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Ultimate Guide to 2016 Elite 11 Finals QB Competition

Premier high school quarterbacks from across America are set to invade Los Angeles County this week when the Elite 11 finals take place from June 3-5 at Redondo Union High School in Redondo Beach.

The event features 24 passers progressing toward their senior seasons, including several who've already announced collegiate intentions. Some of these competitors will arrive in California as underdogs and have limited recognition across the national landscape, while others secured scholarship offers before their first varsity snaps. 

The impressive collection of quarterbacks will undergo intensive training, operating inside and outside the pocket and learning how to perform under duress. Elite 11 coaches will challenge the physical abilities and mental aptitude of each athlete, with pressure mounting as drills progress.

When finals wrap up Sunday, just 12 quarterbacks will be selected to attend The Opening at Nike's world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. Those dozen will then contend for Elite 11 MVP honors while leading seven-on-seven teams through a star-studded tournament at the invite-only showcase in July.

The group preparing for action in Redondo Beach is eclectic, as 14 regional camps presented diverse opportunities for players to qualify. They'll represent more than themselves in California, carrying the expectations of hometown communities in different corners of the country.

 

The Finalists

California is well-represented with three in-state standouts in attendance, while 5-star Tate Martell started his high school career in Southern California before transferring to Las Vegas powerhouse Bishop Gorman.

Georgia and Florida also sent a trio of passers, though Texas paces the pack with five Elite 11 finalists who play for in-state programs. 

In terms of composite ratings, this collection is quite a mixed bag.

Each 5-star quarterback prospect (Dylan McCaffreyHunter Johnson and Martell) will attempt to validate immense hype. McCaffrey and Johnson committed to Michigan and Clemson, respectively, as juniors, while Martell is considering Ohio State, Cal, Miami, UCLA, USC and others.

"We'd heard a lot about [Johnson] and had watched him on film," Elite 11 instructor Matt James told Bleacher Report's Damon Sayles. "He went to [the Elite 11] Columbus [regional] last year, so he was already on everybody's radar. ... He makes the right throw in every situation."

Meanwhile, three contenders (Connor BlumrickJake Haener and Tommy DeVito) are listed outside the top 1,000 overall prospects in the 2017 recruiting cycle. DeVito is a Syracuse commit, while Haener remains undecided and Blumrick recently replaced Martell in Texas A&M's recruiting class. 

Last year, 3-star prospects such as Anthony RussoNick Starkel and Jett Duffey showed glimpses of significant promise during Elite 11 finals, forcing analysts to reconsider initial assessments. 

"I knew that if I come in and throw the ball the way I know I can throw it, it’s up there with the top guys in the country,” Haener told B/R's Sanjay Kirpalani. “I’m not scared of competing with them."

 

Recruiting Storylines

Still searching for his first Power Five offer, Haener is one of four quarterbacks to enter the Elite 11 finals without a collegiate commitment in place. The others are Jack SearsChase Garbers and Martell, who initially pledged to the Washington Huskies in middle school.

Martell, who released a top seven Tuesday, is the top-rated uncommitted quarterback in the country:

Many eyes are on Kellen Mond, a 4-star prospect set to replace 2015 Elite 11 MVP Shea Patterson under center at IMG Academy. He pledged to Baylor last June before a series of off-field bombshells altered everything at team facilities. 

The Bears program is under intense scrutiny in the wake of widespread sexual abuse allegations against players during Art Briles' tenure. After 50 victories in the past five seasons, the head coach couldn't weather the storm, and on May 26 the school's administration announced its intent to terminate his contract, leaving committed players like Mond wondering what to do next.

"I definitely committed there because of Art Briles," Mond told B/R.

By the time he throws his first pass in Redondo Beach, Mond may reopen the recruiting process or leap into another class. Auburn and Ohio State are notable alternative landing spots, should he bolt from Baylor.

Among the 20 committed recruits invited to the Elite 11 finals, seven anticipate playing careers on SEC campuses. This leads all conferences, while the Big 12 and Big Ten follow behind with four pledges apiece.

A tandem of LSU-bound quarterbacks, Myles Brennan and Lowell Narcisse, highlights the SEC haul. Clemson, the reigning ACC champion, also carries commitments from two Elite 11 finalists, securing verbal pacts with both Johnson and Chase Brice in December.

The past three passers to receive Elite MVP honors signed with SEC squads. Patterson (2015) is now a freshman at Ole Miss, while Blake Barnett (2014, Alabama) and Sean White (2013, Auburn) are developing into roster veterans at conference rivals.

It may come as a surprise to learn that Rutgers is represented for a second straight year. Russo qualified last summer while committed to the Scarlet Knights, though he flipped to Temple following head coach Kyle Flood's dismissal, and now pivotal Chris Ash pickup Johnathan Lewis is in the mix two years after his high school (St. Peter's Prep) produced Elite 11 finalist Brandon Wimbush.

 

Elite 11 Legacy

The compilation of past Elite 11 competitors is filled with field generals who flourished in FBS action and beyond. Among the past 11 quarterbacks to win a Heisman Trophy, 10 of them attended Elite 11 camps at the national and/or local level.

This network of alumni includes Andrew Luck, Jameis Winston, AJ McCarron, Matthew Stafford and Tim Tebow. Multiple members of the 2015 Elite 11 class are likely to challenge for starting reps this fall as true freshmen.

We'll begin to further understand the capabilities of this latest crop of young quarterbacks during a busy weekend.

"I just want to improve every day from now and go out there and do my best against these other top guys," McCaffrey, the younger brother of 2015 Heisman Trophy finalist Christian McCaffrey, told Kirpalani in May upon receiving his invitation.

"There's nothing better than competing against the best," added Texas commit Sam Ehlinger, who traveled approximately 1,500 miles to earn his spot at a New Jersey regional.

Future rivals will go head-to-head throughout the weekend, providing fans with early opportunities to monitor the progress of quarterbacks who could someday ignite explosive offensive attacks in college. These recruits aim to play paramount roles in high-profile matchups such as Oklahoma-Texas, Alabama-LSU, Michigan-Michigan State and Notre Dame-Stanford.

The competition should be captivating in Southern California. 

 

Tyler Donohue is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings.

Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Hall of Fame Ballot 2017 Revealed

Peyton Manning (Tennessee), Marshall Faulk (San Diego State), Tony Gonzalez (Cal) and Troy Polamalu (USC) headline the new FBS player arrivals on the 2017 College Football Hall of Fame ballot released Wednesday morning. 

The National Football Foundation announced the entire group of candidates for next year's class, which includes 75 former FBS players. NFF President and CEO Steve Hatchell released a statement about the beginning of the selection process:

It's an enormous honor to just be on the ballot when you think that more than 5.12 million people have played college football. The Hall's requirement of being a First-Team All-American creates a much smaller pool of only 1,500 individuals who are even eligible to be on the ballot, so being in today's elite group means an individual is truly among the greatest to ever have played the game, and we are proud to announce their names. We look forward to announcing the 2017 Hall of Fame Class on the Friday before the College Football Playoff National Championship in Tampa.

