playing time because they have a need at running back; and they have strong education and support systems."

Washington plans to enroll early at the university of his choice. Rated 14th nationally among running back prospects in 247Sports' composite rankings, he's enjoyed an illustrious high school career.

Washington rushed for 5,762 yards and 69 touchdowns during the past three seasons. He showed versatility in the receiving game during that span, catching 33 passes for 610 yards.

"I pride myself on being a balanced back," Washington said. "I can go to the slot, run between the tackles, run outside the tackles, sweeps, options and really whatever we need to win. I can block. I want to bring that well-rounded skill set on every down." 

Less than two weeks shy of his announcement, he doesn't have any intentions of visiting schools prior to the decision. In fact, Washington is a bit preoccupied preparing for prom this weekend.

"I know which program I'm going to choose, but nobody else does right now," he said. "I haven't even told my parents."

Washington may be keeping his collegiate outlook under wraps, but he broke down each finalist during a discussion with Bleacher Report.

 

Alabama

Washington received high praise during a conversation with one of the game's all-time greats.

"[Alabama head coach] Nick Saban told me I remind him of 'Beast Mode' [Marshawn Lynch], and that's an honor coming from him," he said. "He's a legendary coach who has had a ton of success with running backs. Guys like Trent Richardson, Mark Ingram, Eddie Lacy, T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry and others have done big things with him. So for Saban to compare me to Lynch—probably the best running back in the NFL right now—is very special."

Though a long journey lies ahead for him to meet those expectations, Washington believes much of his game is modeled in similar fashion to that of Lynch, who helped lead the Seattle Seahawks to consecutive Super Bowl appearances.

"Defenses have to work so hard when trying to stop him because he runs with so much power and aggression. That's the way I try to play," Washington said. "When Saban made that comparison, all I could do was smile and thank him. Lynch was a great running back in high school; a great running back in college; and now he's even better in the NFL. Those are big goals for a player like me."

 

Florida

Washington credits the new Gators regime for gaining momentum en route to securing the sixth and final spot on his list. 

"The new coaching staff is very aggressive," Washington said. "Coach Skip [running backs coach Tim Skipper] keeps in contact with me every day. As a recruit, you want to be shown that love and feel wanted. That's what their staff does."

He also has a personal connection in Gainesville through rising redshirt freshman quarterback Will Grier. The two grew up in the same area and spent time together as friends despite a two-year age gap.

They reconnected on campus last July, when Washington was nearby for a camp.

"We met up when I was down at Florida last summer," he said. "It's always good to catch up and I know Will is working hard to compete down there. Hopefully, if I join him as a Gator, we can do some big things."

 

Michigan

The Wolverines landed a commitment from 4-star in-state running back Matt Falcon on April 8, though that hasn't deterred Washington from viewing Michigan as a desirable destination.

"It impacts my decision a little bit, but I'm a guy who loves to compete, and that's what I do," he said. "Whether Matt Falcon is already there or somebody else, it doesn't really matter because there are always going to be other running backs to compete with at any school."

It sounds like Michigan's new staff would still gladly welcome Washington into the fold, establishing excellent depth in the offensive backfield.

"[Head coach Jim] Harbaugh told me I'm the No. 1 running back on his list," he said. "When coaches come after you aggressively like that, it really makes you feel special as a recruit."

The Wolverines' new leader has caught attention from plenty of prospects, and Washington is no exception.

"Coach Harbaugh is really what attracts me to Michigan," he said. "He knows how to produce a pro running back, and he's recruited me very hard. I actually spoke to Coach Harbaugh on the phone four times before announcing Michigan as one of my top schools."

 

North Carolina

UNC is a slight favorite to sign Washington in 247Sports' Crystal Ball. The Tar Heels have an advantage in proximity that's difficult to compete with for other contending coaches.

"Obviously, with the school being so close—only about two hours away—I have a really good relationship with coach [Larry] Fedora and his assistant coaches,"  Washington said. "It's pretty amazing the way they've been recruiting me since ninth grade. UNC was one of my earliest offers, and they've kept making me feel welcome for all of these years."

Sustained contact has been key to this relationship. UNC's recruiting efforts prove the staff targets Washington as a long-term priority.

"They come up to my school almost every other week," he said. "When they get a chance to come up, they make that visit. We have a close-knit relationship with each other."

