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Why Ole Miss Secondary Could Be Surprise Unit of SEC Football in 2014

When you think of the potentially great secondaries in the SEC, Florida is likely the first unit that comes to mind, with LSU and Alabama not far behind thanks to their upside.

A team you probably won't find on that list is Ole Miss. That's a shame, because by season's end Ole Miss' secondary could be the surprise unit of the SEC.

Yes, the same Ole Miss secondary that finished eighth in the SEC in pass defense (215.5 YPG) and yards per attempt (7.0) last year.

Why?

Because for the most part, it's the same—and getting deeper.

AP All-American Cody Prewitt is back at free safety and will be joined by fellow returning starters Trae Elston and Tony Conner at "Rover" and the hybrid "Husky" spot, respectively. That trio can cover, can run and can hit—and, more importantly for head coach Hugh Freeze, provides the Rebels options.

Prewitt has already established himself as one of the top safeties in the game, but could drop down to linebacker in certain situations against certain teams.

"If we feel like we can get into an eight-man front against some of the offenses that we're running against, then he will be that guy," Freeze told B/R in March. "I do feel his future, if he continues to mature, is as an outside linebacker for the next level. But he's a pretty good safety, too. You'll see him roll down some, but he won't do it full time."

If that happens, it could be up to C.J. Hampton—a 4-star safety in the class of 2014—to take on a heavier workload in the back end of the secondary. He was listed as the 36th-most-important Rebel this year by Hugh Kellenberger of the Clarion-Ledger of Jacksonville, Mississippi, due to his work this spring, ability in coverage and big-play ability.

At corner, Senquez Golson has enjoyed quite a career in Oxford. The senior has six career interceptions and 93 tackles over the last three seasons and, despite a 5'9" frame, plays tough against bigger receivers and sticks to them like glue downfield.

He was arrested over the weekend for disorderly conduct, according to USA Today. While that's not ideal, the report states that the school will handle the matter internally. Unless something else coincided with the disorderly conduct, it's unlikely to cost Golson a big chunk of the seasons.

Mike Hilton and Derrick Jones give the Rebels two experienced options at the other cornerback spot and provide depth if they have to move pieces around on the fly.

That experience, coupled with a fierce pass rush, should pay huge dividends in 2014.

Robert Nkemdiche will move full time to defensive tackle this year, after playing both tackle and end (and a little running back) during his true freshman campaign. At 6'4", 277 pounds, he has the strength of an interior lineman but the speed and quickness of an end, which will force opposing offensive lines to focus on him. That means plenty of opportunities to create pressure for Woodrow Hamilton and, potentially, senior Lavon Hooks inside and C.J. Johnson outside.

Ole Miss' defensive line is deep, talented and versatile, which means they'll create pressure with four routinely and give the back end of the defense plenty of opportunities to capitalize on mistakes.

Don't sleep on the Rebels' secondary. It has the experience and the supporting cast to be one of the biggest surprises in the SEC in 2014.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted, all stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.com.


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Oregon Football: Incoming Freshmen Most Likely to Start This Season

True freshmen such as De'Anthony Thomas and Thomas Tyner have stormed onto the scene at Oregon in recent years, making instant impacts for the Ducks.  

Head coach Mark Helfrich was not shy about using first-year players in his debut season. Along with Tyner, true freshmen tight end Johnny Mundt, offensive lineman Cameron Hunt and kicker Matt Wogan started at some point last season.  

Most of the 2014 signing class arrived on campus earlier this week. A few will earn the opportunity to make similar splashes in their debut campaign.  

 

CB Arrion Springs 

Losing three starters from the secondary means a wide-open competition heading into preseason camp. Arrion Springs, a 4-star cornerback from San Antonio, should factor into that competition.

Springs is the latest high-profile addition from Oregon's recruiting pipeline into Texas and the most highly rated defensive prospect in the Ducks' 2014 class. He earned impressive marks across the board per 247Sports' analysis, particularly his instincts and speed. 

Those are two qualities that should play well in an Oregon secondary built to generate turnovers. Since 2010, the Ducks have ranked no worse than No. 23 nationally in interceptions, and they were the Football Bowl Subdivision leaders in 2012. 

The defensive backs' ability to exploit mistakes is an invaluable component of Oregon's overwhelming style, and Springs has the skill set to contribute immediately on that front. 

Springs will compete with veterans Troy Hill and Dior Mathis, as well as junior college transfer Dominique Harrison, for the starting cornerback spot opposite All-American Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. Whether or not he wins the starting job, expect Springs to see ample playing time in nickel and dime formations against multiple-receiver sets—of which Oregon will see plenty in the uptempo Pac-12.  

 

WR Jalen Brown

Only Springs and ballyhooed running back Royce Freeman earned higher marks from 247Sports than wide receiver Jalen Brown, a 4-star prospect out of Phoenix. 

"Really physical receiver, can really go up and get the ball with high, strong hands" is how Helfrich described Brown to Andrew Greif of The Oregonian

Despite losing Josh Huff to the NFL and Bralon Addison to injury, Brown has an uphill climb to crack the top of the depth cart at receiver. The Ducks have veterans Dwayne Stanford and Keanon Lowe ready, and redshirt freshmen Darren Carrington and Devon Allen impressed in the spring. 

