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Texas Football: Longhorns Must Have Patience with Charlie Strong

Nearly six months have gone by since former Louisville head coach Charlie Strong was named the 29th head football coach for the Texas Longhorns. If the Longhorns faithful want Texas to return to the top of the college football ranks, they will have to give Strong time to do it the right way.

Only six months into the job, Strong has put together an entirely new staff, worked to build relationships with the team he inherited, kept the 2014 recruiting class intact and tried to make up ground in recruiting the 2015 class.

Add in his 12-city Comin' on Strong Tour, media obligations and speaking engagements with boosters and state high school coaches and Strong has been a very busy man.

Being the head football coach at a school like Texas requires a lot of obligations that ultimately take time away from the football field. This has been the case for Strong, and some fans may not be pleased with the results the Longhorns showed in the spring game and the lack of results seen in the 2015 recruiting class.

Rivals.com has Texas listed at No. 30 in its most recent 2015 recruiting team rankings—behind conference opponents TCU and West Virginia, and behind in-state rival Texas A&M, which is ranked No. 3 nationally.

The Texas and Texas A&M rivalry is still alive even though the Longhorns and Aggies no longer play each other on the football field, and it's no surprise that Texas fans are upset that the Aggies are stomping the Longhorns in the 2015 recruiting class.

One could argue the tables have turned since Texas A&M left the Big 12 for the SEC.

In just three years, the Aggies have averaged a No. 10 signing-class ranking, and the Longhorns' average places them at No. 15. If one were to factor in the unofficial 2015 class rankings, Texas A&M's average would be sitting around No. 9 and Texas' at No. 19.

Texas A&M gained a lot of momentum when it joined the SEC.

An upset over Alabama in year one and its second Heisman Trophy winner in school history allowed the momentum grew tremendously. In an anonymous survey of four Texas high school coaches, the general consensus was Texas A&M is the leading school in the state right now, according to William Wilkerson and Longhorn Digest.

Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin deserves a lot of credit for turning around the Aggies' football program. But the Aggies' gain is not a product of something Strong has done wrong. What fans need to realize is the woes Strong is facing are not something he caused for himself, they're a sign of how bad things got under the previous regime.

A lot of attention follows the head coach of Texas.

As you can see from the images below, Strong has many more eyes on him in press settings at Texas compared to his time spent at Louisville. And it's no secret Strong currently lacks the shaking hands and kissing babies aspect of the job that Mack Brown did so well.

In a recent story, ESPN.com's Travis Haney wrote a scathing review of Strong's speaking abilities at a coaching clinic at Angelo State. Haney used quotes from unnamed coaches including one that stood out above the rest: "It made me miss Mack."

The irony of that quote is that a part of the reason Texas football has fallen behind Texas A&M is Brown's inability to keep up with the changing times of college football.

But the tables could very easily turn if Strong can put a winning product on the field—which is not something he has struggled with throughout his coaching history.

Strong did more with less during his time coaching at Louisville than what Brown did over the last four years. One could argue he is one of the best defensive minds in college football and a stellar talent developer.

As for 2015, Strong is trying to make up for lost time in a six-month period while Sumlin and other rival coaches have, roughly, had an 18-month head start recruiting the 2015 class.

Does that excuse the fact that Texas only has 10 verbal commits for the 2015 class? Not exactly, but it in no way means fans should give up on Strong and company.

Texas fans need to take a step back and realize that the change of regime is not something that will provide successful results overnight. It's a process that will take time and patience.

A word of advice: Wait and see what type of product Strong can put on the field before labeling him as unsuccessful.

 

Recruiting rankings courtesy of Rivals.com.

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.

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The Opening 2014: Full Invitation List Revealed

The rosters and teams for "The Opening 2014," the biggest summer showcase of high school football talent in the country, were released Friday afternoon, and man, is this year's lineup loaded.

