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Non-Power 5 Schools with Best Shot to Crash College Football Playoff

For whatever reason, college football doesn't love a Cinderella in the same way college basketball does. Why is anyone's guess, but the sport's mid-majors never had an opportunity to prove their worth in the BCS era. 

Could that ever change in the four-team playoff era? Perhaps, but a lot would have to happen. 

Before spouting off the (extremely short) list of non-power schools that could crash the playoff in 2015, there are a couple of things that have to be taken into consideration.

The first is that the following teams must go undefeated. This is pretty much non-negotiable. A one-loss team listed here isn't going to get so much as a glance from the selection committee—unless no Power 5 team finishes better than 9-3. 

Even then, an undefeated non-power team could face difficulties getting in over a one- or even two-loss team. Remember: Expanding to a four-team playoff was about money, not access. 

Secondly, when referring to schedules, the more difficult it is, the better. Marshall was undefeated through the first 11 games of its 2014 season and barely sniffed a top-25 spot in the playoff poll (which was quickly taken away following a loss to Western Kentucky). The reason? The Thundering Herd, while a quality team, played n-o-b-o-d-y

With those things in mind, here are three non-power schools with an outside shot to crash the playoff—should planets align and circumstances permit. And, as it so happens, all three schools play at least one other program on this list. 


Boise State

The Broncos own the Cinderella label. From the mid-2000s on, Boise State has been either near the top of the rankings, involved in giant-killer games or making "dark-horse championship" lists like these. While it's never resulted in so much as an opportunity for a national championship, there are few programs more recognizable outside of the Power 5. 

"Boise State has been a power program for a long time, if we’re in the Group of Five or not,” head coach Bryan Harsin told Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated last month. That might sound like coachspeak, but Harsin's not wrong. The remarkable run under Chris Petersen included draft-day success—from 2007-14, the Broncos had 20 players drafted—and two Fiesta Bowl appearances. Harsin took Boise to a third Fiesta Bowl last season, beating Arizona 38-30. 

This year, despite losing quarterback Grant Hedrick and running back Jay Ajayi, Boise State is looking for more. Thamel, however, brought up a good point on Boise's quest for a playoff spot: 

First off, the committee wipes the slate clean and re-ranks each week. In doing so, it will inherently hurt teams from outside the Power Five. When the first College Football Playoff rankings are released on Nov. 3, Boise’s games from that date onward are New Mexico, Air Force, at San Jose State and potentially the Mountain West title game. That offers little opportunity to impress committee members. By contrast, Auburn will face Texas A&M on the road, Georgia, Idaho, Alabama and potentially the SEC East winner in that league's championship game.

Boise's late-season slate can't be (and won't be) ignored, but neither can the entire body of work, which has already been used as an explanation by playoff committee chair Jeff Long before. In addition to its Mountain West schedule, Boise State plays Idaho State, Washington, BYU and Virginia. Idaho State aside, that's certainly not the worst out-of-conference schedule. Using Football Outsiders' F/+ efficiency rankings from last year, the latter three opponents give Boise's nonconference strength of schedule a rating of about 55. 

It's not terrible, but it certainly leaves Boise with no room for error, not that there was much room anyway. 



Technically, the Cougars are now "considered" a power opponent by some of the power conferences. However, that's about as official as you considering me the worst sportswriter in the country. (So pretty official then, right?) 

Anyway, the Cougars are in a no-man's land of sorts in major college football. They're not in a power conference but don't hold the same level of rapport among Independents as Notre Dame. And, as McMurphy notes, BYU isn't entitled to Power 5 money from the playoff. 

Still, BYU has the personnel and schedule to make an interesting playoff run. The first three games on the Cougars' schedule are rough: at Nebraska, at home against Boise State and then on the road at UCLA. 

That's tough for anyone. 

BYU's schedule gets more manageable from there, but Michigan, East Carolina, Cincinnati, Missouri, Fresno State and Utah State all present hurdles in one way or another. If it goes undefeated through that, BYU should be, at worst, in the peripheral playoff conversation by December. 

There's also the return of quarterback Taysom Hill, a talented dual-threat who has battled injuries throughout his career. After losing Hill to a season-ending leg injury in 2014 against Utah State, the Cougars lost four straight games. 

"I’ve got another year to showcase what I can do as an athlete, as a quarterback and (we) as a BYU football team, so let’s make the most of it," Hill said in June (h/t Jeff Call, the Deseret News). “I feel like I’m a smarter player because I was able to watch (the game) from a birds-eye view. The biggest thing that I learned is, this opportunity is so small, I’m going to make the most of every chance that I get."

With a veteran group, BYU once again finds itself in the dark-horse playoff discussion. This time, though, can the Cougars actually deliver?



As far as Group of 5 conferences go, the American Athletic Conference could actually be excellent in 2015. Central Florida, East Carolina, Memphis and even Temple have all elevated their programs over the past few years. However, Cincinnati is the overwhelming favorite to win the American this year. The Bearcats won nine games last season despite injuries and return many of those starters, including quarterback Gunner Kiel. 

However, Cincinnati's nine wins also rang a bit hollow. Two marquee nonconference games against Ohio State and Miami were double-digit losses, as was Military Bowl against Virginia Tech. The Bearcats thankfully don't get the Buckeyes again but do have an opportunity for revenge on a Thursday night at home against the Hurricanes. 

If Cincy wants to at least show down the line it should be in the playoff conversation, it has to beat Miami and then BYU the following game. 


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

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Auburn Football: Carl Lawson's Return to Full Contact Just What Tigers Need

Carl Lawson's injury, missed time and recovery are all in the past now.

The sophomore defensive end is back to 100 percent, and he can't wait to prove it on the field.

"I'm ready for the first game," Lawson said Tuesday, according to Brandon Marcello of AL.com. "I'm ready to get back out there and enjoy the sport. First scrimmage—I'm looking forward to it, and these days will fly by. I'm ready."

Auburn's coaches made Lawson, who missed all of 2014 with an ACL injury and subsequent surgery, stay out of full-contact practice this spring. They wanted to take it slow with the star sophomore and not risk a setback.

But they're not going to hold him back during fall camp, which opened Tuesday for the Tigers.

"I'm not thinking about the injury. My coaches are more thinking about that than me," Lawson said, according to Charles Goldberg of AuburnTigers.com. "Even when I got back out there, I've never really thought about how my knee went out.

"I'm one of those players who plays with reckless abandon."

Lawson's eagerness to return to contact is an excellent sign for Auburn's defense. Without him, Auburn dropped from 32 sacks in 2013's championship run to just 21 in 2014.

The entire defense suffered without the pass rush it enjoyed two seasons ago with Lawson and NFL first-round draft pick Dee Ford.

Quarterbacks had all day to throw the ball, and the Tigers allowed more than 7 yards per opponent pass attempt for the fifth straight season. Auburn recorded only five total sacks in the five losses of what was a disappointing 2014 campaign.

Now, Auburn is looking at the trenches as a potential place of strength in 2015 with the return of Lawson and several experienced members of last year's defensive line.

"[Lawson's return] helps a lot because last year we needed some pass rush and we didn't have that," junior defensive tackle Montravius Adams said, according to Alex Scarborough of ESPN.com. "Having everybody back, everybody pretty healthy, it's going to force people to free up somebody."

In new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp's scheme, that someone could be Lawson.

