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Tennessee's 2017 Recruiting Class Has Potential to Be Best of Butch Jones Era

For all of those Tennessee football fans who may be concerned that 2016's recruiting class is ranked 15th following head coach Butch Jones bringing in two top-10 classes, fear not.

The 2017 class is setting up to be the best of Jones' short era at the helm of the Vols.

This week's back-to-back commitments from 5-star No. 1-ranked quarterback Hunter Johnson and the state's top-ranked player in receiver Tee Higgins, the nation's No. 43-ranked prospect overall, is just the beginning of what is lining up to be a special group.

That's the kind of start programs need to go after recruiting championships.

Sure, the Vols need to keep showing tangible improvement on the field for prospects to keep flocking to Knoxville, but this staff is showing no signs of letting up. When you recruit the way Jones has, winning almost always follows.

It's going to be difficult for the Vols to sneak into the upper echelon of those rankings this year. After signing two loaded classes that included 62 players, this year's haul was always going to be smaller. Next year will be back to a standard-sized class.

And it could be loaded with orange and white.

Let's take a look at some of the reasons why the '17 class may be the one that ensures Jones' run of ridiculous recruiting isn't just a flash in the pan.


Volunteer State volume

Though the state of Tennessee hasn't historically produced the level of talent needed to supply a marquee SEC program with in-state players, they've been bountiful in the past two classes.

Jones came along at the ideal time to cherry-pick that talent, and he has seized control for the most part, plucking prospects from all over the state.

While Van Jefferson went to Ole Miss, Rico McGraw chose Georgia and Alex Bars followed in his father's footsteps to Notre Dame, those in-state defections are anomalies.

Over the past two cycles, 12 of the top 20 in-state players ranked by 247Sports went to UT. Three of the players who didn't weren't offered scholarships by the Vols.

It may not be prudent to say "Butch gets who Butch wants," but he has done a good enough job that he deserves the benefit of the doubt, and that certainly bodes well for 2017.

There's a little lull in talent this cycle, but next year's crop of in-state prospects may be the best ever.

There are eight Volunteer State prospects ranked in the top 250 players in next year's class. Higgins is among those, and he already has pledged for Tennessee. There isn't a single player on that list who UT can't land.

Besides Higgins, who is an elite force wanted by virtually everybody in the nation, there are plenty of potential stars within close proximity to UT starting with LaVergne athlete Maleik Gray, the nation's No. 49 player who is a 6'1 ½", 195-pound athlete.

Gray, who likely projects as a linebacker on the next level, recently visited Tennessee and told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan that of UT, Florida State and USC, "I would say I like them all equally right about now."

Next on the list is the country's fifth-ranked athlete, JaCoby Stevens. Though he seems to think highly of the Vols, LSU has made a recent push for him. In fact, Geaux247's Sonny Shipp wrote this week that the Tigers feel good about landing him.

Considering the luck UT has experienced in the Midstate area—especially Murfreesboro recently—nobody should count out the Vols.

Star offensive linemen Trey Smith (who likes Tennessee and Alabama) and Isaiah Stokes (younger brother of former UT standout basketball player Jarnell Stokes) are among the in-state stars, as are elite running backs Ty Chandler, Cordarrian Richardson and athlete Amari Rodgers.

Though Rodgers is currently committed to play for his dad—former Tennessee national championship quarterback Tee Martin—at Southern Cal, he lives in Knoxville and attends Knox Catholic High School where many of UT's coaches' sons attended.

The Vols will be very much in that battle to flip him, and it's not out of the question that it could happen.

So much talent dots the map of Tennessee for next year's class, and while Jones won't land them all, he'll certainly get his share. Having a star such as Higgins quickly jump on board can do nothing but help facilitate the peer recruiting, and that's huge for UT in such a banner year.

The 6'4" wide receiver from Oak Ridge told Volquest.com's Austin Price he already has begun recruiting for the Vols:

They have the No. 1 quarterback in my class. I think we can have a great bond. I love the offense they run and we can start things off from there. He DM'd me on twitter and he said he and I can get this 2017 class started and I think we are doing that.

When you throw in an athlete who is a legacy in Chase Hayden (son of former Vol running back Aaron Hayden), receiver Princeton Fant and others who'll emerge within state borders over the course of the next year-plus, it appears there's promising potential for the Vols to build a firm class base close to home.


Hunter begins the hunt

The second key reason why next year's class could be a star-studded parade toward Knoxville is who the Vols have out in the forefront.

It helps a recruiting class get kicked off and surge upward when you've got a marquee quarterback in the saddle, and Johnson definitely qualifies.

The 6'3", 197-pound pro-style passer has elite potential and was coveted by many of the top teams in the nation, eventually choosing the Vols over Notre Dame and Penn State.

On the football field, the signal-caller is the de facto team leader whom everybody looks to for guidance and vocal authority. If you don't have a quarterback who is a leader, you don't have a quarterback.

It's much the same in recruiting.

A major reason why many quarterbacks commit to schools early is so they can begin beating the bushes for top-tier talent to join them. But when you've got a signal-caller committed nearly 18 months in advance, your class can really take off.

Just ask Georgia.

The Dawgs received a pledge from 2016 5-star quarterback Jacob Eason in July, and though they're currently ranked eighth nationally, they've got relationships with enough star players that it's not out of the realm of possibility UGA could finish with the top-rated class.

Ole Miss also has built a solid seventh-rated class behind the commitment of 5-star signal-caller Shea Patterson. Though the Rebels' ranking ceiling isn't as high as Georgia's, it's still going to be strong.

The Vols are hoping for the same returns.

Higgins represents the start to that potential surge, pledging a day after Johnson and citing the quarterback's commitment as one of the reasons why he went ahead and pulled the trigger.

Johnson mentioned Higgins to Volquest.com's John Brice on the day he committed, and the following tweet proved prophetic:

Since Johnson's pledge, UT already has picked up a couple of Crystal Ball projections for 3-star tight end Matt Dotson, who was thought to favor Ohio State. That's just a small example of what the headlines of landing Johnson can do for the Vols.

When the quarterback is in place, players gravitate in that direction. Linemen want to block for him, and skill position players realize they've got somebody dependable and highly regarded who can get them the ball.

Considering UT's current quarterback situation with Joshua Dobbs, Quinten Dormady, Sheriron Jones and commitments Jarrett Guarantano (2016 class) and Johnson ('17 class), why wouldn't an elite offensive player head to Knoxville?

It doesn't sound like Johnson has any intentions on changing his mind between now and national signing day 2017, either.

With the bevy of in-state prospects and considering Johnson is already in the fold, 2017 is setting up to be one of those years that can help Tennessee build the depth to again compete for SEC and national championships.

UT is off to a good start with other '17 prospects such as 5-star athlete DeAngelo Gibbs (the nephew of Vols great Dale Carter), North Carolina linebacker Justin Foster and Georgia linebacker Breon Dixon. That's why there's reason for optimism on Rocky Top.

Will the Vols land all of those guys? Of course not. But when you cast a wide net of quality players, it increases the odds that you'll wind up reeling in some big fish.

A couple of those were hauled into the Big Orange boat this week in Johnson and Higgins, and they're the kind of catalysts who can ensure more stars will follow.


All recruiting information obtained from 247Sports unless otherwise noted. All stats gathered from UTSports.com unless otherwise noted. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

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Brice Ramsey vs. Greyson Lambert: Updates on Georgia's QB Battle

The University of Georgia has yet to name a starting quarterback for its 2015 season opener against Louisiana-Monroe, and it doesn't appear as though head coach Mark Richt is ready to make a decision between signal-callers Brice Ramsey and Greyson Lambert just yet. 

Although the Bulldogs held their final preseason scrimmage Thursday, Richt didn't commit to either player. Instead, he opened the door for both to play on Sept. 5. 

