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Alabama Football: Biggest Storylines so Far This Offseason

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Before Alabama cranks spring practice up into high gear with Monday’s return to the field, an offseason refresher to this point is in order.

There has been plenty of scattered news and notes that are easy to miss during the post-football-season hangover and now March Madness.

So let’s get caught up on the news since Alabama fell to Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl.

 

Roster turnover

First, the good kinds of turnover (no, not the Arby's snack).

Amari Cooper, Landon Collins and T.J. Yeldon all declared for the NFL draft as juniors. Cooper and Collins are expected to go in the first round, with Yeldon following shortly behind.

All three were generally expected to turn pro. This came as no shock to anyone inside or outside of the Mal Moore Athletic Facility. They will be sent off to the NFL leaving nothing but fond memories behind.

Reggie Ragland and Jarran Reed, meanwhile, decided to come back for senior seasons.

"I wanted to come back and get even smarter for the game, because I know at the next level, if you're not smart playing on the inside, you're not going to last that long,” Ragland said of his decision. “So I wanted to come back and learn more from coach (Nick) Saban, and coach (Kirby) Smart, and all the defensive guys that we've got coaching."

Then, there’s the not-so-good turnover.

Running back Altee Tenpenny—a former 4-star used sparingly during his first two years on campus who has gotten into his fair share of trouble—announced he was transferring from the program in a since-deleted tweet. Tenpenny has yet to find a transfer landing spot, though home-state Arkansas, who initially recruited him out of high school, could be a candidate.

Defensive lineman Dee Liner, who appeared in four games in his two years in Tuscaloosa, also announced his transfer via Twitter:

Liner was a 4-star in-state prospect who had a down-to-the-wire recruitment between Alabama and Auburn. His redshirt was burned on the last series of the Crimson Tide’s 2013 game against Tennessee, his only action that year. He found himself with a loaded depth chart ahead of him and decided to leave with two more years of eligibility remaining.

Otherwise, there are several more players whose 2015 statuses seem up in the air.

Running back Tyren Jones was suspended indefinitely back in February and remains so into spring practice, leaving Alabama a little thin in the backfield.

Saban also said offensive lineman Grant Hill "has still got medical leave, and we're not prepared to make any decisions about what his future status is."

 

Staff changes

Alabama did some shuffling on the coaching staff and had one key assistant remain on board.

Outside linebackers coach Lance Thompson was hired by Auburn to do the same job across the state. And LSU hired inside linebackers coach Kevin Steele to be its defensive coordinator.

The Crimson Tide promoted Tosh Lupoi from intern to outside linebackers coach after his one-year buyout at Washington expired. Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart moved from a one-year stint working with the secondary back to inside linebackers, where he had worked during Alabama’s championship run. And former Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker was hired as the new secondary coach.

Not much changed on the offensive side, which is a good thing after a record-setting year on that side of the ball. After reports connected him to the San Francisco 49ers’ offensive coordinator job, Alabama announced Kiffin would be returning for his second year:

Behind the scenes, director of football operations Joe Pannunzio left to take a job with the Philadelphia Eagles, according to TideSports.com’s Aaron Suttles. He was replaced by Justin Dickens, who worked in the same capacity at Michigan.

Tyler Siskey, Alabama’s director of player personnel, left to be the wide receivers coach at South Alabama. Jody Wright, who held the same position at UAB, was hired as his replacement.

The Crimson Tide also added two more to its staff, including one with a recognizable name, per Suttles:

 

Another No. 1 recruiting class comes with controversy

Alabama pulled in the 247Sports Composite’s No. 1 recruiting class for the fifth straight year on national signing day.

Seven of the 24-man class is already on campus in addition to Bo Scarbrough, a 2014 signee who is now eligible.

It included the No. 2 dual-threat quarterback in Blake Barnett, as well as five other 5-star prospects.

But the class came with a good bit of controversy.

Jonathan Taylor was the lone JUCO signee, and he comes with his fair share of baggage, a massive risk for Saban and Alabama to undertake. Taylor reportedly choked and struck his then-girlfriend with a closed fist, leading to his dismissal from Georgia, and that was after he had already been arrested for theft-by-deception after double-cashing meal checks.

The decision to admit Taylor divided the fanbase and UA administration, and Saban said he will be keeping a close eye on Taylor during his time at Alabama.

“This was a decision that got made by a lot of people here. It was a university decision,” Saban said. “We recruited this young man out of high school and we felt that from what we knew about him, what his high school coach said, what the people at the school that he was at said about him, and where he came from in junior college, that he was the kind of guy that deserved a second chance.

“But with that chance, we also have stipulations of things that he needs to do from a personal development standpoint so that he won't make any kind of mistake like this ever again.

“That's an ongoing process with him, and that's something that we continue to monitor and he has done a very good job with.”

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes and reporting were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5th Down: The Top Social College Football Stories of the Week

The Fifth Down captures the top social college football stories of the week. Because the long, grueling offseason is underway, we'll focus on things that make us laugh, think, maybe cry, but mostly laugh. At the end of the day, the best quality of this often entertaining, sometimes twisted sport is that it makes us feel. 

 

1) Not to Get On a Recruiting Soapbox, But...

Last month, Rivals.com raised some eyebrows when it announced it was creating recruiting profiles for kids in the sixth grade. Among the more disturbing visuals was the profile for 2021 pro-style quarterback Daron Bryden.  

Bryden is listed at 5'2" and 105 pounds. For context, that's roughly the same height, but half the weight, of most sportswriters. 

It raises the question of how young is too young when it comes to recruiting. But when will we as a society ask ourselves a more pressing question: How old is too old for recruiting?

Meet Prince Sammons, a 45-year-old family man who moonlights as a 16-year-old football recruit from Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy. The 4-star prospect, according to 247Sports composite rankings, measures 6'8" and 280 pounds and is strongly considering Ohio State.

SCOUTING REPORT

Strengths: Has underrated athleticism, knows how to use his hands to get past offensive linemen, absolutely owns his friends in Bridge every Wednesday. 

Weaknesses: Still hasn't fixed the guest bathroom faucet even though he's been asked at least 100 times.  

 

Sammons isn't the first full-grown adult to be recruited as a college athlete. Montavious Atkinson, a 4-star member of Auburn's 2015 recruiting class, already has a master's degree in engineering and has been working at Peterbilt Motors Company for 10 years. 

Still, that pales in comparison to the latest scholarship offer extended by Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin to this Class of 2017 linebacker: 

 

2) PSA—South Carolina Coach Steve Spurrier is Life's Roastmaster (But You Knew That Already)

The day Spurrier retires from college football will be one of mourning. There is simply no one who throws piping hot shade at others quite like the Head Ball Coach. Since the social media world moves 140 characters at a time, Spurrier's sound bites mesh perfectly into Twitter's format. 

(On a related note, Spurrier recently joined Twitter but hasn't used it to its full potential.) 

As far anyone is concerned, he's up there with Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln as the most quotable icon in history. 

Waylp. 

Never mind that South Carolina also went 7-6 last year after being preseason SEC East favorites. Though ironic, it's secondary here because, boom! Roasted.   

 

3) Army Football: Powerhouse 

One of the truly arbitrary and pointless things college football admins do is decide who's a quality opponent and who isn't.

Last year, the ACC and SEC decided that conference members had to play one Power Five nonconference opponent every year. Not fitting into that description at first was BYU, one of the most consistent programs in recent years. The ACC later changed its stance in January because, again, these things don't really matter and shouldn't be followed by anyone. 

On Thursday, ESPN.com's Brett McMurphy reported that the SEC will consider BYU, along with FBS Independents Army and Notre Dame, as Power Five opponents. Why not Navy? Kevin McGuire at Collegefootballtalk.com explains: 

If you are wondering why Navy is not included in this mix of independent programs, then you should be reminded Navy will be playing as a football-playing member of the American Athletic Conference starting this fall. As far as the SEC scheduling is now concerned, a game against Army counts more in terms of strength than one against Navy. Technically.

And, technically, Army has had one winning season in 18 years and was last a national powerhouse in the 1940s. 

That makes sense considering college football is a sport that can't quite evolve at the pace it needs to because it's so enamored with the past.  

 

4) ThisWeekInFloridaStateCoachJimboFisherTalksSoFast

A major hat tip goes to Bud Elliott of TomahawkNation.com, who shared this nearly nine-minute video of Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher talking with reporters after practice. 

