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Biggest Sleepers in Power 5 Conferences in 2015

Sleepers contend for power-conference titles every season.

It sounds crazy to pick a team with a losing record to win the Big 12 or SEC, but TCU (4-8 in 2013) won the former in 2014, and Auburn (3-9 in 2012) won the latter in 2013.

The following aren't teams we're picking to win each power conference, but they're at least worth considering. Obviously they're long shots, but so were TCU and Auburn. Why write them off so soon?

Picking each team required looking at precedent. TCU, for example, fixed its biggest weakness (offense) by hiring Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie last offseason. Once it paired a working offense with its always strong defense, it morphed into a Big 12 contender.

Building off that, we looked for teams that do at least one thing well and worked to fix their major problem areas. We also looked for teams with X-factors that give them a higher ceiling. Lastly, we avoided teams with so much hype that calling them "sleepers" felt wrong (major examples: Michigan, Tennessee and Arkansas).

Sound off below, and let us know what you think.

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College Football Coaches Who Aren't Living Up to Their Schools' Expectations

It was all smiles, hope and optimism at the beginning. Now doubt, skepticism and uncertainty have become the more prevalent emotions.

Are we describing a bad marriage? Sort of. But not the kind with rings and vows, but instead one involving lucrative contracts and introductory press conferences.

Every college football coaching hire is lauded by the school as the perfect choice for its program, yet we know this isn't really the case. Thirty FBS coaches have been fired or forced to resign in the past three years, and each of them began his tenure with endless praise and compliments.

"Ellis Johnson emerged as the absolute best candidate to lead Southern Miss football at this time," then-school president Martha Saunders said in December 2011, via USA Today, less than 12 months before Johnson was fired for going 0-12 in his one and only season with the Golden Eagles.

The expectations that schools had when choosing their coach often aren't met, which often ends in termination or resignation before the ax can be dropped.

Whatever the case, these coaches have one thing in common: They haven't lived up to the hype.

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How UCLA Can out-Recruit USC on 2016 Recruiting Trail

A valid question: Of USC and UCLA, who had the better national signing day showing?

Signing day. Not signing class.

There was plenty of discussion on Feb. 5, the day after signing day, supporting the argument that UCLA had one of the strongest—if not the strongest—finishes in the country. If UCLA's finish was any indication of what to expect with the 2016 class, the recruiting battle against USC will be fun to watch for all.

One glance at USC's 2015 signing class gives one direct message: When it comes to recruiting, head coach Steve Sarkisian meant business. The Trojans finished with the nation's No. 2 class and had 25 scholarship players sign overall.

Of the 25, four were 5-star players and 14 were 4-star players. And while UCLA finished strong on signing day, USC challenged Alabama for the overall top spot with an impressive finish, getting commitments from 5-star cornerback Iman Marshall, 5-star defensive tackle Rasheem Green and 4-star linebacker John Houston.

However, if the Trojans want to contend for the top spot of the upcoming class, they'll have to be better than their determined, crosstown rivals. UCLA head coach Jim Mora and his crew will look to have an even stronger class in 2016—and recruiting already is in full swing.

Coaches will tell you that the one of the best ways to earn a quality recruiting class is to win games. Showing a great product on the football field—particularly in front of a huge national audience—is one of the simplest ways to attract the elite talent.

Selling that product during the offseason also is key. Mora has two of the nation's top recruiters in Adrian Klemm and Demetrice Martin, in addition to others on staff whom recruits have built great relationships with.

To outduel USC, UCLA will have to win recruiting battles in and out of California—and while it's still early in the game, it's possible for the Bruins to pass the Trojans. Currently, USC is ranked No. 19, while UCLA is No. 29 in the 2016 team rankings.

UCLA's 2015 class had 19 signees, including three 5-star and 10 4-star players. The Bruins had four commit on signing day in 5-star running back Soso Jamabo, 4-star tight end Chris Clark, 4-star offensive lineman Josh Wariboko and 4-star wide receiver Cordell Broadus.

UCLA's 2016 class already has a 5-star commit in defensive end Breland Brandt and a 4-star receiver commit in Michael Pittman. Player recruiting will be huge in UCLA's attempt to surpass USC. Brandt and Pittman will be asked to put the Bruins in a positive light every opportunity they can.

In-state battles will be vital. Per the 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions, USC is the leader for 4-star safety Brandon Burton, 4-star defensive end Oluwole Betiku and 4-star receiver Dylan Crawford.

