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Can Penn State Outlast Alabama and Remain No. 1 in 2015 Recruiting Class?

Penn State reigns supreme atop college football recruiting rankings...for now.

The Nittany Lions leapfrogged Alabama in 247Sports' composite 2015 class ratings last weekend when 4-star defensive tackle Adam McLean committed during a campus visit and added to a stunning haul in Happy Valley:

McLean, rated the consensus No. 1 prospect in Maryland, is the 12th player to join the class since Feb. 15. He's the highest-rated member of the group and its ninth 4-star recruit.

That's right: Penn State has been averaging one 4-star pledge per week since Valentine's Day.

This is the same program that saw its fortunes and image torn apart and left in tatters in 2011 when Jerry Sandusky's sins defined a season that Joe Paterno failed to survive.

This is the same program most expected would wallow in the college football doldrums throughout this decade after receiving unprecedented punishments and sanctions.

This is the same program that saw Bill O'Brien bail for greener pastures in the NFL just as he appeared to have Penn State on the upswing.

First-year head coach James Franklin is quickly proving the pundits wrong and, perhaps most importantly, he's returned the "cool" factor to Happy Valley.

Penn State is clearly a place where America's premier players want to win.

“I feel really good about the coaching staff, with where they’re headed and what they’re trying to do,” McLean told Washington Post writer Roman Stubbs. “I believe in what they’re trying to do.”

Belief is a powerful tool for a team tagged with a postseason ban through 2015. The players currently being recruited by Franklin haven't seen Penn State play in a bowl game during their high school careers.

It doesn't matter. The Nittany Lions are trending upward and Franklin is the primary cause.

"Coach Franklin, he's a great guy. If he wants you and needs you on this team, he's going to get you," running back commit Saquon Barkley told ESPN.com's Josh Moyer earlier this month. "I'm telling you the truth."

Barkley flipped from Big Ten newcomer Rutgers in February. His sentiments seem truer than ever these days.

Franklin is consistently beating conference rivals and national powerhouses in the pursuit of players he views as key targets. He's getting it done in talent-laden Pennsylvania and beyond.

The class includes recruits from Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia and Indiana.

Franklin, who recently led a recruiting rise at Vanderbilt, has displayed unique reach in his efforts, largely unrivaled during his current cycle.

Nick Saban is assembling another excellent crop of top-tier recruits in Tuscaloosa, carrying nine total commitments. The class contains 5-star Georgia defensive end Mekhi Brown and seven 4-star prospects from five states.

Still, Alabama has only picked up two pledges since Feb. 1 (4-star offensive lineman Richie Petitbon and 3-star defensive end Anfernee Jennings).

The Crimson Tide remain reigning national recruiting kings—for the fourth straight year—but not even Saban can measure up to what Franklin has accomplished during the past two months.

"I'm definitely surprised," coveted Indiana linebacker Josh Barajas said, per Moyer. "I didn't think they were going to blow up like this. But, then again, I don't see them stopping anytime either."

The 4-star prospect committed to Penn State in late March. His 247Sports' Crystal Ball projections were 100 percent in favor of a pledge to Notre Dame based on 31 expert predictions.

Commitments like that have kept the ball rolling for Franklin. The impressive run on talent is remarkable, but will it last?

Penn State is ahead of Alabama at the moment but requires nearly 10 more months of sustained success in order to ultimately unseat the Tide atop national rankings.

Saban will sign plenty of 4-stars prospects and sprinkle in a few 5-star pledges during that span. At this point, it's a given.

The onus will be on Penn State to keep up its torrid pace and prove Franklin is also a difference-maker on the field when his inaugural campaign kicks off this fall. If wins pile up in a hurry, prospects could be clamoring for a chance to play for the coach who has a region of fans re-energized.

Both Alabama and Penn State are still searching for a quarterback in this class. That's just one of several unknown factors that loom large for both teams en route to signing day.

Alabama lost 5-star passer Ricky Town in January when he flipped to USC. If Penn State is able to secure a commitment from one of its top quarterback targets—Brady White (California) and Brandon Wimbush (New Jersey) come to mind—it may make the difference in this battle for recruiting supremacy.

Of course, the likes of LSU, Florida State, Georgia and Texas A&M could also emerge as contenders for the top-ranked recruiting class. But for now, everyone—even Alabama—has to be in awe of Penn State's steady push to the top.

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Should Alabama QB Blake Sims Be the Front-Runner at QB When Jacob Coker Arrives?

Alabama's quarterback battle won't begin in earnest until Florida State quarterback Jacob Coker arrives this summer, but senior Blake Sims has been busy this spring setting a high bar.

Sims, a 6'0", 202-pounder from Gainesville, Ga., who was more known as a dual-threat quarterback than a pocket passer throughout his Crimson Tide career, has been busy lighting up stat sheets through the air this spring.

He completed 24 of 39 passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns during Alabama's scrimmage Saturday, keeping momentum going as spring practice begins to wind down.

Saban was pleased with Sims' performance, according to Marquavius Burnett of the Anniston (Ala.) Star:

Saban: Blake Sims is showing a lot of command out there. Made about 3 or 4 plays with his feet today. Doing a better job in the pocket.

— Marquavius Burnett (@Marq_Burnett) April 12, 2014

The strong performance comes on the heels of Alabama's first scrimmage, where Sims went 16-of-23 for 227 yards and two touchdowns. The former dual-threat quarterback isn't a run-first quarterback anymore. He has made an effort to pass first and use his athleticism as an insurance policy, and doing so has landed him in the spring spotlight.