Of the 33 consensus 5-star players in the 2015 class, 31 are attending. The two absentees, defensive linemen Trent Thompson and CeCe Jefferson, check in as the respective No. 1 and No. 4 overall players in the country, but that only has a slight diminishing effect.

The event itself, which will take place this year from July 6-10, includes physical testing and the SPARQ National Championship along with a series of non-contact seven-on-seven football games designed to showcase the best players' abilities.

Only 161 players from the 2015 class (and one from the 2016 class) will be heading to Beaverton, Oregon—lest we forget this is a Nike event—in a couple of weeks to show scouts what they've got.

Here's a look at who will be playing:

Note: All rankings courtesy of the 247Sports Composite.

 

The Quarterbacks

The quarterbacks will not be assigned to a seven-on-seven team until July 7. For now, although we do know which players will be doing the passing, we do not know whom they will be passing to.

Here are the 18 QBs attending the event:

It's important to note these are not technically the only quarterbacks in attendance. Players such as Torrance Gibson, for example, have been placed on Team #AlphaPro and labeled as athletes even though they are likely to play quarterback in college.

On that note…on to the teams:

 

Team #AlphaPro

Full Roster:

Star Offensive Player: ATH Torrance Gibson

Star Defensive Player: DL Josh Sweat

Team #AlphaPro is middle-of-the-road in terms of average composite grade, but with Gibson and Sweat, it features two of the highest-profile prospects in the country. Scouts will line up to see those two play.

There is also a celebrity element to the #AlphaPro roster: wide receiver Cordell Broadus, son of rap mogul Snoop Dogg, and defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie, son of Oakland Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie, have both been included in the same group.

 

Team #Apocalypse

Full Roster:

Star Offensive Player: RB Damien Harris

Star Defensive Player: LB Malik Jefferson

Unless it ends up with a number of the best quarterbacks, defense will have to carry Team #Apocalypse to the title. Its three highest rated players—linebacker Malik Jefferson and defensive tackles Rasheem Green and Daron Payne—all line up on that side of the ball.

All three are also uncommitted.

On offense, former Michigan pledge Damien Harris is the biggest name to watch, but also keep an eye on unranked athlete Tyler Phillips, who got The Opening invite after scoring the highest SPARQ rating on the 2014 Nike Tour. (For laymen, that means he's a freaky athlete.)

 

Team #FlyRush

Full Roster:

Star Offensive Player: WR Terry Godwin

Star Defensive Player: DB Kendall Sheffield

Offensive lineman Chuma Edoga, a USC commit, is the highest-ranked offensive player on Team #FlyRush, but blocking isn't as sexy as scoring touchdowns, so let's instead highlight Georgia commit Terry Godwin, one of the quickest athletes in the class.

On defense, Kendall Sheffield will be tasked with locking up some of the best wide receivers in the 2015 class. He doesn't have the length of the new-age type of cornerback but checks in at a solid 5'11" and is superb with his feet and coverage technique.

 

Team #LandSharks

Full Roster:

Star Offensive Player: WR Tyron Johnson

Star Defensive Player: DB Kevin Toliver

Even more so than Team #Apocalypse, Team #LandSharks should be a defensive force. Seven of its eight highest-ranked players play on the defensive side of the ball. (Paging Josh Rosen, anyone?)

The stars of each respective side are LSU commit Kevin Toliver, one of the scariest cornerback prospects to come along in quite some time, and fellow Louisiana native Tyron Johnson, a pretty scary wide receiver in his own right.

There's a good chance they end up in Baton Rouge together.

 

Team #MachSpeed

Full Roster:

Star Offensive Player: WR Preston Williams

Star Defensive Player: S Derwin James

As was the case with Team #FlyRush, the highest-ranked offensive player on Team #MachSpeed is an offensive lineman, Clemson pledge Mitch Hyatt. Hyatt is the second-best offensive lineman in the 2015 class, and he's joined on this roster by the cycle's top pure receiver, Tennessee commit Preston Williams.

