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Early Projections for 2016 Preseason Freshman All-American Team

Making an immediate impact is hard enough. Performing at an All-American level as a freshman shows the elite level of talent a college football player possesses.

Whether due to injury, suspension or a weakness on the roster, hundreds of players will have an opportunity to stand out in 2016.

However, a select bunch of talents will simply rise to the top of a program's depth chart—and that ascent is anything but simple.

Projections for the upcoming season's freshman All-American team include players who redshirted in 2015.

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Bold Summer Predictions for 2017 College Football Recruiting Trail

The 2017 college football recruiting cycle reaches a new phase in coming weeks as spring turns into summer. University visits and on-campus camps annually alter the landscape as top prospects work their way toward a verbal pledge. 

Commitments and decommitments will occur in bunches before fall arrives and these recruits begin their final high school season. Few recruiting outcomes are assured this far away from national signing day so unexpected twists and turns are a routine part of the process as February approaches. 

While many of these surprises are difficult to anticipate, we've assessed several of the recruiting scene's trending storylines to project some possible developments that could command headlines this summer.

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Offseason Question Marks for Top College Football Playoff Contenders

Even the best college football teams enter a season with some level of uncertainty. After all, we're dealing with teams made up of 18- to 22-year-olds, a demographic that is brimming with talent and promise but is also still figuring out the whole "responsible adult" thing.

Just look back at last year's four College Football Playoff entrants, and you'll see they managed to make the semifinals despite heading into 2015 with some unanswered questions.

Eventual national champion Alabama had no idea who its quarterback would be, runner-up Clemson had concerns about its rebuilt defense and didn't know how Deshaun Watson would look after knee surgery, Michigan State was searching for a running back and had to replace noted defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, and Oklahoma had overhauled its coaching staff and offensive scheme.

The same is the case this season for college football's top playoff contenders, all of whom have question marks at this point. We've detailed the most pressing one for each of the top 12 candidates, based on Odds Shark's early lines to win the national title.

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Maty Mauk Transfers to EKU: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

Former Missouri Tigers quarterback Maty Mauk has signed a financial aid agreement with Eastern Kentucky, per Dave Matter of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Kennedy Hardman of WTVQ in Lexington, Kentucky, first reported that Mauk had committed to joining the team on May 16, though he hadn't signed the financial aid agreement at that time.

Mauk played three years for Missouri, appearing in 28 games and throwing for 4,373 yards, 42 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. He ran into trouble during his junior year, with then-head coach Gary Pinkel suspending him twice over the course of the season. The second suspension ruled him out for the remainder of the campaign in November.

In January, current head coach Barry Odom dismissed Mauk from the team altogether shortly after a video surfaced appearing to show Mauk snorting white powder off a table. According to the Kansas City Star's Tod Palmer, Mauk's father Mike said the video was two years old.

Mauk posted a photo of a letter he wrote following his dismissal:

On May 17, he celebrated his graduation from the school:

Mauk will have some competition for Eastern Kentucky's starting job. Bennie Coney threw for 2,471 yards, 23 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 2015. In April, head coach Mark Elder talked up the rising senior, per Josh Sullivan of the Lexington Herald-Leader:

There’s no harder position for a transition than the quarterback position. I don’t think the casual fan understands how much has to go into their brain to perform at a high level. We saw Bennie get better and better as the spring went along. I think the first day he threw to the wrong color a few times, as you expect to happen, but to see him progress and get more comfortable was great.

Mauk is more proven at a higher level, though, and Coney isn't necessarily at a big advantage, as the incumbent since Elder just joined the school in December.

If Mauk can return to the level he displayed during his sophomore year with Missouri, the Colonels could be major contenders in the Ohio Valley Conference in 2016.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Commissioner Nick Saban May Never Happen, but Ambassador Saban Already Exists

HOOVER, Ala. — Nick Saban made one thing clear this week: He will not be making an endorsement.

Not for the upcoming presidential election—he’s smart enough to know that doing so could alienate fans and recruits—but rather for an idea he supports: college football commissioner.

Saban thinks it would be in the best interest of the sport to have someone overseeing it and doing things like negotiating draft rules with the National Football League and consolidating safety issues. A commissioner could also streamline the process of changes that are in the works while helping prevent some of their unintended consequences.

Keep that latter part in the back of your mind, because college football’s dealing with one right now...but we’ll get to that in a moment.

Saban has little or no interest in the job. He’s got a pretty good one right now that’ll probably be his last. Moreover, serving as commissioner wouldn’t include the things he likes the most about being a coach, including the whole football part of it and dealing with young players.

Yes, even this week.

Of course, two of his players were arrested early Tuesday morning, with starting left tackle Cam Robinson’s status uncertain after being charged with possession of a controlled substance, illegal possession of a firearm and possession of a stolen gun, which is a felony.

Saban is looking into the matter and told reporters at the PGA Tradition Pro-Am on Wednesday morning that it’s way too early to announce anything.

"One thing I always tell players is that there are three bad things: nothing good happens after midnight, nothing good happens when you're around guns, unless you're going hunting, and you don't want to mess around with women that you don't know, because a lot of times bad things happen," Saban said later that day on the Paul Finebaum Show. “In this case, a couple of those things were violated, and I think it's going to be a learning experience for everybody on our team."

People who aren’t regularly around Saban don’t quite understand how seriously he takes the teaching part of his job, and he talks extensively about it during his annual coaching clinic.

Meanwhile, the event Saban attended this week that unfortunately got overlooked by most was a fundraiser for former Alabama running back Kerry Goode (1983-87), who was diagnosed with ALS last year.

“We’ve had two guys now, Kevin Turner and now Kerry Goode, that have now suffered from this disease,” Saban said, referring to the former NFL fullback who died in March. “Lou Gehrig’s disease. His great speech in Yankees Stadium was 77 years ago, and it doesn’t look like we have a whole lot better way of dealing with this disease now than what we had then. This is one of the things that we want to be an advocate of.”

Saban the Alabama ambassador was happy to lend his name to that cause, only that's just another one of the hats that he wears, especially during this time of the year. Serving as college football’s ambassador is something he's inadvertently been doing for years, as well, arguably since he won his second national championship and first with the Crimson Tide in 2009.

In sports it’s a role that often goes to those who are the best at something, whether they’re interested in the responsibility or not. Lebron James is a good example in the NBA, although Stephen Curry is beginning to figure that out as well.

The same holds true with coaches. They may be polarizing, but it’s like the old E.F. Hutton ads. When someone like Mike Krzyzewski says something about college basketball, everyone listens.

Saban is clearly on that plateau.

In a couple of weeks the Southeastern Conference will be gathering for its annual spring meetings in Destin, Florida, where it'll be hashing out ideas and voting on proposals. In preparation, there have already been some preliminary discussions and phones calls, plus the coaches have talked when they run into each another at various charity golf events and speaking engagements.

As for what might be the hot topic, no one’s really sure yet. Georgia’s Kirby Smart plans on doing a lot of listening, as it’ll be his first time at the meetings, but new rules which now allow unlimited texting is a subject on which he might offer an opinion.

“If you’re not doing it, someone else is,” Saban's former defensive coordinator said.

Something else that’s sure to come up is the SEC having officials at the league headquarters helping with live instant-replay reviews, similar to what the NFL does from its home office.

“I kind of like the direction of the central command and all that,” Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said. "You’re always trying to improve, as far as that goes.”

But those are changes that have already occurred. The only coach at the Regions Pro-Am who was talking about what’s next was Saban, which brings us back to that issue with unintended consequences: satellite camps.

Whether you’re for them or against them, Saban makes a good point that the NCAA is sending a bad message by severely limiting the time coaches can spend with their own players during the spring and summer while not putting any kind of restriction on satellite camps during the same time period.

“[It’s] kind of like what we went through 25 years ago when you used to go to college all-star games all summer,” Saban said. “My wife was beating me over the head, and I could never see the players that I coached because they were going to all-star games everywhere in the country.

“Well, you can’t do that anymore, but now we’re gonna go do satellite camps. Every high school that’s got a prospect is gonna have a satellite camp, and every coach in the country is gonna be expected to be there, and all these thing happening are gonna create a circumstance where this was time that we spent with our players.”

Have no doubt that satellite camps will be extensively discussed in Destin, where it'll be interesting to see if Saban has even more influence after Florida, Georgia and South Carolina all hired his former assistants as head coaches. 

The SEC will almost certainly draw a line somewhere and argue for a national norm, yet it could take significant time for common ground to be reached, something that might have been avoided with a commissioner.

That’s the difference, and if college football eventually creates such a position, it would be best filled by a former SEC commissioner like Mike Slive instead of Saban or another coach.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The Case for and Against Leonard Fournette Winning the Heisman Trophy

Is the Heisman Trophy a quarterback-driven award anymore?

Maybe not.

Alabama running back Derrick Henry took home the hardware last year, and LSU's Leonard Fournette will enter the 2016 season as one of the top contenders to win college football's most prestigious individual award.

The 6'1", 230-pound junior from New Orleans led the nation last year in rushing yards per game with 162.75 and is second behind Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson in early odds for the award, according to Odds Shark.

Can Fournette make it two in a row for SEC running backs?

Let's make the cases for and against the superstar.

 

The Case for...