That has left redshirt freshman Cooper Bateman, sophomore Alec Morris and the rest of the Alabama's quarterbacks in his shadow as spring comes to a close.

This raises the question, should Sims be the front-runner when Coker arrives?

He absolutely should.

There's a different between being the front-runner and the favorite. Coker is likely the favorite because, let's be real, head coach Nick Saban and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin wouldn't bring in a two-year graduate transfer unless they felt like he had upside. But Sims' strong spring absolutely has made him the man to beat in T-Town, and it will be up to Coker to do it.

Can he?

Coker passed for 295 yards, one touchdown and one pick during his first two seasons in Tallahassee. But his strong arm and a quarterback battle that supposedly lasted well into fall camp with eventual Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston last August has built a big reputation for Coker to live up to. 

That's a lot to live up to.

Sims' strong performance this spring has put the target on his back. Whether he wins the job or not, he seems to have upped the ante and brought stability to a position battle that was loaded with uncertainty just four weeks ago.

That's about as good as it could possibly get for Alabama's quarterbacks considering the landscape of this offseason's quarterback battle.

 

* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All spring game statistics are courtesy of the University of Alabama.

 


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Auburn Football: 5 Players to Watch in Auburn's Spring Game

Auburn fans have been waiting for this week since the clock hit all zeroes at the BCS National Championship Game in January.

It's finally a game week on the Plains.

Although the Auburn Tigers will be going at each other instead of an SEC opponent, the annual A-Day Game this Saturday will give fans their first chance at seeing their defending SEC champions on the field since their close loss to Florida State in Pasadena.

Of course, Auburn's players are just as excited about getting back to Jordan-Hare Stadium for a game this weekend. With spring camp officially wrapping up at A-Day's final whistle, Saturday's spring game will give the Tigers one final chance to impress their coaches as well as their fans heading into the long summer months.

As we get ready for the Tigers' spring finale this Saturday, here are five players you should keep your eyes on at A-Day.

Begin Slideshow

Michigan Football: Grading Michigan's Post-Spring Depth Chart

Brady Hoke pulled the plug on the annual spring game, instead, treating fans to watch a typical practice and scrimmage at Michigan Stadium.

The offense squared off against the defense in a battle of situational football with no special teams or scoring allowed. Hoke was seemingly bound and determined to show little, if any, of Doug Nussmeier’s new offense.

While no official depth chart has been released, it’s no secret some fierce positional battles are underway.

But for a fan base eager to forget last season’s 7-6 debacle, even a brief scrimmage is a godsend. Many hoped to see Nussmeier's new offense, but instead, saw some of the same offensive problems—interceptions and a porous offensive line—that derailed last season.

 

Quarterback

Devin Gardner talks like he’s the starting quarterback, while admitting that he faced fierce competition during spring practice. But his performance during the scrimmage was less than impressive (2-of-10 passing for 53 yards) and throwing an interception on his first attempt. His backup, Shane Morris, (5-of-11 for 73 yards) wasn’t much better on a day the offense looked even worse than last season.

On the Big Ten coaches teleconference, Hoke called the battle ongoing.

"I think that's going to continue as a competition," Hoke said. "I don't think Devin played as well Saturday as he had during the course of spring football.”

Based on experience, Gardner is clearly the frontrunner, but he didn’t look too secure during the scrimmage.

Michigan has more depth at quarterback than last season, but with a new offense being installed and increased competition, the position still seems up for grabs.

Grade: C

 

Running Back

No position group seems more energized by the new offense than the running backs. In previous seasons, Michigan would feature a single back. Under Nussmeier, the way now appears paved for multiple backs to get playing time.

While Derrick Green’s weight loss and the slashing runs of De’Veon Smith have drawn the most attention this spring, Justice Hayes showed some impressive power carrying the ball during the scrimmage. Hayes finished with six carries for 33 yards and showed the running back battle is a three-player race.

Michigan looks to have good depth at running back heading into next season, which is good news if the offensive line can improve.

Grade: B

 

Receivers

Devin Funchess is the leading returning player at this position and hopes to cause mayhem again next season using his size to cause matchup problems for opposing defenses. Michigan will miss Jake Butt at tight end and is hoping A.J. Williams can perform while Butt's return is up in the air.

While the saying goes that potential just means you haven’t done much yet, it’s hard to not be excited by the players Michigan has in the mix at slot and wide receiver.

Freshman Freddy Canteen is drawing rave reviews and had the play of the scrimmage, a 44-yard reception that electrified the crowd. Dennis Norfleet, Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson are leading targets for whoever plays quarterback next season.

Someone needs to step up besides Funchess; the good news is Michigan is developing good depth at receiver. The surprising emergence of early enrollee Canteen is a huge bonus.

Grade: B

 

Offensive Line

Last year, Michigan’s offensive line was a disappointment all season long. This spring, the position group needs to replace its two most consistent players lost to graduation (Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield) and build a new line while implementing a new offense.

The results so far haven’t been promising. Expected starters Erik Magnuson and Joey Burzynski missed all of spring practice because of injuries, and Graham Glasgow was suspended for a few practices because of discipline problems.

Freshman Mason Cole looked lost at times at left tackle, but what in the world is a freshman doing breaking into the starting lineup?