Instead of a traditional, hand-in-the-ground defensive end, Lawson is lining up at buck—a stand-up pass-rush specialist who operates like a hybrid 3-4 outside linebacker—during practices.

That allows the former 5-star recruit to concentrate on what he does best.

"I like the position because you get to go make plays," Lawson said, per Goldberg. "You're not holding blocks for the backers. You're going to make the plays yourself. That's why I like it. It's real natural."

Lawson said he understands the importance of being back out on the practice field for the Tigers. He's counting down the days until the first day of full pads and the first scrimmage of fall camp.

"I need to be in the scrimmages, and I need to be out there," Lawson said, per Marcello. "With coach Muschamp's defense, he's trying to prep as many guys to be as good as possible so there's no overly valued person. A team that puts more emphasis on one guy, what happens when that one guy goes out? They blow up."

A healthy Lawson at full speed is just what Auburn has been waiting to see for over a year now.

Even though he's a sophomore with just one season of experience, he's the best pass-rusher on the roster. And his work in practice can help develop other key linemen, including elite newcomer Byron Cowart.

Several Auburn players and coaches have said throughout the offseason that Lawson looked bigger, stronger and faster in his return from the ACL injury.

The defensive end himself says he's better than ever this fall—and he's even working on some new moves to torment offensive linemen.

"There are a lot of things that are going to happen in the season that I'm not going to tell you," Lawson said, per Scarborough. "It's a secret."

There's no doubt those words are music to Auburn's ears.


Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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

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Top Heisman Trophy Dark-Horse Contenders to Watch for the 2015 Season

Last year, we saw Marcus Mariota lift the coveted Heisman Trophy above his head. Here, Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer discuss some potential Heisman Trophy dark horses in 2015.

Who do you think could make it to New York City this year? Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ranking the Top 5 Players in the ACC Heading into 2015 Season

Some of the best players in college football have come through the Atlantic Coast Conference, including 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder lists his top five players in the ACC heading into the 2015 season.

Who do you think deserves to be on the list? Watch the video and let us know!

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Steven Smothers to West Virginia: Mountaineers Land 4-Star WR Prospect

West Virginia's push to become "Wide Receiver U" saw it land its next foundational piece, as 4-star wideout Steven Smothers announced his intention to play in Morgantown on Wednesday:

Smothers, who stars at Franklin (Maryland) High School, is the No. 30 wide receiver and the seventh-ranked player in his state, per 247Sports. The Mountaineers have been a heavy favorite since Smothers pared his list to six schools in June, with all but one expert polled predicting he'd land there. Ohio State, which was a finalist with Penn State, Rutgers, Nebraska and Illinois, was the only other school to receive consideration.

"West Virginia is ahead by a long stretch but the other schools are still in there. I've been to the school a million times and it's the same coaches that have been there since I got the offer," Smothers said, per Keenan Cummings of Rivals.com. "That's the school I am the most comfortable with."  

Listed at 5'10" and 152 pounds, Smothers has played both sides of the ball throughout his high school career. He made 38 receptions for 696 yards and 11 touchdowns as a junior, adding 26 tackles, three interceptions and two fumbles recovered as a defensive back. Electric with the ball in his hands, Smothers also scored five touchdowns and had 143 yards out of the backfield.

”Smothers is not the biggest player in stature, but he is special with the ball in his hands,” Scout.com recruiting analyst Brian Dohn said (via Michael Clark of Scout.com). “He has great acceleration, and the speed to score from anywhere on the field. Smothers has good hands, and he gets into and out of breaks well."

Of course, West Virginia is no stranger to smallish wide receivers. Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and Mario Alford have all excelled in Morgantown and been NFL draftees despite being 5'10" or below. West Virginia would most likely prefer to have Kevin White, athletic-freak types making up its receiving corps, but history suggests Smothers is picking a solid school for his skill set.

Smothers also has a special bond with Austin, who has advised him throughout his high school career and is a fellow Marylander. With any luck, Smothers will wind up following in Austin's footsteps.


Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

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Biggest Similarities and Differences Between CFB and NFL Training Camps

"Click, clack." It's the sound of cleats walking down the tunnel and pads hitting one another. Camps are underway, which means within the next month or so, football—at the college and pro level—will be back. 

Preseason camp and training camp mark those final practices before teams get to take out their aggression on someone else. In that way, they're a lot alike.

But they're also different in some aspects and represent the separation between a pro sport and a (supposedly) amateur one. 

Exactly how are fall camps and training camps different? How are they similar? Bleacher Report Fanduel's Michael Schottey, B/R's Matt Bowen, Footballscoop.com boss Scott Roussel and Scout.com reporter Josh Webb to weigh in. 

What we discovered is that while the goals of preseason and training camps are the same, the expectations and processes to achieve those goals are different. 


Similarity: Maximize the Reps

The season is right around the corner. There's no time to waste on empty reps that help one player but don't help another. This is true at the college and pro levels. "If you go to a coaching clinic, 90 percent of what they talk about is maximizing reps," said Schottey. "Why throw a football to a coach or into a net when you can throw it to a receiver who needs reps too?"

So often coaches talk about repetition in practice, even if the playbook isn't that complicated. It's the only way to drive home concepts and develop team chemistry. Do something long enough, and eventually players are executing and not thinking. 

But reps are also important in the right hands. "In the first week, everyone gets reps," Bowen said. "After that, you're preparing for the season so you want to get your first-team guys the most reps." 

The emergence of spring practices and OTAs, along with the reduction in two-a-days, has taken away the opportunities for evaluation in fall camps. As such, coaches are spending more time teaching players away from the field. 

"There's so much learning in the 'classroom' now," added Roussel. "When we talk about the classroom, we mean meeting rooms. The NCAA has been more relaxed recently, allowing more hands-on teaching in the offseason."

With the emergence of what Roussel calls "e-learning"—the use of iPads and other technology—players can use more practice time to run through concepts they learned in meetings. Meanwhile, the actual process of learning what to do and what not to do is covered during film sessions. 

Practices are limited, far more than film study. In a coach's eyes, practices are all about executing. The real learning process takes place elsewhere. 


Difference: Reinforcing vs. Teaching

However, on the subject of learning plays and concepts, there is a difference between the NFL and college football. In the NFL, there's an expectation that players arrive at training camp ready to hit the ground running. Some terminology may be different, especially for new players who have been traded from another team or signed in free agency, but those players must have at least a working knowledge of what's happening (not to mention the ability to adjust quickly). 

"In training camp, the learning process is more about reinforcing than teaching," Schottey explained. "Guys in college aren't professionals. They have other things to do. They have a calculus class to study for." 

With new freshmen and a roster that has experienced more turnover, college football's learning process is more about bringing everyone back up to speed. "Coaches start with the very basics, the bread and butter," Webb said. "Then they figure out who is separating themselves, who's executing the plays they just learned in meetings.

"Keep in mind, too, that executing doesn't necessarily mean completing the play." 

There are as many different ways to run a preseason camp as there are coaching staffs. As Webb noted in his interview with B/R, Fresno State head coach Tim DeRuyter and USC coach Steve Sarkisian are more "player's coaches," whereas Nick Saban at Alabama runs things in a more business fashion. 

However a preseason camp is run, though, coaches are committed to the players they have. There's no whittling down process like in NFL training camps. Therefore, it's up to the college coaches to make sure as many players are up to speed as possible. 

Easily, the biggest difference between college and the pros is the job security associated with player development. "In college, if a kid has three, four, five bad days in camp, he gets redshirted," Bowen said. "In the NFL, three, four, five bad days means you're out of a job." 


