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Auburn Football: Where Do Tigers Turn After Secondary Loses More Transfers?

In Gus Malzahn's two seasons as Auburn's head coach, the secondary has definitely been the Tigers' Achilles' heel.

This week, that heel appeared to be getting weaker and weaker.

Sophomore cornerback Kamryn Melton announced on Twitter on Thursday night that he decided to transfer from Auburn:

The next morning, senior safety Derrick Moncrief—who practiced at linebacker this spring—announced he was also leaving after just one season with the team.

"I came in as the No. 1 safety in the country and things are just not going well there," Moncrief told Ethan Bernal and James Crepea of the Montgomery Advertiser. "But Auburn was a good place, I just want to thank them for everything, for them recruiting me, and I wish them the best of luck."

A few hours later, Auburn confirmed the news for Melton and Moncrief while also announcing junior cornerback Joe Turner's transfer intentions.

This recent surge of transfers is just part of a bigger exodus in the Tigers' secondary. In December, sophomore safety Mackenro Alexander transferred from Auburn to South Florida and freshman cornerback Kalvaraz Bessent decided to leave the program in February.

New defensive coordinator Will Muschamp brought defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson back home to his alma mater to rebuild a struggling secondary that has been porous for the last two seasons.

Injuries and depth issues led to walk-ons starting at defensive back in last month's A-Day Game.

Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee said he believes Auburn's transfer outbreak is about Muschamp and Robinson already having their depth chart in mind:

But how much depth is there left in the Tigers' secondary? Who can they now turn to at the position? Here are three key groups to watch.


The Experienced Players

Aside from Moncrief, who played in all 13 games for Auburn last season and made one start, the other four transfers from the secondary did not play a single snap in 2014.

According to Crepea, Auburn still has nine defensive backs on scholarship:

The biggest name still remaining is Johnathan "Rudy" Ford, the former running back who started all 13 games at safety and had a team-high 93 tackles in 2014. The junior is expected to be the team's leader in the secondary and might just play a part in helping Auburn's cornerback depth this fall.

Jonathan Jones will also return as a starter for Auburn at cornerback. While he was tied for the team lead with six interceptions last season—good enough for ninth in the country—the senior was limited in spring practice due to a lingering foot injury.

"We need some other guys to step up, but Jonathan is an experienced player, a very explosive player," Muschamp told AL.com's Joel A. Erickson earlier this year. "He covers well on the top end, he's got really good ball skills, he can finish on balls down the field."

Josh Holsey, the wild card of Auburn's secondary, is also back for his senior season. He was stuck in limbo between safety and cornerback for most of 2014, but he has seemed to settle in at cornerback this year.

Those three veterans, combined with returning role players Nick Ruffin, T.J. Davis and Stephen Roberts, give Muschamp and Robinson something to build around for 2015. That might not be a lot of experience, but it could be solid enough to serve as a foundation.


The Not-So-New Guys

Two defensive backs who didn't play for Auburn last season are set to make an impact on the depth chart this season after participating in spring practice: Tray Matthews and Tim Irvin.

Matthews, the former Georgia safety who was involved in the tipped pass to new Auburn teammate Ricardo Louis in 2013, is eligible to play for the Tigers after sitting out a season. He arrived at Auburn after his dismissal from Georgia and has already made an impression on the rest of the Tigers.

"Tray is one of them relentless guys," Holsey told the Opelika-Auburn News’ Tom Green. "He was out for a year and I feel like he just couldn’t wait to hit somebody, so now I realize he really wants to hit everything moving. I really like that."

Matthews will most likely grab the starting safety spot alongside Ford, while the true freshman Irvin is projected to be a factor at the nickel position.

The early enrollee and nephew of Hall of Fame player Michael Irvin also had an injury worry this spring, but he still found a way to turn heads.

"Obviously, I think his hand being in a cast for the entire spring and not really having contact until the spring game certainly set him back a little bit, but he has the skill set to be successful," Muschamp said, according to AL.com's Julie Bennett. "Just not quite where we need to be."

More practice time this fall will be much needed for Matthews and Irvin, as their arrivals possibly prompted the slew of transfers away from Auburn.


