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Miami Recruiting Big Board: Top 2016 Targets Al Golden Must Land

The Miami Hurricanes have one of the top recruiting classes in 2016 in 247Sports' rankings. The Canes have done a great job getting out in front of recruiting, and they will look to build on this recruiting success.

Stephen Nelson sits down with the Palm Beach Post's Matt Porter to discuss Miami's dream recruiting class for 2016.

Who are the must-have recruits for Miami next season?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michael Felder's Top 2016 Recruits with the Best Hands

In order to be a great wide out, you have to possess a certain set of skills, and one of the most important is having good hands. There's something about a wide receiver going up and high-pointing a ball to make a grab.  

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down who he believes has the best hands in the 2016 class.

Who has the best hands in the 2016 class? Check out the video and let us know! 

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

On-the-Field Breakdown of Top Florida State Prospects from the Opening Atlanta

Florida State had an impressive 2014-15 season, losing only one game to Oregon in the first-ever College Football Playoff. The Seminoles are stockpiling recruits and targeting top prospects featured at Nike's The Opening in Atlanta.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee is joined by B/R National Recruiting Analyst Sanjay Kirpalani to discuss what Florida State could look like next season.

What kind of season will Florida State have? Check out the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Coach Sends Letter to Girlfriend of 4-Star Tight End Recruit

The Michigan Wolverines are going to great lengths to get 4-star football recruit Naseir Upshur to Ann Arbor.

Michigan tight ends coach Jay Harbaugh took some time to write a note to Upshur's girlfriend in hopes that she will "put in a good word" for the Wolverines.

Hey, it doesn't hurt to try.

A personal gesture like this shows that the coaching staff listens to the player, and it could go a long way in winning over a recruit. 

[Twitter, h/t The Score]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Freshmen Turning Heads During Spring Practice

Almost every major program has opened spring football camp, although spring break limited reps at most schools with early- or mid-March openings.

Regardless, redshirt and true freshmen have made a quick impact on some of those practice fields and especially at schools that opened camp in late February. It's hard to keep a firsthand eye on everything, but the early reports and highlight clips look great.

We'll update freshman progress with a new list at the end of spring practice once more teams have played extended reps, but for now here are 10 freshmen whose performances have turned heads.

Sound off below, and let us know which players we missed.

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Power Ranking the 10 Best College Football Players Who Played in March Madness

March Madness is such a wide-reaching event that it draws in more than just the diehard college basketball fan. Whether because of bracket pools or school allegiances, the NCAA basketball tournament is one of the most watched sporting events in the country.

It's also something that pretty much every kid who plays hoops growing up dreams of being able to participate in, even those who don't end up having basketball be their primary sport in college.

Over the years, dozens of great college football players have been a part of March Madness, and while for most this was a cameo appearance as a walk-on or last-off-the-bench scrub, it was a bona fide second career option for others.

We've identified the 10 best college football players to ever appear in an NCAA tournament game, ranking them based on their gridiron performances while factoring in what they did on the hard court as well.

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Alabama Football: What Position Experiments Is Nick Saban Trying in 2015?

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Some of Alabama’s top performers under Nick Saban were made possible by position changes and experiments.

Cyrus Jones, who started every game for the Crimson Tide at cornerback, came to Alabama as a wide receiver but made the switch to cornerback after one year. Quarterback Blake Sims, who led a record-breaking Alabama offense and set some individual marks along the way, played running back for his first two years on campus.

Last year, a couple of these changes stuck. Dakota Ball moved from defensive line to tight end, appearing in all but two games as a blocker. And Brandon Green slid from tackle to tight end, playing in all but three games and catching a pass in overtime against LSU, one of the game’s critical plays.

So what kind of tinkering is Nick Saban doing during spring practice this year? Do any of these moves have a chance at sticking?

The big ones—literally—are all on the defensive line, where the Crimson Tide’s incredible depth gives coaches some leeway to try some new things out.

Johnny Dwight is going the Ball route, moving from defensive line to tight end. Running passing routes, he looks like, well, a converted lineman, but where he’s most likely to make an impact is as a blocker in obvious run downs.

With Brian Vogler’s departure, Alabama has a void to fill in terms of a blocking tight end. O.J. Howard is going to be the passing threat in that group, but Vogler was a rock in run blocking.

Last year, Ball proved he could be used situationally as a blocker, an experiment that succeeded. Dwight could find himself having similar success next year, and if he can trim down a bit, he could be a versatile player almost like Jalston Fowler was—blocking and catching out of the backfield while playing all over the line.

The other defensive line move is Korren Kirven, who is going to try things out on the offensive line. Kirven has appeared in a handful games the last two years after taking a redshirt in 2012, largely in backup and late-game roles.

He hasn’t been able to make much of an impact on defense, and as Alabama continues to stockpile talent at that position, his chances are looking even slimmer to be a regular contributor over there. He may be able to stick on the offensive line, though, where Alabama has to replace three starters from a year ago.