Similarity: Establish Depth

There will always be position battles in preseason and training camp. One of the benefits of competition is that it's a team-building exercise that brings out the best in players. But, if a team is fortunate, it will have many of the same coaches and starters returning from the previous year. 

Stability is a luxury in football because it's so rare. In the pros, players come and go all the time for various reasons. Coaches get hired and fired quickly, or leave for other opportunities. In college, upperclassmen graduate or move on to the NFL; others drop out because of off-field issues or academics. 

If a team is fortunate enough to have stability, the competition shifts to establishing more depth. That term can have a couple of different meanings. Yes, depth can refer to the sheer number of available bodies. It can also refer to the number of players who can contribute in a meaningful way. This is especially pertinent for the NFL, which allows a game-day roster of 46 players. 

"A lot of time is spent developing the No. 2s," said Roussel, referring to a team's backups. "The wide receivers coach is working a lot with the No. 3 and No. 4 guy. On the offensive line, you need a 6th and 7th guy who can step in and play, because that line probably isn't going to stay healthy."

"You can't go into the season with two defensive linemen; you need a No. 3 and a No. 4 ready to play."

Webb agreed. "Ideally, coaches have a pretty good idea already of who could be on the two-deep," he said.


Difference: Conditioning

Ask any college coach who their most important assistant is, and chances are they'll tell you it's their strength and conditioning director. These are the coaches, after all, who are with players during offseason workouts, from the winter to the summer. 

For Texas, strength coach Pat Moorer is the one responsible for getting freshman linebacker Malik Jefferson, who is expected to be a big contributor in 2015, up to 240 pounds. Jefferson's 247Sports high school recruiting profile listed him at 215 pounds. 

In other words, college players are, by and large, far more dependent on the strength coach to get the proper condition, whether that means adding weight, losing weight or getting faster. 

"The conditioning curve is bigger in college," Schottey said. "In the NFL, when you hear a player is missing voluntary workouts because of a contract dispute or something, it's not that big of a deal because he's volunteering not to be there. As long as he shows up in shape for training camp, he's fine."

That's not to say NFL players aren't coached up in strength and conditioning, but like the mental aspect of the game, most are ready to hit training camp at full speed. In college, there's more of an adjustment period, however small it may be. 

As Bowen put it, freshmen need the most help in college because, put simply, their bodies are still developing. The jump from high school to college can also be steep. As Roussel noted, "It's hard for them. Most freshmen who aren't expected to be major contributors probably aren't put through the same types of rigors of preseason camp as those who are expected to contribute right away." 

In that regard, college football's preseason camps involve a wider variety of players and approaches. Not everyone is operating at the same speed, and it's up to the coaching staff to get them there. In the NFL, a player can't afford to fall behind. The expectation is that they're ready to go with minimal touch-ups. Otherwise, they're out of a job. 


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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Grading Depth Charts for Every Top 25 College Football Team Entering 2015 Season

With fall camps getting underway across the country, teams are getting closer to locking down their depth charts for September's season openers.

While depth charts are always subject to change—especially with several weeks of practice still left on the schedule—spring camp and offseason talk can give writers and fans a good idea of what the starting lineups will look like this fall.

Some of the nation's best teams for 2015 look to be loaded on both sides of the ball, while others have some major holes that need to be filled before toe meets leather in a few weekends.

Let's hand out some depth-chart grades for the Top 25 in the latest set of preseason rankings, the Amway coaches poll.

These grades were based on the number of returning starters for each program and the amount of experience for new first-teamers and key backups. High recruiting ratings are nice for newcomers, but snaps and starts against college talent are the best measures of a depth chart's strength.

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Biggest Challenge for Each 2015 Heisman Candidate

A good indication of how big a deal the Heisman Trophy is: Contenders for the next year's award are often identified before the current statue finds its way into a trophy case.

It wasn't long after Oregon's Marcus Mariota was done posing for pictures with his hardware in December that we were already discussing potential candidates for the 2015 Heisman, and that far-too-premature list has added and lost names throughout the offseason.

We're now less than 30 days from the start of the 2015 season, and a solid list of early Heisman picks has been identified. And so, too, have reasons to believe each won't win the award given annually to college football's top player.

Using the latest Heisman odds from OddsShark.com, we're taking a look at the most likely pitfalls that could derail an award campaign for the top candidates. Check them out, then tell us what you think in the comments section.

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Von Pearson Will Not Face Criminal Charges After Rape Allegation

Tennessee Volunteers senior wide receiver Von Pearson won't face any charges after an investigation into an alleged rape found insufficient evidence to move forward with the case, the Knox County district attorney general's office announced Wednesday.  

Patrick Brown of the Times Free Press reports Pearson was suspended by both the school and the football program following the incident. While his playing status remains unknown, Knox County district attorney general Charme Allen confirmed the decision to not press charges.

"After a thorough review of the investigation ... there is insufficient evidence to sustain criminal prosecution against Von Pearson. Mr. Pearson will not be criminally charged as a result of the accusation made against him," Allen said.

Matt Slovin and Anita Wadhwani of the Tennessean reported back in April the receiver was named as the only suspect in an alleged rape at an off-campus apartment. The police report listed six potential witnesses, including fellow football players Dimarya Mixon and Alton "Pig" Howard.

Pearson joined the Volunteers after a stint with Feather River College, a California junior college. He made 38 catches for nearly 400 yards and five touchdowns last season, his first in Knoxville. He remains listed on the team's official roster.

Tennessee returns each of its top-five receivers from last season. Pearson ranked second behind Howard in both receptions and yards while leading the team in receiving TDs. He'll likely fill a similar role during his senior year if the Vols reinstate him.

If the program decides to keep him but hands out its own punishment as a result of the incident, Jason Croom and Josh Malone will be asked to step up alongside Howard and Marquez North.


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What Scheme Is Best Fit for 2016 No. 1 Overall Recruit Rashan Gary?

Rashan Gary is the kind of player who allows defensive coordinators to use their imaginations during game-plan development.

A big-time athlete with a blue-collar work ethic, the 6'4", 311-pound New Jersey phenom is America's top-rated recruit in 247Sports' 2016 composite rankings. He holds more than 50 scholarship offers with another season remaining in his high school career at Paramus Catholic in New Jersey.

Gary is used to the spotlight. It's shined on him most of this decade.

"It's been a journey since I got that first offer in eighth grade," he told Bleacher Report. "I didn't think much of it until I got to high school and realized there were seniors who worked really hard and still didn't have any offers. Seeing players struggle to get colleges interested at camps kind of puts things in perspective and keeps me humble. A lot of people want to be in my shoes."

The kid who caught early attention from recruiting analysts and collegiate coaching staffs has developed into the country's most coveted recruit. Years of interest are approaching an epic final stretch likely to last until national signing day in February.

Gary told B/R this summer that he intends to announce a top-five list and establish official visit plans before the season begins. Paramus Catholic, a state title contender, kicks of its campaign Sept. 4 against Eastern Christian Academy (Maryland).

His trips this summer included stops at Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Michigan and LSU. 

"My mom and I are taking this step by step," Gary said. "I'm not feeling a lot of pressure, but I'm focused on finding the best place for me."

His mother, Jennifer Coney, has been an instrumental part of the recruiting process. It's hard to imagine him selecting a university without her seal of approval.