But Brown's early enrollment gave him an opportunity to work in other capacities, and vacancies on special teams could translate to an early starting role. Brown handled some kick return duties in the spring game, running back two kickoffs for 22 total yards.  

The Ducks also welcome an impressive trio of junior college transfers who could compete for starting spots, particularly if injury necessitates changes to the lineup. 

Defensive lineman Tui Talia's impressive spring game may be a springboard into the rotation, particularly if injuries become a problem for the unit, as they were late in 2013. 

Offensive guard Haniteli Lousi gives offensive line coach Steve Greatwood options on the interior, while Harrison is competing for a spot in the secondary at cornerback. 

 

Recruiting rankings and information culled from 247Sports.com composite scores. Statistics compiled via CFBStats.com. Spring game stats via GoDucks.com

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Oregon Football: Incoming Freshmen Most Likely to Start This Season

True freshmen such as De'Anthony Thomas and Thomas Tyner have stormed onto the scene at Oregon in recent years, making instant impacts for the Ducks...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Analyzing Jordan Scarlett's Best Fit After 4-Star RB Decommits from FAU

Running back Jordan Scarlett reopened his recruitment Friday, exactly six months after stunning many with a commitment to FAU. The 4-star Florida prospect opted to end his verbal pact with the Owls, creating an opportunity for other programs to enter the picture, per Ryan Bartow of 247Sports:

Scarlett made it clear the decision is final.

“FAU isn’t an option anymore," he told Bartow (subscription required).

The 5'11", 210-pound playmaker initially chose to follow Roger Harriott, his former head coach at University High School, to FAU. Harriott resigned to become the Owls running backs coach just days before Scarlett committed.

Now at St. Thomas Aquinas High School (Fort Lauderdale), the lauded rusher is ready for a fresh start on the recruiting trail.

Scarlett, who averaged nearly eight yards per carry last fall en route to 930 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns, is rated 10th nationally among running backs in 247Sports' composite rankings. He has lofty ambitions for his football career, which will lead him to a more high-profile college campus.

"At my position, you need your body and at FAU, I would need to carry the team and I'm trying to get my body ready for the NFL," Scarlett told Ryan S. Clark of the Sun-Sentinel.

He identified Ohio State, South Carolina, Miami and Florida State as programs primarily on his radar during a conversation with Bartow. Scarlett also shared his plans to take all five of his official visits before announcing a new pledge, which may not occur until the U.S. Army All-American Game in January.

Each of the programs he mentioned have varying needs at running back, which could ultimately determine how they stack up in his hierarchy of options.

Florida State landed 5-star prospect Dalvin Cook during the 2014 recruiting cycle, but the team is still searching for a 2015 back. The Seminoles missed on hometown standout D'Anfernee McGriff, who committed to Auburn, but remain top contenders for 4-star talents Jacques Patrick (Orlando) and Johnny Frasier (North Carolina).

Scarlett spent time in Tallahassee last season and told Bartow he's "been talking to [Florida State] a lot".

Miami also aims to keep Scarlett near home and welcomed him for a visit this week. The Hurricanes landed Joseph Yearby, Cook's backfield mate at Miami Central High School, in 2014 and are already in good shape at the position during this cycle.

Head coach Al Golden holds commits from 4-star Florida running backs Dexter Williams and Mark Walton. While Miami will surely show interest in a talent like Scarlett, those rushers are currently the team's top-ranked commits in the class.

Ohio State is in the mix for multiple marquee running backs, including top-ranked rusher Damien Harris (Kentucky). Larry Scott, a 4-star recruit from Ohio, is expected to choose between the Buckeyes and Michigan State next month, per Ari Wasserman of the Northeast Ohio Media Group.

Scarlett told Bartow he'd like to attend Friday Night Lights, the team's signature recruiting camp, in July. Urban Meyer will look to accommodate those plans to get him in Columbus.

South Carolina hasn't hosted him on campus yet, but Scarlett told Bartow the Gamecocks are "coming after me hard". Steve Spurrier has sustained recruiting success in the Sunshine State, including the 2013 signing of 4-star linebacker Skai Moore, who played with Scarlett at University High School.

The team didn't sign a top-tier running back in February and is still in the hunt for one in its 2015 class.  South Carolina is also targeting in-state rusher Ty'Son Williams, along with A.J. Turner (Virginia).

At this stage, given the Gamecocks' heavy interest and need for an infusion of talent in the offensive backfield, South Carolina presents the strongest fit for Scarlett. Of course, plenty could change along the path to signing day.

Aside from Scarlett's four favorites, expect other teams to make inquiries now that he's officially back on the market. Though he told Bartow that Florida is "probably" the only other program that could make a move, don't be surprised if heavy interest arrives from as far away as USC.

FAU needed to hold onto Scarlett's commitment for 14 months. The Owls didn't make it halfway there, and now one of the county's most electric offensive weapons is once again up for grabs.

 

Recruit information and ratings courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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Auburn Football: 7 True Freshmen Who Will Contribute in 2014

With two months left before the start of football season, the 2014 Auburn Tigers are finally at full strength.

According to AL.com's Wesley Sinor, all 24 signees from Auburn's latest recruiting class have academically qualified and enrolled on the Plains with this week's arrivals of defensive linemen DaVonte Lambert, Devaroe Lawrence and Justin Thornton.