It all adds up to continued trouble up front.

Michigan needs to find some consistency among Ben Braden, Jack Miller, Kyle Bosch, Patrick Kugler, Kyle Kalis and the aforementioned Magnuson, Burzynski, Glasgow and Cole, or this season could be worse than last. Chad Lindsay, recently graduated from Alabama, may also be part of the solution.

Grade: D

 

Linebackers

Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is now directly responsible for the linebackers and has moved Jake Ryan inside to maximize his impact.

The linebackers look to be Ryan, Morgan Desmond and Royce Jenkins-Stone backed up by Joe Bolden, Ben Gedeon and James Ross.

The group has the depth to be a major factor next season if Ryan can successfully transition to the inside. During the spring scrimmage, he still appeared to be learning the position, something Mattison must correct.

Grade: B

 

Defensive Line

Defensive tackle Frank Clark looks like he’s ready to dominate next season. Of course, he has been playing against Michigan’s offensive line that continues to struggle. Clark put in a good performance during the scrimmage and will team up with Brennen Beyer at the end.

Ondre Pipkins and Willie Henry will hold down the middle of the defensive line.

Last season, this group wore down as the season progressed. Now with more experience, this group looks to be much improved. With Taco Charlton and freshman Bryan Mone as backups, the unit is developing much-needed depth.

Grade: B

 

Defensive Backs and Safeties

Michigan has the makings of an extremely good defensive backfield. Raymon Taylor and Blake Countess are solid at cornerback, and Jourdan Lewis looked impressive during the spring scrimmage (two interceptions, returning one for 20 yards).

Add Delano Hill and Jarrod Wilson at the safeties and the addition of 5-star recruit Jabrill Peppers, and the secondary could be the strength of this team.

The Michigan secondary struggled last season, as the team faded due partly to loose coverage.

”I definitely think we're going to be tighter on offenses this year,” Lewis said. “We are playing more man-to-man, and we'll be closer to those guys to break it up or intercept it.”

The addition of Peppers could make this unit stellar.

Grade: A

 

Spring statistics from mgoblue.com, official University of Michigan athletic department web site.

 

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5-Star DE CeCe Jefferson on Auburn: Tigers' Say I'm Best Pass Rusher in Country

CeCe Jefferson, a 5-star defensive end, is one of the most ferocious playmakers in the class of 2015. The 6'2", 250-pound athlete has over 30 scholarship offers from some of the top programs in the country.

Bleacher Report went one-on-one with Jefferson who discussed coach Gus Malzahn, the Tigers program and his favorite part of visiting Auburn.

What did Jefferson have to say about Malzahn and defensive line coach Rodney Garner? What was the coolest thing on his visit?

Watch the video, and get the inside scoop on Jefferson and his feelings about the Tigers.

 

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital.

Rankings courtesy of 247sports.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

What We Learned About Florida State's Title Chances in 2014 Spring Game

Florida State and college football in general enter a new era for the 2014 season. Not only will the Seminoles have a new logo and college football a new playoff, but also, the defending champs will have the biggest of targets on their backs. 

Repeating as national champions isn't an easy task. It only happened once in the old BCS system (Alabama in 2011 and 2012), and it's only happened one other time since the start of the bowl alliance in 1992 (Nebraska in 1994 and 1995). 

As the Seminoles look to do the nearly impossible in a new era, they took to the field for the annual spring game Saturday—two-sport star Jameis Winston and all. 

There are always things to learn from spring, so let's take a look at what we learned from Saturday afternoon in Tallahassee. 

 

Winston's Competitive Nature is Infectious

Winston won the Heisman Trophy, completing 66.9 percent of his passes for 4,057 yards and 40 touchdowns to 10 interceptions. On Saturday, that talent was on full display once again. 

He threw for 396 yards and two touchdowns, but he completed just 48.2 percent of his passes (27-of-56). For a guy whose attention has been split between baseball and football all spring long, his raw talent once again shined through the somewhat painful early moments. 

If there was one thing that stood out in Winston's performance Saturday, it was his ability to not let a slow start get the best of him. As the game went on, Winston and the rest of the offense continued to get better, and by the end of the game, the offense was clicking like it did last season. 

It was also pretty clear Winston's arm and his body were exhausted by the double duty in the spring, something he even acknowledged after the game to ESPN.com's Jared Shanker: 

Physically, some days I was drained. I'm a busy man. I got to study and I'm a regular college student. Football is not my job yet. I got to carry out my everyday life. I'm going to be tired sometimes and if [head coach] Jimbo [Fisher] asks me, 'Jameis,are you tired?' I'm going to say, 'No, coach.' It's how college life is but I love it.

Battling through fatigue is just another sign of how competitive Winston is. Even if he wasn't perfect Saturday, that competitive nature will go a long way toward keeping his team on track during the most challenging regular season FSU has seen in over a decade. 

 

Don't Sleep on the 'Noles Defense 

Hey, guess what? Florida State is more than Winston. To Seminole fans, that shouldn't be a surprise, but given the national narrative, one could be forgiven for forgetting the defense is also really good. 

Sure, last season, the Seminoles secondary ranked No. 1 in pass defense, but two big pieces of that secondary are gone this year. On Saturday, FSU's defense reminded everyone it can play some quality football despite those pieces moving on. 