Alabama’s other notable position change isn’t exactly new but still newsworthy nonetheless. Ronnie Clark, who did a little bit of everything in high school, played safety for his first few months in Tuscaloosa. He made the switch to running back in October but tore his Achilles in a non-contact situation just weeks later.

Clark is apparently healthy again and sticking with the running backs, where a suspension and a transfer have left the Crimson Tide a little thin. He’s going through drills as the fourth running back behind Derrick Henry, Kenyan Drake and Bo Scarbrough.

Speaking of Scarbrough, don’t expect him to be moved around just yet. While he’s a multitalented athlete who could probably play any offensive skill position, Saban is content to have him at running back for the time being.

Again, it’s a place where Alabama needs a little depth.

“We’re playing Bo right now at running back, and the one thing we try to do with young players is not move them around and try to teach them a bunch of different positions,” Saban said. “With Bo, we’re going to try to teach him one thing, and that’s how to play tailback right now. And until we figure out if he can or can’t do that, we’re probably not going to give him multiple roles right now.”

So Saban will stick with older players, like Dwight and Kirven, to move around in the meantime, trying to find the right spot for everyone on the team and maybe finding another successful position change in the process.

 

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

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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Watch Freak Athlete Kaden Smith Effortlessly Dunk 16-Pound Shot Put

Kaden Smith is a 4-star tight end, as per 247Sports' composite rankings, who is uncommitted. Smith is an incredible athlete playing tight end, but his ability is in more than just football. 

Watch Smith dunk a 16-pound shot put like it's nothing. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Keion Joyner Reveals Top 4: Which Schools Hold Edge in Race for No. 1 OLB?

The race to land 5-star linebacker Keion Joyner is beginning to heat up after the North Carolina product revealed his top four schools, according to Ryan Bartow of 247Sports.

“My top four are Florida State, UNC, Auburn and LSU,” Joyner told Bartow. “I want to announce at the Under Armour All-American Game. I will probably make a decision before that.”

This spring, the Havelock (N.C.) High School product has visits planned to see both Florida State and LSU, in addition to the home-standing Tar Heels.

With his favorites and timeline coming into focus, which school holds the edge for the nation’s top outside linebacker in the 2016 class?

All four schools have their strengths, but a pair of schools could be emerging from the pack with Joyner.

LSU, the Crystal Ball favorite for the 6’3”, 200-pounder, has pitched him on the role he would play in their defensive scheme.

“I like the versatility of where they want to put me on the field,” Joyner said. “I like how the coaches and players are real and how they are honest with me and tell me what they are. I am supposed to be making a visit down there pretty soon.”

Additionally, LSU failed to sign a linebacker in its 2015 class, which makes that position a priority for new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele.

The Tigers were considered the early favorite, but as Sonny Shipp of Geaux247 details, Steele and the new defensive coaches have some work to do in building their relationship with Joyner.

While he mentioned that he likes the coaching staff at LSU, his strongest relationship may be with new Florida State defensive line coach Brad Lawing, who began his coaching career at Havelock.

“Brad Lawing went down there,” Joyner said. “I called him and we have long conversations about where I want to play. He wants to produce players from where he came from.”

The North Carolina product also noted that the Seminoles join the in-state Tar Heels as the schools that are recruiting him the hardest.

Additionally, the Seminoles have a huge need for linebackers in the 2016 cycle. Even though Jimbo Fisher and his staff currently have commitments from four players at that position, they are still pushing for difference-makers at that spot—with Joyner being atop their wish list, as noted by Josh Newberg of Noles247.

Auburn cannot be discounted given the momentum it's built under new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp.

Former Tigers head coach and new North Carolina defensive coordinator Gene Chizik has credentials that would appeal to a player of Joyner’s caliber as well.

However, it appears that Florida State and LSU are the two teams that are trending for one of the nation’s elite defensive prospects.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Jim Harbaugh Suggests He Is Overpaid at Michigan

A majority of Americans would say they are underpaid, and if not, they wouldn’t willingly admit to not being worth their salaries. But new Michigan Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh isn’t most Americans.

Harbaugh, who signed a seven-year $38.1 million deal in the offseason, was asked by Charlie LeDuff of Fox 2 in Detroit whether he thought he deserved such a lucrative contract. To put it simply, “No.”

In the interview, the former San Francisco 49ers coach, who led the NFL team to three straight NFC title games in his first three seasons there, said he doesn't deserve the money because he is doing the same amount of work as some of his peers.

“I like making a buck just like the next guy,” Harbaugh said in the interview. “I’m not doing five times as much work as somebody else or doing more work than someone who’s not the head football coach at the University of Michigan so to answer your question, honestly, I would have to say no.”

According to a report by Cork Gaines of Business Insider, Harbaugh is set to be the second-highest-paid coach in college football, behind only Nick Saban of Alabama.