Head coach Gus Malzahn and his staff let several fresh faces play important roles in 2013, including former National Defensive Lineman of the Week Carl Lawson and reliable wide receiver Marcus Davis.

Although they return most of their starters this season, the Tigers are sure to have a few early stars from the nation's No. 6 recruiting class, per 247Sports.

As summer workouts continue for the 2014 Tigers, let's take a look at seven true freshmen who will most likely contribute early and often for the defending SEC champions.

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Michigan Football: 5 Things Devin Gardner Needs to Do to Win the Big Ten

Quarterback Devin Gardner is Michigan’s best hope for a berth in the Big Ten championship game. It’s been ten years since the Wolverines won the Big Ten, and the pressure is mounting on Brady Hoke to lead his “Michigan Men” back to national prominence.

While backup Shane Morris filled in admirably during Gardner’s absence late last season, offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier needs an experienced quarterback to run his offense.

Gardner (208-of-345 for 2960 yards, 11 interceptions and 21 touchdowns) had solid numbers last year but four November losses ruined any chance to play for the Big Ten title.

After last season’s 7-6 finish, Michigan has very little room for error. This season, Michigan is on the road for all three of its rivalry games, in addition to a prime-time night contest at home versus Penn State.

Here is what Devin Gardner needs to do for Michigan to win the Big Ten.

 

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

Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via Press Conferences or in person.

Follow @PCallihan

Begin Slideshow

2014 Is Crucial Season for Kevin Sumlin to Further Seize the State of Texas

Everything is coming up Milhouse for Texas A&M. It's head coach Kevin Sumlin's job to make sure it doesn't go back down. 

The Aggies have all the momentum on the in-state recruiting trail, but now is the time for Sumlin to press his foot down even harder on Texas' throat. 

There is no mercy in recruiting, after all. 

First-year Texas coach Charlie Strong is off to a slow start with the state's high school coaches, who hold the key to winning recruiting battles. According to ESPN Insider Travis Haney (subscription required), Strong didn't exactly impress with his presentation at a recent coaching clinic at Angelo State: 

“I think everyone was shocked. It was that bad,” one coach told me later. 

“It made me miss Mack,” one joked. 

Another: “If I was the coach at Texas, I would act like I had bigger balls than that.” 

Strong isn't great at public speaking, but that isn't a secret. The content of Haney's article can't be that surprising. 

Strong is far more concerned about being a great coach than he is about being a great politician. As far as presenting himself, he's the anti-Mack Brown, who was folksy and charming. Strong couldn't seem less interested in being any of those things. 

That's okay, by the way—being folksy and charming wasn't enough to save Brown's job—but part of being a head coach involves impressing and glad-handing. That raises a legitimate question about Strong being a good fit at Texas—which isn't the same thing as questioning his coaching credentials

Strong is undoing 16 years of things being a certain way in Austin, which can be summed up by George Schroeder's USA Today article about the former Louisville coach from March: 

Brown excelled in the very visible roles as spokesman, ambassador and politician. To use Brown's own analogy, he found a way for a long time to "keep all of the BBs in the box." At Texas, there are a lot of BBs.

Adjusting is going to take time and effort by everyone. Strong is a fantastic coach who can win big at Texas. The question is whether he will have the time to change minds—and perhaps do some changing himself. That's why now is the time for Sumlin to take advantage of the learning curve. To give Sumlin credit, he has. So have other schools, like Baylor. 

Sumlin is more outgoing than Strong and has deep ties to Texas high schools, so he already has a head start in two crucial recruiting areas. In the post-Johnny Manziel era, though, Sumlin needs to prove that he's capable of sustaining long-term success. 

As B/R's Barrett Sallee wrote in April, the Aggies are no longer the Horns' little brother. A&M has completely rebranded itself for the better since moving to the SEC. But Sumlin is breaking in a new quarterback and has a lot of question marks on defense, especially with the recent dismissals of linebacker Darian Claiborne and defensive lineman Isaiah Golden. 

In the SEC West, there's rarely a week off. 

Who knows, Texas A&M may surprise folks this year like it did in 2012 when no one gave the team a chance. But with a tough schedule that features South Carolina and Missouri, two SEC East favorites, there's not a lot of room for error. If A&M finishes with anything less than nine wins, it will officially be trending downward, no question about it. 

At $5 million a year for Sumlin, that can't happen for long. 

And if Strong gets Texas moving in the right direction, the Horns should theoretically begin to make more noise on the recruiting trail. Remember, Texas had the No. 2 class nationally as recently as 2012, according to 247Sports.com

Sumlin has put together back-to-back top-10 recruiting classes and is on his way to landing another stellar group. The future, by that logic, would appear bright. 

It's the present that Sumlin has to focus on. He has to win the in-state recruiting war again in 2014-15, no matter what the Aggies' record is. With Strong taking a public hit, there's no better time. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. 

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Where Will Monster RB Soso Jamabo Have Most Success in Big 12?

Soso Jamabo is one of the most sought-after recruits out of the state of Texas. His vision and breakout speed provide him with a great set of skills to build upon at the collegiate level. 

Jamabo is still uncommitted, but he has narrowed down his interests to just a few Big 12 programs. Which offense do you think he would have most success in?

Watch College Football Analyst Michael Felder discuss his predictions.

 

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital.