In fact, early on in the game it was dominating Winston and the Seminole wide receivers. According to the stat sheet, Winston started 3-of-10 passing for 102 yards and an interception. 

Fisher noted just how locked down the secondary was at times in his post-game availability. 

"I thought Jameis started out slow early. We didn't have many guys open and that secondary was locking them down," Fisher said, according to Shanker's article. "We gradually got guys open and he made some throws."

The Seminoles secondary was all over its counterparts on offense for most of the game, and one player in particular stood out—sophomore cornerback P.J. Williams. 

Williams had two passes defensed, five tackles and a forced fumble (which he also recovered) during the spring game. That's one way to make a statement about moving on from losing an All-American like Lamarcus Joyner. 

The secondary impressed former players as well, including a starting safety from last season—Terrence Brooks. He had high praise for the secondary, according to Natalie Pierre of the Tallahassee News

Those are the guys that I worked with while I was here. I got them used to this game and the college atmosphere. They’re all handling it very well. I love how (defensive backs) Jalen (Ramsey), P.J. and Tyler Hunter are out there commanding them. It’s a good group out there. I’m pretty sure they’re going to be fine for years to come.

Having the young corners step up to a challenge was important to see, because come ACC play, you can bet FSU will see some pass-happy offenses along the way. 

Given the fact both Ronald Darby and Nate Andrews didn't play in the spring game, what the Noles secondary did was even more impressive. It appears this group isn't going to miss a beat, and could be another reason to believe Florida State is, once again, a legitimate title contender. 

 

The Offensive Line May Be FSU's Best Weapon in Title Defense

Florida State doesn't know much about who will be doing what in the run game this season, as not a single scholarship running back was available for the annual spring game. Yet, despite those odds, Florida State showed it had a run game Saturday. 

That's because of a very powerful offensive line, one that features four returning starters who are seniors. Those four also happen to have a combined 113 starts, and that includes new starting center Austin Barron. 

Experience has a funny way of showing itself when you least expect it. How else do you explain a converted linebacker turned fullback gaining 85 yards on 16 carries Saturday? 

Florida State's defense eventually had a tough time handling the offensive line, because Freddie Stevenson and the line wore down the defensive line as the game went on. 

Now, add in an actual running back on scholarship to the mix, and FSU's offense could be just as dangerous on the ground as it will be through the air with Winston. 

Credit an offensive line that didn't rest on its laurels and wealth of experience. Instead, it came out and competed at a high level in both pass- and run-blocking Saturday. 

Winston wasn't officially sacked either, yet another indication of just how good FSU's offensive line is heading into the 2014 season. 

Look for this group to be the linchpin if FSU continues to have the success needed to make the inaugural College Football Playoff. 

Most importantly, Saturday taught us Florida State isn't a team that will fall off after one year of success. Fisher and the rest of the staff have built a team that could well resemble the ones that competed for national honors on a nearly annual basis in the late 1990s. 

Saturday was more proof of that, even if it was just one of 15 practices in FSU's spring season.

 

*Andy Coppens is national college football featured columnist. You can follow him on Twitter: @AndyOnCFB.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5-Star DE CeCe Jefferson on Florida: Grew Up Wanting to Be a Gator the Most

5-star defensive end CeCe Jefferson is one of the most ferocious playmakers in the Class of 2015. The 6'2", 250-pound athlete has over 30 scholarship offers from some of the top programs in the country.

Bleacher Report went one-on-one with Jefferson, who discussed Florida coach Will Muschamp, the Gators program and his lifelong ties to Florida.

What did he have to say about Muschamp? What does he like most about the Gators program?

Watch the video and get the inside scoop on Jefferson and his feelings about Florida.

 

Highlights courtesy of XOSDigital.com

Rankings courtesy of 247Sports.com

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5-Star DE CeCe Jefferson on UCLA: Hands Down Prettiest Women in the Country

CeCe Jefferson, a 5-star defensive end, is one of the most ferocious playmakers in the class of 2015. The 6'2", 250-pound athlete has over 30 scholarship offers from some of the top programs in the country.

Bleacher Report went one-on-one with Jefferson who discussed coach Jim Mora, the West Coast atmosphere and the UCLA women.

What did Jefferson have to say about Mora? What did he like most about the Bruins program?

Watch the video, and get the inside scoop on Jefferson and his feelings about UCLA.

 

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital.

Rankings courtesy of 247sports.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5-Star DE CeCe Jefferson on UCLA: Hands Down Prettiest Women in the Country

CeCe Jefferson , a 5-star defensive end, is one of the most ferocious playmakers in the class of 2015. The 6'2", 250-pound athlete has over 30 scholarship offers from some of the top programs in the country...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

College Football's Biggest Performances from Week 2 Spring Games

Technically speaking, the batch of spring games from this past Saturday weren't in the "second" week of the spring game schedule. However, this was the second weekend in a row in which a significant number of games were played. 

So, for simplicity's purposes, April 12 was "Week 2" for spring games. 

There's only so much anyone can take away from these glorified scrimmages, and coaches basically have two goals: evaluate individuals and positions and keep everyone as healthy as possible. 

That said, there were several performances that stood out in Week 2 that should generate some excitement heading into summer. Which players raised eyebrows and made headlines?

 

Tennessee Wide Receiver Josh Malone

Offense wasn't hard to find in Tennessee's spring game with the White team beating the Orange team by a final score of 129-100.*

(*May or may not have been, but definitely was, a modified scoring system.) 