Here's a look at the full list of FBS player nominees:

Other categories considered for enshrinement in the College Football Hall of Fame include FBS coaches, divisional players and divisional coaches. There are some notable names among those groups, including longtime head coach Steve Spurrier:

The new arrivals join an already stacked list of candidates that features the likes of Eric Dickerson (SMU), Ray Lewis (Miami) and Brian Urlacher (New Mexico).

Manning was named the SEC Freshman of the Year in 1994 before going on to be named to the first-team All-SEC squad twice while with the Volunteers. He also won several national honors for his senior season in 1997, including the Maxwell, Davey O'Brien and Johnny Unitas awards.

Faulk was a two-time consensus All-American during his career at San Diego State that saw him tally 5,562 yards from scrimmage in just three seasons. He finished second in Heisman Trophy voting for the 1992 campaign.

Gonzalez split his time between basketball and football with the Golden Bears. He enjoyed a breakout campaign on the gridiron in 1996 when he ranked fifth in the Pac-10 with 44 catches to go with 699 yards and five touchdowns en route to consensus All-American honors.

Polamalu became one of the most well-rounded defenders in college football at USC. He registered 281 tackles, six interceptions, four blocked punts, three touchdowns and two fumble recoveries with the Trojans, earning two first-team All-Pac 10 nods and consensus All-American honors in 2002.

The highly competitive ballot is now in the hands of the more than 12,000 NFF members. Voting is scheduled to end June 20, when the results will be turned over to the NFF's Honors Courts, a group of athletic administrators, Hall of Famers and media members, who make the final decision.

The 2017 class will be officially announced Friday, Jan. 6, during the buildup to the 2017 national championship game. Those selected for enshrinement will be inducted at an awards dinner Dec. 5, 2017, before taking their place among other legends at the Hall of Fame in Atlanta.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Position-by-Position Preview of Ohio State's 2016 Roster

There weren't many question marks for the 2015 edition of the Ohio State football team, but after sending 12 players to the NFL via the draft and losing 16 starters total, the team that takes the field this fall will look completely different than last year's squad.

There will be familiar faces, of course, with quarterback J.T. Barrett back to lead the offense and middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan returning to anchor the defense. But both units are undergoing a huge makeover this offseason as head coach Urban Meyer is working to identify eight new starters on each side of the ball.

Here's a detailed look at each position as Ohio State heads into summer camp and starts preparation for fall camp. 

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Ranking Every State by Their College Football Teams

College football has an unending supply of team pride, as well as quite a bit of pride for teams from the same conference (except maybe their rival). But what about state pride, is that something that exists in the sport?

There are 41 states with at least one school competing at the FBS level, and we've ranked those territories based on the performance of all of their teams. These rankings factor in records from the past five seasons (2011-15), with an extra emphasis on results from the past two years and bonus points awarded for division, conference and national titles won by teams from that state.

Who comes out on top, and who's stuck at the bottom? Put on your state pride hat and follow along.

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Breaking Down the Best Defensive Players in Each College Football Conference

The recent 2016 NFL draft featured plenty of defensive talent. Although the first two picks of the draft (Cal’s Jared Goff and North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz) were quarterbacks, 16 of the 31 first-round picks were defensive players, led by No. 3 overall pick and new San Diego Charger defensive end Joey Bosa.

As always, graduation and the draft robbed college football of some of its best defensive players.

That said, the cycle of college football life means that new talent will step forward to replace those who’ve moved on, and of course, plenty of impressive players remain.

How will that affect the game? Chances are, it’ll be just fine in 2016.

Here’s a look at the best defensive players in each FBS conference, from the ACC to the Sun Belt. Disagree? Let us know in the comments.

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A Nick Saban vs. Jim Harbaugh Feud Is Exactly What College Football Needs

DESTIN, Fla. — You never let a good controversy go to waste, and Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh pounced on one created, in part, by Alabama head coach Nick Saban on Tuesday night.

Speaking at SEC spring meetings prior to the head coaches' meetings with administrators, Saban went off on the NCAA's ruling earlier this spring that allows coaches to "guest-coach" at the camps of other schools and institutions—commonly known as "satellite camps."

"I go to a camp and I'm talking to some guy I don't know from Adam's housecat and he's representing some kid because he put the camp on," Saban said, "and then I'm in trouble for talking to this guy? And who even knows if the guy paid to go to the camp. Is the NCAA going to do that?"

When asked specifically if he would hold a different position if he were still in the Big Ten, like Michigan's Jim Harbaugh (who has more than 30 satellite camp appearances scheduled in June alone), Saban took it further.

"I'm not blaming Jim Harbaugh, I'm not saying anything about him. I'm just saying it's bad for college football," Saban said. "Jim Harbaugh can do whatever he wants to do. I'm not saying anything bad about him if he thinks that's what's best. There needs to be somebody that looks out for what's best for the game, not what's best for the Big Ten or what's best for the SEC."

I didn't view it as a shot at Harbaugh or Michigan's compliance while standing in the basement theater of the Sandestin Hilton, and I'm not sure anybody could.

It didn't matter for Harbaugh, who took to Twitter to respond:

What Harbaugh is likely referring to is the situation involving former Alabama defensive line coach Bo Davis, who "resigned" earlier this spring due to an NCAA investigation into, according to Aaron Suttles and Andrew Bone of the Tuscaloosa News, an inquiry into recruiting violations.

Saban wasn't mad at Harbaugh, he was mad at the system.

But if Harbaugh wants to make it about himself for the purposes of self-promotion, I'm all for it. 

We need it during this time of year to hold us over until football season starts.

Plus, with Alabama on a quest to defend its College Football Playoff national championship and Michigan squarely in virtually every preseason Top 10, manufacturing a season-long collision course between the two traditional powers with high-profile head coaches would make for a tremendous storyline this fall.

The clash of the titans in college football would pale in comparison to the clash of personalities between Saban and Harbaugh.

Saban is the proven winner. The holder of four of the last seven national championships. The man who as traditionally used the offseason pulpit at spring meetings and other events to try to usher in change that he feels would benefit himself, his team, his conference and the entire sport.

Harbaugh is the new kid with a big reputation who moved to town from a few towns over. He's a proven winner from a different area code who is now threatening the bully. He's the guy who, unlike Saban—who proudly stays off of Twitter publicly—will use the power of social media to market, advertise, converse and troll, knowing that all publicity is good publicity. 

Can you imagine what a pregame handshake would be like between the two?

Or that awkward photo teams take prior to bowl games with both head coaches standing next to the trophy?

We wouldn't get just one "what's your deal" moment like the one that took place between Harbaugh and former USC head coach Pete Carroll while Harbaugh was with Stanford. We'd get many.

Yes, some rivalries are manufactured.

Arkansas and LSU created the Golden Boot, Missouri and South Carolina have the Columbia Cup, and UConn tried to start something with UCF, for some reason.

That's fine.

A Saban vs. Harbaugh battle in the press, on social media and hopefully on a football field near you some time this fall or winter raises awareness, brings more attention to the sport and grows the game.

That's a good thing.

