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Texas A&M Starting QB Trevor Knight Set Up for Stardom with Aggies

If you watched Texas A&M's spring game on Saturday night and, more specifically, how head coach Kevin Sumlin used his quarterbacks, Monday's news was about as shocking as the sun rising every morning.

Trevor Knight is the Aggies' starting quarterback.

The graduate transfer, who played at Oklahoma for the last three years and who originally hails from San Antonio, Texas, completed 25 of his 36 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns with one interception and added a score on the ground, according to stats released by Texas A&M. His primary competitor, junior Jake Hubenak, completed five of his 10 passes and took a back seat to the former Sooner. 

"Trevor Knight will be our starter," Sumlin said in a release emailed by Texas A&M. "His on-field performance this spring along with his leadership earned him the starting job."

He's set up for success at a program that, while headlined by offseason turmoil, is made for instant success.

When Knight looks around, he's going to see a bevy of talented receivers. Christian Kirk topped the 1,000-yard mark as a true freshman in 2015, and Josh Reynolds topped the 900-yard mark for an offense that endured its fair share of quarterback turmoil. All told, Texas A&M returns its top eight wide receivers from last year's squad, including Kirk, Reynolds, monster junior Ricky Seals-Jones and versatile speedster Speedy Noil.

That turmoil, specifically shuffle and subsequent departures of former 5-star prospects Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray, has many people writing off Texas A&M this season.

Don't fall into that trap.

Knight has shown flashes of brilliance as a starting quarterback on big stages, including his 348-yard, four-touchdown performance against Alabama in the 2014 Allstate Sugar Bowl. He's in an offense that produces results—even in down years. 

Poor performances over the last year-and-a-half in both the starting and reserve roles have led many to believe that Knight peaked too early. The most recent long-term glimpse we got of Knight was when he came in for Baker Mayfield against TCU after Mayfield suffered a concussion, completed five of 16 passes and nearly threw away a big Sooner lead. 

It's nice to assume that backups are always prepared to go in for injured starters in a pinch, but that's not reality.

The new reality for Knight is a loaded wide receiving corps, a new offensive coordinator in Noel Mazzone, who will develop quarterbacks like he did with Josh Rosen at UCLA last year, a running game that should be stable with the duo of James White and Keith Ford and a more physical offensive line led by new offensive line coach Jim Turner. 

He's been a star before, and he has all the pieces to repeat the feat with an offense that's one of the most talented units in the country. As Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle noted on Twitter, that unit can now grow over the summer without the distraction of a quarterback battle making the water murky. 

Plus, for Knight's star to shine as bright as possible, he needs his teammates to help vault the Aggies back into the national conversation for the right reasons.

That's a legitimate possibility, too.

Texas A&M's defense quietly kept the Aggies in every game last year. It improved from last in the SEC in total defense in 2014 (450.8 yards per game) to eighth (380.0), and it returns a fearsome defensive line that includes Myles Garrett, Daeshon Hall and Daylon Mack.

More stability in the second year under coordinator John Chavis should complement a talented secondary that includes safety Armani Watts and corner and former UCLA hot-shot recruit Priest Willis. Not to mention that the defense will get several key players back at full speed, including linebacker Otaro Alaka.

Don't sleep on Texas A&M.

That weird feeling in College Station is known as "quarterback stability," which seemed impossible to achieve just five months ago after Murray and Allen bolted. 

One of the most talented rosters in the country and smart coaching changes on the offensive side of the ball should land the Aggies in the conversation for the SEC West title when the calendar hits November. 

 

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

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

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Trevor Knight Named Texas A&M's Week 1 Starter vs. UCLA: Comments and Reaction

It didn't take long for Kevin Sumlin to name a starting quarterback. The Texas A&M Aggies head coach has named Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight as the starter for Week 1 against the UCLA Bruins.

The Aggies took to Twitter to make it official:

Knight transferred to Texas A&M on Jan. 4 after losing the starting job to Baker Mayfield last year, who led the Sooners to the College Football Playoff and the Big 12 title.

“Trevor Knight will be our starter. His on-field performance this spring along with his leadership earned him the starting job," Sumlin said, per Mark Passwaters of Rivals.com.

Knight was the starting quarterback for the Sooners as a redshirt freshman in 2013. He played only eight games that year, but the biggest was the 45-31 victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl while throwing for 348 yards and four touchdowns.

Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops named the San Antonio native the starting quarterback the following year, but he went 6-4 as the Sooners' top signal-caller. That year was capped off with a 40-6 loss to the Clemson Tigers in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

Despite Knight showing flashes of being a star quarterback, Stoops went with Texas Tech transfer Mayfield during Oklahoma's run to college football's Final Four. Knight's final action in an Oklahoma uniform was in relief of Mayfield during the Nov. 21 game against the TCU Horned Frogs. He completed five of 16 passes for 76 yards and an interception.

After being granted his release from Oklahoma, Knight chose A&M because of its uncertainty at quarterback. Last year's quarterbacks, Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray, both transferred and left Sumlin thin under center.

Knight's performance in Texas A&M's spring game also had to be a reason Coach Sumlin named him the starter. He threw for 282 yards and two touchdowns along with an interception.

After bursting onto the national scene three years ago, Knight has not lived up to those lofty expectations. He'll get that chance at A&M, and he'll have the weapons to do so. Last year's leading receiver, Christian Kirk, reeled in 1,009 yards on 80 catches as a freshman. Josh Reynolds is also returning for his senior year after hauling in a career-high 907 yards in 2015.

UCLA will be a formidable challenge to see where Knight and the A&M offense is at, but it will also show if Knight is capable of leading the Aggies later in the season.

 

Stats courtesy of sports-reference.com/cfb.

Follow Danny Webster on Twitter.

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The 25 Most Loaded College Football Rosters Heading into 2016 Season

Being the best in college football doesn't always mean having the best players, but it sure helps. And the more the merrier.

Though the sport continues to become more and more balanced, with top talent spread throughout the country, some schools always end up having more than others.

These are the ones that, no matter how much they lose each year to graduation or the NFL draft, never seem to be short of great players the following season. Rebuilding? More like reloading, thanks to strong recruiting as well as top-notch development of backups and underclassmen.

We've put together a list of the 25 most loaded rosters in FBS for 2016, using criteria such as the number of starters returning, projected 2017 first-round picks (per WalterFootball.com) in tow, players included in Bleacher Report's lists of the top freshmen and sophomores, and recent recruiting rankings.

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Notre Dame Football: What to Watch For from Irish's QBs in 2016 Spring Game

The much-discussed Notre Dame quarterback battle is approaching a milestone in the competition: the 2016 Blue-Gold Game.

While other storylines are important—like a new crop of wide receivers and a rebuilt defense—most observers will focus on DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire.

Head coach Brian Kelly certainly wants to protect both quarterbacks, but they'll shed the "no contact" label for at least a portion of the scrimmage.

"They run. That's what they do," Kelly said, per Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune. "That's the identity of our offense, that the quarterback is going to be a running threat as well. So you've got to let them run a little bit, too."

No one would fault Kelly for not subjecting the gunslingers to potentially unnecessary hits. Many programs whistle a play dead when the quarterback is about to get sacked or tackled on a scramble.

But the Irish are content to let Kizer and Zaire utilize their entire skill sets, which is good news for the viewers.

Kizer's accuracy—especially on deep passes—is a key potential point of separation. However, Zaire could help negate that difference by consistently hitting shorter routes and wisely using his speed when a play breaks down or a running lane opens.

Command at the line of scrimmage, confidence in the pocket, ability to remain poised while scrambling and overall decision-making are each important factors to watch. Each of those will be on display.

Regardless of each player's performance, however, don't expect a resolution.

"I don't think we'll make a decision after spring," Kelly said, according to Zach Klonsinski of the Observer.

According to JJ Stankevitz of CSN Chicago, offensive coordinator Mike Sanford "said it's too early for any sweeping, big-picture conclusions to be made about either player."

With or without definitive conclusions, though, there will be expectations—and reactions. How well the quarterbacks execute during the spring game will shape the narrative of the competition throughout the coming months and briefly into fall camp.

Right now, the pro-Kizer view notes his experience and production, while the pro-Zaire outlook highlights a player who has already won the competition.

What if Kizer struggles with his accuracy and Zaire shines?

Then the veteran would take an important step toward reclaiming his spot, and the sophomore would have to hold off the junior. After all, Zaire merely surrendered the starting position due to injury. He did that while still recovering, so just imagine Zaire's potential when he's healthy.

Conversely, what if Zaire comparatively trudges through live action?

