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Odds on Where 5-Star LB Lyndell “Mack” Wilson Lands on National Signing Day

A trio of SEC powerhouses are battling for the right to land 5-star linebacker Lyndell Wilson on national signing day.

The Alabama Crimson Tide, Florida Gators and Georgia Bulldogs are the finalists for the nation’s top outside linebacker prospect in the 2016 class.

As detailed by BamaOnline’s Hank South, the 6’2”, 220-pounder will take an official visit to Athens this weekend before seeing Alabama next weekend and taking his final trip to Florida the last weekend before signing day.

The Crimson Tide have long been the perceived favorite to keep the star linebacker from escaping the state.

However, with former Tide defensive coordinator Kirby Smart taking over the Georgia program and Florida making a big push to land other prospects from the state of Alabama, Wilson heads into the stretch run of his recruitment as far from a sure thing to land in Tuscaloosa.

What are the odds for each of Wilson’s finalists?

Let’s break down the chances for the main players in his recruitment.

 

Georgia 10-1

The Bulldogs are somewhat of a late entry to the Wilson sweepstakes, mainly because of Smart’s relocation from Tuscaloosa to Athens, as noted by South.

“It really helps them out because me and Coach Smart have a really good relationship together,” Wilson told South. “We’ve been at it since the ninth grade and he’s like a father figure to me. It’ll help Georgia out a lot, so that’s why I’m gonna give them the chance to recruit me and take my visit.”

Additionally, as shown by Ourlads, the Bulldogs will lose three of their four starters at linebacker—which should make for an appealing depth chart in their pitch to Wilson.

The Bulldogs are in the race thanks to Smart’s presence. However, Wilson's visit this weekend will go a long way toward determining just how much of a factor they become in the final days leading up to his decision.

 

Florida 7-1

The Gators will get the chance to make a final impression on Wilson just days before he announces his decision.

Working in head coach Jim McElwain’s favor is the fact that the Gators have a pledge from 3-star corner Antonio Nelson—who is a teammate of Wilson’s at Carver High School in Montgomery, Alabama.

Additionally, 3-star safety Jeawon Taylor—who is also visiting Georgia this weekend with Wilson—is another Gators commit from Montgomery that could help reel Wilson in if he sticks with his pledge.

As GatorBait’s Thomas Goldkamp reported, Wilson has made it clear he’s open to the idea of leaving his home state for college. 

While it will be a tough pull, the Gators are very much in the running for Wilson in the late stages of his recruitment.

 

Alabama 5-1

Even with the Bulldogs and the Gators making a strong push for Wilson, it would still be a minor upset if he landed anywhere other than Tuscaloosa on signing day.

As South explained, Wilson made it clear he was supporting the Tide all the way in their run to the program’s 16th national title. Furthermore, he admitted the Tide were on the list of programs that he dreamed of playing at when he was younger.

“It’ll be one of those schools that I dreamed about going to since I was little,” Wilson told South. “It’ll be a great decision for me, also. It’s not too far from home; my family can get to my games and everything. It’ll be a good decision if I chose to go to Alabama.”

He’s clearly a top priority for Tide head coach Nick Saban, who made a call to Wilson one day after the Tide’s triumph over Clemson in the national title game, according to Matt Hladik of CollegeSpun.

While the Gators and the Bulldogs are in the mix, it’s hard to bet against Saban when he zeroes in on a top in-state prospect such as Wilson.

 

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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Does the Big 12 Really Need a Conference Championship Game?

The Big 12 now has options regarding a 13th conference championship game. The question is whether it actually wants to exercise them. 

On Wednesday, the NCAA DI council announced the approval of the long-awaited proposal allowing Football Bowl Subdivision conferences with under 12 members to hold conference title games in football. The two adopted policies are: 

  • A game between division champions of a member conference that is divided into two divisions (as equally balanced as possible), each of which conducts round-robin, regular-season competition among the members of that division; or,
  • A game between the top two teams in the conference standings following a full round-robin regular-season schedule of competition among all members of the conference.

What this means practically for the Big 12 is it can place its top two teams in a 13th game after the regular season to determine its "One True Champion," as the conference likes to parade. Whether it will go through with this won't be decided right away, according to a statement from commissioner Bob Bowlsby via the Big 12 website

I appreciate that what was acted upon today takes into account our unique 10-team, full round-robin scheduling model. However, this vote does not automatically mean the Big 12 will implement a football championship game. Our membership will continue to analyze its pros and cons, as we now know the requirements should we decide to go down that path.

The Big 12 is right to marinate on this for a little while longer. Critics of the conference's nine-game, round-robin format called for an immediate change—be it expansion or otherwise—after the Big 12 was left out of the playoff two seasons ago.

Yet, conference brass decided to hold off on any drastic decisions. That turned out to be the right move, as 11-1 Oklahoma made the 2015-16 playoff as a No. 4 seed. The very thing that hurt the Big 12 in 2014 turned out to be beneficial the next year. 

Tacking on a conference title game to the end of the regular season could have financial benefits but also presents serious risks and logistical problems the Big 12 needs to consider.

The simplest concern is that it creates a potentially awkward and unnecessary game. The benefit of playing a round-robin schedule is that there are no guesses. Everybody has played everyone else. The results are what they are. (The Big 12 also clarified its co-champion scenario by updating its tiebreaker procedures this past offseason.) 

Now imagine if Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, who finished No. 1 and No. 2 in the final Big 12 standings, respectively, played one week after the Sooners beat the Cowboys 58-23. This year, the Bedlam game was for the Big 12 title, as ex-Grantland writer Matt Hinton pointed out: 

Would a 13th game have benefited the Sooners? Absolutely not.