 

Syracuse

Somewhat surprisingly, Syracuse was the first program to be tabbed as one of Washington's top six options. There's been a major push to procure Washington from the Southeast since the early stages of his recruitment, and it's become a frenzied situation in Upstate New York.

"It's been fun getting recruited by 'Cuse because their fans are crazy," he said. "They started this 'Restore 44' campaign for me. They've been pretty amazing throughout the process, and it's a school that I definitely felt belonged on the list."

The "Restore 44" campaign regards a potential return of the No. 44 to Syracuse's sidelines. The jersey, once worn by running back legends Jim Brown and Ernie Davis, has been retired since 2005. 

The movement dubs Washington worthy of the honor, which is quite a gesture from the Syracuse community.

 

TCU

Washington has made multiple visits to TCU while competing in Texas as a member of the U.S. Under-18 National Team for football. Though campus is certainly a hike from North Carolina, that distance doesn't concern him.

"It is pretty far away from home, but I feel very comfortable there," Washington said. "It almost feels like a second home."

Washington spoke highly of the Horned Frogs coaching staff and noted the program's upward trajectory.

"I really enjoy talking to all their coaches, and [running backs] coach [Curtis] Luper is a great guy. He coached Tre Mason and all those guys at Auburn before," he said. "TCU had a great season last year, and that was fun to see. They're building something impressive."

 

All quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue.

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Tyler Clark Reveals Top 3: Which School Is Best Fit for 4-Star?

It's a deep year for defensive tackles in the state of Georgia, and 4-star standout Tyler Clark could be one of the state's hidden gems. 

Clark is the nation's No. 22 defensive tackle in the 2016 cycle and the fifth-best player at his position from his home state.

The 6'3" 290-pounder announced a top three of Georgia, Auburn and Clemson—in that order—on his Twitter account late Tuesday evening. 

But which school of his three leaders provides him with the best fit at the next level?

In terms of opportunity, all three schools have defensive line among their most pressing needs in the 2016 cycle.

Both the SEC schools have offered Clark, while Clemson has yet to pull the trigger, according to his 247Sports profile page.

According to Keith Niebuhr of AuburnUndercover, Clark sees a lot of similarities between his top two schools.

"I really love the atmosphere at Georgia," Clark told Niebuhr. "I like the school, coaches and the team. Georgia coaches really communicate well with me. I love Auburn's atmosphere, too. I like the school, the team and the coaches."

Each of his top three programs brought in strong defensive line classes in the 2015 cycle.

However, a closer look at all three schools reveals that Auburn is the school that may present Clark with the best combination of early playing time and scheme fit. 

The Tigers lost three defensive tackles to graduation from last year's unit, and junior Montravius Adams could be a candidate to test the NFL draft waters next spring.

Plus, the Tigers brought in two defensive tackles in the 2015 class in 3-star JUCO import Maurice Swain and 3-star in-state product Jauntavius Johnson, who is still recovering from a torn ACL suffered last season, according to Wesley Sinor of AL.com.

As Niebuhr notes, Auburn is hoping to sign a monster defensive line class in 2016, with new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp and Tigers defensive line coach Rodney Garner looking to bring in at least three defensive tackles. 

For the record, the Tigers have an early commitment from 3-star Quinnen Williams, but the door remains open for a prospect such as Clark to come in and make an early impact should he elect to head just across the state border for college.

In addition to Clark, Auburn and Georgia are each battling for several impact defensive tackles, such as 5-stars Derrick Brown and Julian Rochester, plus 4-star Antwuan Jackson

The Bulldogs seem to have the upper hand with Brown and Rochester at the moment. According to Kipp Adams of Dawgs247, the Bulldogs appear to also be trending with Jackson after his most recent visit to Athens. 

By stating the Bulldogs as his current leader, Clark clearly isn't afraid of coming in and competing for reps if head coach Mark Richt and his staff are able to bring in another strong defensive line group.

However, with accomplished defensive minds such as Muschamp and Garner in charge on the Plains, Auburn can also provide Clark with a great opportunity to reach his full potential at the next level.

 

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

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Family Bond for 4-Star QB Tristen Wallace Makes Ohio State 'Home Away from Home'

Having a big-brother-type role model to get advice from during the recruiting process is never a bad thing for a college football target.

For DeSoto, Texas, quarterback Tristen Wallace, that role model is and always has been Dontre Wilson, a former high school teammate now shining as a running back for Ohio State.