"Wherever he's competing, she's right there alongside him. You can see he's the love of her life," said NJ Advance Media recruiting analyst Todderick Hunt, who has covered Gary as long as anyone.

While some parents may worry solely about campus location or academic offerings, Coney is also considering defensive schemes, which she made clear to Chris Kirschner of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last month after attending Dawg Night at Georgia:

I know [Georgia runs] a 3-4 defense, and I don’t know how good that would be for my son. In that three-person line, their job is to hold the offensive line so the linebackers can come in to make the tackle. Well, how is Rashan supposed to shine in a 3-4? A 4-3 defense is what I prefer. It’s OK for him to play in a 3-4, only if they rotate in a 4-3. I just don’t see how playing in a 3-4 defense would benefit him.

Coney's comments send a strong message about her role in his recruitment and raise an overriding question that continues to accompany Gary.

Where exactly would he be most effective within a defensive system?

"Rashan is versatile enough to do pretty much anything he wants along the defensive line, whether you're talking about a 3-4 scheme or a 4-3 scheme," Hunt said. "He can play 3-technique or 5-technique, like the kind of big defensive ends Florida State likes."

Let's start with the obvious: Gary is college-ready from a physical standpoint.

He's managed to grow well beyond 300 pounds without sacrificing an ounce of athleticism. After packing on approximately 25 pounds during the past two years, Gary still explodes off the snap quicker than any 2016 lineman. 

His 40-yard dash hovers around 4.7 seconds, exhibiting burst that could lend itself to multiple phases of a defensive game plan. Perhaps Gary is even equipped to regularly attack opponents from a stand-up setting.

"He could probably play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme because of his speed and mobility," Hunt said.

Gary is listed as a defensive tackle in recruiting rankings, though a more appropriate term might simply be "defensive front specialist." His stature, anticipation and aggression make it practically impossible to pigeonhole him into one specific slot.

He saw plenty of snaps off the edge last fall, when Gary erupted for 55 tackles and 14 sacks. His ability to transition on a play-by-play basis helps dictate battles within the trenches.

"If you're doing your job as a coach, you probably don't have him lined up in the same spot on every single down," Hunt said. "You want to move Rashan around and have the offense account for him on each snap."

Gary also recognizes his versatility, expressing an openness to adapt as a college athlete.

“I love a defense that plays both schemes,” he told Kipp Adams of 247Sports.

Michigan, viewed as a slight favorite to sign Gary, benefits from an element of familiarity. Former Paramus Catholic head coach Chris Partridge serves on Jim Harbaugh's staff and recently hosted the prized prospect in Ann Arbor.

“They treat us like family. Coach Partridge knows how my mom is and knows how I am, so our visit was smooth," Gary said. "He showed us everything we needed to see.”

Wolverines defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin loves to dial up blitzes off the perimeter, utilizing 3-4, 3-3-5 and 4-3 schemes during previous tenures. He formerly worked at Florida under Will Muschamp, who is now ardently pursuing Gary at Auburn.

Ultimately, any defensive coach in America should be willing to adapt his philosophical approach if it means finding a fit for Gary. 

While most would love the thought of him setting the edge in a three-man front, Gary's greatest ceiling resides at 3-technique in a 4-3 scheme. It's the position that can best showcase his tremendous blend of attributes.

Shaded to the offensive guard's outside shoulder, Gary would be asked to eviscerate the B-gap and get into the backfield. Given his elite footwork and rare quick-trigger athleticism at that size, he is essentially tailor-made for the position.  

A spot along the defensive front can also create consistent pass-rush capabilities, as evidenced by the dominant NFL careers of Warren Sapp, Ndamukong Suh and John Randle. B/R enjoyed a firsthand account of how relentless Gary can be in his hunt for quarterbacks last October, as he collected six sacks in three quarters of live-game coverage.

Regardless of which scheme Gary lands in, expect him to wreak havoc against offensive linemen for years to come.

"I got some reps against Rashan, and they were humbling experiences for sure," 5-star center Jack Anderson said in July after a few showdowns. "He's the real deal."


Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake. 

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'Weapon X': 2016 Recruit Devin White a Jack-of-All-Trades Athlete

It's no secret that interested college coaches have the same conversations about Devin White.

Is he a linebacker at the next level, or a running back? Perhaps an H-back? Maybe a hybrid defensive end?

When discussing White, the answer is simple.

Yes. Yes to all. And then some.

"Effectively, I can play linebacker, wide receiver, running back, anything on special teams, wherever," said White, a 4-star athlete from North Webster High School in Springhill, Louisiana. "I'm going to work hard at everything just for the team. I'd play tight end just to give the team an extra boost, because I like to win."

In the world of recruiting, White is a Swiss Army knife of sorts, a jack-of-all-trades athlete who is expected to see early playing time because of the multiple ways he can be used on the field—on both sides of the ball. Few athletes at any level of competition have the combination of power, speed, athleticism, elusiveness and versatility White possesses.

In fact, members of the media began calling White "Weapon X" while at The Opening in Oregon last month. The moniker fits.

For starters, he's 6'1" and 255 pounds, but he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.49 seconds at The Opening. He also was one of the strongest participants at the event, throwing the power ball 44 feet. Only three players threw the it further.

And then there's White's athleticism: He showed his leaping ability with a 37.9-inch vertical in Oregon.

In short, he's an enigma.

"I think he's one of the more unique athletes that we've seen over the first five years of The Opening," said Brian Stumpf, vice president of football events for Student Sports, which puts on The Opening and the Elite 11. "You don't often find that combination of build and athletic ability, and it will be fascinating to see what position he ends up matriculating to at the next level as he continues to physically mature."


Versatile from the start

White originally thought he'd be the next great wide receiver. As a youngster playing Pop Warner ball, he was a go-to option as an outside receiver.

"I was a real skinny cat and kind of tall," White said. "That's where the catching came in. I've always been able to catch by playing wide receiver. I used to run a lot of routes. That's how it started."

As White got older, he got bigger. And stronger. By the time he started high school, he was a burly athlete who coaches felt fit best as a linebacker. His opportunity to play running back came when one of his teammates was injured.

"I was the man to step up," he said, "and I loved it back there."

As a junior, White rushed for 2,287 yards and 30 touchdowns. He had 1,094 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns as a sophomore.

"I'm coming downhill with power," said White, who averaged better than eight yards per carry last season. "If you don't want to tackle me, I'll find you. But it isn't just about running people over. I've got good footwork in the hole. I can make people miss, run a toss sweep outside and catch passes.

"The defense better blitz every gap, because they have 255 pounds coming at them full speed."

White is scary at running back, but then there's his work at linebacker. He finished his junior year with 93 tackles. He had 99 tackles as a sophomore.

White is a top-80 player who some feel would have a more promising college career on the defensive side of the ball. But ask White, and it's no secret that he loves having the football in his hand.

"I'm comfortable at linebacker, and I actually think that position is really easy for me," he said, "but I prayed about it, and I don't want to play it (in college). I'm focused on teams recruiting me to play running back."

Stumpf added, "I think staying at his weight currently, he's an ideal 3-4 inside linebacker who can take on blockers and also run sideline to sideline. But we also know that running back is in his heart."


Finding a winning program

On July 10, White released a top 10 of LSU, Ole Miss, Florida State, Alabama, Auburn, Miami, Texas A&M, Georgia, Arkansas and UCLA. He doesn't have a true timetable on when he'll announce his verbal commitment, but national signing day could be the big day.