There's also the matter of finding a place to host the game. AT&T stadium in Arlington, Texas, always seems like a natural destination, but would fans travel to see a week-old rematch that was already decided convincingly? Would viewers tune in at home, especially in the wake of declining TV numbers, for major bowls/playoff games? 

These are the things the Big 12 has to mull over when proceeding with an extra game. Per Bowlsby, finding a stadium for a deregulated conference title game in 2016 would be "one of the biggest logistical considerations" (h/t Chuck Carlton, the Dallas Morning News). 

The 2015 season is just an example. There would obviously be years in which the top two teams would have met in, say, mid-October, and not in the final week in November. Rematches are not unprecedented in conference title games, either. 

But allowing deregulated title games for round-robin schedules is, and it never seems like the Big 12 gets enough credit for playing everyone top to bottom. 

Still, the Big 12 might consider embracing its newfound awkwardness if it means validation of the all-important phrase: "Controlling your destiny."

Playoff inclusion is ultimately what a 13th game boils down to. Or, put another way, the Big 12 wants to be in the same position as the other power conferences without changing its membership. Any extra money the conference might make by fielding a title game is secondary. 

By having the title of the Power 5's smallest conference with a format all its own, it feels like the Big 12 is consistently at a disadvantage relative to playoff inclusion. Whether perception matches reality is another story; there is an example of when it hurt and when it helped. 

What the Big 12 has to decide is whether the 13th game provides the same advantage as the other four power conferences. Historically, however, that hasn't been the case as Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports observed:

Basically, the possibility of the top-seeded team playing its way out of the national title race is not only there, it's proven. (The other side, of course, is the No. 2 seed could play its way into the playoff field.) 

Understand that the Big 12 is in a tough spot and there's no easy answer for what to do. The most logical thing would be to expand back to 12 teams, but that's simply not going to happen. With apologies to BYU, Central Florida, Cincinnati, Houston and any other team hoping to land in the Big 12, the conference just doesn't feel the same way.

If it did, it would already be up to 12 teams by now. There isn't enough value in the available expansion targets, and no amount of debate that will change this fact. 

With expansion off the table—keep in mind if it ever does come to fruition, the likes of BYU, Central Florida and Houston will still be available—the Big 12 had to get creative. 

Playing an extra game hasn't proven to be necessary for playoff inclusion, but the Big 12 now has the option if it wants to proceed with it. When weighing a 10th conference game guaranteed to be a rematch vs. the possibility of equal footing in the playoff arena, the risk is awfully high. 

The conference might take it anyway out of desperation. But you already know how that smells. 

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

No. 1 ATH Mecole Hardman Jr. Talks Player Ranking, Upcoming Visits

Contrary to popular belief, being the No. 1 athlete in the country isn't something Mecole Hardman Jr. aspired to be.

For Hardman, the objective every time he steps on a football field is to be a better player than he was the day before. Being No. 1 isn't the main priority.

But sometimes, things like that just happen. Consider it an added bonus.

"I'll be honest: I just wanted to get better every day," Hardman said after competing at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl last week in San Antonio. It was a game where the 5-star prospect contributed stats in rushing and receiving, as well as on special teams as a kickoff and punt returner. It also was a game where, because of depth, Hardman didn't take a snap at cornerback, a position he believes he could excel at in college.

"Long term, I think I'll play corner," he said, "but I think I can play corner or receiver easily at the next level. I've been getting extra conditioning after practice and just doing the mental stuff."

It's a testament to the player Hardman has become. He's a 5-star player—one of only two 5-star players classified as "athlete" in the current recruiting cycle (the other being Demetris Robertson)—and the No. 21 player in the 2016 class. Hardman's ability to excel at multiple positions throughout his high school career has made him a very wanted prospect.

How wanted? Hardman has 32 reported offers from coast to coast.

"It's been fun. I'm enjoying it all," Hardman said of his recruitment, which will include two official visits and a final all-star game before national signing day on Feb. 3. "You just have to take your time with everything. You can't rush it."

Hardman is preparing for his first January official visit, a trip to Ohio State this weekend. It was a visit he called "a surprise" earlier this week. The following weekend, Hardman will take an official visit to TCU. That will be his final official visit, as he will be in Arlington, Texas, the weekend of Jan. 29 in preparation for the 2016 International Bowl, featuring Team USA against Canada.

A decision, Hardman said, will take place on national signing day. Whichever school lands him will get a do-it-all athlete who can play multiple skill positions.

For someone who had to split time with a number of athletes at several positions, Hardman put up noticeable numbers at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, particularly in the return game. He averaged 28.5 yards on two punt returns, and he averaged 22.5 yards on two kickoff returns.

As a receiver he caught three passes for 36 yards. He also rushed once for five yards.

"It was great. I had fun the whole week," Hardman said of the experience. "I didn't get a chance to play defense, but other than that, I thought I had a good performance. I had an excellent time with all of the players."

Hardman knows that he's looked at by many athletes as the player to catch in the rankings. The top four players classified as "athletes" were in San Antonio competing, and the ones ranked below Hardman were competing to show they deserved the No. 1 spot.

"When you look at it, it's good to be No. 1, but you don't put all your eggs in the basket with it," Hardman said. "Rankings can change any day. I think I showed it out there, but that's not for me to say.

"I got to play running back, wide receiver, punt return and kick return. I got to show my whole athletic ability and what I can do on the field, but I really try not to pay attention to [the rankings]." 

The next couple of weeks will be big for Hardman, arguably even more for the schools recruiting him. The dead period for recruiting came to an end Thursday, which means college coaches are going to go all-in on the athletes they want.

Schools like Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Clemson and Michigan are very much alive in Hardman's process. He announced a top six at the beginning of the year.

Add in the upcoming official visits to Ohio State and TCU, and expect the next couple of weeks to make for entertaining times with Hardman.

And expect Hardman to keep everyone on their toes.