As noted by ESPN.com, John Harbaugh, Jim's brother, said he is absolutely worth the money:

"I think it's warranted," John Harbaugh said Tuesday. "His career has begun. He's a great football coach. He was a great player at Michigan, obviously. ... Great coach, great family man. I love him to death."

While Harbaugh might think he is overpaid, take a poll of Michigan fans and they would probably have a different view of the situation. If Harbaugh can end the Wolverines' struggles from the past few seasons under Brady Hoke, he will be worth every penny.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Coaches Who Are Social Media Geniuses

Who says coaches are one-dimensional? 

Social media has allowed direct access between fans/media and coaches, and the interaction can be amazing sometimes. Mediums like Twitter allow coaches to show that they have a sense of humor or other passions. It can be a cool glimpse into their lives beyond football. 

In the following list are coaches (and hopefully not athletic department interns) who have crushed it on social media. Whether they use it for recruiting or for more personal reasons, these coaches have figured out how to be more accessible to their followers. 

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Fruit Snacks, Family and Eddie Robinson: How Deontay Anderson Became a 5-Star

ARLINGTON, Texas — Deontay Anderson chatted among friends and reporters about a variety of topics during downtime at The Opening Dallas regional two weeks ago. When the topic of recruiting came up, he reiterated that he had a top-10 list, and every school mentioned received a positive note of some sort.

As the 5-star safety spoke, he'd periodically pop a Welch's Fruit Snacks candy into his mouth. And then another. And another.

When the packet of gummies was empty, he laughed. And then, he went for another packet.

Really?

"I mean, what can I say? I love fruit snacks," Anderson said. "I eat them before a sporting event, after an event, sometimes during. It's a rush when the sugar kicks in. I can eat two or three packs, and I feel hype."

Call it an oxymoron that works. Here is Anderson, one of the elite athletes of the 2016 recruiting class. The nation's No. 3 safety. A star at Texas' Manvel High School, a player with nearly 40 offers and someone who has a respectable pedigree of professional athletes.

And how is he known around school? He's the guy addicted to fruit snacks. The athlete wanted by multiple schools for his super-impressive football resume also is the guy known for putting down as many as 10 small packs of the candies a day.

"It's bad, really bad," said Manvel offensive tackle Austin Myers, a 3-star TCU commit. "Everybody knows he loves fruit snacks. And he doesn't share."

Anderson doesn't mind the word "addiction" when it comes to the candy—as long as they continue to help him on the football field. Let him tell it, Welch's Fruit Snacks—the mixed fruit variety if you're keeping score—are part of the reason why he's the player he is today.

That, of course, and proper training, great genetics, an insane will to win and hard work. Tons of hard work.

 

Marshawn has Skittles...

Anderson is the first to say the gummies give him that added boost needed to either deliver the jarring hit to break up a pass play or make the tackle that prevents an offense from having a big play.

"It all started around my 10th-grade year," Anderson said. "I used to eat Nerds, but I wanted something new. I tried fruit snacks one day, and then one day became every day."

Anderson once watched Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch pop Skittles on the sidelines during a game. He then saw Lynch bully through a defense with runs over linebackers and defensive backs—literally—that would be the center point of any running back's highlight tape.

Skittles were OK, but Anderson wanted to have his own candy identity. And now, fruit snacks are part of his pregame and postgame routines. Sometimes, he'll sneak a pack in during competition.

Michael Anderson, Deontay's father, doesn't mind the addiction. If anything, he and his wife, Hava, support it. While fruit snacks are still considered a candy, they are low-calorie treats with 100 percent of the daily recommended intake of vitamin C, according to Welch's nutritional guide.

Michael said Deontay could go through a dozen boxes of fruit snacks a month. Each box could contain 20 packets, if not more.

"Don't get me wrong, he'll eat the things he's supposed to," Michael said. "But right before a football game or a track meet, he's got to have fruit snacks. He says that's his lucky charm. My wife will get him a box, and I'll get him a box."

And that doesn't count the packets he gets at school before sporting events—of which Myers reiterated Anderson doesn't share.

"When we go to a track meet, he'll take them all before anyone else can get any," Myers said. "He's really addicted to them, and if you try to take them from him ... yeah, it doesn't work out."

 

Learning from the family

Don't be fooled; success isn't only fruit snacks-laden for Anderson. As an athlete, he's someone who wakes up before the sun rises every day to fine-tune his body. He practices the same way he plays—with a chip on his shoulder. It shows during game days.

In three seasons as a starter for Manvel, Anderson has accounted for 184 tackles, 18 pass breakups and four interceptions. He was tested early as a freshman, but when teams saw he held his own, they began throwing away from him.

Credit part of that to his family tree. Anderson's father was a quarterback for Grambling State and played under the legendary Eddie Robinson from 1978-82. Michael Anderson attended Grambling the year when Doug Williams was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Michael Anderson was on campus when Robinson earned coaching victory No. 300. Robinson finished his career with 408 and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1997.