Look for Mora and his staff to recruit heavily in and out of California. Recruiting out-of-state players could be the X-factor. The Bruins signed two players from Texas for 2015 and nearly had a third, but 4-star receiver Ryan Newsome flipped to Texas on signing day. UCLA also signed a player from each of Utah, Hawaii, Oklahoma and Connecticut.

You can bet that USC will do all it can to make sure it remains the go-to Los Angeles option for recruits. But don't be surprised if UCLA makes a major play in the recruiting battle between rivals.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Way-Too-Early Preview of Georgia Bulldogs 2016 Recruiting Class

The Georgia Bulldogs have grabbed tremendous momentum on the recruiting trail, bagging two 5-star recruits already for the class of 2016.

Bleacher Reports' Stephen Nelson was joined by 247Sports Georgia Beat Writer Rusty Mansell to discuss the Bulldogs' 2016 commits.

What do you think of Georgia's 2016 class so far?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

3 Reasons 5-Star QB Commit Shea Patterson Will Bring Ole Miss an SEC Title

When a top-flight quarterback spurns LSU and USC for another school, unless his name is "Eli Manning," you wouldn't expect that school to be Ole Miss.

Times apparently have changed.

Shea Patterson, a 5-star pro-style quarterback from Shreveport, Louisiana, in the 2016 class, committed to the Rebels over the Trojans and Tigers on Tuesday.

The 6'2", 195-pounder from Calvary Baptist Academy threw for 2,428 yards and 38 touchdowns and only tossed three picks in 2014 while adding 134 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.

Head coach Hugh Freeze seemed to take the news well.

He's a transformational quarterback who will not only keep Ole Miss in the SEC West title discussion but lead it to its first conference title since 1963. Here's why:

 

A Perfect Fit

Below are some of Patterson's highlights from the 2014 season. I'll wait for you to remove your jaw from the floor.

Now that you're prepared and have seen what Patterson brings to the table, it's hard not to understand just how good he can be in Freeze's offense.

From arm strength to accuracy to the ability to create behind the line of scrimmage, Patterson has everything Freeze wants from a quarterback. He can push the ball from sideline to sideline, stretch the field and doesn't lose touch on short and intermediate throws that don't require a ton of velocity.

As B/R national video analyst Michael Felder points out, he's the future at Ole Miss.

Freeze was successful over the last three years with Bo Wallace at quarterback, and Patterson has better arm strength, better accuracy, better decision-making and is still mobile enough behind the line of scrimmage to buy himself some time and let his receivers get open.

Freeze's offense is based on tempo, timing and creating big plays downfield when matchups are favorable—basically, everything Patterson does well.

Look out, SEC.

 

A Solid Foundation

Patterson will have plenty of weapons around him to work with once he wins the job as either a true freshman in 2016 or redshirt freshman/true sophomore in 2017.

Ole Miss signed a dynamic duo of wide receivers in the 2015 class in 4-star prospects Damarkus Lodge and Van Jefferson. Those two will make an immediate impact alongside Laquon Treadwell and Cody Core and evolve into more prominent roles once Ole Miss' veteran receivers move on.

Those two studs, plus Patterson, will keep the Rebels' lethal passing attack intact for years to come.

What's more, the problems on Ole Miss' offense appear to be getting fixed.

Javon Patterson enrolled early to help solidify the offensive line in the short term and long term, and 5'10", 188-pound all-purpose running back Eric Swinney should fix Ole Miss' biggest lingering problem—running between the tackles.

Freeze did a tremendous job this year signing players who can help continue the success that helped the Rebels make three straight bowl games and addressed areas of specific concern. Patterson should be the beneficiary once he arrives on campus.

 

Recruiting Momentum 

Ole Miss finished 17th in the final 2015 247Sports team recruiting rankings, and nobody even batted an eye. That's quite a departure from the last two seasons when Freeze and Co. reeled in the the No. 8 and No. 15 classes, respectively, and became the talk of the college football recruiting world.

The ability for Ole Miss to reel in its third straight top-20 recruiting class and not be a major recruiting story is a massive compliment to Freeze, his staff and their recruiting efforts.

The best is yet to come.