 

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Nick Saban Comments on Satellite Camps in College Football

Alabama Crimson Tide head football coach Nick Saban has a firm stance when it comes to satellite camps.

"It's bad for college football," Saban said Tuesday, per Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com.   

Satellite camps have been a major topic of discussion during college football's offseason. The NCAA originally banned teams from hosting such camps, which allow them to host workouts for prospects at facilities other than their own.

The NCAA overturned that ban on April 29, and one voice who has been constant with his disagreement on that decision is Saban, per McMurphy:

Until this satellite camp issue came up, you still had to go to the high school, go through the coach, and players came to your camp if they were interested in learning. By doing what we're doing now, we're doing what we do in every other sport that we're complaining about every day -- AAU basketball and all this.

Anybody can have a camp now. If they have a prospect, they can have a camp. Then you're expected to go to that camp and they can use you to promote their camp because Ohio State is coming, Alabama is coming, whoever else is coming.

Someone sponsors the camp, they pay them the money. What do they do with the money? And who makes sure the kid paid to go to camp?

This is the wild, wild West at its best. There have been no specific guidelines relative to how we're managing control of this stuff. It's happening outside the normal evaluation window, which means we're taking time away from our players. We have to worry about our players doing the right things with the limited time we have them, but we're not going to do that because we have to be somewhere else to see someone else.

[...]

Why should we be promoting anybody else's camp anywhere? All we're doing is allowing all these other people that we spend all of our time at the NCAA saying you can't recruit through a third-party person, and that's exactly what you're doing.

Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh was the most outspoken in regards to the NCAA's ban on these camps, saying, ""The incompetence of the NCAA has reared its ugly head yet again," per Michael Rosenberg of Sports Illustrated.

Harbaugh took to Twitter on Tuesday to talk about Saban's comments:

Saban is displaying his old-school moxie in terms of his recruiting approach. It's not like it hasn't worked. Saban's track record of four national championships and 55 players drafted in the NFL since 2009 shows his efforts have worked.

Until the Alabama dynasty crumbles, Saban can continue doing what he's done in the recruiting world, and it will result in success on the field. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Hugh Freeze Comments on Ole Miss' NCAA Violations, Denies Paying Players

Ole Miss head football coach Hugh Freeze is taking ownership of the mistakes he's made at the helm of the Rebels program—which have led to a myriad of NCAA violations—but won't acknowledge his staff knowingly paid players.

Mark Long of the Associated Press reported Tuesday what Freeze had to say regarding the allegations notice Ole Miss received in January.   

"There's not a single charge in our letter that charges a coach with (being) out buying players," said Freeze. "While I have struggles in life that I don't always get right, breaking the rules in recruiting is not one of them. I won't do it."

Freeze added, per ESPN's Brett McMurphy, "I have zero knowledge any (of our) coaches has paid a player. If I get that knowledge, there will be problems."

The NCAA cited the Rebels' football program in 13 of the 28 total rules violations Ole Miss committed, though, per ESPN.com's comprehensive report from February, nine of the violations occurred under Freeze's watch.

McMurphy featured Freeze's breakdown of what did and didn't happen during his tenure:

Asked how the violations would impact his ability to lure players to Oxford, Mississippi, Freeze said, per McMurphy, "It's still going good. We're still on the top guys (around) the nation."

Per Long, Freeze fielded questions about violations pertaining to former star offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, who slid in the 2016 NFL draft but was still selected 13th overall by the Miami Dolphins. Tunsil was involved in five of the 13 violations cited in the ESPN.com report.

While Freeze's public accountability is commendable, there may be more damage yet to come for the Rebels.

Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com reported last Friday on Ole Miss' 154-page response to the violations, indicating the Rebels had voluntarily stripped themselves of 11 football scholarships from 2015-18 along with self-imposing other sanctions.

As ESPN.com's Edward Aschoff reported last week, though, the saga involving Tunsil has still yet to be resolved because of the text messages leaked on the first night of the NFL draft.

Those messages, which were posted to Tunsil's hacked Instagram account, along with the video of him smoking out of a bong, were what led to his draft tumble. He also admitted to taking money during his college career.

The ramifications of the leaked video and messages were costly for Tunsil, and the latter could still lead to further NCAA violations for Ole Miss.

Strong as Freeze has been as a recruiter—most notably landing 247Sports' No. 1 overall player from 2013 in its composite rankings in defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche—the negative attention around the Rebels and their self-imposed scholarship reductions will make keeping pace in the SEC all the more difficult in the coming years.

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Tate Martell Tweets Top 7: Which Team Is Best Fit for No. 1 Dual Threat QB?

A quick glance at the 2017 quarterback rankings tells a lot about how important Tate Martell's Tuesday-afternoon tweet really is.

Of the nation's top 15 dual-threat quarterbacks in the 2017 class, only four are uncommitted. Martell, the 5-star athlete from revered Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, leads that dual-threat quarterback list. Of the top 20 pro-style quarterbacks in the class, only one is uncommitted—4-star Jack Sears.

In short, supply and demand is not in the favor of colleges in need of an elite quarterback commit. Martell, a one-time Texas A&M commit, is considered among the cream of the crop.

So when Martell announced his top seven on Twitter Tuesday, it was a big deal for multiple reasons. Particularly when five of the seven schools are without a quarterback pledge.

As the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback, Martell can compete for a starting job immediately at any of the seven schools. But the big question is this: Which of the seven make the best fit for his style of play?

If he's looking to hone his skills as a dual-threat option, Ohio State would tough to argue against. Head coach Urban Meyer shined with Cardale Jones, J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller at quarterback the last two years. All three quarterbacks were capable of beating teams with their arm and their feet.

Ohio State is the school many are predicting Martell will choose, and if that happens, he could be dangerous in that offense. He told 247Sports' Bill Kurelic that Ohio State "reminds me of everything at Gorman." He also has family in the state of Ohio. Several members of his family are very familiar with Ohio State; his father and grandfather both were Buckeyes.

"Everything is run professionally. It's a similar environment; it would be an easy transition," Martell told Kurelic. "Cardale Jones was like 11-0 as a starter, and now he's off to the NFL. It's crazy to start such few games and now he's playing in the NFL."

Here's the caveat: Ohio State already has a quarterback pledge in 4-star Danny Clark. Miami, additionally, has two quarterback commits in 4-star N'Kosi Perry and 3-star Cade Weldon. Martell has said on multiple occasions that he isn't afraid of competition.

If Martell is looking to stay closer to home, Cal would be an interesting move that would make sense. For starters, when he committed to Texas A&M last summer, he said he was a fan of the campus, and playing under offensive coordinator Jake Spavital was huge in his decision.

When Spavital and Texas A&M parted ways in January, and when Spavital was announced as the offensive coordinator at Cal in February, Martell took notice.

With Cal seeing Jared Goff drafted as the No. 1 overall pick in this year's NFL draft, the idea of playing in head coach Sonny Dykes' system would be attractive to any young quarterback. Cal's depth chart favors Martell, as well, as he would compete against a handful of young signal-callers.