"I don’t think we’re set to say 100 percent we’re going to name a starter after this thing," Richt said, according to DawgNation.com's Chip Towers. "…My gut is we’ll keep going in some way, shape or form. It may keep roll into the game. There may be more than one guy playing. If it was today, my feeling would be we’d play more than one guy."

Faton Bauta took snaps with the second-team offense during practice, per Towers. On Aug. 25, Dawg Nation's Seth Emerson reported Bauta had dropped below Ramsey and Lambert on the depth chart. 

Lambert is a junior transfer who played the last two seasons with the Virginia Cavaliers, whereas Ramsey is a rising sophomore who saw minimal opportunities as a freshman in Athens. 

"Lambert's biggest asset is the experience he gained while serving as the starting quarterback in Charlottesville," Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee wrote. "No, the stat line isn't exactly Heisman-worthy."

Lambert would be the safer pick based on his more expansive track record, but Ramsey offers more upside after grading out as the sixth-ranked pro-style quarterback in his recruiting class, according to 247Sports.

Although Georgia still needs to deliberate, it would be comforting to know who the starting quarterback is before the team opens its SEC schedule on Sept. 12 at Vanderbilt. 

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Jake Coker vs. Alec Morris vs. Cooper Bateman: Updates on Alabama QB Battle

With just more than a week until the season opener against Wisconsin, the defending SEC champion Alabama Crimson Tide are reportedly yet to decide on a starting quarterback. 

ESPN’s Brett McMurphy noted Thursday that coach Nick Saban wants two quarterbacks ready and a third on standby for the game against the Badgers among Jake Coker, Alec Morris and Cooper Bateman. Saban even said he may play more than one signal-caller during the contest.

The Crimson Tide have national championship aspirations once again this season after falling short in the initial College Football Playoff, and the eventual decision could put them on the path to that title. The quarterback battle takes on extra magnitude before the first game because Wisconsin is a challenging opponent right out of the gate.

The Badgers reached the Big Ten Championship Game last year and beat Alabama’s archrival Auburn in the Outback Bowl. They can challenge mighty Alabama if the quarterback is not ready to play.

A Sports Illustrated report noted Coker “has been set back as he deals with a toe injury. Coker missed three practices this week, but threw 26 passes in the team’s final fall scrimmage on Saturday.” The report also mentioned Bateman threw a team-high 27 passes in that same scrimmage.

Matt Zenitz of AL.com recently said Morris “may be the most likely of the Tide’s quarterbacks to start against Wisconsin” and pointed to a comment from Saban himself as potential evidence:

Alec has done a nice job all [preseason]. I think he does a really good job of understanding the offense. He helps the other players play better. And I think that he has probably shown command at the position, which I think is important. We've just got to continue to work on touch, accuracy, efficiency. But I've been really pleased with what Alec has done in this camp.

Coker was largely seen as the favorite to win the job entering spring practice, but he has not seized the position during preseason practices. The injury problems likely haven't helped either, and Morris apparently did enough to catch the head coach’s eye.

Elsewhere, John Talty of AL.com called Bateman the wild card to win the competition, especially since he split time at wide receiver in spring practice and hasn’t seen the field in any capacity except kick holder in his Alabama career. It is a testament to Bateman's abilities that he is still in the race given his inexperience at the position at the collegiate level.

However, Bateman threw the most passes in the recent scrimmage, and Talty praised the way he operated in the huddle during the two-minute drill. As someone with enough speed to split time at receiver, Bateman can make plays if the pocket breaks down and keep drives alive with his legs, which gives him an advantage in the versatility department.

While the winner of the quarterback battle will be thrown into the bright spotlight that accompanies Alabama football, he also will not have to win the opener against Wisconsin (or the subsequent games) by himself.

Running back Derrick Henry is a potential Heisman Trophy candidate and an absolute bulldozer in the hole. Between Henry and the strong offensive line, the Crimson Tide should control the clock and pick up chunks of yardage all season simply by relying on the rushing attack.

What’s more, the defense finished fourth in the nation in points allowed per game in 2014 and should be strong once again this season.

Alabama’s quarterback (or quarterbacks if Saban truly does play two) doesn’t necessarily have to be the star against Wisconsin. As long as he keeps the Crimson Tide within striking distance, the rest of the loaded squad can take care of the rest.

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Ishaq Williams' Appeal Petition Denied by NCAA: Latest Details and Reaction

It has been a difficult offseason for the Notre Dame defensive line, and it took another blow Thursday.

Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune reported “coach Brian Kelly said Ishaq Williams' petition to the NCAA has been denied and will not compete for the Irish this year.”

BlueandGold.com provided more context by noting Williams is not allowed to practice, but Kelly said the defensive end has a locker and can work out.

According to Hansen, Williams and four others were suspended as part of Notre Dame’s academic dishonesty investigation that began last July. Williams re-enrolled at the school in search of his degree following his obligatory withdrawal last October, even though it was far from a guarantee that he would be allowed to play football again.

Kelly did not seem overly optimistic at the time, per Hansen:

I’ve looked at the data. I’ve looked at the hurdles he has. I will submit the paperwork to the NCAA. We’re hopeful, but we’ve seen others who have not been as effective.

I’ll go from pessimistic to cautiously optimistic, but I think we’re all on the same page, that he has some hurdles that he has to get over relative to being cleared for (football) eligibility.

Williams, who boasts 45 career tackles and a sack in 35 games for the Fighting Irish, apparently did not clear those hurdles in the eyes of the NCAA. It is just another setback for a defensive line that will not be particularly deep this year. 

Defensive end Kolin Hill transferred and did not report to fall camp. Defensive end Jhonny Williams also transferred, and recruit Bo Wallace elected to attend Arizona State instead of Notre Dame.

Mike Vorel of ND Insider pointed out the concern, and that was before the Williams news broke Wednesday:

The Fighting Irish still have their eyes on a College Football Playoff berth, especially since they checked in at No. 11 in the initial Amway Coaches Poll. However, the defense faltered down the stretch in 2014 and allowed at least 43 points in games against Northwestern, USC and Arizona State.

Notre Dame faces another difficult schedule in 2015 with showdowns against Texas, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Stanford and USC on the slate, and it will need the defense to perform at a higher level to reach the playoffs this season.

That task became more difficult Wednesday.

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Every Top 25 College Football Team's Toughest Game in 2015

The offseason is nearly over. The time for predictions basically is as well. In the not-too-distant future, everyone is just going to have to go out and play. 

The beauty of the college football season is that it provides unexpected surprises. Games that didn't look like they would be good at all end up being classics. But on paper, not all games are created equal. While looking at the preseason AP Top 25, we lay out the single toughest game for each ranked team. 

We made selections on past trends, potential matchup problems among positions and any national (i.e. playoff) ramifications. Some selections were easy; some weren't. With that, check them out in the following slides. 

Begin Slideshow

Ahmir Mitchell Commits to Michigan: 4-Star Athlete Provides Promise at WR and DB

Another New Jersey standout is headed to Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Ahmir Mitchell, a two-way playmaker at Cedar Creek High School near Atlantic City, committed to Michigan on Thursday afternoon. The 4-star athlete announced his decision via a Bleacher Report video, choosing the Wolverines over conference rival Ohio State:

Mitchell, a 6'3", 206-pound wide receiver and safety, is the third New Jersey product to join head coach Jim Harbaugh's 2016 recruiting haul. He follows defensive end Ron Johnson and wide receiver Brad Hawkins, 4-star teammates at Camden High School.

Mitchell, who also claims scholarship offers from Florida State, Rutgers, Ole Miss and Notre Dame, is the third-ranked player in his state. The young man who leads that list—top overall defensive tackle prospect Rashan Gary of Paramus Catholic High School—is also considering Michigan. 

The Wolverines now hold 23 commitments in a class rated seventh nationally. Mitchell provides Michigan with a player who carries significant promise on both sides of the football.

He emerged as a go-to target for Cedar Creek quarterback and older brother Damon Mitchell during his freshman season, helping the team reach a state sectional title game in just its second year of varsity competition.