One player who would love to call him a teammate is Ole Miss pledge Shea Patterson. The 5-star quarterback considers White one of his best friends and has been a fan of his playing style for a few years.

"For me, it's a little different from everyone else. He's like my brother," Patterson said. "I think Devin is one of those guys who is one of a kind. He's a freak of an athlete. He kind of reminds me a lot of Bo Jackson, because he can do a lot of stuff.

"I mean, he's 6'1", 250 pounds and running a 4.4. That's not supposed to happen. He's been someone I've thought about since I committed."

In June, White posted a cryptic tweet suggesting he knows where he wants to play college ball. While he refuses to tip his hat, his 247Sports Crystal Ball points heavily to his staying in-state, playing for LSU. Ole Miss, Alabama, Arkansas and Georgia are schools to keep an eye on as well.

White considers himself a "people person and a family person," and the winning school will have a friendly campus environment, in addition to an outstanding football program.

"If you treat me like family, and I know you're there for me, that's what I'm looking for," he said. "Getting on the field, I'm a team player, so I'm going to do what I have to do to be a great player for the university.

"I want to believe in the coach in helping me get to the NFL, which is a final goal for me. Another thing: I just want to feel comfortable. At the end of the day, I want my parents at my games and for me and them to be comfortable with the university."

Patterson, who said he talks to White every day, believes his playmaking ability fits best at Ole Miss. His selling pitch is clear: He wants White to help bring a national championship to Oxford, Mississippi.

"I tell him that this class is good enough to where we can take the program over the hump," Patterson said. "I think it's something we can do. It's been done at other places like Alabama, LSU, and Auburn. We can do it and be legends."

Wherever he ends up, White wants to be a game-changer at the college level. After all, "GAME CHANGER" is his user name on Twitter.

And he can be that kind of player. At a few different positions.

"I can play linebacker or running back. On the offensive side, I can catch the ball, run the ball or block real well," White said. "I just want to be versatile on all sides of the ball. I thank God for blessing me.

"It's just God-given ability right now, but when I get to work with a college coach and perfect my craft, it will be something dangerous."


Staff Writer Tyler Donohue contributed to this report.

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

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2017 4-Star RB Cam Akers Breaks Down Decision to Commit to Alabama

The Alabama offensive backfield has thrived throughout head coach Nick Saban's nine-year tenure, producing Heisman Trophy finalists and first-round NFL draft picks.

The Crimson Tide continue to stock that cupboard on an annual basis, evidenced yet again by a Tuesday evening commitment from coveted Mississippi playmaker Cam Akers. A junior at Clinton High School, he becomes the sixth member of Alabama's 2017 recruiting class.

"It's a very big deal to play for Nick Saban," Akers told Bleacher Report. "He produces successful young men who are also prepared for life after football. That's really what it's all about. I have a great relationship with Coach Saban and his staff."

The Crimson Tide welcomed him to campus Tuesday, nearly four months after extending a scholarship offer. Akers, a 4-star prospect, arrived in Tuscaloosa tempted to commit on the spot and ultimately opted to take that plunge.

"I've been thinking about committing for a while. During the visit, I saw and heard everything I needed to see and hear," he said. "That really put things over the top and made my decision."

Alabama adds to a class that already features Najee Harris, a 5-star rusher rated No. 1 among running backs in composite rankings. Akers, situated fifth on that list, further enhances a position that's also set to welcome top-five 2016 prospect B.J. Emmons next summer.

The Tide signed heralded 2015 running back Damien Harris in February. Including his 2017 haul, Saban has secured nine rushers rated in the top five at the position in their respective classes since 2011.

Naturally, carries can be hard to come by in a group loaded with former All-Americans.

"I rise to the occasion when faced with competition. I haven't been raised to back down from competition," Akers said. "I go straight for it, and that's what I'm going to do in college. I'm not even going to think about any other top recruits coming in."

He starred at quarterback last season, tallying 2,696 total yards and 37 touchdowns. Akers averaged 5.4 yards per carry and landed on the national recruiting radar for his mobility.

"Running back is my focus at the next level," he said. "I would also love to return kicks and try to make some big plays that way."

Akers certainly has the speed and athleticism to excel on special teams. He completed the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds while attending a recent camp at Georgia, per Rivals.com.

The 5'11", 210-pound standout is also a formidable downfield weapon. He expects Alabama to exploit his receiving skills by shifting him into different settings as a dynamic offensive asset.

"They know I can motion out and bring the linebacker with me to open things up. They talk about using me in different ways," Akers said. "It's primarily running back, but there will be opportunities to line up all over the field."

He recalled watching Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy, T.J. Yeldon, Mark Ingram, Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake take turns in the spotlight as vital members of the Tide rushing attack. Akers is confident he can measure up to a lofty legacy in the Alabama backfield.

"There have been some great running backs with the program. I think I can be a combination of them all," he said. "I'm able to run and catch out of the backfield. Not many players are equally successful at both, so it's a big deal for me."

Akers, who recorded four 100-yard rushing efforts during a 10-win sophomore campaign, feels equipped to handle the pressure-packed situations that may await at Alabama.

"You can depend on me to make the important plays. When it's third down in the fourth quarter, I'm going to get the job done," he said.

Clinton High School head coach Judd Boswell vehemently vouched for his team's catalyst.

"He's the best damn high school football player I've ever seen in my life," Boswell told Drew Champlin of AL.com. "He's a special kid. His will, his drive to succeed, he's just a different type of kid. He's one of those kids you coach once in a lifetime."

Akers expects to return to Tuscaloosa for an unofficial visit this season. He is eyeing the Tide's games against Ole Miss (Sept. 19) and LSU (Nov. 7) as potential trip opportunities.

Despite his excitement surrounding Alabama, Akers isn't ready to completely shut down a widespread recruitment.

"I'll still be listening to other schools and visiting some campuses as the process continues," he said.

Tennessee, Michigan, LSU, Georgia and a pair of in-state programs are among suitors unlikely to stop pursuing the prized prospect

"Since Ole Miss and Mississippi State were my first two offers, there is definitely some pressure to stay here. Other schools have also really recruited me hard," Akers said. "In the end, I have to do what's best for me and my family. Right now, that means I'm going to Alabama."


Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake. 

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Michigan Football: What Would Define Success in Jim Harbaugh's 1st Season?

The 2015 Michigan football team has received plenty of nationwide attention, but what truly defines success during Jim Harbaugh's first season at the helm of his alma mater is likely a different story.

ESPN.com's David Purdum wrote that the Wolverines have attracted the fifth-highest sum of money for national championship bets, trailing only Ohio State, Alabama, Auburn and Notre Dame.

However, finding a bookie to bet a single penny on Harbaugh and Co. winning the title—or even reaching the College Football Playoff—isn't advised. Michigan would be extremely fortunate to attain 10 wins this season.

Yet that doesn't mean the 2015 campaign is destined for failure. It doesn't mean another 5-7 season is acceptable, either.

Colin Becht of Sports Illustrated called Michigan the Big Ten's most underrated team. But if a reader stops after merely skimming the headline, the necessary context is lost.

While Michigan isn't ready to win the East Division, Harbaugh's crew can wreak some havoc in the standings. That starts with Team 136 winning games it's supposed to win.

Falling to Maryland is unacceptable. Losing to Rutgers cannot be tolerated. Edging Northwestern by one point thanks to a last-second hold from Drew Dileo shouldn't be repeated. The talent level of this Wolverines squad is too great for a Harbaugh-coached team to struggle against the lesser Big Ten programs.