Rankings from 247Sports' composite rankingse.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Watch Viral Sensation Emmanuel Greene Break Down His Insane Juke Moves

Emmanuel Greene has become the talk of the recruiting world over the past week. This wide receiver from the 2017 class made some jaw-dropping juke moves during a seven-on-seven scrimmage.

Greene has several offers from some big-time programs and has chosen his top five. Which program do you think might receive his talents?

Watch the video to see Greene's insane athletic ability.

 

Highlights Courtesy of SouthFloridaHighSchoolSports.com.

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Pat Fitzgerald's Northwestern Team Closer to Top of Big Ten Than Fans Think

Given everything it has been through, one would only assume that Northwestern would take a match to the football blueprint and start fresh. You wouldn’t blame the Wildcats if they did.

Not after all the injuries—stressing the plural—which altered spring games, Hail Mary defeats, unorthodox game-tying field goals and a locker room union movement the likes of which the sport has never seen.

Through it all, however, Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald’s demeanor has not wavered. His optimism—beyond his golf game, which remains a work in progress—is as inviting and palpable as ever. Despite the turbulent stretch, he has confidence in the plan.

“We believe in the process of getting yourself ready for the opportunities that you have,” Fitzgerald said. “And I’m not sure there’s another team in the country that is closer than ours right now because of everything we’ve been through.”

He won’t say it, so I will: No team over the past 15 months has been toyed with by the Football Gods more than this one. 

The “everything” Fitzgerald referred to actually stretches back well beyond last season. The Wildcats were forced to revise their 2013 spring plans because of significant injuries to an already inexperienced offensive line.

Running back Venric Mark—coming off a year in which he eclipsed 1,300 yards rushing—was never right after undergoing offseason ankle surgery. This spring theme marched on throughout the year as Mark carried the ball just 31 times.

Despite these troubles, Northwestern still managed to start 4-0 (albeit against weaker competition). When ESPN’s College GameDay came to town for the Ohio State game, however, the avalanche began as the Bristol trucks departed Evanston.

The game against the Buckeyes was within reach—much more so than anticipated—but former Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde bulldozed his way through the Wildcats in the second half, leading the Buckeyes to victory.

This wasn’t a necessarily a shocking result at the time. But it was the first brick to fall in a heartbreaking string of dominos.

After losing to Minnesota by three points and then Iowa in overtime the following week, Northwestern lost to Nebraska on an implausible Hail Mary. Cornhusker head coach Bo Pelini’s frozen response—one not of joy, but rather disbelief—said everything that needed to be said. The reaction of the Northwestern players accurately encompassed the full range of football emotions.

Two weeks later—with a bye sprinkled in—Northwestern again lost in freakish fashion. The Wildcats fell at home to Michigan in triple overtime, thanks in large part to a remarkable, 44-yard, game-tying field goal at the end of regulation.

It was frantic—perhaps more rushed than any field goal you’ve ever seen—and the conditions were not optimal for a kicker. And yet, despite the low trajectory, it went right in.

Northwestern went on to lose seven of its final eight games, four of which were by less than three points or in overtime. It’s worth pointing out that the Wildcats' 10-point loss to Ohio State was actually much tighter. The final desperation offensive play for Northwestern resulted in a meaningless Ohio State touchdown. Well, it was meaningless to everyone but the gamblers.

“The last two years have been incredibly similar but very different,” Fitzgerald said. “The year prior, the eight to 10 plays that we needed to go our way did. Last year we won five games and very easily could have won 10.”

The offseason could not have come soon enough—and it was necessary—only the typical offseason itinerary was abandoned early on as former starting quarterback Kain Colter spearheaded the player union movement.

For the infant stages of the offseason, this was the story. It also hovered around Northwestern’s spring practice, an integral time for a team in need of reps and a reboot.

Trevor Siemian, the team’s current starting quarterback, spoke out publicly against the union. As the months progressed and the union vote approached, momentum in favor of the movement seemed to dissipate. It was a distraction, certainly, but it came at a school fit to handle it.

“It was definitely something else we had to deal with, but I think our guys did an excellent job of handling it,” Siemian said. “We go to Northwestern, so we’re accustomed to balancing academics and football. It was just another thing we had to balance.”

While the unionization will likely serve as the cover of Northwestern’s offseason yearbook, it won’t be the most significant page, at least not for the 2014 team. Injuries again have extensively altered the Wildcats’ plans, forcing the team to cut down on hitting for the second consecutive offseason.

Last year the offensive line was impacted; this year it was the defensive line, a position Fitzgerald referred to as the “hardest position in all of sports.” As a former All-American linebacker, he would know.

The development path was clearly impacted, and yet, he refuses to lean on it as an excuse.

“I’m not sure that’s unique to us,” Fitzgerald said on the injuries. “Like most teams, you’re going to come out of the season with some surgeries, and you just have to deal with it accordingly. You’ve got to tweak your plan.”

And they have. Northwestern hit much less in spring, leaving the team roughly 240 to 300 scrimmage reps behind where it normally would be. In the age of limited contact, this is a wealth of opportunities lost.

There’s urgency to get these reps back, of course, but there’s also an understanding that it can’t be done overnight.

“You could really make a mistake by trying to make up all those plays at once,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ve got to get those reps in, but we’ve got to get them in smart to keep our guys as healthy as we can. We’re a little bit behind, but we’ll get caught up.”

