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Alabama Football: Crimson Tide's Defensive Line Can Be Historically Good in 2015

With spring practice getting underway on March 13, Bleacher Report will break down where Alabama stands at each position group heading in, players to watch and what needs to be done. Next up: the defensive line.

 

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Nick Saban tried to brush off the topic last spring. This year, he won’t be able to.

“Nick, you have what appears to be quality depth along the defensive line. Just wondering how you would access that group thus far?” Saban was asked last March 31.

The Crimson Tide returned Brandon Ivory at nose tackle, were building on the freshman seasons of Jonathan Allen and A’Shawn Robinson and had just signed D.J. Pettway and Jarran Reed from the JUCO ranks to enroll early. On paper, the reporter said, this looked like a top-notch group.

“On paper? What it looks like on paper?” Saban said with a sarcastic grin before putting a palm directly on his face. “We’ve never seen these guys play or seen them take on an SEC lineman or anything like that. But 'It appears?' I like that—‘It appears.’ So that’s how we form public opinion because something ‘appears’ that way so we make it that way and then everybody believes it that way.”

Alabama finished the season No. 1 in adjusted line yards, per Football Outsiders, and the unit ranked in the top 10 in six of Football Outsiders’ nine defensive line metrics. It was a good year for, yes, a deep group that was able to sub out frequently, replenishing the line with fresh and talented bodies.

And with the Crimson Tide returning all but one player from that group that was so improved last year, expectations should be through the roof for Alabama’s big men up front in 2015.

When Saban knows he has a good player or position group—or even a good team—he usually won’t oblige some of the praise-heaping from reporters.

In 2011 and 2012, Saban knew he had good teams. But he didn’t necessarily want his team to know that he thought they were that good, especially in the media, so you saw several trademark Saban eruptions before winning two straight BCS National Championships.

In 2014, Saban knew his team would need to fight tooth and nail for a playoff spot. You heard him praise his players for their togetherness and teamwork all season, and the year ended with a convincing loss to Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl.

That’s what happened with his defensive line. He likely saw the potential in the group. Anyone could. But he didn’t want his players getting big heads and resting on laurels. That’s the opposite approach to his famous “Process.”

This year, it will be even harder for him to deny those accolades.

Gone from that group is only Ivory, a nose tackle who started just three games due to the fact that offensive philosophies in the SEC have dictated that finesse linemen who possess speed are preferred over pure gap-cloggers.

But everyone else is back. Allen and Robinson are now juniors, both fully formed players from their freshman seasons that lit the SEC on fire two years ago. And Reed and Pettway—the two JUCOs from last year—are both back on a front that will have as good of a top four as anyone in the country. All four could be top-half picks in the 2016 draft should they choose to come out.

And behind them there is an embarrassment of riches.

Former 5-star and No. 1-rated Rivals prospect Da’Shawn Hand and 4-star Josh Frazier will be sophomores after a year of spot duty under their belts. Alabama signed 5-star defensive tackle Daron Payne from Birmingham. And if 2015 JUCO Jonathan Taylor can stay out of off-field trouble, he and Payne could both be impact players, replacing Ivory in the middle in run situations.

Even further back on the depth chart there’s Dalvin Tomlinson, who was No. 10 on the team in tackles for loss with 10 in 2014, and Darren Lake, who is developing into a solid nose tackle.

The depth chart at defensive line reads like an all-star team.

In Alabama’s system, the linemen aren’t necessarily relied on to get to the quarterback. That duty largely falls on pass-rushing outside linebackers such as Xzavier Dickson, who led the team with nine sacks last year.

But against the run, and in collapsing the pocket, Alabama’s defensive line did so as well as anyone in the country last year. With almost everyone coming back, it should be in for a massive 2015.

Not even Nick Saban will be able to deny that.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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Why Jim Tressel Is Wrong About Jim Harbaugh and the Ohio State-Michigan Rivalry

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Having coached in 10 editions of it—and winning nine of them—there are few people more qualified to talk about the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry than Jim Tressel.

But that doesn't mean the former Buckeyes head coach can't be wrong when discussing The Game.

The new Youngstown State president made headlines earlier this week while speaking at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Luncheon Club in Canton, Ohio. Discussing the Wolverines' hiring of Jim Harbaugh, Tressel praised the arrival of the new Michigan head man.

"I think Jim Harbaugh will bring something to the Ohio State-Michigan storied rivalry," Tressel said, via Marla Ridenour of The Akron Beacon Journal. "He’s been successful wherever he’s been. He’s extremely hardworking. He has great pride in his alma mater."

That's not where Tressel was wrong. In fact, it'd be hard to disagree with anything "The Senator" said above.

But his assessment that followed could be open to interpretation.

“Personally, I think they’re a ways away from being at the level where there’s going to be a 'Ten Year War,'" Tressel said, referencing the storied rivalry between OSU's Woody Hayes and Michigan's Bo Schembechler from 1969-1978. "I think they’ve got some work to do to get to that."

Tressel could be correct. But it all depends on his definition of "a ways."

The Buckeyes certainly have an advantage over the Wolverines coming off their national championship season, one which also saw the Wolverines accumulate a 5-7 record before firing former head coach Brady Hoke. Additionally, Ohio State has won 12 of its past 14 matches with Michigan dating back to Tressel's first season at Columbus in 2001.

The momentum is certainly in Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes' favor—that's inarguable. And according to Tressel, it will stay that way until Harbaugh proves he can consistently recruit the state of Ohio.

“How far behind [is Michigan]? It [depends] on how long that door stays closed," Tressel said. "That’s the key. Urban will do a great job, they know how to win, they’ve got a great staff. But you’ve still got to keep it closed.”