Simply put, Fournette is a freak.

With track-star speed, bulldozer power and the best vision in college football, the award for the "most outstanding player" in the game should go to the player who actually is the most outstanding player—regardless of position.

It's hard to argue that Fournette isn't that player.

His 162.75 yards per game on the ground last year were on an offense that provided virtually no threat through the air, and everybody in every stadium he played in knew when he was getting the ball.

It didn't matter.

Fournette averaged an eye-popping 6.74 yards on first and second downs in 2015, converted 35.4 percent of LSU's total first downs and was well on his way to winning the award before the November swoon happened last year and teams devoted their entire defenses to stopping him.

Plus, he's humble and knows that sometimes he needs to take a break and let Derrius Guice and the rest of the running backs take the pressure off.

"It feels great [to be the best], but it’s not just me," he said after the spring game, according to the school. "My teammates are working hard each and every day. There are all these other people on the field sweating, putting in hard work, and challenging themselves. It’s all about the team."

As Pro Football Focus noted during the bowl season, Fournette actually graded higher than Henry and every other running back in the SEC.

Plus, the scare that head coach Les Miles received in late November when he was nearly fired—according to the Greater Baton Rouge Business Report's Stephanie Riegel—should force him to change his offensive philosophy, stretch the field deep a little more often in order to keep defenses honest, and those tight running lanes that Fournette still had success running through last year should be a little bit bigger.

That will keep LSU in the national title picture for three months instead of two, which is always a boost to any Heisman Trophy campaign.

 

The Case Against...

Come on...this is Les Miles.

The same guy who has been infatuated with dual-threat quarterbacks for the better part of a decade and never seems to use them properly. The same guy who is stubbornly married to an ultra-conservative philosophy. The same guy who tries to win games in 2016 the same way he won them in 2011. 

Sometimes even the most talented defenses struggle, which forces offenses to win games 45-42 instead of 17-10. That philosophy will generate video-game numbers for Fournette but won't create a true national title contender in Baton Rouge.

In a day and age of dual-threat quarterbacks blinding Heisman voters, the College Football Playoff dominating the late-season narrative and other talented running backs likely pacing their teams in that narrative, there simply won't be room for Fournette.

Plus, as CFB Film Room noted after the regular season, Fournette didn't exactly punish the best defenses that he faced in 2015.

If Dalvin Cook matches or exceeds his 1,691 rushing yards from a year ago and leads Florida State into the College Football Playoff, will he win it? Maybe, but he'd certainly split some of the running back vote with Fournette and open the door for a quarterback—likely one who's also in the playoff—to win it.

If Stanford's Christian McCaffrey matches, exceeds or even comes close to the single-season all-purpose yardage record that he set last year (3,864), he'll split some of the running back vote as well thanks to a full season of exposure that eluded him in 2015. 

There are only so many spots for running backs in New York City. Three ball-carriers have won the award since 2000, and last year was the first time since 2009 that two running backs finished in the top three in Heisman voting.

Running backs getting more love isn't a trend yet. It's the anomaly.

Because of that, Fournette could have a hard time hoisting the trophy in December.

 

The Verdict

It all depends on the offense and LSU's overall season.

If Miles takes last November's near-firing as a wake-up call and opens things up, Fournette will have even more room to work, put up better numbers and lead his team into the thick of the national title hunt.

If he stays true to his conservative roots, the Tigers will stumble along the way, Fournette will take a backseat in the Heisman Trophy discussion and Miles could be looking for work come December instead of accompanying his superstar to the Big Apple.

The only glimpse we had of LSU this spring was in the spring game. While quarterback Brandon Harris was efficient (11-for-16 for 106 yards), he didn't stretch the field like he needs to in order to take pressure off Fournette.

Because of that, it's hard to trust Miles to do the right thing and open things up at this point in the offseason, which will make Fournette's Heisman campaign more fiction than reality.

 

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ellis Brooks Decommits from Duke: Latest Details, Comments, Reaction

Highly touted linebacker prospect Ellis Brooks reopened his recruitment Friday and announced his decision to decommit from Duke.

The Richmond, Virginia, native made it official with the following tweet:

Brooks is rated as a 4-star recruit by 247sports, and he is No. 16 ranked linebacker, No. 7 ranked player from the state of Virginia and No. 230 overall prospect in the 2017 class.

Bleacher Report's Tyler Donohue expects Brooks to have no shortage of options now that he is available once again:

Brooks initially committed to Duke in March and seemed thrilled with his decision to do so at the time, according to Scout.com (h/t USA Today High School Sports):

I have a great relationship with the coaches and players. It's also a great school academically. And I was their top target and they wanted me more than anyone else. It just feels like home and I feel the most comfortable there.

I'm very excited about my decision. The recruiting process is fun and I'm thankful for all the opportunities, but it can be stressful. Now, I can just focus on football and winning another state championship.

The Benedictine High School standout received offers from several other high-profile schools, including Notre Dame, Michigan, Virginia, Virginia Tech and South Carolina, per247sports.

Brooks has ideal size at 6'2" and 233 pounds, and he is coming off an extremely productive 2015 season that saw him register 117 tackles, 18 tackles for loss and six sacks, according to 247sports.

His stock is very much on the rise, and while Duke isn't necessarily out of the running yet, Brooks has plenty to consider.

Should the Blue Devils fail to get his commitment back for 2017, losing him could be a major blow to the program, especially if he goes on to realize his potential at another ACC school.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Big Ten Q&A: Who's the B1G's Best NFL Quarterback Prospect?

Can you hear it?

No, you probably can't.

At least not in Big Ten country, where college football has officially hit the annual doldrums of its offseason.

Even with satellite camps popping up like a whack-a-mole game you can't seem to notice before another one appears, this offseason has been a relatively quiet one for the conference—especially when compared to last spring's madness featuring an unprecedented Ohio State team and Jim Harbaugh's arrival in Ann Arbor.

Even with its league meetings taking place in Chicago, the Big Ten took a back seat to the SEC this past week, with the biggest news in college football being the arrest of Alabama star offensive tackle Cam Robinson.

Nevertheless, you have questions and I can sometimes come up with decent answers. With that in mind, let's get to this week's Big Ten Q&A.

As always, you can send me your inquiries each week on Twitter @BenAxelrod.

Let's get started.

 

After what appeared to be the year the Big Ten would end its 20-year drought of first-round NFL quarterbacks, the league's signal-callers struck out once again, despite Christian Hackenberg, Cardale Jones and Connor Cook each seeming to possess first-round ability a year ago.

Nevertheless, ESPN's Todd McShay—who projected Hackenberg and Cook to be 2016's top two overall picks a year ago—remains bullish on one Big Ten quarterback being a first-round pick, with his surprising selection of Minnesota's Mitch Leidner in his way-too-early 2017 first-round mock draft. McShay elaborated on his choice:

Leidner shows some upside as a passer, but I'll be looking to see if he can improve his accuracy. Listed at 6-foot-4 and 237 pounds, Leidner has ideal size and has shown the ability to make plays with his legs off designed runs and scrambles. He's a late riser to keep an eye on, similar to Blake Bortles and Carson Wentz.

But as we learned last month, anything projected nearly a year prior isn't necessarily set in stone. And while he may not be a first-round pick, the Big Ten quarterback with the highest upside as a pro passer, in my opinion, is Ohio State's J.T. Barrett.

Sure, Barrett doesn't look like your prototypical pro passer; I'm 5'10" and basically eye level with him whenever I interview him. But with Russell Wilson's success in Seattle, height is no longer the necessity it once was, and quarterbacks from spread systems are getting a longer look from NFL teams.

"It's not like I'm going to change who I am," Barrett said of his prospects. "So however I play right now, just probably a better version of myself."

As for the Wilson comparisons, which have become more popular as Barrett's career has progressed? "That's probably 'cause we're not the tallest cats," the Buckeyes signal-caller said.

Entering his redshirt junior year, Barrett still has two years of eligibility remaining in his college career, so it's not a lock he'll even enter the 2017 draft. But with an impressive junior campaign, there won't be much left to do to change draft evaluators' opinions of his game, as even a stronger senior season wouldn't help him grow two inches.

For now, it's Leidner and Barrett who stand out in the Big Ten's bunch of potential pro passers, although Iowa's C.J. Beathard has a chance to jump into the conversation with a big 2016 as well.

Right now, I'd bet on Leidner to be the higher pick, but Barrett to have the more fruitful NFL career.

 

A regulation of some sort is definitely coming. There almost has to be one after what Harbaugh's done this offseason, with 34 scheduled camps in the month of June alone.

That's what Rivals.com National Recruiting Director Mike Farrell told me this week, and it's tough to disagree. A 34-camp tour—including stops in Australia and American Samoa—probably is a bit much and something the NCAA wouldn't be able to regulate on a yearly basis.

As far as what the limit would be, I think what would make the most sense is either a limit on camps held or miles traveled each summer.

For example, if there was a limit on stops, Harbaugh, or any coach, could hold camps anywhere in the country—or world for that matter—but would only be able to do so X amount of times (probably somewhere around 10) each offseason. As far as a limit on miles, that could get a little more complicated, as coaches would then have to balance taking a national approach with fewer camps or a more local look with more.