So when the 4-star, dual-threat target called Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer to give his verbal commitment Wednesday morning, it wasn't a big surprise that Wallace wanted to be reunited with the player he considers to be his big brother.

Wallace became Ohio State's ninth overall commitment and the program's first quarterback pledge. He chose Ohio State over offers from Texas, Baylor, TCU, Nebraska, UCLA and others. Wallace was once committed to Texas Tech, but he decommitted in March to explore other options.

In short, Wallace called Ohio State "a home away from home." Having a relationship with Wilson helped. Wallace said it was Wilson's overall advice that helped make his decision final.

"He just told me do what's best for you," Wallace said. "That's like my brother. He wants to see me be successful and happy. I enjoyed this whole process."

Ranked as the nation's No. 3 dual-threat quarterback, Wallace visited Ohio State last month and called the visit "a 10." During the visit, his first to Columbus, Ohio, Wallace toured the campus and took in Ohio State's scrimmage. He also had quality time with Meyer and the coaching staff.

And when there was opportunity for downtime, Wallace was hanging out with Wilson, someone he's known since he was a younger football player. The two grew up playing for the same youth football organization, the DeSoto Texans.

"He's like my big brother; I've known him roughly all my life," Wallace told Bleacher Report in March, referring to Wilson. "He graduated high school with my sister, and they were real close. He basically told me just to make the best decision for me. There was no pressuring me to come to Ohio State."

Now that Wallace is committed, he hopes to become the next big thing at quarterback on campus. Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones have made names for themselves under Meyer. Wallace has the size at 6'3" and 228 pounds, and his 4.4-second speed in the 40-yard dash makes him a respectable dual-threat option.

Wallace has been a varsity quarterback since his freshman year, and expectations were high from the first time he stepped on the football field. As a junior, he missed most of the 2014 season with a broken ankle.

In his short amount of time on the field, Wallace threw for 641 yards, rushed for 535 yards and compiled 14 total touchdowns. He also completed 67 percent of passes (41-of-61) and only threw one interception.

Accepting his commitment means Ohio State isn't concerned about injury or anything Wallace needs to do to prepare for the next level. It helped having an influential player like Wilson go to bat for him.

"[Wilson] was big," Wallace said. "They both [Wilson and Meyer] were big."

 

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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Complete Previews for Top College Football Spring Games This Weekend

Last weekend marked the first full slate of college football spring games, and it was a drop of water in the ocean compared to what's on hand this weekend (April 17-18). 

Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Mississippi State will all wrap up their collective springs—and that's just the SEC West. The defending national champs, Ohio State, and their Big Ten foe, Penn State, have scrimmages as well. 

Many of those blue-blood programs, plus Notre Dame and Texas, will have quarterback battles galore. It's a fascinating time in the sport, to be sure. 

And since there's a lot going on, we're here to help sift through the major games, storylines and more. In the following slides are the top 12 spring games to keep an eye on, plus dates and times for dozens more.  

After all, it'll be over before you know it. 

Begin Slideshow

Tristen Wallace to Ohio State: Buckeyes Land 4-Star QB Prospect

Urban Meyer's ability to bring high-profile quarterbacks to Ohio State continues with the addition of 2016 recruit Tristen Wallace.

Wallace announced his commitment to the Buckeyes on Twitter:

Wallace is the No. 3 dual-threat quarterback in the country, per 247Sports, and attends DeSoto High School in Texas.

In Ryan Bartow's official report for 247Sports, Wallace says that Meyer played the biggest role in his decision.

He had a big influence on me and my parents. He truly, genuinely cares about my well-being and my life without football. Ohio State is a winning program. They run the type of offense our high school team runs. That's what I want to play in. Plus it feels like home there. I see myself there.

Wallace will need time to develop as a quarterback in college, having only attempted 74 passes the past two years (h/t 247Sports), but he's an incredible athlete with more than 900 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground in that span.

It also helps Wallace that Meyer is going to be coaching him, as he went through three different quarterbacks with the Buckeyes in 2014 and still won a national title.

Meyer's ability to develop is as impressive as his ability to recruit star talents. Wallace undoubtedly saw that in person, helping make this decision easier. 