History would show that Tressel's correct, that successful Michigan teams usually coincide with a strong presence of players from the Buckeye State. Wolverine Heisman Trophy winners Desmond Howard and Charles Woodson each hail from talent-rich Ohio, as do recent Michigan stars Shawn Crable, Pierre Woods, Mario Manningham, Jordan Kovacs, Frank Clark and Fitzgerald Toussaint.

Heck, even Harbaugh, Hoke and Schembechler were born in Ohio.

But while recruiting Ohio has proven beneficial throughout the Wolverines' storied history, it hasn't always equated to success in Ann Arbor.

In order to see this, one must look no further than Hoke, who arrived in Michigan in 2011, the same year Tressel was ousted from Ohio State after committing NCAA violations. In his first recruiting class, Hoke took advantage of the uncertainty surrounding the rival Buckeyes, landing four players from Ohio including Clark, center Jack Miller, defensive end Chris Rock and defensive end Keith Heitzman.

A year later, Hoke would add nine Ohio natives to his roster only to see his program decline in the four seasons he was at the helm.

The problem was that while Hoke was attracting talented players—including some of Ohio's best—they rarely developed under his watch. That shouldn't be a problem with Harbaugh, who turned around San Jose and Stanford during his previous college coaching stints before taking the 49ers to three consecutive NFC title games and a Super Bowl.

And despite what Tressel says, in order to turn Michigan around, he may not need to rely on Ohio to do it.

While it's always beneficial to successfully recruit a state with as much talent as Ohio, Harbaugh's celebrity has instantly restored credibility to the Wolverines as a national brand. More importantly, his ties in California should bode well for Michigan's ability to recruit the Golden State, which has also been a vital pipeline for the Wolverines in the past.

Offensive coordinator Tim Drevno's presence will only increase Michigan's efforts in California, while defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin and defensive line coach Greg Mattison give Harbaugh ties to talent-rich Florida as well. If Michigan can consistently recruit California and Florida while also cherry-picking national prospects and the best in its own backyard, whatever Harbaugh can pull from Ohio could be a bonus.

And Tressel isn't counting out Harbaugh doing that, either.

"If anyone can do it, Jim Harbaugh can," he said. "He’ll do a great job.”

Maybe he wasn't wrong after all.

 

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

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Top Pioneers in College Football History

Where would we be without the pioneers of college football?

Since Princeton and Rutgers played the first-ever college game in 1869, the sport has gone through countless notable changes to the point that if someone from that era checked out a current game it would seem unrecognizable.

Imagine a time traveler from nearly 150 years ago getting two seats on the 50-yard line at the College Football Playoff National Championship game at AT&T Stadium back in January? Assuming the laws of physics had allowed for such a person to survive the trip through the wormhole, odds are their mind would have been blown by what's come of college football.

Not all change has been good, but the vast majority has been great. And while there have been thousands of people over the years responsible for how the game looks today, a handful of so-called college football pioneers deserve the most credit.

As the NCAA's Football Rules Committee is set to meet Thursday to discuss further rule changes, scroll through to see our list of people who have had the greatest impact on college football to this point.

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Rivalry Decision: Is UCLA or USC a Better Fit for 5-Star WR Tyler Vaughns?

Tyler Vaughns, an explosive 5-star wide receiver, per 247Sports' composite rankings, is currently undecided on where he will play football at the college level. Two teams with serious interest just happen to be Southern California rivals, as UCLA and USC have both extended offers to the wideout. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder discusses Vaughns' game and assesses how he would fit in both USC and UCLA's offense. 

Where will Vaughns play at the next level? Check out the video and let us know! 

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Shai McKenzie, Virginia Tech RB, Suspended for Charges Involving Minors

Virginia Tech running back Shai McKenzie faces an indefinite suspension following an arrest on two Class 1 misdemeanor counts of contributing to the delinquency of minors.     

Cameron Austin of TheRoanoke Times (h/t CBSSports.com's Jerry Hinnen) reported the news Wednesday, including comments from Hokies athletic director Whit Babcock:

We are aware of the situation and misdemeanor arrest. We take these matters seriously. Coach [Frank] Beamer has suspended Shai indefinitely from all team related activities as of yesterday. It's in the hands of the proper authorities and we will respect the process.

Although the investigation is still unfolding, Austin's story adds key details regarding the incident, which involves McKenzie, 18-year-old Virginia Tech student Devin Gavion and two minor females:

Police obtained a warrant for McKenzie and Gavion's DNA on Feb. 27 after two girls, one 15 years old and another 14, met two adult males using social media, who they later identified as McKenzie and Gavion. The warrant states that an investigation included information that the group met at a home in Christiansburg "and it was revealed" they "had sexual intercourse" between Feb. 11 and Feb. 15. Four condoms were also recovered from the residence, according to the warrant.

Gavion has been arrested on two counts: contributing to the delinquency of a minor in addition to a felony carnal knowledge charge. He is being held Western Virginia Regional Jail.   

This off-field incident further clouds McKenzie's future on the gridiron. After tearing his right ACL during his senior year of high school, McKenzie suffered the same injury as a college freshman in 2014.

Before going down for the year, the rising sophomore ball-carrier fared well in his limited action. McKenzie, 19, registered 269 yards rushing on 63 carries (5.1 average) with three touchdowns in five games played.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5-Star QB Jacob Eason Named 247Sports' New No. 1 Overall Recruit

The latest version of the 247Sports rankings for the class of 2016 debuted a new name at No. 1: Georgia commit Jacob Eason.

The Lake Stephens (Washington) quarterback made the move after a strong showing at the Pylon 7-on-7 National Championships in Las Vegas. Eason led his team to the final eight (from a group of more than 100) and impressed scouts with his arm strength and touch.

Here's a clip from Barton Simmons of 247Sports:

Eason checks in at 6'5", 205 pounds and is the highest-rated Georgia quarterback commit since Matthew Stafford in 2006.