The Incoming Talent

On top of these returning and newly eligible players, Auburn has a few new faces in the secondary set to arrive this summer.

The group of incoming freshmen is highlighted by Jordan Colbert, a 4-star from Georgia who was ranked as the No. 9 safety in his class.

Colbert was even projected by some to be a linebacker in college due to his heavy-hitting nature and playmaking ability.

Another name Auburn fans should watch for this fall is Carlton Davis, a 4-star cornerback from Miami who flipped from Ohio State and chose the Tigers on national signing day.

Davis has the size (6'2", 184 lbs) and speed (4.67-second 40-yard dash) to be a fearsome matchup for SEC wide receivers in the future.

If these new Tigers can fill in important depth roles this fall or even challenge for spots on the two-deep depth chart, Auburn's secondary should be in decent shape in its first season under Muschamp and Robinson—even after all the offseason departures.


Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Justin Ferguson is an On-Call College Football Writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Dwayne Haskins to Maryland: Terrapins Land 4-Star QB Prospect

Quarterback Dwayne Haskins has been one of the most highly sought-after recruits at his position, but he is no longer available after committing to Maryland on Friday, according to Andrew Spivey of GatorCountry.com.

According to 247Sports, Haskins is a 4-star prospect, the No. 5 pro-style quarterback and the No. 61 overall player in the 2016 class.

He has been a standout player at The Bullis School in Potomac, Maryland, and it comes as little surprise that so many elite programs threw their hats into the ring in terms of pursuing him.

Haskins received offers from a litany of teams, including LSU, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Alabama, Auburn, Florida and so many others, per 247Sports.

His impressive physical ability is a big reason for that, and it can be seen in this video, courtesy of ESPN.com's Gerry Hamilton, even on simple, short throws:

Being so coveted can be difficult on young players due to the expectations that come along with it, but Haskins may very well be equipped to handle it.

At least, that is what Bullis head coach Pat Cilento seems to believe, per Mark Giannotto of the Washington Post: "He deserves every bit of it. I can't say there's a better guy to handle it all because he's just so mature in the way he handles it all. It's great for our school. It's great for him. It's well deserved."

Haskins himself is an elite prospect due to his strong skill set, but his friendship with another top recruit makes his situation even more intriguing.

Wide receiver Trevon Diggs is a 4-star prospect from Rockville, Maryland, and Bleacher Report's Tyler Donohue reported in March that the plan was for Diggs and Haskins to attend the same school:

Regardless of whom Haskins is throwing to at the collegiate level, though, he is an exciting player with the potential to be one of the top quarterbacks in the nation in due time.

There is so much pressure on young quarterbacks to contribute right away, with the likes of Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel succeeding as freshmen in recent years, but that isn't a realistic expectation for everyone.

Haskins may have to sit and learn for a while before he is ready to start, but that certainly isn't a bad thing.

Whether he starts as a freshman, a sophomore or even a junior, he is a supremely talented signal-caller with the goods to be a star.  


Recruit star ratings and information via 247Sports, unless otherwise noted.

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Dwayne Haskins Commits to Maryland, Targets Recruits to Join 'The Movement'

Quarterback Dwayne Haskins delighted Maryland football fans Friday afternoon by declaring his intentions to stay in the state as a Terrapin:

The 4-star prospect delivered the news during an announcement ceremony at The Bullis School in Potomac, Maryland. His decision prompted a spirited reaction from those in attendance and sets the stage for a major recruiting push in College Park.

Haskins, a 6'3", 198-pound passer, emerged as the top uncommitted player at his position this spring after a series of pledges changed the 2016 recruiting landscape. He is rated fifth nationally among pro-style quarterbacks in 247Sports' composite rankings and 61st overall. 

“This decision was based on my relationships with the coaching staffs of all 41 college programs that offered me a scholarship," Haskins told Bleacher Report. "It came down to who I was most comfortable with. It was about joining a group of great people.”

He revealed plans to expand that group during his announcement, singling out elite Mid-Atlantic talents like Philadelphia tight end Naseir Upshur, New Jersey defensive tackle Rashan Gary and fellow Maryland standout Trevon Diggs as top targets.