Patterson told B/R national recruiting writer Damon Sayles that his goal, now that he is committed to Ole Miss, is to lure more top-end talent to Oxford:

[Committing] is just the start of my recruiting process. I'm going to do the best I can to help bring the best class there. [4-star wide receiver] Mykel [Jones]'s one of my best friends. We've definitely talked about going to school together. [4-star running back] Devin [White]'s a Bo Jackson-type, and [4-star defensive tackle] Rashard [Lawrence]'s been on my radar.

This is major news for Ole Miss because as Freeze knows all too well, players are the best recruiters.

The presence of linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche on Ole Miss' roster was a big factor for his brother, Robert, the nation's No. 1 overall player in 2013, to sign on the dotted line and become a star defensive tackle. That opened the eyes of wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil, safety Tony Conner and other top-flight prospects to all that Ole Miss has to offer.

With Patterson on board now, history could repeat itself.

Is the SEC West stacked?

Yes, and Ole Miss—a program that has never won the SEC West—has its work cut out for it to finally break through that glass ceiling. But it was in the national picture this season with Wallace at the helm and offensive problems abound, particularly running between the tackles and along the offensive line.

Patterson's ability to stretch the field and make all of the throws, when combined with Freeze and his staff's ability to consistently attract talented players to Oxford, should help Ole Miss do just that sometime between 2016 and 2020.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Dwayne Haskins Sets Decision Plans: Which Team Has Best Shot to Land 4-Star QB?

Quarterback Dwayne Haskins appears to be entering the final stretch toward a collegiate commitment.

The 4-star Maryland prospect shared potential announcement plans Tuesday during a discussion with Todderick Hunt of NJ.com.

"Hopefully, it'll be early April, around that time, probably around the time of Elite 11 camp," Haskins said.

He is expected to compete at the Washington D.C. Regional Elite 11 showcase on April 19. There's also a strong chance Haskins will be invited to participate in national Elite 11 finals, held this summer at Nike's world headquarters in Eugene, Oregon.

Rated fifth nationally among pro-style passers in 247Sports' composite rankings, Haskins is considered one of the premier Mid-Atlantic prospects in this 2016 recruiting cycle. College interest extends far beyond the region.

He collected scholarship offers from Ohio State, Clemson, Florida, Nebraska, Notre Dame and Miami before the end of his sophomore year. Texas, Ole Miss, UCLA, Penn State, LSU and Alabama are among the programs that have extended offers since.

The 2014 Maryland Gatorade Player of the Year now has nearly 40 FBS options to consider.

“Years ago you dream about signing, and thinking about it being so close, it’s crazy," Haskins told Mark Giannotto of The Washington Post earlier this month.

The 6'3", 185-pound passer spent the past two seasons picking apart opponents at The Bullis School. He's thrown for 3,066 yards and 36 touchdowns since 2013, per MaxPreps.

Haskins headed north for his past two campus visits, traveling to Rutgers twice since January. His most recent trip took place Feb. 16, though he anticipates an expanded travel itinerary as the clock ticks toward a decision. 

"I haven't been able to visit any schools other than Rutgers lately because my mom has business up there, so she's always traveling back and forth," Haskins told Hunt. "But now that it's getting closer and closer to commitment day, I'm gonna be taking some more visits."

He shared an expansive list of possible upcoming destinations Tuesday on Twitter:

For those who may not be fluent in hashtag terminology, Haskins aims to check out Alabama, Auburn, Arizona State, Michigan, LSU, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, UCLA and Arizona. 

That agenda is certainly a tall task considering his timeline and would probably require an epic spring break. 

"I'm gonna try to if my schedule permits me to," he told Hunt. "I mean, it's a lot of traveling and a lot of money, so I'll see if I can make it to some of those schools, but probably can't make all of them."

You can be sure each coaching staff would welcome him to campus with open arms, especially with the anticipation that he's nearing a decision. Big Ten newcomers Rutgers and Maryland likely hope his collegiate exploration is limited in the coming months.

Both programs have put themselves in excellent position to land a playmaker who could become a catalyst for either class.

He spent this past Saturday in New York City, hanging out with Rutgers product Mohamed Sanu, who is now a Cincinnati Bengals receiver, and 2016 Scarlet Knights commit Mohamed Jabbie (Sanu's nephew).

Haskins grew up near Rutgers and became familiar with both players through youth football.

"We enjoyed each other's company because I haven't been able to hang out with Little Mo since Pop Warner days," Haskins told Hunt. "He's not pushing me too much, but he'll have little tidbits here and there about why I should go."