What wasn't modified were the numbers for freshman wide receiver Josh Malone. The early enrollee hauled in six catches for 181 yards—including a 79-yard reception—and three touchdowns. Fellow receiver Marquez North also broke the century mark with five catches for 106 yards and a score. 

Still, Malone stole the show in an offensive display. As B/R colleague Barrett Sallee points out, that display spells concerns for the Vols' defense

For Malone, it spells excitement for a freshman who may be able to contribute right away in the passing game.

 

Oklahoma Quarterback Baker Mayfield

Yes, that Baker Mayfield.

The former Texas Tech starter isn't eligible for the 2014 season as he satisfies Big 12 and NCAA transfer rules. Had he been eligible, though, he would have given starter Trevor Knight—and perhaps the Oklahoma coaching staff—something to think about in the months leading up to preseason camp. 

Mayfield completed all nine of his pass attempts for 125 yards and two touchdowns in a 28-13 win for the White Team.

Stats aside, B/R's Sean Frye notes that Mayfield looked like a guy who has been there, done that.

"His actual on-field performance was even more impressive," Frye wrote. "His drives were methodical, and his throws were precise. His best highlight was a 28-yard back-shoulder touchdown pass to Jordan Smallwood in the start of the second half." 

 

Knight had a less-impressive day statistically speaking, completing 5-of-14 passes with an interception.

That's not necessarily a reflection of how Knight has progressed as a passer this spring; Co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said via press release that Knight has "made strides" since the Sugar Bowl.

Still, Mayfield stole the show. 

 

Notre Dame Quarterback Malik Zaire

Mayfield wasn't the only backup quarterback who showed up in a big way on Saturday. Notre Dame's Malik Zaire proved he was a legitimate challenger to incumbent starter (circa 2012) Everett Golson. 

Unlike Mayfield, though, Zaire is eligible this year. And he may very well beat out Golson for the job.

The sophomore threw for 292 yards and two touchdowns in a 63-58 "win" for the Blue team. 

“When we figured everything out and got it down and today was like, ‘This is your party,’” Zaire said via B/R's Mike Monaco. “That’s the same way during the season should work. Practice should be harder than the games and when it’s the game time, it comes easy to us, and it came easy to us today.”

Confidence has never been Zaire's shortcoming. Last month, he came right out and said he would be the Irish's starting quarterback in Week 1. 

"There will only be one guy starting on August 30th against Rice at Notre Dame Stadium, there will only be one guy out on the field, and I believe that will be me," Zaire told reporters (h/t B/R's Keith Arnold). 

Maybe he was right. 

 

Clemson Defensive End Tavaris Barnes

Sacks aren't really sacks in a spring game. They're more a result of getting to the quarterback rather than bringing him to the ground.

Still, defensive tackle Tavaris Barnes had himself a day in Clemson's spring game, a 24-5 victory for the White team. The redshirt senior recorded five sacks as part of a defensive effort from the White team that did not allow a touchdown.

"I’m working harder than ever and seeing it pay off. It was a statement game for me," Barnes said in a university post-game release. "I want to let people know that I am going to do everything I can to help this defense. I feel we are going to have a great, deep defense this year."

Barnes served as a backup for the Tigers in 2013. Still, he should be part of a talented and deep defensive line for Clemson in 2014. 

 

Nebraska Running Back Imani Cross

Nebraska's ground game still belongs to Ameer Abdullah, but fellow running back Imani Cross showed his big-play potential in the Huskers' spring game. With Abdullah held out, the junior tallied 100 yards and two touchdowns on just six carries. 

"It was a big opportunity, and I was thankful for the opportunity," Cross said afterward via a university release. "I just try to take it one day at a time, one play at a time. I just try to make sure I focus on the little things and not so much looking at the big picture. I just make the picture smaller and try to get better every day."

Cross' longest run of the day was a 39-yard touchdown in the second quarter, the longest rush of the day. His other touchdown came on a 20-yard run. 

 

Honorable Mentions

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini and his cat: No stats to speak of, but this was the best moment of any spring practice this year. Faux Pelini would be proud. 

 

Arizona wide receiver Trey Griffey: The son of future baseball Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. showed he only needs one hand to make highlight catches in the Wildcats' spring game. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. All stats reflect a spring game's unofficial numbers. 

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5-Star DE CeCe Jefferson on Alabama: 'Saban Is Godfather of College Football'

5-Star DE CeCe Jefferson is one of the most ferocious playmakers in the class of 2015. The 6'2", 250-pound athlete has more than 30 scholarship offers from some of the top programs in the country.

Bleacher Report went one on one with Jefferson, who discussed coach Saban and the Crimson Tide program.

What did Jefferson have to say about Saban? What does he like most about Alabama?

Watch the video and get the inside scoop on Jefferson and his feelings about the Crimson Tide.

Highlights courtesy of xosdigital.com

Rankings courtesy of 247sports.com

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Virginia Tech Football: Analyzing the Hokies' Second Spring Scrimmage

The Virginia Tech football team opened things up to the public for the second time on April 12, letting fans and the media alike get a good look at how the team’s developing at another spring scrimmage.

The Hokies ran 99 plays in all over the course of about two hours at Lane Stadium, and a few hundreds fans got to watch Tech work. 