There’s that optimism again, oozing with unmistakable charm. Part of it is simply his makeup and the prospects of coaching at the only school he's ever loved. The other part stretches beyond his natural upbeat approach and to the pieces in place.

It’s the health of his playmaking running back, a defense that will return key parts (when healthy again), and the development of his country-music-star QB.

“I don’t think he loves the comparison, but he’s a lot like Luke Bryan,” Fitzgerald said about Siemian, fighting off laughter. “He looks like Luke, has a calm demeanor and everybody likes being around him. It’s definitely his football team.”

Siemian has a much different makeup than Colter, the former QB with whom he once shared reps. He concedes that he’s not the kind of athlete that Colter was, and his mentality is more deliberate. Perhaps his coach can create a more accurate picture of the player.

“He never met a throw he didn’t like,” Fitzgerald said.

That certainly was the case in Northwestern’s final game of the 2013 season. After battling injuries much of the year, Siemian threw for 414 yards and four touchdowns in a 37-34 win over Illinois. For Siemian, he’s hoping this was simply a sign of things to come.

“I feel as good as I have since I’ve been here,” Siemian said. “I’ve been able to focus on getting stronger, faster and developing some timing with our receivers and running backs. As a competitor, I’m looking forward to embracing a leadership role.”

Joining Siemian in the “feeling good” department is Mark, perhaps the most important piece to Fitzgerald’s optimism puzzle. Mark applied for a fifth year of eligibility after his abbreviated run last year, and it was granted.

Although it’s been a slow, contact-free grind back to good health, Fitzgerald expects his star running back to be without limitations for the start of the season. Siemian, the man hoping to be putting the ball right on his numbers as much as possible, agrees.

“He looks as good as he has in the past,” Siemian said about Mark in workouts. “He’s moving well, and I’m just excited for him. When he’s healthy, it definitely adds a different element to our offense.”

The prospects on the other side of the football aren’t as sanguine, but there’s potential with this group when you look beyond the injuries up front.

Northwestern ranked No. 68 against the run last year, giving up more than four yards per carry. This was far removed from the 2012 season in which Fitzgerald’s group allowed just 3.77 yards per rush, good for No. 22 in nation.

“Just because we’re older, that doesn’t mean we’ll be better,” Fitzgerald said. “I think we have a chance to be pretty good on defense, but we’ve got to work our butts off to get there.”

His outlook for the defense could be the same for the entire season ahead. There are only so many things a coach can control beyond ensuring that the players are as prepared as they can possibly be.

Put in the work, follow the appropriate steps—through a familiar approach and a few necessary tweaks when necessary—and see where the chips may fall.

What happens next is another story; no team knows that more than this one.

At some point, however, the fortunes will turn, the injury list will shrink, and the Hail Marys and unorthodox field goals will fall short or wide.

The Football Gods giveth, the Football Gods taketh away. For the Wildcats, the giving season approaches.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why Ohio State and Urban Meyer Will Keep Momentum on Recruiting Trail

Urban Meyer and Ohio State got off to an unusually slow recruiting start this year, but after a flurry of June commitments, the Buckeyes are primed to make a run at another top-five class in 2015.

Like any other year, momentum is key.

Just one month ago, the possibility of a top class seemed distant. The Buckeyes only had commitments from a pair of 4-star cornerbacks as May wound down. Their class ranking dipped to No. 57 as top targets such as Brandon Wimbush and Elijah Taylor committed elsewhere. 

Then, the pledges started rolling in.

A commitment from 4-star quarterback Joe Burrow started an avalanche of activity. The Buckeyes gained eight commitments for their 2015 class (and two for 2016) in a 26-day span. Four-star prospects Nick Conner and Dre'Mont Jones, the seventh- and eighth-rated recruits in the state of Ohio, highlighted the group.

Truly, though, Meyer is just getting started. 

Justin Hilliard, Ohio's No. 1 prospect and one of the Buckeyes' top targets, is close to making his decision. 

Rated as a 5-star recruit and the nation's top outside linebacker, Hilliard has offers from programs such as Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Oklahoma and USC.

A desire to stay in the Midwest, however, has him deciding between Ohio State, Notre Dame, Iowa and Michigan, with Alabama rounding out his top five. He's set to make his decision from his high school on July 2.

According to 247Sports' crystal ball predictions, Ohio State is the overwhelming favorite to land Hilliard. If those predictions hold, Ohio State's recruiting momentum would spike dramatically.

Hilliard isn't just one of the country's top prospects—he's also one of the most well-connected.

In an interview with Jeremy Birmingham of Eleven Warriors, Hilliard said he's ready to flip his role from recruit to recruiter: "I'm glad the process is ending because it's time for me to be a recruiter. I'm excited to go out and get a class together that will hopefully be a top-three class nationally. I've been thinking about that since I got my first offer. I want to win."

That could mean big things for Ohio State. Hilliard is close with Jashon Cornell, a 5-star defensive end who sees himself joining forces with Ohio's top player.

Hilliard is also very close with 5-star running back Damien Harris and 4-star offensive tackle Matthew Burrell. If Hilliard chooses Ohio State, a wave of 5-star talent could be making its way to Columbus.