"Ahmir is going to be big-time," Damon, now an Arkansas wide receiver, said during that 11-win campaign.

He was right.

The younger Mitchell tallied 821 rushing and receiving yards as a sophomore, per NJ.com, scoring 13 offensive touchdowns and taking three kicks back to the house on special teams.

Mitchell elevated his game last fall, collecting a career-best 47 receptions for 872 yards and 12 scores. He totaled 1,419 all-purpose and 20 touchdowns in 2014, per MaxPreps, adding 37 tackles and an interception.

"Ahmir is a very special talent. He steps up in a lot of roles for us," Cedar Creek head coach Tim Watson said.

Rated seventh nationally among athletes and 90th overall in 2016 composite rankings, Mitchell's ultimate collegiate potential remains a mystery. Michigan recruited him primarily at wide receiver, but it's easy to see his promise at safety.

He played both positions while attending a regional Nike Camp this April at the New York Jets' facilities. Despite more offensive accomplishments in high school, Mitchell remains a compelling prospect at defense and looks comfortable patrolling the secondary.

"I feel as though I'm an all-around athlete, so I really don't mind playing any position on the field," he said last year.

For now, he looks like a lock to start his college career at receiver. Michigan holds pledges from four top-tier offensive linemen, Elite 11 quarterback Brandon Peters, a pair of 4-star running backs and Hawkins, a fellow 4-star New Jersey pass target, creating a formidable future attack.

Mitchell would join a positional group that includes a quality corps of young talent. Redshirt freshman Drake Harris was a top in-state recruit during the 2014 recruiting cycle, while Maurice Ways, Brian Cole and Grant Perry are possible first-year contributors.

Michigan offensive coordinator Tim Drevno will spend this season figuring out exactly what he has at receiver.

Juniors Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh are team veterans who should factor into the equation as potential breakout candidates, but they would both be down to one remaining year of eligibility when Mitchell enrolls.

Mitchell projects as a "Z" receiver, tasked with lining up both inside and outside as a versatile weapon. He has the size and strength to feast on defenders with intermediate routes that take him across the field or down the seam.

His skill set could also shine at safety, where he flashes the aggressiveness and range to halt opponents' rushing and passing efforts. Mitchell can lay the lumber, providing an intimidating presence at the back end of a defense, and he's a threat to produce momentum-altering returns after interceptions.

Expectations are high this season for a collection of Wolverines safeties that features 5-star 2014 recruit Jabrill Peppers, another New Jersey native, and senior Jarrod Wilson. 

Defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin may not immediately work with Mitchell in Ann Arbor, but don't be surprised if he gets his hands on him a few years from now.

Mitchell visited Michigan multiple times during his recruitment, coming away with a strong impression of Harbaugh.

“He’s a great recruiter," Mitchell said following a spring trip to campus. "He’s very hands-on and doesn’t like other people doing things for him. It's very exciting to see how everyone feels about him at Michigan.”

Despite a 5-7 record last season, the Wolverines carry a ton of recruiting momentum into Harbaugh's first fall back at his alma mater. This latest 4-star commitment—his seventh since June—provides another positive jolt toward national signing day.


Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Tyler via Twitter @TDsTake.

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Keith Gavin Decommits from Florida State: What's Next for 4-Star WR, Seminoles?

Florida State’s 2016 recruiting class took a major blow on Wednesday when 4-star receiver and longtime commit Keith Gavin announced he was reopening his recruitment.

His announcement came after being committed to the Seminoles for exactly 13 months. 

The 6’3”, 211-pounder, who rates as the No. 24 wide receiver and the No. 143 player overall in the 2016 class, originally picked the ‘Noles over offers from Alabama, Clemson, Florida and Miami, among others.

So which teams are schools to watch moving forward with Gavin, and how does this development affect Florida State and its pursuit of other receivers?

As detailed by Josh Newberg of Noles247, Alabama continued to aggressively recruit Gavin after his initial pledge.

Gavin has also been to Tuscaloosa multiple times in the offseason, and he’s developed a comfort level with Tide head coach Nick Saban, receivers coach Billy Napier and the rest of the Tide staff. 

“It just seems a lot like home,” Gavin told Chris Nee of Noles247. “All of the coaches are real cool. I keep in touch with a lot of players there. I keep in touch with Coach Napier a lot,” Gavin said. “It just feels like home, a lot.”

Gavin admitted to Nee that the Tide were the only other program he was considering while he was committed to the ‘Noles.

Although he did make a visit to Georgia last month, Alabama appears to be the prime contender to FSU when Gavin makes a final decision.

Despite the loss of Gavin, the ‘Noles still have a grip on the No. 3 class in the 247Sports team rankings. However, their recruiting at the receiver position goes back to square one.

While it’s important to note that Fisher and his staff have recruited the position well in recent years, Gavin represented the lone commitment for Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher at that spot in the current cycle.

To make matters worse, the ‘Noles lost a commitment from 5-star tight end Isaac Nauta last month, and they appear to be slipping for 5-star receiver Nate Craig-Myers.

As Newberg detailed, a few receivers who could pop up on the radar of Fisher and his staff include a trio of 4-stars in Tre Nixon, Freddie Swain and Stephen Sullivan.

Additionally, they could land another key piece next week when 4-star tight end Nasier Upshur will choose between FSU and Michigan.

Newberg also noted that because of the wealth of young receiver talent already on hand, Fisher and his staff are only looking for top-flight options and would skip taking a player simply to fill an open spot.

Still, few programs have been able to recruit at the level of Fisher and the Seminoles in recent years. With that in mind, it wouldn’t be a total surprise to see the ‘Noles emerge for an elite receiver prospect later in the cycle.


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

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Martez Ivey Injury: Updates on Florida OT's Knee and Return

University of Florida offensive tackle Martez Ivey is battling a knee injury. 

Continue below for updates.

Martez to Miss Time Thursday, August 27

Gators head coach Jim McElwain announced that Ivey has been experiencing knee problems, according to GatorZone.com's Chris Harry:

One can tell by Harry's reaction that his absence is going to be felt by Florida's offensive line.

The freshman committed to the Gators in February of 2015 and was the top-ranked offensive tackle both in the state of Florida and nationally, according to 247Sports

He looked set to start as a true freshman at right tackle, working with the first-team offense as recently as Tuesday, August 25, just nine days before the start of the college football season, according to the Orlando Sentinel's Edgar Thompson.

Look for redshirt freshman Kavaris Harkless, who has struggled, to take over at Martez's spot while he recovers, according to Yahoo's Landon Watnick.

Florida is ranked outside the nation's top 25 but is receiving votes. If it has any shot of challenging for the national spotlight, it will need a healthy offensive line to protect quarterback Will Grier and running back Kelvin Taylor. 


Stats courtesy of ESPN.com.

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Dartmouth Creates Robotic Tackling Dummies for Players to Hit During Practice

The Dartmouth Big Green have found a way to use technology to change the way they practice.

According to WMUR-TV, Dartmouth engineering students have created what they call the MVP, or the Mobile Virtual Player. When you see what it does, you'll realize that it truly is the MVP of practices.

The Mobile Virtual Player is a remote-controlled tackling dummy capable of absorbing full contact. It makes practices safer for players, as it reduces the risk of injuries, specifically those to the head and neck.

This is just the next step in improving player safety. While there may be some fine-tuning needed, this invention is a real game-changer practice-changer. The less player-on-player contact during practice, the better.

Thanks to technology and the Ivy League, practices may be changed forever. 

[WMUR-TV, h/t SB Nation]

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Texas Football: Do Longhorns Have Legit Chance to Win Big 12 in 2015?

The Big 12's power balance rounded off a complete flip last season when TCU joined Baylor as the conference's controversial co-champions.

The Horned Frogs, one of the two newcomers to the Big 12, completed a 12-1 season that few saw coming, especially considering their 4-8 record in 2013. And Baylor, the league's former doormat, grabbed a piece of the title with its second straight 11-win campaign.