Fisher, as you may or may not know, was an auctioneer in a former life (hell, maybe in the present one, too). This is terrible news for anyone on the Florida State beat who has to transcribe interviews, and transcribing is already the single worst thing about being a reporter. 

Turn the closed captions on in the video below and watch as YouTube "attempts" to dissect whatever Fisher is saying. It's a good time-waster, and it's not like you're working today anyway because of the NCAA tournament. 

Speaking of which... 

 

5) Your College Football Face-Melting Tweet of the Week

The second first round of the NCAA tournament began Thursday as part of the best two days in sports. Buried in a controversial goaltending call between SMU and UCLA was that UAB upset Iowa State 60-59, effectively starting the bracket-busting process. 

In any case, this is what we took away from that game: 

UAB, of course, terminated its football program last fall. Iowa State, well...

 

6) Athletes Are People, Too, Which Means They Watch Bad Television

In an effort to inject myself into this content, B/R colleague Barrett Sallee and I watch The Bachelor every Monday. This is a hazardous habit to one's health, like smoking or eating Whataburger A1 Thick and Hearty Burgers on the regular.

Knowing that you're not the only person to watch trashy television while wrist-deep into a pint of Ben & Jerry's, though? It helps. 

CeCe Jefferson, a 5-star defensive end in Florida's 2015 class, is apparently in love with Keeping Up With the Kardashians, and specifically Khloe Kardashian. So he let her know. Lo and behold, his advance worked.

Keep doing you, CeCe.  

 

7) Finally, Terrifying Images 

1) Ohio State photoshopping 4-star defensive end Malik Barrow into a national championship picture: 

How Terrifying (10-point scale): This gets a solid 8. The effort and photoshop skills are admirable, but the stone face in what should be a moment of ecstasy is disturbing. It's reminiscent of something you'd see on The Sims. That's not a good thing. 

2) Mike Davis' South Carolina tattoos:

How Terrifying: It's a 7 only because Davis is ripped, and I'm still not convinced a human body can be that sculpted. 

3) Auburn Fan has an Auburn truck: 

How Terrifying: Considering one LSU fan once had a coffin cooler, this gets a modest 4. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Woody Barrett Reveals Top 5: Odds on Where 4-Star QB Lands

The recruitment of 4-star Florida quarterback Ervin "Woody" Barrett continues to evolve, expanding to include several favorites.

The West Orange High School standout shared a top-five list comprising Auburn, Oregon, Oklahoma, Louisville and Clemson while speaking with James Hale of 247Sports.

“I really don’t have a favorite, but I have a top five," he told Hale. "But I am giving a lot of people the benefit of the doubt because I am not making the decision any time soon."

At the start of March, Barrett identified Alabama and Auburn as co-favorites. It appears dynamics have changed with the Crimson Tide, but Auburn remains a top contender. 

He holds nearly 20 scholarship offers; the latest arriving earlier this week from Virginia Tech.

Barrett, rated seventh nationally among dual-threat quarterbacks in 247Sports' composite rankings, delivers the ball with velocity and presents a dangerous rushing threat. He tallied 40 total offensive touchdowns in 2014, leading West Orange to an 11-win season.

Now that we have a better understanding of his current collegiate outlook, let's examine each of his top-five options at this point and place odds on him actually landing at that campus.

 

Auburn

The Tigers have been as active as any suitor so far, further evidenced by Barrett's recent university visit. He received an offer from Auburn as a sophomore and appears to fit the mold for success in Gus Malzahn's offensive attack.

"I feel like I’m a dual threat, which is just like Nick Marshall,” Barrett told Keith Niebuhr of 247Sports. “The things Nick Marshall can do, I could probably do better. That’s how I feel."

Auburn made a late push to land 2015 dual-threat Florida talent Torrance Gibson, but he ultimately stuck with a commitment to Ohio State on national signing day. Malzahn aims to take care of business with Barrett much earlier in the process.

Odds he ends up at Auburn: 3 to 1

 

Clemson

Dabo Swinney also joined this pursuit early, extending a scholarship to Barrett last spring. Clemson reached into the same region during the 2015 recruiting cycle for prolific passer Tucker Israel and now looks set to go to the well once more. 

Clemson has arguably amassed the country's most compelling collection of young wide receivers and holds a commitment from 5-star 2016 running back Tavien Feaster. There's a lot to like as a quarterback prospect when you survey the potential supporting cast. 

The Tigers haven't made a ton of noise in this recruitment until now, so Clemson remains an unknown commodity here. A campus visit could be crucial for the development of a relationship between Barrett and the coaching staff.

Odds he ends up at Clemson: 12 to 1

 

Louisville

Louisville has done well plucking passers from the Sunshine State in recent years, from eventual first-round NFL pick Teddy Bridgewater to incoming freshman Lamar Jackson. Louisville is also in the thick of a hotly contested chase for No. 2 overall dual-threat 2016 quarterback Jawon Pass, so Bobby Petrino seems to be in a solid position early in this cycle.

Barrett attended camp at Louisville last summer, so there should be a solid familiarity in place. The Cardinals may feel more confident with the pursuit of Pass, considering the team signed his older brother in February, but Barrett should remain a priority.

Odds he ends up at Louisville: 8 to 1

 

Oklahoma

Sooners offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley quickly made Barrett feel like a coveted target.

“I was delighted because usually Oklahoma does not send out offers to quarterbacks this early," he told Hale. "Just having Coach Riley there is going to make it top notch, and I am looking forward to taking a trip there this summer to see what is happening up there.”

His playing style would seem to suit the Oklahoma offense well, and he is reminiscent of the kind of playmakers we've seen the Sooners target recently. Proximity clearly doesn't favor Oklahoma, but there seems to be an established comfort level between both parties.

Odds he ends up at Oklahoma: 6 to 1

 

Oregon

The Ducks are an outlier here, as the only one of Barrett's top choices that hasn't yet handed him an offer. Still, it's no surprise to see Oregon among the teams he's most interested in, given its explosive offensive reputation, which has vaulted similar athletes to national stardom.

Barrett could claim an Oregon offer at any time, though the team already holds a pledge from fellow 4-star prospect Seth Green. Things here may depend on how the situation evolves with Green, who transferred from Minnesota to Texas powerhouse Allen High School for his senior season.

Odds he ends up at Oregon: 14 to 1

 

Other Possibilities

Barrett expressed an interest in a variety of programs during his conversation with Hale. He plans to visit Florida this weekend, providing the Gators another opportunity to assess him.

Ohio State could welcome him to campus this summer, while Alabama and Kentucky are alternative SEC options worth keeping a close eye on as Barrett works his way toward signing day.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Underrated SEC Players to Watch in 2015 Spring Games

By now, you know about the stars in the SEC. 

Georgia running back Nick Chubb, LSU running back Leonard Fournette, Alabama running back Derrick Henry and Auburn wide receiver D'haquille "Duke" Williams are just a few of the superstars who will be snapping up the chin strap this spring and making waves in spring games.

Who else will becomes stars of the spring?

The bright lights of a spring game provide a perfect chance for underrated or unknown players to announce to the world that they're not only talented, but ready for the spotlight.

Which underrated players will shine during spring games? Our picks based on position, talent and scheme are in this slideshow.

Begin Slideshow

7 Senior Stars with the Best Shot at the Heisman Trophy

The Heisman Trophy has become a young man’s award. In recent years, college football has become a game that thrives on young stars who excel quickly and then depart early for the NFL. Its biggest award has reflected that trend. Star players who hang around for all four seasons of collegiate play are exceedingly rare. No senior has won the award since Ohio State’s Troy Smith in 2006.

However, there is a strong group of senior candidates who could change that trend this fall. These players are focal points of strong teams with standout offenses, and if they thrive, we could have a senior Heisman Trophy winner in 2015. Here are the seven senior stars with the best shot at winning the Heisman Trophy.

Begin Slideshow

Former Temple Football Player Matt Brown Arrested on Human Trafficking Charges

Former Temple running back Matt Brown was one of two men arrested Tuesday in Baltimore and charged with involvement in human trafficking.

According to WBALTV.com, Brown was arrested after police responded to a suspected prostitution ad. Three underage girls were also taken into custody, and Brown reportedly admitted to the human trafficking accusation.

WBALTV.com also provided a mugshot on Twitter of Brown and the other man taken into custody:

Temple football play-by-play announcer Zach Gelb confirmed the arrested Brown was a former Owl and commented on the arrest:

The 25-year-old Brown played at Temple from 2009 through 2012 with his best campaign coming as a junior, when he compiled 916 rushing yards and six touchdowns, while also scoring on a kick return.