When it comes to the impact of the camps, it was limited last year, according to Farrell, but this year, no one knows. With such an increase in camps from not just Michigan, but other schools across the country, it's hard to imagine satellite camps not playing a significant role in this summer's recruiting landscape.

But for as crazy as this offseason's been from a satellite camp standpoint, it seems clear that changes are coming. What exactly they'll be remains to be seen, but this storyline isn't going away anytime soon.

 

You could probably find an example of this in a division or conference nearly every year, but this year more than most, I see schedules shaping the race for the Big Ten West.

For example, take the onslaught Wisconsin's about to face, with games against Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa opening the Badgers' Big Ten slate, with three of those four games being played away from Madison. I like a lot about Wisconsin's roster, but with that murderers' row ahead, as well as games against Nebraska and Northwestern, it's just hard to imagine the Badgers emerging as the division champs.

And then there's Iowa, which, while returning much of last year's team that found itself one game away from crashing the College Football Playoff, hasn't been a program that's prided itself on consistency under head coach Kirk Ferentz. But a year after the nation's 60th-ranked regular-season schedule, per Team Rankings, helped propel them to a 12-0 regular-season record, the Hawkeyes again have a more than manageable path ahead, although a Nov. 12 date with Michigan should be tougher than any game they played a year ago.

Even then, that game will be played in late November and inside the friendly confines of Kinnick Stadium. By that point, Iowa could probably afford a loss and remain in control of its Big Ten West destiny heading into the final two weeks of the regular season.

Based on the combination of what they bring back and their favorable schedule, it's tough not to consider the Hawkeyes the Big Ten West favorites in 2016. Nebraska could give them a run for their money in their regular-season finale, which unsurprisingly will also be played in Iowa City.

 

I sense some shade being thrown in this question, but it hits on what could be one of the biggest wild cards in the Big Ten this season.

How will Mark Dantonio handle the quarterback competition to replace Connor Cook, after doing the same with Kirk Cousins in 2012 proved to be a two-year process?

After the Washington Redskins selected Cousins in the same draft they took Robert Griffin III, Dantonio was left with a plethora of options for his replacement, ultimately settling on Andrew Maxwell for the majority of the 2012 campaign. The results, however, were mixed at best for the former highly touted signal-caller, as the Spartans struggled to a 7-6 record.

The competition wound up carrying over into 2013, with Cook ultimately grabbing the reins and never looking back. Two Big Ten titles, two major bowl wins and an appearance in the College Football Playoff later, and Michigan State finds itself in a similar position, with Tyler O'Connor, Damion Terry and Messiah deWeaver battling it out to be Cook's successor.

Right now, O'Connor has a clear lead as the upperclassman and following an impressive spring. It certainly doesn't hurt that he helped quarterback the Spartans to their biggest win of the year in 2015 as Cook sat out with an injury, a road win over Ohio State to seize control of MSU's playoff fate.

But O'Connor will have to carry his momentum into 2016, or as this question alludes to, Dantonio could have a quick trigger with other options available. But if O'Connor can find a way to negate the drop-off from the most accomplished quarterback in Spartans history, Michigan State should find itself right in the thick of another Big Ten East title race. 

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Hits and Misses of the Las Vegas SEC College Football Win Totals

Are you making a trip out to the oasis in the desert in Southern Nevada this summer?

Congratulations, you can now place win total bets on some of the best college football programs in the country.

The Golden Nugget released selected over/under win total (via Covers.com) on Thursday, and—in a slight shock—Tennessee is picked to have the most regular-season wins in the conference at 10.

What are some hits and misses of the first wave of win totals?

 

Hit: Tennessee Hype Is Justified

The first thing that jumps out of the Golden Nugget's numbers is the fact that Tennessee is pegged to have more wins than any other team in the conference, including two-time conference and defending national champion Alabama.

Say what?

After you get over the initial shock, take a step back from the keyboard, avoid the temptation to hit the comment section with smoking hot takes and understand that a 10-win season is the logical next step for the Vols.

They finished 8-4 in the regular season last year before winning their bowl game, had late leads in losses to Alabama, Florida and Oklahoma, return essentially everybody on both sides of the football and get the Crimson Tide and Gators at home.

Ten wins isn't a pipe dream, it should be the logical next step for head coach Butch Jones—who has improved every year since taking over in 2013.

Despite that, Jones doesn't want to focus too much on the past.

"Each team is different," he said earlier this month at the College Football Hall of Fame. "That's what makes college football very exciting and very special. Each year is a new year and each team is a new team. That's why this is 'Team 120.' There are opportunities for growth and development and roles change."

Growth is the key, because the Vols already posted a defense that finished second nationally in third-down defense (27.6 percent) according to cfbstats.com, upgraded with defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, returned potential All-Americans at every level (defensive end Derek Barnett, linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin and cornerback Cam Sutton) and has one of the best multidimensional rushing attacks in the country with quarterback Joshua Dobbs and running backs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara.

Tennessee hasn't been picked to win the SEC East at media days since 2005 and has been picked higher than fourth once since 2010—last year when it was picked (and finished) second.

This is the year for the Vols, and Vegas knows it.

 

Miss: No Dead Heat in the West

Another major shock in the win totals from the Golden Nugget is Alabama sitting at 9.5 wins for the regular season, tied with LSU as the highest mark of the listed teams from the SEC West. 

If you want to say that 10-2 for Alabama in the regular season is a successful season considering the massive roster turnover the Tide faces this year, OK. That's the floor that head coach Nick Saban has established in Tuscaloosa, and an over/under of 9.5 suggests that some oddsmakers expect this to be a serious rebuilding year by Alabama standards.

Meanwhile, LSU is on the other side of the coin. 

Until proved otherwise—and it wasn't proved in the spring game or by any of the coaching or roster decisions during the offseason—head coach Les Miles is still going to implement the same ultraconservative offensive philosophy that nearly got him fired last year, and makes it difficult for the Tigers to keep up in high-scoring games when the running game is slowed.

We saw that last year when teams stacked the box in November to slow down Leonard Fournette and the Tigers dropped three of their last four regular-season SEC games. 

And this is the team that's considered the co-favorite in the West? Nope.

Alabama hired Lane Kiffin to run the offense prior to the 2014 season because Saban knew that, at times, you have to win games 45-42 in this day and age of exotic offense. LSU has refused to accept that. Until it does, there's no way the Tigers should be considered an equal to Alabama—a team that they've lost five straight to.

 

Miss: No Love For Ole Miss

Whether it's due to NCAA distractions or high-profile roster turnover, it appears that Las Vegas is banking on the public assuming Ole Miss is going to take a massive step back.

Don't fall into that trap.

Ole Miss is still loaded defensively with studs like linebacker DeMarquis Gates, safety Tony Conner, tackle Breeland Speaks and end Marquis Haynes.

Offensively, the line of scrimmage might be a concern in the post-Laremy Tunsil era. But injuries and suspensions have made that a fact of life for head coach Hugh Freeze for two years running. Sure, Ole Miss will miss wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, but with Quincy Adeboyejo, Damore'ea Stringfellow, Van Jefferson, Damarkus Lodge and a stellar incoming class at wide receiver, there are enough "No. 2" wide receivers to help quarterback Chad Kelly finish his career strong.

Even if Ole Miss doesn't contend for the SEC West title, an over/under win total of 7.5 seems insanely low for a program that has recruited well even after the stars from the 2013 class arrived on campus.

 

Hit: For Once, Georgia Hype is Tempered

With new head coach Kirby Smart in town, it appears that Vegas has hit the reset button on Georgia this year—one year after former head coach Mark Richt didn't live up to the SEC media days prediction of his program winning the SEC East.

A win total of 8.5 seems exactly right for a team that has concerns along both lines of scrimmage, will either start or ease in a true freshman quarterback, has a superstar running back who's coming back from a serious knee injury and a mysterious group of wide receivers who have yet to break out.

"Excited about 'em," Smart said of his wide receivers earlier this month at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Challenge. "We've got some big guys, and we've got some small guys. We've got some big guys coming in and some fast guys coming in. We've got some small, quick guys on the roster.

"I think that [offensive coordinator Jim] Chaney has done a great job and [wide receivers coach James] Coley have done a great job getting those guys better," Smart continued. "We've got to take we've got and get better, and I'm happy with where they are."

Georgia has reached nine regular-season wins in each of the last two seasons, so setting the win total at 8.5 in a clear transition year makes sense.

 

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Football Coaches on Hot Seat Heading into 2016 Season

In this day and age of massive coaching contracts and what-have-you-done-for-me-lately fan bases demanding championships, there are big stakes that go along with the big money.

There's no larger shark tank in the country than in the SEC, either.

So, which SEC head honchos in the league are swimming with blood in the water? You actually may be surprised.

Two years ago, two of the guys on this list were among the hottest young up-and-comers in the country, one was the quirky gambler who everybody loved and the other was making waves as a first-year coach.

That should show you just how quickly things can change in the cutthroat world of SEC football.

Just ask Mark Richt, who was fired following the 2015 season after 15 seasons at Georgia where he won 74 percent of his games and was the longest-tenured league coach.