Well, that would not a surprise, since Kizer entered the starting lineup and immediately excelled, nearly taking Notre Dame to the College Football Playoff as a redshirt freshman. We haven't seen that from Zaire; we're merely opining that he's capable of it.

It seems Kizer has more pressure to excel because Zaire has a built-in excuse—not that he'll point to his recovery from a broken ankle as an issue, but others would (and that's not a bad thing).

Both players will likely put together respectable outings, perhaps reminding viewers that a starting job is never won or lost during the spring game.

Should that not happen, though, this offseason milestone will linger as evidence in a lengthy competition.

 

Stats from CFBStats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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B/R Recruiting Notebook: 4-Star CB Has Favorites, Secrets

As we prepare for mid-April, more and more athletes are inching closer to announcing their verbal commitments and finalizing their college careers. And while there are uncommitted athletes setting their college plans, there are also committed players putting on their recruiter hats to sway some of the nation's elite targets.

Here are some updates from a few of the nation's highly coveted athletes of the 2017 class:

 

4-star CB Stewart has favorites...and secrets

New Orleans 4-star cornerback Brad Stewart Jr. wants to make it clear: There are schools he likes—and then there are schools he likes that the public doesn't know about.

Stewart on Sunday said that schools like Florida, Oklahoma, Ole Miss and Mississippi State are among those that he's publicly admitting to having an admiration for. All four schools, he said, fit him well with what he's looking for in a college program.

But then, there are those schools that he hasn't discussed—and the ones he chose not to address at the present time.

"There are a couple of schools I like, but there are a couple of schools I like behind the scenes," Stewart said. "I think I'm going to put out a top seven before the season starts this summer."

Stewart defined the recruiting process as "crazy" but added that he's enjoying every minute of it. He likes meeting new coaches and learning more about new schools and their football programs.

As a top-20 cornerback and the No. 7 player out of the state of Louisiana, Stewart said he is looking for a place with a great defense and the opportunity to not only get early playing time, but also learn a lot from a quality defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach.

"A lot of coaches have been getting at me lately. I didn't know it could be like this, but it's fun to me," Stewart said. "It's a blessing to be recruited. You shouldn't say it's stressful; it's only stressful to some because they make it stressful. I'm enjoying it, and I'm just trying to get better."

 

4-star QB Robison wants OU class No. 1

It's been a week since Mesquite, Texas, 4-star quarterback and Oklahoma commit Chris Robison earned his invitation to the Elite 11 finals this summer in Los Angeles. That goal has been obtained.

Now Robison, the nation's No. 8 pro-style quarterback, is focused on another objective: building the Sooners' 2017 class. Oklahoma already has the nation's No. 2 class with 12 commits—with 10 of the 12 listed as 4-star athletes—and has bucked the recent trend of starting recruiting slow but finishing strong late.

For Robison, however, having the nation's top-ranked class is a goal. And he feels he and his future teammates can help get it done through player recruiting. Among the targets Robison wants is Greater Houston 5-star Marvin Wilson, the nation's top-ranked defensive tackle and No. 4 player overall.

"All the OU recruits are trying to recruit as many as we can," Robison said. "We're definitely looking at Marvin. I mean, just look at him. He's a great player, and I know he can help us."

Among the other names targeted are 5-star cornerback Darnay Holmes, 4-star offensive tackle Chuck Filiaga and 4-star linebacker Anthony Hines III. Filiaga recently moved to Texas from California. Hines has 86 offers but is good friends with Oklahoma linebacker commit Levi Draper. Holmes is a Southern California athlete, and the Sooners have been very successful in recent years in landing athletes from the Golden State.

"It's a great feeling, because I know I'll have a lot of guys around me who can play," Robison said. "We're going to get out there in Norman and just work."

 

Bama-bound Leatherwood wants 'toughness, relentlessness'

Pensacola, Florida, 4-star offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood put on a show at Sunday's The Opening regional, proving why he's a top-60 player and a top-10 offensive tackle nationally with each block.

Leatherwood's been committed to Alabama for a little more than 10 months, and while he said other schools have been trying to sway him, he's still a strong commit to the Crimson Tide.

"It was the coaching staff and the facilities," Leatherwood said of choosing Alabama. "Basically, it was the morale of the team. I liked it all."

Leatherwood said The Opening regional was a good time for him to not only try to earn an invitation to The Opening finals—which he did—but also be on the lookout in scouting for players who could be future teammates. Leatherwood didn't name any players in particular, but he had an idea of the kind of player he was looking for.

"There were a few guys out here. I was out scouting and looking to see who would be a good fit for us," he said. "I'm looking for toughness, relentlessness, a good work ethic and competitiveness."

Some of the Alabama targets in New Orleans on Sunday include 5-star LSU defensive tackle pledge Tyler Shelvin, 4-star running back Cam Akers and 4-star receiver Devonta Smith. Akers and Smith both were invited to The Opening on Sunday.

Another The Opening invitee to watch is offensive tackle Nick Brahms, an unrated athlete with 30-plus reported offers. Alabama has yet to offer, but Brahms was impressive throughout Sunday.

 

3 to watch early for 4-star DB Harris

Measuring in on Sunday a shade under 6'0", 181 pounds, Plaquemine, Louisiana, 4-star defensive back Todd Harris said he has been asked if he, as the nation's No. 4 safety, would be willing to play cornerback at the next level.

Harris showed his coverage skills at The Opening regional, making several plays that earned him an invitation to The Opening finals and would have some believing him to be a lockdown corner in college. His comfort zone, however, is when he's surveying the entire field in order to make a play.

"I think safety will be the best fit for me, but it would be good for me to learn all the positions of the secondary," Harris said. "I'd prefer to play safety in college, but I'm not trying to choose my position. I'll play whatever position the coach needs me to play."

Where he'll play is the more pressing question. Harris said he has a few schools on his radar but mentioned three in particular—LSU, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. He added that he isn't counting out other schools because he's still looking to take unofficial visits during the summer.

"At Ole Miss, those guys are aggressive and physical there. They play ball," Harris said. "With Mississippi State, it's Stark Vegas. I like it out there. LSU is in my backyard. There's that home-state love for LSU."

Harris said he's looking to build better relationships with the coaches at all three schools, as well as other programs. He doesn't have a set schedule as of yet, but he's excited about taking a few visits before the start of his senior year.

"My mom's a principal, so we're going to be real big on education," he said. "I want to make sure I get a great education wherever I go. I want to go someplace where I'm comfortable. I don't want to have any regrets about my final decision."

 

Name and game fit well for 3-star OL Humphrey

A candidate for the best name of the 2017: Shawnee, Oklahoma, 3-star offensive lineman Creed Humphrey.

It was fitting on Sunday that one of the most talked-about offensive linemen had the first name of the popular boxing movie that many sports fans still talk about months after its release. And just like the main character in the movie—as well as the main character's father in the Rocky movie series—Humphrey put on a show with his gritty work in the trenches.

Humphrey has nearly a dozen reported offers but said he's taking his recruiting process relatively slow at the current time. A decision, however, could come sooner than expected.

"Right now, I'm just visiting schools and meeting coaches," Humphrey said. "I'll probably make a decision by the middle of the summer."

While Humphrey is big on a winning school that builds player-coach relationships year in and out, he also said he wants to attend a college where he can get a good degree. Currently, Humphrey said he doesn't have a favorite but has offers from Texas A&M, Texas, Tulsa, Memphis, Kansas State and Houston, among others.

And what will the winning program get from Humphrey, outside of a recognizable first name?

"Someone who will work hard every play," Humphrey said. "I have a good first punch, solid footwork and low pad level. I like to compete."

 

3-star LB Clarke nearing 20 offers, eyeing visits

New Orleans 3-star outside linebacker Josh Clarke is nearing 20 reported offers and has made recent unofficial visits to Arkansas, Ole Miss and LSU. The summer could be loaded with visits, as well, as Clarke said he's hoping to make a return trip to Arkansas and take in Oregon, Mississippi State and Florida

"The process is going real good. Everything's been picking up since my junior season," Clarke said. "I'm trying to get to a few schools, take some official visits and then make a decision around late January."

Clarke, who measured at The Opening New Orleans regional at 6'2", 216 pounds, said schools like Ole Miss, Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia and LSU have been showing the most interest. Clarke added that the interest from Louisville and UCLA has been a steady rise.

After a booming junior season, Clarke is hoping to see similar success during the summer with his recruitment. He showed his skills as someone who has good pursuit and coverage skills at the outside linebacker position.

"Really, I'm just looking for a team that has a great connection with the coaches," he said of his recruitment. "That's important to me."

 

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

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Cardale Jones Comments on NCAA Rules Regarding Student-Athletes

Former Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones, known to be candid on social media, took to Twitter on Monday to speak out against the NCAA and "how the athletes are exploited."