A stacked defense is led by a loaded secondary, which includes future Florida State safety Derwin James and future Alabama cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick—the latter of whom the Tide went all the way up to New Jersey to secure a commitment from.

Nick Saban: Putting the "commitment" in the word commitment.

 

Team #VaporCarbon

Full Roster:

Star Offensive Player: WR Christian Kirk

Star Defensive Player: DL Rashan Gary

Christian Kirk, Deon Cain, Juwan Johnson and Kirk Merritt combine to give Team #VaporCarbon a deep and balanced receiving corps that includes four top-150 overall players. Between that and the presence of Martez Ivey, the cycle's top offensive lineman, at tackle, quarterbacks will be lobbying to join this roster.

The defense ain't too shabby, either. Lineman Rashan Gary and defensive back Iman Marshall give #VaporCarbon a pair of top-10 overall prospects, and linebacker John Houston Jr. gives it at least one top-30 overall player at each level of the defense.

 

For a full schedule of events at "The Opening," click here.

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Power Ranking Wisconsin Football's Positional Units for 2014

Last season, the Wisconsin football team went 9-4, losing all the close calls and losing its first game by more than a touchdown for the first time in years. In Gary Andersen's second season, graduations have stripped the cupboard that he started with.

James White and Ryan Groy are gone, but the Badgers still boast an excellent backfield and offensive line, which shouldn't surprise anyone who has followed Wisconsin football in the past.

In what feels like Year 1 for Andersen as his recruits slowly start to trickle into snaps, let's take a look at how each of the positional groups for the Badgers looks in a post-Chris Borland and Jared Abbrederis world.

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Impersonation of Nick Saban Reacting to USA's Loss to Germany Is Spot on

Alabama football head coach Nick Saban is known for being pretty intense during post-game press conferences after losses, and this guy complete nailed an impersonation of the four-time national champion.

The United States lost 1-0 to Germany in the 2014 World Cup, and this guy had a spot-on impersonation of Saban had he been Team USA's coach after the loss.

[Vimeo, h/t College Spun]

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Florida State Football: Is Fisher Off to Best Start of Any ACC Head Coach, Ever?

Jimbo Fisher had one of the longest job titles in college football—Florida State offensive coordinator/head-coach-in-waiting.

But strip away the "in waiting" and Fisher had never been a head coach, at least not until he officially took over from coaching legend Bobby Bowden in January 2010. Fisher was a salesman from the start, envisioning what the program could be as he assembled a coaching staff and recruited student-athletes.

Florida State was far from the Florida State of the 1990s dynasty days in January 2010. The program was middle-of-the-pack in the ACC after a 7-6 finish in 2009.

Four years later, it's been quite a turnaround: Fisher is 45-10. He's won a national title and a pair of ACC titles, to boot.

The impact of what he was able to accomplish was not lost on Fisher when he spoke at a February ceremony honoring the national champions.

"We didn't just develop a team, folks," Fisher said. "We developed a program. We plan on being here for a long time."

What Fisher achieved is also the best four-year start to a coaching career in the ACC.

Yes, Bowden had a higher winning percentage than Fisher. But Bowden had an established program that was on the rise and was able to dominate an ACC that, in 1992, was not nearly as deep as it is now, 20 years later. The FSU teams of the 1990s were impressive on offense and defense, but the league also lacked quality competition.

That makes Fisher's 45 wins in 55 games stand out more than Bowden's 43 wins in 49. Fisher had to rebuild the program, and he had to do it on the fly in his first stint as a head coach.

Bowden had been a head coach at Howard, West Virginia and for 16 seasons at FSU before the Seminoles joined the ACC before the 1992 season. Fisher had been an assistant coach for two decades but had never called all the shots in leading a program.

Fisher could tell he was on to something special going into the 2013 season. He delivered this confident quote in August at media day.

"I love where this program is," Fisher said. "I love where it’s going. I love what we’re about to accomplish. It’s not going to stop this year. This is going on for a long time."