However, the Hokies weren’t exactly at full strength for the scrimmage. Tech was missing receivers Carlis Parker and Josh Stanford and, most importantly, starting quarterback Mark Leal, as The Roanoke Times’ Andy Bitter reported. 

The veterans’ absence opened things up for some other, younger players to get more reps with the starters, and the coaching staff surely learned some valuable lessons about all of them.

Read on to find out which players really stood out in the second scrimmage of the spring. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes come from the team’s media availability immediately after the game.

 

Ken Ekanem

There was a fair bit of uncertainty at the defensive end spot opposite Dadi Nicolas heading into the spring, but redshirt sophomore Ken Ekanem seems to be distinguishing himself as one of the team’s best performers this spring. 

At the start of practice, Ekanem was listed as co-starter at the position with Seth Dooley, but he’s since pulled ahead of the redshirt freshman and taken the sole position at the top of the depth chart.

Ekanem looked dominant during the scrimmage, harassing both offensive units that he faced. He racked up three sacks for a loss of 24 yards, four total tackles for loss and six total tackles in all.

“I think Ken’s really playing well,” defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “Ken, after last week, has been the guy that you’ve been watching him more and he’s done a nice job.”

What was initially considered a weak spot for the Hokies now seems like a strength. Ekanem has spent the last two years recovering from a knee injury he suffered in the last game of his high school career, but now he seems as if he’s returned to form.

“I’m feeling like this is the place that I should have been when I got here,” Ekanem told Bitter. “I’m two years late, but I’m here now." 

The Hokies certainly have to be glad he’s back as his development will determine will help determine whether or not the line can be as good as it was a season ago.

 

Michael Branthover 

The Hokies still need to find themselves a starter at kicker, but it seems like they’re getting closer on that front.

Senior Michael Branthover seems to have pulled into the lead at the position after impressing early this spring.

“I think Branthover right now is in the lead as our field goal guy,” said head coach Frank Beamer. “He’s had a good week of kicking, he’s got a strong leg, he’s kind of our veteran guy out there right now and I think he’s the best right now, but we’re going to continue that on.”

Branthover made all three of his kicks during the scrimmage, nailing tries from 33, 37 and 42 yards. He split duties pretty evenly with Remington Hishaw, R.J. Warfel and Eric Kristensen during the scrimmage, but Beamer seemed particularly bullish on Branthover.

“He’s got the strongest leg and this week, every time he’s had a chance to make a kick, he’s made it. It’s been a good week for him,” Beamer said.

But that’s not to say the job is his just yet. The Hokies are bringing in several other kickers to compete for the top spot in the fall, including 2-star prospect Michael Santamaria.

“I think I’ve got a couple really good kickers coming in, I mean really good. So we’ll see how we finish up the spring,” Beamer said.

 

Bucky Hodges

The coaches have been singing the praises of quarterback-turned-tight end Bucky Hodges for the entirety of spring practice, and the redshirt freshman showed why in the scrimmage.

He only made one catch for six yards, but he made his presence felt early and often.

Whether he was blocking, split out wide or even lined up in a Wildcat formation taking snaps, Hodges looked like an enticing weapon for offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler.

He ran three plays from the Wildcat, gaining 19 yards and looking fluid while doing it.

Hodges made an impact in the passing game too—he broke wide open down the field on two back-to-back plays, but quarterback Brenden Motley couldn’t find him either time. 

Loeffler refused to give up any detailed information about how the team plans to further utilize Hodges in the Wildcat—he shut down one reporter’s question about what the team likes about the formation with just a terse “It’s a Wildcat” and a shrug—but it’s clear that he’s very pleased with what he’s seeing so far if Hodges is getting this much time with the first team already.

 

Marshawn Williams

Early enrolled freshman Marshawn Williams remains on the third team on the depth chart at running back, but it doesn’t seem like he’ll be staying there much longer.

Williams looked excellent in the scrimmage, leading the team in rushing with 13 runs for 66 yards.

He got more carries than even spring starter J.C. Coleman, who finished with 11 runs for 27 yards.

“I think the zone read play for him was very natural,” Beamer said. “He feels an opening and he hits it and you don’t teach that a lot, so I was impressed with him.”

Williams finished his runs with burst and power each time, including one 16-yard run where he took several defenders with him down the field.

He looked great at the team’s last scrimmage too, and it’s becoming really clear that he’s got the talent to get on the field this fall.

The coaches seem to agree—he started the scrimmage on the second team, but by the last series, he was with the starters.

 

Andrew Ford

After throwing just one pass in the team’s last scrimmage, freshman Andrew Ford got a chance to get some meaningful reps in Leal’s absence.

Ford largely worked with the second-team offense while facing the first-team defense, so he looked a little rough at times.

He was sacked a total of nine times, yet he still finished 12-of-15 for 150 yards and a touchdown.

“As long as you’re accurate, and he’s an accurate guy, you can get those other things going, get the ball out of there a little bit faster,” Beamer said of the young passer.

Not only was Ford working against tough competition, but also many of his sacks were the result of bad snaps.

On at least three occasions, he had to collect the ball off the turf since both starting center David Wang and backup Kyle Chung were held out of the game.

When he did get a chance to drop back, he looked impressive in fits and starts. Loeffler frequently got him moving out of the pocket on play-action roll-outs, and he seemed comfortable while doing so.

He completed four long throws on the run, including his 17-yard touchdown throw to the back corner of the end zone to tight end Dakota Jackson. 