"I'm so happy to be done with the [NCAA] and their rules [and] regulation[s]," he said. "They do any [and] everything to exploited collegiate athletes." He then added, "It's deeper than athletes thinking we should get paid. The [NCAA] control our lives with insane and unfair rules."

The strapping signal-caller's biggest point was that student-athletes' likenesses are used for others' gains:

But Jones doesn't see a different arrangement for student-athletes emerging, saying, "That's my 2cent on the [NCAA]. It's not like that's going to change how the athletes are exploited, even tho 98 percent of people feel the same way."

There has been some progress on the prominent issue Jones highlighted. ESPN.com's Darren Rovell reported in March that Electronic Arts reached a $60 million settlement to pay athletes whose likenesses appeared in the company's sports video games from 2003 through 2014.

Whether college athletes deserve to get paid in a more formal, systematic way will continue to be a hot topic for debate, though.

After helping Ohio State win the national championship in 2014, Jones lost the Buckeyes' starting job last season in favor of J.T. Barrett.

But the NFL draft awaits Jones, who appears keen on redeeming an underwhelming finish to his college career by making a splash in the pros.

Jones stands to make a fair amount of money off his own brand at the next level thanks to a cannon for an arm that's earned him the nickname "12 Gauge."

Due to a small college sample size and a candor that sometimes gets him in a bit of trouble, Jones' draft stock is hard to pinpoint. His blend of arm talent, size (6'5", 253 lbs) and athleticism (4.81-second 40-yard dash) make him a most intriguing prospect.

 

Stats via NFL.com.

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Big Ten Football: Which Teams Will Overachieve and Underachieve in 2016?

The college football season is fewer than five months away, but already expectations are building for programs across the country as spring practices come to a close.

That holds especially true in the Big Ten, which saw its fair share of teams exceed—and fail to live up to—expectations in 2015.

But 2016 brings brand-new opportunities for teams to build on the progress made a year ago or redeem disappointing results. Inevitably, last year will play a role in setting the expectations for each program in the coming year and determining the bar they can either reach, surpass or fail to meet.

Which Big Ten teams will be pleasant surprises and which will be considered disappointments in the coming season? That remains to be seen.

But until then, here are some picks for overachievers and underachievers in the Big Ten in 2016.

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Alabama Football: What to Watch for in Crimson Tide's Spring Game

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It’s a celebration, a big recruiting tool and essentially the midway point of the college football offseason. But for University of Alabama fans, the annual A-Day game is, above everything else, their first glimpse at next year’s team.

It’s also the only one that they’ll get until the first week of training camp in August, when Alabama will start preparing for the season opener against Southern California at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Sept. 3.

Granted, a number of players coming off injuries will be held out of the scrimmage and the play-calling will be vanilla to keep things simple and not give away too much to opposing teams, but those things are easily overlooked.

It’s been more than three months since the reigning national champions have played before fans, who are eager, almost desperate, to see the updated version of the Crimson Tide in action, especially the playmakers.

They can’t wait to see running back Bo Scarbrough with a regular role, the defense that could again be very, very good and the quarterbacks competing for the opportunity to take over for Jake Coker.

They want to see Calvin Ridley make another big reception, and Robert Foster recovered from his shoulder surgery. Remember, Foster and fellow wide receiver ArDarius Stewart were named co-MVPs of last year’s game.

It’s the big names like Reuben Foster and O.J. Howard who will draw the most attention and dominate the headlines, which is all and good, but head coach Nick Saban already knows what they can do. Consequently, his primary focus won’t be on them during Saturday’s exhibition at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

He’s looking for players who not only fit in with the big names—and Alabama has a lot of them—but complement them. He wants to see how someone like Xavian Marks handles playing on a big stage.

If you don’t know who Marks is, you’re not alone. A lot of Alabama fans are just beginning to get used to the name, and few noticed the guy wearing the No. 31 jersey last season.

Listed at 5'8" (which might be generous), he’s known for one thing in particular.

“Speed,” Howard said. “He’s really fast.”

Marks was a late addition last summer along with his brother, Torin. Both players were committed to New Mexico State last year, but did not sign. With Alabama having an opening and looking for a playmaker, Xavian was given a scholarship while Torin walked on.

Xavian briefly played against Charleston Southern. He had one carry for no yards gained and two receptions for 19 yards. During the offseason, the coaching staff moved him to wide receiver.

“He is very quick, very fast, has very good hands,” Saban said. “He's not a big guy but he can overcome all that and he has made a tremendous amount of improvement.

“He's also made a lot of improvement as a returner, and I think the No. 1 thing that if I had to say he has anything to prove is if you're going to be in those positions as a punt returner or kickoff returner or even as a slot receiver your ball security has to be something that everyone can depend on," Saban continued. "And I would say that to anybody that was going to do that on our team.”

The two players who have stood out the most as a returner this spring are Ridley and Marks, and Saban made a point of saying that there were no mishandled balls or turnovers on special teams during the last scrimmage.

“That was a positive,” he said.

While Alabama’s position battles have been few and far between this offseason, with the quarterbacks and offensive line obvious exceptions, among the few remaining questions are how the depth charts will work out at the playmaker positions.

At running back, Scarborough and Damien Harris are expected to be the two main staples, although neither has had that role before. This is the first time since Saban arrived in 2007 that Alabama hasn't had at least one established veteran returning in the backfield.

After them, no one knows how it will work out.

“I think there’s going to be an opportunity for some young players there,” Saban said. “We’ve had freshmen running backs do well for us in the past, so it’s not a position they can’t play and contribute.”

The situation is similar at wide receiver, where Ridley, Foster and Stewart are established, and Cam Sims and Derek Kief are good bets to be part of the rotation. Throw in a guy like Marks, who is also a sprinter on Alabama’s track team, and he could end up earning regular playing time.

“He’s hard to press, the DBs have to get pretty low to jam him,” Howard said. “It’s hard to jam him and in open field it’s hard to catch him. I just think he does a great job of getting open. His size, he uses it to his advantage.”

During A-Day, Saban traditionally splits the team into two sides, with the first-team offense facing the first-team defense, and the second-teamers also squaring off against each other.

In theory, it should give everyone an equal chance of having a standout performance. Just don’t be surprised if one of the players who does isn’t considered to be one of the Crimson Tide’s biggest assets yet.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

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Georgia Football: What to Watch For in Bulldogs' Spring Game

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart's first spring practice session is underway, with the annual G-Day spring game taking place on Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. ET at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia.

It will be one of the most intriguing spring games in the SEC in 2016.

The quarterback battle that's currently taking place between senior Greyson Lambert, junior Brice Ramsey and true freshman early-enrollee Jacob Eason will draw headlines, but Georgia also has questions to answer at wide receiver, along the offensive and defensive lines and at linebacker.

What should you keep an eye on this Saturday at G-Day?

 

It's Not What Eason Does, It's What He Tries

Spring game stats—and stats from any spring scrimmage—are incredibly overblown. At different times and in different situations, coaches put their quarterbacks and defenses in the spots they need to properly judge questions that need to be answered. Sometimes that leads to quarterbacks blowing up, and other times it leads to quarterbacks looking like they just don't have it.

Whatever happens with Eason on Saturday, throw the stats out the window.

Judge Eason based on what the coaching staff asks him to do compared to Lambert and Ramsey, not how good he looks doing it.

Lambert doesn't have the arm strength of either of the other two primary competitors, and Ramsey's inability to connect on those deep passes prevented him from seeing the field on a consistent basis in 2015. Eason can push the ball sideline to sideline (as seen in the video above) and stretch it deep, and the coaches should test that on Saturday whether it's with the first-, second- or third-team offense. 

You know what you're getting with Lambert—he can manage a game. He managed Georgia to a 10-2 record as a starter last year, with former Bulldog Faton Bauta getting the start in the loss to Florida. If needed, Lambert can replicate that kind of success.

Ramsey wasn't able to beat him out last year and spent the latter part of the season as Georgia's primary punter. 

If Eason can show that he can handle some of the new things offensive coordinator Jim Chaney will ask him to do—specifically, stretching the field—that will go a long way toward taking pressure off Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and the Bulldog running game.

 

Will a Real Playmaker Please Stand Up?

If Eason—or any of the quarterbacks—want to stretch the field consistently, finding somebody on the back end to catch those balls downfield certainly would help.

Malcolm Mitchell had 865 receiving yards in 2015 but finished 14th in the SEC in yards per catch at 14.91. Now that he's gone, somebody has to not only step into that role but be even more of a threat.

Could Terry Godwin be that guy?