The move was enough to baffle Alabama coach Nick Saban, the gold standard among coaches who is the guy that—fair or not—is the measuring stick for other coaches around the conference. Saban told CBSSports' Jon Solomon:

I don't know what the world's coming to in our profession. Mark Richt has been a really good coach and a really positive person in our profession for a long, long time…I hate to see people that have character and quality and ability to affect young people like Mark Richt not be part of our profession…We all get it. We know we have to win games. But winning nine games is not bad.

But year after year of nine wins when your program expects a championship or two sprinkled in simply isn't good enough. If you can't win big, schools will pay big money to cycle in the next hopeful.

These days, cell phones last longer than college coaches.

It's inevitable that coaching moves will happen following the '16 season as well. So, who could be the next conference coach to get the hook? Let's take a look at four guys whose bottoms may become a little toasty if the losses start piling up.

 

Kevin Sumlin

How did we get here?

When Sumlin left Houston following a 12-1 season and followed that up with an 11-2 campaign in 2012 that featured the birth of Johnny Football Madness, he was thought of as one of the hot, young innovative offensive minds who had the chance to dominate college football for years.

Recruits were flocking to College Station, and the Aggies looked like they were being built for the long haul.

But Johnny Manziel didn't have nearly enough weapons around him as a putrid A&M defense saw the Aggies drop to 9-4 the following year. Consecutive 8-5 seasons followed, and then there was the bizarre quarterback controversy of a season ago that saw both blue-chip quarterbacks leave.

Kyler Murray transferred to Oklahoma, and Kyle Allen left for Houston. While Sumlin was able to convince Sooners senior transfer Trevor Knight to play his final season for the Aggies in '16, the drama hasn't ended.

Highly-touted prospect Tate Martell decommitted earlier this month, via Twitter, leading to even more questions about Sumlin's ability to lure (and keep) a high-profile signal-caller. 

Martell's father told Rivals.com's Adam Gorney it was partly because of A&M's hiring of offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone.

Then things got worse when receivers coach Aaron Moorehead tweeted something seemingly directed at Martell following the decommitment, though he later tweeted it wasn't related.

"I feel sorry for ppl who never understand loyalty. I can't really even vibe with u. At the end of the day trust is 100& everything else is BS," said the tweet Moorehead later deleted (via B/R's Barrett Sallee).

Mannie Netherly decommitted from the Aggies shortly thereafter, and the 4-star prospect referenced the tweet when he did. Other recruits bristled, too.

Simply put, things are a mess for Sumlin right now. The only real way he can quell the concerns is win football games. 

Question marks abound, and the issues are making some of the Aggies fans restless. If you can't recruit, you can't compete in the SEC, and it wouldn't be surprising to see a lot of prospects take a wait-and-see approach with this season. 

The good news for Aggies fans is there's still a ton of talent in College Station, led by some elite defenders and receiving corps, so there are some pieces in place. Sumlin desperately needs to put everything together for double-digit victories, or he may find himself coaching elsewhere in 2017.

 

Gus Malzahn

Basically, the first few paragraphs of the Sumlin section could be rewritten here, too. 

The Gus Bus was chugging along merrily downhill during his first season on the Plains when Auburn went from the forgettable final frame of the Gene Chizik era to coming within a tomahawk chop of beating Florida State for the national championship.

Folks began thinking Malzahn was Saban's kryptonite, and that his funky, innovative offense was taking the archaic cloud-of-dust SEC by storm.

Then, 8-5 happened, followed by last year's 7-6 season that started with the Tigers as a dark-horse national champion contender and quarterback Jeremy Johnson on the short list as a Heisman Trophy hopeful. That ended quickly and decisively, and now Malzahn needs to rekindle the magic.

In each of the last two years, the Tigers were in the preseason top 10, yet they have a combined 6-10 SEC record during that time.

When you aren't winning, the quirky offense looks like a gimmick, and replacing defensive coordinator Will Muschamp (who left to be the head coach at South Carolina) with Kevin Steele was quizzical, at best. Malzahn's moves need to pay off.

The best news for Auburn? As Saturday Down South's Chris Wuensch stated perfectly: 

Working in Malzahn’s favor is that Auburn often seems to come up big when expectations are small. The Tigers might need a quick turnaround, somewhere in the neighborhood of, at minimum, eight wins, to keep detractors at bay. And while that’s easier said than done, especially for a team coming off a last-place finish in the SEC West, it won't be a quick fix.

The Tigers have some weapons, especially at running back. They also recruited extremely well at receiver, which was a major position of need. But expecting freshmen to turn your team around is a risky proposition, at best. And while there's talent on defense, adjusting to a new coordinator isn't easy.

Then, there's that quarterback conundrum where Johnson, Sean White and transfer John Franklin III will battle it out. If AU doesn't have a signal-caller who can make plays, it's going to be a long season in the rugged SEC West.

Will eight wins be enough to save Malzahn? Well, that depends. What if the Tigers win eight but get blown out by Alabama in the Iron Bowl. Again, Saban and the Tide will always be measuring sticks for Auburn and its fans. Lose that game badly, and things could get very shaky.

Malzahn has to turn things around in a hurry.

 

Mark Stoops

There are 12 million reasons why the fourth-year Kentucky coach shouldn't be on his list, as in that's how much it would cost the Wildcats to can him after this season.

But if Stoops really stinks things up, athletic director Mitch Barnhart may put all that basketball money Big Blue generates toward finding another football coach.

Stoops' story, like the two coaches above him on this list, is odd. He's recruiting better than any Wildcats coach in recent memory, but those prospects simply haven't translated into wins. How UK is losing is all the more frustrating.

Last year, UK started the season 4-1, and in 2014, the Wildcats began 5-1 with their only loss being a 36-30 overtime setback at Florida. Both years, they failed to make a bowl game, going a combined 1-11 afterward. It seemed the team just ran out of gas as depth became an issue later in the year.

The Wildcats' schedule is always back-loaded with quality opponents, and they just can't hang. If they keep banging their head against the ceiling, it wouldn't be surprising to see Barnhart make a change and see if somebody else can win with Stoops' recruits.

While he wouldn't say Stoops' job is contingent on a bowl game, Barnhart told the Courier-Journal's Kyle Tucker just how important the postseason is to the development of the program:

You know me well enough to know I'm never going to say 'have to' do anything. What we want to do is we want to get to postseason play. That's the goal. There is no mystery in that. We talk about that all the time: What do we have to do in all of our sports to get to postseason play? Postseason play in football is bowls. We want to get to a bowl game.

It is a real important part of the growth of this program. It's extra practice for our guys. It's our young guys getting reps. It's being able to see your physical effort rewarded in other areas off the field. Those pieces are really, really important to us. Getting to a bowl, it's absolutely important. So is it bust (if not)? No. But we've got to find our way through.

That doesn't exactly sound like an ultimatum, but it's not far off. Basketball is a massive moneymaker for UK, much more than at most programs. But Barnhart knows that football is the big-revenue sport, and getting it healthy could mean taking the school's athletics to the next level.

Given Barnhart's history at Tennessee during part of the Vols' gridiron heyday from 1986-98, you know football is very important to him. So, Stoops needs to find a way to get his Wildcats into a bowl game, especially considering he's just 12-24 so far in Lexington.

There are defensive gaps yet again this year, but with Drew Barker at the helm under center and Boom Williams still in the backfield, there are some nice building blocks. They'd better build toward a bowl game, or UK could be looking at yet another regime.

 

Les Miles

After a regular season-ending win over Texas A&M last year, LSU football players carried Les Miles off the field on their shoulders for what most (including Miles) thought would be his final game as the coach of the Bayou Bengals.

There had been so many reports he was going to be fired throughout the week.

LSU president F. King Alexander told CBSSports.com's Tom Fornelli the decision to keep Miles was made, amazingly, at halftime of that game against the Aggies.

So, what happens next? Miles signed one of the best recruiting classes in the country, ranked third overall by the 247Sports Composite. He returns more starters than anybody in the country, led by the nation's most freakish talent in running back Leonard Fournette and star safety Jamal Adams.

Noted sports analyst and handicapper Danny Sheridan said on the Paul Finebaum Show on Thursday that LSU should be the top team in the SEC, and Tennessee should be 1B. 

In other words, there are a slew of expectations riding a pontoon boat to the bayou. A lot of analysts, including FOXSports.com's Aaron Torres, believes the Tigers will pass Alabama this year.

That Saban barometer has been mentioned a couple of times, and there's no bigger glare off those national championship rings than in Auburn. But a close second is LSU, where Saban used to roam the sidelines and where the fans of the Tigers demand matching the legendary coach.

Miles has been stuck in that shadow for a lot of his career unfairly after carving a nice little legacy of his own. But LSU fans believe their team is going to be really, really good in '16, and if the Tigers aren't, what almost happened last year actually will this season.

Is he safe? Not a chance, says B/R colleague Barrett Sallee via Paul Finebaum:

No coach is safe, really. You're one awful season away from feeling the pressure. With all the hype surrounding Tennessee this year, what if Butch Jones lays an egg? Bret Bielema is facing some offensive uncertainty following the departures of Brandon Allen and Alex Collins, too.

Vanderbilt's Derek Mason made some positive steps last year, but what if the Commodores are horrible again? Even a first-year coach like Muschamp may fall out of favor if he is back to his offensively impotent ways dating back to his head-coaching tenure at Florida.