However, his commitment to the Bulldogs might have loosened after former offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, Eason's primary recruiter, left this offseason to become the head coach at Colorado State.

"Eason has remained solid with the Bulldogs, but an unofficial visit in April will be crucial in maintaining that connection," wrote Simmons. "… Michigan, Notre Dame and others have been working hard to make the 5-star reconsider."

Eason's father, on the other hand, said the following to affirm his son's commitment in the wake of Bobo's departure, per Michael Carvell of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Coach Bobo is a great guy and we love him to death. He was Jacob’s main contact with UGA, and that’s what got us down there to visit. If he wanted to be a head coach, this was a good opportunity at Colorado State. We wish him nothing but the best.

But when we visited UGA’s campus last summer and looked around … it wasn’t just one guy that got Jacob to commit there. It was the whole package that got him to commit to UGA. We trust Coach [Mark] Richt, and we’ll see what happens from here. We have complete faith in Coach Richt.

Wherever Eason lands—which until further notice we can still assume is Georgia—he'll arrive with high expectations. That was true before he moved to No. 1 in the 247Sports rankings (he has long been a 5-star recruit), but now it's even truer.

Eason still ranks No. 4 overall on the 247Sports composite rankings, which combine the site's own rankings with those of ESPN, Rivals.com and Scout.com. The three players he trails are offensive tackle Gregory Little (Texas A&M), defensive tackle Rashan Gary (uncommitted) and defensive end Shavar Manuel (uncommitted).

The last time 247Sports disagreed with the composite on who should be the No. 1 player came in 2014, when the composite had LSU running back Leonard Fournette No. 1, but 247Sports preferred Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett. Both played well as true freshmen, but after one year the slight edge probably goes to Garrett, who shattered the SEC freshman sacks record with 11.5.

Not a bad precedent for Eason.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeigh35

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Odds on Where Aggressive 4-Star CB Chauncey Gardner Lands at Next Level

Chauncey Gardner, a 4-star cornerback, per 247Sports' composite rankings is still undecided on where he will play at the next level. With offers out there from many of the top schools in the nation, Gardner will have a tough decision make. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer lays down his odds on where he believes Gardner will play his college football in the video above. 

Where will Gardner continue his football career? Check out the video and let us know! 

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How Kentucky Hoops Unwittingly Helped Georgia Football Recruiting

In the world of college hoops, Kentucky is undoubtedly the marquee program in the country.

There’s a different level of energy in the gym when coach John Calipari brings his Wildcats on the road.

For example, take his club’s 72-64 win over Georgia on Tuesday night. The Wildcats—who are clearly the class of the SEC in hoops—may have helped their fellow Eastern Division member’s fortunes in football.

The Bulldogs were able to turn the visit from the nation’s No. 1 squad into a showcase for their recruiting targets on the gridiron. 

Bulldogs football coach Mark Richt, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, NBA legend Charles Barkley, Wildcats superfan Ashley Judd and a host of UGA’s top targets from the 2016 and 2017 recruiting cycles were among the patrons in a sold-out Stegeman Coliseum on hand to witness the Wildcats stay unbeaten and move to 30-0.

2016 4-star corner Chad Clay was in Athens less than two weeks ago for the Bulldogs' junior day. Coming out of that trip, he told Bleacher Report that the Bulldogs jumped into the lead for his services. 

He was back on campus for the Bulldogs' hoops matchup with the Wildcats.

This time, he had several of his prep teammates from Peachtree Ridge High School (Georgia) join him, including 2016 3-star running back Malik Staples, 2016 3-star corner Baylen Buchanan and 2017 4-star athlete Deangelo Gibbs.

Clay tweeted out his impressions of the atmosphere inside Stegeman Coliseum—a game in which Georgia led by nine points in the second half before the Wildcats rallied late to pull out a win.

Another school that had multiple prospects in attendance was Archer High School (Georgia), which was represented by 2016 4-star offensive lineman E.J. Price, 2016 4-star athlete Kyle Davis and 2017 4-star athlete Jamyest Williams.

For his part, Davis tweeted a picture of himself and his teammates spending time with Richt before the game. 

Other highly touted recruits of note who were on hand were a trio of top 2016 targets for the Bulldogs in 4-star athlete Mecole Hardman, 4-star linebacker Jaleel Laguins and 3-star defensive end Jordan Smith

The fact that the Bulldogs were able to create a frenzy among recruits and get them to Athens is remarkable.

However, there’s no doubt that having Kentucky—who is college basketball’s equivalent of the Yankees or Cowboys—as their opponent made it easier to convince top prospect to make the trip to Athens on a school night.

 

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

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Notre Dame Football: Domino Effect of Starter Matt Hegarty's Transfer

Heading into fall camp last season, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand still hadn't decided how their offensive line would look. That certainly won't be the case moving into 2015.

News broke Wednesday morning that starting center Matt Hegarty will play his fifth year elsewhere. ESPN's Matt Fortuna reports that Hegarty will look to play center somewhere full time, setting off a domino effect as the Irish offensive line begins to take shape.

There doesn't seem to be any ill will between Hegarty and the Irish coaching staff. The New Mexico native sounded appreciative of his time spent in South Bend, releasing a statement via ESPN that adds some clarity to a competitive offensive line battle:

I am extremely grateful for the opportunity that the Notre Dame Football program has afforded me. I want to thank Notre Dame, my coaches, my teammates and friends at school for the four great years I had at Notre Dame. I also want to thank the Notre Dame Nation for all of their support over the years. My focus has been to pour myself into everything that I have done at ND. I have worked hard and have always done everything that was asked of me. Recently my coaches informed me that they wanted me to change positions. They also explained that with many younger players in the wings, they wanted to develop them more heavily in the rotation—a need that I understand and appreciate.