Upshur previously mentioned a possible pairing after a camp in late April.

"Dwayne is a guy I'd really like to play with at the next level," he told Bleacher Report.

Haskins has long maintained he and Diggs are a "package deal." The two developed a bond while competing together USA Football youth programs. 

"He's just a playmaker," he said. "Tre and I go way back since freshman year. We definitely learned how to play with each other. I feel like I know when he's open and when he's looking for me to throw him the ball. The relationship I've built with him at receiver, I want to continue that in college."

Maryland certainly hopes that's the case.

Diggs, a 4-star athlete who named Alabama his leader last month, has family ties to the Terrapins. He is the younger brother of former Maryland wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings this year.

"I'll be recruiting him hard to join me," Haskins said. "It's his choice, but I hope we make it happen."

Maryland coaches have been pushing hard to gain recruiting momentum through a campaign they've dubbed "The Movement." The Terrapins just found a new ambassador to promote that message.

“It’s definitely a big deal because 'The Movement' can be huge if it’s something other players are willing to believe in," Haskins said. "It could really change the way people view the program."

Haskins worked his way through dozens of offers and cut things down to seven schools before his decision. The process came down to Alabama, Florida, Maryland, Notre Dame, Penn State, Rutgers and Virginia Tech.

He told Bleacher Report his three finalists were Florida, Maryland and Rutgers. 

Gators offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier began recruiting Haskins while he was at Michigan and the two developed a tight bond. Florida also didn't sign a quarterback in the 2015 class, leaving extra room on the depth chart under a new coaching regime. 

Ultimately, the choice seemed to center on two Big Ten newcomers.

Though Haskins now lives in Maryland, he grew up in New Jersey, just minutes away from Rutgers. Former Scarlet Knights star wide receiver Mohamed Sanu was among his early mentors.

“It was really hard to choose between those two schools because I feel a strong connection with both places," he said. "I got to spend a lot of time getting to know everything about both universities and football programs.”

Ultimately, he felt a stronger pull toward the Terrapins.

“I’ll always be Jersey-born, but I’m DMV-made," Haskins said, alluding to the acronym for an area that encompasses Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

Though he won't be able to enroll early, his mission is to create as strong a bond as possible with the program before his official arrival. Haskins is the kind of quarterback and leader who could ultimately elevate a collegiate culture.

"I'm a game-changer whenever I have the ball in my hands, whether it's first down or third down," he said. "I'm going to get the job done. I don't make too many mistakes, and if I do make a mistake, there won't be one the next play. It's about making sure I capitalize on everything around me."


All quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue.

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Dark-Horse College Football Playoff Contenders for 2015 Season

We have a pretty good idea who the favorites and top contenders are for this season's College Football Playoff. The long offseason has provided plenty of opportunity to discuss the likes of the Alabama Crimson Tide, the Auburn Tigers, the Baylor Bears, the Florida State Seminoles, the Georgia Bulldogs, the Michigan State Spartans, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the Ohio State Buckeyes, the Oregon Ducks, the TCU Horned Frogs and the USC Trojans.

But if last year is any indication, we have to expand our horizons and think outside the box—er, top 10—in order to find other programs that could have a shot to fight for a playoff spot.

That's where we'll find the dark horses.

Think about it: When the 2014 season began, the preseason Associated Press poll had the four eventual semifinalists in the top five. But nowhere could be found many of the teams that were in the running for a playoff bid down the stretch—teams like the Arizona Wildcats, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, the Mississippi State Bulldogs or TCU. None of those schools were ranked at the outset, yet each ended up earning invites to CFP-affiliated bowl games and all had a shot to make the playoffs.

How did this happen? And how come we didn't see it coming? Who knows if we'll have a similar scenario this season, but it's worth exploring.

That's why we've identified a handful of schools that, while they may be ranked to begin the year, aren't currently thought of in the top tier of teams vying for the playoffs. All are capable of getting there, though, assuming they are able to put everything together, and things go their way.

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Ranking Top 25 College Football Tailgating Schools for 2015

Tailgating—almost every other sport in the world does it, but college football does it best.