The sophomore capped off his freshman campaign with eight catches and 78 yards against Georgia Tech and four catches for 34 yards and a touchdown against Penn State. The 5'11", 174-pounder from Hogansville, Georgia, has been turning heads this spring, according to Jason Butt of the Macon Telegraph

Of course, others could help. 

Isaiah McKenzie is a slot weapon who is dangerous in space but needs to make sure he holds on to the football. True freshman Riley Ridley is loaded with talent and could see the field quickly in 2016. Reggie Davis is a burner who can get behind defenses but needs to hang on to the ball when his number is called.

Expect Georgia to take a few shots and see what happens. If the offense looks explosive—even if it's only on a few plays—that would qualify as huge news in the "Classic City."

 

What Will The Defensive Line Look Like?

Georgia has a boatload of talent along the defensive line, but what it has in talent it lacks in experience.

Trent Thompson is a former 5-star prospect who saw time as a true freshman last year and could play either end or nose. The 6'4", 307-pounder has the size to take up space and the quickness of a cat, which makes him a vital piece of the puzzle for Smart and new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. True freshman Julian Rochester, a 6'5", 327-pounder, had been repping with the ones for the majority of spring practice but has moved around as the Bulldogs have inched closer to G-Day.

John Atkins is a veteran who can play nose or end in the 3-4 scheme, and Jonathan Ledbetter will likely start at end after serving a one-game suspension in the opener. 

Tackle DaQuan Hawkins and end Michael Barnett have missed time this spring, which has forced Smart to be creative up front.

"With Barnett and Hawkins out, you can see the cupboard is getting bare on the D-line," he said, according to John Durham of the Red & Black"It’s getting tougher and tougher for us out there. We got to do a good job recruiting that position. We got to get more size guys to help us."

Who will be those guys? How will Smart, Tucker and defensive line coach Tracy Rocker mix and match those pieces? Will they be able to replicate the success of last year's defense, which finished third in the conference in total defense last year at 305.9 yards per game?

If the big men up front can get consistent push, that will be tremendous news for a defense that needs an identity up front after some personnel losses from a year ago.

 

The Linebacker Conundrum

Coaches always say that "depth chart isn't worth the paper that it's printed on."

That's fine, but seeing who trots out with the first-teamers at least gives fans and media a glimpse of what the rough draft of the actual depth chart looks like.

For Georgia's linebacking corps, that will be quite intriguing. 

The Bulldogs lost stud outside linebackers Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins from last year's squad, as well as leading tackler and former UAB Blazer Jake Ganus inside.

Tim Kimbrough has seen a lot over his three seasons at Georgia, Reggie Carter has loads of talent when healthy and Natrez Patrick has the most upside of the competitors vying for work at inside linebacker. Lorenzo Carter looked like a superstar outside as a freshman in 2014 but suffered through a sophomore slump in 2015. Junior Davin Bellamy should be able to step in at "Jack" for Jenkins and become an instant star.

But Georgia's linebackers are long on potential and short on proven experience, which makes the depth chart fluid at best. Smart has made a point to call out some of his linebackers—including Patrick, Bellamy and Carter—as players who haven't stepped up off the field.

"I told Lorenzo (Carter), 'You gotta be a leader,"' Smart said after Saturday's scrimmage (10:00 mark). "'Dom (Sanders), you gotta be a leader. Davin Bellamy, you gotta be a leader. Natrez (Patrick), you're a sophomore, you gotta be a leader.' We don't have the leadership out there that we need. Everybody's looking at everybody else."

Who does Smart trust most? Will he send a message by dropping somebody down to the twos in front of the home fans on Saturday? Will leadership emerge under the brightest lights of spring?

These questions could be answered at G-Day.

 

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Football: Projecting Wolverines' Post-Spring, 2-Deep Depth Chart

Programs typically exit spring practice with a fair bit of uncertainty on the roster, but Michigan football's two-deep depth chart already looks clear.

The Wolverines have a massive advantage in returning 14 starters—most of which were key contributors in 2015—and a handful of top reserves.

Most importantly for Michigan, head coach Jim Harbaugh and the coaching staff have done a tremendous job developing fringe rotation players into credible backups and borderline starters.

It's fair to call Wilton Speight "1A" and John O'Korn "1B." Though they haven't created much separation between each other, the two have an advantage over Shane Morris.

According to Nick Baumgardner of MLive, Harbaugh said on WTKA radio that De'Veon Smith is the No. 1 running back. Ty Isaac looked the part of a capable backup during the spring game, but he needs to overtake Drake Johnson, last year's second-stringer.

Jehu Chesson—barring any severe setbacks in his recovery from a knee injury—and Amara Darboh are the undisputed wideouts. They carried the pass-catching unit in 2015, reeling in 14 of the position's 15 receiving touchdowns.

Grant Perry is slowly emerging as the slot receiver to beat, while Maurice Ways should receive regular reps. Drake Harris might occupy a lesser spot.

No tight end will jump Jake Butt on the depth chart, but Tyrone Wheatley Jr. could be a valuable player if he consistently executes this fall. Ian Bunting will push Wheatley for the important No. 2 role.

From left to right, the offensive line includes first-year starter Grant Newsome followed by 2015 fixtures Ben Braden, Mason Cole, Kyle Kalis and Erik Magnuson.

The lineup probably won't change, but the notable possible adjustment is Patrick Kugler entering the starting five as the center, shifting Cole back to left tackle and making Newsome a key rotational player. David Dawson and Juwann Bushell-Beatty will attempt to join the top six.

Per Baumgardner, position coach Greg Mattison's prized recruit, Rashan Gary, is not locked in at defensive tackle but will start his career there. Should Gary be moved inside, Matt Godin could be sent outside behind Chris Wormley.

Or maybe someone else.

Wormley might be a starting defensive tackle, meaning Bryan Mone and Ryan Glasgow would battle for the No. 1 spot at nose.

But would that leave Chase Winovich, Gary or Godin as the opposite starter? Either way, Taco Charlton will be a defensive end, and Maurice Hurst Jr. is a lock to contribute in the rotation at tackle.

Michigan will cycle through a handful of names at linebacker, too. The difference is the defensive line's depth makes that a luxury, while it's more of a need for the linebackers.

Harbaugh previously called Ben Gedeon "a stud," according to Josh Newkirk of Scout. And there's Jabrill Peppers, who will spend a majority of his time with the unit after moving from the secondary.

Mike McCray assembled a strong spring, but his injury history is bothersome. Early enrollee Devin Bush Jr. and summer arrival Elysee Mbem-Bosse figure to contribute along with Noah Furbush.

Like the defensive line, though, the secondary is packed with talent.

Jourdan Lewis is one of the nation's best cornerbacks, and Channing Stribling has emerged as his complement. While appearing on WTKA, Harbaugh heaped praise on Stribling, per Angelique S. Chengelis of the Detroit News.

"He's a starter," Harbaugh said. "It's cold. It's in stone."

Jeremy Clark is the No. 3 (if you don't count Peppers), while Brandon Watson must hold off potential charges from true freshmen David Long and Lavert Hill once they arrive this summer.

Dymonte Thomas and Delano Hill are penciled in as starters at free and strong safety, respectively. Tyree Kinnel is currently the backup to both spots because the Wolverines lack depth.

Heading into the offseason, Kenny Allen is on track to handle all three specialist responsibilities—place-kicking, punting and kickoffs—unless Andrew Davis or inbound freshman Quinn Nordin can upstage the senior.

 

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

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NCAA Reportedly Approves 3-Year Moratorium on New Bowl Games

College football's bowl bonanza is stopping at 41 games. For now.

The NCAA reportedly approved a three-year moratorium on adding bowl games, lasting through the 2019 season, per ESPN.com's Brett McMurphy; CBSSports.com's Jon Solomon confirmed the decision. The move comes after the 2015 campaign saw three teams—Nebraska, Minnesota and San Jose State—earn bowl berths despite posting losing records.

In previous years, bowl eligibility has typically been granted only to teams with .500 records or better. McMurphy's report noted only four teams in the previous 45 years had played in bowl games with losing records.

This is, of course, a product of the ever-expanding bowl schedule. Forty-one bowl games require 80 teams to post a record of .500 or better given that two teams move on to the national championship. That's simple math.

As of now, there are 128 FBS teams. That means 62.5 percent of all FBS teams will have to finish .500 or better to fulfill bowl requirements. Given the fact that there is only one loss and one win assigned per game, that seems like an unrealistic goal.

There are enough cupcake opponents available that most seasons will see college football scrape to that number or get close, but this problem isn't going away.