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Kentucky QB Drew Barker Attacked on Video by EKU Player Patrick Graffree

Video has surfaced of a January 25 incident at Eastern Kentucky's Telford Hall, when EKU lineman (and former Kentucky player) Patrick Graffree sucker-punched Kentucky quarterback Drew Barker in the side of the head. 

Kentucky.com released the graphic security footage on YouTube.

According to Greg Kocher of Kentucky.com, there was a bar fight on the same evening between EKU's Colton Scurry and Kentucky's Barker, Dorian Baker and Tymere Dubose at Jerzee's Cocktail Lounge & Dance Club in Richmond. According to an investigative report from the Richmond police, Scurry threw the first punch in the incident. 

A Madison County grand jury decided against indicting any of the players involved in the incident, however, per Kocher's report.

On the same evening, the three Kentucky players later entered Telford Hall with Anna-Elizabeth Marcinek, a student who lived there, when Graffree removed his shirt and struck Barker before the three Kentucky players were escorted out of the building. 

The incidents will potentially lead to a charged environment on October 3, when Kentucky faces EKU in Lexington. 

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Football: 5 Position Battles to Watch in Crimson Tide's Spring Game

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — On Saturday, Alabama fans will get as close to a taste of real football as it gets until September when the Crimson Tide holds its annual A-Day spring game (2 p.m. CT, SEC Network+).

While Alabama will be playing itself, it will do so in front of what should be a decent crowd at Bryant-Denny Stadium, with live contact and a game-like simulation.

But it will be hard to read too much into things for a couple of reasons.

Alabama won’t show its full hand offensively or defensively, especially when it comes to tweaks in Lane Kiffin or Kirby Smart’s system. A-Day will basically be watered-down versions of both.

Still, you can get somewhat of a gauge on where certain players are in their developments and how people react to that kind of environment. It will also be a chance to see Alabama’s early enrollees in action.

Let’s take a look at five position battles to watch on Saturday, before the long, slow offseason begins.

Begin Slideshow

4-Star's Top 10 All About 'Prestigious Academics and Football Tradition'

California offensive tackle Frank Martin II is one step closer to finalizing his college plans.

The 4-star lineman from Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, California, announced his top 10 via social media Wednesday morning. Martin tweeted his 10 in alphabetical order: Arizona, Arizona State, Cal, LSU, Michigan, TCU, Texas A&M, UCLA, USC and Washington.

These 10 schools survived the first cut from Martin's list of 30-plus offers.

"What attracted me about these schools," Martin said, "was the prestigious academics and football tradition, and [the] opportunity to showcase my skills at the highest level no matter where they might be."

Martin, at 6'5" and 301 pounds, is a tackle who plays with a lot of confidence, yet at the same time with a chip on his shoulder. He is ranked No. 13 among 2016 offensive tackles nationally and is constantly on a quest to prove he's the best lineman in the country. He showed his worth in March at The Opening Los Angeles regional, winning his fair share of battles against quality defensive linemen.

Of the 10 schools, six are Pac-12 schools. The three in-state schools—USC, UCLA and Cal—are ones to keep an eye on as Martin continues trimming his list. Martin's 247Sports Crystal Ball has all current predictions pointing to USC.

Martin would be a solid pickup for the Trojans and would be the team's fifth commitment if we were to pledge today. Martin would join fellow 4-star tackle Nathan Smith and several other standouts in the class.

If he were to commit to UCLA, he'd be the team's first offensive lineman pledge (not including long snapper Johnny Den Bleyker). Martin could be a keystone in UCLA's class—a class that has a half-dozen commits.

Cal also made the list. The Golden Bears have five pledges, but Martin would be the star of the current class. He'd be the highest-ranked commit since Cal's 2012 class, which included quarterback Zach Kline and wide receiver Bryce Treggs.

And then there are the out-of-state schools. Martin has two schools from Arizona and two from Texas to go along with schools from Michigan, Louisiana and Washington. Playing out of state obviously isn't going to be a problem.

Finding the best fit, however, will be the toughest part of his process.

"I feel like whatever program is going to develop me to be the best player and person is going to be the school to get me," he said.

Mater Dei already has one player committed in 4-star linebacker Curtis Robinson, who gave his pledge to Stanford on Monday. Martin can be the second from the school, as he said committing before taking any official visits is "definitely a possibility."

 

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

Which 2014 College Football Studs Will Suffer Sophomore Slumps?