The locales and the traditions that make the college game great enhance fans' pregame experience. For some of them, it's their entire game day, as staying at the tailgate to watch the game can be more appealing than paying for a ticket inside the stadium.

You probably can't find a bad tailgating experience in college football. Whenever friends and family and even rivals get together before the game, it's a pregame time of food and fun that's hard to mess up.

However, some schools do it better than others, and a select few are as famous for what they do outside the stadium as what they do inside it.

With that in mind, here is a list of the top 25 tailgating schools in all of college football. This writer hasn't been to every single stadium in the nation, so keep in mind that these rankings are based on national reputations and unique traditions.

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Building College Football's Ultimate Wide Receiving Corps

Wide receiver is one of the most important positions on the field. The college football world is graced with many incredibly impressive athletes at the wide receiver position. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder joins Stephen Nelson to make the ultimate receiving corps in the video above. 

Who would be on your ultimate receiving group? Check out the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Football: Cost of Attendance Money Won't Help or Hurt Tide's Recruiting

ATLANTA — It’s not hard to see what this offseason’s major issue and talking point will be in college football.

It’s not going to be satellite camps or graduate transfers or uptempo offenses (is that still even a thing?).

This coming season, for the first time, schools will be able to provide athletes with the “full cost of attendance,” more than just the standard tuition, books and room and board.

According to ESPN.com’s Mitch Sherman, writing at the time the measure passed, most student athletes will receive an extra “$2,000 to $4,000 annually.”

And therein lies the problem. Schools will be able to determine their own cost of attendance, which could lead to inflated numbers in the name of recruiting.

Depending on who you ask, Alabama’s extra benefits will likely fall somewhere in the middle of the SEC. Tuscaloosa is a reasonably inexpensive place to live, and UA is an average state school, cost-wise.

The Crimson Tide shouldn’t feel a big effect in recruiting from the legislation, regardless of where their final number falls. Nick Saban and Alabama won’t be that much affected by the rule.

Still, Saban isn’t happy about the ramifications.

"To do it the way we did it is going to be a nightmare," he said this week before a Crimson Caravan stop in Atlanta. "We've spent 100 years in the NCAA trying to make everything equal. So no extra benefits, nobody could get something that somebody else couldn't get. All right. Now you leave it up to the institution, and I think some people have manipulated their numbers because they've significantly changed from last year to this year, and that's not the spirit of the rule.

"Everybody has, historically, from an academic standpoint, tried to keep the cost of attendance down. It's a benefit to the students. It's a benefit to their scholarships. Now all of a sudden it's going to be different, and I don't think that's good."

The Chronicle of Higher Education attempted to calculate what these numbers could be for the 65 wealthiest NCAA institutions using some back-of-the-napkin math. They used “a review of institutions’ financial-aid websites and cost-of-attendance figures that the colleges report to the federal government” to determine the cost.

The Chronicle set Alabama’s full cost of attendance at $27,434, fourth in the SEC. But Alabama’s “difference in scholarship,” extra money that goes to cover that full cost of attendance, was $2,892, which put it at No. 10 in the conference.

Those estimates, though, are just that: estimates.

When Saban was asked about the effects of being in the bottom half of the league, a UA spokesman stepped in and said those numbers weren’t accurate and that Alabama hasn’t yet set a number for its cost of attendance.

Saban and Alabama shouldn’t worry about disparity in numbers affecting his recruiting, though, at least in the short term.

He’s pulled in a No. 1 class to Tuscaloosa the last five years, according to 247Sports.com.

Alabama is winning consistently and sending players to the NFL at a breakneck pace. It has first-class facilities, major tradition, an already legendary coach and a gigantic and passionate fanbase. Those things won’t change.

Most recruits won’t turn that down for a few hundred or a thousand extra bucks a year, if they are even aware of the differences to begin with.

USA Today’s Dan Wolken asked a handful of coaches who told him most recruits this year didn’t ask about cost of attendance or even know those benefits would be available to them.

Other coaches don’t think it will have much of an effect, either.

“I know there’s going to be much differing in the number of the cost of attendance, but at the end of the day, a prospective student-athlete really chooses that school based on the relationships they have built,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said, according to CoachingSearch.com’s Chris Vannini.