"Right now, I'm just chilling," Hardman said. "I'm not looking for anything specific with any of the schools. I just want to get that gut feeling with a school and have some fun with it all."

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State's Road Back to College Football Playoff

COLUMBUS, Ohio — As the confetti fell from University of Phoenix Stadium on Monday night celebrating Alabama's win over Clemson in the College Football Playoff championship game, Ohio State's reign atop the college football world came to an official end.

It's been one year since the Buckeyes beat Oregon in Arlington's AT&T Stadium, capturing the inaugural College Football Playoff championship in the process. Ohio State was a heavy preseason favorite to defend its crown, but as what Urban Meyer deemed "The Year of Stuff" followed their defeat of the Ducks, the Buckeyes found themselves on the outside looking in of this year's playoff.

"I think we won it last year on January 12," the Ohio State head coach said. "This started on January 13. 'The Year of Stuff.'"

That "stuff" Meyer is referring to includes the realities of having a roster full of 18- to 22-year-olds fresh off a national championship season in a rabid football town. Star running back Ezekiel Elliott filed for trademarks. Cardale Jones became college football's biggest offseason celebrity. Maybe even Meyer's midseason bye week book tour belongs in that category.

It included the in-season arrest of quarterback J.T. Barrett for operating a vehicle while impaired, a particularly ugly loss to Michigan State in a de facto Big Ten East Championship Game and culminated in the days following Ohio State's season-ending Fiesta Bowl victory, when nine underclassmen declared to enter the NFL draft.

But with the Crimson Tide's victory on Monday night, the Buckeyes' "Year of Stuff" was brought to a much-needed end.

Welcome to "The Year of Development."

It may not sound as sexy or exciting, but it's exactly what Ohio State will need to once again topple Alabama and reclaim college football's throne.

"I compare it, as I've discussed with our staff, very similar to the 2014 team," Meyer said of his 2016 outlook. "That was a team of development." 

Replacing 16 starters—eight on each side of the ball—the Buckeyes will need to follow a similar track in 2016 that they did two years ago, which led to not only a national title for Ohio State, but the mass exodus of NFL talent that it currently finds itself replacing. The potential is there; Meyer has recruited four top-seven classes since arriving in Columbus in late 2011 and will add another in three weeks.

But the Buckeyes will once again need current unknowns to become household names over the course of the next year, much like Darron Lee, Jalin Marshall, Michael Thomas, Vonn Bell and Eli Apple did two years ago.

It's too early to tell who those players will be—that's why those players are currently considered "unknowns"—but Meyer has already singled out junior H-back Curtis Samuel, redshirt freshman running back Michael Weber, senior H-back Dontre Wilson and redshirt freshman wideout K.J. Hill as players he has his eye on for breakout seasons in 2016. Sophomore wideout Noah Brown belongs on that list as well after the 6'2", 222-pounder enjoyed an impressive fall camp last August before a broken leg brought his 2015 season to an end before it began.

"You guys never got to see him in that camp," Meyer told reporters. "He was one of our one, two, three best receivers on our team before he got hurt."

On the offensive line, where Ohio State will be replacing three of its five starters, Meyer has already penciled in sophomore Isaiah Prince and junior Jamarco Jones as his starting tackles. "Isaiah Prince has gotta make a huge jump," Meyer said. "Jamarco Jones is a key cog to the wheel."

On the defensive side of the ball, the Buckeyes will be replacing the potential No. 1 overall pick of the upcoming NFL draft in Joey Bosa, as well as potential first-round picks in Adolphus Washington, Lee, Bell and Apple.

But Meyer has already named middle linebacker and Ohio State's leading tackler from 2015, Raekwon McMillan, a captain and will return defensive ends Tyquan Lewis and Sam Hubbard, who finished first and second, respectively, in sacks for the Buckeyes this past season.

In the back seven, Meyer named linebackers Jerome Baker and Chris Worley and safeties Erick Smith, Cam Burrows and Malik Hooker as players who will need to step up in the coming year.

The Buckeyes roster will also receive a boost on national signing day in three weeks, with Meyer currently slated to land the nation's third-ranked recruiting class. Seven of the Buckeyes' 18 commits are already on campus as early enrollees, including 5-star defensive end Jonathon Cooper and 4-star wideout Austin Mack.

From a scheduling standpoint, Ohio State will face 2015 playoff participant Oklahoma in the third week of the season, providing the Buckeyes with an early opportunity to either make a statement or put their season on thin ice. But as OSU proved two years ago, you can suffer an early-season loss and still bounce back to not only make the playoff, but win the whole thing.

After the pressure of defending their title in 2015, perhaps a year of being the hunters and not the hunted is just what the Buckeyes need.

Asked by a reporter if this will be "fun," Meyer let out a laugh. As the names of the players leaving and the opponents on the 2016 schedule ran through his mind, "fun" may not have been his word of choice, but much like he did two years ago, the Ohio State head coach found a way to make it work.

"'Fun.' You use that word sometimes—'fun,'" Meyer said. "It'll be a challenge and challenges are fun."

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Deshaun Watson Wins 2015-16 Manning Award: Latest Comments, Reaction

Deshaun Watson of Clemson was announced as the winner of the 2015 Manning Award as the top quarterback in college football Thursday.

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports passed along word of the selection by the Sugar Bowl Committee. Watson led the Tigers to a 14-1 record, with the only loss coming to Alabama in the national title game.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Extra Points with Barrett Sallee: Alabama's Title, SEC Pride and Perception

As the confetti fell to the floor of University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, late Monday night, and Alabama celebrated its fourth national title in seven years, the echoes of the "S-E-C" chant began to grow louder and louder.

For the first time since Alabama hoisted the crystal football three years ago in South Florida after dominating Notre Dame, the national title was back in its rightful home.