"The advice I got from my college coach, I pass on to Deontay," Michael said. "Every morning, [Robinson] would come around with a cowbell, and he'd ring it. He'd knock on your door, and you and roommate had to get up, go to the meal hall and go to class. That was his philosophy.

"I'd get Deontay and his brother up early in the morning, because the early bird gets the worm. You don't want to miss out on an opportunity to be great. When Deontay goes to college, he won't have a problem getting up and going to work."

Deontay's mother was a standout track and field athlete at Lamar High School in Houston. He always loved hearing the stories of how his mother would challenge the boys in a foot race.

"She used to run against them and beat them," he said. "I think I got my speed from her."

Deontay's older brother, Michael Anderson Jr., played football and basketball at Worthing High School in Houston. Deontay remembers playing basketball against his brother when he was younger.

Those games, he said, may have triggered where his ultra-competitive nature comes from. He despises losing at anything, from Friday night games to seven-on-seven competitions to board games.

"Man, I hated losing to him," Anderson said of his brother. "I was like four or five, and he was around 12 or 13 when we'd play. He was way bigger, way stronger, but I'd get mad because I hated losing. I didn't care about age. I wanted to win. I still do."

 

A 'Cadillac' and more

Not many people can say they're related to a former pro athlete. Anderson has three men in his family who saw time in a professional sports atmosphere.

His dad briefly played football for the Houston Gamblers of the defunct USFL. He worked out as a tight end in 1983. Deontay’s uncle, James Tademy, was a basketball player who saw time in the defunct ABA, Michael Anderson said.

And then there's Deontay's "Uncle Greg." Basketball fans knew him as Greg "Cadillac" Anderson, who played 14 seasons professionally with six NBA teams. He also played overseas in Italy and Argentina.

Deontay said he first remembered his uncle being a big deal when he competed against Michael Jordan in the 1988 NBA Slam Dunk Contest.

"I knew he was always bigger than everybody else," Deontay said of Greg, who stood 6'10" and weighed 230 pounds in his playing days. "He's a funny guy, but when you watched him play, he didn't really talk much. He just did what he had to do."

Michael said Greg would always give advice about how hard work beats talent every time. It's something that Deontay's taken to heart, something that he uses each time he steps on the field.

"You can be good but not work hard, and the guy working hard next to you will catch you or be ahead of you," Michael said. "Deontay's got God-given talent, but if he keeps working hard, he’s always going to be one step ahead of some of the others. He'd tell him that nobody's going to give you anything. You have to push yourself."

 

Building a legacy

The power of fruit snacks makes Anderson's success stories fun to chronicle, but the 5-star safety said he looks forward to adding to that story with his play in college. Anderson's top 10, in alphabetical order, includes Alabama, Florida State, Georgia, LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, TCU, Texas, Texas A&M and USC. He added that Nebraska and UCLA are two schools that are still on the outside looking in.

Anderson has visited nearly all 10 schools and said he will make a decision either right before the start of his senior year or during the Under Armour All-America Game. Anderson also said that an announcement at The Opening this summer in Oregon isn't something that hasn't been ruled out.

"I've connected with all the coaches," Anderson said, "so now, I'm just looking for the best place that'll fit me. I'm getting to know a lot more of the players, but it's all about the right atmosphere and which coaches will take me far. You've got to have great chemistry."

The winning program will get a player who understands the nature of being a college recruit on and off the field. He makes it a priority to keep his grades respectable, his discipline record flawless and his faith strong. Michael said Deontay has a 3.5 grade-point average.

Arguably, the most important thing for Anderson is staying humble. Each morning, he will wake up, say a prayer and read devotional messages. Three things that are said every day, per his father: Believe in God. Believe in yourself. Continue to work hard.

"Take care of business, and keep God first. That's what's been instilled in me," Anderson said. "My mom and dad have been saying that to me since I was real young. It helps that I'm like a perfectionist. I want everything to go right and be right."

Anderson wants to one day be talked about in the same light as his family members. He knows he still has work to do, but he also knows it can happen if he sticks to his plan.

And best believe, eating fruit snacks will continue to be a part of his rotation.

"Always," he said. "I'm always going to eat them. That's my thing."

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

On-the-Field Breakdown of Top Georgia Prospects from The Opening Atlanta

Georgia was unable to reach the SEC championship last season and is looking to rebound in 2015. The Bulldogs are targeting top recruits featured at Nike's The Opening in Atlanta.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee is joined by B/R recruiting expert Sanjay Kirpalani to discuss what Georgia could look like next season.

What kind of season will Georgia have? Check out the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Did Ohio State QB Braxton Miller Commit NCAA Violation with Instagram Post?

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer currently has quite the 2015 quarterback battle going, with three dynamic athletes to choose from. However, has the competition already been narrowed down to two players?

On Tuesday night, Buckeyes senior quarterback Braxton Miller raised some eyebrows with an Instagram post that showed him "endorsing" AdvoCare (nutrition) products:

That post certainly seems like it could create a bit of a problem.