"Where ever I end up I believe we'll have the number one class in the country," Hilliard said, via Birmingham. 

Meyer has to like the sound of that.

 

All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @davidreg412.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

LSU Football: Will Tigers RB Kenny Hilliard Finally Live Up to the Hype?

Before Jeremy Hill and Leonard Fournette, LSU head coach Les Miles' most beloved running back was the bruising Kenny Hilliard.

Hilliard was supposed to be the next great LSU running back after an emphatic end to his freshman season in 2011. There is still time for him to live up to his potential, but things are looking bleak.

Hilliard will enter his senior season with little buzz and little fanfare. Three years ago, some would have expected him to be in an NFL training camp right now.

Can Hilliard regain top form? 

 

Career

Hilliard bursted onto the scene midway through LSU's run to the national championship game. He only registered five carries in the first seven games of the season, but he got his chance to shine against Auburn after running back Spencer Ware was suspended for the game, according to Jim Kleinpeter of The Times-Picayune.

Auburn struggled stopping Hilliard's pace and power, and the then-true freshman ran for 65 yards and two touchdowns on only 10 carries. He became LSU's most feared back for the rest of the season, finishing the season with 336 yards and eight touchdowns. He even popularized his "No Ceilings" celebration.

Hilliard had a fantastic start to the 2012 season, rushing for 303 yards and six touchdowns in three games.

Miles called him one of the most physical backs in college football, per The Associated Press: "That is probably as devastating to a would-be tackler as there is," Miles said. "A would-be tackler gets down low and Kenny has the ability to lower his pads into that guy and still bounce off. That's a great way to break a tackle."

But then things went stale.

The level of competition was subpar in those three games, and Hilliard would not score another touchdown for the rest of the season. He, along with Michael Ford, Spencer Ware and an injured Alfred Blue, eventually gave way to the surging Jeremy Hill. After Hill's spectacular performance against South Carolina, Hilliard would only register 14 carries for 47 yards in the final six games.

Hilliard was a non-factor last season despite an average of 4.6 yards per carry. He never rushed for more than 60 yards in a single game and rarely made defenders miss in the open field. Some expected him to be Hill's backup, but he was surpassed as the No. 2 back by Terrence Magee. 

 

Role Next Season 

Hilliard will get carries in 2014. Questions remain about whether he will make the most of them. 

Magee was the No. 1 back during the spring, but he is not the rusher Hilliard should be worried about. The player expected to phase him out of the offense has yet to play a down of college football. 

The previously mentioned Fournette is the best recruit Miles has ever had. Fournette is expected to make plays right away and eventually become the workhorse in the Tigers backfield. 

Hilliard was used primarily as a goal-line back last season. Look for him to do the same thing in 2014.

 

Conclusion

Hilliard will post an impressive yards-per-carry number in 2014 thanks to runs against worn-down defenses or inferior opposition. LSU will also trust him in short-yardage situations, particularly in the red zone. 

Hilliard has proved to be a vicious runner who can burst through arm tackles. It is not out of the question for him to regain that form, especially with the NFL draft around the corner. He is champing at the bit to get back on the field. 

But after two seasons of pedestrian play, expect more of the same from Hilliard. He will finish, barring injury to Fournette or Magee, the third-leading rusher for the Tigers.   

Final Stat Projection: 65 carries, 330 yards and five touchdowns 

 

Recruiting rankings, stats and additional information provided by 247SportsCFBStats.com and LSU Sports Information. 

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SEC Football Q&A: Will Alabama's Defense Play Better Against Spread Offenses?

Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached single digits.

Only nine weeks remain before the first college football weekend of 2014. But before toe meets leather, there's still plenty of time to discuss what could happen in the first season under the College Football Playoff system.

As is the case every Friday, it's time for a little SEC Q&A to hold you over in the offseason.

 

@BarrettSallee With the coaching changes and another year to study it, do you think Bama will have better luck against the spread in 2014?

— cfb_poindexter (@cfb_poindexter) June 27, 2014

Yes, without a doubt.

A big reason will be because of defensive ends who are extremely athletic and can chase down running quarterbacks. In Alabama's 3-4 scheme, often times defensive ends take up blocks and let those athletic linebackers clean up.

Guys like A'Shawn Robinson and Jonathan Allen can do that, but they're also athletic enough to get off those blocks and go track down the quarterback. Allen had a solid game against Auburn last year with three tackles and a half sack, and he showed off his athleticism (2:24 mark) tracking down Tre Mason from behind downfield in the second quarter.

Plus, there are guys up front who are versatile. Robinson has All-SEC written all over him, Jarran Reed is a bigger defensive end but can move and junior college transfer D.J. Pettway is light on his feet.

On top of that, Alabama has made a point to recruit smaller, more fast-twitch outside linebackers like Rashaan Evans. He'll likely play behind Denzel Devall, who's also quick and able to get off and around blocks. The staff recognizes that there's a slight issue and is working to fix it.

The big question is, can they be consistent against spread offenses? Up to seven of Alabama's eight SEC opponents in 2014 could start a mobile quarterback and employ some variation of the spread offense. They have the personnel to do it, and I think they'll have success against spread teams in 2014.

 

@BarrettSallee Which game that nobody is talking about should put a big boy on upset alert? #VeryRandomQuestion Lol

— Stuart Davis (@stu623) June 27, 2014

Auburn better be careful on Oct. 11 at Mississippi State. Very, very careful.