The SEC.

The Crimson Tide's 45-40 win over Clemson capped off a stellar 9-2 bowl season in which every SEC favorite won, every underdog lost and the margin of victory for the SEC's winners was a whopping 23.6 points per game.

Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema made sure to point out just how good the SEC is following his team's romp over Kansas State in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl (via Bo Mattingly of Sports Talk with Bo).

It was a massively important bowl season from a perception standpoint, which matters immensely in the world of college football. The SEC hadn't won a major bowl game during the previous two seasons, and Alabama's title coupled with Ole Miss' demolition of Oklahoma State, and the rest of the dominance in December and January, pumps the brakes on the "downfall of the SEC" talk that became pervasive over the last 11 months.

That's all it does, though. 

As I pointed out two weeks ago, we didn't learn much about any of the triumphant teams that we didn't already know over the holiday season, and there's plenty of work to do for those teams to help the conference get back to the true dominance it enjoyed in the late 2000s and early 2010s. 

We won't have to wait long, because one look at the Week 1 schedule in 2016 will provide another important barometer for conference power.

As I pointed out in the link above, bowl season wasn't a referendum on conference power because conference power in the offseason doesn't matter. 

It does matter in the regular season, though, especially in November, when the members of the College Football Playoff selection committee are sitting in that room in Grapevine, Texas, judging just how good these teams really are.

The perception that the SEC is back, at this point, is nothing more than an offseason talking point to hold us over through the next nine months. It's the equivalent of Congress bringing a proposal to the floor.

That proposal will be voted on over Labor Day weekend and could dramatically change the way the selection committee and the public views the conference.

 

Smart Laying the Groundwork

New Georgia head coach Kirby Smart was introduced to the world in December when he took the job, but he immediately went back to work at Alabama, as the Crimson Tide began preparation for their national title celebration.

Now, he's all Bulldog.

Smart flew cross-country from Arizona to Athens immediately following the College Football Playoff National Championship, and he got to work.

Smart commented on his whirlwind week, according to quotes emailed by Georgia:

I cannot explain how well I slept last night. Number one, we won the national championship at the University of Alabama. To be able to finish that the right way was a relief. Obviously we did not perform the way I wanted to perform, but we won the game. To know that those players achieved what they wanted to achieve, and then to get into this room yesterday and meet with this team, the University of Georgia team, my team—everybody told me when you get to do that finally, and it’s the only thing you have to worry about, it would be a great relief. A burden off your shoulders. That’s what it’s been for me. I feel much more relaxed. 

Job No. 1 for Smart is fixing an offense that was woefully one-dimensional a year ago, and that starts with the quarterback. Last season's starter, Greyson Lambert, and backup Brice Ramsey are back, and they are joined by 5-star early enrollee Jacob Eason.

"Ultimately, we’ve got to do what’s best for our offensive system and what we have," Smart said. "What we have here right now, a situation with our quarterback environment where we’ve got to compete to find the best guy for the job.

"You do whatever you have to do to win the game. If that becomes a dual-threat quarterback, then we cross that bridge when we come to it."

If that seems like a coach speaking in code, it absolutely was. By not promising any quarterback anything and going as far as to suggest that Georgia could go with a dual-threat quarterback, Smart is essentially telling Eason that nothing will be handed to him and that he's nothing more than a freshman looking to make an impact.

In reality, he's not. He is the future of the Georgia football program, and he likely will become the starter at some point during the 2016 season if he doesn't win the job beforehand.

 

The Sequel to Swag

Chad Kelly went from virtual unknown to the SEC's record books in 2015, totaling 4,542 total yards—the third-best single-season mark in conference history behind former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel's 5,116 yards in 2012 and 4,873 yards in 2013.

He'll have a chance to top "Johnny Football" in 2016.

According to Tim Graham of the Buffalo News, Kelly will return to Oxford for his senior season in the hopes of helping the program take the next step and earn its first SEC West title in its history.

"It feels great to be a part of a winning team for a school with such a rich history," Kelly said, "but I realize that there’s still a lot of learning and growing that I can do with this team.

"It will take the hard work and commitment of everyone involved, but I believe that we have a committed coaching staff and some of the best players in college football. I can’t wait to see what we can do together in 2016."

It's a great move for Kelly personally and huge for Ole Miss in 2016. 

Kelly was awesome in 2015 but took far too many risks and needs to cut that out as a senior. His 13 interceptions were the second-most in the conference behind former Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles, and that has to change if he wants to impress NFL scouts who will have their eyes on him this year.

For Ole Miss, it didn't just get an experienced quarterback who knows how to win with plenty of the same weapons around him. It got back one of the primary running threats. 

Kelly finished the season as the Rebels' second-best rusher with 500 yards and 10 touchdowns, and will enter 2016 as the team's leading returning threat on the ground. 

Could he be better as a senior? The loss of wide receiver Laquon Treadwell hurts, but don't be surprised if Kelly takes on even more responsibility and becomes a Heisman Trophy contender.

 

Rocky Top Return

While the rest of the college football world came down from the high of watching one of the most entertaining national championship games in recent history, Tennessee got some huge news.

Linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin—the Volunteers' leading tackler from a year ago with 105 stops—announced that he's returning to school for his senior year.

How much did it resonate in the college football world? Oklahoma Ty Darlington, who played against Reeves-Maybin and Tennessee in Week 2, did his best to put his return in proper perspective.

He will be the centerpiece to new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop's first defense on Rocky Top, which should be one of the nation's best. 

In addition to Reeves-Maybin, the Vols will return stud defensive end Derek Barnett, a stellar interior line that includes Kahlil McKenzie and Shy Tuttle, and a secondary that has to fill a couple of holes but is still loaded with experienced players thanks to injuries that forced youngsters into the lineup.