According to the NCAA, a player is not eligible if he or she gets paid to promote a product or service: "You are not eligible in any sport if, after you become a student-athlete, you accept any pay for promoting a commercial product or service or allow your name or picture to be used for promoting a commercial product or service."

Many commenters voiced their concern to Miller about a possible violation. The quarterback eventually deleted the post.

It remains to be seen whether this is in fact an NCAA violation. It's possible that Miller is making some money by working part-time for the company. After all, Miller is listed as an AdvoCare distributor on the company website (h/t College Spun).

Bleacher Report's Ben Axelrod did some research and was able to find something interesting on the matter: 

Although it seems hard to believe that a fifth-year senior would risk his remaining eligibility with a post like this, it is possible that Miller made an honest mistake. Only the NCAA can determine whether it truly is a violation. And you can bet it will look into the matter. 

[Instagram]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Steve Spurrier Taking over Play Calling Is Great Move for South Carolina

South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier announced Tuesday that he will reassume offensive play-calling duties in 2015—a welcome bit of news for all fans of the program.

Last year, when he delegated that responsibility to assistants such as G.A. Mangus and Steve Spurrier Jr., the Gamecocks posted big offensive numbers but struggled in tight situations such as the fourth quarter at Kentucky or the entire game at Clemson.

Next year,  Spurrier will take no such chances.

"I plan to be the play-caller again," Spurrier said Tuesday, according to John Whittle of 247Sports. "I did delegate at times last year but I usually took over before the game was over. I certainly plan on doing it. I’ll be ready to do it and go from there."

Why is this news so promising? Again, it's not like South Carolina struggled to move the ball last season. In fact, it finished with the No. 10 offense in the country, per the F/+ ratings at Football Outsiders.

More than anything, Spurrier's decision to reassume play-calling duties shows commitment and investment in his job. After an offseason filled with rumors about his retirement—rumors that Spurrier helped stoke when he admitted, per Chris Low of ESPN.com, that he considered hanging up his coaching visor after 2014—it shows that he's back for more than just a figurehead role on the sidelines.

He's back to assume even more responsibility. 

This is needed considering what the Gamecocks return at quarterback. South Carolina's offense reached new heights under Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson, but now both quarterbacks are gone, and the roster returns nine career pass attempts: six from sophomore Connor Mitch, three from junior Perry Orth, none from redshirt freshman Michael Scarnecchia and true freshman Lorenzo Nunez.

Spurrier is one of the best offensive play-callers in college football history, especially when it comes to the passing game. He developed the Fun 'n' Gun offense at Florida and has earned his reputation for putting quarterbacks in positions to succeed.

Mangus, Spurrier Jr. and run game coordinator Shawn Elliott groomed a balanced attack last season, and with Brandon Wilds and David Williams returning in the backfield, they should once again prove vital in dictating the running game. Spurrier admitted as much Tuesday, saying he will still, as always, listen closely to their input.

"Done that ever since I’ve been here," the Head Ball Coach acknowledged, per Whittle. "Suggestions here and there, especially on the run game, at times. But not always. I listen to them, but don’t always go with the suggestions, which is expected."

One important note: According to Jerry Hinnen of CBSSports.com, Spurrier made this same play-calling declaration last offseason.

Because of Spurrier's advanced age (70 years old in April), and because he so recently shirked this responsibility, Gamecocks fans must temper their excitement until they see how things play out.

Still, this news is better than no news at all.

"[This] might not be quite as reassuring as if Spurrier was making the same pronouncement in, say, 1997—or even when he arrived in Columbia 10 years ago," wrote Hinnen. "But it's also likely still much, much more reassuring for Gamecock fans stung by the 2014 disappointment than the alternative."

Spurrier laid his fingerprints all over last year's Auburn game plan, when the Gamecocks converted five of six fourth downs and scored 35 points in the first three quarters. They lost that game 42-35, but it was, in many ways, their best offensive performance of the year.

Expect more of the same next season.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

10 Early-Season 2015 College Football Games with National Title Implications

In its inaugural season, the College Football Playoff offered teams some wiggle room, but not much. In the initial four-team field, Florida State entered as the only unbeaten team. Alabama, Ohio State and Oregon all recovered from early-season defeats to thrive and make the playoff, but strong one-loss teams like Baylor and TCU were left on the outside looking in when the smoke cleared in early December.

What does it mean? Success matters, more than ever. Getting off to a strong start is crucial to a team’s national title hopes. You can shrug off an early-season loss, but it isn’t easy or guaranteed.

That makes September, and a strong slate of early games, as important as ever for determining which teams will charge toward the first College Football Playoff rankings and which will fall into also-ran status. Here’s a look at 10 early-season games that will have the biggest impact on the national title picture.

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Ohio State Football: 5 Starters on the Hot Seat in 2015 Spring Practice

With spring practice underway in Columbus, Ohio, the pressure is mounting for Cardale Jones, Dontre Wilson and a trio of Ohio State defenders.