That game comes after the Tigers host LSU in Jordan-Hare Stadium, and that game usually leaves both teams worn out out. The very next week, Auburn has to go play a Mississippi State team that's either beat them or played them close every year since 2010.

Plus, this will be a veteran Bulldog defense with a small village of returning contributors that slowed Auburn last year (granted, before Auburn's offense took off) to just 120 rushing yards in a 24-20 last-minute win for the Tigers.

With all of the experience coming back on defense, a full offseason of work in the offense for quarterback Dak Prescott and head coach Dan Mullen's ability to design an offense around a quarterback who can be a bruiser between-the-tackles and be efficient in the passing game, Mississippi State can be competitive against the SEC West's big boys.

Can the Bulldogs spring an upset? Auburn better watch out.

 

@BarrettSallee may have already answered it but sec assistants or any assistants likely to get a SEC job if one is open next yr.

— Brandon (@bc4_bc) June 27, 2014

Unless a coach leaves on his own, I don't think there will be any jobs open in the SEC this offseason. So clearly, I think Florida is going to be competitive this year and head coach Will Muschamp will keep his job. If I'm wrong, and Florida makes a change, Florida could stay in the SEC and hire a coordinator.

It'd be easy to say that Florida would go with the hottest coordinator on the block and hire Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart. But once upon a time, Muschamp was a hot shot defensive coordinator waiting for "the big one," so I doubt the Gators would go in that direction.

Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee would be a much more appropriate choice for the Gators if they make a change.

He has learned under current Tiger head coach Gus Malzahn, is flexible enough to call games that play into the strength of his quarterbacks and won't put a square peg in a round hole like former Gator coordinator Brent Pease did with quarterback Jeff Driskel.

But with that said, unless a coach chooses to leave on his own, I don't see any openings in the SEC after this season.

 

Do you have a question for next week's Q&A? Send it to SEC Lead Writer Barrett Sallee on Twitter at @BarrettSallee. If your question wasn't answered this week, it has been saved and could be used in the future.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings are courtesy of 247Sports.com, and all stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com.

 


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Nebraska Football: Over/Under Stat Projections for Ameer Abdullah in 2014

Nebraska fans traveling to Las Vegas may be looking for a prudent investment to follow during the course of the 2014 season, and one option could be to make over/under selections on the performance of I-back Ameer Abdullah. For those unfamiliar with gambling investment vocabulary, an over/under bet investment is where a number is selected, and you choose whether the ultimate result will be over or under that number. For game show fans, think Card Sharks (and you have to see this video, just for Alex Trebek as a game show contestant and with the most epic lapel, 'stache, and hair in the history of ever).

So forget the stock market. You don’t need to talk with Chuck. Just read a certain smart and particularly handsome analyst to help guide your investment future.

Disclaimer: Advice given is solely for informational and recreational purposes, and should not be used in any manner to determine your retirement funds, children’s college education or any other source of revenue that your spouse would be upset if you lost.

Statistics from cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted.

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Florida Football: Is Dante Fowler the Next Jadeveon Clowney of College Football?

Last season, the entire football world marveled at the talent of Jadeveon Clowney. Few had ever seen anybody as big, strong and fast as the former South Carolina defensive end. He was like the LeBron James of college football—an insanely gifted athlete who had the best of everything rolled into one.

Some believe it’ll be another 10 years before anybody comes close to that skill set.

But Dante Fowler Jr., who is likely playing his last year at Florida, is a pretty good defensive end. He doesn’t have a play that was shown on SportsCenter every 42 seconds. He isn’t being covered the way Clowney was entering his junior season. And no, he certainly isn’t on any Heisman lists.

However, Fowler has the potential to be this year’s Clowney—an athletic freak who takes over college football and rapidly climbs to the top of NFL draft boards.

Let’s take a quick glance at the measurements for the sake of argument:

There's no question that Clowney is bigger and faster than Fowler. After all, we’re talking about possibly a once-in-a-generation talent with Clowney. That doesn’t mean Fowler can’t have the same impact on his team, though. Here are last year’s numbers, just to keep the argument going:

Sure, Clowney faced a ton of double-teams last season, and some people say he took plays off to save himself from injury for the next level. But at the end of the day, the numbers are what they are, and there’s no denying that Fowler had a similar impact, if not more of an impact, on his team last season. 

But it’s going to take more than numbers to do the job. After all, 29 players in the SEC finished with more sacks than Clowney last season.

That’s where we can look at the overall skill set of Fowler. We know he isn’t as fast or big as Clowney, but some of the top players in the world were considered too small and ended up proving critics wrong (Drew Brees, Darren Sproles, Barry Sanders, etc.).

Fowler makes up for his smaller frame with a nonstop motor and old-school effort. He flies off the football, is very aggressive and uses his hands extremely well to break free.

Remind you of anybody?

While the two players share common traits, Fowler is actually much more versatile, as he can play defensive end or linebacker. South Carolina played Clowney at linebacker in certain packages, but Fowler is truly comfortable wherever you put him, while Clowney appears to be more of a traditional defensive end.

That makes Fowler even more effective, as defenses never quite know where he’s going to line up.