Unfortunately, I have already had to miss a precious amount of football battling back from my stroke, and I value every rep and opportunity going into my final year of college ball that much more. My goal is to contribute this season, continue to develop my skills and pursue my dream of playing in the NFL. Because of this goal, I have asked for a transfer to play at another school where I can contribute more on the field. Notre Dame has amassed formidable depth on the O-line and have many very talented players to fill all positions.

So I wish everyone at ND the best this year and especially to my 15 brothers on the offensive line as they prepare for the 2015 season.

Expected to be one of the strengths of the team, the offensive line that powered Notre Dame to 263 rushing yards against LSU was returning in its entirety. But Hegarty's departure points to Nick Martin's return to center, where the veteran started nearly all of 2013 and began 2014 before a thumb injury required a move.

The younger players Hegarty mentioned in his statement point to a competitive spring when new blood will compete for the open guard job. That includes highly touted rising sophomores Quenton Nelson and Alex Bars. Nelson worked inside during bowl preparations in December. Bars drew raves from Kelly, as well. 

With Conor Hanratty also departing the program (concussions contributed to the likely end of his football career), the depth chart should have a different look. Junior John Montelus will certainly get some attention, as will fellow junior Colin McGovern.

After starting last season at right tackle, junior Steve Elmer seems to have found a home at guard. After being thrown into the lineup at tackle against USC and LSU, rising junior Mike McGlinchey looks to be the bookend opposite All-American candidate Ronnie Stanley. Stanley's decision to return for his senior season also likely weighed into Hegarty's decision to leave.

Without Stanley, the Irish coaches would've needed to push another young player into the starting lineup, making Hegarty's playing experience invaluable. Stanley's return made Hegarty disposable, especially with some roster moves still needed to get down to 85 scholarships.

Expect there to be plenty of interest in Hegarty, with many programs looking for a starting-caliber center. Hegarty will earn his degree in May, allowing him to join a program in June for summer workouts and classes.

But after struggling to find a cohesive offensive line in 2014, Kelly appears to have learned his lesson. While the Irish head coach is taking a gamble on the young talent he's stockpiled the past few years, it allows the offensive line to find its rhythm this spring.

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SEC Football: Freshmen We Wish Were in 2015 Spring Practice

One of the growing trends in college football is the number of early enrollees who graduate high school in December and get a jump-start on their college careers by participating in spring practice in the hopes of playing as true freshmen.

It's not for everybody, though.

Whether other sports, academics or a combination of the two gets in the way, the majority of signees go the more traditional route and enroll in college in the summer with fall camp being their first true practice session.

Which class of 2015 signees do we wish were already on campus? Our top eight based on talent, position and team need are in this slideshow.

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On-the-Field Breakdown of Clemson Tigers' Top 2016 Commits

The Clemson Tigers had one of the most surprising 2015 recruiting classes, and this season looks to be no different. The Tigers have landed two explosive athletes on offense already in the 2016 class.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder discusses two impact players for Clemson next season. 

What kind of impact can Tavien Feaster and T.J. Chase have on the Tigers in 2016?

Watch the video and let us know!

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10 College Football Teams with the Most on the Line in Spring Practice

Under ideal circumstances, spring football practice is a stress-free month of workouts more than 20 weeks removed from the regular season.

Most teams are not so lucky.

Instead of those ideal circumstances, most teams enter spring camp with important questions to answer, roles to develop and benchmarks to clear. If they don't take care of business in March and April, their job becomes that much harder in August.

To narrow this list to 10, we looked for teams with the longest and most important spring checklists. In many cases, the lurking variable was program expectations, as bigger programs have a smaller margin for error. They can least afford to screw spring practice up.

And thus they have the most on the line.

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The Unknown 2016 RB Set to Blow Up the Recruiting Scene

Aaron Manning, a talented running back from Rancho Cucamonga, California, is beginning to open up some eyes on the recruiting trail. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder discusses his performance out at the Vegas Pylon 7v7 as well as his overall game in the video above. 

Where will Manning land at the next level? Check out the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Football: Brian Kelly Puts His Trust in DC Brian VanGorder

When Brian Kelly finally made official his revamped coaching staff on Monday, the Notre Dame head coach showed a surprising willingness to examine everything. That meant bringing in new offensive coordinator Mike Sanford to shake up Kelly's offense

But it also meant doubling down on defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. As the Irish enter 2015 with the highest of expectations, Kelly's moves show an enormous amount of trust being put on the back of the second-year defensive coordinator. 

That means Kelly is betting that VanGorder's defense plays more like the one we saw in the first half of last season than the unit that got torched in November.

"Turn Down For What" VanGorder was one of the early-season heroes for the Irish. "Thirty-Plus" VanGorder—the defensive coordinator responsible for giving up 30-plus points in seven-straight games—was the guy who had many Irish fans hoping that VanGorder was a one-and-done coach in South Bend. 

But any notion that Notre Dame would shift back to the conservative philosophy of Bob Diaco was removed when Kelly announced that veteran assistant Bob Elliott would be moved to an off-field role, serving as special assistant to Kelly.

Elliott's connections to Diaco and former assistant Kerry Cooks dated back to their days as players at Iowa, where Elliott served as defensive coordinator. But in replacing Elliott and bringing in defensive line coach Keith Gilmore, Kelly basically consolidated power for VanGorder, surrounding him with coaches who will teach his system. 

Gilmore was a college teammate of VanGorder at Wayne State. He's worked with Kelly (and VanGorder) at Grand Valley, continuing with Kelly to Central Michigan and Cincinnati before reuniting in South Bend. He's a 4-3-based teacher, VanGorder's preferred scheme. 