Cruising to victories over Oregon State, UNLV, Maryland, Northwestern, Minnesota, Rutgers and Indiana should be a satisfying accomplishment in 2015. Overachieving would be entering the fourth quarter of those contests with the outcome essentially decided—in the Wolverines' favor.

The pressure to reach that goal rests mostly on defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin, who took over a unit that surrendered just 311.3 yards and 22.4 points per game last season. Theoretically, Michigan should only improve under Durkin, the leader of consecutive top-15 defenses at Florida.

If the unit reaches its potential, Michigan will consistently be a disruptive opponent. Nine players who started at least five games will return. In addition to those nine, Desmond Morgan, Jabrill Peppers, Wayne Lyons, Mario Ojemudia and Taco Charlton are expected to grab No. 1 roles.

Inexperience isn't a problem on that side of the ball. Ultimately, Michigan's defense should allow the team to challenge Utah and Penn State on the road and remain competitive in a couple of games in which a victory isn't anticipated.

"The Wolverines get three chances for a signature win against Michigan State, Ohio State and at Penn State," Becht said. "They're capable of stealing one of those."

Harbaugh and his staff are attempting to develop an underwhelming offense into a ground-focused force. When healthy, Derrick Green, Ty Isaac, De'Veon Smith and Drake Johnson form one of the deepest running back groups in the nation.

Eight starters return, and passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch should improve the lackluster aerial attack despite uncertainty at quarterback. If Fisch helped Miami's Stephen Morris garner praise as a potential franchise quarterback in the NFL, the coach can make Jake Rudock or Shane Morris a fine player for 2015.

Plus, fortunately for the Wolverines, their two toughest games—MSU and Ohio State—will be played where the offense best performed in 2014: The Big House.

The total difference of home and road contests was 189 yards and 21.4 points per outing, which—while not a perfect measurement—is no small tally and provides insight into the inconsistent performance of the team.

If Michigan receives a solid offensive performance in either showing, well, crazier things have happened in college football when an already-stout defensive team gets some help.

The maize and blue finishing 2015 with victories over inferior foes and one top divisional opponent isn't a glamorous thought for Michigan supporters. It's certainly better than five wins and losing to Minnesota, Rutgers and Maryland again, though.

Harbaugh is bound to turn the program around, but his first season is still a rebuilding year. Expectations must be tempered until the team learns and actually understands an entirely new coaching style.

The road back to relevance demands patience, yet it starts with clear progress in how the Wolverines win games. Not merely if they do.


All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from cfbstats.comQuotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.

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Ranking College Football's Best New Uniforms of 2015

College football uniforms are a flashpoint of discussion for fans and players alike. While some programs, like Penn State and Alabama, stick with classic, time-tested designs, others, like Maryland and Oregon, consistently push the envelope with flashy uniforms designed to generate social media buzz and attention from recruits.

New uniforms have become a constant part of every college football preseason, with Nike, Adidas and Under Armour unveiling brand-new designs that will take the field for the coming season. This season is no different, with a number of new looks hitting the scene. Here’s a look at the top new college football uniforms for 2015.


10. Notre Dame

Notre Dame jumped from Adidas to Under Armour this fall, but there is little change in the Fighting Irish’s classic look. The Irish will sport gold helmets with blue uniforms at home, gold pants and white numbers with gold trim.

The gold pants have the “ND” logo on the left hip, and the team will also sport blue undershirts with “IRISH” printed in block lettering on the sleeve, but those aren’t on the jersey itself. In recent years, Notre Dame has unveiled a special jersey for its “Shamrock Series” neutral-site games, and it’ll be interesting to see how the Irish handle their game against Boston College at Fenway Park.

In addition, like fellow Under Armour programs Auburn, Cincinnati, Maryland and Utah (all of which unveiled uniforms with minimal change), Notre Dame will wear jerseys with ArmourGrid technology, which Under Armour calls “the strongest, lightest, most durable fabric in the game” which will “make [an athlete] ungrabbable on gameday.” We’ll see about that this fall.


9. North Carolina

North Carolina is known nationally as a basketball school. Give the Tar Heels credit for embracing that image. Nike recently unveiled a new look for all 28 of UNC’s varsity sports, and while the football uniforms look very similar to their predecessors, there is one key change: argyle.

The Tar Heel basketball team has used the argyle pattern in its uniforms since 1991, and UNC has incorporated it as a secondary identity for every sport. With the new football uniforms, it is on the collar and the side of the pants for blue, white and (alternate) black options. North Carolina has won three men’s basketball national titles in the argyle, so why not see if that success can rub off?


8. Arizona State

Under Todd Graham, Arizona State has positioned itself as a program on the move, with consecutive 10-win seasons. The athletic department is on the move, too, going from Nike to Adidas this fall. Adidas created new uniforms that largely retain the look the Sun Devils had under Nike, using a glossier metallic accent across the board and a larger pitchfork logo on the pants.

The Sun Devils have a white-dominant, black-dominant and a classic, alternative jersey that evokes the program’s past with a red helmet and jersey, and gold pants. ASU’s look this fall won’t be that different, but it will be a nice update.


7. Miami

2015 is a crucial season for Miami coach Al Golden. Following a 6-7 record in 2014, Golden is firmly on the hot seat entering this fall. Regardless of what happens this fall, the Hurricanes will look sharp in new Adidas uniforms.

While Miami will keep its traditional helmets, the uniforms (featuring green, orange and white jerseys) are subtly different across the board. They have updated metallic stripes on the jerseys and pants, working in “hurricane” style cuts and patterns. The classic “U” logo is stitched on the back of the jersey, and the “Hurricanes” name is placed across the ribbing of the inside collar for players to see as they pull on the jersey. In addition, “Miami” is printed atop the numbers on every jersey.

Miami can create as many as nine different uniform combinations, and if the ‘Canes can win this fall, they’ll surely look good doing it.


6. Colorado

Colorado has struggled to regain relevance under coach Mike MacIntyre, who has a 6-18 record in two seasons in Boulder. But at the very least, the Buffaloes will look sharp on the field in 2015. In its first significant uniform overhaul since 2010, Colorado unveiled three jerseys, four pants and four helmet options that are interchangeable and allowing for dozens of different combinations.

The jersey has a new custom font with a contrasting outline, and both the alternate and away uniform numbers have a flatiron rock-like texture. The home uniform will have a black jersey and gold pants, while the away will be a white jersey and pants with contrasting black font. 

The helmet has a fine metallic paint that creates a gun-metal look with a larger logo. Colorado will also integrate an alternate uniform with a dark, steel-grey jersey and pants, as well as bold black numbers for a sharp, different look.


5. Wake Forest

Wake Forest hopes for a turnaround in Dave Clawson’s second season, and the Demon Deacons hope to look better doing it, too. The new Nike uniforms marry modern and traditional accents. For example, the black and gold uniforms feature a custom number font honoring Wake Forest’s founding in 1834 with angled notches at 18 and 34 degrees, top and bottom, respectively.

The jersey sleeves have a pattern that is drawn from Wake’s university shield and wrought-iron architectural details that are seen across campus, forming a stylized “W.” The collar includes the words “Deacon Tough” on the back of the jersey’s neckline and the “WF” logo on the hip of the pant. Wake will have black uniforms with gold pants, going all-white on the road and also mixing in an all-black alternate look. They’re all very modern and sharp.