In the SEC, you've got to win; as in, right now. If not, your head will fall firmly on the chopping block.

 

All information gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information gathered from 247Sports unless otherwise noted. All stats gathered at CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted.

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

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Football: 3 Recruits Who Would Be Perfect Fits for Buckeyes Defense

Ohio State already has seven elite defenders in its No. 1-ranked recruiting class, highlighted by 5-star cornerback Shaun Wade. But Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes are looking to tighten their grip on that top spot by recruiting some of the nation's top blue-chip prospects.

These 5-star standouts, in particular, would not only help Ohio State maintain pole position in the recruiting standings, but they would also be perfect fits in an already-dominant defense.

Last week, we identified three players who would take Ohio State's offense to the next level. This week, we're providing a look at three recruits who would make the Buckeyes a defensive nightmare over the next four years.

 

Dylan Moses, 5-Star Linebacker

Ohio State has loaded up on linebackers in recent years, signing eight prospects in the last three classes, so the position group wasn't one of the highest priorities for the 2017 recruiting cycle. That urgency lowered even more when the Buckeyes landed 4-star linebacker Antjuan Simmons from Ann Arbor, Michigan.

But when a kid as talented as 5-star linebacker Dylan Moses is interested in your school, those priorities change.

That's the reality for Meyer and Ohio State after Moses tweeted about his desire (via Cleveland.com) to visit Columbus. Rated as the nation's No. 1 outside linebacker and the No. 2 overall prospect nationally, Moses has offers from pretty much every school worth mentioning.

He'd be an incredible fit in Ohio State's defense, especially when lined up in the spot that was recently vacated by Darron Lee. The Buckeyes put Lee there to make their defense more athletic and aggressive, and those are the two most obvious traits Moses brings to the field. 

Meyer will have a tough time pulling him away from the SEC, though, as 247Sports' Crystal Ball has Alabama and LSU as heavy favorites for his commitment.

 

Jeffrey Okudah, 5-Star Safety

Another athletic freak Ohio State could benefit from is 5-star safety Jeffrey Okudah.

The Grand Prairie, Texas, product is rated as the No. 7 overall prospect and the nation's top safety, and he has garnered offers from the likes of Alabama, Clemson, Florida State, Notre Dame and home-state schools Texas and Texas A&M.

But the Buckeyes are trending up for Okudah's commitment, and they've been named his current leader, per Scout.com's Greg Powers. He talked about why he can see himself playing his collegiate football in Columbus.

"The tradition at Ohio State. It's just a surreal atmosphere," Okudah told Rivals (h/t Ari Wasserman of Cleveland.com). "The coaching staff, Coach (Urban) Meyer wins a lot of games. Coach (Greg) Schiano, a former (NFL and college) head coach, I know he can develop me and get me to the next level."

The Buckeyes like versatile safeties who could double as cornerbacks in the secondary. That's the mold that former Buckeyes safety Vonn Bell fit, and he was selected in the second round by the New Orleans Saints last month.

Okudah fits that bill, which is why Ohio State will push hard for his commitment.

 

Chase Young, 5-Star Defensive End

With Moses fueling the linebacker unit and Okudah serving as the perfect safety net in the secondary, all the Buckeyes would need now is a lethal pass-rusher to anchor the defensive line.

Enter Chase Young, the 5-star standout from Hyattsville, Maryland.

Ohio State is among 40 other schools that have offered the 6'5", 225-pound sack artist, and it's easy to see why, as he's the No. 29-ranked prospect overall and No. 2-ranked weak-side defensive end.

Young would be a fantastic fit because his talents as an edge-rusher would be a perfect complement to former 5-star strong-side defensive end and soon-to-be Ohio State freshman Nick Bosa (the younger brother of superstar Joey Bosa).

That kind of 5-star, one-two punch at defensive end is what Ohio State was building with Joey Bosa and Noah Spence in 2013. But that vision was derailed when repeated failed drug tests cost Spence his Ohio State career, and he was forced to transfer to Eastern Kentucky.

If the Buckeyes can land Young—50 percent of 247Sports' Crystal Ball predictions have Ohio State as his destination—then Meyer would have the tools to build one of the best pass rushes not just in the Big Ten but the entire country.

 

All recruiting information via 247Sports.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ranking Top 25 College Football Tailgating Schools for 2016

Tailgating for a college football game is a tradition anyone can enjoy, and some schools have built a national reputation for being the best.

While parking-lot festivities typically begin several hours before kickoff, not every party finishes once the game starts. The tailgating atmosphere often draws people without tickets to gather around a television on the outside of the stadium.

In fairness, there's likely no bad place to tailgate. If you're with friends and family—or sometimes even complete strangers—everyone is probably going home happy anyway.

However, the following 25 schools have earned the most recognition for their tailgating experience.

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Art Briles: Latest News, Rumors, Speculation on Coach's Future with Baylor

Baylor Bears football coach Art Briles' job may be in jeopardy as the school responds to increased scrutiny over its handling of alleged sexual assault cases. 

Continue for updates.

Firing Briles a Last Resort for School Thursday, May 19

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Mac Engel reported Thursday that Briles is likely to stay on as head football coach. However, Engel spoke to two sources who said Briles could be dismissed as "the final solution" by the school in response to continued negative public reaction.

On Wednesday, Paula Lavigne and Mark Schlabach delivered a report on ESPN's Outside the Lines detailing how university administrators and coaches failed to respond when assault allegations against football players arose: "According to the police documents, at least some Baylor officials, including coaches, knew about many of the incidents, and most players did not miss playing time for disciplinary reasons. None of the incidents has been widely reported in the media."

In one case involving three football players in 2011, Lavigne and Schlabach found police in Waco, Texas, made attempts to keep the incident away from the public eye, with an investigating officer asking a commander to remove the case from the computer system.

Lavigne and Schlabach found another case in which police kept the investigation open for years, which meant the case wouldn't fall under Texas' open records laws and thus wouldn't be available to view by the public.

In one incident, both Briles and Baylor president Ken Starr were made aware of sexual assault allegations against a football player in April 2014. The player received no disciplinary action.

Baylor largely came under the microscope starting in August 2015 after Jessica Luther and Dan Solomon reported for Texas Monthly on the sexual assault case against then-Bears football player Sam Ukwuachu.

Last June, Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett said he was under the assumption Ukwuachu would be available to play in the 2015 season, per Shehan Jeyarajah of the Dallas Morning News. Luther and Solomon explained that Ukwuachu was due to stand trial on two counts of sexual assault when Bennett went on the record.

Ukwuachu was found guilty and sentenced to 180 days in prison and 10 years of felony probation.

In September 2015, Baylor's Board of Regents announced the school would retain the services of Pepper Hamilton to conduct an investigation into how Baylor handles sexual assault cases. The university "was briefed last week" on the results of the investigation but has yet to review the firm's report, per Engel.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Every Top 25 College Football Program's Dream 2017 Recruit

With the spring and summer months representing a crucial time in the recruiting calendar, schools from around the country are grinding on the recruiting trail in hopes of securing a top class in the 2017 cycle.

A quick glance at the 247Sports team rankings shows that 14 of the current top 25 recruiting classes have at least 10 commitments in them—including Ohio State’s top-rated collective.

While a number of touted prospects have already committed, there are still a handful of elite talents various programs are coveting who could end up being the centerpieces to their respective groups.

The upcoming season could help the nation’s top programs acquire the momentum necessary to land the recruits at the top of their boards.

Using the Top 25 preseason composite rankings compiled by Bleacher Report’s Justin Ferguson, let’s take a look at each Top 25 program’s dream recruit in the 2017 cycle.

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College Football Underclassmen with Best Shots to Win Heisman Before Graduating

It wasn't that long ago that the Heisman Trophy was almost exclusively an award given to college football veterans, an honor meant to highlight not just the top player in the game but one who has put together a stellar overall career. From 1935 to 2006, all but 15 of the winners were seniors, with the rest from the junior class.

But since Florida's Tim Tebow won the Heisman in 2007 as a sophomore, the first of three straight winners from that class, the award pool has become decidedly younger. In 2006, Ohio State's Troy Smith was the last senior to be honored, and in 2012-13 we saw our first freshman winners.

Now we have to consider basically every player in college football when handicapping the Heisman race prior to a season. Odds Shark only has three seniors among its top 15 early candidates, one more than the number of sophomores on the list.

Focusing just on college football's current underclassmen—freshmen and sophomores, for those scoring at home—there's no shortage of potential future winners to consider. They might not hoist the trophy this winter or even be invited to the awards show in New York, but before they're done with school they'll get great shots to win.

Here's our list of the 12 current underclassmen with the best chances to win the Heisman by the time they're done with college football.

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Justin Foster Tweets Top 7: Which Schools Hold Edge for 4-Star LB?

Lauded North Carolina linebacker Justin Foster is the latest standout college football recruit to cut down his list of options before summer break.

The 4-star prospect, rated No. 4 nationally among outside linebackers in 247Sports' composite rankings, released a list of seven favorites on Wednesday afternoon:

Foster, who holds more than 20 scholarship offers, decided it was time to focus on a select few universities.

"This recruiting process has been a long journey and I would like to thank all the schools that have given me the opportunity to further my football career," he wrote. "With this said, I would like to release my top schools."