Fowler had a field day against Antonio Richardson in the video above. Keep in mind that Richardson is 6’6” and 336 pounds and was high on NFL draft boards at one point. The Florida defensive specialist dominated the big boy throughout the game and proved just how overwhelming he can be.

Imagine that effort and consistency for an entire season. Unfortunately for SEC quarterbacks, that's exactly what's expected.

Fowler cut back on the fast food and feels like he's in the best shape of his life, according to Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel. Of course, better shape equates to better play, which usually results in better numbers. Better numbers result in more coverage, and that usually builds a player's draft stock.

Oh, speaking of draft status, that doesn't seem to be a problem at the moment for Fowler.

ESPN Insider Todd McShay (subscription required) listed Fowler as a top-five pick in his first 2015 mock draft: "Fowler plays with an edge and a high-revving motor, and he has maintained his speed to this point in his career even while adding bulk. He has good explosiveness and closing burst, as well as violent hands. The Gators have played him all along the defensive line and at outside linebacker."

Now, imagine if he plays with a little more consistency and has a season anywhere close to the year Clowney had as a sophomore (13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss.) We could be talking about the first overall pick in next year’s draft.

Clowney set the bar extremely high in three short seasons—a bar Fowler may never actually reach. But don’t be surprised if he’s the most talked-about defensive player in college football this season and if he racks up off-the-wall stats and makes a case for the top pick in the NFL draft.

That’s close enough to be Clowney-like.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

6 Most Obscure College Football Rules

It’s happened to us all. You’re watching a college football game and a game-changing play happens. You look to the officials for an explanation, and the result is flummoxing.

It happens. College football fans are known for their intensity and depth of knowledge, but they aren’t paid to know the voluminous NCAA rulebook. Officials are, which leads to some obscure rules being pulled out as explanations.

It happens every year, and it’ll happen again this fall. Here’s a look at some of the most obscure rules in the college football rule book, some of which will pop up again in the 2014 season—and some of which will not.

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5 Reasons SEC Football Will Dominate College Football Playoff Era

Out with the old, and in with the new. The 2014 season marks the inaugural four-team college football playoff system that will replace the BCS National Championship Game.

It's going to be a major change for everybody, but one thing that won't be altered is the Southeastern Conference's reign over the past decade.

Until Auburn's narrow, 34-31 loss to Florida State in January, the league had won seven consecutive BCS National Championships and nine of 16 since the system began in 1998. In 10 of those seasons, the SEC put a representative in the game.

The reasons for that dominance are many. But SEC commissioner Mike Slive told CBS Sports' Tony Barnhart, "no one will ever equal it." Because of the competition week-in and week-out, Slive said the league has an advantage:

"The BCS championship is a big game, obviously. But every week in our conference is such a struggle. To win a championship you have to be at your best every week and then find ways to win when you don't play your best. Once our teams get to this game, they know they can pretty much handle anything."

Here are the five biggest reasons why the SEC will rebound from the hiccup of Auburn's loss to Florida State and continue its run of dominance in the playoff era.

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Tennessee Football: Over, Under Stat Projections for Justin Worley in 2014

As the 2014 college football season approaches, Tennessee senior Justin Worley is in position to improve his play across the board and lead the team back to its first bowl game since 2010. 

Although he struggled at times during the first few games of the 2013 season, Worley was beginning to come into his own by midseason. The Georgia and South Carolina games proved that while he doesn't have a cannon for an arm, the former South Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year performs well under pressure. 

Unfortunately, the momentum he was building was lost when he injured his thumb against the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide in the eighth game of the season and was forced to the sidelines for the rest of the year. 

His stats through two-thirds of the 2013 season included a 55.6 percent completion rate, 1,239 yards passing, 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

For an SEC quarterback, it's fair to label those numbers as below average. However, Worley didn't have many experienced targets to throw to in 2013—a situation that should be remedied this season.

Although Worley is unlikely to emerge as a top quarterback in the SEC, he will undoubtedly show marked improvement in just about every category as the Volunteers' starting quarterback in 2014. 

Here are the over/under stat projections for Worley through Tennessee's gauntlet of a schedule this fall. 

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5 Burning Questions in 5-Star LB John Houston's Recruitment

John Houston is a 5-star linebacker from California with a great skill set. He's an athletic second-level defender who has a game that is based on speed and explosiveness.

At 6'3" and 211 pounds, Houston has solid instincts and ball-location skills to flash to the football versus running plays. He also is more than capable of flipping his hips and transitioning in space while out in coverage.

Many schools are in the mix for Houston, which is why he has a few burning questions regarding his recruitment.

All recruiting ratings and rankings are from 247Sports' Composite Rankings.Player evaluations are based on review of tape at Scout.comRivals and 247Sports.

 

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2015 Committed Recruits Who Continue to Flirt with Other Schools

Often, a recruit makes a commitment and shuts down his recruitment. He's given his word to a coach that he'll be joining the program, so there's no need to continue dialogue with other schools.

However, some recruits continue flirting with other schools after pledging to a program. Looking across the landscape in the 2015 class, several committed prospects are still showing attention to other schools.

A 4-star defensive lineman and Alabama commitment still likes Georgia, while the Bulldogs are hoping a 5-star athlete's affection for Auburn doesn't result in him decommitting. Also, a 4-star running back who is earmarked for Florida Atlantic has several other schools in his ear.

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