"Clearly, the system is broken," Mountain West Conference Commissioner Craig Thompson said in December, per Nancy Armour of USA Today. "There is an excess of bowl games due in part to a disparate allocation of openings vs. conference bowl histories. The result is teams with sub-.500 records participating in bowl games. There is consensus change is needed and this year's outcome must not be repeated."

There are a few realistic solutions. The NCAA can undergo a massive expansion of FBS teams. A number of FCS schools are capable of moving up and at least competing at a mid-major level right now. Expansion would make it far more mathematically plausible to fill the current 41 games and whatever additions the NCAA wants to make going forward.

The second easy option is to simply stop creating new bowl games altogether. Attendance has been trending downward for years. Having more empty seats than filled ones is a common occurrence for low-level bowl games at this point.

Fans are hesitant to make travel arrangements to far-off locations for an essentially meaningless game at the end of the season. Schools also risk losing money on bowl games if they're unable to fulfill their ticket-selling expectations. This isn't a major problem for schools in big conferences but can be a headache for lower-level schools that are barely keeping their head above water with their football programs.

Unfortunately, bowl expansion is probably inevitable. McMurphy's report noted three cities (Austin, Texas; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; and Charleston, South Carolina) were already in the process of creating bowls for the 2016 season. The last bowl moratorium ended in 2014, with six new games being added to the slate.

Fans may not be coming out in droves for these games, but they draw far better television ratings than your typical random evening programming. Still, television partner ESPN already had to contend with unhappy advertisers after lower-than-expected ratings this past season. This feels like a bubble that's about to burst if the two parties remain committed to expansion.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn Football: Tigers' Biggest Concerns Post-Spring Game

AUBURN, Ala. — Spring games tend to create big-time reactions—both positive and negative—for what is essentially a glorified scrimmage that happens to be open to the fans and the media.

Auburn's A-Day Game on Saturday had the potential to spark hot takes on both ends of the spectrum. The fourth spring game under Gus Malzahn received mostly glowing reviews for the defense and plenty of underwhelming feedback for the offense.

But the weekend's action from Jordan-Hare Stadium should be viewed in the proper context. A walk-on running back led the team in carries. The clock never stopped in the third and fourth quarters. It was more of a football-like substance than an actual game.

And while it's smart to avoid putting too much stock into the stat sheets and the highlights from the only televised game from now until September, reasonable takeaways can still be gleaned from A-Day. Auburn had a few trends that need to be top priorities for the rest of the offseason, starting with Tuesday's final practice of spring camp.

What should Auburn be most concerned about after its 2016 A-Day Game? Here are three main areas Malzahn's Tigers need improvement in.

 

Quarterback situation

Auburn's quarterback battle was never going to be decided Saturday. Gus Malzahn wasn't going to go with anything other than "vanilla" with his offensive play-calling, either.

But even though Auburn's three-way quarterback derby of former starters Jeremy Johnson, Sean White and JUCO newcomer John Franklin III was projected to continue into fall camp, the spring game didn't make things any clearer for the Tigers' situation under center.

None of the three quarterbacks impressed Saturday. White (8-of-14 passing for 125 yards) had the best numbers, but he had a back-breaking fumble inside the red zone and almost threw an easy interception. Johnson completed less than half of his attempts for 35 yards and a short touchdown.

Franklin had a 40-yard, up-for-grabs completion that fell between two defenders and into the hands of Marcus Davis for a touchdown, which Ben Bolton of AL News Network highlighted below. He completed six of his other 11 pass attempts for only 21 more yards.

As Phillip Marshall of Auburn Undercover noted, spring game statistics aren't usually reflective of how a Tiger quarterback is going to perform in the regular season:

Last April, Jeremy Johnson completed 14-of-22 passes in Auburn’s A-Day game for 252 yards and a 36-yard touchdown.

In April of 2013, Jonathan Wallace completed 18-of-26 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns. ... Kiehl Frazier completed 10-of-16 for 125 yards and one touchdown.

In 2010, Barrett Trotter completed 7-of-9 passes for 154 yards, including touchdown passes of 50 and 44 yards. Neil Caudle completed 17-of-21 for 199 yards, including a 70-yard touchdown. Cam Newton? He was 3-of-8 for 80 yards and no touchdowns. ...

Way back in 1971, Pat Sullivan threw five interceptions in the A-Day game and won the Heisman Trophy the following November.

What did all those numbers mean?

Not much.

While Marshall is 100 percent correct in his charge not to look too much into spring game stats, it's still at least somewhat concerning for Auburn that none of the quarterbacks were strong or showed any sort of separation Saturday. 

Some of that might be due to the "touch football" rules on the quarterbacks, which took away a huge chunk of Franklin's effectiveness as a run-first signal-caller. Maybe Auburn's first-team defense, which looked much improved, just played lights out against the trio.

Auburn didn't need to produce an answer to its quarterback question at A-Day. But if the goal of the game was to get more clarity on the all-important position in a live situation, that didn't appear to happen.

 

Overall offensive execution

The lack Auburn's quarterbacks producing anything impressive was part of an offense-wide problem on Saturday, particularly in the area of execution.

With a plain offense that was using a fraction of its playbook, Auburn was an abysmal 1-of-22 as a whole on third downs and only scored one touchdown in the red zone.

Some of that can be chalked up to an improved defense. But that low rate was alarming, considering the defense finished 110th nationally last season, with opponents converting 44.95 percent of their third-down tries against the Tigers. Dana Sulonen of the Opelika-Auburn News noted Auburn's red-zone concerns:

"When you rotate three quarterbacks with different groups and you have different receivers, that is a challenge," Malzahn said, per Brandon Marcello of SEC Country. "You have to give our defense some credit on that. As far as being concerned, I am not concerned at all. I thought the defense did an outstanding job and made them earn it."

While Malzahn didn't sound concerned after A-Day, one of his quarterbacks saw the glaring need for better offensive execution.

"The fluidity of the offense (is something we need to work on)," White said, per Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee. "We have to put more touchdowns on the board. I know it was a shortened game, but we have to put more touchdowns up and get the offense rolling to be back where Coach Malzahn wants it."

Auburn struggled with offensive momentum and consistency last season, and Saturday's game didn't do much to ease those concerns. Even with a limited offense and quarterbacks who weren't able to show off their mobility, the third-down woes and drive-killing fumbles were tough to swallow.

Malzahn said early in the spring that one of his goals was for Auburn to find its edge again on offense after the worst statistical season of his college coaching career. In the only totally open practice of camp, that old edge wasn't there.

 

Run defense

Auburn had a lot of positives to take away from A-Day on the defensive side of the ball, but it was still somewhat lacking in a specific area that hurt the Tigers last season.

The Tigers ranked 80th nationally in rushing yards allowed per attempt and 75th in rushing plays of 10 or more yards allowed in 2015. On Saturday, the two offenses combined for 318 rushing yards, with the first-choice members of the Blue Team breaking off 10.6 yards per touch on the reserve defense.

Jovon Robinson went 83 yards on just 10 carries, recording a 55-yard run. Chandler Cox and Kamryn Pettway—two fullbacks cross-training at running back this spring—had carries of 71 and 40 yards, respectively.

Those rushing defense woes highlighted a lack of depth at linebacker, which has long been a concern for Auburn heading into the 2016 season.

Deshaun Davis had a game-high nine tackles while playing for both squads, while Tre' Williams and Darrell Williams recorded six tackles for the Blue Team. Outside of those players, though, the linebacker production was minimal.

"We were pretty physical," Tre' Williams said, per Wesley Sinor of AL.com. "We gave up a few runs, and that's something we have to work on."

Auburn's defense will be able to pride itself on its depth across the front four this season, and the reserves are well-stocked in the secondary.

But linebacker is a different story, with Tre' Williams serving as the only true linebacker with meaningful game experience. The Tigers need Illinois transfer T.J. Neal to provide quality experience this fall as they continue to develop their young corps.

And whether they're on the first-, second- or third-team defenses, any Tiger taking the field at linebacker could use improvement over the rest of the offseason in limiting those explosive plays on the ground.

 

Stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.

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

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There's No Such Thing as Too Many College Football Bowl Games

Those who claim there are "too many bowl games" can rejoice. There won't be any more bowl games added to the postseason slate anytime soon.

According to ESPN's Brett McMurphy, the NCAA has put a halt to the addition of new bowl games and shattered the dreams of Austin, Texas; Charleston, South Carolina; and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina—all of which were in the process of adding games.

Before you hit the comment section and immediately complain about 5-7 teams making bowl games and mediocre teams receiving "participation trophies," take a step back and truly understand what bowl games are.

They are rewards to student-athletes.

If you want to label that as a participation trophy, fine. But in your next sentence, you can't complain that players aren't compensated enough for playing college football.