Maryland, meanwhile, has made Haskins a top priority as the crown jewel of its in-state recruiting efforts. The Terrapins are a viewed as a slight favorite to sign Haskins among the 39 experts who've contributed predictions to his 247Sports Crystal Ball.

He will attend Junior Day in College Park this weekend.

Fellow Terps target Keith Simms, an in-state linebacker, believes Haskins could lead the way toward a big-time class at Maryland.

"Dwayne is definitely trying to get everyone to go to one school, and he's been advocating Maryland a lot, especially as of late," Simms told Marco Knudsen of SB Nation last month.

His travel schedule could shake things up immensely as spring approaches, but for now, things seem to be setting up nicely for Maryland and Rutgers. In advance of his Junior Day visit, we'll give a slight edge to the Terps. 

Expect plenty of developments in this recruitment as Haskins makes his final push toward a pledge. Today's top contenders could quickly fade as he further investigates alternative opportunities on the recruiting trail.

 

Recruit ratings and info courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Football: Tracking 2015 NFL Combine Results for Former Buckeyes Stars

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Despite capturing the first-ever College Football Playoff championship, Ohio State only had four players invited to this year's NFL Scouting Combine. And although that's a scary thought for future opponents of the Buckeyes—who will return 14 combined starters on offense and defense next season—Urban Meyer's squad will still provide the NFL with its annual supply of talent.

It may not be quite like last year, when Ohio State put an unprecedented seven rookie starters in the NFL, but this year's crop of pro Buckeyes could include as many as two first-round picks. In fact, all four OSU alums at the combine could be instant impact players and off the draft board by the end of this spring's third round.

Of course, a lot can change between now and the actual draft, starting with this week's combine in Indianapolis. After helping lead Ohio State to an unlikely run to a national title, these four senior starters will now attempt to solidify their respective draft stocks at the annual draft showcase.

With that in mind, here's a look at how the Buckeyes have been faring in Indianapolis.

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Alabama Football: Tracking 2015 NFL Combine Results for Former Tide Stars

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — While Nick Saban and Alabama are finishing up some recruiting before they gear up for spring practice, some of the Crimson Tide’s former stars are beginning the next step of their football careers.

Eleven former Alabama players will be in Indianapolis at some point this week for the NFL Scouting Combine, where they will work out for NFL personnel in one of the major landmarks in the buildup to the NFL draft.

It’s shaping up to be another big year for the Crimson Tide in the NFL.

Follow along with all of the action in this post, which will be updated throughout the week as players go through interviews and workouts.

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What LSU Must Pitch to Win over No. 1 CB Saivion Smith During Visit

LSU will get a huge opportunity to woo 5-star corner Saivion Smith when the nation's top-rated player at the position visits Baton Rouge this weekend for the Tigers' junior day, according to Shea Dixon of Geaux247.

Smith is a lockdown corner prospect from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, who already has more than 20 offers under his belt.

The Tigers jumped in the race for Smith after offering him last month. 

But what can they pitch to him on his trip this weekend that will place in them in good position to land him in the end?

For starters, the trip will be a benchmark in Smith's recruitment.

"Saivion is looking forward to this trip," Anthony Smith, Saivion's father, told Bleacher Report. "When he gets back from this visit, we plan on narrowing his list."

There are a few things going in LSU's favor with Smith, but there are also a few questions that must be answered.

The best thing it can do is to sell its recent tradition of sending corners to the NFL.

With former corners such as Patrick Peterson, Morris Claiborne and Tharold Simon being drafted in recent years, LSU's history has to appeal to any corner of Smith's caliber.

However, the Tigers lost the architect of their suffocating defenses in recent years when former defensive coordinator John Chavis moved on to Texas A&M in the offseason. A plus in negating the loss of Chavis is the fact that secondary coach Corey Raymond is still on Les Miles' staff.

Still, it's up to the Tigers' new defensive coordinator, Kevin Steele, to convince Smith that the Tigers' tradition of playing their corners on an island is going to remain the same.

As Smith told Josh Newberg of Noles247 last month, he prefers a scheme that lets him operate as a true lockdown cover man.

"I want to be pressed-up by myself on the outside," Smith said. "That's my island."

Even though the Tigers brought in a pair of touted corners in the 2015 class, including fellow 5-star Floridian Kevin Toliver II, the depth chart isn't a huge negative with the Tigers, as illustrated by Ourlads.

In fact, LSU could pitch Smith on the idea of pairing him with Toliver to form the Tigers' corner duo of the future.