The Buckeyes are gearing up for another run at the College Football Playoff, and a number of players are on the hot seat to either lock down a starting spot or emerge to replace the production—and leadership—that was lost from last year's team.

Who's feeling the most heat as the Buckeyes navigate through spring camp?

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Meet Kareem Hunt, the Best College Football Player You Don't Know

The best player you’ve never heard ran for 271 yards and five touchdowns the last time he played in a regulation football game, although you probably didn’t watch. He weighs 220 pounds and recently clocked a 4.49 40. He squats 500 pounds.

Despite missing nearly a quarter of the season, the best player you’ve never heard of—still only 19 years old and growing into a build that is approaching X-Men thresholds—rushed for more than 1,600 yards and averaged eight yards per carry last season. Only once in two years has he logged more than 10 carries and failed to hit 100 yards.

Oh, and despite all of this being news to you, he’s still nowhere close to reaching his untapped potential. “I think there’s still a lot out there for Kareem,” Toledo head coach Matt Campbell said of his star.

The best player you’ve never heard of is Toledo running back Kareem Hunt, and right now he’s shuffling between morning practice and the weight room. Right now, he’s pushing to see precisely what else is out there, and he's not concerned with doing so in front of a crowd.

As he works his way from the practice field to grow an already robust frame, Hunt recites some of his favorite stiff arms and moves over the last few years as if they happened yesterday. It's as if they were scripted.

When the conversation turns to his recruitment, the glow disappears.

“You were the No. 118-ranked running back in your class,” I say while mulling through recruiting rankings, only to hear his voice interject.

“You said No. 118,” Hunt says. “In the country?”

Genuine surprise was trailed by laughter, but not the kind of laughter after a good joke. The kind of laughter that fills empty airwaves. His vocal response quickly gave way to silence, the kind of dead air that tells a story without saying anything at all.

For his entire football life, Kareem Hunt has essentially been glossed over. Operating in an NFL body scouts should be drooling over and posting outlier numbers at one of the most celebrated position in sports, Hunt should be celebrated as a star.

At this point, however, the interest—or better yet, the criminal lack thereof— simply has not come, even as he inches closer toward his ceiling-less junior season. 

 “It’s been like that my whole life,” Hunt said. “It’s motivation. I’m used to it.”

 

Who is Kareem Hunt?

When he evaluates potential running back recruits these days, Campbell turns on the tape. Once he believes he knows a particular prospect, instead of watching more film of the player to confirm his diagnosis, Campbell throws on Hunt’s high school footage and plays the footage side by side.

He’s seen these plays. He remembers the speed, the power and the stiff arms. In fact, going back to his days as the team’s offensive coordinator—before the 35-year-old became one of the hottest young coaches in the sport— Campbell saw plenty of the action live.

But that doesn’t stop him from watching what Hunt did before he arrived. Even with only two years in the program, he is the barometer for excellence at the position.

“We knew we were getting a special player from day one, and I think he’s been nothing short of that,” Campbell said. “And the day he stepped on campus he arrived with something to prove.”

Even before Campbell watched Hunt carry a football, he knew something many other coaches didn't realize in time: he was special.

During his sophomore year of high school, Campbell watched Hunt run track. Despite towering over the other participants and looking out of place with his hulking frame, Campbell saw Hunt high jump 6’5” and destroy his competition running the 100 meters.

“It wasn’t even close,” Campbell recalled of the race.

Before Campbell was named the head coach of Toledo, Hunt became one of his primary targets when he was an assistant. Recruiting the Cleveland area, Campbell built a relationship with the Willoughby South tailback and track star. When Campbell was named the head coach, Tom Manning—the team’s offensive line coach—stepped in and visited Hunt at his school with regularity.

“I’ll be honest with you; we started recruiting him at a young age but really didn’t know,” Campbell said. “We thought he’d be at an Ohio State or one of the elite schools. That’s why you recruit and that’s why you try to develop a relationship. You never know who’s going to fall through the cracks.”

As Hunt and Campbell’s relationship blossomed, his profile in the area began to grow. Still, overall, the buzz remained relatively contained. A lifelong Ohio State fan, Hunt had conversations with the university he grew up rooting for, although these talks never developed into anything more.

“I didn’t get an offer because grades were close,” Hunt said regarding Ohio State. “But I made it. I knew I was going to make it.”

During his final two seasons in high school, Hunt ran for more than 5,000 yards and scored nearly 90 touchdowns. He averaged 11 yards per carry his senior year and set a Lake County record by running for 2,685 yards in a single season. As a result, Hunt was named First-Team All-State and was a finalist for "Mr. Football."

And yet, consistent with the theme, these accolades were greeted by crickets.

Deemed worthy as a 3-star prospect by recruiting outlets, the interest never came. The rush to secure his services never garnered momentum. Elite schools didn’t beg for visits. Coaches didn't knock down his door and overwhelm his phone. There were conversations—like the ones with Ohio State—but they never got beyond surface level.