That means a move to linebackers coach for Mike Elston, the lone defensive holdover from Kelly's original staff. Elston will now coordinate the team's recruiting efforts as well, while working with perhaps the most talented position group on the defense after spending his first five years molding defensive linemen. 

With former Irish All-American Todd Lyght making the move to his first full-time coaching job (technically his second, though he was only at Vanderbilt for a few weeks), VanGorder will be the veteran voice in the room. For better or worse, he'll have ownership of this unit's performance. 

The key to defensive success is the Irish safety play. While Lyght is in charge of the entire defensive backfield, VanGorder is likely to work with safeties Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate this spring, hoping to elicit a better performance out of that duo. 

With Austin Collinsworth having graduated and Eilar Hardy choosing to move on, the depth behind Redfield and Shumate is dangerously thin.

Senior Nicky Baratti will attempt to return from his third major shoulder injury. Rising sophomore Drue Tranquill is coming off of a November ACL tear. Freshmen reinforcements and graduate transfer Avery Sebastian don't arrive until June. 

As Joe Schmidt continues to rehab an ankle injury suffered against Navy, the Irish will go to work this spring without the team's MVP, who served as the nerve center of the defense. It's not coincidental that the Irish defense fell off of a ledge without Schmidt. How VanGorder gets the other 10 defenders to play to Schmidt's mental level will be key.

At its best, Notre Dame's defense was an aggressive, versatile, attacking defense. They shut out Michigan and shut down Stanford, relying on exotic third-down packages that showcased the young, but talented personnel on the roster.

At their worst, the Irish defense was a complete fire drill. After North Carolina exposed the Irish's sub-heavy packages with an up-tempo attack, VanGorder's defense struggled to find a base package to hang its hat on when opponents kept the Irish on the field.

With a full season of game tape to prepare from, VanGorder can't rely on smoke and mirrors any longer. With another year in the system, an Irish defense that lost only starter Cody Riggs should be ready to take a big step forward.

But only if VanGorder can lead them there.

Kelly's moves show the head coach believes in his defensive coordinator. We'll find out this fall if he's right.  

 

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Penn State Stipend a Start, but Doesn't Address College Football's Biggest Issue

For years, the NCAA maintained that it did not create a marketplace for athletic competition. Even if the Association truly believes that, its membership is starting to show otherwise.

Providing full cost of attendance could be the hand that lifts back the curtain. 

In January, Power Five conferences passed their first major piece of legislation in the voting autonomy era by providing full cost of attendance based on a federally created guideline. Where things get interesting is that the amount of relief given can vary greatly from school to school. 

David Jones of PennLive.com reported Monday that Penn State could offer athletes a stipend of $4,788 for 2015-16 based on past figures cited by CollegeData.com. That would place the Nittany Lions atop the Big Ten for such an amount. 

Jones later wrote that, in comparison to other Big Ten schools, the stipend could be "potentially a significant recruiting tool." 

The questions are: How much effect will the inevitable lobbying of ADs on behalf of their coaches have on university financial officers to lift the stipend figure as high as they can? And will those schools with powerful athletic coaches succeed in tilting the field in their favor by raising the stipend to significantly higher levels than their rivals?

...

In contrast, Ohio State ranks a mere 8th in the Big Ten, currently designating a mere $2,454 of tuition cost to incidental expenses - barely half of PSU's amount. You would expect Urban Meyer, Thad Matta and their messenger, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, to have a say in doubling that number or more by July when schools must designate any changes. Same with Jim Harbaugh and John Beilein at Michigan whose incidental expenses amount is currently designated as a relative pittance - $2,054, 12th in the conference.

Unless every Power Five school doles out a set stipend—say, $3,500, for example—a marketplace for competition has been established. In theory, programs could (and, eventually, probably will) get into bidding wars over COA numbers for recruiting advantages. According to Big Ten associate commissioner for compliance Chad Hawley, the conference is gladly taking a hands-off approach to the stipend number. 

Basically, go wild. 

"Going into this, we're acknowledging that there is a disparity from one place to another," Hawley told Jones. "And we would be naïve to say that, at some point, it's not going to make its way into the recruiting conversation."

It should be noted that whatever a school can pay to close the gap between an athletic scholarship and the actual cost of attendance is a great start. Whether it's $1,000 or $4,000, every little bit helps with expenses like food and travel. This falls under the umbrella of general student-athlete well-being, and it's long overdue. 

However, it's only part of the change that college football needs. It further exposes that sport's biggest problem remains in a legal battle: compensation for name/image/likeness (NIL) rights. That falls under the umbrella of what football players have earned and are entitled to under the law. 

In August, federal judge Claudia Wilken ruled in the Ed O'Bannon class-action lawsuit that the NCAA violated antitrust laws by essentially limiting what players can receive in exchange for their services. Provided the ruling survives an appeal from the NCAA, benefits could be put in place by 2016-17, per Steve Berkowitz of USA Today. If schools establish a trust fund to pay athletes once their eligibility expires or they leave school, Wilken ruled the payout can be no less than $5,000 a year. 

Whether it's cost of attendance or NIL rights, there are marketplaces in college athletics. This is no longer undeniable by anyone. The NCAA will fight that notion, but eventually, it has to come to terms with it. 

The NCAA's stubbornness will be seen as corruption, but that's too broad of a statement. Do know that there are plenty of people working within the NCAA who care greatly about student-athletes. Certainly, the Association has merited criticism in the past, but putting it on blast has become almost too recreational. 

For example: 

When Baylor walk-on running back Silas Nacita announced recently that he had been ruled ineligible for essentially not wanting to be homeless, the crosshairs immediately focused on the NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis and the safety was turned off. 

The NCAA later tweeted that it had not declared Nacita ineligible, and there are several key details that have gone unanswered in the story. Still, the NCAA took the initial heat because of pre-existing narratives. 