He's one of the most underrated players in the country, and head coach Butch Jones getting another year out of Reeves-Maybin is the equivalent of signing a 5-star prospect who will make an immediate impact.

 

Quick Outs

  • Alabama head coach Nick Saban got the traditional phone call from President Barack Obama following his fourth national title under Obama's presidency. I wonder if they are running out of things to talk about? "So, Nick, how's the golf game?"
  • Alabama corner Marlon Humphrey, who caught the onside kick that turned the tables in the title game, had a little fun with Fox Sports college football analysts and vocal SEC critics Colin Cowherd and Joel Klatt following Alabama's win. Well done, Marlon.
  • OddsShark.com released its 2016 national title odds, with Alabama and Clemson leading the way. If you're looking for value, though, don't sleep on Florida State (+1600), Ole Miss (+2200) and Tennessee (+2200).
  • The recruiting dead period ended at midnight, so from Thursday until Feb. 2, the race is on. Let's get weird.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

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

B/R CFB Recruiting 200: Top 200 Overall Recruits for 2016

After thorough study using specific scoring criteria, Bleacher Report recruiting analysts Damon Sayles, Sanjay Kirpalani and Tyler Donohue have graded the top 200 players in the 247Sports Composite Rankings and provided in-depth analysis. As the summer camp circuit comes to a close, Bleacher Report provides a position-by-position breakdown of the best college football recruits. Today, we present the Overall Top 200.

 

When it comes to impact playmakers on both sides of the ball, the 2016 class is loaded with premier prospects capable of making their presence known as soon as the upcoming season. 

From 5-star recruits such as defensive tackle Rashan Gary to Georgia quarterback commit Jacob Eason, there are a handful of elite talents expected to see the field early in their careers.

Additionally, the players who make up the nation’s Top 200 prospects are scattered from coast to coast. However, California, Georgia and Texas each have four prospects who have earned a 5-star rating—which rates among the nation’s best in that category.

This list provides a glimpse of college football's future stars and how they've arrived at this point. Continue on for our review of the rankings, complete with individual grades and insight on each prospect.

Be sure to sound off in the comments below with your thoughts on overall rankings, scores and recruit projections.

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Texas Football: 5 Reasons Why the Longhorns Should Be Optimistic About 2016

The Texas Longhorns failed to finish with a winning record (5-7) for the second time in Charlie Strong's two-year tenure. But with a new offense, young talent on defense and another strong recruiting finish, the Horns could finally get over the hump in 2016.

Optimism has been hard to come by when it comes to Texas. It's been six years of mediocre-at-best football on the 40 Acres, and even the administration seemed to lack faith in its initially half-hearted effort to ink a new offensive coordinator.

But in supporting Strong in his effort to hire Tulsa's Sterlin Gilbert, those same administrators have given this program a chance to show real progress.

Not only does Gilbert bring a proven offense to the table, but he should also set up one of Texas' quarterbacks up for success in 2016. With the young talent returning on both sides of the ball and Strong's knack for getting it done on the recruiting trail, this coming season has a chance to be a big one.

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Notre Dame Football: Previewing the Irish's Early Enrollees

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — With five players off early to the NFL, Notre Dame football officially announced five new faces Wednesday with its early enrollees.

The spring semester began Tuesday in South Bend, and the college experience started for linebacker/defensive lineman Daelin Hayes, defensive lineman Khalid Kareem, defensive back Spencer Perry, wide receiver Kevin Stepherson and defensive back Devin Studstill.

 

Daelin Hayes

Hayes, an Ann Arbor, Michigan, native is the No. 10 outside linebacker and No. 121 overall prospect in the country. The 6’3”, 239-pounder and U.S. Army All-American missed the bulk of his senior season with a separated shoulder.

Hayes decommitted from USC in mid-October then took an official visit to South Bend five days later for Notre Dame’s clash with the Trojans. He tabbed the Irish over Ohio State and Michigan State last month.

Whether he lines up as an outside linebacker or defensive end, Hayes could provide the Irish with much-needed pass-rushing ability. Notre Dame finished tied for 78th in the country with 24 sacks, 16 of which won’t return in 2016.

 

Khalid Kareem

Kareem checks in as the No. 9 strong-side defensive end and No. 194 overall prospect in the class. The Michigan product decommitted from Alabama in mid-October—two days after Hayes did the same from USC—and pledged to the Irish nine days later.

At 6’3”, 245 pounds, Kareem will get a head start adding weight to his frame. Kareem, who was the MVP of the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl, will join a group of defensive linemen that must replace Sheldon Day and Romeo Okwara.

 

Spencer Perry

Like Hayes, Perry missed the majority of his senior season with a shoulder injury. The IMG Academy product is the No. 32 safety and No. 525 recruit in the country.

Perry visited Notre Dame in June, decommitted from Florida three days later and announced his verbal commitment to the Irish one week after.

With Elijah Shumate’s graduation, Perry could have the opportunity to grab valuable reps this spring. Safeties Drue Tranquill and Avery Sebastian are coming off injuries suffered this fall.

 

Kevin Stepherson

Stepherson hauled in 48 passes for 835 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior in Jacksonville, Florida. The 5’11”, 171-pounder slides into an Irish receiving corps that must replace its top three receivers from the 2015 campaign.

Junior Will Fuller (62 receptions for 1,258 yards and 14 touchdowns) bypassed his senior season for the NFL, and Chris Brown (48-597-4) and Amir Carlisle (32-355-1) are gone, too.

Stepherson, a 3-star prospect and the No. 93 wideout in the class, verbally committed to the Irish in June.

 

Devin Studstill

Studstill is slotted as the No. 29 safety and No. 488 recruit in the class of 2016. He pledged to the Irish on Dec. 15.