Those two arguments simply can't coincide.

Players often receive a trip to an exotic destination during bowl week; get to have new and different experiences with their teammates (for free, incidentally); receive a swag bag that contains the latest and greatest in gaming, technology and apparel; and receive a handsome per diem on site and for travel (which is often pooled together by several players in order to save a little extra).

Bowls are a legal form of player compensation—and the compensation distributed is much more tangible than athletic scholarships.

I ask you, Mr. Bowl Cynic, do you want to take that away from student-athletes?

If you do, you better not complain that they don't get paid enough. Those two points can't co-exist. 

What's more, bowls are made-for-TV events that dominate a three-week schedule over the holiday season. If you don't care about watching the GoDaddy Bowl between Georgia Southern and Bowling Green on a Wednesday night in December, that's fine.

Don't watch it.

Others will, though. Specifically, 2.335 million people did in 2015, according to Sports Media Watch. For comparison, the 2016 MLB Opening Day World Series rematch between the Royals and Mets on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball drew 2.9 million

Think about that for a second.

A World Series rematch on Opening Day—one of the most exciting days in Major League Baseball—only outdrew a "meaningless weeknight bowl game" between two Group of Five teams by a half-million people.

The Las Vegas, Sun, Foster Farms, Pinstripe, Independence, Texas, Russell Athletic, Music City, Holiday, Belk, Citrus, Alamo, Liberty, Gator, Cactus and all New Year's Six bowls outdrew the marquee matchup on MLB's Opening Day.

You might not be watching, but others are.

Plus, the three cities that were in the mix for new bowl games would be fantastic additions to the bowl schedule.

Charleston and Myrtle Beach are fantastic coastal cities with beaches and plenty of entertainment options, and Austin's nightlife is second to none in the Lone Star State.

There's no such thing as "too many bowl games."

The more the merrier.

 

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

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

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10 College Football Players Who Dazzled in Early Spring Game Action

It’s hard to believe, but spring football is already starting to wind down across America. The past two weekends have featured a number of college spring games, with more slated for the next three weekends before coaches and players transition into summer workouts.

It can be difficult to make significant judgments from spring games, given how close to the vest coaches keep their game plans, knowing that September opponents are watching closely. But a number of players had impressive performances that we can read into—at least a little bit. Here are 10 players who dazzled in early spring football action.

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Ohio State Football: What to Watch for in Buckeyes' Spring Game

COLUMBUS, Ohio — With its spring game a mere five days away, Ohio State finds itself nearing the finish line of this year's spring practice session.

And to this point, this spring in Columbus has been met with a different tone for the Buckeyes than the one they experienced a year ago.

Gone are what could be as many as seven first-rounders in the upcoming NFL draft, as well as an unprecedented quarterback controversy that dominated the headlines of the college football world as early as last spring. While there are still some familiar faces around in Urban Meyer's program, this offseason has largely been a "getting to know you" period at Ohio State's Woody Hayes Athletic Center, with so many unknown names attempting to make a splash this spring.

The result will be a spring game nearly impossible to predict, with 16 combined starting spots on offense and defense still up for grabs in the Buckeyes lineup.

Factor in a litany of injuries and Meyer's precaution while using the few experienced players who are still around, and forecasting this weekend's exhibition only becomes more difficult. Still, there have been some Ohio State players who have managed to stand out this spring, helping make it somewhat clearer what one can expect from the Buckeyes' upcoming spring game.

 

A Better Barrett

For all the former Ohio State players who now find themselves preparing for the pros, perhaps the most important Buckeye from last year's team is still a member of the OSU roster.

Watching the Buckeyes practice, it's hard to miss J.T. Barrett in his black no-contact jersey amidst a sea of predominately unknown faces. But while having the Ohio State signal-caller back is certainly a luxury for Meyer's team, even Barrett would admit it's been difficult dealing with so many inexperienced teammates in an injury-riddled receiving corps.

"The main thing is control what you can control," Barrett said. "That's something that [quarterbacks] Coach [Tim] Beck helps us out with. We know we got young guys in and young receivers and all this. Those are, I guess, excuses that you want to make for yourself, but that's not the point of it. The point of it is trying to get better as a quarterback."

The redshirt junior quarterback maintains he's done just that, insisting he's already improved both his arm strength and throwing mechanics throughout this offseason. That should make the 2014 Big Ten Freshman of the Year and Quarterback of the Year even more dangerous, as accuracy has never been an issue with his play.

"There were some throws where you would see it die," Barrett said of the first two seasons of his college career. "Just driving the ball and having the arm strength to finish through things, that's something that I work on."

Factoring the timing of routes into all that hasn't always been easy, at least not with first- and second-year wideouts serving as Barrett's primary targets this spring. But Barrett has already helped make a breakout star out of early-enrollee Austin Mack, who became the first Buckeye freshman to have the black stripe from his helmet removed this offseason, signaling he's officially a member of the OSU roster.

The connection between Barrett and Mack will be worth keeping an eye on this Saturday, but more important will be the alleged improvement the Buckeyes quarterback claims to have made. It may not always look pretty with what's around him, but look for Barrett to showcase a new-and-improved deep ball down the field throughout Saturday's spring game.

 

Patchwork Problems

It's not just the players Barrett has been throwing to this spring who have been unfamiliar.

The Buckeyes—who are supposed to be—blocking for the OSU signal-caller have largely lacked experience as well.

Even with center Pat Elflein and guard Billy Price each returning to Columbus for their third seasons as starters, the Buckeyes offensive line has lacked continuity throughout the better part of spring practice. As he did last offseason, Meyer has routinely rested players who have already proven themselves to the Buckeyes program, meaning Barrett has often found himself with five new offensive linemen protecting him this spring.

And against Ohio State's talented defensive line, that hasn't always made for very comfortable practices and scrimmages for Barrett or fellow quarterbacks Joe Burrow and Stephen Collier.

"A lot of times the quarterback gets hammered because the right guard misses a block and you throw a pick," Meyer said when asked about Burrow's progress this spring.

Speaking of that right guard position, Meyer has been willing to exhaust all options, even playing early enrollee Michael Jordan with the first-team unit. While the fifth-year Ohio State head coach has admitted it's not often ideal to play a true freshman on the offensive line, the Buckeyes' current situation may necessitate just that.

"He doesn't know if it's right or left sometimes, but at this point we don't care," Meyer said. "I'm really impressed with him."

Keep an eye on not just Jordan, but the entire OSU offensive line during this Saturday's spring game. The unit has been a strength for the Buckeyes through Meyer's first four seasons in Columbus, but never before has it possessed as many question marks as it does already at this point in the year.

 

Dominant Defense?

As far as the other side of the ball is concerned, the Buckeyes face no shortage of questions on defense heading into 2016 as well.

Like the offense, just three starters return, with linebacker Raekwon McMillan and cornerback Gareon Conley seeing limited reps as the elder statesmen of the unit, while defensive end Tyquan Lewis recovers from offseason shoulder surgery. One new starter, however, who possesses plenty of experience is defensive end Sam Hubbard, who recorded 6.5 sacks as a reserve and redshirt freshman in 2015.

Expected to fill the void left by Bosa, a surefire first-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft, Hubbard will be one of the most important players on not just the Ohio State defense, but its entire roster. In just his second full spring as a defensive lineman, the former tight end/linebacker has certainly looked the part and appears poised to build on his impressive debut campaign.

"He has to be. I really think he will, too," Meyer answered when asked if Hubbard is already a player he's counting on. "He's really coming along. What a great kid, great worker."

Outside of Hubbard, the Buckeyes' defensive situation looks less certain. Cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Denzel Ward are still battling it out for the right to start opposite Conley, a matchup that could make for one of the more interesting competitions to watch on Saturday.

With Meyer having shown a propensity to pass more than run in spring games, judging a relatively inexperienced linebacking corps will be difficult. But a depleted safety depth chart will be tested plenty, giving new co-defensive coordinator Greg Schiano an opportunity to showcase his latest work in Columbus.

Ultimately, however, the defense has looked much further ahead than its offensive counterpart throughout this spring.

Now it's just a matter of seeing if that will hold true come Saturday.

 

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

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Highlights and Analysis from The Opening New Orleans Regional

NEW ORLEANS — After a competitive day at New Orleans' Joe W. Brown Memorial Park, five athletes added their names to the growing list of competitors who will compete at The Opening finals, set July 5-10 in Beaverton, Oregon. That list is now 63 strong.