The Crest High School junior announced these programs in alphabetical order, identifying Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Kentucky, Notre Dame, Stanford and Tennessee as teams in contention.

Auburn, LSU, Michigan, North Carolina and South Carolina are among many schools that didn't make the cut.

While several powerhouse programs remain in the mix, all seven options aren't exactly on an even playing field. This pursuit features a pair of perceived front-runners in Clemson and Tennessee.

The Tigers and Volunteers split 247Sports' Crystal Ball predictions right down the line, with both schools claiming 50 percent of experts' commitment predictions for Foster. This matches sentiment throughout the spring that there is at least slight separation between these two teams and his alternative collegiate options.

Foster's sister enrolled at Clemson, which provides him with added insight about campus atmosphere and classroom environment. He plans to study mechanical engineering, according to Hale McGranahan of The Clemson Insider, and attended an engineering class alongside his sibling.

He was most recently on campus in April for the Tigers' spring game, where he spent time with current Clemson commits Hunter Johnson (Indiana quarterback) and Blake Vinson (Florida offensive tackle).

“They were talking trash about the other schools I’ve been offered by and visited recently, trying to get me to join the commitment list with them,” Foster told McGranahan.

Clemson has hosted him more frequently than other universities, and defensive coordinator Brent Venables is coming off a strong 2016 cycle. He helped head coach Dabo Swinney sign two of America's premier linebacker prospects in Tre Lamar and Shaq Smith

"I could play defensive end like [Atlanta Falcons 2015 first-round draft pick] Vic Beasley or maybe take a different route and play middle linebacker," Foster told Ryan Bartow of 247Sports.

Despite strong indications that Clemson is in great shape to eventually land this commitment, Tennessee presents a major threat. Foster actually told Bartow the Volunteers maintain a lead at this stage.

Like Clemson, Tennessee would be tempted to use him in a variety of roles. Given his size—Foster is listed 6'4", 258 pounds—there's certainly room for him to develop into a hand-in-the-dirt edge defender.

Inside linebacker is another potential landing spot in Knoxville, where he's enjoyed multiple visits. The Volunteers extended a scholarship offer in April 2015 and quickly ascended as a top-tier destination for Foster.

His latest visit to Tennessee took place last month and allowed him to further explore academic possibilities with the program.

"I went to the engineering building because the big [thing] with me committing to a school is majoring in engineering and balancing football," Foster told Cory Gunkel of Scout.com. "They set up an engineering tour for me."

The experience put Tennessee in position to line up at least one more return trip before Foster reaches his final decision.

"I'll be back to visit some more before I start narrowing it down more and more," he told Gunkel. "It's a family environment. All the coaches are laid back and cool."

Expect other contenders on his top-seven list to also welcome him to campus this summer, presenting them with a chance to sway momentum away from Clemson and Tennessee. With head coaches such as Nick Saban, Kirby Smart and Brian Kelly still in the mix, this process is far from settled.

Foster anticipates a commitment announcement during the early stages of his senior season, per Bartow. He will attempt to build off a 2015 campaign that featured 67 tackles—12 for loss—and three sacks, according to MaxPreps.

 

Tyler Donohue is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Follow Tyler via Twitter @TDsTake.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Power Ranking Top 10 ACC Quarterbacks for 2016

The state of quarterbacking in the ACC runs the gamut. At the top of the group reside several of the nation’s best signal-callers, who have eye-popping skills and NFL futures ahead. You have one of the nation’s best option quarterbacks and several quarterbacks who’ll try to replace predecessors who led championship drives last season.

Then you have plenty of uncertainty. As spring practice wrapped up, Boston College, Florida State, North Carolina State, Syracuse, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest were all still in the midst of quarterback competitions that will determine their 2016 starters.

Such competitions make it impossible to predict exactly what ACC teams will get out of their quarterbacks in 2016, but it likely won’t be dull. Here’s a look at the top 10 quarterbacks in the ACC as we head toward the 2016 season. Players were ranked based on their on-field accomplishments, displayed talent and potential for the season ahead.

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SEC Extra Points: Should There Be a Uniformed Substance Abuse Policy?

The SEC will hold its annual spring meetings from May 31-June 3 in Destin, Florida, and while satellite camps will likely dominate headlines (after all, what offseason would be complete without them?), other legislative items like long-term player health, transfer restrictions and avenues of legal compensation will certainly be on the docket.

What about a conference-wide substance abuse policy? I've been asked about it on virtually every radio appearance this week, and the recent marijuana-related arrests at Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and other schools seem to have piqued the interest of the general public.

Don't count on it being a factor in Destin, though.

"Probably not," Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs told Bleacher Report in a text message when asked if he expected it to be a topic of conversation. "It hasn't been mentioned in a couple of years."

Currently, each school has the freedom to create their own substance abuse policy and punishment structure based on their own student body's needs and institutional goals.

At Auburn, a student-athlete isn't suspended on the first marijuana-related offense, loses 25 percent of the season on the second, 50 percent on the third, a full season on the fourth and is dismissed after that.

At LSU, the first positive test results in no suspension, followed by 10 percent, 50 percent and permanent ineligibility (pending appeal) on subsequent offenses.

At Alabama, the second offense results in a minimum of one game, 25 percent on the third, 50 percent on the fourth and dismissal on the fifth. At Georgia (which is one of the strictest in the country), a player loses 10 percent of the season on the first offense, 30 percent on the second and is permanently suspended on the third. 

Synergy is good in some instances, but asymmetry is the way it should be regarding school substance abuse policies.

Coaches might say otherwise, but it's up to the school presidents and athletic directors to run their programs based on what they feel is necessary regarding the specific issues facing their own student athletes, and they adjust their policies as needed based on those issues.

Sometimes it could be the rise of a specific substance, and other times (like in Washington and Colorado where marijuana is legal), state laws dictate what adjustments need to be made.

It's not up to the conference, and it shouldn't be up to the conference. 

The administrators at each school know their own population better than somebody in the SEC office in Birmingham, Alabama. The schools deal with these players' health on a day-to-day basis, and can quickly address any situation that arises. If the conference handles it, the schools will have to educate the conference on the specifics of each player's health record every time there's a failed test or arrest, which will result in slower examination of infractions, longer appeals and a much bigger headache.

It's just not worth it.

 

Freeze Speaks Out

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze has tried to keep a low profile since former offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil threw himself and his old program under the bus during the first round of the NFL draft last month when he said in the post-draft press conference that he took money at Ole Miss after screenshots of conversations with athletic department officials were posted on his Instagram account.

Now to be fair, we already know that Tunsil received extra benefits. After all, that's why he was suspended for the first seven games of the 2015 season. Since draft night, though, the world has been wondering if Tunsil's comments were in relation to old incidents, unknown incidents or were even illegal at all.

Freeze addressed the toll it has taken on himself and his program on the Paul Finebaum Show on the SEC Network from the Regions Tradition pro-am golf tournament in Hoover, Alabama.

"It's something that I wouldn't wish on any coach," Freeze said (41:00 mark). "We all want to win and we all want to compete. The coaches who I hang around with and I know...your name means a lot to you. Any time when people who don't know you or others get to decide the narrative when you can't, it's very frustrating and very hurtful to yourself, your families, your kids, your wives and everyone who is close to you."

Freeze really has no other choice.

The NCAA has to find out whether or not those conversations are real, accurate and included in the previous Notice of Allegations. As a result, Freeze has no choice but to lose the public relations battle while the compliance staff works with the NCAA on figuring out what Tunsil's draft night shenanigans mean for the future of the program.

"I know what we do, and I know that's not the case," Freeze said (42:10 mark). "I know if I find that anyone in our staff would do that (which would shock me)—knowingly do something that would jeopardize our families—they would be in trouble and wouldn't have a job."

The last thing that Ole Miss needs is its head football coach speaking out publicly about an investigation that could impact the highest profile sport within the department. The only thing that would hurt the program, because every program has issues, and public statements will only be used against Freeze and the program if they're not 100 percent truthful.

 

Birmingham, We Have a Problem

That phrase will be mentioned inside headsets this fall, as the conference has followed the ACC's lead and will institute a centralized, collaborative replay system for football in 2016.

Personnel from the SEC's headquarters in Birmingham will assist the on-side replay official during reviews, taking the pressure off of the official in stadium to be the lone responsible party on plays that could go either way. 

"Our goal is to continue to use the best-available resources to support correct outcomes when instant replay is used," said SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey in an emailed statement. "We believe the collaborative effort, which will involve additional officiating experts during replay reviews, will enhance the conference’s football officiating program."

I like it.

Similar to the systems in Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League, a system that allows multiple people to access and rule on tight plays in a timely fashion, will prevent a single person from arguing with him or herself in the booth and hopefully bring more consistency to the process. 

Of course, the presence of the SEC office in the heart of Alabama and Auburn country will lead to massive conspiracy theories among fans if calls go in favor of the Tide or Tigers, but if you spend 30 minutes with SEC coordinator of football officials Steve Shaw and his crew, you'll know that they care deeply about getting every call right.

This will ensure that they do.

We have the technology to make this a reality in 2016, and the SEC (and ACC) should be applauded for using it.