“We haven’t had much questions asked about total cost of attendance. Really, at the end of the day, it comes down to things that are most important.”

“At the end of the day, some of those factors always play in recruiting, whether it’s playing time, jersey number, where you live, all the little things,” former Georgia offensive coordinator and current Colorado State head coach Mike Bobo said, per Vannini.

And in “all the little things,” Saban and Alabama are doing all right.

Still, Saban would like to see it even across the board.

"Every competitive league, whether it's the NFL or whatever, does everything they can to create parity," Saban said. "So now you take the basic No. 1 thing and made it unequal for some schools. Whether we were at the top or the bottom, I would feel the same way."

He shouldn’t worry about that in the short term, though. He’s doing just fine as it is.


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

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Jim Harbaugh's First Victory over Urban Meyer Comes on Twitter

The first edition of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry game headlined by Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh won't take place until Nov. 28.

But that hasn't stopped the Buckeyes' and Wolverines' head coaches from already going head-to-head on multiple occasions.

Most of the undercard battles between Meyer and Harbaugh have taken place on the recruiting trail, with Meyer typically getting the upper hand. The reigning national champion managed to secure the commitment of 4-star running back and Detroit native Mike Weber on national signing day, and any concerns about Ohio State's access to its Michigan pipeline went away last week when Meyer snagged a verbal pledge from 2016 4-star offensive tackle Michael Jordan.

But as of Thursday, Harbaugh is officially on the board against his newest rival.

And he got there 140-characters-or-less at a time.

Despite having only been active on Twitter for fewer than five months, Harbaugh has built an online brand for himself that is unmistakable. The new Michigan head man routinely responds to the happenings of his program with vague tweets (and apparent sub-tweets to Meyer), goes back and forth with Judge Judy and wishes his players happy birthday in his own unique way.

Add in his shared selfies with pop star Ciara and the recent announcement of an unprecedented quarterback camp, and @CoachJim4UM has become college football's must-follow coach.

The numbers say as much.

Despite Meyer's having been active on social media since 2013, Harbaugh passed his new rival on Twitter in terms of followers in a mere fourth months. As of Friday, Harbaugh has more than 269,000 followers to Meyer's 263,000, making him the most followed coach in all of college football.

It's not hard to explain the reasoning behind Harbaugh's surge in Twitter popularity, as there isn't a coach in college football who makes his personality more apparent. As opposed to most coaches, who just use their accounts as a publicity tool to promote their programs, Harbaugh spends time documenting his offseason trips to Peru and posting pictures of his kids.

Meanwhile, it's tough to scan Meyer's account and find a tweet that looks like it was crafted himself. Most are just promotional Ohio State-themed pictures that have already been tweeted by another official school account, essentially retweeted in an effort to get them in front of Meyer's sizable audience.

That Meyer has been been able to garner such a following without any particularly interesting tweets are testaments to both his success and the Buckeyes fanbase. But make no mistake: The three-time national champion's account could disappear or go dormant, and it'd be a while before anyone would likely notice.

The same couldn't be said for Harbaugh, as evidenced by his ability to become college football's most followed coach in such a short amount of time. Like most coaches, his account exists to create a buzz for both him and his school—he just happens to be doing it better than anybody else at the moment.

Whether that success will carry over to the football field this fall remains to be seen.

But for now, score one for Harbaugh.


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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Miami Football: Offseason Recruiting Hot Streak Just What Al Golden Needs

Miami Hurricanes head coach Al Golden is facing an unsteady future in Coral Gables due to inconsistent play from his program, but things are running smoothly as ever when it comes to recruiting efforts.

After a Friday morning commitment from rising sophomore defensive back Jalen Patterson, per Ryan Bartow of 247Sports, the Hurricanes now hold top-three classes in national composite rankings for the 2016, 2017 and 2018 cycles. It's quite an accomplishment for a squad that finished 6-7 last season.

Golden has picked up 22 total pledges from prospects in those three classes since Miami suffered a loss to South Carolina in the Independence Bowl. That puts him in rare territory when it comes to recruiting effectiveness with present prospects and those still years away from their national signing day.