After leaving Temple, Brown spent time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the 2013 offseason before signing with the CFL's Saskatchewan Roughriders, although he never appeared in a game.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

2017 4-Star LB Markail Benton Tweets Top 5

Phenix City, Alabama, linebacker Markail Benton, the No. 27 overall recruit in the 2017 class, tweeted a preemptive list of his top five schools Thursday evening.

Benton's list includes the two logical favorites to sign him—in-state powers Alabama and Auburn—along with Georgia, Florida State and Mississippi State.

Only a sophomore in high school, Benton already checks in at 6'2", 214 pounds. As he fills out his frame these next two seasons, he could turn into a bona fide monster—the type of linebacker prospect who steps in and plays as a freshman.

"He's not without his flaws—no high school sophomore is—but the combination of his size and raw talent makes it easy to see why so many schools are recruiting him," wrote John Talty of AL.com last season.

Benton is the No. 1 recruit from the state of Alabama, which historically makes the Crimson Tide and Tigers the favorites to land him. Here is a list of the past 10 No. 1 players from Alabama:

Seven of those 10 have committed to Alabama, but according to the experts on 247Sports' Crystal Ball, Auburn is the early favorite to land Benton. All seven current predictions are for the Tigers, albeit more than two years removed from signing day.

Can Auburn remain the favorite throughout the cycle? Will Alabama punch back, per usual? Can Georgia, Florida State or Mississippi State break the trend and sign the No. 1 player from Alabama?

Only time will tell. And again—because this can't be hammered home hard enough—there's a lot of time left to do the telling.

But for now, it's nice to know where Benton stands.

 

Note: All recruiting info refers to the 247Sports composite rankings.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Realistic Expectations for LSU Star RB Leonard Fournette

Coming into his freshman season as LSU, it was almost impossible for Tigers running back Leonard Fournette to live up to the hype.

He had the No. 1 overall recruiting ranking in the class of 2014 on his shoulders, head coach Les Miles had compared him to former NBA superstar Michael Jordan at SEC media days, his running back mate, Terrence Magee, had compared him to Adrian Peterson and Fournette himself said he planned on becoming the first true freshman to win the Heisman Trophy.

Well, he didn't turn into MJ or win the Heisman Trophy, but he did have a much better year than Peterson—one that slowed as the New Orleans native adjusted to life as a college football player.

That doesn't mean he won't win the Heisman Trophy in the future, though.

He's listed tied for third with TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin on the Heisman odds board at 15-2 according to Odds Shark, and he will undoubtedly be the focal point of an LSU offense that will be run-based by desire and necessity.

What should LSU fans realistically expect from their super-sophomore running back?

 

Only a Small Jump in Overall Production

Fournette looked the part of a superstar last year, rushing for 1,034 yards and 10 touchdowns while splitting carries with Magee and Kenny Hilliard. With his two partners in the backfield now gone, it should be "The Leonard Fournette Show" in Baton Rouge.

But who will be the supporting actors?

LSU is at its best when it has a stable of running backs to take pressure off one another and keep one another fresh. Fournette will be leading that corps this year and will have sophomore Darrel Williams joining him along with incoming freshmen Derrius Guice and Nick Brossette.

Is Fournette capable of putting up Melvin Gordon-type video game numbers and breaking the 2,000-yard mark on the ground? Absolutely.

If he does, though, it will likely be an indication that something went terribly wrong at LSU. It would suggest that either the rest of the running backs couldn't supply the support LSU needs at running back or worse—that the passing game has remained more of a myth despite the best efforts from Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to make it work.

Don't get me wrong; Fournette can and likely will be better. And as Emily Dixon of LSUSports.net notes, he's doing everything he can to improve during the offseason:

While 2,000 rushing yards would be nice, it's not what LSU needs. LSU needs around 1,500 from Fournette as the No. 1 running back. That would further solidify Fournette as a star and suggest LSU has fixed its problems, which would go a long way toward the Tigers returning to SEC West contention in 2015.

 

There's No 'I' in 'Team'

From the Heisman Trophy plans before the season to the Heisman pose following his first career touchdown versus Sam Houston State in September, Fournette got labeled—perhaps unfairly—as a me-first player during his freshman campaign on the Bayou.

That's not the most uncommon thing in the world. The de-recruitment process that takes place from the moment a top-tier prospect signs on the dotted line is perhaps a coach's toughest job, and nobody talks about it.

His priorities have seemingly changed this offseason, as Jim Kleinpeter of NOLA.com notes:

That's the right approach, and Fournette has to keep that mindset throughout the season—even if he does jump squarely in the Heisman mix this fall.

 

More than 400 Receiving Yards

While Fournette's accolades on the ground wowed college football fans, it was his ability in pass protection and as a receiving threat that earned him more snaps as the 2014 season progressed. 

Expect him to be more than just a threat as a receiver in 2015. He showed flashes of what he's capable of last season, catching seven passes for 127 yards and showing off soft hands—particularly in the win over Ole Miss, in which he caught two passes for 41 yards, including a 40-yarder up the seam in the first quarter.

Not only can Fournette act as a safety valve for the eventual winner of the quarterback competition, but he can also split out wide and create matchup problems for opposing defenses. This is something LSU tinkered with last year, as Ross Dellenger of The Advocate noted in November 2014:

Expect more of this. 

LSU desperately needs to find a way for its quarterbacks to get in a groove on short and intermediate routes, and using Fournette as a receiver not only in the flat but also over the middle and on bubble screens is a perfect way to do it.

 

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Football: Biggest Storylines so Far This Offseason

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Before we dive too far into Notre Dame football's spring practice, let’s take one final look back at the recent Irish offseason.

In the immediate aftermath of Notre Dame's victory over LSU in the Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tennessee, the offseason questions seemed to start and end at quarterback. In analyzing the biggest offseason talking points, we highlighted the men under center, possible returnees and defensive growth.

How do things look now a few months later?

 

Roster Movement

A year ago, Notre Dame's offseason was highlighted by departures.

In addition to the outgoing coaches, the Irish lost out on many of its draft-eligible underclassmen. Defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt, tight end Troy Niklas and running back George Atkinson left for the NFL.

This year, Notre Dame landed two massive re-recruiting coups by ensuring the returns of standout left tackle Ronnie Stanley and top defensive lineman Sheldon Day.

“This was a difficult decision," Stanley said in a press release. "My dream isn't just to play in the National Football League. I want to win a national championship. I've waited to this point so I could watch the actual game and see if I felt any emotion, and I felt a great deal. I am a competitor. I want to play on the top stage, so I've decided that I'm returning to Notre Dame for my senior year.

"We've got a chance to have a special season next year. Many of my teammates are returning, and I've made strong bonds with lots of them. If all of them weren't coming back this year, it would've made it an easier decision to leave. All this, the opportunity to graduate, and much more, led to my decision to stay."

Some projected Stanley to be a first-round draft choice. The left tackle will instead return to South Bend to anchor an offensive line that also brings back fifth-year center Nick Martin and junior-to-be guard Steve Elmer, as well as redshirt sophomore right tackle Mike McGlinchey, who earned his first career start in the bowl game.

Day, meanwhile, returns as one of Notre Dame's most productive defensive players, not just linemen.

“I believe we've got an opportunity to have a special season in 2015, and I wanted to be a part of that success,” Day said in a statement. “I was blessed to play in the national championship game as a freshman in 2012, and I want to do everything in my power to reach that stage again with my guys.”

Day's “guys” won’t include offensive lineman Matt Hegarty, who earned 11 starts in 2014. With a year of eligibility remaining, Hegarty will play football elsewhere in 2015, the guard/center announced earlier this month in a statement to ESPN.com's Matt Fortuna:

Unfortunately, I have already had to miss a precious amount of football battling back from my stroke, and I value every rep and opportunity going into my final year of college ball that much more. My goal is to contribute this season, continue to develop my skills and pursue my dream of playing in the NFL. Because of this goal, I have asked for a transfer to play at another school where I can contribute more on the field.

Asked to address the situation Tuesday, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said there was a spot for Hegarty on the 2015 roster.

“We thought he would be competing for a starting position,” Kelly said. “He chose to take another option that is available to him because he's going to graduate.”

Later, Kelly was asked if the talented crop of offensive linemen played into Hegarty’s decision to depart.

“I couldn't really begin to get into what his decision is,” Kelly said. “He came out with a statement—I think you all saw his statement. I gave him the opportunity to be the starting left guard. He chose another path. That's all I can really say about it.”