The NCAA and president Mark Emmert aren't automatically wrong all of the time. However, they are wrong when it comes to not wanting to shell out dollars for football players. That's not one man's opinion, either; they were legally determined to be in the wrong. 

Until players receive what they have earned, the cost-of-attendance stipend still won't be a fair trade. 

 

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

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5-Star Shea Patterson Calls It a 'Dream Come True' for Big Bro to Join Ole Miss

When the news of Sean Patterson joining the Ole Miss coaching staff became public on Wednesday, nobody was happier than his biggest fan.

Baby brother Shea Patterson, who also happens to be Ole Miss' prized, 5-star quarterback pledge, committed to the Rebels on Feb. 17. He knew his brother, a former offensive quality control assistant at LSU, had his options to join several college programs.

Shea also knew that if Sean joined Ole Miss, magic could happen.

Let the strategy among the brothers commence.

"It's going to be a dream come true," Shea said of working with his brother. "It's something we've talked about over the past few years wondering what it would be like being at same school. I've been to a lot of camps and competed against the best. I believe it all comes back to the preparation my brother taught me."

According to The Clarion-Ledger, Sean Patterson, Ole Miss' new associate director for recruiting operations, officially began working on the staff on Feb. 23. He was a member of LSU's staff in the summer of 2014 after working briefly as a graduate assistant at Arizona.

Shea Patterson was committed to Arizona as a freshman in December 2012 but decommitted in July 2014—around the same time his brother left Arizona.

Sean's football resume is one that should be respected. He was a four-year letterwinner at Duquesne and a full-time starting quarterback from 2010-2012. He threw for 6,762 yards and 63 touchdowns from freshman to senior year. Sean's 536 completions rank second all-time at Duquesne.

Sean was a two-time All-Northeast Conference selection and also led Duquesne to a 2011 Northeast Conference championship. Two years later, he went on to play professionally in Cologne, Germany.

It's no secret that while Shea wants to learn from Sean, Sean also wants to offer tutelage to his little brother. Their father, Sean Patterson Sr., is excited about the potential opportunities under head coach Hugh Freeze in Oxford.

"Nothing but good can come from Sean being [at Ole Miss] for both of them," Sean Sr. said. "Sean's going to be learning from [quarterbacks] Coach [Dan] Werner and Coach Freeze. On the other hand, there's no one harder on Shea than Sean. It's not going to be a walk in the park for him, because Sean knows his potential."

Shea added: "I think the biggest thing is to just stay focused. He's taught me just to stay focused. You can't be like every other 18-year-old. You've got to keep your priorities straight. He prepares me for the worst. I think the mental part of everything is big, and he prepares me for everything."

Sean Sr. doesn't expect life to be easy for either brother, but he does expect the communication to be solid between them. He said there shouldn't be any "walking on eggshells" when it comes to discussing what should—and shouldn't—be done on and off the field.

Perhaps more importantly, Sean Sr. is expecting the brothers to make each other better. And Shea said he'll do his part to make sure he's not the one lagging in the goal for success.

"I know he sees a lot of him in me, so I want to keep my head on straight," Shea said. "He taught me everything I know. We're getting a guy who definitely knows what he's talking about. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be the quarterback I am today."

 

Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst with 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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The 15 Most Exciting Early Enrollees to Watch This Spring

If you want to get ahead in college football, you’ve got to start early. Early enrollees are a growing trend, with a number of freshmen and junior college transfers opting to wrap up their studies early and arrive on campus to get a jump-start on their college careers. And it makes perfect sense, really.

Why not get acclimated to college life and your new teammates and coaches while going through spring practice and learning the systems you’ll need for success in your career? Plus, you’re getting the jump on all of your classmates who’ll arrive in May for summer classes and workouts.

A number of high-profile signees are already on campus to work with their new teams this spring, and many of them will make an impact this fall. Here’s a look at the most exciting early enrollees we’ll be keeping an eye on this spring.

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Ranking the Best Days to Attend 2015 SEC Media Days

The annual circus known as SEC media days will return to Hoover, Alabama, and now we know the order each coach will step into each of the rings at the Hyatt Regency Wynfrey.

The conference announced on Tuesday that the event will take place July 13-16 in the Birmingham suburb, with the SEC Network bringing the country wall-to-wall coverage of an event that has become the unofficial kickoff to the college football seasons.

Which days should you put in your calendar, and which ones can be skipped?

 

4. Monday, July 13 (Day 1)

Sure, hearing the "state of the SEC" speech from the new commissioner will be interesting and will be the first major event that Mike Slive's successor will attend.

But honestly, what's going to change? There will be a heavy focus on player welfare, autonomy, the SEC Network and basically all of the other administrative decisions that have dominated headlines. Sure, there my be a subtle (or perhaps not-so-subtle) dig at Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany's attempt to restore freshman ineligibility, but unless something comes up between now and the event itself, most of the Power Five conferences seem to be on the same page on most business-related issues.

Unless the new commissioner is a 180-degree departure from Slive, it should be, for the most part, business as usual.

From a coaching perspective, the first day of the event doesn't bring a whole lot to the table. Sure, it will be interesting to get to know Florida head coach Jim McElwain, but this will be new to him too, so expect the feeling-out process to lead to some vanilla answers.

Speaking of vanilla answers, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn is one of the masters of coachspeak, and in true Malzahn style, will do it as quickly as possible.

Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason might hand out some more gold business cards, but that might be the highlight of the day. Well, until the night out at On Tap across the street from the Wynfrey, where they have to make sure the media fans stay in line.

 

3. Thursday, July 16 (Day 4)

Let's get this out of the way—by Day 4 of SEC media days, everybody wants to go home. We're all exhausted, a little bit sick of each other, possibly hungover and have consumed more coffee than should be allowed under law.