Ironically, Smith's coming-out party during his junior season came during a monster performance against Toliver's Trinity Christian Academy squad in a nationally televised game.

While the Tigers will have a chance to roll out the red carpet for Smith, it will still be tough to pull him away from the Sunshine State.

Programs such as Clemson, Florida, Florida State and Miami are among the schools actively recruiting the nation's No. 6 overall prospect in the 2016 cycle.

Still, given LSU's history with landing elite corners and Smith's willingness to visit them early in his recruitment, the Tigers have a huge opportunity to make a lasting impression on one of the biggest difference-makers in the 2016 class.

 

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

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Football: Position-by-Position Grades for 2015 Recruiting Class

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — With the start of spring practice less than two weeks away, let’s take a final look at Notre Dame football’s recruiting class of 2015.

We’ll go position by position and grade Notre Dame’s haul, assessing the class and the players added for quality, quantity and need.

In total, the Irish inked 24 signees, a class that ranks 13th in the nation. Our analysis here will not include the addition of graduate transfer Avery Sebastian, which was made official Wednesday morning.

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Early Predictions for the 2015 Big Ten All-Conference Team

The Big Ten returns nine players from last year's all-conference coaches' first team and 10 players from that of the media.

That's a decent amount of continuity for a conference that ended the season on a high note after Wisconsin won the Outback Bowl, Michigan State won the Cotton Bowl and, of course, Ohio State won the College Football Playoff.

Predicting next year's All-Big Ten team included obvious criteria: How have players performed in the past, and how should we expect them to perform in the future? Whether it's because of his own play or the context around him, who will post the biggest numbers?

Sound off below, and let us know what you think.

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Michigan Football: Tracking 2015 NFL Combine Results for Former Wolverines Stars

Devin Funchess, Jake Ryan and Frank Clark are getting closer to a shot at the NFL by the day. But before the former Michigan standouts take the next step in their careers, they’ll have to run, jump and lift during the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine this week in Indianapolis.

According to the combine’s site, receivers, quarterbacks and running backs arrived on Wednesday and wrap up on Saturday. So that covers Funchess, a 6’5”, 230-pound wideout with early-round potential.

Defensive linemen and linebackers are set to arrive Thursday and finish on Sunday. That covers Jake Ryan, a linebacker with mid-round potential, and Frank Clark, a defensive end with late, late-round potential.

Follow this tracker for the latest updates and news as Funchess, Ryan and Clark attempt to bench, shuttle, dash and vertically leap their way onto a NFL franchise’s draft board. The combine goes all week, so check back frequently to get up to speed. 

 

 

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Notre Dame Football: Tracking 2015 NFL Combine Results for Former Irish Stars

Usually having just three players invited to the NFL scouting combine would be a concern for the health of a football program. But in Notre Dame's case, it's a sign that the Irish expect big things in 2015. 

Kicker Kyle Brindza, suspended wide receiver DaVaris Daniels and tight end Ben Koyack will all be in Indianapolis this week, hoping to prove to scouts and general managers that they deserve a chance to play on Sundays. 

After being a part of a star-studded 2011 recruiting class, the Irish trio look to join classmates George Atkinson (Raiders), Aaron Lynch (49ers), Troy Niklas (Cardinals) and Stephon Tuitt (Steelers) in the NFL. 

Let's get you prepared for what Brindza, Daniels and Koyack face while updating you as they go through testing and position drills. 

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5 Things Bob Stoops Must Do to Get Oklahoma Back to Elite Status

Oklahoma Sooners coach Bob Stoops knows 8-5 isn't going to cut it, especially when expectations are closer to a national championship than a pre-New Year's Eve/Day bowl. 

Outside of the program, preseason expectations for Oklahoma could be tempered for 2015. TCU and Baylor should be, perhaps interchangeably, No. 1 and No. 2 in every Big 12 preseason poll out there. Where the Sooners fit in after that remains to be seen. 

However, as Jake Trotter of ESPN.com noted Tuesday, Stoops' team actually isn't that far off of the pace. Yes, staff changes needed to be made, and they were. Yes, there are positions (and players) who must improve. We'll get to those in the following slides. 

But remember—2013 was probably Stoops' best coaching job in Norman. It's not like he forgot what he's doing. If Stoops can orchestrate a turnaround in the following areas, Oklahoma could surpass those lower-than-normal expectations. 

