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Michigan Football Recruiting: Looking Ahead to 2017 Class

Following the final month of Michigan football recruiting for the 2016 cycle could get exhausting, so let's take a moment to relax before delving into the 2017 class.

Ready? That's all you get.

College football coaches are already sliding into those DMs, contacting prospects who will be eligible to sign on Feb. 1, 2017. In today's era of recruiting, regular communication is a necessity. Without it, a school could lose out on recruits to rivals willing to build a better rapport with them.

The Wolverines currently have five commits, though as we recently saw, there's no guarantee any verbal pledge will remain a part of the haul.

Rather than focusing on potential members of the class—because at this moment, Michigan has 242 targets, per 247Sports—this piece focuses on what the Maize and Blue need to replace, potential immediate needs and some top prospects.

 

Current Commits

Carter Dunaway was the first prospect to commit, way back in April 2015. The 3-star tight end is from nearby powerhouse Brother Rice, which regularly produces Football Bowl Subdivision prospects. Plus, per Brice Marich of Scout, Dunaway has already taken on the role of player-recruiter.

JaRaymond Hall, a 4-star offensive tackle, is the highest-rated pledge. Per the 247Sports composite rankings, Hall is the nation's 212th-best player—though that's certain to fluctuate throughout the year.

Michigan secured a pair of 3-star teammates from Newton High School (Covington, Georgia) in running back Kurt Taylor and wide receiver Jeremiah Holloman.

Lastly, the Wolverines crossed the border to snag Benjamin St-Juste, a 3-star cornerback from Montreal. What immediately stands out with St-Juste is his 6'3" frame. Size like that for a defensive back can't be taught, so it could be a tremendous asset.

 

What Will Michigan Lose?

Predictions and forecasts for the 2016 campaign will largely favor Michigan, which should be a trendy pick to win the Big Ten title in Jim Harbaugh's second season.

That's not just due to the coaching staff, though, since the Wolverines will return a majority of their starters. The eventual downside? Most of them are seniors.

Michigan will lose running backs De'Veon Smith and Drake Johnson, fullback Joe Kerridge and top targets Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson and Jake Butt. Three starting offensive linemen—Ben Braden, Kyle Kalis and Erik Magnuson—will exhaust their eligibility.

Ryan Glasgow and Chris Wormley, the defense's two best linemen, will head to the NFL. Likely 2016 starting linebacker Ben Gedeon will be leaving, too. And defensive backs Jourdan Lewis, Jeremy Clark, Channing Stribling, Dymonte Thomas and Delano Hill will move on from Ann Arbor as well.

Just for good measure, do-it-all specialist Kenny Allen will play his final season for the Wolverines. Additionally, potential early NFL declarations include two-year starting left tackle Mason Cole and versatile star Jabrill Peppers.

 

What Might the Wolverines Need?

Things change. We can only guess the breakout players for 2016. However, considering the departures and projected remaining players, Michigan currently needs to address a few future holes in its roster.

Wolverines fans hope quarterback Brandon Peters and running back Kareem Walker will settle into starting roles by the 2017 season, so the primary focus for those positions is depth.

Harbaugh and Co. attacked wide receiver and tight end this past cycle. Plus, Michigan signed three offensive and five defensive linemen in 2016. Expect the staff to target premier (read: highly rated) pass-catching talents while being more aggressive up front.

Linebacker will once again stand out as the No. 1 need, but the secondary isn't far behind. Recently adding David Long, Lavert Hill and Khaleke Hudson calmed many worries for the defensive backfield, though.

Quinn Nordin, one of Harbaugh's "sleepover" recruits, will theoretically replace Allen, but he'll need some competition.

 

Names to Remember

To say the 2017 recruiting picture is "fluid" would be a wild understatement. National signing day is almost an entire year away. Nevertheless, you'll probably hear these names.