Meanwhile, traditional powerhouses Texas and Oklahoma struggled in the new-look Big 12. While the Sooners completely failed to live up to lofty expectations with a 8-5 season, Texas stumbled to a 6-7 record in head coach Charlie Strong's first year.

Now the Longhorns are looking up at the Horned Frogs—a team Texas has beaten 62 times with only 22 losses—and asking themselves, "Why not us?"

Texas wants to cut a path similar to TCU's and make an improbable Big 12 title run this fall. Like Gary Patterson did last season with the Horned Frogs, the Longhorns are also making the switch to a fast-paced spread attack and hoping to revitalize a dormant offense.

But does Texas have a legitimate chance at returning to conference glory this season? Let's take a close look at three important factors of TCU's dramatic turnaround and compare them to Texas in 2015.


Offensive renaissance

TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin went from struggling signal-caller who eventually lined up at receiver in 2013 to dual-threat devastator under new co-offensive coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meachem.

Texas will most likely stick with Tyrone Swoopes to start the season at quarterback, according to Bleacher Report's Zach Shelton. Like Boykin in 2013, Swoopes struggled as a starter, going 5-7 in a season that ended with the Longhorns only putting up 59 yards of total offense against Arkansas.

While he might not have as much athleticism as redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard, Swoopes is more comfortable in the spread offense—as are the rest of his offensive teammates from a state known for that scheme.

"I’m really excited about [the new offense]," Swoopes said, per Nick Castillo of the Dallas Morning News. "It’s pretty much what we’ve all done in high school. We’re all used to the up-tempo, no-huddle kind of the thing, so it’s just kind of getting us back to our ways."

Texas, however, didn't make any major coaching moves like TCU in order to implement a spread offense in the offseason.

Assistant head coach/quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson and offensive coordinator Joe Wickline ran a West Coast-style attack last season and will help orchestrate the switch in 2015.

According to Jeff Howe of Horns247, the "power spread" system that has been successful at Auburn and Ohio State is the intended goal for the no-huddle Horns, but the look sounds like it will be a work in progress.

"There's a lot of it that looks and would be similar, yes," Watson said, per Howe. "Some of it's different. It's really just our backgrounds coming together."

Just like TCU did in 2014, Texas has seven starters coming back from an offense that simply didn't perform in the previous season. The Longhorns have a veteran weapon at running back in Johnathan Gray, and the offensive line has experience—it just needs to develop its chemistry.

Wide receiver is an area where Texas needs new faces to step up and perform from day one. TCU's Josh Doctson led his team in receiving in 2013 and then followed it up with a 1,000-yard campaign in 2014. But Texas' leading returner out wide is No. 3 option Marcus Johnson, who only had 313 yards and one touchdown. 

Texas might not be following TCU's offensive recipe for success down to the letter, but the same basic ingredients are there. It all starts with quarterback play in the gun-slinging Big 12, and Texas coaches say establishing confidence is the first priority for Swoopes and the rest of the offense.

"Confidence is everything in sports and when players have confidence they can play at a high level," wide receivers coach Jay Norvell said, per Howe. "We've seen it in this conference; people turn around quickly, and it's because their kids get confidence. They believe in what they're doing in a short amount of time."


Defensive experience

This is perhaps the biggest difference between TCU heading into 2014 and Texas heading into 2015.

While the offensive turnaround stole the show in Fort Worth, the Horned Frogs were able to rely on eight returning starters on defense.

Veteran names such as Paul Dawson, Marcus Mallet and Chris Hackett were key in TCU's improvement on the defensive side of the ball. The Horned Frogs' opponents averaged fewer than 20 points and 350 yards last season.

Like Patterson, Texas head coach Charlie Strong is known for his defense—and the Longhorns had a great year there last season. Eight returning starters came together under Strong and coordinator Vance Bedford to finish No. 26 nationally in total defense.

This year, however, Texas only has five returning starters on that side of the ball.

"This season's group could end up having six or more underclassmen on the field on any one play," Max Olson of ESPN.com wrote. "They will have to replace veterans like Jordan Hicks and Quandre Diggs, who got the job done right every time.

"Texas has future stars at all three levels of its defense, but there is going to be a learning curve when you’re playing a schedule this tough."

The defense will have to grow up quickly this season or else the Longhorns could see a drop-off in production.

Players such as true freshman linebacker Malik Jefferson have blue-chip talent, but they still haven't gone through the rigors of being a full-time starter at the college level. The hill looks like it could be too big to climb this season for the youthful 'Horns.

"They know how much work they've got to get done," Strong said, per Howe. "They know. They open their eyes and they see it."

As the offense goes through its major transition this year, Texas won't be able to lean on a veteran-laden defense, although the defensive line has some established faces. It's in a similar situation as the offense—lots of promise and potential, little success so far on the field.


The schedule

In order for Texas to win an outright Big 12 title—no confusing shared titles this year—it will most likely have to take two out of the three games against TCU, Oklahoma and Baylor.

Unfortunately, this young team won't be able to rely on a true home-field advantage for any of those major contests. This season, Texas travels to TCU and Baylor in addition to the annual neutral-site game against Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl.

And while the nonconference games obviously won't determine the Big 12 race, Texas won't be able to ease into the schedule and build up the confidence Norvell said the offense needed.

While TCU and fellow co-champion Baylor opened last season with a trio of nonconference games in which they were double-digit favorites, Texas starts 2015 at College Football Playoff contender Notre Dame.

After a game against Rice, Texas hosts upstart Cal—who will really test the still-sorting secondary—before opening the Big 12 campaign against Oklahoma State.

Right after those contests is the double barrel of TCU and Oklahoma.

"Not only is this team replacing 10 starters, but it also has a tough nonconference schedule before it dives straight into some unforgiving Big 12 play," Shelton wrote. "Just because this team wants to improve doesn't mean it will."

This Texas team has a new attitude after Strong's tough first season in Austin. It will fight hard to prove the doubters wrong and make a turnaround similar to the ones from TCU, Auburn and even Ohio State in recent seasons.

But the schedule looks too brutal.

A successful 2015 season for Texas would be closing the gap between the Longhorns and the new-school powers in the Big 12. With this much youth, 2016 and beyond look bright if the offense can benefit from the system change and the defense can establish playmakers.

An upset victory—one that could ruin a rival's championship dreams—looks possible for this team. A Big 12 championship just doesn't.


All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.

Justin Ferguson is a college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Arizona Football: Depth Chart Analysis, Complete 2015 Preview and Predictions

Arizona is coming off its best season since 1998, winning 10 games and claiming its first Pac-12 division title in 2014 by emerging from the pack in the deep and dangerous South. It did so with a relatively young team, one that was expected to be a year away from competing but instead got ahead of schedule.

But two straight losses to end the year, first to Oregon in the conference title game and then to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl, put a sour end to the 2014 campaign and served as motivation to improve during the offseason.

Despite bringing back most of its skill players and the nation's most decorated defender from 2014 in linebacker Scooby Wright, the Wildcats were picked to finish fourth in the Pac-12 South and opened at No. 22 in both the Associated Press and Amway Coaches preseason polls.

Read on, as we go in-depth on what Arizona has in store for 2015.



Stability breeds success, and Arizona certainly has had plenty of the former. The coaching staff that Rich Rodriguez assembled when he took over the program before the 2012 season has remained almost entirely intact, with just one change after the first year and nothing else since.

Several of the coaches have worked with Rodriguez at past schools, most notably Jeff Casteel, who was Rodriguez's defensive coordinator from 2003-07 at West Virginia.


What to watch for on offense

Arizona started freshmen at quarterback and running back last year, while its receiving corps was mostly sophomores, yet that group managed to put up big numbers, as the spread offense operated at one of the fastest paces in the country. 