On the other side of the ball, the signs still point to a return from cornerback KeiVarae Russell, who did not play in 2014 as a result of Notre Dame’s academic investigation. Kelly said he has spoken directly with Russell, who started all 26 games in his first two seasons.

“Academically, he’s making the progress necessary to be back here,” Kelly said. “I can confidently say standing in front of you today, he's making all the steps necessary to be back here, be part of our football team this summer.”

The situation isn't as clear for defensive end Ishaq Williams. Kelly said his communication with Williams has been through third parties, and he can’t guarantee Williams a spot on the 85-man roster.

“There are other factors involved,” Kelly said.

The head coach added Williams is working back home.

While we're on the topic of roster movement, Notre Dame officially announced its recruiting class of 2015 and also added graduate transfer Avery Sebastian from Cal.

 

New Coaches

Notre Dame lost both coordinators last offseason, as Bob Diaco at Connecticut and Chuck Martin at Miami (Ohio) both exited to be head coaches. It seemed difficult to top that, but the Irish had even more turnover and rearrangement on their staff this offseason.

At least in the short run, it seems impossible for Notre Dame not to take a hit in recruiting with the losses of Tony Alford and Kerry Cooks.

But the Irish did add some intriguing new coaches, beginning with 32-year-old Mike Sanford, who assumes the role of offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Former Notre Dame stars Autry Denson and Todd Lyght bring big-name buzz value back to their alma mater.

Just how quickly the revamped Irish coaching staff comes together remains to be seen. Asked how much Kelly has to coach his coaches in the spring, the boss said that’s a requirement, regardless of experience.

“It's always been about that for me,” Kelly said. “Some of it is more overt. In other words, you're out in front of it sometimes a little bit more when you have a veteran staff where you're reminding them, whereas when you have a staff that you've got some new coaches, you're doing more behind the scenes.”

 

QB Situation Stays Stagnant

All eyes will be on Notre Dame's quarterbacks throughout the offseason and into the fall. But so far—since the Irish rumbled past the LSU Tigers—not much has changed.

In early January, Kelly did shed some light on Everett Golson's situation and plan.

At Wednesday's first spring practice, Golson took the first snaps. That means little to nothing, of course, and Malik Zaire received plenty of reps, too.

Kelly said he wants Golson to continue to develop a disciplined approach to playing quarterback.

“Take the last drive in the LSU game, for example, some of the plays he made there,” Kelly said. “Poised in the pocket. Checking the football down. Staying within the realm of the offense. Much of that needs to continue.”

For Zaire, Kelly said he wants his redshirt sophomore signal-caller to continue to lead and to deliver in practice situations, just as he did in his breakout performance against the Tigers in the Music City Bowl.

“He's capable of doing it,” Kelly said. “He showed he has that in him. Now, it has to be on display both in practice and not just in games.”

Asked if he wants to see a clear-cut No. 1 and No. 2 quarterback breakdown this spring, Kelly was noncommittal.

“I really don't know. I really don't know,” Kelly said. “I think it's going to take us some time to get a feel for how this competition is going to go.

“It's one thing to go out there and compete without footballs. It's another thing to put the football in their hands, go run the offense, then we'll have a better sense.

“Based upon what we saw in our bowl preparations, based upon what we saw in the LSU game, I think they're both going to compete. I think they're both very much going to be part of our success in 2015.”

 

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted.

Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

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Tennessee Football: Biggest Storylines so Far This Offseason

This offseason has been anything but boring for the Tennessee football team, so with spring practice kicking off next week, head coach Butch Jones is probably ready to get back to real ball.

It's not that the months since the Vols' victory over Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl have been bad; they haven't.

Just with all the pent-up excitement surrounding the program, and with some old faces gone and new blood being transfused into the roster and coaching staff, it's time to see the first glimpses of the 2015 product.

Sure, the Vols are dealing with some injuries this spring, but they've also got a lot of talent that will be on display when the pads go on.

The college football nation knows it, and nobody in Knoxville is denying it. But before we get cranked up with spring drills and real football beginning March 24, let's rewind on some headlines that have taken place since January.

 

Top-Five Recruiting Class

After taking a losing team and signing a top-10 recruiting class in the 2014 cycle, Tennessee fans were anxious to see what Jones and his coaching staff would do for an encore.

The returns were promising.

When the finishing touches were put on the class with the national signing day commitment of 4-star offensive tackle Drew Richmond, Tennessee secured the nation's fourth-ranked class, according to the 247Sports composite.

It was UT's highest class ranking since 2007.

Not only was the class on the high end of talent, it was extremely deep in vital places where teams absolutely must be strong in order to win championships.

The Vols loaded up in both trenches, signing six defensive linemen and five offensive linemen. They got two definite running backs in Alvin Kamara and John Kelly, as well as a couple of other athletes who could wind up there (Jocquez Bruce and Vincent Perry).

With a dearth of depth at quarterback, the Vols signed three—dual-threats Jauan Jennings and Sheriron Jones, as well as pro-style signal-caller Quinten Dormady. Jennings and Dormady are already in school and will go through spring drills.

UT signed three cornerbacks and three linebackers as well in a class that went 29 players deep. They got two definite immediate-impact JUCO players in Kamara and cornerback Justin Martin.

Despite having holes all over the field, there were seemingly not any reaches in a full and fruitful class. The Vols were able to meet myriad needs with elite players that, at least on paper, improved them all over the field.

Really, the only position where UT still desperately needs numbers is running back, and that's a hurdle the Vols will have to clear in 2015 but will be a primary focus in the '16 recruiting class.

No recruiting class is perfect, but Jones signed another marquee haul that should have UT competing with everybody it plays, perhaps as soon as this season.

 

The Arrival of Expectations

The last time there was any kind of palpable national attention on Tennessee, Derek Dooley's Vols fell on their face.

ESPN's College GameDay set up shop in Knoxville for UT's 2012 matchup against the Florida Gators, and fans flocked to Circle Park by the thousands to welcome the crew long before the evening game.

UT was ranked 23rd heading into that battle, and it was favored and actually led in the second half before Sal Sunseri's defense collapsed and the Vols lost 37-20. That started the downward spiral that led to Dooley's ouster.

This year, the buzz is back.

Several top-25 rankings across the Internet—ESPN.com, Fox Sports and NFL.com to name a few—have UT on their lists.

It's hype Jones doesn't shy away from, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press' Patrick Brown, even if he believes he presides over an unfinished product:

I think it's a compliment to our players. I think it's a compliment to the way we finished. I think people around the country can see the transformation of Tennessee football in all aspects, from our style of play to winning off the field.

But we still have a long way to go. When you look at what this football team was able to accomplish with the inordinate amount of true freshmen playing, having to replace both sides of the line of scrimmage, most of our special teams being comprised of first- and second-year players -- they did a great job.

But can they build on it? Another season having to fight and claw to get to .500 won't be looked upon quite as fondly as 2014.

While Knoxville wasn't exactly as giddy as South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier's barb, Tennessee coaches, players and fans were thrilled to become bowl-eligible and win a season ago. Now, those expectations skyrocket.

Quarterback Joshua Dobbs and running back Jalen Hurd are rising stars, the receiving corps and defense should be much improved and the roster holes are shrinking.

Those qualities have to equal wins. It may not be spring practice time yet, but it seems everybody in the college football world has the Vols on the tips of their tongues.

 

Rocky Top Runners

Part of building a championship program and changing a culture that had been lax for so long is cutting ties with players who don't have the same vision.

But the amount of attrition from UT's roster this offseason is uncommon.

While nobody seems particularly alarmed, due to Jones' ability to recruit at a high level and replace those players the way Alabama coach Nick Saban did early in his tenure, the number of goners is high.

Since season's end, receivers Drae Bowles and Vic Wharton left the program. Tight end Daniel Helm, defensive linemen Dewayne Hendrix and Jaylen Miller, linebacker Justin King, defensive backs Riyahd Jones and D'Andre Payne, quarterback Nathan Peterman and running back Derrell Scott also left.

Defensive tackle Michael Sawyers was dismissed, and Ryan Jenkins' status is yet to be determined.

Wharton, Helm, Hendrix, Scott and Sawyers were definitely going to or had opportunities to be part of the depth chart moving forward.

"I think if you look around the country, unfortunately it's becoming the norm," Jones told The Associated Press' Steve Megargee, via The Tennessean. "Each individual has different circumstances for leaving. We thank them for being part of our family, and if we can help them moving forward, we'll help them."