4. Tennessee

Tennessee’s orange-dominant uniforms are recognized throughout college football, as is the classic “Power T” that adorns the Volunteers’ helmets. But the athletic department’s switch from Adidas to Nike brought updated “Mach Speed” uniforms that invoke some of the program’s tradition.

Tennessee will still have its traditional orange and white jerseys, as well as an all-orange look and an all-white look, but it will also add a grey uniform that represents the Great Smoky Mountains, a huge part of East Tennessee. The alternate helmet uses a grey mountain pattern. In addition, all of the uniforms have a taller, sleeker font for numbers and use half-checkerboard striping, invoking Neyland Stadium’s checkerboard end zones.

Mike Strange of the Knoxville News-Sentinel says the Vols are feeling some "Swoosh swagger."

“It’s just amazing,’’ said defensive back Cameron Sutton. “It brings out the swagger in a team. Guys are excited to have Nike on. High energy throughout the course of the day, not just on the field. In meetings, everybody is attentive and ready to go.’’


3. Michigan State

Michigan State isn’t known for taking risks with its uniforms, and even though the Spartans have new Nike uniforms for 2015, the home and away sets (green jerseys and green or white pants at home, all-white on the road) haven’t changed much.

However, Michigan State does have an alternate design that has bronze accents throughout, including bronze sleeve caps. It also features a bronze helmet with an oversized green Spartan logo on the side, and it's a hit with the players. It is intended to connect Michigan State with the ancient Greek Spartan warriors.

“I do love the all green, but this is a little change-up, but at the same time it's Pro Combat,'' Spartans senior defensive end Shilique Calhoun told MLive.com’s Mike Griffith. "I'm just waiting to see what game we wear it for.''

The alternate uniforms are striking, and it’d be fitting if Michigan State brought them out for Sept. 12’s huge home date with Oregon, known across football for its own sartorial splendor.


2. San Diego State

San Diego State unveiled some truly unique uniforms Tuesday. The Aztecs’ helmets and uniforms will feature the Aztec calendar, used by the Aztecs dating back to the 1400s. The helmets feature a black stripe down the middle and a red Aztec calendar on each side, with the school’s primary logo on the back.

The Aztecs will sport black jerseys at home and white on the road, with the uniform sleeve panels also featuring the Aztec calendar and San Diego State across the chest. The pants will be black with a three-inch striped panel on each side featuring the Aztec calendar. They’re sharp and very unique.


1. TCU

TCU broke through for a 12-1 season last fall, and the Horned Frogs capitalized on their success by unveiling bold, new Nike Mach Speed uniforms. The uniforms include an all-white look with purple numbers and a purple undershirt for away games, but the real fun starts with the home uniforms. They’re all-purple with white numbers and white undershirts, but they have a sublimated pattern that covers the entire jersey and pants, designed to invoke the toughness of the desert-dwelling horned frog.

Same goes for the alternate uniform, which is all-grey with the same sublimated pattern. The horned frog pattern also appears on both helmet designs. It’s a unique, fascinating look that will catch the eyes of fans across college football.

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How Losing RB Greg Bryant Impacts Notre Dame's Playoff Chances

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Just three days from the start of Notre Dame's fall camp, the Irish lost running back Greg Bryant.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kellyconfirmed Tuesday the junior will not play for the Irish in 2015, following a report from Irish Illustrated’s Pete Sampson that Bryant is academically ineligible for the season. Kelly said Bryant remains on scholarship and is allowed to practice with the team, though he won’t occupy a spot on the 105-man roster.

“There are certain expectations within our program that must be met on a daily basis,” Kelly said in a statement. “Quite simply, Greg did not meet those expectations.”

The loss of Bryant shouldn’t do much to change Notre Dame’s expectations, though. For all the hype surrounding Bryant, who pledged to the Irish in December 2012 as the No. 6 running back and No. 45 overall prospect in the class of 2013, his production hasn’t nearly matched his potential.

The Delray Beach, Florida, product played in three games as a true freshman before missing the rest of the season due to injury. Back for the 2014 campaign, Bryant carried just 54 times in a crowded backfield, collecting 289 rushing yards and three scores. He logged just 11 attempts in the final six games, including a 79-yard outburst against USC in the regular-season finale.

Bryant was already reportedly facing a suspension to begin the 2015 season. Now, he won’t tote the rock at all for the Irish this year.

While Notre Dame loses a physically gifted running back with an enticing blend of power and agility, Bryant’s absence won’t leave the Irish scrambling for answers. Fellow junior Tarean Folston is still the lead back, and he's coming off a sophomore season in which he tallied 889 yards and six scores on 175 carries.

C.J. Prosise, who switched from slot receiver to running back in the spring, will presumably stay put in the backfield. If Prosise, a 220-pounder with impressive speed, can build on a breakout spring in which Kelly doused him with praise, Notre Dame won’t miss Bryant much.

To be clear, it’d certainly be a plus to have Bryant around in the backfield, especially if the tailback made major strides in his third season on campus. But between Folston, Prosise and dual-threat quarterback Malik Zaire, the offense should be able to manage. In the Music City Bowl victory over LSU, the Irish rushed 51 times for 263 yards (5.2 yards per carry). Zaire led that charge with 22 attempts for 96 yards and a score. Prosise, out of the slot, piled up 75 yards on three rushes. Folston got the ball 21 times, grinding out hard-earned yards against a strong Tigers defense.

It’s one game with unique circumstances—a two-quarterback setup, a month of preparation—but there’s a ready-made template if Kelly and company would like to follow it.

Bryant only rushed twice for two yards against LSU. Still, injuries can quickly blow up a depth chart. True freshmen Dexter Williams and Josh Adams round out the running back pecking order, and reliable veteran Cam McDaniel is no longer waiting as a trusty safety valve.

Elsewhere on the offense, the Prosise ripple effect would be felt in the slot. Fifth-year man Amir Carlisle snagged 23 receptions for 309 yards in 2014, but 11 of those receptions came in the first three games. Depth will be important around Carlisle, who has battled injuries throughout his career, but the Irish are as well stocked at wide receiver as they are at any other position.

Speaking of depth, Bryant’s absence offers a clearer picture in the scholarship crunch. At the start of spring ball, Kelly said he finally felt Notre Dame had the depth “necessary to go and play football,” rather than tiptoe around with a depleted roster.

That depth, however, has raised questions about how the Irish can reach the 85-scholarship limit. Bryant’s absence coupled with Tuesday’s announcement that linebacker Michael Deeb and tight end Mike Heuerman have been medically disqualified should put Notre Dame in position to stay at or below the maximum.

Again, that’s not to diminish the significance of the Bryant news. Bryant arrived on campus in 2013 as one of the crown jewels of that star-studded recruiting class, and he was a terrific pull from Florida. He hasn’t approached expectations through two seasons, though, and won’t see the field in 2015. His future in South Bend is reportedly unclear, according to Sampson.

But Notre Dame moves on in 2015.



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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CFB Recruiting 200: Top 23 Defensive Ends in Class of 2016

After thorough study using specific scoring criteria, Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analysts Damon SaylesSanjay Kirpalani and Tyler Donohue have graded the top 200 players in the 247Sports composite rankings and provided in-depth analysis on each young athlete. Bleacher Report will run a position-by-position breakdown series of the best college football recruits in the class of 2016. Here we present the Top Defensive Ends.