The 2014 college football season was filled with fabulous freshmen. From Georgia running back Nick Chubb to Oregon tailback Royce Freeman, the newcomers proved their worth right from the get-go.

However, a strong freshman season doesn't necessarily portend future success. Now that opponents have a year's worth of tape to study, players who don't work on their weaknesses could struggle in the fall.

Which stud freshman is most likely to suffer a sophomore slump in 2015? Bleacher Report's College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee break it down in the video above.

Which freshmen do you expect to stumble? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Expect Urban Meyer to Continue Recruiting Dynasty in Big Ten

The Ohio State Buckeyes won the College Football Playoff National Championship last season, but they are not resting on their laurels. They are back on the recruiting trail and making big noise for future seasons.

Stephen Nelson is joined by Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder to discuss what OSU's recruiting class can become. 

What kind of recruiting class can Ohio State have next season? Check out the video and let us know.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Under-the-Radar Recruits Butch Jones Needs to Target for Tennessee

The Tennessee Volunteers, under head coach Butch Jones, are beginning to turn the tide on and off the field. Their impact on the recruiting trail has been significant, and it is showing no signs of slowing down. With that being said, who are some under-the-radar recruits Tennessee should target in the 2016 cycle? 

Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee and Stephen Nelson discuss all things Tennessee recruiting and who the Volunteers will need to land to bolster their class. 

How far can Tennessee go in 2015? Check out the video and let us know!

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Girl Asks Boyfriend to Prom Using Ezekiel Elliott-Themed Proposal

Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott broke free for an 85-yard touchdown run during the semifinals of the College Football Playoff against Alabama back in January. The score proved to be the game-clincher for the Buckeyes, who beat Alabama 42-35 before dominating Oregon 42-20 for the national championship.

Ohio State fans will never forget this play, and one high school student made sure of it. Buckeyes fan Michaela Amato used Elliott's monster run as the centerpoint for her "promposal" to her boyfriend, Nick Schaffer. She also apparently gave him a jersey. 

Love is in the air. 

[Twitter, h/t College Spun]

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Julian Okwara Commits to Notre Dame: What 4-Star DE Brings to Irish

Notre Dame picked up a big commitment on Tuesday evening when 4-star defensive end Julian Okwara announced his pledge to the Irish.

The 6’4”, 210-pound North Carolina product becomes the fifth commitment for Brian Kelly and his staff in the 2016 cycle.

Okwara selected the Irish over offers from Georgia, Michigan, Ole Miss and Tennessee, among others.

But what are the Irish getting in Okwara?

In the simplest of terms, they are getting a prospect who can put heat on the quarterback.

"Notre Dame is getting a guy with a quick first step," Okwara told Ryan Bartow of 247Sports. "I get off the ball quick and I'm great with my hands. They are getting a pass rusher."

Okwara, whose brother Romeo is a senior defensive end for the Irish, recorded 90 tackles—including 10 sacks and a pair of forced fumbles—during his junior year at Ardrey Kell High School in Charlotte.

He’s a versatile defender who can play defensive end or outside linebacker when he arrives in South Bend.

As noted by Evan Sharpley of Irish247, Okwara has extremely long arms and the type of frame suited to hold more weight at the next level. He’s also athletic enough drop into coverage and stick with receivers, tight ends and running backs in space.

He’s also been a standout on special teams during his prep career, which is something that could help him find the field early when he transitions to college.

Of course, there are a few areas that Okwara will have to work on prior to becoming a contributor at the next level.

As Sharpley details, he needs to add more muscle to his 210-pound frame and also has to work on staying low with his pads after the snap and building a strong base in the lower half of his body.

Still, he’s a big-time get because of his versatility and his ability to create havoc in the backfield.

The elder Okwara had three sacks last year, which was the top mark among the Irish defensive line.

Adding a promising pass-rusher in his younger brother fills one of the major needs that defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder had in the 2016 cycle—a factor that wasn’t lost on Julian in his decision-making process.

"The first reason I picked Notre Dame was the academic part," Okwara told Bartow. "I'll be studying business management and their program is 10th in the country in that so that's pretty good. They need a speed rusher and I'm able to help them there. Plus everything felt right when I visited. Just the team and the coaches."

Given his skill set and his potential to develop into a pass-rushing menace at the next level, Kelly and his staff scored a major coup in landing the nation’s No. 11 weak-side defensive end and the No. 186 player overall in the 2016 cycle.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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