There's no way to make everybody happy, but potentially 12 players leaving a roster isn't something you want to deal with every year. Now, a 2014 class that once had 32 players has now shrunk to 24.

While some of those players saw the writing on the wall when it came to potential playing time (or lack thereof), a few were going to be relied on.

That's sort of a byproduct of having to completely retool a roster that wasn't capable of winning in the SEC. When a coach recruits 61 players in two years, some won't stick.

That's why it's a positive thing that UT director of player personnel Bob Welton told VolQuest.com's Paul Fortenberry that UT can be a bit more selective moving forward in whom it recruits with the roster in much better shape.

Maybe this will be the last year that there's such a mass exodus.

 

New Offensive Sheriff

Finally, perhaps the biggest real news so far was the abrupt departure of offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian to be Tampa Bay's quarterbacks coach and Jones' subsequent hiring of Mike DeBord.

In Jones' eight years as a head coach, Bajakian was his only offensive coordinator, but with the assistant's aspirations to coach in the NFL, the move made sense.

When Jones pegged DeBord—a 59-year-old Michigan administrator who'd been out of coaching for a couple years—it was a decision that was initially viewed as puzzling. Considering DeBord hired Jones back during his tenure as Central Michigan's head coach, however, it shouldn't have been.

The two men have a comfort level, and DeBord shares an offensive philosophy that has led to what Jones told Bleacher Report last month was a seamless transition.

Already armed with a knowledge of the offense and with Dobbs, Hurd and other weapons returning, DeBord told the Knoxville News Sentinel's Dustin Dopirak he expects the Vols' offense to be "fast and furious."

This is the first real big hire Jones has been forced into making since becoming UT's head coach, so it will be widely scrutinized. But there are no hints of concern for Jones.

Entering a year where UT is expected to be strong offensively, the last thing Jones wanted was to hire a coordinator who had no knowledge of the offensive-minded coach's philosophy or to bring in a completely new playbook.

So, DeBord was the guy for the job. Time will tell whether it was indeed the correct decision.

 

All statistics gathered from UTSports.com, unless otherwise noted. Quotes and observations obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

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Michigan Football: Wolverines Need Jabrill Peppers to Own Spring Practice

If all goes as planned, this fall could end up being "Breezy" for Michigan's defense. But before Jabrill Peppers makes that happen, the redshirt freshman and former 5-star recruit must make a splash during spring practices.

On April 4, the spring game has to be the Jabrill Show.

Peppers, a 6'0," 205-pounder out of New Jersey, was plagued with injury as a true freshman, allowing for just six punt returns during three appearances. His naysayers loved it. The most talked about kid didn't do a thing. Critics celebrated his misfortune.

But he's back.

He's healthy, and he needs to put his stamp on the team, right now. That goes without saying. According to secondary coach Greg Jackson, the process has gotten off to a comparison-worthy start.

“He reminds me of Rodney Harrison (San Diego Chargers/New England Patriots) when I played [in the NFL]—he reminds of me of Rodney,” said Jackson, who stopped for a moment to reflect on the comparison. “[He’s] enthusiastic, intense during practice…full speed to the ball all the time.

“He’s a kid that’s hungry, ready to prove himself and, you know, a guy like Peppers, you can’t teach hustle. I mean, he’s just got ‘it.’ He’s just got that knack of being a football player. We just keep him going in the right direction, coaching him—I mean, I think he’s going to be a really good player.”

During an interview with MGoBlue’s Steve Kornacki, special teams coordinator John Baxter commented on Peppers’ athleticism. His words echo those of many who have seen the Jersey Kid flex on the field.

"One, he's really intelligent," Baxter said. "Two, he's really explosive. Three, he's really passionate. And four, he might be in the top five most coachable guys we have. You ask him to do it, and he's doing it better than anybody else."

Jackson couldn't help but agree with his colleague's analysis.

“There's no doubt about it,” Jackson said. “The thing about it is, not only is he one of the most coachable guys, he takes everything to heart. He listens to everything you coach him. I mean, he's a guy that goes out and tries to do exactly what you to tell him to do.”

Jackson was cooler than cool Thursday. He was almost too calm while referencing Peppers. His tone would lead one to believe that he was talking about a guy he's coached for years.

“I expect him to see him communicate in the secondary, which he does with no problem,” Jackson explained. “I expect him to hustle to the football, which he does with no problem. I expect him to get his hands on balls, which he does with no problem. I expect him to play the deep middle of the field—he does that great. He tackles great. He does everything you ask him to do—and he does much more. You know, Pep is the type of player that's not going to get relaxed…because he's got fire within.”

Everything. He does everything well in practice. That’s a bold statement. But Peppers rode a tidal wave of hype into Michigan, so it makes perfect sense for coaches to say that. In 2014, Greg Mattison, who is now the D-line coach, raved about Peppers' athleticism, attitude and composure.

Teammates said the same. 

While injured, Peppers was often photographed amping up teammates on the sidelines—something like a coach would do. He was barely out of high school.

There really isn't much Peppers can't do. He's naturally gifted and will probably return kicks and punts and maybe even one day, try his hand as a slot receiver or running back. Who knows? There is no ceiling for Peppers, who was the No. 1- or No. 2-ranked athlete of 2014, depending on the scouting service.

Jackson realizes what he has in Peppers. On Thursday, that's not a corner or a returner, and certainly nothing that involves offense.

"Well, right now, he's a nickel and a safety for us,” Jackson said, without a blink. “That’s the need—where we need him right now. And I think with him playing a safety position and playing inside, I think that's a big plus for us because I think everybody will pay attention to where he is on the inside of the defense. We need him back there because he's a leader, you know.”

Jackson later added: “You always look at a player and think about where he best fits, and you know, we think Pep best fits at the safety position just because who he is and what he brings. You know, it's almost like if you put him at corner, he's out there—you don't really see him.”

As pointed out by Scout.com's Kyle Bogenschutz during the interview session, Peppers has the skill, which he referred to as “swagger,” to back up his talk on the field. That attitude will be important, and Jackson doesn't mind it one bit. 

In fact, he sounded like he almost encourages "Pep" to strut around every now and then.

“That's right; I'm fine with it," Jackson said, with zero hesitation. "As long as he doesn't get out control with it, I'm fine with it. I mean, because everybody has a different way of playing a football game. Some guys are quiet and are terrors on the football field. Some guys are loud and can back it up. Some guys are loud but can’t play. I mean, but he's the type of guy who backs everything up. He's a guy who talks a lot, you know, but he backs everything up.

“And the thing about it is, with Pep, he's not talking just to talk. He's talking to energize the team and himself, you know, to make guys play better. So, everything he does is positive.”

Peppers has played three games, yet he's been stuck in the national spotlight for more than a year. In fact, he's one of the most talked about players in the country to this day, not just one of the most hyped at Michigan. 

He wasn't present during Thursday's availability, but he somehow managed to rule the conversation.

Spring will be a cinch.

 

Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and references were obtained firsthand by the writer via press conference, press release or other media availability. Stats and bio information comes via MGoBlue. Recruiting information comes via 247Sports.  

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Recruiting Odds on Where No. 1 ILB Lokeni Toailoa Lands

Monday is shaping up to be a huge day for California prospects. Five members of Ground Zero's 7-on-7 team are expected to announce their verbal commitments.

Headlining the bunch is 4-star linebacker Lokeni Toailoa from Wilmer Amina Carter High School in Rialto, California. Toailoa is the nation's top-ranked inside linebacker and, per 247Sports, has a list that includes UCLA, USC, Oregon, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Washington and Utah.

UCLA, USC, Oregon and Notre Dame are considered the frontrunners, and all four schools could use a player of Toailoa's caliber. As the No. 59 player overall in 247Sports' composite rankings, Toailoa is a physical athlete who loves playing downhill and loves making the big hit. He holds his own in pass coverage, but his bread and butter is the explosiveness he shows during a run play.

Of the four, UCLA is the heavy favorite, according to 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions. With the four schools primarily in the conversation, here are the odds Toailoa will commit to each school.

 

UCLA (2-1)

UCLA is in a great position entering Monday, as it could land Toailoa, 4-star running back Damian Alloway and 3-star running back Demetric Felton. The Bruins already had four-star inside linebacker Krys Barnes commit on March 14, and Barnes is another member of Ground Zero, so it wouldn't be far-fetched if the duo has discussed being college teammates.