Now the Wildcats will get to see how those youngsters perform with a very successful year under their belts, particularly quarterback Anu Solomon. In 2014 he threw for 3,793 yards and 28 touchdowns but completed just 58 percent of his passes and was sacked 38 times, often when trying to extend a play rather than throw the ball away.

Solomon is the first returning starter at QB that Arizona has had under Rodriguez, so this training camp was less about teaching and more about fine-tuning.

"I think the coaches are comfortable with me, checking plays myself," Solomon told Gabe Encinas of Arizona Desert Swarm. "I think that just goes on with repetition in practice, being successful and executing the play."

Nick Wilson ran for 1,375 yards and 16 TDs as a true freshman last year, despite missing time with head and leg injuries. He's not a workhorse back who can carry it 30 times a game, but he fits perfectly in the spread because of his quickness and footwork.

The wide receiver corps is one of the deepest in the country, so much so that junior DaVonte' Neal (who caught 27 passes and had two TDs a year ago) was switched to defense. Junior Cayleb Jones is the big target, both in numbers (73 receptions, 1,019 yards, nine TDs) and size (6'3", 215 pounds), and the Wildcats also have a litany of small but speedy guys to cycle through the slot receiver positions.

Arizona's only offensive question mark comes with its offensive line, which graduated three starters and has gotten thinner in depth since then.

Redshirt freshman Jordan Poland was dismissed in July after being arrested for trafficking in stolen property, while senior Carter Wood was ruled out for the year with a chronic foot injury. Wood was expected to start at center, and without him the Wildcats have had to shuffle players around—moving Cayman Bundage from guard to center—which leaves them with very few viable backup options.


What to watch for on defense

Arizona's 3-3-5 alignment starts and ends with the man in the middle, junior linebacker Scooby Wright. The reigning Bednarik, Lombardi and Nagurski award winner led the nation in tackles (163), tackles for loss (29) and forced fumbles (six) in 2014 and was a part of nearly every big defensive play the Wildcats made in 2014.

But Wright can't do it all, as evidenced by Arizona's overall defensive numbers last season. It allowed 451 yards and 28.2 points per game, had only nine sacks from down linemen (compared to 14 from Wright alone) and failed to stop opponents on more than 40 percent of third-down conversions.

"Coordinator Jeff Casteel has worked wonders with Wright leading his 3-3-5 scheme, but the Wildcats still need a talent upgrade on the defensive line and lack an A-list pass-rusher, other than Wright," ESPN.com's Ted Miller wrote.

The return of Reggie Gilbert—who was given a fifth year of eligibility by the NCAA this spring—will help up front, but more help must come from the linemen in terms of pressuring quarterbacks and giving what will be a relatively inexperienced secondary some much-needed support.

Senior spur safety Will Parks will anchor the back line with his hard-hitting and great vision, but Arizona's cornerbacks have a combined 12 starts between them.


What to watch for on special teams

The Wildcats are very solid at kicker and punter, with seniors Casey Skowron and Drew Riggleman holding down those spots. Skowron missed eight field goals last season, including one in the final moments of a home loss to USC (after making one as Trojans coach Steve Sarkisian iced him with a timeout), but he also hit a game-winner to beat Washington and had at least three field goals in four different games.

Riggleman ranked fourth in FBS with a 46.07-yard average.

Arizona's return game wasn't strong in 2014, averaging just 21.5 yards on kickoffs and 10.2 yards on punts. DaVonte' Neal muffed several punts, and the protection in front of returners rarely led to big plays.



The loss of Carter Wood to a season-ending foot injury at the start of training camp was by far Arizona's most significant injury, since it caused an already thin offensive line to require shuffling. Tyrell Johnson, a track star who was expected to contribute at receiver, in the run game and on returns, has been shut down since mid-August.



If Rich Rodriguez were to be part of the NCAA rules committee for college football at some point, he might advocate to ban huddling on offense. Or at least reduce the play clock to where doing so wouldn't make sense.

Arizona runs at one of the fastest paces in the country. Last year the Wildcats ran an FBS-leading 1,139 offensive plays and used just over 27 minutes of possession time each game, which was 119th out of 128 teams. That comes out to 20.08 seconds per snap.

By being able to operate at such a swift tempo, the Wildcats keep opposing defenses on their toes and prevent them from being able to sub as easily or catch their breaths. But there's a major downside to this approach: If that offense is struggling, it provides Arizona's defense with very little time to recuperate between drives, which can wear it down.



Arizona drew the short end of the stick in the Pac-12 as one of two teams in the conference without a bye during the season. The other is Colorado, which because of a game played in Hawaii elected to add a 13th contest instead of take a week off.

The Wildcats technically have a bye, but it comes during the final week of the regular season, after 12 consecutive games have been played. Because of this, they could find themselves in a position where an attempt to avoid fatigue will result in sitting some players or reducing their snaps against easier opponents as the year goes on.

That could come during a three-game stretch—two home, one away—against teams that failed to make bowl games in 2014. Between Oct. 10-24 Arizona hosts Oregon State, visits Colorado and then is home for Washington State, but right before that is a tough start to the conference schedule by hosting UCLA and then playing at Stanford.

The end is even more difficult, as Arizona plays three of four on the road, including at USC and rival Arizona State.



Despite its overall success in 2014, Arizona had a very up-and-down season that saw it win some big games but also look very shaky in other contests. "The Wildcats were great, lucky, mediocre and just about everything else in 2014," SB Nation's Bill Connelly wrote.

With more experience to tap into on offense, it would stand to reason that the Wildcats will be even better this time around, but only with a defense that can provide support on occasion. Scooby Wright is great, but if he's somehow taken out of a play, others have to step up.

Arizona has a big opportunity to make a splash at the outset of the Pac-12 schedule by hosting UCLA, but a loss there could also set it down a path of trying to play catch-up in the South Division. Road trips to Stanford, USC and Arizona State will all be played on grass, and since 2012 the Wildcats are 1-7 when playing on natural turf.


Overall record: 9-3

Conference record: 6-3


All stats provided by CFBStats.com. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Arizona Football: Depth Chart Analysis, Complete 2015 Preview and Predictions

Arizona is coming off its best season since 1998, winning 10 games and claiming its first Pac -12 division title in 2014 by emerging from the pack in the deep and dangerous South...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Fair or Foul for College Coaches to Withhold Cost-of-Attendance Money?

Let's make one thing abundantly clear: Student-athletes—college football players, specifically, as it pertains to this discussion—are not employees. Now, whether you think they should be is a discussion for another day. But, as it stands in August 2015, they are amateurs, not professionals. 

In light of the Ed O'Bannon class-action lawsuit and Northwestern unionization push, the NCAA has dug its heels in regarding this philosophy. So why are some coaches acting like their players are employees with regards to the full cost-of-attendance stipend?

It started Wednesday when Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster made a bold statement that the coaching staff was looking into "fining" players from their cost-of-attendance money for disciplinary issues. Here's the entire Q&A exchange with Andy Bitter of the Roanoke Times

Foster's answer reads:

We're going to look at that. Instead of... you know, some people got in trouble for getting up and punishing people at 6 in the morning. And obviously you need some discipline. I think that's one way that you could potentially do that, to control that a little bit. These guys now, they haven't had access to money unless they've been Pell Grant recipients. So they'll want that when it's all said and done at the end of the day.

The outcry was about what you'd expect: brutal. However, it's a fair criticism. The concept of docking players from their full cost-of-attendance stipend, which is financial aid players are entitled to, is absurd. (Furthermore, where does the money go?)

On Thursday, a picture from the Richmond Times-Dispatch showed a list of things for which Hokies players could be fined. Whether this was enforced or not isn't known, but it does include performance-based fines such as unsportsmanlike/flagrant penalties. That could be a major problem. 

At best, that type of punishment scale is impermissible unless it's written into grant-in-aid agreements, as noted by two compliance Twitter accounts: 

At worst, it's an odd disciplinary move that shows just how in the dark some are about what cost of attendance really means. What it certainly does not mean is pay for play. 