 

Sumlin's Not Gonna Take It

As a result of wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead's highly publicized Twitter debacle and the transfer of former 5-star quarterbacks Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray, the narrative seems to be that College Station is crumbling.

"Based on some things out there right now," Sumlin said on Wednesday, according to Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle, "we can't wait to play our first game."

Granted, this was at a booster club event, and generally coaches are more in pep-rally mode in that setting than others. But the confidence he has in his Aggies—specifically the Aggie defense—should give fans of the program hope that Sumlin can reverse the narrative and legitimately contend for the SEC West title for the first time ever.

"We've got to get better in our run defense, and I think we have the personnel to do that," he said. "Our defensive front will be as good as anybody in the country. Our linebackers take a lot of heat, but they're better than people think they are."

Those linebackers include 2014 AutoZone Liberty Bowl defensive MVP Otaro Alaka and Shaan Washington, who finished second on the team with 81 tackles a year go. Alaka played in just three games in 2015 and earned a medical redshirt, so getting the two on the field at the same time when healthy will give the Aggies a boost in the middle of defense.

Couple that with a loaded defensive front and a secondary that's underrated behind safety Armani Watts, and the Aggie defense should keep them in every game this year.

 

Quick Outs

  • Former South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier was asked if he wanted the hypothetical job of college football commissioner, and took what some are terming a shot at Ole Miss. Be better, Internet. Just because Spurrier said it doesn't make it a shot. Ole Miss knows it's under investigation, so what he said about the Rebels is nothing more than the Head Ball Coach stating fact. 
  • Alabama head coach Nick Saban told Finebaum that "nothing good happens after midnight." While that's not entirely true, because sometimes the best stories come after midnight, the message is certainly important. If things aren't going well at midnight, that's probably not going to change over the next couple of hours. 
  • Do you want to join 149,999 other people to watch a college football game in person? You better hit the secondary ticket market. Mike Strange of the Knoxville News Sentinel reports that all 150,000 tickets for the Battle at Bristol on Sept. 10 between Tennessee and Virginia Tech at Bristol Motor Speedway have been sold.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information 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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Jim Harbaugh's NFL Connection Remains Michigan Football's Best Recruiting Weapon

Brandon Peters didn't care about satellite camps.

He went to one near his hometown of Avon, Indiana, but only after he had already committed to Michigan months earlier, so it never really factored much into his recruitment.

While the rest of the college football world was paying attention to his antics and unprecedented summer plans, Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh was using his primary recruiting pitch to lure his quarterback of the future to Ann Arbor.

Comparing Peters to the last college quarterback he had coached at the time, former Stanford and current Indianapolis Colts star Andrew Luck, Harbaugh managed to secure a pledge from what would be the first commit in his 2016 class, which ranks fifth nationally.

"It was something that stood out to me," Peters recalled. "He just kind of compared me to [Luck]. It's a pretty big thing to say."

It's also a pitch Harbaugh won't be retiring anytime soon.

While the sizzle of Michigan's recruiting pitch under Harbaugh—the satellite camps, the zany tweets and the celebrity endorsements—captivates the college football world, the steak of his sales pitch remains an unmatched NFL resume, at least as far as college coaches are concerned.

Some coaches can claim an NFL background as a coach, while others can do so as former players and many can tout track records of putting players in the pros, but very few can do all three—especially at the level that Harbaugh has in the past year-and-a-half.

"It does help that there has been NFL experience in our coaches' background," Harbaugh said on his first signing day as the Wolverines head coach. "A lot of our players, that's one of their goals, to make it to the NFL. We don't discourage that; in fact, we try to teach it."

In case that's gotten lost in this offseason's satellite camp drama and subsequent summer turf wars, this past week has served as a reminder of Harbaugh's primary selling point.

After all, he has to be pitching something during his ballyhooed satellite camp tour, which as of last count is up to 34 stops, per Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press.

One of those camps just received a little extra boost over the others, with this week's announcement that Harbaugh's brother, John Harbaugh, and his Baltimore Ravens staff will be joining the Wolverines at the previously announced Next Level camp at New Jersey's Paramus Catholic High School.

Of course, there's some gamesmanship in Harbaugh inviting his also-famous brother and his NFL staff to work at his camp. In an effort to neutralize Michigan's effort in its own backyard, Rutgers opted to host a satellite camp of its own alongside Ohio State and Temple, six miles away at the exact same time on the exact same day.

Thus, it never hurts to have Super Bowl-winning coach John Harbaugh one call away.

It's also nice to be able to sell a pro football pedigree of your own, which the younger Harbaugh possesses thanks to his 14-year career as an NFL quarterback and a successful four-year stint as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers from 2011-14.

Harbaugh's NFL connections will once again be on display this summer at the Wolverines' second annual Ann Arbor Aerial Assault (A4) camp, the sequel to last summer's successful and unprecedented quarterback camp.

Just announced this week, this year's camp will feature another impressive lineup of "counselors," including NFL quarterbacks Jay Cutler, Blake Bortles, Zach Mettenberger and Tavaris Jackson, pro offensive coordinators and quarterback coaches Sean McVay, Dowell Loggains and John DeFilippo, as well as Michigan's own pro-experienced staff.

The star of the show, as it often does, remains Harbaugh, whose resume with signal-callers transcends the traditional prisms through which we often view quarterback whisperers.

Transform a pistol system quarterback into a player who was just a few plays away from winning a Super Bowl? He did it with Colin Kaepernick.

Refine the tools of an already highly touted prospect and turn him into the NFL draft's No. 1 overall pick? Look at Luck's time at Stanford.

Play in a Pro Bowl himself? Harbaugh's done that, too.

Even in his first year at Michigan, Harbaugh managed to add another notch to his quarterback champion belt, developing Jake Rudock from NFL afterthought to the Detroit Lions' sixth-round pick. This year, he'll get another opportunity to do the same with the Wolverines, whether it's John O'Korn, Wilton Speight, Shane Morris or even Peters who winds up as Rudock's successor at signal-caller.

"You saw it this year with Jake and how much he developed throughout the year," Peters said. "He's had the experience in the NFL, and that's what really drew me to come to Michigan."

Harbaugh, however, doesn't want to necessarily be viewed as a quarterback specialist. "That's the fun part of being the head coach. You can coach any position. I like coaching all the positions," he said last spring.

After all, there are 21 other starting spots alone he still has to recruit.

But between his time at Stanford, the 49ers and even his one year at Michigan, Harbaugh can lay claim to having coached some of football's most prominent players at some point in their careers.

A running back prospect may be compared to Frank Gore or Toby Gerhart, a wide receiver to Randy Moss, a tight end to Vernon Davis or Delanie Walker and an offensive lineman to Joe Staley or David DeCastro, which is proof of Harbaugh's bona fides. Even with his expertise coming primarily on offense, Harbaugh's resume of defensive players coached includes the likes of Richard Sherman, Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Dashon Goldson.

"It provides an opportunity for recruits to come in and say that these are guys who know what it takes to get to the next level and what the expectations are at the next level," Wolverines passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch, who has spent 12 years an NFL assistant coach, told MGoBlue.com. "I hope they want to be part of that."

Based on the recruiting results thus far, they do, and with one look at Matt Miller's 2017 NFL mock draft for Bleacher Report, it's easy to see it shouldn't be long until Harbaugh and his staff add to their already potent sales pitch.

Jabrill Peppers, Jourdan Lewis and Jake Butt are already viewed as highly touted prospects for next spring's selection show, and that doesn't even take into account the other players who will only benefit from another year in Michigan's pro-style systems on both sides of the ball.

And if this spring has taught us anything about Harbaugh, it's that the offseason noise won't stop—not when it's produced the results it has for the Wolverines staff in their first 16 months in Ann Arbor. But the noise is just a ticket, whether it be into a prospect's living room or getting him to attend one of Michigan's many satellite camps.

From there, Harbaugh still has to cash in with substance. And when it comes to his best recruiting asset, his track record speaks for itself.

 

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

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Top CFB Storylines, Position Battles and Names to Know 100 Days from Kickoff

We are now officially 100 days away from August 27—the start of the 2016 college football season, when Cal and Hawaii kick things off in Australia.

The 100-day marker is like a highway mileage sign for college football fans weary of the long road of the offseason, and excitement will continue to build as the countdown numbers become more manageable.

In honor of this important milestone in the college football offseason, let's take a look at 100 of the top programs, players and position battles as we move closer to the sweet sounds of that first kickoff Down Under.

And what better place to start than the program that once again finished the 2015 season on top of the college football world—Alabama (1). The Crimson Tide defense should be otherworldly this season, especially up front with the return of sack leader Jonathan Allen (2) and potential superstar outside linebacker Tim Williams (3).

But more eyes will be on the Alabama offense as the offseason continues, especially the Tide's quarterback battle (4) and the race to replace Heisman winner Derrick Henry at running back. The recent arrest of All-SEC left tackle Cam Robinson (5) could have the biggest impact on Alabama's chance to repeat as national champion, as Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee wrote this week.

Alabama's main SEC West threat, LSU (6), is tied with three other schools for the most returning starters in college football for 2016. Superstar running back Leonard Fournette (7) is back, and the hire of former Wisconsin assistant Dave Aranda (8) at defensive coordinator has given Tiger fans plenty of excitement.