In an attempt to spice things up on the final day of media days, the SEC will throw a curveball in the form of LSU head coach Les Miles

Will the "Mad Hatter" spice things up? This is the same man who talked about the World Cup, his family vacation, how much he hated the city of Austin, Texas, and compared freshman running back Leonard Fournette to Michael Jordan last year.

Yep, that will work. 

He will be the star of the final day of the event, but unless you're following Miles around during his three hours on the second floor of the Wynfrey, there's not much else going on during Day 4.

Sure, Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze and Georgia head coach Mark Richt are nice men who are always forthcoming in interviews, but Miles will steal the show and overshadow his fellow Day 4 participants.

 

2. Tuesday, July 14 (Day 2)

Speaking of stealing the show, Day 2 will send South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier to the Wynfrey, which is always a good time.

Bonus: Instead of talking about Kevin Sumlin's contract without the Texas A&M head coach in the building, the two will be in the building together at the same time. 

Spurrier with a hot mic in front of him is always enjoyable, and what's more intriguing is the fact that not only is his team rebuilding—which will undoubtedly lead to self-deprecating humor—but we'll also get to ask him about fun stuff like his newly created Twitter account and what he plans on saying during the season in 140 characters or less.

Toss in Tennessee head coach Butch Jones—who will make every individual in the building want to run through every wall in the Wynfrey, along with the always friendly Dan Mullen, fresh off a double-digit win season at Mississippi State.

Double bonus: Steve Shaw will be around to explain fun stuff like the possible change of the illegal lineman downfield rule. That may not seem like a lot, but Shaw does explain mechanics of officiating very well and provides an alternative to the "blame the refs" mentality. 

 

1. Wednesday, July 15 (Day 3)

"Alabama day" is the media days equivalent of the final trapeze act at the circus.

You know what's coming. You're prepared for what's coming. And when it comes, you're still amazed.

It has nothing to do with head coach Nick Saban. He'll make his rounds, give answers to questions that weren't asked and rattle off enough coachspeak to hold us over till September. The real fun is in the lobby, which will be packed with Alabama fans hoping to get a glimpse of Saban and the Alabama contingent.

When you add in Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema—who talked about defensive tackle Bijhon Jackson's incredible...um...backside last year—you have a recipe for media days success. 

Sorry, Mark Stoops and Gary Pinkel. You guys are great, but the combination of Saban and Bielema will make Day 3 a "can't miss event" that will be the crown jewel of 2015 SEC media days.

 

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

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

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The 40-Hour Weeks That Led to Ohio State's National Championship

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Three weeks before Ohio State took the field for the first-ever College Football Playoff, Taylor Decker found himself unable to sleep.

It wasn't that the Buckeyes left tackle didn't want to. He simply didn't have time to.

Fourth-seeded Ohio State was preparing for a semifinal Sugar Bowl showdown with No. 1 Alabama, with the winner moving on to take part in the national championship. But while Decker got ready for arguably the toughest test of his college career against the vaunted Crimson Tide defense, it was another test—or tests—that kept him awake at night.

"Right at the end of the semester, we were going into finals, and we were also in bowl practice," Decker told Bleacher Report. "I had some pretty challenging classes during the season, and I had to study a lot to do well in them and do well in those final exams. There was like a three-day span where I had three or four exams and two of those three days I didn't even sleep."

Forget the national title, which the Buckeyes went on to win nearly a month later; for Decker, a junior Animal Sciences major with a minor in Business, his sleep-deprived finals week was the culmination of a 19-hour class load per week. It also happened to coincide with the final stretch of one of the most unlikely championship runs in college football history.

The NCAA limits a college football team's allowed practice time to 20 hours per week while class is in session, and like any elite program, Ohio State uses all of them. But when you take into account classes and any extra football-related activity players choose to take part in on their own, their weekly workloads often extend to 40 hours per week—if not more.

And for the Buckeyes, who started fall camp on Aug. 4 and won the national championship on Jan. 12, it was a grind that lasted nearly six months.

"It definitely gets frustrating," linebacker Joshua Perry said. "You get pissed off, you get overwhelmed and you question things. But the biggest thing that we did this year was we had a really close group of guys. So when you're feeling that way, your buddy will automatically look at your face and know what's going on."

Perry, like Decker, took on a full class load in the fall, majoring in Consumer and Family Financial Services.

Given their football responsibilities, it'd be understandable if either player—both starters and prospects for the 2016 NFL draft—opted for a less-demanding major, one that would allow them to to meet the bare minimum to maintain eligibility. That's not to say that doesn't happen—both at Ohio State and around the country—but both Decker and Perry have insisted on getting the most out of their respective scholarships.

For Perry, a 6'4", 252-pound linebacker by way of Galena, Ohio, just outside Columbus, it's a matter of optimizing his college experience. Ohio State's leading tackler on the year with 124 takedowns, Perry said that he enjoys socializing with classmates as much as he does examining "how people interact instead of how markets interact" in his core classes.

"It would be a waste of an opportunity," Perry said of the idea that he could get away with just doing what it would take to stay eligible. "It's a shame to waste an opportunity because you don't get them very often. You should take advantage of it. That's how I feel about my education."

Decker, meanwhile, has found an extra incentive to pick a major that matters. Protecting the blindside of the Buckeyes' quarterbacks throughout their national title run, the 6'7", 315-pounder is aware of his value to Ohio State and wants to make sure he's reimbursed.

"I basically view college athletes today as professionals. It's essentially our job to play football and go get an education," Decker said. "Obviously, the university makes all kinds of money off of the football team—that's just college sports, it is what it is—but why not take full advantage of the opportunity that you have to get an education so that you can live the rest of your life comfortably and happily with what you're doing?"

While both Decker and Perry have had their educations paid for with their athletic scholarships and anticipate graduating by next spring, their degrees still will have come at a price.