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Grading Every 2015 SEC Coordinator Hire

The coaching carousel has finally stopped spinning, and around the SEC, that meant moving companies were busy.

There will be 14 new coordinators around the south, including friendly faces Will Muschamp at Auburn, John Chavis at LSU and Geoff Collins at Florida.

How does each coordinator hire grade out? Our picks based on resume, fit and available options are in this slideshow.

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Ranking College Football's 25 Hardest Schedules for 2015

In the new College Football Playoff era, scheduling is more important than ever. Baylor and TCU found that out the hard way last fall, when the two Big 12 teams combined for 22 wins but found themselves on the outside of the playoff looking in.

A big reason why? Their best nonconference win between the teams came against Minnesota. While the Gophers were improved and an eight-win team, it ultimately wasn’t enough for TCU to make its way into the playoff.

So scheduling matters. If the schedule is too soft, you’ll be punished by college football’s power brokers. If the schedule is too tough, there’s a chance you’ll find yourself out of a job. It’s a fine line, indeed.

Multiple teams face a daunting road to get to the College Football Playoff (or even become bowl-eligible) in 2015. Here’s a look at the 25 toughest schedules in college football. Factors such as nonconference foes, strength of league schedule and difficult home-road balance were all considered for this feature.

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Tennessee Football: Vols Who Could Shine at Next Year's NFL Combine

The most recent NFL drafts have come and gone without much of a Tennessee tinge to them, but that won't be the case for long, as the Vols have built a football roster rife with future pros.

Especially head coach Butch Jones' past two recruiting classes feature prospects who have the size, speed and ability to make some noise on the next level. 

Even though most of the talent on Tennessee's roster is either young, unproven or both, it's hard to imagine with the way Jones has recruited that there will be a dearth of orange on draft day from now on.

Beginning with next year's NFL draft, the Vols may have several players who draw the attention of NFL scouts. It isn't out of the realm of possibility that UT could become an NFL factory with all the youngsters who could parlay recruiting rankings into college football stardom and a next-level ticket.

ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper is already trumpeting Tennessee on The Paul Finebaum Show (via UTSports.com), so the Vols are firmly on his radar: "I look at Tennessee, and I'm excited about that football team…The guys that are coming back, you've got star power with some of those kids."

There are no "sure things" when it comes to projecting professional prowess, but it's a fun practice nonetheless. Let's take a look at some Vols who'll be draft-eligible next year and could make some noise in predraft workouts.

 

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Recruiting Services Are Tracking 6th-Grader: His Dad Explains Why It's No Biggie

Daron Bryden is regarded as one of the best pro-style quarterbacks of his class. This, in present time, is factual. It’s also necessary to highlight other factual information as it pertains to this recruit, and let’s drop some timely air quotes around the word “recruit.”

Bryden is currently listed at 5'2" and 105 pounds. He is in sixth grade. He is 12. He won’t graduate high school—I repeat, high school—until the year 2021. All of this information can be found on Bryden’s official Rivals page, which is something that actually exists. It's also not something his father is at all concerned about, but we'll get to that.

Bryden and fellow sixth-grader Tyson Thornton, a 170-pound running back, can be found in the Rivals database. Following appearances at NextGen Boston—a live showcase for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders, and another surprising thing that exists—Bryden and Thornton were highlighted on Rivals.com.

As impressive as those performances were, there were seven athletes that have had their profiles added to the Rivals.com recruiting database. Tyson Thornton and Daron Bryden will be the first sixth-grade prospects the website will actively monitor. Thornton is a 5-foot-11, 167-pound running back with great explosiveness and surprisingly good body control for a kid his size and age. Bryden, a small quarterback with a big arm, is incredibly composed and very polished—and he can make every throw. And with a father standing nearly 6-foot-7, he may soon have the body to match his arm. Both of these young players were so impressive they were moved up to compete against the eighth-grade prospects.

For further perspective, consider the following: Dylan Moses, the top player in the class of 2017 on 247Sports—and another young athlete who garnered incredible interest and even scholarship offers before ever dominating a high school game—will be out of college by the time Bryden plays his first collegiate game, if he ultimately heads down that path.

That’s where we are with the timeline. I can't help but look at my infant daughter and wonder what she'll be like in 2021. What will I be like? Where will I be living? What will I be doing? It's an eternity.

With this kind of football forecast, there are no guarantees. There are no promises of development. Everything should be left open-ended, and there's a mutual understanding that it is. That won’t change the fact that children are now, at least to a degree, being recognized by major recruiting outlets before puberty knocks down the door and announces its presence.