The five athletes—running back Cam Akers, safety Todd Harris, wide receiver Devonta Smith and offensive linemen Alex Leatherwood and Nick Brahms—headlined a group of more than 400 athletes hoping to earn the summer trip. Here are some of the best stories of the day from the event:

 

2 OLs highlight event, 1 without player rating

Of the five invited to The Opening, two were offensive linemen. From a recruiting rankings perspective, on paper, the two entered Sunday's competition on the opposite ends of the spectrum.

On one hand, you had Alex Leatherwood, an Alabama commit and the nation's No. 9 offensive tackle. Leatherwood is listed via 247Sports' composite rankings as a 4-star offensive lineman. On the other hand, you had Nick Brahms, a player with 30-plus reported offers, but someone who not only wasn't ranked but also didn't have a composite rating as of early Sunday evening.

Ratings—or the lack thereof—never really bothered Brahms, he said following the competition. The composite rankings, per 247Sports, "compiles rankings and ratings listed in the public domain by the major media recruiting services, creating the industry's most comprehensive and unbiased prospect and team rankings."

Brahms said he was unsure why he didn't have a composite rating, but after Sunday, all that mattered was getting an invitation to compete against the elite athletes who did have ratings.

"It feels real good; it's amazing," Brahms said. "I've been working hard since freshman year or eighth grade to get to this moment. I'm looking forward to the season and everything coming up."

Brahms and Leatherwood both were impressive during linemen one-on-one battles. Leatherwood held things down at left tackle, while Brahms made an impression playing right guard.

"I came to put in work, and I came to be dominant," Leatherwood said. "I got the results. It feels good."

 

Mississippi's No. 1 recruit records 2nd-highest rating

There's a reason why 4-star running back Cam Akers is the top-ranked player in the state of Mississippi and the nation's No. 3 running back. He stays in the proverbial lab, perfecting his body, honing his skills and constantly tweaking his craft.

The extra work paid dividends Sunday, as Akers was invited to The Opening following an impressive showing not only in one-on-one competition but also in skills competition. His Sunday rating of 141.33—the second-highest rating of the 2016 circuit—caught the eyes of The Opening's representatives, and he was able to punch his ticket to Oregon.

"It's definitely a dream come true. It definitely shows that hard work does pay off," said Akers, who, at 5'11" and 212 pounds, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds, completed the 20-yard shuttle in 4.09 seconds, threw the power ball 40 feet and recorded a 40.6 vertical jump. "I've been training really hard for this. It's a blessing."

A former Alabama commit, Akers said he is "wide open" with his recruiting process after decommitting from the Crimson Tide in March. He showed up to The Opening wearing an Ohio State hat and Georgia gloves. Both schools, as well as Arkansas, Ole Miss and others have extended offers.

For now, Akers is focused on getting better to showcase his skills at The Opening. He said he will continue working with his trainer and continue being someone who spends multiple hours in the weight room.

"Praying and working, that's what helped me get here," he said. "That, and just doing what I'm supposed to do."

 

Rich Rod on hand to watch son, Arizona QB commit

Arizona commit Rhett Rodriguez is a 3-star quarterback who attends Catalina Foothills High School just outside of Tucson, Arizona. He also is a native of New Orleans and made a trip back home for the first time in several years.

He's also the son of Arizona Wildcats head football coach Rich Rodriguez, who was a proud dad in the stands watching his son compete for a chance to attend the Elite 11 finals this summer in Los Angeles. Rhett has been an Arizona commit since January.

The elder Rodriguez said it's been fun watching his son mature into a college-bound quarterback. He also said he's been very upfront with making sure his son understands the recruiting process, even as an Arizona commit.

"It's kind of unique when you have a son who's a potential college player," Rich Rodriguez said. "He's grown up around it, and I think a lot of times, coaches' kids understand it more than others. But you still want to educate him on the process. As I told him, you want to make sure you're doing everything right so there are no negatives on the resume.

"Academics, work habits, leadership ... especially if you're at a position like quarterback, you want to do the right things. I'm proud of him. He's done all the right things and has had a great high school career. With one year left, I think he's primed for his best year."

Rhett Rodriguez is listed via 247Sports' composite rankings as a dual-threat quarterback. Per MaxPreps, he threw for 2,503 yards, 20 touchdowns and only two interceptions in 12 games as a junior for Catalina Foothills. He also rushed for 624 yards and 14 touchdowns.

 

4-star Harris the lone DB selected from NOLA event

Todd Harris remembers watching athletes get invited to The Opening at last year's New Orleans regional. He also remembers the feeling he had when he didn't hear his name called for an invitation to Oregon.

That was enough motivation for him to come back this year and compete. In the end, Harris, a 4-star athlete, a top-60 overall player and the nation's No. 4 safety, earned his stripes and punched his ticket.

"I saw guys get invited last year, and I kept saying, 'I can be in those guys' shoes,'" Harris said. "This year, I rested my body, and I came out and competed. Good things pay off."

Harris was a nuisance in one-on-one competition throughout Sunday, and he performed well in warm-up drills and seven-on-seven play. He was the only defensive back selected to compete at The Opening on Sunday—something he takes pride in.

"I just can't wait to ball," he said. "I was praying the whole time for it. It's amazing."

 

The Opening alum offers advice to 2017s

Shyheim Carter was a part of The Opening festivities last year. The Alabama signee was on hand Sunday taking in all the action.

He also was reminiscing.

"It's very different being on this side of it," said Carter, the nation's No. 9 cornerback and No. 71 overall player in the 2016 class. "I wish I was out there again."

Carter watched the hundreds of athletes fight for limited invitations to play in Oregon, and while he watched, he gave some advice that he said helped him as he was looking to not only improve as an athlete but also play for the coveted golden ticket.

Carter also gave advice to athletes on recruiting. He originally committed to the Crimson Tide at the end of his sophomore year on July 15, 2014, but decommitted just before the start of his senior on Aug. 10, 2015, to weigh his options. He ultimately recommitted to Alabama on national signing day.

"Go out and compete," he said. "You have some of the best players around the country come to New Orleans just to compete and get an invite to The Opening. That's the main goal."

Carter continued: "Don't commit to a school too early. You want to weigh your options until you feel comfortable knowing where you want to be. Take your time with your recruitment."

Carter was in attendance as an Opening alum, as was Kristian Fulton, an LSU signee. Fulton was the nation's No. 2 cornerback and No. 21 overall player in the 2016 class.

 

Additional highlights from Sunday

Speed galore and the multiple highlight-reel catches were among the topics of discussion once The Opening New Orleans regional concluded.

To start the day, The Opening had its "Fastest Man" race, pitting those with the fastest times in the 40-yard dash testing. The race included running back Caleb Jolivette, who won the Houston regional's race after running the 40 in 4.35 seconds.

It was Travis Etienne Jr., however, who stole the show. Etienne, a 3-star running back with a dozen reported offers, ran the fastest time of the camp, recording a 4.43-second 40, and then won a five-player race.

Outstanding catches seemed to dominate the day. One of those catches belonged to Devonta Smith, who ultimately earned an invitation to The Opening with his play. In red-zone drills, Smith made a leaping catch over a defender where it appeared he took away a potential interception.

While that catch was great, the one that arguably received the most oohs and aahs came from Gregory Clayton. The 2018 receiver from Lutcher, Louisiana, shook his defender and then made a remarkable one-handed catch.

Clayton has early looks from in-state FCS schools McNeese State and Nicholls State.

 

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

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5 Top-Performing Quarterback Recruits from 2016 New Orleans Elite 11 Regional

NEW ORLEANS — Clear blue skies and steady, but firm, winds greeted the number of quarterbacks hoping to punch a ticket to the Elite 11 finals with a strong performance at the 2016 New Orleans Elite 11 Regional.

While no one was able to earn that coveted invitation at the camp's conclusion, the Elite 11 coaching staff still had a handful of options to plug into the camp’s pressure-chamber showcase—which selects the five best passers to compete at the end of the camp in a half-skeleton drill against the camp’s best linebackers and defensive backs.

Brian Stumpf, who serves as the president of events for student sports, noted the strength of the group after watching film on the players prior to the event.

“I think we came in saying there might not be the guy that has the pre-camp resume combination of good tape and physical traits and that sort of stuff. But, I think they competed well,” Stumpf told Bleache Report. “I think at the end of the day, we talked about with this group that it was the closest race we’ve had for MVP with our coaches going back and forth on two or three guys. But overall, this was a really good group where eight or 10 guys could’ve made the final five for the showcase.” 

The group featured stud recruits such as 4-star Louisiana native Lowell Narcisse and other prospects such as 3-star Virginia standout Lindell Stone—who had already competed at one of the earlier regionals. 

In the end, a few under-the-radar field generals emerged—including a player who won MVP despite battling a case of food poisoning in the hours leading up to the camp. 