The 3-star prospect is from Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, and attended the same high school as current Irish linebacker Te’von Coney.

Like Perry, Studstill joins an Irish secondary with a pair of starting spots to fill. Five other defensive back verbal commitments in Notre Dame’s class of 2016 are scheduled to arrive this summer.

  

Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting stats and information courtesy of 247Sports.com and all quotes obtained firsthand. Star ratings reflect 247Sports composite rankings. 

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

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2016 NFL Draft: Myles Jack Is More Projection Than Sure Thing

As college football continues the trend of spreading opponents thin with lavish formations that space defenses out, athletes are moving to positions they'd have never seen two decades ago. Football is cyclical, often repeating past trends with just slight variations. The popular passing game en vogue now has put a premium on players like UCLA linebacker Myles Jack.

A standout athlete at the linebacker position allows a defensive coordinator to be creative enough to be less reactive than aggressive. With the average team throwing the ball over 60 percent of the time, run-clogging linebackers aren't as valuable. But that doesn't mean traditional linebacker duties are worthless, and pure athletes can just roam the field and expect to be successful.

Myles Jack declared for the 2016 NFL draft in early October despite tearing his meniscus in a practice session. The 6'1", 245-pound freak athlete is a highly valued player because of his immense physical gifts. He compares favorably to even the best linebackers in the NFL, if NFLDraftScout's projected 40-yard dash of 4.56 is correct.

Jack's ability to drop into space or even into man coverage is what makes evaluators drool. Rob Rang of CBS Sports has Jack going fourth overall in his latest mock draft. Jack is a great athlete, but his football acumen leaves reason for concern if that's the cost to acquire his talent.

The reason why that cost is too steep is that Jack is a large projection as an NFL linebacker. While it is exciting that he was able to cover slot receivers against New Mexico State, that's not a task he'll be asked to execute often. Jack will be expected to cover tight ends and running backs as well as drop into zone to use his speed to close out on routes.

Jack is a pure weak-side linebacker because of his ability to shoot gaps and play in space. The other linebacker positions will present massive challenges for Jack, largely because he was rarely asked to do more at UCLA. And when he was, he struggled. It is difficult to find tape of Jack shedding blocks and making plays at or behind the line of scrimmage.

Some may want Jack to move inside to middle linebacker, but that would be an incredibly big task. Jack was at his best when playing next to a true middle linebacker in Eric Kendricks and strong-side linebacker Anthony Barr.

Unfortunately, due to Jack's knee injury, fans didn't have the chance to see how he'd do when he was the undisputed best player within his positional group.

It's not size or even bulk that makes Jack pigeonholed as a weak-side linebacker. He's very physical but almost to a fault. He doesn't use his hands when blockers approach. Jack slams into them to bounce off and then jets around. This is ineffective from a team-defense approach and increases the chance of injury.

Above, we see Jack following reactively to the ball, instead of reading the blockers and meeting the running back at the lane. He only ends up in the general area because he is shoved to the ground. This is a constant in Jack's run-defending film and a major issue if he's to be counted on as a middle linebacker.

Jack's ability to play man coverage is definitely a tremendous positive. He is like a chess piece, and defensive coordinators will love utilizing Jack on a variety of tight ends and running backs. But when Jack is asked to read plays and make the right decision, he struggles.

Above is an example of Jack guessing. He can't read the offensive linemen, who rise into a pass-blocking stance as soon as the ball is snapped. Cal quarterback Jared Goff immediately sees Jack crashing down to play the run, instead of covering the tight end. The gaffe cost UCLA about 40 yards.

Issues like this are why UCLA head coach Jim Mora Jr. warned Jack of leaving for college so early. According to Michael Silver of NFL.com, Mora had this to say about his decision to declare for the NFL draft:

He's taking his chips and shoving them into the middle, and we hope he draws a good hand," Mora told reporters Tuesday. "I think it's risky to do this. Having been on that side, there's going to be a lot of speculation as to what he is and where he fits. And as I told Myles on Sunday, NFL teams are very, very conservative, and if there's any question whatsoever, they'll pass on you in a heartbeat…

"If he played all year, I was thinking that we would (not have him next year), but when you only play in three games and that's all the tape they have of you your junior year. ... I've been in 25 draft rooms, and I've never seen a guy taken off of that ever. I worry about that for him."

Mora seemed like he had sour grapes at the time, but he had a good point. We cannot be sure that Jack will fully heal from his knee injury. Arthritis can develop in any surgically repaired knee, which hurts the long-term outlook and longevity of a career.

For all of his boundless athleticism Jack has 4 INT's, 1 sack, and one forced fumble in 29 games. Assign what value you will to production.

— Keith Mullins (@KeithDeuces) January 13, 2016

The NFL will scout Jack's talent more than production, which helps boost his draft stock. But comparing his collegiate production to that of linebackers who ended up being very good or elite in the NFL shows more cause for concern. Take a look at the numbers comparison below, per DraftCobern.

These numbers represent the percentile rank of Myles Jack's solo tackles in his 29-game career compared to elite NFL linebackers and his closest competition. Jack fails to sniff the area where the finest NFL linebackers were in college, which should raise massive flags.

Someone taking Jack in the top-10 of the draft should be wary of production that is closer to average than not.

Will Myles Jack be the next Ernie Sims? Sims was another great athlete miscast as a traditional linebacker. He bounced around the NFL because of his poor instincts and small frame. I doubt it, since Jack fits the current NFL perfectly as a weak-side linebacker and is exceptionally good at seeing and attacking. Those skills have value but don't project to a top-tier inside linebacker or pass-rusher.

And if not a pass-rusher or an elite middle linebacker prospect, then the value for a weak-side linebacker alone will make Jack go lower than some may expect.