Those in southern California are hoping Martell heads to Los Angeles. Martell has roots in the San Diego area, and playing for either USC or UCLA would mean Martell gets a chance to live his college football dreams in his home state.

"Playing for USC, it's a cool thing for guys in California," Martell told Kurelic. Watching Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart...that's what we remember. That's like the guys we looked up to when we were younger.

"UCLA would be a good situation, playing wise. I could come in and sit for a year and play once Josh Rosen heads to the NFL. ... You can't complain if you have to sit behind someone [who] will be a first-round pick."

As a junior, Martell threw for 2,608 yards and 32 touchdowns and also rushed for 604 yards and nine touchdowns, per MaxPreps. He threw for 2,537 yards and 40 touchdowns and rushed for 433 yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore.

Four Pac-12 schools are hoping to win over the coveted 2017 quarterback, but don't be surprised if Meyer is celebrating the commitment—and, ultimately, the signing—of the nation's top-ranked dual-threat quarterback.

 

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

Roc Thomas to Transfer from Auburn: Latest Comments and Reaction

Auburn Tigers head football coach Gus Malzahn announced Tuesday running back Roc Thomas will be transferring.

Brandon Marcello of SEC Country reported the news and featured comments from Malzahn, who said, "Roc Thomas has asked for his release from Auburn, and I have granted his request. We wish him nothing but the best moving forward."

Thomas ran for 475 yards and three touchdowns on 86 rushing attempts, and had 17 catches for 227 yards and another score in his two seasons with the Tigers. He was in the process of converting to slot receiver this spring, per Marcello.

Jay G. Tate of Rivals.com reported Thomas is headed to Jacksonville State, an FCS team who lost to Auburn 27-20 last season. The Gamecocks are 23-4 and a perfect 16-0 in the Ohio Valley Conference since coach John Grass took the helm.

Since he's reportedly headed to the FCS, Thomas will be eligible to play right away rather than having to sit out a year if he were to go to another program at NCAA football's highest level.

Given Malzahn's penchant to run the ball, Thomas seemed like a dream fit for the Tigers offense, but his stint didn't work out as planned. Subpar quarterback play and 1,000-yard rushers in Cameron Artis-Payne and Peyton Barber limited Thomas' ability to make an impact over the past two years.

Thomas, a rising junior, was a 5-star recruit and is a thickly-built, explosive ball-carrier who Auburn lists at 5'10" and 203 pounds.

With a fresh start on a new team, perhaps Thomas can prove why he was so highly coveted coming out of high school. He did rather well with his limited opportunities at Auburn, and his versatile all-around skill set is evident in the fact the Tigers were trying to convert him to receiver.

As long as Thomas embraces his role for his reported team—whether he lines up in the backfield or in the slot—he ought to emerge as one of the Gamecocks' premier playmakers.

Jacksonville State advanced all the way to the national title game against North Dakota State this past season, so adding someone as talented as Thomas to the fold would be a big boost to its championship prospects.

 

Star rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

How an Underclassman Combine Would Benefit College Football and the NFL Draft

DESTIN, Fla. — Ninety-six players decided to leave college football early following the 2015 season, and 30 of them never heard their names called during the 2016 NFL draft.

A whopping 31.3 percent.

Something has to change, and the SEC's head coaches are going to try to lead the charge.

"It's alarming how many underclassmen are coming out and not getting drafted," Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said. "Why are they coming out and not getting drafted? Is it because they get bad information? I don't know."

As Jim Weber of Lost Lettermen noted on Twitter, football players have a path back after they declare.

Except there's a massive roadblock on that path.

Players who declare have to train for the combine and pro days, and the only way to do that is with money and investing time.

That money often comes from agents, which means that there's virtually no way for a college football player to come back to school and retain eligibility and remain in good academic standing in order to play the following season.

The solution?

An underclassman combine that takes place shortly after the College Football Playoff National Championship.

"Great proposal," Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema said. "We usually start the week after Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and I know others start a little earlier. Maybe do it on a weekend."

Instead of getting second- or thirdhand information through agents or other parties, an underclassman combine would give players real information from the actual people making decisions on their football future in January, prior to the deadline to declare.

"Anything that gives the kids a better opportunity, then I'm all for that," Smart said.

While an underclassman combine would provide quality information, it wouldn't prevent every player from making the jump prematurely.

"There are some young men who don't like school, and they're going to go out for the draft," said South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp. "Let's just be real. Regardless of whether they get drafted, they think they're going to make it and they'll be fine.

"It's one of the most frustrating things that I've had as a coach over the years as an assistant coach or a head coach. When you've recruited a young man for two or three years in high school and you've coached him for three years in college, and when he's making that decision, he's listening to somebody on the street instead of me."

An underclassman combine would not only help players who would likely go undrafted get quality information, but it would also provide better information and a healthier bottom line to those who could simply increase their draft stock by returning to school.

"I had a sophomore come out, Darius Philon," Bielema said. "He redshirted and then played two years. He was the 16th pick in the sixth round [in 2015], so middle of the sixth round. If he had stayed in school and played last year, with as many defensive tackles that came out, I think he would have gone in the first two rounds. You're talking about $10-12 million that he'll never make again in his life. What makes sense?"

For the underclassman combine to truly make sense, though, it has to make sense for all parties involved.

The NFL would get another look at some quality draft-eligible players in a combine setting, which would help scouts develop their draft plans even prior to the actual NFL combine in mid-February. What's more, it would reduce the pool of players considered after those who decide to go back to school return to campus based on the information they receive. 

As unrealistic as it is for college players to be able to come back after the draft, it's equally as unreasonable from a coaching perspective. 

National signing day takes place on the first Wednesday of February, schools will practice 15 times and hold spring games prior to the draft, and some programs will have welcomed transfers with open arms.

If they then allow former stars to come back, college head coaches will be forced to get creative with roster management, and if the "oversigning" controversy from previous years has taught us anything, it's that creative roster management doesn't go over well either.

Because of that, the decision to stay or go has to come prior to national signing day—as it currently does.

"All of a sudden, a kid says he's coming back, 'uh oh, we weren't expecting you to come back,'" Smart said. "There are some logistics there that need to be worked through."

Those logistics are exactly why the coaches, athletic directors and presidents are in Florida this week. The annual event known as SEC spring meetings is designed to discuss what measures the conference needs to take to fix current problems and prevent future ones.

By Friday, one of those problems might be solved with a concerted push for an underclassman combine.

"We already have a good game," Bielema said. "We could have a great game."

 

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Position-by-Position Preview of Michigan's 2016 Roster

The 2016 Michigan Wolverines boast one of college football's best overall rosters, and it's most evident when breaking down the team by each positional unit.

Highlighted by a strong defensive line and secondary, the Maize and Blue will be a nightmare to score on. Plus, the versatility of the Wolverines' biggest weapon shored up the unit's weakness.

The Michigan offense has a significant question mark at quarterback, but its skill-position talent is a respectable complement to the experienced offensive line.

The following slides offer an in-depth look at the players who will lead head coach Jim Harbaugh's Wolverines in 2016.