Yet, on Thursday, ESPN's Joe Schad relayed that Cincinnati head coach Tommy Tuberville and athletic director Mike Bohn were all-in on docking players' COA money as a disciplinary measure. 

Did they not get the memo?

It's at least understandable that a head coach wouldn't know all the do's and don'ts of scholarship money, but for an athletic director to double-down on this issue is eye-opening. 

Make no mistake—this disciplinary measure is never going to happen on a widespread scale. Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock has already struck it down. Rest assured Babcock will verify that any of the Hokies coaching staff's future off-the-wall ideas will be in concert with compliance rules before they go public.  

Another part of this conversation raises the question: Why would any coach want to make this his platform? In what universe is announcing plans to take money away from players smart, especially with such disparity among cost-of-attendance numbers throughout the U.S.? That's a one-way ticket to getting crushed on the recruiting trail. 

The other thing it does is provide a cop-out to coaches. Get busted for pot? Violate team rules? It's easier to fine a player his scholarship money and put him on the field Saturday to help win a game, as Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com tweeted: 

The notion of a "fine" ultimately adds more ammo to the argument that college football players are more employees than students. Whether it's in the O'Bannon trial or unionization push, the term "amateurism" has been put on blast. 

Now, we have two coaches and an athletic director who want to discipline players as if they were paid employees—even if they state otherwise on the record. 

If coaches want to treat their players like professionals, we need to have a serious conversation about changing titles and the direction of college football. If those coaches are hellbent on calling student-athletes "amateurs," however, then the No. 1 job should be to protect them, not take away what's theirs. 



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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Football: How Noah Brown's Injury Impacts Buckeyes Offense

Ohio State wide receiver Noah Brown wasn't a household name after a relatively quiet freshman season in 2014, but that was expected to change after the 6'2", 222-pound pass-catcher broke out during spring and fall camp. 

"Noah Brown has had probably as good of a spring as I could've wanted," receivers coach Zach Smith said last April, according to Bill Landis of Northeast Ohio Media Group. "He's dropped 25 pounds. He's at a different level than he was in the fall. He's come a long way and still has a lot to do, but he looks like a guy who's going to contribute in the fall."

Everything was lining up for Brown to make a big impact in Ohio State's explosive offense, but that fell apart on Wednesday when the promising wideout fractured his leg in practice—an injury that will sideline him for the entire 2015 season. 

It wasn't just a tough blow for the emerging sophomore, about whom coaches and teammates have consistently raved all offseason. It's also a big loss for the Buckeyes as a whole, and they'll feel that loss the moment they kick off the season on the road against Virginia Tech.

The Hokies, of course, were the only team to beat the Buckeyes during their championship run in 2014. Head coach Frank Beamer and defensive coordinator Bud Foster devised a scheme that put a ton of pressure on the Buckeyes receivers—a scheme that worked to perfection as the Hokies stymied Ohio State in a 35-21 victory. 

Collectively, the Buckeyes hauled in just nine receptions against Virginia Tech that night . And with the success the Hokies had last year in Columbus, they're expected to adapt a similar strategy when the two teams meet in prime time on Labor Day.

The Buckeyes were already working to replace Devin Smith and Evan Spencer, two receivers who graduated last year before respectively going in the second and sixth rounds of the NFL draft. Add to that the Week 1 suspensions of wideouts Corey Smith, Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall, and Ohio State was already severely shorthanded at wideout for the season opener.

But Brown's injury has left Urban Meyer in an even more desperate situation.

That's not to say there aren't talented replacements to choose from. Since taking over in the winter of 2012, Meyer has made a concerted effort to improve the perimeter talent in Columbus, so there's certainly no shortage of potential fill-ins. 

But none of those players were having the kind of fall camp that Brown was putting together.

"I would say Noah Brown is probably the most improved receiver right now," cornerback Eli Apple said the day before Brown's injury, according to Austin Ward of ESPN.com. "There was a point early in camp where nobody could cover him for a little bit. He was just so physical, really good with his hands, and he catches everything."

And his absence won't just impact the passing game—it'll also hamper the running game.

More than most teams around the country, Ohio State's rushing attack relies heavily upon downfield blocking from its receivers. That's why Spencer was such a valued asset for Ohio State and eventually named the team's MVP. He brought a physicality to the receiver position that allowed Ezekiel Elliott to hit the second level with fewer obstacles. 

Brown was going to be Ohio State's enforcer in a similar fashion. 

Now that Brown is out, the Buckeyes will need to find someone who will not only provide a spark in the passing game but in the running game as well. 

And with Virginia Tech looming, they'll need to do that in a hurry.


David Regimbal is the Ohio State football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Caleb Kelly Sets Official Visits: Which Team Has Best Chance to Land 5-Star?

The race to land 5-star linebacker Caleb Kelly is beginning to take shape as the stud California defender announced Wednesday that he’s set all five of his official visits.

Michigan, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Oregon and Texas will all get a crack to host the nation’s No. 2 outside linebacker and No. 17 player overall in the 2016 cycle.

The 6’3”, 215-pounder already visited Michigan and Oklahoma in the offseason. However, with his fall agenda now in focus, which program currently has the inside track on landing one of the nation’s top defenders?

The Wolverines and the Sooners appear to be the two teams that have grabbed Kelly’s interest from the beginning of his recruitment, as detailed by Bleacher Report’s Damon Sayles.

"I know Michigan will probably be in there, and Oklahoma because they've been there for forever," Kelly told Sayles. "But there are a lot of schools that I haven't had a chance to visit. I'm going to Notre Dame hopefully soon. I want to go to a few places before the end of the summer."

Of those two, Oklahoma seems to have the most buzz with Kelly for a couple of reasons. For starters, as Sayles detailed, Sooners head coach Bob Stoops gave Kelly his first offer.

Additionally, Stoops and his staff have recruited the state of California aggressively and with a good amount of success. Since 2012, the Sooners have signed 15 players from the Golden State and have 4-star linebacker Bryce Youngquist already committed in the current cycle.

Included in the pipeline of California standouts heading to Norman are fellow Fresno natives in receiver Michiah Quick and safety Hatari Byrd, as detailed by Ryan Bartow of 247Sports.

Playing time also appears to be something that could work in the Sooners' favor. As detailed by Ourlads, five of the Sooners' top eight linebackers are upperclassmen.

With Michigan, new Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh and his staff made a strong impression on Kelly when he visited Ann Arbor back in March, according to Steve Lorenz of Wolverine247.

What I liked is that the coaches weren't about themselves. They were laughing and joking and having a really good time. They're funny guys. You can tell they've worked with each other before and know each other really well. I wondered what it would be like around them because they've been in the NFL, but you can tell they all love being there and are glad they are at Michigan. When it's time to get serious with the players and at practice, they flip the switch on and get to work, but they have fun doing it.

Of the other trio of suitors he will visit, Notre Dame—which gets the last crack at Kelly on Dec. 11—may have the best chance to make a move with him.

As Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports notes, the Irish will finally get him on campus after planned trips in the summer fell through.

While both the Irish and the Wolverines have a chance to wow Kelly on his visits, it’s the Sooners who have the edge heading into the stretch run of his recruitment.


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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Predicting Top College Football Week 1 Performers

In just one week, college football will be back, and so will the eye-popping individual performances that will have fans everywhere talking for days.

"Hey, did you see how many yards (star player) had against (downtrodden opponent) on Saturday? Or what about (breakout player) for (Group of Five team), who had (nearly record-breaking statistic)?"

The opening weekend of the season is a perfect time for top performers to pick back up where they left off a season ago and for some less-heralded players to command some attention for themselves. 

Here are 15 college football players—three each for the major categories of passing yards, rushing yards, receiving yards, sacks and interceptions—who have great chances at shining the brightest in Week 1. These players were chosen based on their individual success in a statistical category and their opponents' strength for a particular matchup. 

Let us know who you think will have the biggest Week 1 performances in college football in the comments below.