It's interesting to reflect upon those words now. Fisher had a feeling how good not just the team would be in 2013, but how good the program would be once again.

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report, all quotes obtained first-hand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter.

 

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USC Football: What Trojans Need from Freshman Adoree' Jackson in 2014

One of the most versatile and touted recruits of 2014, Adoree' Jackson, made first-year USC coach Steve Sarkisian very happy. 

Sarkisian's biggest problem is figuring out how to use him, and without the benefit of spring practice, do so in roughly a month's time. Does Sarkisian put Jackson on defense at cornerback, which seems like a great fit given his athleticism, or on offense at wide receiver? Putting Jackson on punt and/or kickoff returns seems like a given. 

"I think he's going to get some of both, quite honestly," Sarkisian told Rahshaun Haylock of Fox Sports West in April. "I bet he does a couple things on each side of the ball on day one because we need to gather the information."

It certainly wouldn't be an unprecedented move. Just across Los Angeles, UCLA's Myles Jack made a name for himself last season by contributing as a two-way player at linebacker and running back. A few years before that, Owen Marecic played fullback and linebacker for Stanford, scoring a touchdown on both sides of the ball against Notre Dame in 2010. 

The list goes on and on. 

Eventually, for the sake of USC and Jackson, he'll need to settle on a position. Maybe that happens this year, maybe next. It's not that Jackson will never contribute in multiple spots again, but it's best if he grows in one position.

So which one would it be?

USC has talent at wide receiver. It begins with Nelson Agholor, who finished last year with 918 receiving yards and six touchdowns. George Farmer, Darreus Rogers and Victor Blackwell all have plenty of potential, but need to take bigger steps. 

Similarly, USC has talent at cornerback, but depth is an even bigger concern there, especially with the departure of Dion Bailey to the NFL. According to Scout.com's Scott Kennedy, Jackson has all the tools to be a great corner: 

He's not simply explosive though; he's flexible and displays terrific balance. He's strong enough to press a receiver at the line of scrimmage and can turn and run with anyone. He shows of his balance with the ball in his hands as he breaks and spins out of tackles before out running defenders. 

With depth being what it is in the secondary, there could be a more pressing need for Jackson's services there. Ultimately, defensive back seems like a more natural fit for for Jackson. It's not as glamorous in an increasingly offensive-focused game, but, at 5'9" and 182 pounds, it might be where he's physically better suited in the long run. 

But, for the time being, it wouldn't be surprising for Jackson to see playing time in all three phases of the game—offense, defense and special teams—as the season gets under way. Frankly, USC needs that sort of versatility. The Trojans are still battling depth issues post-NCAA sanctions, so the opportunity is there for the 5-star prospect to make an immediate impact in multiple places. 

Jackson will settle into a spot before his career in L.A is over. For 2014, though, Sarkisian needs Jackson to be a utility player for the Trojans. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. All recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports

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USC Football: What Trojans Need from Freshman Adoree' Jackson in 2014

One of the most versatile and touted recruits of 2014, Adoree' Jackson , made first-year USC coach Steve Sarkisian very happy...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Notre Dame Football: 3 Things That Will Change with Everett Golson at QB

The return of Everett Golson is a little over two months away. And for Irish fans who have worn out their DVR and racked up YouTube stats watching highlight reels of the exiled quarterback, a chance to see Golson back behind center for the Irish will be here in no time. 

With the Irish back in South Bend training with strength coach Paul Longo and working the playbook with the Irish coaching staff, identifying how Notre Dame will use Golson requires a long look back to 2012. While the first-year player was learning the offense by the spoonful, he did enough things well to give us hints as to how Brian Kelly will expand the offense in 2014. 

After relying on Tommy Rees to get the Irish through 2013, Kelly and new offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock will have the perfect quarterback for their reintroduced spread attack. That means a chance for Kelly to turn Notre Dame's offense into the high-flying units he had at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan and Cincinnati. 

Let's take a look at three key changes for the Irish offense with Golson at quarterback. 

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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