“I think they felt my high school program wasn’t big enough,” Hunt said. “I’m not sure. We were a Division I school and played some pretty good teams.”

The knock on Hunt was his team’s schedule and lack of competition, which scared some schools. The numbers that he posted, as absurd as they might have been, were viewed differently by many.

Eventually, as national signing day neared, some programs tried to squeeze their way back into the picture. Ohio State was not one of them, although the interest gave Hunt plenty to think about. It also gave Campbell and the rest of the Toledo staff an enormous sweat.

“It got tough at the end, but I knew they were the right school,” Hunt said. “It was a great environment, there were great coaches in place, and I knew I had a chance to play early. Plus, I was only an hour and 40 minutes from my hometown.”

Toledo had landed its 3-star back. Later that year, on October 19, 2014, to be exact, Hunt showcased a preview of things to come against Navy when seeing his first considerable action.

“It was cold,” Hunt recalled of the game, the first time he logged more than five carries as a true freshman.

His first carry in the cold went for five. His next went for seven. Five more here. Then 12. One quarter later, Hunt scampered 52 yards for a touchdown. Toledo beat Navy in overtime behind Hunt’s 127-yard performance and two scores.

The running back would follow up his big day with rushing totals of 114, 168, 186, 91 and 103 to close out the season. A star, so we thought, was born. Or at least it should have been.

 

The Star Too Bright Not to Shine

No matter where he went as a child, Barry followed.

Growing up, Hunt moved a handful of times. And although the setting and cities changed, the decor on his wall did not. Hanging on his wall in his room—everywhere his travels took him—was a giant poster of Barry Sanders.

It was the symbol of his dreams and a man with more natural ability than anyone to ever play the position. A running back since the age of seven, Barry was the carrot dangling on the stick.

He was the one Hunt hoped to someday catch. And then, without warning or a crowd warranting the moment, he did.

On January 4, playing in the GoDaddy Bowl, Hunt rushed for 271 yards and five touchdowns in a 63-44 victory over Arkansas State. His fifth touchdown tied a bowl record held by the former Oklahoma State great.

“I idolized that man,” Hunt said. “It really didn’t hit me until about a week after and it didn’t set in that the season was over.”

A 271-yard performance should not (and cannot) be ignored. But because Hunt had his game right around the time Ohio State hysteria was setting in—and because he plays in the MAC and out of sight of the Power Five spotlight—his name simply didn’t register with most.

“We know the more we continue to grow as a football program, and we’ve grown leaps and bounds over the past three years,” Campbell said, “the more people will know who he is.”

Had he not sat out three games last season due to an ankle injury, Hunt almost certainly would have eclipsed 2,000 yards. In fact, given his natural propensity to rack up 100 yards each game—and in most instances far more—he would have sailed past this mystical number and been on the heels of Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon's record-setting season.

But those are simply numbers. They are validation and a way to grab your attention, but they don’t do an adequate job describing the player or what makes him unique.

The joy in watching Hunt exists not in the box score, but in the ways he makes tackling look like a deplorable chore. It is that rare combination of speed and power that is often talked about but rarely truly exhibited.

“He runs the ball maybe as hard as I’ve ever seen anyone run the football,” Campbell said. “When you really sit and study him and watch his game, it’s what the really special players in college football are doing right now. He’s worth the price of admission.”

Back to those stiff arms again, the place Hunt feels most comfortable. Off the top of his head when asked to pick his favorite stiff arm, he highlights plays against Missouri, Ball State and Northern Illinois. Cincinnati gets an honorable mention for a tackling-shedding run down the sideline.

“I remember them,” he says, offering up a far less ominous laughter than he did early on. He remembers everything.

From severely overlooked to severely under-looked, the running back from Ohio has found a home close to home. He has found a coach and program that recognized his talent well before anyone else. And despite the awkwardness of the journey and the lack of interest along the way, the match has worked out brilliantly thus far.

As Hunt transitions from his stiff-arm greatest hits to his dreams of the NFL—a dream he has had since “he was born”—he breezes past the possibility of reaching 2,000 yards. He doesn’t avoid the possibility, and we do the math together. Had he stayed healthy last season, he would have been well over 2,100 yards.

“If I get there, I get there,” he says.

Instead, he wants to talk about his offensive line, which is undergoing a reboot at this very moment. Across the line are new faces, one of the team’s primary concerns now given the way this group performed over the past few years. This spring is all about settling in.

“I’m going to take them under my wing, coach them up and give them some experience,” Hunt said. “This is the time of year where we gain our confidence.”

Despite my desire to bring it back to him—to the best player you don’t know—Hunt refuses to let that happen. When asked about his individual goals, he wastes little time responding.

“To help this team win a MAC championship,” he says.

That doesn’t help me help this cause. Here I am trying to tell you about this create-a-player, this 220-pound overlooked mold of speed and muscle on the verge of superstardom, and all he wants to do is talk about the team?