Also, with Rialto being roughly an hour away from the campus, proximity could play a big role in this decision. Toailoa earlier this month told Bleacher Report at The Opening Los Angeles regional that he would love to play close to home where his family could watch all of his games.

 

USC (3-1)

Like UCLA, USC has a home-field advantage of sorts, being roughly an hour away. The Trojans are hoping Toailoa can complete a linebacker trifecta, as they already have 4-star outside linebackers committed in Mique Juarez and Daelin Hayes. Toailoa as a middle linebacker would give USC a solid class at the position.

Toailoa is being recruited to USC by Peter Sirmon, someone he said he is a big fan of. Toailoa is also attracted to the program's winning tradition.

 

OREGON (4-1)

Fresh off one of its best years ever, Oregon is expected to be a hot commodity in recruiting. Toailoa would fit well in the Ducks defense and could see early playing time, as many of the linebackers will either be preparing to graduate or gearing up for their senior seasons upon his arrival to campus.

Inside linebackers coach Don Pellum is Toailoa's primary recruiter, and Toailoa said he's been able to establish a good relationship with him. Oregon may not be able to win the proximity battle with UCLA or USC, but it can boast that it not only won the Pac-12 championship but also was a game away from winning the College Football Playoff last season.

 

NOTRE DAME (4-1)

Playing close to home wouldn't mean as much if Toailoa were to choose Notre Dame. Home games are still broadcast on NBC, which means he would get tons of exposure if inserted into the defensive lineup.

The Fighting Irish only have one commitment for its 2016 class, 5-star offensive tackle Tommy Kraemer, so Toailoa would be a keynote commitment if he were to choose Notre Dame. It should be noted, however, that they signed two inside linebackers in their 2015 class. Still, Toailoa is a huge fan of the school's prestige and the program's tradition.

 

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

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Best Fits for Top 10 Uncommitted 2016 RB Recruits

Effective collegiate rushing attacks require significant depth. The most reliable ground games in America utilize multiple running backs who can shoulder the load when called upon. 

The 2016 recruiting class promises to provide reinforcements for offensive backfields across the country. While several premier playmakers—most notably 5-star talents Tavien Feaster and Kareem Walker—have already announced commitments, many top talents remain undecided.

Here's a look at the current recruitment situation and potential landing spots for top uncommitted prospects at the position. 

 

Recruits listed in order of 247Sports' composite rankings.

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These 2015 Monster Recruits Are Living Up to the Hype

When it comes to college football recruiting the word "hype" gets thrown around quite often. Each player is built up by recruiting analysts and pundits across the country. But, there are certain recruits who have all the goods. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder was out at the Opening Regional in Dallas, evaluating the talent. Quarterback Seth Green and tight end Kaden Smith were two players who stood out the most in his eyes. 

What is the ceiling for Kaden Smith and Seth Green? Check out the video, and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

8 Best Indoor Facilities in College Football

Only three schools at the FBS level play their games in domed stadiums, but the number that have the ability to practice indoors is exponentially greater. In the neverending arms race of college football, having an indoor practice facility is no longer a luxury but rather a necessity, and not just for schools in cold-weather climates.

With the ability to work on plays and implement schemes in a closed (and private) environment, schools use these fields as a way to separate practices from the games themselves. Those who have one can do what they want, when they want and how they want, while those still stuck practicing outdoors are at the mercy of mother nature.

Which ones stand out above all others? We note some of the best indoor facilities in the country.

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Tommy Stevens Is the Future of Penn State Football

When Penn State takes the field for its first spring practice of 2015 on Friday, there won't be any question who the Nittany Lions' No. 1 quarterback will be.

The 2013 Big Ten Freshman of the Year and one of the top prospects in the 2016 NFL draft, Christian Hackenberg has served as a Band-Aid over not only unprecedented NCAA sanctions but Penn State's transition from the Bill O'Brien era to James Franklin's regime. The former 5-star signal-caller endured a down year statistically in 2014 but is by far the Nittany Lions' best option and has the talent to be one of the top quarterbacks in the country with the right talent around him.

Make no mistake about it: There's no quarterback controversy brewing in Happy Valley. But this time next year, it could very well be a different story.

WalterFootball.com currently ranks the 6'4", 234-pound Hackenberg as the No. 3 draft-eligible quarterback for the 2016 draft, and with a strong junior season, it's not a stretch to say the Palmyra, Virginia, native could be the first signal-caller selected in the draft after the upcoming season. That would leave Franklin searching for a new starter for the first time since arriving in State College in early 2014, but the second-year Penn State head coach already likes what he sees in one potential replacement.

Tommy Stevens wasn't as highly recruited as Hackenberg, or even Brandon Wimbush, who was the first quarterback to commit to the Nittany Lions' 2015 class before opting to sign with Notre Dame. A 3-star prospect by way of Decatur Central in Indianapolis, Indiana, Stevens committed to Franklin last November, having also received offers from Michigan State, Cincinnati, North Carolina State and a number of mid-level Big Ten and Mid-American Conference programs.

But in just two months on campus as an early enrollee, Stevens has already managed to catch the eye of his head coach. The Circle City native won't be counted on in 2015 and will likely redshirt behind Hackenberg and redshirt freshman Trace McSorley, but he's already building a bond with Franklin, who is clearly excited for his future.

"Getting Tommy here at mid-semester as our quarterback, he's already went from 187 to 200 pounds. He's 6'3"," Franklin said on signing day. "I called his dad two nights ago just to say everybody's in love with your son, he's just one of these kids that doesn't take things for granted anymore, he's very appreciative.

"I got three text messages in the middle of the night from him saying how much he loves Penn State, how appreciative he is of the opportunity, and I want more of our guys to be like that. Just to be appreciative."

Stevens may be thankful to be a part of the Nittany Lions, but his relationship with Franklin could prove to be mutually beneficial.

As opposed to Hackenberg, who was recruited by the NFL-minded O'Brien, Stevens is more of a dual-threat quarterback and could prove to be a better fit in Franklin's more spread-oriented offensive system. The 21st-ranked quarterback in the 2015 class, Stevens threw for 1,891 yards and 16 touchdowns in his senior season, adding 842 yards and 10 scores on the ground.

Originally committed to Indiana, Stevens was set to stay home and be a Hoosier before receiving a scholarship offer from Penn State in the wake of Wimbush's decommittment. A visit to State College to witness the Nittany Lions' thrilling double-overtime loss to Ohio State sealed the deal for Stevens, who flipped his commitment to Penn State two weeks later.

"It was a hard process overall," Stevens said during the on-campus signing day celebration. "I only took one visit here, and that was enough to show me that this is the place for me."

And after just a couple of months on campus, it's clear he doesn't regret his decision.

"The thing I've noticed the most is probably the family-like feel that's been brought here," Stevens said. "I feel like I've been very welcomed from the very beginning. The guys in the locker room have gone out of their way and the coaching staff as well, they've really taken care of us.

"I'm glad to be here, and I can't wait for that next step forward."

That next step forward will start on Friday, when the long-haired Stevens—nicknamed "Sunshine" by his teammates—takes his first snaps in his new blue-and-white No. 4 jersey. Barring injury, he'll presumably participate in Penn State's Blue-White spring game on April 18 but will then likely be relegated to the scout team for the 2015 season.

But while he'll temporarily take a back seat, all eyes could be back on Stevens this time next year should Hackenberg opt to bring an early end to his college career. Franklin isn't prepared to talk about life without Hackenberg just yet, but it could very well be around the corner, only increasing the emphasis he's placing on having a replacement ready.

"Whenever you're trying to get your No. 2 quarterback, or the quarterback that's competing with your starter, however you want to look at it," Franklin said, "getting that guy ready to play is very, very important."

 

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

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Nebraska Football: Biggest Storylines so Far This Offseason

As Nebraska football’s spring practice winds on, a number of storylines have emerged. Given the hiring of new head coach Mike Riley and the installation of entirely new schemes on offense and defense, the flood of news certainly isn’t surprising. But there are a few storylines that really stand out as we work our way to the 2015 season.

Here are three of the biggest storylines that have emerged this offseason.

 

A Simpler Defense

Under Bo Pelini, Nebraska’s defense was famously difficult and challenging to learn. It appears that under new defensive coordinator Mark Banker, Nebraska’s defense will be far simpler. Junior safety Nate Gerry had this to say about the contrast in styles at a press conference before spring practice (transcript via Huskers.com):

My first impression is that I’m really excited for it. It’s a lot simpler than it was. … That’s the thing [new defensive coordinator Mark Banker] wants us all to do, to be able to get to the ball faster and to stay loose. Last year we had a lot of people overthinking. Mentally we weren’t as sharp as we were maybe supposed to be.