Ford certainly has a lot to learn yet, but he did show some flashes of brilliance at the scrimmage.

 

Brenden Motley

Motley was the biggest beneficiary of Leal’s absence, and he largely took advantage of his moment in the spotlight.

He finished 12-of-20 on the day for 163 yards and a touchdown. He got sacked four times, but discounting the 37 yards he lost on those plays, he ran the ball seven times for 32 yards as well. 

“He’d like to have a couple throws back, we could’ve had a couple more touchdowns. But I think he’s made progress this spring,” Beamer said. “He’s getting real reps for the first time, it’s not an easy place to be the quarterback, so I think he’s making progress.”

Motley was particularly impressive while throwing the deep ball. He absolutely nailed receiver Deon Newsome for 32 yards on one throw and made another long throw up the sideline to hit Demitri Knowles.

Loeffler also used him frequently on option plays. Motley ran the ball quite a bit in his days at Christiansburg High School, so it’s no surprise that Loeffler was trying to take advantage of his feet. 

“Football has changed in terms of you better have a guy that can extend the play because it’s not always perfect,” Loeffler said. “You want it perfect, but it’s not always perfect. So having a guy back there that can get out of trouble is advantage for sure.”

He ran the option six different times during the scrimmage, running for big gains on each of the three plays he kept it.

However, he wasn’t perfect on the day. Many of his big plays came against the second-team defense, which features a lot of subpar players with some injuries in the secondary.

He got the chance to face the first team on three series at the end of the scrimmage, and then his performance was a little more of mixed bag.

His best plays came on a long run up the sideline on the option and on a play-action pass to receiver Charley Meyer, but he felt the pressure on several plays and missed some easy throws.

“I got a huge opportunity today and I feel like I did pretty well,” Motley said. “There’s definitely some things I’ve got to work on, but I feel like I did some good things.”

Motley does indeed have room to improve, but this performance in the scrimmage did a lot to establish that he’s a legitimate contender for the starting job.

It’s not a good sign for Leal that he’s missing time this early, and Motley showed confidence running the offense in his absence.

It’s hard to declare anything with certainty until the QB reinforcements arrive in the fall, but Motley seems very much in mix for starting spot after his showing in the scrimmage.

 

Alex Koma is a B/R featured columnist and a member of the Breaking News Team. You can find his B/R archive here, follow him on Twitter @AlexKomaVT and visit his personal website.

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FSU Football: Projections for Jameis Winston's Monster Sophomore Season

Jameis Winston is coming off an amazing season in which he won the Heisman Trophy and led his Florida State Seminoles to the BCS National Championship. What does he have in store for his encore?

Expect to see Winston even more involved in the offense this season. The Seminoles lost running backs Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. to the NFL draft. Winston will have to make up for these losses by putting up even bigger numbers than he did in 2013. 

Check out Adam Kramer and Barrett Sallee break down what to expect from Jameis Winston in his sophomore season.

 

Highlights courtesy of XOs Digital

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Oklahoma Football: 'Sky Is the Limit' for Trevor Knight in 2014

Trevor Knight had an average season in 2013, throwing for only 819 yards and nine touchdowns after missing some time due to injuries. However, he lit up Alabama in the 2014 Sugar Bowl, going 32-of-44 and throwing four TDs. 

What can Sooners fans expect from Knight in 2014? If he can stay healthy, Knight has the potential to keep rolling from the Sugar Bowl upset and have a stellar season. 

Check out Adam Kramer and Barrett Sallee break down what to expect from Trevor Knight in 2014. 

 

Highlights courtesy of XOs Digital

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Ohio State Football: Expect Braxton Miller to Pass More, Stay Healthy in 2014

Last year, Braxton Miller had a fantastic season, even while missing some time due to injury. After a disappointing end to 2013, Miller has a lot to prove his senior year. 

Miller will have to protect himself by staying in the pocket more this season and not going on the run. Being an electric playmaker, this may seem contradictory to Miller's instincts, but he must do it in order to stay healthy and lead the Ohio State Buckeyes. 

Check out the video above, where Adam Kramer and Michael Felder project how Braxton Miller will fare in his senior season. 

 

Highlights courtesy of XOs Digital

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Notre Dame Football: Everett Golson Will 'Absolutely' Start for Irish

Everett Golson is back on the field for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and should return to his old role as starting QB. Golson led the Irish to the BCS National Championship Game in 2012. Does he have what it takes to have the same success after a year off the field?

Golson was suspended for the 2013 season but is back in South Bend. Sophomore Malik Zaire played well in the spring game, but expect to see Golson starting for the Irish in Week 1.

Check out Barrett Sallee and Michael Felder break down what to expect from Everett Golson in 2014. 

 

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital

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Northwestern Lands 4-Star Twin Brothers Andrew and David Dowell

Northwestern capped a whirlwind recruiting weekend by claiming commitments from 4-star twin prospects David and Andrew Dowell. The Wildcats welcomed five players into the 2015 class during a three-day span, signaling serious momentum for Pat Fitzgerald's program.

The twins announced their intentions Sunday evening:

David and Andrew, each rated among Ohio's top 15 recruits in 247Sports' composite rankings, are juniors at St. Edward High School (Lakewood). They helped lead the Eagles to state semifinal action last fall.

Andrew, a 6'0", 195-pound running back, rushed for 968 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2013, per Cleveland.com reporter Bill Landis. He's a powerful, bruising back who does his finest work between the tackles.