Begin Slideshow

SEC Football: Who Will Be the Biggest Stars of Opening Weekend?

We are a week away from toe meeting leather and the kickoff of the 2015 college football season.

Opening weekend has brought us several surprise stars over the last few seasons, including former Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill, former Georgia star Todd Gurley, current Auburn wide receiver "Duke" Williams and current Tennessee linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin.

The SEC has plenty of big games in Week 1 this year that can vault players into college football stardom in 2015.

Who will be the stars of Week 1? Our picks based on talent, matchup and exposure are in this slideshow.

Begin Slideshow

Oregon Mascot 'Puddles' Spoofs Alabama Sorority's Recruitment Video

With students around the country going back to school and football season quickly approaching, Oregon Ducks mascot Puddles made a video to get students to pledge their allegiance to the best house at Oregon—Autzen Stadium.

And he had some fun making it at the University of Alabama's expense.

Alabama's Alpha Phi sorority received a lot of backlash for its recruitment video. That video inspired Puddles to make a recruitment video—well, a spoof—of his own.

It's just a Duck having fun in the place he loves most. Now he's hoping for some friends to join him.


Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

How Nick Saban's 2000 LSU Peach Bowl Team Helped Set Up the Alabama Dynasty

ATLANTA — Could a non-BCS bowl game played eight years prior to Nick Saban's first SEC West title at Alabama provide the foundation for the Crimson Tide dynasty?

One certainly had an impact.

Saban's first LSU team in 2000 topped Georgia Tech 28-14 in the Peach Bowl, capping off an 8-4 season that set up the Tigers for an SEC title run in 2001.

It seems crazy considering how much Saban's coaching star has risen since, but it took a lot of work and some lobbying from Saban to get his Tigers into that bowl game in the first place.

"In 2000, [Saban] called me when he was the head coach of LSU," said Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl president Gary Stokan, who is a friend of Saban. "He said 'Gary, we have got to get to your bowl game. It's the best bowl game we can get to, we need to start to change the culture around here.' It's the only time I met with the chancellor. Mark Emmert was the chancellor at LSU, and I met with him and Nick."

Saban wanted the Peach Bowl badly due to its unopposed New Year's Eve time slot on ESPN and its location in the fertile recruiting ground of Atlanta.

"I go back a month later to see Nick," Stokan, explained, "and he says 'everybody that we signed this year in the recruiting class watched that game. They signed because they liked what they saw. We closed on every single one of them.' That team [that signed] was the one that helped LSU win the 2003 national championship."

Fast forward eight years, and Saban again saw opportunity knocking in Atlanta.

The NCAA passed legislation in 2005 that allowed schools to schedule a 12th regular-season game effective in 2006. Stokan, whose Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl was steadily climbing to become one of the more prominent non-BCS bowls due in part to the same reasons Saban wanted to play in it in 2000, began brainstorming on how to capitalize on an extra game.

Because of the addition of the 12th game, the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game was born.

But where would Stokan turn to fill the slot in 2008? He already had Clemson on board, Alabama was interested and Stokan wanted to replicate the traditional ACC vs. SEC matchup that had helped the postseason bowl game ascend to its current level.

"When I called [Nick] about 2008, I said 'Nick we're doing this kickoff game, we'd love to have you come over and play against Clemson,'" Stokan said. "He was coming off a 7-6 season and had lost to Louisiana-Monroe. He said, 'OK, I'll do it. You helped me out, I'll do it."'

Saban's reasoning was simple.

When the game was announced in January 2008, Clemson was coming off an overtime loss to Auburn in the bowl game but expected to contend for the ACC and national titles in the upcoming season. It'd be a huge test to open his second season in Tuscaloosa, but it would serve as a huge benefit to the future of the program.

"He did it for all the right reason for Alabama—the payout and the opportunity to play a good Clemson team would help them, but he also said, 'If I can finish No. 1 in Alabama in recruiting and second in Georgia, we'll play for national championships,'" Stokan said.

Saban's 24th-ranked Crimson Tide knocked that opportunity out of the park.

They throttled No. 9 Clemson 34-10 on prime time on ABC in that inaugural Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game and set the tone for an undefeated regular season, SEC West title and a return trip to Atlanta to take on Florida in the SEC Championship Game. 

"It gave us reassurance that we could contend with anyone," said former Crimson Tide quarterback and current SEC Network analyst Greg McElroy, who was a sophomore on that 2008 team. "Coach Saban was always preaching the process and the importance of preparation. We wanted to leave no doubt."

It also reassured the players that what Saban was selling was working.

"He always says, 'Everybody has sight, but very few people have vision,'" said former wide receiver Brandon Gibson, who was a redshirt freshman in 2008. "He set the vision for us and said that we'd win national championships if we did the right things and bought into the process. Beating Clemson in the way that we did, that was just the first step."

They fell to the Gators in that SEC Championship Game but kept momentum going in February by reeling in the nation's second-best recruiting class.

That class included offensive guard and Georgia native Chance Warmack, who was a big part of the Tide's title run. He followed it up with another stellar recruiting class the following year that included linebacker Adrian Hubbard, tight end Brian Vogler, quarterback Blake Sims and offensive tackle Austin Shepherd—all Peach State products.

"We're recruiting Atlanta because it's three hours away and they've got a lot of great football players and a lot of good football programs," Saban said in September 2008, according to Gentry Estes, formerly of the Huntsville Times. "Georgia is fourth (nationally), I think, maybe in prospects, and it's relatively close to us."

What seemed like a meaningless LSU vs. Georgia Tech bowl game in 2000 might not have seemed like a big deal to Alabama fans at the time, but that game proved to Saban just how big a national stage in a fertile recruiting ground is for the future of a program.

When kickoff games were reborn with the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in 2008, it was only natural for Stokan to offer an invitation to the man who shared the same vision to help launch the event.

Would Alabama have played in the 2008 kickoff game if Saban hadn't pleaded to receive a 2000 Peach Bowl invitation? Maybe. But the impact of that showdown with Georgia Tech was part of what built Saban to what he has become and played a part in a magical five-year run for Alabama between 2008-2012, in which Saban brought three national titles to Tuscaloosa.


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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

4-Star Devin Duvernay Ready to Change the Game in Football, Track

Sachse, Texas, 4-star wide receiver Devin Duvernay doesn't say much. Unless he has down time with friends or family, no one should expect him to say more than 20 words at a time.

There are athletes who epitomize the phrase "silent assassin," where literal verbiage takes a back seat to first-class performance, whether it's on the football field, the track or wherever the athlete excels.

"I don't really say a lot," Duvernay said while lacing up his cleats to prepare for drills. "I just want to go out and work."

Duvernay isn't a talker. He's the classic doer. Ask those who try to catch him in the open field—whether it's as a versatile football standout or as a sprinter with potential world-class speed at Sachse High School.

And when he's dialed in, consider Duvernay nearly unstoppable.

At least, that's been the case so far throughout his high school career. He's compiled nearly 1,800 receiving yards and 20 receiving touchdowns the last two seasons. He's also is averaging nearly 10 yards a rush (58 rushes, 557 yards, five touchdowns) as a varsity athlete.

And then there's his track resume. Duvernay's the reigning UIL Texas Class 6A 100-meter dash state champion. He won Texas' largest classification in the spring with a blazing time of 10.27 seconds, the third-fastest high school time in the nation.

Duvernay's athletic success is recognized with nearly 40 offers from schools from coast to coast, as well as the invitation to play in the 2016 Under Armour All-America Game in Florida in January. Recruiting-wise, Duvernay said schools like Baylor, Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Ohio State, Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Oregon have peaked his interest early, but he's keeping all options open.

The key to his success? Setting a goal and doing everything possible to reach it.

Simple, right?

"I envision success," he said. "I envisioned running a 10.29, and I got a 10.27. Normally, with my visions, I expect to get them."