Speaking of elite physical specimens at linebacker, Kwon Alexander fell to the 124th overall pick in 2015, and he had a very similar skill set. Stephone Anthony was a better overall player and still an elite athlete for the position, but he went 30th overall in 2015.

Can Jack be a great, impactful player? Yes, in time he can be.

However, what he starred at in college is not what he will be asked to do in the NFL. That gives major cause for concern, especially when talking about a top-10 pick.

 

All stats used are from Sports-Reference.com.

Ian Wharton is an NFL Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.

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2016 NFL Draft: Myles Jack Is More Projection Than Sure Thing

As college football continues the trend of spreading opponents thin with lavish formations that space defenses out, athletes are moving to positions they'd have never seen two decades ago...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Tim Williams to Return to Alabama: Latest Comments and Reaction

Junior linebacker Tim Williams announced Wednesday he'll return to Alabama for his senior year.

Williams broke the news on Twitter:

Williams finished 2015 second on the Crimson Tide in sacks (10.5) and tackles for loss (12.5). Both represented a significant improvement over his sophomore season, when he recorded 1.5 sacks and 1.5 tackles for loss.

According to Matt Zenitz of AL.com, Williams told reporters he received a late-first or an early second-round grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Board. However, Zenitz wrote head coach Nick Saban "strongly advised" Williams to put the draft off another year.

Staying in school is the smarter decision for Williams, who failed to crack the top 300 on the big board of Bleacher Report's Matt Miller. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. was much higher on Williams' ability, listing him as the third-best outside linebacker. CBS Sports considered him to be a 2017 prospect, ranking him eighth among draft-eligible OLBs.

Alex Byington of the Decatur Daily argued Williams would help his draft stock by becoming a more consistent defender:

The Crimson Tide won't be lacking in talented players along the front seven next year, particularly with defensive lineman Da'Shawn Hand and linebacker Rashaan Evans coming back. Having Williams for his senior season is still a major boost to the defense. He could be one of the premier pass-rushers in college football in 2016.

Another good season will only improve Williams' chances of becoming a first-round draft pick as well. Especially since he'll likely have a more prominent role on the Crimson Tide, he can truly emerge as a dominant presence coming off the edge.

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Revisiting Top CFB Players' 2015 NFL Draft Decisions 1 Year Later

With the 2015 college football season officially in the books, the sport's calendar is now transitioning to two important matters—recruiting and the NFL draft.

Departing college players will spend the next several months preparing for the draft and looking to push their stocks even higher in the final few events before the big weekend.

Early draft declarations for underclassmen who are already eligible to go pro have been rampant since the regular season ended, and more and more names—such as Clemson's trio of Shaq Lawson, Kevin Dodd and Mackensie Alexander, per the Independent Mail—are joining the list.

For some, going pro early is an easy call, with the guaranteed money of a first- or a second-round pick waiting. Others have to gamble on their futures and hope they can do enough to get their stock where it needs to be.

Let's take a look back to this time last year, when plenty of the top players in college football where considering whether to declare for the NFL draft or stay in school. 

Who made the right call, and who could've used another year?

 

No-brainers

The NFL Draft Advisory Board tweaked its grading system for underclassmen prior to last year's draft. Now players deciding whether they want to stay in school or go pro receive either a "first round," "second round," or "stay in school" grade.

"We want the kid to make an informed decision," NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent said in 2014, per Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated. "Use our resources, make an informed decision. Each institution has those resources for every prospect and every head coach. The numbers and the facts speak for themselves."

If the recommended target for declaring underclassmen is to get drafted in the first two rounds, then plenty of them made incredibly informed decisions last year.

Heisman-winning quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota went No. 1 and No. 2 in the 2015 draft, respectively. Both were Day 1 starters for their new teams, and both have legitimate chances to win Rookie of the Year, according to Chris Wesseling of NFL.com.

Five more underclassmen joined Winston and Mariota in the top 10 of the draft—former Florida defensive end Dante Fowler, Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper, USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams, Miami offensive tackle Ereck Flowers and Georgia running back Todd Gurley.

Gurley was a Pro Bowler and a second-team All-Pro, while Cooper was a four-time Rookie of the Week. On a more somber note, No. 3 overall pick Fowler tore his ACL on the first day of the Jacksonville Jaguars' rookie minicamp and didn't play at all this season.

Other first-round picks include Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes, Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, Missouri defensive end Shane Ray and Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson.

Alabama defensive back Landon Collins and Michigan wide receiver Devin Funchess were among the underclassmen who were solid second-round picks. Arizona State wide receiver Jaelen Strong, Indiana running back Tevin Coleman and Miami running back Duke Johnson were selected in the third round but still received valuable playing time in 2015.

While every year has horror stories about leaving school too early for the NFL draft, most of the big names who forgo their final college seasons make the right call. 

 

Left too soon

According to Dane Brugler of CBS Sports, 24 of the 84 underclassmen who declared early for the 2015 NFL draft did not get drafted at all.

College football fans may recognize some of the names from that list—USC wide receiver George Farmer and TCU safety Chris Hackett are notables—but none of them were top players at the college level.

Two underclassmen who went early, though, received quite a bit of spotlight during their time on campus but fell into the latter rounds.

UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley redshirted before starting two seasons for the Bruins, so he faced the NFL draft question twice during his college career. As Bleacher Report's Dan Hope wrote in November of 2014, Hundley was the "most polarizing quarterback prospect" in the draft:

A three-year starter with pro potential and a university degree, it makes sense for Hundley to move on to the next stage of his career. That said, some believe Hundley would be better served by returning to school for another season, as he still has not yet developed into an NFL-ready signal-caller.

While some draft analysts pegged him as a second-day draft pick, others had him sliding even lower. The latter experts won out, as Hundley was drafted in the fifth round at No. 147 overall by the Green Bay Packers.