Between conditioning, classes, practice, film study and tutoring, days in the fall typically start early and end late. Perry says he doesn't mind his lack of free time, describing himself as a lingerer who spends every free moment he can at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, while Decker admitted that the long days took a toll on him.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't tired and still am not tired every single day," Decker said. "There were days that I'd wake up at 5 [a.m.], and I don't get back to my house until 9:30 or 10:00 [p.m.]"

That's a demanding schedule in and of itself. And it doesn't even take into account the other stresses that accompanied the Buckeyes' unique 2014 campaign.

A season-ending injury to star quarterback Braxton Miller started Ohio State's 2014 season, while the final week of the regular season saw signal-caller J.T. Barrett go down with a fractured ankle and the shocking death of walk-on defensive lineman Kosta Karageorge. All the while, the Buckeyes found themselves on the outside looking in at the College Football Playoff, critical injuries occurring from fall camp through the playoff.

By the time Ohio State took the field for its 15th and final game of the season, the Buckeyes had lost no fewer than 12 players to season-ending injuries.

"If we had to practice one more day, we had to go against each other," Urban Meyer said. "There was no scout team, it was over."

Despite all of the distractions football can cause before classes are even considered, Perry and Decker each stand by their decisions to pursue excellence both on and off the field. Decker even went as far to suggest there's a correlation between the two.

"We're trained on being so competitive and aggressive that I don't like to be told that I'm not doing a good job or I'm not trying or I'm not putting effort in," he said. "That's so much of what's stressed athletics-wise is competition and being the best. I know don't have the time to put as much into school as other people can with the demands that I have, but with the time that I do have, I do want to do the best I can.

"I feel like if you're the type of guy that's going to slack off in one aspect of your life, that's just the kind of person you are."

For both Decker and Perry—locks to be captains on Ohio State's 2015 team—their near six-month journey paid off, with each passing their winter exams weeks before acing their final on-field tests. With just a week to go until spring practice already, Decker admitted that he hasn't had much time to reflect on the Buckeyes' storied 2014 season—and he likely won't any time soon.

"The day we got back," Decker said of Ohio State's return from the national title game. "We had class the next day."

 

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

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Ohio State Football: Buckeyes Chasing Epic Defensive Line Haul for Class of 2016

Urban Meyer knows that winning football games is a process that starts in the trenches. 

He showcased that at Florida in January of 2007, when a defensive line led by Derrick Harvey and Jarvis Moss bulldozed Ohio State in a blowout victory in the BCS National Championship Game. The same was true two years later when the Gators bested Oklahoma in the title game, and it was also on display when the Buckeyes shut down Oregon to win the first-ever College Football Playoff.

Taking a glance at Ohio State's 2016 recruiting strategy, it's safe to say Meyer isn't deviating from that winning strategy.

With seven commitments already in the fold, the Buckeyes are well on their way to signing one of the nation's top recruiting classes. But it's clear that Meyer is pursuing some of the top defensive line prospects in the country, and those efforts could send a legendary wave of talent to Columbus.

In fact, that process has already begun.

On Monday, Meyer got huge news when Terrell Hall—a 4-star weak-side defensive end out of Washington, D.C.—offered his verbal pledge to the Buckeyes.

Hall, the ninth-ranked defensive end and the No. 142 recruit overall, joined 4-star defensive end Jonathon Cooper in Ohio State's budding class.

That pair alone would make any coach happy, but according to Jeremy Birmingham of Eleven Warriors, the Buckeyes are looking to add four defensive ends with their '16 class.

And the targets they have left on their board are some of the best in the country.

There's Auston Robertson, Indiana's top prep player and the eighth-ranked weak-side defensive end. There's Prince Sammons, a 6'8", 280-pound pass-rusher out of Cincinnati who's rated the No. 71 player nationally. Then there's Josh King, the country's 49th-best player and the fourth-ranked strong-side defensive end. 

All are high-end 4-star prospects, and all have Ohio State projected as their favorite, according to 247Sports' Crystal Ball Predictions. 

But none of those prospects are higher on Ohio State's wish list than 5-star defensive end Nick Bosa.

The younger brother of current Buckeye stud Joey Bosa, Nick is one of the most highly recruited players in this year's class. With offers from Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Notre Dame and others, the country's No. 10 prospect has no shortage of elite options.

None of those options seem plausible with Ohio State in the picture.

Forty-five recruiting experts have weighed in on Nick Bosa's recruitment via 247Sports' Crystal Ball Predictions, and all 45 expect him to wind up in Columbus. 

If Ohio State is looking to add four defensive ends, any combination of the four above would be an outrageous amount of talent for a one-year recruiting cycle.

Then there's the interior.

The Buckeyes missed out on their top defensive tackle targets in 2015—Terry Beckner Jr.Christian Wilkins and Neville Gallimore—which is why that position is one of their biggest priorities in 2016.

Ohio State is pursuing two 5-star standouts in Rashan Gary and Julian Rochester, but their chances of landing either at this point are slim. The Buckeyes just recently got into the mix for 4-star Antwuan Jackson, who, according to Bucknuts' Bill Kurelic, was excited about the offer Meyer extended and plans to visit Columbus during the summer.

But Ohio State is in best standing with two 4-star prospects in Michael Onwenu and Michael Williams.

Onwenu hails from Cass Technical High School in Detroit, a Michigan pipeline school that the Buckeyes have tapped into in recent years. Williams is a Texas product that Ohio State will have to pull from Oklahoma and the home-state Longhorns.

But the boost in recruiting that coincides with winning a national championship should help the Buckeyes land two suitable defensive tackles. 

Ohio State's only issue at this point is a lack of room in its 2016 class to take in all of these highly coveted players.

 

All recruiting rankings and information via 247Sports.

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

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