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Hugh Freeze Owns Up to Ole Miss Scandal, Comments on Coaches Paying Players

DESTIN, Fla. — Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze stepped to the podium in the theater of the Hilton SanDestin prior to SEC spring meetings and made his first public comments about the ongoing Ole Miss scandal in which the school self-imposed 11 scholarship reductions over four years.

"I don't believe and have zero knowledge that any of our coaches have ever paid a player," he said. "And if I get that knowledge, there will be problems."

Ole Miss released its response to the NCAA's notice of allegations on Friday. That response specifies nine allegations that took place during Freeze's tenure as its head coach, which began prior to the 2012 season. Of those nine, four are considered Level I violations.

"I stand here today owning the mistakes, but that is what they are and not some staff out trying to buy players," Freeze said.

"There's not a single charge in our letter that charges a staff out trying to buy players." 

Freeze noted that of those four Level I violations, only one deals with staff involvement.

"Four are Level I's," Freeze said. "Of those four, three have zero staff involvement. One has a staff involved in it. We look forward to sharing our view in that case when the time is appropriate."

As Jeffrey Wright of RebelGrove.com noted on Twitter, that one allegation involving a member of the staff includes current tight ends coach and offensive recruiting coordinator Maurice Harris, who is charged with arranging contacts from a high school in Memphis through a booster. 

Running backs coach Derrick Nix and defensive line coach Chris Kiffin are also alleged to have committed violations that are not considered Level I.

"Their mistakes, in my opinion, did not rise to the level of termination," Freeze said.

Unfortunately for Ole Miss, the process will continue thanks to former offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil's draft night debacle in which video surfaced on his own Twitter account of himself smoking out of a bong and gas mask. In addition, and more critical to the future of Ole Miss, screenshots were posted to Tunsil's Instagram account that suggested payments were made to players from members of the Ole Miss football staff.

Because of that, the school asked to exclude that aspect of the case from the response and to hold off on meeting with the NCAA's Committee on Infractions until it has fully investigated the incident (h/t ESPN's Chris Low). The lack of resolution there has created a cloud that hovers over the Ole Miss program like an offshore storm in the Gulf of Mexico, and forced Freeze to answer questions about paying players even after Ole Miss has self-imposed its penalties.

Tunsil's highly visible draft night drama has cast an even bigger shadow over a program that, on the field, has slowly taken steps forward in each of Freeze's four years in Oxford and earned New Year's Six bowl berths in each of the last two seasons.

The cornerstone of that success was Freeze's 2013 recruiting class that included Tunsil, defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and Tony Conner. Since that class signed on the dotted line, Ole Miss—which has never won the SEC West—has finished inside of the top 20 in the 247Sports composite team rankings.

The rise of Ole Miss—seemingly out of nowhere—has injected fuel additive to the notion that the program has to be cutting corners to continue luring high-profile players to it.

"We've rocked the narrative of college football a little bit, and there's obviously some people that don't like that," Freeze said.

But Freeze, who came to the podium at the Hilton with prepared remarks, is steadfast in his defense of his program as one that isn't corrupt, just flawed. 

"To me there's a difference in making a mistake and a willful intent to circumvent rules to try and gain an advantage. We have owned these mistakes."

Whether the NCAA will recognize that ownership remains to be seen.

 

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

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

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College Football's Most Important Offers of the Week

One of the main challenges for new Miami head coach Mark Richt and his staff is to keep the top prospects in South Florida from escaping the area for college.

The ‘Canes have done a good job thus far, as their 2017 class is loaded with top recruits who hail from Dade and Broward counties.

Last week, Richt and his staff targeted another local standout in 4-star corner and current Oklahoma commit Trajan Bandy.

The 5’9 ½”, 180-pounder, who committed to the Sooners in February, has more than 30 offers to his credit entering the summer.

While recruiting isn’t final until a prospect enrolls at his school of choice or signs a national letter of intent, Bandy appears to be firm in his pledge and one of the main prospects helping build out the Sooners' 2017 class, as detailed by James Hale of 247Sports.

“It is a family thing, a brotherhood,” Bandy told Hale. “My relationship with those guys is great, and you can just look at our messages, and we always spend time with each other and tell each other what is going on. We are going to keep talking to other recruits and get who we need to help our defense and our offense, and we will show all of them that we are real brothers.”

With that said, now that the Hurricanes are officially in the mix with Bandy, the Sooners likely won’t be able to rest easy until Bandy is on campus for good.

 

Texas CB Receives 7 Offers

Perhaps the nation’s hottest recruit last week was 3-star corner Josh Thompson

The 6’0”, 186-pounder from Texas' Nacogdoches High School picked up offers from Houston, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and TCU.

The offer spree brings Thompson up to 23—with programs such as Minnesota, Utah and Washington State already having tendered him.

With schools coming in fast and furious for Thompson, expect his list to swell even more in the coming months.

 

Oregon Offers Midwest DB

Cass Tech High School in Detroit is no stranger to having elite recruits on its roster. For example, the program is home to 5-star receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones—who rates as the nation’s top pass-catcher in the 2017 cycle. 

Another emerging target from Cass Tech is 3-star corner Donovan Johnson, who landed an offer from Pac-12 power Oregon last week. 

As detailed by Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports, Johnson won the position MVP and was the fastest man at the Columbus Nike Opening Regional earlier this month, and he subsequently landed an invitation to The Opening.

Penn State, West Virginia and Virginia Tech are among the other schools in the mix with Johnson. However, the Ducks are hoping to get the talented athlete on campus in the coming months in order to surge up his list of favorites.

 

2018 TE Nets 4 Big Offers

Another prospect college coaches were particularly fond of last week was 2018 tight end Jeremy Ruckert.

The 6’5”, 220-pound rising junior from Lindenhurst Senior High School in New York landed offers from Alabama, Ohio State, Tennessee and Virginia Tech.

The recent wave of tenders brings his total number to 15, with other programs such as Florida State, Mississippi State, Penn State and Wisconsin having already offered him. 

Ruckert’s offer list is an indicator that he could be one of the nation’s elite prospects at his position in the 2018 class.

 

Best of the Rest

2017

 

2018

 

2019

 

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

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5 Years Later, Ohio State Tatgate Scandal Looks Like a Blessing for the Buckeyes

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A half-decade before Baylor dominated this past weekend's news cycle with a barrage of firings and hirings, Ohio State was responsible for college football's seemingly annual Memorial Day news dump.

And the five years that have followed the forced resignation of former Buckeyes head coach Jim Tressel have only brought clarity to the ramifications of the de facto firing.

Recruiting in Columbus has changed—as have on-field results—as the future of one of college football's most prominent programs finds itself with a new trajectory moving forward. Nothing at Ohio State has been the same since Tressel's firing—only not necessarily in the way many would have expected in late May of 2011.

As crazy as it would have sounded at the time, the Buckeyes now find themselves better off because of their program-altering Memorial Day morning five years ago.

The transformation has been quick and drastic since Ohio State fired its Hall of Fame coach. What it hasn't been, however, is expected for a team that was engulfed in scandal and without an apparent exit strategy when it added the need for a new head coach to its growing list of problems in May 2011. 