The very notion of this development was greeted with a tsunami of disgust and outrage. The general reaction was, in many ways, the appropriate reaction: Sixth grade?

We’ve dipped our toes in the notion of early recruits before. (See David Sills, who verbally committed to Lane Kiffin at USC at the age of 13). Moses, as mentioned above, garnered similar buzz before he dominated high school competition. Similar moral conversations regarding early aged recruiting are not new to the sport—they're simply becoming more frequent.

But this is different, or at least it feels different. This is a 12-year-old crashing through a threshold that seems unreasonable, even for a lucrative industry that has been constructed on the unreasonable lionizing of athletes at a young age. Those who follow recruiting accept these general oddities, but this is out of the comfort zone of even the most passionate fans.

Once more, with feeling… sixth grade?

Craig Bryden, Daron’s father, doesn’t view this sudden surge in recruiting interest as a negative. Perhaps this is to be expected. As a father, it’s only natural to be flattered when people—especially professionals—recognize your son for being good at something at any age. For Craig, despite his son’s youth, this flattering stretches back well beyond a few days.

Just last year, Daron appeared on Kids Do the Darndest Things and competed in a throwing competition with NFL QB Matt Hasselbeck.

Generate a scouting report at your own risk.

Appearing on a television show and getting thrust into the recruiting world are two very different matters. One is strictly constructed for entertainment, at least from the guest’s perspective, and the other is a business that has grown teeth over time, which is not something any sixth-grader should ever be concerned with.

But again, Craig Bryden doesn’t interpret this “interest” in the same way many others might.

“While I understand the position of some saying the kids are too young, they aren't done growing and they may not pan out, that is exactly why they call them prospects,” Bryden told Bleacher Report. “Rivals is merely identifying potential future talent. This is Daron’s dream and he works extremely hard at it. And he’s done so while maintaining good grades, being a great kid and a great big brother.”

Daron has already had multiple quarterback coaches. He has also, according to his father, spoken to multiple college coaches and schools about attending college camps. These aren’t intense scholarship-focused conversations or anything beyond simple meet-and-greets.

“They are encouragement to keep grinding,” Bryden said of these talks.

But he’s still 12. We've gone over this, yes? Regardless of the surface-level discussions, it’s difficult to see beyond his age, weight and height.

“Talent is being identified and sometimes even offered as early as eighth and ninth grade,” Bryden said. “Early recruiting already exists for basketball, baseball and gymnastic as well. Football is mirroring the recruiting trends of those sports.”

Pointing to other sports to validate this latest youth movement shouldn’t suddenly transpose your stance from one side to the other, although other athletic avenues—tennis, for example—glorify recruiting and rankings at remarkably young ages, and with much more acceptance.

In fact, if you wanted, you could align yourself with an esteemed tennis coach, toss away hundreds of thousands of dollars and essentially begin the recruiting process far earlier than sixth grade. This is common practice for those with the time, means and desire.

This doesn’t necessarily make it right. Of course it doesn't. There’s equal absurdity in plenty of other sports not as reliant on physical development. This isn’t just a football issue or a Rivals issue, it’s an issue with the way youth is interpreted.

“Sixth-grader draws interest from a recruiting outlet,” is a meaty headline, especially when it involves the meatiest sport. But what, in reality, does it mean? What negatives—beyond the general shock of seeing a sixth-grader on a website with his measurables out in the open—truly come with a ranking-less presence online?

If the child and family have a firm grasp on the situation and understand the obvious infancy of the journey, is that enough? Should they be put in a situation to have to decide? These are the questions that will garner a wide variety of emotional responses.

This online presence won’t suddenly make Bryden a better player. It won’t change his life altogether. He won’t suddenly be swarmed with text messages and phone calls from coaches. He’s barely five feet tall.

Sills didn’t pan out to be the “can’t-miss” quarterback prospect many thought he would be as a 13-year-old, although he still signed and enrolled early at West Virginia in January. His journey to arrive at that moment was long, although the early frenzy surrounding his recruitment and verbal agreement played a role in determining his football fate. It probably helped it. And that's a good thing, right?

This poses a question that should be asked above all: If there is a mutual understanding that scouting sixth-graders doesn't add much value, why do it in the first place?

That's a safe place to start. Although that doesn't mean it's the pure evil it's being billed as, not when all realistic outcomes are taken into consideration. 