Quarterback: Dylan McCaffrey, Davis Mills, Bailey Hockman and Kasim Hill

In-state prospects: Donovan Peoples-Jones, Ambry Thomas, Josh Ross, Corey Malone-Hatcher, Jaylen Kelly-Powell, Allen Stritzinger, Antjuan Simmons and Emani Mason

IMG Academy (where Michigan will hold a portion of spring practice): Among others, Joshua Kaindoh, Isaiah Pryor, Jordan Anthony, Robert Hainsey, Cesar Ruiz and Cam Spence

Best of the rest: Marvin Wilson, Jarez Parks, Isaiah Wilson, D'Andre Swift, Anthony McFarland Jr., Stanford Samuels, Drew Singleton, Tedarrell Slaton and Corey Bolds

 

All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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Will Shea Patterson or Jacob Eason Have Better SEC Football Career?

"It probably isn't what it has been in years past. That's not to say that it's bad."

Ole Miss head coach Huge Freeze served as "Captain Obvious" regarding the current state of SEC quarterback play on the SEC coaches teleconference on Nov. 25, 2015—the final week of the 2015 regular season.

Of course, he wasn't referring to his own program. All Rebel quarterback Chad Kelly did as a junior was finish with the SEC's third-most total yards in a single season in conference history with 4,542, behind former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel's 5,116 in 2012 and 4,873 in 2013. 

If that perception is going to change, his new quarterback is going to play a significant role.

Shea Patterson, a 5-star pro-style prospect from Shreveport, Louisiana, enrolled early in Oxford to learn behind Kelly for a year before taking control of Freeze's offense. 

The only other 5-star quarterback in the class of 2016—Jacob Eason from Lake Stevens, Washington—also enrolled early at an SEC program and will hope to jump-start a Georgia offense that's been too one-dimensional over the last two seasons.

"It's all been good," Eason said of his transition, according to quotes emailed by Georgia. "The big thing is balancing your free time with classes, weight room and learning the system. It's been a big transition, but I think it's been a good one."

Both quarterbacks will be successful at the college level, with Eason likely getting the chance to make the first impression thanks to Georgia's uncertainty at the position and Kelly's decision to come back at Ole Miss.

But what about long-term?

"From a college football standpoint, I think Shea Patterson is going to have a better career," said Bleacher Report national recruiting analyst Damon Sayles.

When Patterson assumes the roll of starting quarterback in Oxford once Kelly moves on, he will be inheriting a loaded offense that Freeze has already proven can produce video game numbers and will have unlimited potential at wide receiver. 

Despite being unable to run between the tackles and take pressure off of quarterbacks for three years, the Rebels have finished with a top-five passing offense in the conference in each of Freeze's four years in town. With apologies to Kelly and former signal-caller Bo Wallace, Patterson is a different breed. 

"I love everything about that kid and love the way he's helped be a leader in this class before he ever got here and now that he’s already enrolled and going through workouts and things, everything he does continues to validate my opinion," Freeze said in quotes emailed by Ole Miss.

Plus, the fire in his belly impressed scouts on the recruiting trail.

"Patterson's competitive nature is so deep," said Sayles. "It runs ridiculous. He plays in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and everybody's having fun, but he's one of the guys who has goals. 'I want to win MVP. I want to win the game. I want to throw for a certain amount of yards.' The competitive nature of him, you have to like it if you're an Ole Miss fan."

He isn't as much of a running threat as Kelly, but both Kelly and Wallace struggled with interceptions throughout their careers. What Patterson loses in athleticism as a dual-threat quarterback, he makes up for with arm strength, pinpoint accuracy and ability to throw receivers open.

The receivers he has to work with are scary.

Freeze reeled in Van Jefferson and Damarkus Lodge last year, both of whom were 4-star prospects. Jefferson redshirted in 2015, while Lodge saw action in six games in a backup role and caught a touchdown in the season opener.

On national signing day, Freeze added even more power to the wide receiver punch by signing Laquon Treadwell clone D.K. Metcalf, slot threat Tre Nixon and Starkville native A.J. Brown—all of whom were 4-star prospects. 

An offense geared toward the quarterback, Freeze's track record of success, the weapons in Oxford and Patterson's ability to stretch the field vertically and sideline to sideline will not only make him a star, but could land him in New York City at some point as a Heisman Trophy finalist.