A 50-4 record, the first-ever College Football Playoff National Championship and a recruiting revolution can't all be directly attributed to Tressel's firing. But following a 6-7 season under interim coach Luke Fickell in 2011, Urban Meyer has ushered in a new era of Ohio State football that may not have been possible without the pains the program endured five years ago.

The math is simple: Meyer's hiring likely doesn't happen without Tressel's firing in 2011, when the former Florida head coach just happened to be enjoying a short-lived retirement.

And although it's easy to see the Buckeyes' succession plan as a happy coincidence now, it seemed much more far-fetched at the time, mostly because of the mess Tressel helped create.

Looking back now, Tatgate seems relatively harmless in comparison to more recent college controversies, including the one Baylor currently finds itself a part of. But the scandal that saw star players exchange memorabilia for cash and tattoos—and Tressel cover it up—created nearly a year's worth of negative headlines at Ohio State, including initial suspensions, ensuing departures, additional allegations and, of course, Tressel's departure.

By the time the Buckeyes' first losing season since since 1988 hit its stride, the only positive in Columbus appeared to be a promising freshman quarterback named Braxton Miller, as severe punishments for the program seemed probable.

Nevertheless, Meyer took the job two days after the Buckeyes' only loss to rival Michigan in the past 12 years and one month before a bowl ban for the 2012 season and three-year reduction in scholarships were officially put into place.

"Well, I don't think it's broke," Meyer said of his new school at his introductory press conference in November 2011. "I've done a lot of research. I don't think Ohio State's broke. I think there's some obvious mistakes made on the grand scheme of things, mistakes that are very correctable."

The rest, as they say, is history. Despite the bowl ban, Meyer reeled off 24 consecutive wins to start his career in Columbus, led the Buckeyes to the College Football Playoff National Championship in Year 3 and has Ohio State well positioned from both a roster and recruiting standpoint heading into Year 5.

The program appeared to be drowning just five years ago, but the Buckeyes haven't looked back since.

And while Tressel was one of Ohio State's most successful head coaches in his own right—with a 106-22 record, including a 9-1 mark against Michigan and the 2002 national title, to his credit—this wasn't a matter of Meyer merely getting the Buckeyes back on track. Rather, the three-time national champion head coach has since taken his program a step forward, modernizing a product that was in danger of becoming complacent following Tressel's decade-long reign.

The most obvious area in which Meyer has shown improvement is on the recruiting trail, where he's locked in five top-seven classes since arriving in Columbus and currently lays claim to the nation's top-ranked haul in 2017. With his national approach, Meyer has strengthened Ohio State's pipeline in Florida, forged one in Texas and become a mainstay in the emerging Eastern Seaboard.

Tressel, to his credit, was no slouch when it came to luring players to his program either, although all but one of his six classes from 2005-10 trailed Meyer's Florida hauls in the recruiting rankings. In his first five years with the Buckeyes, Meyer has landed four top-five classes while never falling outside the nation's top 10 in recruiting, a fate Tressel suffered in 2010.

"Prior to Urban Meyer arriving in the Big Ten, a lot of the recruiting was very basic," Rivals national recruiting director Mike Farrell told Bleacher Report. "There was a feeling of some sort of gentlemen’s agreement where 'We are the Big Ten, and this is the way that we recruit.'"

On the field, Tressel was still winning at the time of his departure, but there remained a sense that the Buckeyes weren't maximizing their potential there either. After back-to-back national title losses in 2006 and 2007—the first of which came against Meyer at Florida—Ohio State failed to play in another BCS title game, with a 2009 regular-season loss to lowly Purdue marking the low point of Tressel's on-field run.

If the Buckeyes were going to compete nationally with the SEC—which had won the past five national titles at the time of Tressel's firing and would win two straight after it—Tressel simply may not have been the man for the job.

Meyer's track record against his former conference since coming to Columbus, however, remains perfect thus far thanks to his victory over Alabama in the midst of Ohio State's playoff run in 2015.

"The SEC is hot right now. And I've recruited against Alabama as well. They're hot," Meyer said at the time of his hiring. "But so is Ohio State."

Only it didn't seem that way at the time, and whether Tressel would have been capable of similar accomplishments or how his ultimate succession plan would have played out entering his second decade with the Buckeyes will never be known.

All evidence, however, points to Ohio State being in a better place now than it was five years ago, as the success the Buckeyes have enjoyed since and appear set up to sustain in the future speaks for itself.

It also may not have been possible without the groundwork Tressel laid in the first place, and Meyer has been quick to praise his predecessor, who returned to Ohio State this past spring to speak at the Buckeyes' coaching clinic.

"Coach Tressel ran the premier program—if not the premier, one of the premier programs—in America," Meyer said last fall.

In four short seasons, the same can also be said of Meyer's version of the Buckeyes—and then some.

That hardly seemed fathomable five years ago, as Ohio State left a holiday weekend with no shortage of questions, unaware of just how much it would enjoy the answers.

 

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

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Skai Moore Injury: Updates on South Carolina LB's Neck and Recovery

A new era for South Carolina football is off to an inauspicious start, as star linebacker Skai Moore is out for the 2016 season because of a neck injury.

Continue for updates. 

Moore to Redshirt in 2016 Tuesday, May 31

South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp announced that Moore will be redshirting this year as a result of his neck issues, per Matt Baker of the Tampa Bay Times

The issue with Moore's neck has very much been a slow burn before arriving at the point Muschamp said it's at right now. 

In March, as the Gamecocks were going through spring practices, Muschamp said Moore had a sprained neck that was going to limit him but the injury was "nothing serious, per Josh Kendall of the State

Just over two months later, Muschamp is now saying that his best defensive player will have to redshirt this season because of lingering issues. It's a huge blow for a South Carolina team that finished last year 3-9 and finished 71st in points allowed, per Sports-Reference.com.

Moore was one of the few bright spots Muschamp had to build around in his first season as South Carolina head coach.

A member of the 2013 SEC All-Freshman Team and a second-team All-SEC player in 2015, Moore has led the Gamecocks in total tackles in each of his three seasons and set a career high last year with 6.5 tackles for loss. 

Muschamp has a strong defensive pedigree, notably from his time as a defensive coordinator at LSU (2002-04) and Texas (2008-10), but losing his best and most versatile defender before the season even starts puts a mountain of pressure on the rest of the unit to perform and avoid another nine-loss year. 

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Predicting College Football's Top 10 Running Backs in 2016 Season

2016 is the year of the running back in college football, so the race for the rushing title will be loaded with top prospects.

But this list isn't an NFL draft ranking or a highlight reel of the most skilled running backs. Instead, the order is based strictly on how many yards we project each player will collect.

Games played is an important factor, too. In 2015, LSU's cancelled outing likely cost Leonard Fournette 200 yards, and most conference champions played two more games.

While Power Five conference superstars are the main attraction, several lesser-known talents made the cut.

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JaCoby Stevens Tweets Top 7: Odds on Where 5-Star ATH Lands

A new list of leaders for 5-star recruit JaCoby Stevens reveals serious SEC interest, as five of his top seven collegiate options compete in the conference.