Is it odd? Absolutely. Will it become the norm? Likely not, especially considering the feedback it has prompted. It could ultimately be bad for business, which is what this is all about. That's a callous way to approach a delicate situation, but ultimately it will shape how this industry is viewed moving forward.

Outrage isn’t the appropriate emotion for this. This requires something more, something much harder to define. But if this sudden revelation is what finally pushed you over the edge with recruiting—saying the whole thing has finally reached a new intolerable threshold—I have one simple question.

Where have you been?

 

Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why Wisconsin Should Worry 4-Star RB Antonio Williams Is Looking at SEC Powers

Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst inherited a commitment from premier 2016 running back Antonio Williams when he arrived on campus in mid-December. Just two months later, it appears the 4-star North Carolina playmaker is wavering in his pledge to the Badgers.

"It's up in the air," he told Ryan Bartow of 247Sports.

Chryst hasn't managed to recruit many of "his guys" to Madison yet. In part, those efforts haven't been extraordinarily necessary—unlike with other head coaches who took over new teams late in the 2015 cycle.

He retained 15 commitments from the Gary Andersen regime earlier this month on national signing day. Only 25 percent (five athletes) of Wisconsin's incoming class came on board after his arrival, the lowest percentage of any freshly hired FBS head coach.

It seemed Chryst would stay in solid shape with Williams, considering running backs coach Thomas Brown initially remained on staff following a program shakeup.

However, Brown bolted for the same job at Georgia earlier this week. He rushed for 2,646 career yards as a Bulldogs running back from 2004-2007.

Though his NFL career was limited, Brown's rise in the collegiate coaching ranks has been steady.

He helped mentor Badgers star Melvin Gordon, who led the nation with 2,587 rushing yards in 2014 and earned an invitation to the Heisman Trophy ceremony. Sophomore Corey Clement added 949 yards and nine scores last season, and could be next in line to rise toward stardom.

"I talked to Coach Brown after he left and he explained how he wanted to get his sons near his family back home and by their cousins," Williams said. "He said he will be recruiting me for Georgia now."

That last statement is particularly compelling, considering the coveted running back recruit lives much closer to Athens than Madison. He already holds an offer from the Bulldogs and will now view the coaching staff with a new level of comfort.

Despite allegiances to Brown, Williams would be playing a risky game if he elects to determine his collegiate fate with a position coach as his top priority.

"I tell the recruits all the time about making sure you choose a school for the school," Brown told Jesse Temple of Fox Sports Wisconsin on signing day. "Not just for the coaching staff. We get fired, we get re-hired somewhere else all the time. You want to make sure you're comfortable no matter who comes or goes."

Auburn is another SEC team that could become a factor if Williams reconsiders his recruitment. The Tigers were one of five finalists—along with Wisconsin, North Carolina, Duke and Notre Dame—when he announced a decision Dec. 4.

Head coach Gus Malzahn already holds a pledge from top-rated 2016 wide receiver Nate Craig-Myers and is still searching for a viable option at running back in this cycle.

It isn't a position of great need at this point, but injuries and underwhelming college careers command depth at running back on every successful college roster.

Williams has gained 5,849 yards on the ground as a three-year starter at North Stanly High School, per MaxPreps, accounting for 63 total touchdowns during that span.

He is rated seventh nationally among players at the position in 247Sports' composite rankings.

If he opts to bail on the Badgers—and judging by Bartow's report that "he hasn't heard from anyone on Wisconsin's staff since Brown's departure," that outcome may be most likely—opportunities elsewhere will be plentiful for the 5'11", 210-pound prospect.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Top 2016 Texas Recruits Most Likely to Leave the State

The state of Texas is loaded with talent at every position, and the Texases, Texas A&Ms, TCUs, Baylors and Texas Techs of the world would love to keep the in-state talent home.

But as we all know, that doesn't happen often times. In fact, with SEC, Pac-12 and Big Ten schools making their way more and more into the Lone Star State, more elite-level athletes are choosing to play far from home.

Of the top 100 players from 247Sports' 2015 class, 14 were from the state of Texas. Of those 14 players, six chose to sign letters of intent to out-of-state colleges. Among them were 5-star cornerback Kendall Sheffield, who signed with Alabama, and 5-star running back Soso Jamabo, who signed with UCLA.

Here are 10 Texans from the 2016 class, in alphabetical order, who could end up signing with an out-of-state school.

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