High expectations at a young age

Duvernay is the son of Henry and Zena Duvernay. He's also the twin brother of Donovan Duvernay, who is a two-way athlete at cornerback and receiver for Sachse.

Henry was a multisport athlete at Joseph S. Clark Preparatory High School in New Orleans. He didn't play football but was a sprinter for the track team and also played basketball and baseball.

Zena's athletic past wasn't as decorated, but she had four brothers who were either football standouts, baseball standouts or both. Calvin Murray played professional baseball for the San Francisco Giants, Texas Rangers and Chicago Cubs in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Kevin Murray was an all-conference quarterback for Texas A&M who eventually signed as a free agent with the San Francisco 49ers. His son, Texas A&M freshman quarterback Kyler Murray, led Allen High School to three consecutive state championships. Allen is currently riding a 43-game winning streak.

In short, the talent genes are there for Duvernay. But with the talent came training—tons of training.

"It didn't come overnight. It was a process," Henry Duvernay said. "Both Devin and Donovan have run track all their lives, and they know if you want to achieve something, you have to work hard at it."

"I feel like because of my genetics, I'd still be fast," Devin added, "but it's my training that pushes me further."

Zena remembers the first time the "it factor" was displayed with Devin and Donovan. They were four-year-olds playing soccer, and a basic task from their soccer coach turned into their first athletic "wow" moment.

"One of the coaches threw the ball down the field and told the players to run for the ball and bring it back," she said. "Devin and Donovan just took off, and they pretty much were on their way back with the ball before the other kids had even gotten down to where the ball was.

"Since then, it seemed like whatever they were doing, they excelled at. Even at an early age."

It's now come to the point where every time the brothers touch the football, they are expected to either score or make a big play. Devin, the nation's No. 4 receiver and the No. 40 player overall, caught 62 passes for 990 yards and nine touchdowns as a junior, according to the Dallas Morning News' stats. He also rushed 33 times for 290 yards and three scores.

Consider last year's success as routine around the Duvernay house.

"It's just a natural habit with what we've seen over the years," Henry said. "Playing in Garland peewee football, if any one of them touched the ball, something was going to happen. We expect that now with them in high school. Any time they touch the ball, we expect something positive."


"He's just so dynamic"

Kevin Murray has spent his life shaping his son and molding him to be a great quarterback at the next level, but he knows a quarterback is only as good as a reliable wide receiver.

So when he talks about his nephew's ability to be great, it's not a fluke, nor is it a nepotic bias.

"Devin and Kyler are alike in that they're introverts until you get them on the field," Murray said. "They let their actions speak for themselves. They're not attention-seekers, and from our perspective, that's kind of unusual from some successful kids this day and age.

"With Devin, I've seen him make so many plays in the open field. When he gets into space, it's bye-bye. He does what great players do."

Duvernay, in addition to the training outside of regular workouts at Sachse, gets extra work in by snagging passes at his uncle's quarterback academy. Murray runs Air 14 Football Quarterback Academy, which helped to develop Kyler Murray, Baylor's Seth Russell, LSU's Justin McMillan and Houston 2016 commit Bowman Sells.

For Duvernay, the time spent with his uncle not only gives him extra repetitions but also sound advice from someone who has made it to the professional football ranks.

"We'll catch up and have just normal family time," Duvernay said of Murray. "He's a really competitive guy, but he has that cool side to him where you can just relax with him."

The same rules apply when Duvernay is with his older cousin. Kyler Murray left Allen High School as one of the most prolific, competitive quarterbacks in Texas high school history. Duvernay, however, knows him as the guy who imparted knowledge and allowed Duvernay to bounce ideas off him in an effort to get better.

"He played in an age group above us, so we never played together, but we've always been around to watch each other play," Duvernay said.

"When we are together, everything is just chill. We talk about life, football sometimes, maybe recruiting sometimes. It's cool to just catch up with each other."

Many who follow Duvernay focus on his speed as his primary asset. After all, Duvernay did win the state track championship in the 100, and he did run the 40-yard dash in 4.32 seconds at The Opening last month in Oregon.

Kevin Murray, however, believes it will be his other attributes that will enhance his future star-caliber potential.

"You've got to look at his hands and his ability to catch the football and ability to run routes," he said. "Initially, I think when he was a sophomore, there was talk of him being a running back. At the high school level, you can put him anywhere you want, but his position at the collegiate level is receiver.

"He's just so dynamic."


Inseparable since birth

One advantage of having a twin brother, Devin said, is always having someone around who is equally driven. Devin and Donovan have been teammates since they were in preschool.

"We've always been competitive and always played together," Devin said. "We've always wanted to win and be great. That's something we always try to do: keep working and keep getting better."

As the oldest brother by four minutes, Donovan is a 3-star athlete with double-digit offers, including ones from Baylor, TCU, Michigan and Kansas. Much of his work came as a defensive back last season, but when called to play receiver he delivered, finishing the year with 20 catches for 452 yards and five touchdowns. In other words, Donovan averaged a touchdown every fourth reception.

The twins hold each other accountable and are competitive in everything they do, from athletics to academics to video games.

Especially video games.

"We play everything. Madden, 2K (basketball), FIFA (soccer)...and we hate losing," Donovan said. We're real competitive, but at the end of the day, we know it's just a game, so we don't get too mad about it."

While the two share that competitive fire, Zena said there's a noticeable difference in personality. While Donovan is more laid-back, Devin is always moving. It's been that way since they were toddlers.

"Devin was always the child with all the energy. He was always wired," Zena said. "They always played well together, but Devin was always my little busybody. He'd always take toys from Donovan, and I'd make him give them back. It was so funny how one was so wired, but the other was so relaxed."

That level of energy has been a catalyst for Devin during his recruiting process. You can see that second gear during the yards after the catch or 40 meters into a sprint.

It helps, Devin added, to have a brother who motivates him to find that next level. Donovan is more than a twin brother to Devin. He's a muse, a confidant and a best friend.

"We do everything together. With him, you don't have much to worry about,' Devin said. "It's like another you out there. You know what he can do, and he knows what you can do. You can trust him."

To which Donovan responded: "I'm really excited for him. He has a lot of things ahead of him with the season and the Under Armour game. He deserves it. He's earned it."


Picking the right school

Duvernay wants to be a record-breaking wide receiver and a legendary sprinter at the college level. Along with playing receiver, he said he also wants to return punts and kicks wherever he plays. He added that every school he's interested in has given him the green light to run track during the offseason.

So now the question is: Where will he go?

With so many options, recruiting can be a silent distraction, but Duvernay doesn't let the process wear him down. He's already pushed a decision back to after his senior season and isn't opposed to waiting until national signing day.

"I'm taking my time," he said. "I'm looking for a winning team where I can succeed and play. I want to develop and get to the next level, and I want to have fun."

Duvernay is quick to add that while he has a shortlist of interested schools, no school is out of the running. Many Texas A&M fans are hoping he will join his cousin to form a solid, one-two punch in Kevin Sumlin's offense.

Making the right decision is key for Duvernay. Part of that decision will involve his twin. He has stressed the fact that he wants to play college ball with his brother, although he isn't opposed to seeing his brother make the best decision for himself.

Don't be surprised, however, if their parents are making only one college trip each week to watch their sons line up as teammates.

"They want to go to school together, and hopefully that'll happen," Henry said. "As a parent, you want to keep them close. Every weekend, we'll be headed somewhere."

"I can't tell the future, but if it happens, it happens," Donovan added. "We're trying to go to school together, though."

Of Devin's nine interested schools, Baylor is the only one that has offered both Duvernays thus far. That can change in the upcoming weeks, as schools will get additional looks at Donovan with Sachse's regular season starting.

If they do make the same choice, the winning school will get not one but two playmakers. They'll also get athletes who understand the true definition of hard work and dedication.

And while Devin may not vocally address the masses with his intentions, look for him to make an impact that will be heard loudly.

"I just want to be someone who changes the game," he said.


Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles

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