The 6'2", 200-pound Tennessee standout tweeted this collection of contenders Monday night, providing fresh insight on where programs stand eight months away from national signing day:

The in-state Tennessee Volunteers land on his list, alongside fellow SEC competitors like the Alabama Crimson Tide, Auburn Tigers, Georgia Bulldogs and LSU Tigers. The Clemson Tigers and Florida State Seminoles represent alternative landing spots in the ACC.

Shortly after announcing the list, Stevens tweeted he was not specifying order of preference. 

Monday evening's development presents a substantial overhaul for Stevens, who released an initial top-seven list in April. The Florida Gators, Oklahoma Sooners and USC Trojans no longer make the cut, while Alabama, Auburn and Clemson have climbed into the grouping. 

The announcement was also accompanied by an updated commitment timeline, or rather, a sudden lack of one.

Stevens previously expressed intent to issue a verbal pledge on his birthday (July 19), according to Jeff Sentell of Dawg Nation. Instead, he now labels a decision date as "undetermined".

Rated No. 1 nationally among athletes and No. 25 overall in 2017 composite rankings, the rising senior at Oakland High School could be tempted to take his recruitment beyond football season. However, based on Sentell's report that Stevens anticipates early enrollment at the university of his choice, a selection will be made at least a month in advance of national signing day.

“If I do graduate early, I may just do it at one of the all-star games or just a big commitment at my school after the football season," Stevens told Bleacher Report's Sanjay Kirpalani last month. "At the end of the day, I have to do a lot of soul searching and just dissect and find little things that separate that one school I will pick in the end.”

Given his fresh outlook on favorites and recruitment length, it's an appropriate time to reassess this recruitment. We've assigned odds for each suitor to sign Stevens, who collected 11 touchdown catches, 84 tackles and six interceptions last season, according Tom Kreager of the Daily News Journal.

 

15-to-1: Alabama, Auburn and Clemson

Each member of this trio has appeared in the national championship game during the past three seasons but they seem destined for also-ran roles in this recruitment. Things could shift here if Stevens opts to make these schools a stop on his summer travel itinerary, but the other members of this list have been considered mainstays.

If one of these three makes a major splash by moving up his hierarchy, our money is on Alabama. He had an opportunity to FaceTime with head coach Nick Saban in May following a visit to Oakland from Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin.

"The fact he did that for me, and he felt I was worth his time was crazy with him being Nick Saban," Stevens told Kreager. "And he talked about me playing both sides of the ball. It was just a good talk in general."

 

12-to-1: Florida State

The Seminoles have been considered a contender for Stevens throughout the spring, though it's fair to say Florida State is on the fringe as a top-tier suitor. A big draw for the two-way star is how head coach Jimbo Fisher is willing to assign athletes various roles during their collegiate career.

"I feel like how they use their players is something that attracts me to their program," he told Kirpalani. "Like [2016 first-round NFL draft pick] Jalen Ramsey, for example, he got to showcase his versatility in playing nickel, safety and corner in three years. Little things like that can help you be more valuable to your own team and to NFL teams down the road." 

Stevens is a versatile prospect himself, drawing interest at safety, cornerback and receiver. Seminoles assistant Randy Sanders has served as the point recruiter for Florida State and paid a visit to Oakland in April, per 247Sports.

 

10-to-1: Tennessee

The Volunteers are attempting to secure a few pivotal in-state pledges, and Stevens ranks near the top of that priority list. Despite the program's proximity, Tennessee is still perceived to be at least a few strides behind multiple teams on this list.

Stevens placed the Volunteers at No. 5 in his first top seven, which was actually ordered based on preference. Florida was in front of Tennessee at that point, and while the Gators have dropped off, other SEC schools have continued to entrench their place among his hierarchy. 

The Volunteers remain a program to closely monitor due in large part to his longstanding rapport with a key staff member.

"They made a hire [at defensive coordinator] in Coach [Bob] Shoop recently that I really liked," Stevens told Kirpalani. "Him being there, it makes me feel good because I really like Coach Shoop. I knew him since my eighth-grade year when he was at Vanderbilt. That’s a relationship that has been going on for a while and him being at UT is awesome."

 

5-to-1: LSU

Though Stevens continues to attract college coaches to Tennessee, he's a Louisiana native and has family ties to the area. He also has a strong connection to the Tigers, who actually landed his verbal commitment last September.

This pact didn't last, as Stevens backed off his decision two months later. The decommitment occurred during a tumultuous time at LSU when speculation centered on head coach Les Miles' job security.

Those rampant rumors have been quieted for the time being, and an impressive 2016 season in Baton Rouge could ensure Miles remains in town for the foreseeable future. Increased stability should help keep the Tigers in serious contention to reacquire a commitment from Stevens.

"They have a great DB coach who has put multiple players in the league in Corey Raymond," he told Kirpalani. "They have a charismatic coach and a players' coach in Les Miles. The competition there is amazing, so that’s why I’m interested in them." 

 

2-to-1: Georgia

The Bulldogs remain entrenched atop this list after Stevens anointed Georgia his clear favorite this spring.

“Georgia is my No. 1,” Stevens told Kraeger in May. “We are both interested in each other. I just love Kirby Smart coming over. I love his vision. I love what they are doing in Athens."

Smart and his staff are surging with several blue-chip recruits as summer approaches. If Stevens elects to commit before the season, Georgia looks like a fairly safe bet to overcome a crowded pack.

The Bulldogs currently carry 69 percent of experts' predictions in 247Sports' crystal ball, including the past eight consecutive pledge projections. Georgia is the team to beat moving forward.

"I’m also really comfortable with my position coach in [defensive coordinator] Coach [Mel] Tucker dating back to when he was at Alabama," he told Kirpalani. "Those two being there and me being so comfortable with the head coach and the defensive coordinator, that’s two really big positives. Then, the school is just awesome."

 

Tyler Donohue is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings.

Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake.

 

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B/R Recruiting Notebook: 5-Star Athletes Discuss Potential Summer Plans

The end of May is here, and June is anticipated to be a busy month in recruiting. Athletes are preparing to take summer visits and hit up on-campus and satellite camps around the country, and recruiting processes could come to an end with the right offer—and the right circumstance.

As we prepare for June, here are some recruiting updates from some of the top athletes around the country.

 

5-star DB Gibbs enjoying 'a good type of stress'

Loganville, Georgia, 5-star defensive back Deangelo Gibbs will have his pick of schools when it's time to make a verbal commitment. He also said he'll have the opportunity to play one of three positions at the next level.

Gibbs, a two-time The Opening finals invite who claimed 51 offers Saturday at The Opening Seattle regional, said he's being recruited to play cornerback, safety and wide receiver, depending on the program. The majority of schools are looking at him to play in the secondary, and at 6'2" and 204 pounds, he's big enough to play safety but athletic enough to be a shutdown cornerback.