That's not to say that Eason won't have success too. Of course he will. 

He's the most talented quarterback Georgia has had since Matt Stafford, and like Stafford, will be thrown into the fire at some point as a true freshman. 

He also is more likely to follow Stafford's path to the pros, which included being picked first overall by the Detroit Lions in the 2009 NFL draft.

"Jacob Eason, when you look at him physically and see all of the measurables, he checks out so well as the better pro prospect," said Sayles. "When we are talking college football, Patterson is the better prospect. But when it comes to pro prospects, Eason is going to be the guy who everybody keeps an eye on."

He also will play in a system at Georgia that will take a ton of pressure off of his shoulders if all goes according to plan.

He'll have one more year of Nick Chubb in 2016 before Chubb decides whether to stay or go on to the NFL, will have Sony Michel lining up behind him in 2017 and 4-star prospect Elijah Holyfield enrolled early with Eason and will be with him for the long haul.

Pounding the rock and working off of play action was Georgia's identity under former head coach Mark Richt and will be its identity under first-year head coach and former Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart.

The SEC has struggled in the quarterback department since 2013, when Wallace, AJ McCarron, Johnny Manziel, Aaron Murray, Zach Mettenberger, James Franklin, Nick Marshall and Connor Shaw all were bona fide studs for their respective schools.

Patterson and Eason will be leading the charge to return the position to prominence over the next few years and provide a solid foundation for the conference as others try to follow suit.

 

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.

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The One Recruit Each Top 25 Class Wishes It Had Signed for 2016

On Wednesday, coaches across America welcomed their 2016 recruiting classes as prospects put pen to paper on national letters of intent. Invariably, coaches touted their classes as “filing all of their needs,” being “the guys we really wanted” and “guys who will bring this program forward.” Was it true? Kind of.

Recruiting is a difficult, competitive process, and no program gets every guy it targets. Top prospects make decisions that surprise coaches, fans and sometimes even their families. And for even the best classes, there’s always that one guy who got away. Here’s a look at one recruit every Top 25 recruiting class missed out on, using the 247Sports ranking of the nation’s best recruiting classes.

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Ohio State Football Recruiting: Looking Ahead to 2017 Class

Ohio State's 2017 recruiting class could be the best collection of talent Urban Meyer has ever assembled, and with the success Meyer has had on the recruiting trail during his career, that would be a historic accomplishment.

His 2006 recruiting class had 5-star studs Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin and 4-star Brandon Spikes, who led the Florida Gators to two BCS National Championships in 2006 and 2008. The Buckeyes' 2013 recruiting class was headlined by 4-stars Joey BosaEzekiel Elliott and J.T. Barrett, who carried the Buckeyes to a national title in 2014.

Ohio State's 2017 recruiting class is already off to a fast start, and it has the potential to not only finish at No. 1 on national signing day next February, but also help the Buckeyes win a championship down the road.

 

The Early Pledges

The 2017 recruiting cycle didn't officially start until last Wednesday, when the 2016 class was signed and finalized on national signing day. But Meyer and Ohio State have been recruiting '17 prospects for more than two years, and they've already laid a solid foundation for their next class.

The first commit came from quarterback Danny Clark back in December 2013. He's been instrumental as an early recruiter for the Buckeyes, who already have two 5-stars in the fold, which equals their total from the last two years. 

Those 5-stars—offensive tackle Josh Myers and cornerback Shaun Wade—pace a 10-member Ohio State class that already has five top-80 players and currently ranks No. 1 nationally. 

 

The Top Targets

The Buckeyes aren't done with 5-star talent.

After nabbing the 10th- and 12th-ranked wide receivers from the class of 2016 in Austin Mack and Binjimen Victor, respectively, Ohio State is leading the way in the recruitment of 5-stars Donovan Peoples-Jones and Trevon Grimes, whom 247Sports rates as the top two pass-catchers in the country.

Ohio State is also in the thick of things for 5-star safety Jeffrey Okudah, 5-star defensive end Joshua Kaindoh and high 4-stars Lamont Wade (cornerback), Micah Clark (offensive tackle) and Darnell Ewell (defensive tackle).