Andrew is rated No. 26 nationally at the position in 247Sports' composite rankings.

David, who stands at 6'1", 180 pounds, is ranked No. 26 among receivers. His junior campaign ended with 26 receptions, 483 yards and seven scores.

He also shines at defensive back and presents the Wildcats with options on both sides of the ball.

The brothers are the most highly ranked members of Northwestern's recruiting class. Their commitments provide positive building blocks for the coaching staff, who they visited earlier this month.

"You could see they were very excited by us being there," David told Rivals.com reporter Louie Vaccher. "They really want us to play for Northwestern."

The Wildcats also added 3-star Missouri running back John Moten on Sunday. Linebackers Nathan Fox (Texas) and Tommy Vitale (Illinois) pledged Friday and Saturday, respectively.

The Dowells had several scholarship opportunities to consider. West Virginia, Illinois, Indiana and Cincinnati are among teams that extended offers to both brothers.

They bolster a Northwestern class that now ranks fifth in the Big Ten Conference and 33rd nationally, per 247Sports' composite team ratings.

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Tennessee Football: Don't Be Blinded by Spring Stats, Vols Have Work to Do

One look at the box score, and you'll probably be blinded by Tennessee's flashy stats from the spring game.

The Vols totaled 762 yards, early-enrollee Josh Malone and sophomore Marquez North each topped the 100-yard mark receiving and early-enrollee running back Jalen Hurd had 66 rushing yards and a score on the ground as the White outscored the Orange 129-100 in a modified scoring system in Saturday's spring game at Neyland Stadium.

Great, right?

Well, not really.

The emergence of Malone and Hurd as legitimate weapons to complement North and senior running back Marlin Lane is nice, but that's not the biggest issue facing second-year head coach Butch Jones this spring.

Defense is—particularly the fundamentals. 

Tennessee finished 11th in the SEC in total defense last year (418.4 YPG), and struggled with tackling on Saturday.

"The biggest thing I'm most disappointed in that we need to take tremendous strides is our tackling," Jones said in quotes released by Tennessee. "We've spent an inordinate amount of time this spring in terms of tackling. On the positive side of it, we were in good position to make the tackles. Everything is about body position, we just didn't make them so we'll go back."

There is quite a bit of inexperience on Tennessee's defense, particularly up front, where the Vols return no starters on the defensive line. Veteran linebacker A.J. Johnson was limited, but the defense has to take a step forward, and it starts with fundamentals.

Up front, Jones is still looking for the consistency and depth needed along the defensive line to be a contender in the SEC East. Owen Williams had five tackles, including one for a loss, hybrid linebacker/defensive end Curt Maggitt had three, Jordan Williams had two and Corey Vereen had one. 

"The thing I was kind of disappointed in, in the spring game today, was the drop off from ones to twos," Jones said in his postgame quotes. "We need to generate outs defensively and we didn't generate very many three-and-outs today."

The closer you are to the ball at the line of scrimmage, the better chance you have to play right away. With five defensive linemen coming in this summer as part of the 2014 recruiting class, including 4-star defensive ends Dewayne Hendrix and Derek Barnett and 4-star defensive tackles Charles Mosley and Michael Sawyers, there will be even more chances to build that depth during fall camp.

But what about the quarterbacks?

Josh Dobbs was sensational on Saturday, completing six of nine passes for 199 yards and three touchdowns, and adding 59 rushing yards and a score on the ground. Jones had begun to narrow the quarterback race down to senior Justin Worley—who completed 11 of 13 passes for 151 yards and a score on Saturday, and redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson—who threw for 83 yards and a touchdown but was sacked three times.

With a strong performance on spring's biggest stage, Dobbs may have elbowed his way back in. If he does, that will take some first-team snaps away from the eventual winner. But on the plus side, it will push Worley and Ferguson during summer conditioning.

Quarterbacks won't be an issue. They proved enough on Saturday that they are capable of getting the ball into their playmakers, and that's good enough.

But the defense struggled, particularly up front. That was one Tennessee's biggest issues heading into spring practice, and it remains its biggest issue exiting it.

 

* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All spring game statistics are courtesy of the University of Tennessee.


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LSU Football: Projecting Brandon Harris as No. 1 QB for Tigers in 2014

Les Miles and the LSU Tigers have a heated quarterback battle on their hands. Anthony Jennings, Brandon Harris and Hayden Rettig are all fighting to replace departing QB Zach Mettenberger. After the spring game, it seems that Harris has the best chance to start for the Tigers in the fall. 

How will Harris fare as a true freshman against SEC defenses? Can he learn the offense well enough to be a true replacement for Mettenberger? 

Check out Barrett Sallee and Michael Felder as they project Harris' stats as the starting QB for the LSU Tigers in 2014. 

 

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital.

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Florida Football: Top Performers from the Gators Spring Game

After an interesting Florida Gators spring game that ended in a 23-23 tie, it’s time to point out some of the best players from the glorified practice.

The good news is that the offense looked a lot sharper than the defense for a change. On the other side of the coin, it’s a spring game, which means that everything is very vanilla and the rules are meant to favor the offense to a certain extent.

Still, there were a lot of positives to take away from this game and a lot of key players who rose to the occasion and left a positive impact heading into the fall.

Here are the top performers from the 2014 Gators spring game.

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