Simpler doesn’t always mean better, of course. Derek Johnson’s noted on HuskerMax that Nebraska’s defense could struggle by insisting on remaining in a three-linebacker set.

But a simpler defensive scheme will, at the very least, mean that talented players are less likely to be kept off the field based on a lack of scheme knowledge. And that change in defensive philosophy might be the biggest one in Lincoln we’ve seen this offseason.

 

A Pro-Style Offense

When Riley first arrived, questions lingered over whether he would be importing his pro-style offense. Certainly, given what happened the last time Nebraska brought in a coach to revamp the offense, things didn’t go well. So many Nebraska fans wanted to downplay the likelihood of offensive upheaval.

And there is some cause for that reassurance. Riley has talked about the need to adapt the game plan to the talent available, per Steven M. Sipple of the Lincoln Journal Star.

"We have what we've done as coaches and we have a new skill set at quarterback almost all the way around," Riley said. "We are trying to blend the two as best we can together so we can help them be comfortable.

"This is not about what we (as coaches) want to do; this is about giving them (the players) the best tools to play fast and win games. It's kind of interesting, and kind of fun for us, too."

With that said, there is no doubt that Nebraska will run a pro-style offense under Riley. In a pre-spring press conference (transcript from Huskers.com), wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp said that Nebraska will have a “pro-style type of offense.”

In addition, quarterback Tommy Armstrong told Eric Olsen of The Associated Press that he was told by offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf that he would “not be a running back” and that his job as a quarterback would be to “sit in the pocket, deliver the ball when I can and make smart decisions.”

How does incorporating a pro-style offense mesh with using the talent available on the roster for Riley? That’s the fascinating question we will see answered in part during spring practice, and in full this autumn.

 

The Starting Quarterback Job Is up for Grabs

Yes, Riley has said that Armstrong’s experience is a benefit as he determines who will start next year at quarterback, per Steven M. Sipple of the Lincoln Journal Star. But that doesn’t mean he’s guaranteed to win the job.

Gerry DiNardo of the Big Ten Network is in the midst of touring spring practices from around the conference. Check out what he said about the quarterback races he’s seen so far.

 

BTN Spring Practice Tour Stop 3 #Huskers 3rd stop in a row where QB decision isn't clear. NU UM Neb.

— Gerry DiNardo (@gerrydinardo) March 14, 2015

 

A savvy outside observer says Nebraska’s quarterback decision “isn’t clear.” Add in the report from 247Sports that back spasms have been hampering Armstrong's performance and caused him to sit out Wednesday’s practice, and the recipe is certainly there for someone other than Armstrong to win the job.

I previously pegged Armstrong’s chances to be the 2015 starter at 50 percent. Looks like recent developments from spring camp make that number just about right.

 

For a different look at Nebraska football, check out The Double Extra Point.

Or you can use the Twitter machine to follow @DblExtraPoint.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

How Much Did Each Power Conference Team Pay Its Head Coach Per Win in 2014?

The USA Today salary database tells us how much money each FBS head coach earned last season (with the exception of seven coaches, whose schools kept their contracts private).

What it doesn't tell us? Return on investment.

Fortunately, computing how much each head coach earned per win last year is simple: salary divided by number of victories. Using that approach, we found which coaches gave their schools the best and worst values per dollar in 2014.

Here are the findings from each power conference:

 

                       ACC  

Key Takeaways

1. See why Larry Fedora is on the hot seat? In a vacuum, he's a fair-enough bargain, but his two primary in-state rivals, David Cutcliffe and Dave Doeren, are the best values in the conference. This is not the first time Cutcliffe and Doeren have teamed up against Fedora.

2. Based on the available data, the ACC has the fewest bad-value contracts in the country. Of course, the lack of Dave Clawson's and Scott Shafer's contract info plays a role in that, as Wake Forest and Syracuse posted the fewest wins in the conference last season. Still, it's worth noting that the ACC, as far as our data can tell, mines great value from its head coaches.

 

                       Big 12  

*fired after starting the year 2-2

Key Takeaways

1. The Big 12 flaunts the most bad-value contracts in the country, although part of that results from giving out so many big contracts in general. Still, Charlie Weis, Paul Rhoads and Charlie Strong all finished in the bottom five among power-conference head coaches, earning more than $800,000 per win in 2014.

2. The top of the league fails to compensate for the lack of value at the bottom. Kansas State's Bill Snyder, who finished No. 2 in the Big 12 with $322,222 per win, would have finished No. 8 in the ACC, No. 6 in the Big Ten, No. 7 in the Pac-12 and No. 4 in the SEC.

 

                       Big Ten  

Key Takeaways

1. I see you, Kyle Flood. And apparently, so does Rutgers. Flood signed an extension last September that will bump him to $1.25 million next season, making him New Jersey's highest-paid state employee, per Keith Sargeant of NJ.com. Even then, however, Flood's eight wins would have made him the No. 2 value among power-five head coaches. As it stands, he was the runaway No. 1.

2. Former Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen was one of the best values, in addition to one of the best overall coaches, in high-major college football last season. New head coach Paul Chryst has big shoes to fill after Andersen left for Oregon State. The Badgers will pay Chryst an average of $2.5 million per season, according to Lance Allen of TMJ4 in Milwaukee. Andersen won 19 games in two seasons on a smaller contract, while Chryst went 13-12 at Pittsburgh.

 

                       Pac-12  

Key Takeaways

1. Eight Pac-12 head coaches earned more money last year than Mark Helfrich—and that's omitting Steve Sarkisian, whose salary USC did not disclose, but which one can assume exceeded $2 million. Despite that, Helfrich led Oregon to a Pac-12 title, a victory over Florida State in the Rose Bowl and a trip to the national championship game. In February, the Ducks rewarded their head coach with a lucrative and well-earned contract extension, which will pay an average of $3.5 million over five seasons, starting with $3.15 million in 2015.

"The success of our student -athletes on the field and in the classroom will continue with Mark 's leadership," said Director of Athletics Rob Mullens, per the official news release, "and we are thrilled that he will stay at home in Oregon for a long time to come."

2. Not a good look for Mike Leach, whose $2.75 million salary exceeds that of Arizona State head coach Todd Graham. Leach earned his money two seasons ago, when he led Washington State to a surprising bowl game, but the Cougars regressed badly in 2014. Great as Leach can be, another down season might land him on the hot seat.

 

                       SEC  

*did not coach Florida's bowl game

1. Let's start with the obvious: No SEC coach earned less than $300,000 per win. Only four earned less than $420,000. However, while indicting at first glance, most of that concerns the size of SEC head coaching contracts in general. In this regard, one could argue SEC wins are worth more than other conference wins, since they come, by and large, against coaches with bigger salaries. It all depends on how you want to look at it. And that, of course, depends on how you feel about SEC football.

2. Alabama head coach Nick Saban will always rank toward the bottom of this list. His $7.16 million salary is the highest in college football, so even if Alabama went 15-0, his stipend per win, $477,346, would rank below the 50th percentile for power-conference coaches. Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin has a similar, albeit less extreme, predicament.

 

                       Full FBS Value Chart  

*fired midseason

Key Takeaway

On a win-per-dollar basis, the little guys will always beat the big guys. The No. 1 power-conference value, Flood, rank No. 30 on the full FBS table. The No. 3 power-conference value, Andersen, ranks No. 50.

Again, reading these numbers requires context. Power conference teams pay more per win because their wins, when accumulated near 10 or 11 per season, lead to major bowls on national stages.

And those are worth every penny.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeigh35

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Football: How Defensive Injuries Will Impact Crimson Tide's Spring

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama will be a little short-handed on the defensive side of the ball this spring.

Cornerback Cyrus Jones and linebacker Denzel Devall—two regular defensive starters and rising seniors—will miss the spring with injuries suffered during the season, according to an announcement from Alabama coach Nick Saban after Friday’s first session of the spring. Devall had foot surgery while Jones had cartilage in his hip repaired.

These two injuries aren’t the end of the world by any means. In fact, long-term, they may end up being blessings in disguise.

Jones and Devall are two veterans who know the ins and outs of the defense and Saban’s system. They won’t fall behind or miss much by having to sit out the spring.