Even if Meyer and the Buckeyes landed just half of the top targets listed above, their grip on the No. 1 recruiting class would almost assuredly become too tight for any other team (read: Alabama) to overcome.

 

The In-State Talent

Ohio State has taken a more national approach to recruiting with Meyer at the helm, but he's still made it a priority to secure Ohio's top talent.

In his first five recruiting classes, Meyer has managed to secure commitments from 25 of the state's top 50 players. He already has verbal pledges from five of the top 10 players in Ohio for 2017—Myers, Marcus Williamson, Todd Sibley, Brendon White and Jerron Cage.

On top of that, the Buckeyes are favored to land four of the other top five undecided Ohio prospects—4-stars Jaylen Harris, Lynn Bowden, JaVonte Richardson and Danny Davis—that comprise the top 10. 

Due to scholarship restrictions, however, it's hard to imagine Ohio State being able to sign all nine. The Buckeyes will only graduate six seniors at the end of the 2016 season, so the class Meyer signs in 2017 won't be a large one. 

Even still, it's clear that the Buckeyes have built a strong fence around the state of Ohio. 

 

All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.

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

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Tennessee Football Recruiting: Looking Ahead to 2017 Class

Despite a rocky start to the the 2017 recruiting cycle on Rocky Top, it would be unwise to bet against Tennessee head coach Butch Jones building yet another stellar group.

After all, only Alabama, Ohio State and Florida State have signed more 4- and 5-star players than the Volunteers in the past three years.

Yes, this year's national signing day just came and went last week, but scouting and selling your university to players never stops. Coaching staffs all over the country have already turned their attention to the prospects in next year's class, and it's no different at Tennessee.

The Vols should be able to sign a full class of 25 in 2017 after having to be judicious with numbers this year. That's a good thing, too.

It may just wind up being the best in-state crop of prospects ever in Tennessee, as there appear to be more than 20 players who will wind up playing high-level Football Bowl Subdivision football. 

"We've been hearing about the 2017 class in Tennessee for a few years now, with people saying it could be the best in the state's history, and it appears to be living up to the hype so far," GoVols247 recruiting analyst Ryan Callahan told B/R. "There are several elite prospects and a number of others who are likely to be SEC-level players. And other names are still emerging, as they do every year.

"It's as impressive of a class as I've ever seen in Tennessee."

So who are some of the top players to watch? What are some of the early storylines that look like they'll materialize over the course of the next year? Where are the areas of need for the Vols moving forward?

Way too early to be looking at lists and top targets? Well, sure it is. But where's the fun in waiting? Let's take a glance at what to expect from the Vols in the 2017 recruiting cycle.

 

About that rough beginning…

Early commitments are great when you can get the players to hang on, but Tennessee hasn't had any luck with that so far in its 2017 recruiting efforts.

After getting off to a torrid start with verbal pledges from 3-star strong-side defensive end Jordon Riley, 5-star quarterback Hunter Johnson and 4-star receiver Tee Higgins, all three have decommitted.

The latest of those came from Higgins, the electrifying 6'5" wide receiver from nearby Oak Ridge, Tennessee, who decided to take a step back and re-evaluate his college choices, since he wants to play football and basketball at the next level. Tennessee is going to give him the opportunity to do that, but he wants to be sure.

Higgins—a massive in-state target the Vols simply can't afford to lose out on—tweeted that Tennessee will still be in heavy consideration for his signature.

There's a long way to go before next year's class is in place, but things are lining up for Tennessee to have a potentially huge, talent-rich class. However, the breaks haven't fallen the Vols' way, at least in the early going.

Most Vols fans probably weren't pulling for hated rival Alabama in the national championship game, but it's the other team that's giving UT fits right now. Clemson may wind up being a major detriment to the Vols' 2017 recruiting efforts.

Johnson flipped from Tennessee to the Tigers already. Higgins, Knoxville Catholic High School receiver Amari Rodgers (Tee Martin's son) and key linebacker target Justin Foster are giving them a lot of attention, too. Meanwhile, offensive tackle target Blake Vinson pledged to Dabo Swinney last week.