Which prospects were worthy of earning a spot among the camp’s top five overall performers?

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Ohio State Looking to Showcase All Kinds of Speed in 2016 Spring Game

Ohio State got an infusion of speed when head coach Urban Meyer took over the recruiting in 2012, but with preparations for the 2016 season in full swing, the Buckeyes are looking to get even faster. 

New names and faces will arrive in Columbus as Ohio State continues its quest to replace eight starters on both sides of the ball. Meyer and the Buckeyes coaching staff are struggling to establish a depth chart with all the youth and injuries, but one thing they can establish is a new pace and identity. 

That will be on display on Saturday, when the Buckeyes take the field in Ohio Stadium for the annual spring game. 

 

Defensive Speed

Ohio State's defense was fast a season ago, and a number of former Buckeyes—defensive backs Tyvis Powell and Eli Apple and linebacker Darron Lee—proved that by running 4.4 40-yard dashes at the NFL combine.

But despite the departure of a number of blazers, there are many who think Ohio State's 2016 defense will be even faster than the '15 edition.

"It's fast, it's a fast defense," defensive end Tyquan Lewis said, per Tony Gerdeman of The Ozone. "It's probably the fastest defense Coach [Larry] Johnson has ever seen. It's pretty good."

Johnson, Ohio State's defensive line coach, who held the same position at Penn State from 1996-2013, has seen some fast defenses in his day. The new projected starters will have to bring a decided edge for this to be true, but that's the feeling some have for the new guys.

"Dante is a way better athlete," middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan said when comparing projected outside linebacker Dante Booker to the departed Joshua Perry, per Marvin Fong of the Plain Dealer. "When he gets on the field, he does some things y'all haven't seen yet. He's one of the fastest guys on the defense regardless of position, and he just brings that pop."

Burners such as linebackers Chris Worley and Jerome Baker and defensive backs Denzel Ward and Malik Hooker should bring more speed to an already-fast unit. 

 

Offensive Tempo

Ohio State's offense is working on a different kind of speed.

After last year's offense entered the season with high expectations that it failed to meet through 10 games (which ended in a sloppy 17-14 home loss to Michigan State), the Buckeyes moved co-offensive coordinator Ed Warinner from the field to the booth and implemented an uptempo, hurry-up offense. 

The results were effective, as Ohio State torched respectable Michigan and Notre Dame defenses for an average of 43 points and 534 yards of total offense. 

The strategy worked so well that Meyer wanted to implement it for the entire 2016 season.

“The last two games, I want to say [the offense was] 80 percent tempo and it worked out really well,” Meyer said, per Tim Shoemaker of Eleven Warriors. “We’re going to do a lot more uptempo offense than we’ve done.”

Quarterback J.T. Barrett, who's at his best as a distributor, where he can make fast decisions in both the passing and running games, thrived at the helm of that kind of offense in 2014 and at the end of 2015. Now, co-offensive coordinator Tim Beck is trying to speed things up even more.

"The biggest thing right now is just getting [Barrett] to play fast, getting him to play consistent, kind of how he did toward the end of the year and how he did in '14," Beck said Thursday, per Eric Seger of Eleven Warriors. "I like what I see so far."

Buckeyes fans will get to see that progress and heightened pace for themselves this Saturday. 

 

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

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Texas A&M OT Germain Ifedi's Upside Makes Him Worthy of 1st-Round Investment

The 2016 NFL draft will once again prove there is no exact science for predicting what will happen or the how the results will play out over the next few years. With 253 total players selected, some are bound to provide an instant impact. Others may take 2016 as a developmental season or even need multiple years to hit their strides.

Players with upside such as Texas A&M Aggies offensive tackle Germain Ifedi weren’t able to fully grasp the nuance of their positions in college. The term "upside" has become a buzzword in evaluation, but it doesn’t always apply. Prospects blessed with great athleticism who have not maximized their entire physical skill sets and have played at a high level in spite of technical shortcomings should be the only ones labeled like this.

Ifedi’s a special case because of his pedigree and the Aggies’ recent history. There has been a Texas A&M offensive tackle drafted in the first round in each of the last three drafts. The latest of the trio, Cedric Ogbuehi, was the Cincinnati Bengals’ first-round pick in 2015 despite having a torn ACL and essentially being a redshirt in his rookie season.

Ogbuehi going in the first was a good indicator that Ifedi should as well, even if they’re different players stylistically.

In the last six draft classes, a total of 39 offensive linemen have been selected in Round 1. The NFL is desperate for quality blocking, and it pushes developmental players up the board for the possible long-term payoff. There’s nothing wrong with this as long as the staff has patience for the individual to improve over time.

Looking at Ifedi, he was a 4-star guard prospect in the class of 2012, per 247Sports. With Johnny Manziel at quarterback and bookend tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews, Ifedi played right guard before kicking out to tackle as a sophomore in 2014. He then spent two years at right tackle instead of moving over to fill in for Ogbuehi at left tackle.

People shouldn't view this as a negative, as the right tackle position is still valuable in the NFL. Right tackle is not just for road-graders like the old-school NFL. Poor pass protectors at the position will face edge-rushers like Von Miller, Cameron Wake and Jerry Hughes, so there’s no hiding them at the next level.

Everything from Ifedi’s 6’6”, 324-pound frame and 36-inch arms draws excitement as an evaluator. But it’s not just his frame that oozes potential; it’s how he moves. Below is an example of how easily he can cut off an edge-rusher’s speed using his own quickness and length.

Football comes easily to Ifedi when just looking at movement ability and how much he stands out in this regard. He kick-slides with ease and also hits the second level of the defense on run plays for someone with a high body density. This is commonly referred to as “planet theory.” There aren’t many humans who are that size with that kind of strength and explosiveness. The NFL commonly gravitates toward these individuals in the draft.

As far as effectiveness, there are certainly times when Ifedi shows why he’s an upside prospect and probably needs to redshirt his first season. He was able to get the job done well enough in his two seasons at tackle, but it was far from pretty. In six games I charted, he allowed 11 quarterback hurries in 275 passing attempts.

How Ifedi loses is directly related to inconsistent hand placement and footwork. His ability to win in a variety of ways is a great trump card, but he doesn’t yet know it nor consistently executes it. Below is Alabama’s Tim Williams using speed to get Ifedi to the edge of the pocket, then spinning inside to take advantage of Ifedi’s poor footwork.

Had Ifedi properly stayed balanced and used his length to engage Williams, he could have controlled the countermove or even shut it down before the attempt. These are nuances that a coaching staff and veteran offensive line can help teach Ifedi. His potential will be unlocked when he can mirror rushers like the play below consistently.

When Ifedi wins early in the snap and squares his lower body with his shoulders, he is hard to beat. Defenses tried to isolate him in space to give their rushers options to get around him, but Ifedi responded well to these opportunities.

According to Pro Football Focus, he had a pass-blocking efficiency of 96.2 percent. This ranked just 76th in the country, which is obviously lower than what his skill set would indicate where he should be. The 21-year-old has incredible peaks to his game, and those moments indicate first-round talent. It’s the valleys that’ll be challenging for him and a team’s coaching staff to overcome.

This dichotomy from where Ifedi is to where he can be as a lockdown pass-blocker will require the right blend of situation and hard work to be successful. His tendency to lean into defenders and mistime punches are death knells at the next level, and soothing out these issues won’t be done in one training camp.

Ifedi’s youth is another positive. He’s spent just two seasons at right tackle, and although there’s considerable work to be done, the possible payoff is huge. There aren’t many right tackles capable of performing with the fluidity of a finesse left tackle.

If he struggles or even fails to show growth at tackle, he has enough experience and good tape at right guard to believe he can make that transition. He doesn’t explode off the line as a run-blocker, but that was in part to the Aggies’ offensive scheme. Their run-pass combination plays limit what happens post-snap for linemen.

Above is the most common responsibility for Ifedi on run plays. Simply create an outside angle to entice the edge player to attack, then wall off the interior angle for the ball-carrier to attack. The promising part of this play is that Ifedi keeps his target engaged until the back is to the second level and does not allow him to chase down the back from behind.

Certain teams will have no interest in taking the time to craft a potential star like Ifedi. He wasn’t as dominant as the hype may have suggested, but he’s a solid player in his own right. With the proper support and coaching, he is well worth a first-round investment.

The Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs appear to be perfect landing spots for Ifedi in the late 20s of the 2016 draft. Seattle needs more immediate help, but it has shown a willingness to endure growing pains with its young linemen. The Chiefs could take Ifedi and start him at guard after losing Jeff Allen this offseason.

 

All stats used are from Sports-Reference.com.

Ian Wharton is an NFL Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.

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