Perhaps that's where this comfort exists. Perhaps this is part of the problem in Hunt’s inability to garner a more significant following—the kind of following he deserves. It’s not in his nature to make it about himself, although thus far the plan has worked out brilliantly.

It’s put him in a place where a 2,000-yard season seems reasonable. It’s put him one step closer to his lifelong dream of playing in the NFL. It’s put his name next to Barry Sanders, the idol hanging on his wall.

On second thought, so what if nobody notices? 

So what if you leave this piece and never watch Kareem Hunt run through a defense or send a defender airborne courtesy of a devastating stiff arm? Perhaps he’s better off that way.

“I’m just working to try and get better, and if people don’t notice that’s fine to me,” the former No. 118-ranked running back in the nation said. “I just love playing the game and love when our team wins.”

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Bob Stoops Comments on Racist Frat Video, Says Oklahoma Can 'Effect Change'

Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops expanded on his comments regarding a video depicting campus fraternity members chanting a racist song, saying he hopes the university can use the ugly incident as a talking point going forward.

"This was caught here," Stoops said in an interview with ESPN's Gene Wojciechowski Tuesday. "I think [OU's players] realize it's everywhere. It's around the country. We happen to have it; let's try to do something with it and try to effect change. And I'm proud of the way they've done it."

Earlier this month, a short video featuring members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon surfaced in which members claimed a black student would never join their frat. The university closed the fraternity's Oklahoma chapter and expelled two of its members as part of the fallout. On-campus protests, some including Oklahoma football players, were also seen in the days following the video's leak.

Stoops joined many of his players in early protests. The longtime coach, who has also canceled practices and given other forms of leeway to players in the aftermath, said it was important to allow the players to process the situation in their own way.

"There's no coaching manual for this," Stoops told Wojciechowski. "It's a life issue more than anything when you're dealing with racism anywhere. ... It's a life issue—bigger than sports, bigger than football."

Wojciechowski's report indicates Oklahoma players plan to address racial issues in every individual interview with media this upcoming season. Stoops said the players are doing so with his full support, as he will "step back" in deciding how his team should react.

"Coaches, we do want to have our hands on and control," Stoops said. "But you have to have the pulse of your team, and I knew the pulse of our team was they were going to do this their own way. They felt they were the ones affected and impacted the most, and they were going to deal with it."

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

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Nebraska Football: What We Still Don't Know About Mike Riley's Huskers

As we near the end of spring practice, we are finding out much more about what the Nebraska Cornhuskers will look like under new head coach Mike Riley. But even though we are getting quite a bit of information—more, in all honesty, than some expected we would have at this point in the process—we still are in the dark about a number of important things. Here are three of the biggest questions that remain unanswered.

 

Who will be in the backfield?

We’re starting to get a clearer picture of what Nebraska’s offense will look like under Riley. Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald discussed how Nebraska’s offense is progressing from a spread-based concept to more of a pro-style with the quarterback under center and receivers running more defined routes.

So at least we know a little of what the offense may look like. But who will be executing that offense is another story.

As a smart and particularly handsome analyst pointed out, quarterback Tommy Armstrong’s status as next year’s starting quarterback is far from certain. And the battle to succeed Ameer Abdullah at I-back is even more in question. None of the four contenders (Imani Cross, Terrell Newby, Adam Taylor and Mikale Wilbon) have any significant leg up over the others.

So competition for playing time at I-back should be fierce all the way up to the first kickoff.

 

Can Nebraska take care of business?

Under Riley, Oregon State was known for giant-killing. But it also had a disturbing habit of dropping games to inferior competition. In 2013, Oregon State dropped its opener to Eastern Washington. And again in 2011 to open the season, the Beavers were upset by Sacramento State.

If twice is a trend, three times is a trajectory. We have two data points in recent years to show that teams under Riley are capable of shocking defeats. Can he make sure that a third data point isn’t created in Lincoln?

 

Is Riley ready for the big time?

In some ways, this really is the question that underlies all the other questions about Nebraska under a new regime. Yes, Riley overachieved in Corvallis, a place where it is insanely difficult to succeed at the highest level.

But overachieving with plucky Oregon State is one thing. It’s a different skill set entirely to come from Corvallis to Lincoln, to go from having no advantages to having one of the top programs in the country. To go from very little attention both in-state and nationally to being in the spotlight and living in a fishbowl.

The only job Riley has held with similar attention and expectation was his time as the head coach of the San Diego Chargers. From 1999-2001, Riley went 14-34 with the Chargers and was fired after his third year into a five-year contract.

That doesn’t mean he can’t be successful at Nebraska, of course. At age 61, Riley has learned a lot and made tremendous connections within the football coaching community. He has never been at a college program with the kind of resources and support he has in Lincoln.

But his history does, at the very least, make whether Riley can excel on the biggest of stages in college football a legitimate question to ask.

 

For a different look at Nebraska football, check out The Double Extra Point.

Or you can use the Twitter machine to follow @DblExtraPoint.

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