So the two orange teams are going head-to-head early, and Swinney is winning right now. The Tigers are hot on the recruiting trail currently, but a lot can change.

Not only did the three decommitments occur, but two of the top players in the state seem wide open with others ahead of UT. JaCoby Stevens committed to LSU early but has since backed off that pledge and has the Vols in his top group. Maleik Gray talks a lot about Florida State and USC, but he seems open to Tennessee, too.

Those kids are national prospects, and Jones will really have to show his recruiting chops to get them in orange. Just how receptive will they be? Hopefully for Tennessee, they'll listen more than 2016 receiver Dillon Mitchell, who had his heart set on Oregon.

Gray told Volquest.com's Austin Price last week that he has the Vols on his mind.

"I've spoken with JaCoby [Stevens], Princeton [Fant] and Gentry Bonds about the chance to stay in-state and player together," Gray said. "They were for it so it's definitely something we could all end up doing."

That would be big news for Tennessee if all of those guys decided to stay home.

Jones and crew won't have to log as many miles this year to pull in a top-ranked class, but they will definitely have to put in plenty of extra work. The Vols are batting with the big boys in recruiting now, and they came away with a few late home runs in the 2016 cycle.

But next year's class will be pivotal, and they've got plenty of time to rally from a bummer beginning.

 

Biggest needs are clear

Perhaps the most under-appreciated aspect of the 2017 class is the fact that the Vols could address all the gaps on their roster address with impact players and eliminate them altogether.

Each year, Jones' classes have not only elevated the athleticism and talent on the roster, they've also made the Vols deeper and deeper. At times throughout this year's class, the players already on a healthy UT team allowed Jones to get into taking the best players available, regardless of position.

When teams can do that, you're able to take highly ranked difference-makers without fear of falling behind from a numbers standpoint. 

Up to this point, this Tennessee coaching staff has been making up for the lingering deficiencies the last coaching regime left in its wake. Soon, that will no longer be the case.

With their needs dwindling, the Vols should be ready to begin redshirting a lot of young players, which leads to a seasoned roster of well-prepared players on the depth chart. They have the opportunity to shore up some desperation spots this year and finally be caught up after this season. 

They can be pickier, too. 

Bob Welton, UT's director of player personnel, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press' Patrick Brown following the conclusion of the 2016 class that the Vols were able to do that this year, too.

The great thing we have now, what Coach [Jones] has done here, is our culture's set. ... There's a culture here. Before, with these other recruiting classes, we had to kind of bring kids in to create that culture. Well, these kids now have to fit the culture. That's a lot more fun to go out to recruit kids in which the character part plays a big role, because they've got to be able to fit what we're doing now.

So before we talk about some of the players for you to keep an eye on as you begin to build your list of "wants" for Tennessee, you have to know the team's biggest needs.

Without question, three areas stick out while another one will be important, too. The Vols must sign at least two quality running backs and three good defensive tackles. If they don't do that, the class won't be considered a success.

On top of that, defensive end needs addressing, too, since Corey Vereen and LaTroy Lewis are out of eligibility following the 2016 season and stud junior-to-be Derek Barnett is almost certainly heading to the NFL early. 

Those are the three biggest needs Jones needs to set his sights on.

Getting another couple of offensive tackles would be big, too, though it would fall fourth on the list of UT's priorities. 

If the Vols can recruit elite players to those areas, it would fill nine or 10 spots in the class, and it would mean the program would be on firm footing to establish sustained success over the next several seasons.

 

Who are some top targets to remember?

Everybody's list is going to vary, but several players are already emerging as viable, necessary targets for Tennessee's 2017 class.

Gray, Stevens, Bonds, Higgins, Rodgers, Foster and Fant have already been mentioned. Every single one of those guys is pivotal, and they'll all be heavily pursued until the Vols can get them to Knoxville or until they elect to sign with other teams.

That's a start to the elite names that will be topping the list on the Vols' war room whiteboard.