As Hope mentioned, Hundley already had his degree from UCLA and three years of experience under his belt. The Bruins also had 5-star quarterback prospect Josh Rosen, his eventual replacement, enrolling early for the 2015 season.

Still, sliding to the fifth round was far from ideal for Hundley and his football future. Another year at UCLA or a possible graduate transfer to another school would've given him more time to round out his skill set for NFL teams.

Gerod Holliman could have used more time at Louisville in order to fine-tune his game.

While the Thorpe Award-winning safety tied an all-time record with 14 interceptions in the 2014 season, Holliman did not win over those at the next level.

"He needs to go back to school," an unnamed NFL scout told Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "He's horrible. He can't make a tackle to save his life. He's got pretty good instincts, but he's not that athletic."

While some analysts weren't as harsh on Holliman as that scout, the former Cardinal fell all the way down to the seventh round and the 239th overall pick. He was cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers before the season began and is now a practice squad member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Perhaps the worst aspect of Holliman's rough first year as a pro is that he was only a redshirt sophomore in 2014. He had two more years of college eligibility left.

But there's an exception to every rule, and Stefon Diggs was just that in 2015.

The former Maryland wide receiver left school early and was selected in the fifth round of the draft—a low spot for a declaring underclassmen.

However, Diggs finished the season better than some first-round selections and made plenty of teams regret passing on him in the draft.

He was second among rookies in yards and touchdown catches despite being inactive for the first four games of the year, according to Jeff Ermann of 247Sports.

 

Way to stay

Patience is going to pay off—literally—in the future for a good number of draft prospects that opted to stay in school for the 2015 season.

One of the players who saw his stock soar with one more year is Notre Dame defensive tackle Sheldon Day. According to Pete Sampson of Rivals, the Irish defensive lineman received a "stay in school" grade from the Advisory Board, and he listened.

In 2015, Day more than doubled his tackles for loss (7.5 to 15.5) and quadrupled his sack total (one to four) while anchoring an experienced Notre Dame defense. 

"He wants to help this football team as a captain, and I think—he came back for a reason," Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said in November, per JJ Stankevitz of CSN Chicago. "He came back so this would be his best year and help Notre Dame and help himself, and I think he's living up to all those things."

Day has jumped from "stay in school" to the No. 54 overall prospect in the latest big board from Bleacher Report NFL Draft Analyst Matt Miller.

Oklahoma defensive end Charles Tapper did something similar by staying with the Sooners for a College Football Playoff run. He rebounded from a rough 2014 season and is now Miller's No. 73 overall recruit.

The Michigan State duo of defensive end Shilique Calhoun and quarterback Connor Cook had strong seasons for the Big Ten champions. Both were projected to be somewhere around late-first round or second-round picks in 2015, and they kept their stocks strong this fall.

Georgia defensive end Leonard Floyd was a possible first-round pick heading into last year's draft process, but he decided to stay in Athens for one more season. Now, the first-round designation seems like a lock for the edge-rusher.

"You guys [the media] are too low on Leonard Floyd," a scout told Miller in early December. "He's going to be top 10 for us."

 

Stayed too long

These stories are rare, but they happen every now and then in college football—a player's stock soars ahead of the draft, and their decisions to stay in school don't pan out at all.

One of the biggest examples of this is the most famous name from last year's College Football Playoff.

Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones only needed three starts to have NFL scouts salivating over his pro potential. He replaced the injured J.T. Barrett and showed a tremendous arm and power-running style during the Buckeyes' national title run.

Jones' future was one of the hottest debates during the first few cold days of 2015, and he decided to stay in Columbus and battle to become the Buckeyes' full-time starter.

The 6'5", 250-pound quarterback wasn't consistent in the first seven weeks of the season, and he was ultimately benched for Barrett. He didn't take a single snap during the final three games of the campaign.

As Miller told Bleacher Report Big Ten Football Lead Writer Ben Axelrod, Jones "would have easily been the third QB drafted" behind Winston and Mariota last year. His stock after the national title game couldn't have been any higher.

Now, Miller doesn't even have him as one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the 2016 class. 

"If he interviewed well, I think he's still drafted," Miller told Axelrod. "But he's a project based on potential, and not being able to show that potential makes him a Day 3 [Rounds 4-7] guy."

Another breakout star of the 2014 season, former Auburn wide receiver D'haquille Williams' future turned south in an even bigger way this past year.

A former No. 1 JUCO prospect, Williams was a reception machine at Auburn, grabbing 45 passes in just 10 games for the Tigers. Analysts loved Williams' physical nature and massive catch radius, and he showed signs of possibly being picked in the first few rounds of 2015's draft.

Then the problems started arising for the wideout.

Williams, who was suspended for the Outback Bowl against Wisconsin and missed two games due to injury, made the surprising decision to stay in school. He was later suspended for the first part of fall practice and only had 12 catches for 147 yards in the first five games of the 2015 season.

Auburn dismissed the former star in early October, and reports emerged later that week that he punched multiple people in an altercation at a bar.

Now Williams is expected to be a late-round pick at best in 2016, according to NFL Media draft analyst Lance Zierlein (via NFL.com's Chase Goodbread):

Tape says he should be drafted inside the first four rounds, maybe the first three, but his character and athleticism are going to probably make him a third-day guy (rounds 4-7). And if the Auburn staff can't support his character when scouts ask about it, he might not even get picked.

That's a long way to fall for a talented wide receiver that had many buzzing this time last year.

 

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

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Big 12 Wins NCAA Vote for Right to Hold Championship Game: Details, Reaction

After playing the last five years without a conference championship game, the Big 12 will bring it back after winning an NCAA vote.    

Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman reported Wednesday that the NCAA vote granted the Big 12 its right to stage a title game featuring the top two teams in the conference during the regular season. 

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