But this is a massive opportunity for young players at both positions. The Crimson Tide have stars in the making at both spots, a process that could get a little bit of a boost with these extra reps.

At cornerback, Alabama has an embarrassment of riches.

Bradley Sylve, Eddie Jackson and Tony Brown all started games opposite Jones this season. That No. 2 starter was never really solidified, and those three were going to be the ones duking it out for the honor anyway. Now, that process will be accelerated with two spots for starting reps this spring instead of just one.

Behind them, former 5-star Marlon Humphrey should be in line for some sort of playing time after redshirting last season. He should be at least the No. 4 cornerback, getting second-team reps for much of the spring.

Fans are no doubt excited to watch Humphrey’s growth, and they’ll get a chance to do so, but the really intriguing matchup here is between Brown and Jackson, as it's where the No. 2 starter will probably come from.

Both played a lot last year, and both took their fair share of lumps and should be more seasoned and improved in 2015.

Where you’re likely to see a more tangible impact, though, is at outside linebacker.

Devall saw limited playing time last year between his injuries and the wealth of depth behind him. That wealth of talent should be set to shine next year. Senior inside linebacker Reggie Ragland pointed out two in particular.

"Like I tell Tim (Williams), Rashaan (Evans) all the time, 'Denzel's out, it's time for you to step up,’” Ragland said.

At 6’3”, 242 pounds, Williams is everything you look for in a 3-4 pass-rusher. He has shown flashes of that at times during his career, but hasn’t been able to put things together over a consistent stretch.

“I told Tim, ‘You're going on your third year and it's time for him to step up and be the man that you can be,’” Ragland said.

“Because if he puts his mind to it, he can be the best pass-rusher in the country. He can lead the country in sacks, that's how fast and physical he is. He's just got to keep getting in that playbook and keep learning it, because I know he's physical. He's got to come in, and if he does what he's got to do, he's going to be hard to stop."

That’s high praise coming from one of Alabama’s defensive veterans and leaders.

The other, Evans, had an impressive freshman season in a backup role. He could be in line for more playing time as well.

"The thing is he's got to keep learning that playbook and just keep growing and maturing as the weeks and days and years go by,” Ragland said. “If he keeps maturing, like Shawne Merriman says, he's a freak. He's a freak of nature for real. The things I've seen him do, some people don't get a chance to see that and play with a guy like that. If he does what he needs to do he can be very freakish."

Indeed, Merriman, an NFL veteran, had praise for Evans himself.

"I didn't even need to look at it. I just saw somebody out there playing at a different speed than everyone else," Merriman told AL.com’s Matt Zenitz on Monday.

Both Evans and Williams will get more chances to impress coaches and teammates (and maybe more NFL stars) with Devall out. Devall and Jones will likely spend their spring practices on the exercise bike with strength coach Scott Cochran.

Meanwhile, on the field, Alabama’s future stars will get a head start in their development.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes and reporting were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Is Alabama or Auburn Set Up for Better 2015 College Football Season?

The winner of the Iron Bowl has played in either the BCS National Championship or the College Football Playoff in each of the last six seasons, and the 2015 edition of college football's biggest rivalry already looks like it could be one for the ages.

The two SEC West heavyweights from the Yellowhammer State enter 2015's spring practice dancing around the top 10 of many "way-too-early" top-25 rankings, and will undoubtedly be in the mix for the College Football Playoff once toe meets leather this fall.

There are problems to solve, though.

Alabama has to replace nine starters from last year's offense and must fix a secondary that's been struggling for two seasons, while Auburn has to replace its starting quarterback, top running back and fix a defense that hasn't finished in the top half of the SEC in total defense since 2007.

Which one is set up better, though?

It's Alabama, by a nose.

"I think by Alabama not changing philosophies on either side of the ball, obviously puts them a little ahead of the curve," said Cole Cubelic, host on WUMP 730 in Huntsville, Alabama, and analyst on the SEC Network. "Even though I think they're going to have some real issues in the secondary, they're still running the same systems and they've recruited well. To me, that'd give them a slight advantage."

Plus, it's already clear that Alabama can win at a high level despite its major problems. Auburn simply can't overcome its issues and play at the same nationally competitive level.

The Crimson Tide played in the Allstate Sugar Bowl national semifinal last year with a defensive backfield that, quite simply, got torched. Despite Cyrus Jones' improvement from Game 1 through Game 14—which was tremendous—head coach Nick Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart's defense gave up an SEC-worst 133 passing plays of 10 or more yards.

That cost them in New Orleans, as Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones lit up Alabama to the tune of 13.5 yards per completion.

At least the Tide got there, though. A big reason they were there to begin with was a fast and physical defensive line that included A'Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed, D.J. Pettway, Jonathan Allen and a host of others who helped mask Alabama's primary problem as much as possible.

All of those players return this season, which should allow history to repeat itself.

"They're going to have the best defensive line in the nation," said Cubelic, "as well as one of the best linebackers in the nation in (Reggie) Ragland."

Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin had a big role in it, as well.

In his first season in charge of the Crimson Tide's offense, Kiffin set the school record in total offense (484.5 yards per game) with quarterback Blake Sims, who played running back at one point in his Alabama career. 

Is it a little bit different this season with nine new starters? Sure. Kiffin won't have wide receiver Amari Cooper to rely on, but there are still plenty of playmakers on the offense to choose from, including running backs Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake, wide receivers ArDarius Stewart, Cam Sims, Robert Foster and Chris Black, as well as tight end O.J. Howard.

Are you willing to doubt Kiffin after last year's success?

I'm not.

Kiffin has a medium-sized village of talented players to work with, and last year's success with Sims, when combined with success at other schools, should give Tide fans confidence that he will make it work with whoever steps forward in the five-man quarterback battle.

One player in that battle, senior Jake Coker, showed more comfort in the system last Friday at Alabama's first spring practice, according to Saban (via Michael Casagrande of AL.com).

"You know, today is the first day, he certainly seemed a lot more confident out there and comfortable," said Saban. "Obviously when he started last year it was a whole new offense to him, everyone was ahead of him and right now I feel like right now he's a lot more comfortable and confident with what we're doing."

Alabama's offense doesn't have to be a sequel to last year's smash hit in order for the team to stay competitive, though.

"If they decide to throttle back and go more towards a run-heavy offense, they've probably got the best left tackle in college football (Cam Robinson), have a pretty good center (Ryan Kelly) coming back and one of the best running backs in the league in Derrick Henry," said Cubelic.

"They're one of the few teams that can get around the lack of a big-time quarterback based on the style of football that they're capable of playing."

That's not to say that Auburn won't compete too.

There are roster holes to fill, sure. But head coach Gus Malzahn was the first coordinator in FBS history to produce a 5,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard rusher and three 1,000-yard receivers in the same season, when he was with Tulsa in 2007. Plus, he has produced 12 1,000-yard rushers in nine seasons as a college head or assistant coach.

His system works, regardless of pieces.

Those pieces this year—including pro-style passer Jeremy Johnson, superstar wide receiver D'haquille "Duke" Williams and junior college transfer running back Jovon Robinson—are still supremely talented and will put up video game statistics on the Plains.

"We've seen a little bit of Jeremy Johnson, but there still needs to be somebody to step up opposite of Williams," said Cubelic. "If they don't, teams will be able to roll coverage, bracket him and minimize what he's able to do."

The big question is on defense, where Will Muschamp was brought in to fix a unit that has been a sore spot ever since the end of the Tommy Tuberville era.

He's got players, but Auburn has gone through Paul Rhoads, Ted Roof and Ellis Johnson as its defensive coordinators since it last finished in the top half of the SEC in total defense (not coincidentally, with Muschamp). Is he the solution to the lingering problem?

As Bill Connelly of SB Nation notes, the stats suggest he could be.

He has a solid foundation to work with up front, with defensive end Carl Lawson returning from a torn ACL and joining Montravius Adams along the defensive line, Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost at linebacker and Jonathan Jones—one of the most underrated cornerbacks in the SEC—anchoring the back end.

But the climb is steeper for Auburn than for Alabama, as Saban has the program to a point where its "down years" are still 10-win seasons. 

It looks like the Iron Bowl could decide the SEC West title for the second time in three seasons, and while both teams look like national title contenders, Alabama has a slight edge heading into spring practice.

"Alabama is the safest bet," says Cubelic, "but Auburn has the potential to be a better team."

The battle that ensues between now and then should add more spice to a rivalry that's already the college football equivalent of habanero sauce.

 

 

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

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

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