But there are plenty more.

Since running back is a pivotal position in this class, perhaps one of the top three or four overall targets has to be Montgomery Bell Academy runner Ty Chandler. The 5'11", 190-pound athlete is an elite runner right in UT's backyard from a school the Vols have successfully recruited from in recent years.

Yes, he's an Ole Miss legacy, and it's difficult to rule out coach Hugh Freeze these days when it comes to recruiting. But Jones has enjoyed his share of success winning battles against Freeze in the past two years—most notably in landing the signing day commitments of Drew Richmond and Jonathan Kongbo over the past two years.

Chandler is a dynamic 4-star running back who may just be Tennessee's top target at the position. But he's far from the only one.

Tennessee is home to two more legit runners in Cordarrian "Big Baby" Richardson and Vols legacy Chase Hayden. The latter could wind up playing a lot of different positions at UT, and considering that his father is former Vols runner Aaron Hayden, it would be unwise to bet against the Vols luring him to Knoxville.

Alabama commit Cam Akers and Trey Sermon of Marietta, Georgia, among others, may wind up being viable targets as well.

Four other major Vols targets who need to be mentioned are 5-star Loganville, Georgia, athlete Deangelo Gibbs, electrifying dual-threat quarterback N'Kosi Perry, Pennsylvania 5-star cornerback Lamont Wade and Jackson, Tennessee, offensive tackle Trey Smith.

Gibbs will be one of the most highly recruited prospects in the entire nation, and Tennessee winning the Nigel Warrior sweepstakes could pay huge dividends for the Vols in his recruitment. The 6'2", 207-pound defensive back/linebacker is Warrior's first cousin as well as the nephew of former UT legend Dale Carter (Warrior's dad).

When Warrior visited Knoxville officially on the final weekend before national signing day, Gibbs was with him on an unofficial visit. That's huge for the Vols, as Gibbs is one of the most freakish athletes in the class.

With Johnson flipping to Clemson, the Vols need a quarterback, and Perry is a dynamic athlete who is arguably at the top of UT's list right now. He was committed to Miami for a while but backed off that this week, according to 247Sports' David Lake. UT could be a major player there.

Smith loves Tennessee and Alabama, and the Vols have really done a good job recruiting the Jackson area under Jones, so getting a player of Smith's ilk at a spot like offensive tackle that teams must address every year would be huge.

Finally, with the defensive line being such a major need, who are some of the players who will emerge there? That will be a long list that will change countless times between now and next February, but a few guys the Vols are in on early could wind up being important commits.

In-state target Rutger Reitmaier is a player the Vols like a lot from Nashville who could get the class off to a nice start at the position. They've shown him a lot of early attention, and it would be big for UT if he could reciprocate that love with a quick commitment.

The Virginia trio of Eric CrosbyJordan Williams and Elijah Conliffe are vital to Tennessee's class, and Riley is another one who could re-commit at some point. That list will swell, and the Vols will wind up being in on a lot of high-profile players with playing time to sell.

If that seems like a lot of early names to digest, it's because boards are just now beginning to fill out, and the Vols are in the early stages of shaping how they want things to shake out next year.

It's going to be a big cycle for Jones in terms of keeping Tennessee's program heading in the right direction. Getting a few guys to pledge early and getting the peer recruiting going would go a long way in making the 2017 class one of Jones' best yet.

 

All quotes and information gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information gathered from 247Sports, unless otherwise noted.

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

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Early Power Ranking of Best Week 1 Games for 2016 College Football Season

If you're bummed about the end of college football season, especially after national signing day, remember there's a light at the end of the tunnel.

It might be seven months away, but when Week 1 of next season arrives, it will feature the best slate of opening games in recent memory. And even that might be selling it short.

"The best day in college football history is coming," wrote USA Today's Dan Wolken two years ago. Kevin Kelley of FBS Schedules wrote more of the same. The matchups are so compelling they've been hyped since 2014.

So, without further ado, let's break them open. Here are 10 games whose teams and stories make us giddy for fall to arrive.

Sound off below and let us know where you disagree!

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