But the Bayou Bengals' championship hopes will hinge a lot on whether the passing attack can do enough to prevent defenses from loading the box against Fournette.

Elsewhere in the SEC West, Ole Miss (9) returns quarterback Chad Kelly (10) from his standout 2015 campaign but must replace a good chunk of starters—including the stars of its famed 2013 recruiting class. Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin (11) and Auburn's Gus Malzahn (12) have plenty of star power on their respective rosters, but they could both be looking for jobs this winter if they don't resurrect their once-great offenses.

In the East, the hype train is storming down the rails for Tennessee (13), which returns 17 starters, including dual-threat quarterback Joshua Dobbs (14), an elite running back duo and plenty of big names on a defense that could be among the best in the entire conference.

Florida (15) is looking to capture some of its magic from last year's 10-win season that featured a division title. A lot of that will come down to the play of the Gators' new starting quarterback (16), as the team fell off late last season after the suspension of Will Grier.

Meanwhile, Georgia (17) will enter a new era of football under first-year head coach Kirby Smart (18). Smart's defense should be stout, and the difference-makers in a potential title run for the Bulldogs are the health of returning running back Nick Chubb (19) and the winner of their own quarterback battle (20) featuring two veteran option and a 5-star true freshman

The two biggest challenges to Alabama's presumed preseason No. 1 ranking can be found in a spot not many would have expected several years ago—the ACC.

Clemson (21) pushed Alabama to the brink last season in the national championship game, and the Tigers have all the pieces to make another run to the College Football Playoff. The offense should be pure dynamite with the return of Heisman front-runner Deshaun Watson (22) at quarterback. Watch out for star wide receiver Mike Williams (23), who missed almost all of 2015 with a scary neck injury.

The major question for Clemson will once again be sorting through plenty of position battles on a defense that lost a lot of talent to the NFL draft. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables (24) was in this exact same situation last year, and he managed to build a top-10 defense out of little returning experience.

Lack of returning starters is definitely not a problem for the ACC's other top name, Florida State (25), which returns 17 from last year's 10-win team. Running back Dalvin Cook (26) has serious Heisman potential, and versatile safety Derwin James (27) has household name written all over him.

But the real intrigue can be found in Florida State's quarterback battle (28), as twofreshmen are looking to unseat Sean Maguire (29) when he makes his return later this offseason from injury.

Elsewhere in the ACC, North Carolina (30), which almost knocked off Clemson in the ACC title game last year, turns to heavily hyped quarterback Mitch Trubisky (31) to lead its big-play offense as its defense looks to take the next step after a stronger 2015. Louisville (32) could crash the party this year with all of its returning starters and the electrifying Lamar Jackson (33) at quarterback.

The ACC's newest star coach, Mark Richt (34), will look to bring his alma mater of Miami back into the national spotlight after his firing from Georgia. He inherits a 'Canes team that has Top 25 potential from the opening kickoff of the season.

Notre Dame (35) is a pseudo-member of the ACC, and it could have a monster 2016. Last year, the Fighting Irish overcame a huge rash of injuries and still made it to the New Year's Six bowls. This year, they will replace plenty of starters, but that depth has been tested and is ready to compete for a national title.

An injury played a role in shaping arguably the most high-profile position battle of the entire offseason—the one for Notre Dame's starting quarterback job (36). Malik Zaire (37) won such a battle last year and even prompted Everett Golson to transfer out of South Bend. But an early-season injury opened the door for DeShone Kizer (38) to step in and lead the Irish with his powerful style of dual-threat play.

In Notre Dame's neck of the woods—Big Ten country—the theme of the 2016 season will be top names looking to keep up their various levels of momentum.

Defending champion Michigan State (39) has a good bit of rebuilding to do on both sides of the ball, but new stars continue to pop up in East Lansing. Quarterback Tyler O'Connor (40) led Sparty to a huge win over Ohio State last year, and he'll have the true freshman receiving tandem of Donnie Corley (41) and Cam Chambers (42) to throw to this fall. On defense, Malik McDowell (43) could be the best the Spartans have ever seen in the trenches.

At Ohio State (44), it's all about the exciting yet inexperienced talent surrounding quarterback J.T. Barrett (45) and middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan (46). The Buckeyes have key battles to settle at running back (47), wide receiver (48) and in the secondary (49), but there are plenty of reasons to believe in the talent OSU has stockpiled in Columbus.

But the Spartans and the Buckeyes could be chasing Michigan (50) and headline machine Jim Harbaugh (51) after the biggest offseason in recent memory for the Wolverines. Michigan has a huge quarterback derby (52) of its own and question marks at linebacker (53), but the immense star power of do-it-all redshirt sophomore Jabrill Peppers (54) and lockdown cornerback Jourdan Lewis (55) should lead the way for the most experienced team in a loaded Big Ten East.

A lot of mystery hangs over the West division as Nebraska (56) and Wisconsin (57) look to break up the party Iowa (58) threw last season. The Hawkeyes still have the pieces to repeat as division champions—a good amount of returning experience, a favorable schedule and the leadership of quarterback C.J. Beathard (59) and Thorpe Award-winning cornerback Desmond King (60).

Transitioning from the Big Ten to the Big 12—a conference that will continue to be one to watch with its discussions of possible expansion (61)Oklahoma (62) has its sights set on returning to the College Football Playoff in 2016.

Last year, Baker Mayfield (63) led OU's new Air Raid scheme to great heights, and he'll be able to spread the ball to a number of returning playmakers and Penn State transfer receiver Geno Lewis (64). However, Oklahoma has a lot to rebuild on defense after the loss of several top names up front, putting more pressure on a secondary led by Jordan Thomas (65) and Steven Parker (66).

Baylor (67), as the case has been for the last several years, has the potential to contend for a title solely because of the star power on its perennially No. 1 offense. Seth Russell (68) is back after a midseason neck injury, and the offseason battle between a pair of 1,000-yard rushers (69)—Shock Linwood and Johnny Jefferson—could make for an even deadlier ground game this fall.

College football might see the return of Kenny Hill (70) if he wins battle with Foster Sawyer (71) to replace Trevone Boykin as TCU's starting quarterback. Head coach Gary Patterson (72) will be in his comfort zone again with the Horned Frogs, as defense will be the more experienced unit in Fort Worth this fall.

Oklahoma State (73) is still searching for a strong running game to complement the Big 12's best returning quarterback-receiver duo of Mason Rudolph (74) and James Washington (75). Texas (76) has the potential to make some serious noise thanks to the spring emergence of true freshman quarterback Shane Buechele (77), who could lead a new Baylor-like offense in Austin beside a defense that continues to get even better.

But don't be completely surprised if the biggest name out of Big 12 country this season is Houston (78). Head coach Tom Herman (79) has everything in place for another American championship season and a possible playoff bid, starting with an opening weekend showdown against Oklahoma. Greg Ward Jr. (80) was a touchdown machine for Herman in 2015, and nothing should slow him down this fall.

Last but certainly not least, let's swing over to the West Coast, where Stanford (81) leads the way in a Pac-12 that could be the most competitive top-to-bottom conference in recent memory.

The Cardinal have Christian McCaffrey (82) back after his record-breaking season as a rusher, receiver, returner and even a passer. The quarterback battle at Stanford (83) between Ryan Burns and Keller Chryst is at a dead heat, and the defense will rely on the immense talent of Solomon Thomas (84) to have a breakout year in the trenches.

The usual suspect in the Pac-12 North, Oregon (85), is swimming with explosive talent at the offensive skill positions for presumed starting quarterback Dakota Prukop (86). However, the ultimate test of Oregon this fall will be how much improvement former Michigan head coach Brady Hoke (87) can bring to a struggling defense that lost its best player in DeForest Buckner.

From a complete team perspective, Washington (88) might be the team to beat in the Pac-12 North this fall. The young Huskies turned it on in the second half of the 2015 season after several close losses, and they return 15 starters as well as electrifying big-play receiver John Ross III (89). They'll receive a stiff challenge from rival Washington State (90), which returns quarterback Luke Falk (91) after an impressive nine-win campaign.

In the South, USC (92) is looking for this to be the year that it reclaims a Pac-12 title and returns to the national title conversation. The offense has plenty of skill position talent and offensive line stalwarts coming back for its starting quarterback to be named later (93), but the real question will be how much returning defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast (94) can help what will be a thin defensive front.

UCLA (95) will battle the Trojans for supremacy in Los Angeles and the Pac-12 South behind the talents of sophomore star quarterback Josh Rosen (96), who will spearhead a new-look offense this fall. The Bruins are also shaking things up on the defensive side of the ball with a 4-3 scheme, which should be a better fit for their returning talent and several up-and-coming stars.

The South division also features the contrasting offensive and defensive styles of always dangerous Utah (97) and Arizona (98), which have the potential to make serious noise in a conference that prides itself on late-night madness.

The internationally minded Pac-12 will be at the epicenter of the season's first matchup between Cal (99) and Mountain West foe Hawaii (100) in Australia's ANZ Stadium.

Now comes the harder count to 100—the days between now and when all of this exciting preseason talk will start to become reality.

Stay strong, fellow college football fans. It'll be here soon.

 

Justin Ferguson is a National College Football Analyst at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

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