"It's kind of my decision," said Gibbs, who is ranked as the nation's No. 2 cornerback and the No. 11 player overall in the 2017 class. "I can play wherever, but it's up to me. I'm just looking at where I'll feel comfortable and an atmosphere where I know I can fit in. There's a lot to look at."

Gibbs has offers from Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Auburn, Florida, Clemson, Ohio State, Michigan and a host of other programs. He said the recruiting process has had its ups and downs, but he called it "a good type of stress." Gibbs said he is taking his time with all of his offers, but is looking to take unofficial visits to USC, Florida State and Miami during the summer.

When asked which offers were sticking out, Gibbs smiled and said, "All of them."

"It seems like every time I try to narrow things down, someone big offers," he said. "It's stressful, but I'm blessed to have this opportunity. I'm just taking my time and enjoying it all."

 

5-star OT Sarell keeping things low-key

As the nation's No. 5 overall player and the No. 2 offensive tackle in the 2017 class, Graham, Washington, offensive tackle Foster Sarell has managed to keep a low profile in recruiting.

With 16 reported offers, according to Scout.com, Sarell said he's kept his attention on a few schools and is looking at making the task of narrowing his schools a summer priority.

Sarell's summer schedule, aside from a trip to Beaverton, Oregon, for The Opening, isn't set in stone. He does, however, have one trip locked in his itinerary.

"I'm going to visit Notre Dame in June," said Sarell, who measured at 6'6 ½" and 310 pounds at The Opening Seattle regional Saturday. "After that my family and I will figure out what's best for me and where I want to go. Nothing's for sure where I'll go, but we'll figure it out after spring ball in June."

There are a few schools hoping to be considered a front-runner in Sarell's process. Among those are Notre Dame, Stanford, Alabama, Nebraska, Michigan and in-state school Washington.

Sarell said he's letting the process take its course and making sure he doesn't rush anything in order to make the right decision—whenever that day will come. Sarell said a decision could come by the end of the summer, or it could come days before national signing day.

"I'm making sure to stay open with everything," he said. "When something hits my heart and I fall in love with a place, then that's the place for me. I haven't come out with a top five or anything like that yet. I'm just taking it all step by step."

"It's been a pretty hectic journey with all the college business, but it's been good," Sarell said. "I'm just trying to stay humble and reflect on everything to make the right decision for myself."

 

Washington pledge Bryant: QB wanted

Bellevue, Washington, 4-star tight end Hunter Bryant has been committed to Washington since April 23. Since his pledge, three other players have committed, and the Huskies now have eight pledges for the 2017 class.

Washington has stud commits at several key places, but Bryant is putting on his recruiter cap to find a player to fill one particular position.

"We're trying to get a quarterback right now," Bryant said. "We've got a lot of skill position players. Finding a quarterback shouldn't be that hard because of all the skill position players we have. I've been talking to about two or three guys to let them know UW loves them."

Among the Washington quarterback targets are 3-star Chase Garbers, 4-star Jack Sears and 3-star Tayler Katoa. Garbers and Sears are competing in this weekend's Elite 11 finals in Los Angeles. Katoa is an athlete who is listed as a quarterback but spent time playing linebacker over the weekend at The Opening Seattle.

Bryant said the family feel of the Washington campus, coupled with a caring coaching staff led by head coach Chris Petersen, is what originally attracted him. He's hoping that's what attracts whoever the quarterback pledge will be.

"I think we'll have a commit pretty soon," Bryant said.

 

Schools coming after Iowa State pledge Johnson

Maumelle, Arkansas, 3-star wide receiver Josh Johnson is Iowa State's top-ranked pledge of the 2017 class. The Cyclones picked up Johnson's commitment on March 28 after he switched his verbal from Indiana.

"It was the young coaching staff and how the players are behind their coaches," Johnson said of choosing Iowa State. "Everything there—the players, the coaches—it's just like a family there."

Now Iowa State has to worry about keeping him.

Johnson said he is a solid Iowa State commit, but he does have plans of taking summer visits. Notre Dame, Oregon and Alabama are among the stops he hopes to take. Oregon and Alabama have yet to offer, but Johnson said he has been in deep conversation with both schools.

Notre Dame, however, has offered. In fact, the Fighting Irish offered Johnson the day after he committed to Iowa State, and Johnson said the program is one of the schools that have been on him heavily lately.

"A lot of colleges are still coming at me, and a lot of them aren't going to stop," Johnson said. "I enjoy the recruiting process. I just pray about everything and hope it all falls in place."

Johnson tweeted that he will make a trip to Iowa State in late June. Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Minnesota are among the other schools that have offered Johnson, who finished his junior season with 87 receptions, 1,245 receiving yards and eight touchdowns.

 

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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Tee Higgins Names Top 5: Which Team Needs 5-Star WR the Most?

For the second time in the month of May, the list of suitors for 5-star receiver Tee Higgins has shrunk.

After recently naming a top 10, the 6’4 ½”, 188-pound playmaker tweeted out his top five in order on Monday evening.

The nation’s No. 3 receiver and the No. 16 player overall in the 2017 cycle has Tennessee—the school he was once committed to—at the top of his leaderboard.

Among the powers trying to lure the Oak Ridge High School (Tennessee) product out of his home state are Clemson, Ohio State, Florida State and Ole Miss.

With his short list of finalists set, which program out of that group needs Higgins the most?

Any school would love to land a prospect with the type of talent and upside that Higgins possesses.

However, there are a handful of reasons that no school would hurt more than the Volunteers if he chose to head elsewhere.

For starters, head coach Butch Jones would love to keep the state’s top overall prospect in-state for the third time since taking over the program after the 2012 season.

Another reason that Higgins is perhaps the most critical piece to the Volunteers' 2017 class is the team’s struggles to move the ball through the air under Jones.

According to cfbstats.com, Tennessee finished 92nd nationally in passing offense in 2015. Furthermore, over the last three years, the Vols’ average finish in that category has been 91st nationally.

By comparison, Clemson, Florida State and Ole Miss had passing attacks that finished in the top 40 overall nationally last season.

Ohio State, which finished eight spots below the Vols last season, has had four receivers drafted in the last two years with three of them coming in the first three rounds.

The Vols brought in four 3-star receivers in their 2016 class and have a pair of pass-catchers committed in the current cycle in 4-star KD Nixon and 3-star Jacquez Jones—both of whom are under 6'0" and may be better suited to man the slot position at the next level.

Higgins has taken notice of the Vols’ struggles in that area, as detailed by Ryan Callahan of 247Sports.

“It would be great to see Tennessee actually getting the passing game good, because their run game is real great with Alvin (Kamara) and Jalen (Hurd) back there,” Higgins told Callahan. “If they get the passing game going, Tennessee, they can win it out. They had a bad season passing the ball, like, two years straight. I mean, it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be, so I’m pretty sure that’s what they’re looking to (improve).”

A huge step in getting that problem fixed would be adding Higgins to a roster that has been upgraded each year under Jones.

With the Vols now atop his leaderboard, the biggest challenge for Jones and his staff will be fending off the likes of the Tigers, Buckeyes, Seminoles and Rebels for one of the nation’s premier skill players in the 2017 cycle.

 

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

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