Other Positions

In today's game, a defensive end has to be able to showcase speed, elusiveness and power. It is expected to be one of the most versatile positions on the field.

Bleacher Report's CFB Recruiting 200 series will break down the top defensive ends in the 2016 class and grade them on key factors such as pass rushing, tackling, explosive strength, run defense, hands and overall motor.

How do the nation's top defensive end prospects measure up to one another?


All analysis provided by B/R National Recruiting Analyst Damon Sayles. All player rankings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings.

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Tennessee Football: First Impressions from 2015 Fall Camp

After the offseason crept by like a funeral procession, the Tennessee football team raced onto the field for its first practice of the fall Tuesday night.

It may have been the slowest the Volunteers were the entire evening.

The biggest news that came out of a very newsy night in Knoxville was the fact that everybody noticed how much bigger, more athletic and especially faster the Vols looked.

Two full-to-the-brim recruiting classes of highly ranked, SEC-caliber athletes brought in by coach Butch Jones have noticeably improved the caliber of player on Rocky Top.

Unlike UT teams of the past five or six years, this crop of Vols have benefited from coaching continuity, being in the same strength-and-conditioning program for multiple years now, and they've made physical improvements because of it. It doesn't hurt that Jones has brought in a bunch of stud prospects, too.

This looks like an SEC football team. That's something UT hasn't been able to say throughout the two-deep for some time.

In the limited time that the media got to witness and take video of practice, the speed difference was noticeable. It was one of the most noteworthy things that coach Jones pointed out afterwards, as well.

Few personify that speed difference more than running back Jalen Hurd. He bulked up to 6'3", 242 pounds over the offseason, and now fully healthy, he has elite quickness and is even more nimble on his feet than a season ago. 

In the practice video posted by Rocky Top Insider, Hurd looks impressively fluid. Nobody who weighs more than 240 pounds should be able to move like that.

Hurd showed flashes of what he can do when rested and healthy during last season's TaxSlayer Bowl and again during limited Orange & White Game action. With Alvin Kamara, Ralph David Abernathy IV and a duo of freshmen in tow to spell him, there may be more of that this season.

Though Jones noted the Vols need to improve in the passing game from the first day, everything was done in a frenetic pace from the first whistle of drills. That kind of tempo is how Jones and new offensive coordinator Mike DeBord want to play, and quarterback Joshua Dobbs was pleased with the strides in that area.

He believes UT has picked up right where it left off from the spring in that regard, according to Volquest.com's Grant Ramey:

It's different, obviously Coach Jones has been here a couple years as well and our team has definitely matured a lot since I first got here. There's a great flow to practice. It's kind of like when we walked on the practice field, it's like we practiced yesterday, it wasn't like we haven't been practicing for a couple months. That was a great feeling to have.

In photos and video, few pass the eyeball test like cornerbacks Emmanuel Moseley and newcomer Justin Martin.

They're tall, long-armed and extremely fast and fluid. When you take into consideration that neither of those guys are expected to be the strong points of the secondary, it should excite you to think of that unit's potential.

Throwing athleticism such as theirs into a group that already includes senior safety starters LaDarrell McNeil and Brian Randolph, athletic youngsters Todd Kelly Jr., Evan Berry and Rashaan Gaulden as well as junior star Cameron Sutton makes the secondary almost as exciting to project as the defensive ends.

Sutton, meanwhile, started his journey to fill a major void for the Vols on Tuesday: the role of leadership. Senior Curt Maggitt is a vocal, team-rejuvenating revival preacher, but, beyond him, there are few proven stalwarts in player-leadership roles.

Showing every morsel of attention to detail, Sutton chastised the second-team defense when they didn't hustle onto the field, making them do it over. That was a moment of practice Jones praised, according to GoVols247's Wes Rucker:

We had a great leadership opportunity today, and Cam Sutton took full advantage of it. When our second-team defense didn't sprint onto the football field, he called 'em all back and had 'em re-huddle and sprint onto the football field. He said,'‘That’s not the way we do things at Tennessee,' and he took advantage of that leadership opportunity. I think just the maturation and growth of a football family, a football family, you see that.

If the Vols look like they belong among the SEC royalty and they act like it, maybe they'll play like it. There's a long way to go and a lot of practice left, but all the reports made it sound like Tuesday was a good first step.


Out with Old, In with New

Tuesday marked the official beginning of freshman Sheriron Jones' Tennessee quarterback career and the end of Jauan Jennings'.

Both impressed.

Back in the spring game, Jennings flashed some dynamic athleticism running the option, but the former athlete prospect who was reclassified by 247Sports as a dual-threat quarterback never could get a firm grasp on throwing consistently.

Passing is sort of a necessity to play the quarterback position, and his slow development was going to put him behind the competition with Dobbs entrenched as the starter, classmates Jones and Quinten Dormady in the fold and all the exceptional recruiting UT is doing at that position.

Already this year, the Vols have a commitment from 4-star Jarrett Guarantano. Top-rated 2017 passer Hunter Johnson is high on Tennessee (per Rucker), as is top-rated 2018 prospect Trevor Lawrence, who has called UT his early leader (per 247Sports' Barton Simmons).

Therefore, Jennings was removed from the quarterback derby, and after his first day at wide receiver Tuesday, he may have found his new home.

The 6'4", 200-pound first-year player is a first-class athlete, and he made some catches that had coaches raving about his potential despite being very raw.

Butch Jones continued by saying to the Associated Press' Steve Megargee on Jennings: "He made some catches today where you kind of did a double-take and it got you excited. For Day 1, I was very, very, very encouraged with him."

As for Sheriron Jones, he's undersized, which would set things up for a redshirt season if he can't beat out Dormady for the backup duties. But the California kid has some workable tools. The few practice videos posted show a quick release and accurate downfield throwing from Jones.

Rocky Top Insider's Daniel Lewis had this to say about the freshman: "Jones made some good throws, no doubt about it. He had more command at the position than what we saw from Jauan Jennings in the the spring. He can really throw the football when he’s on. He clearly had his freshman moments as well, missing some guys from time to time and misunderstanding some routes."

As of right now, though, it appears Dormady has a grasp on the No. 2 job pretty firmly. 

"But I was really, really pleased with Quinten," Butch Jones said, according to GoVols247's Ryan Callahan. "I thought Quinten did some really good things, and just the growth and maturation from spring football. You could kind of see the momentum from the spring game kind of carry over into Practice One.”


D-Line Looking Fine

If the Vols get quality play from their defensive tackles, it's going to be a very good season on Rocky Top. 

Those are huge question marks considering UT must get key reps from true freshmen Shy Tuttle and Kahlil McKenzie at literally one of the two or three most difficult positions to play in your first year.

But, man, those two kids are massive.

It's hard not to get excited about their potential. McKenzie's legs look like oak stumps, and Tuttle has transformed from the cushy kid who arrived back in the winter to a grown man. Neither look like he's a freshman.

It's hard to tell anything about the physicality of your team without wearing pads, but these linemen have been around each other all offseason. So, when you've got a sophomore like Derek Barnett who was the nation's best freshman lineman a year ago praising you publicly, you've probably accomplished something.

Barnett knows what it takes to burst onto the scene, and he said Tuesday that McKenzie has what it takes.

When you couple that with the flashes Tuttle showed this spring and the fact that he's been working out for the past three months getting stronger, the sky is the limit for this UT line from a talent perspective.


All statistics gathered from CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information obtained 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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