In fact, the small collection of coaches who can compare to his current success rate during this decade are all national champions—Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Jimbo Fisher and Les Miles.

Golden, in terms of on-field results, is an obvious outlier.

He enters his fifth season as the Hurricanes' leader with a 16-16 record against ACC opponents. His best season at Miami—a nine-win campaign in 2013—ended with a 27-point loss to Louisville in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

It hasn't been a fruitful chapter in the program's rich history, but things began to sputter long before Golden arrived from Temple and found himself shackled by scholarship sanctions and bowl bans.

Golden's predecessor, former Hurricanes linebacker Randy Shannon, averaged just seven victories per season at his alma mater. Before him, 2002 national champion Larry Coker failed to sustain lofty levels of success following a transition to the ACC.

It may seem hard to fathom, but Miami hasn't posted a double-digit win total since it departed the Big East in 2004. This drought follows a period when the program won at least 11 games for four straight seasons.

Golden could certainly be shuffled off campus like Shannon and Coker if the Hurricanes don't make significant strides this season. Sophomore quarterback Brad Kaaya provides reason for immediate optimism, but Miami's recruiting success serves up long-term hope.

Hope is a strong sell at this point for Golden, who hasn't offered Miami's administration much proof it's found the next Jimmy Johnson.

He can showcase a 2016 recruiting class that rose to No. 1 overall in national rankings earlier this year and now sits third on that list. With 20 pledges, the Hurricanes have college football's biggest haul of high school juniors.

Headliners include impressive 4-star quarterback Jack Allison and a trio of Florida's premier wide receiver prospects (Sam BruceAhmmon Richards and Dionte Mullins). The group also features top in-state linebacker Shaquille Quarterman and 4-star defensive end Joseph Jackson.

It remains to be seen how balanced this class ends up in terms of quantity versus quality, as the majority of committed players currently command a composite rating of 2 or 3 stars. And Golden hasn't yet reached out of the Sunshine State for a single commitment in this recruiting cycle.

Regardless, any perception of a "hot streak" in recruiting is great news for Golden. It shifts the focus from a sub-.500 season and generates a perception that the program is on track to improve.

That outlook is further enhanced when you examine how Miami has fared with high school underclassmen. The Hurricanes hold 10 commitments from athletes finishing their freshman or sophomore year, and Golden managed to land some of the state's top sophomores in running back Robert Burns and linebacker Tyler Dunning this February.

Reigning national champion Ohio State is the only other FBS squad with six 2017 pledges. 

Miami tops everyone with four committed 2018 recruits following Patterson's declaration. The 5'10", 170-pound prospect already held multiple Power Five scholarship offers after one high school season.

"He's an unbelievable athlete," Stephen Field, his high school coach, told Bartow. "He can play all over the field. He's just a playmaker." 

That's an accurate description for many Hurricanes stars who helped turn the team into a national powerhouse during past decades. The next generation of playmakers could help move momentum forward at Miami and make Golden's shaky start fade into the rearview mirror.

But many are still a long recruiting journey away from formally signing with the program. And those who do will require time to develop.

Time seems to be against Golden these days, but hope may give him a few more pebbles in the hourglass.


Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ole Miss Football: Running Game Still a Work-in-Progress

What if I told you that Ole Miss' biggest spring question was still a work-in-progress, and that head coach Hugh Freeze is happy with where the players battling for that position are but that there's still a long way to go?

You'd probably assume that the next sentence would have something to do with the three-way quarterback battle raging in Oxford that includes junior college transfer Chad Kelly and redshirt sophomores DeVante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan.

You'd be wrong.

The most important position battle in Oxford is the one to be the "thunder" to running back Jaylen Walton's "lightning" in the Rebel backfield.

The Rebels have finished 10th or worse in the SEC in yards per carry in each of Freeze's three seasons as head coach. They finished 11th last season with 4.25 yards per carry and 10th in yards per game at 155.46. Against Arkansas in late November, they netted just 63 rushing yards on 33 carries and gained just nine rushing yards on 37 carries against TCU in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. 

Eugene Brazley, Akeem Judd and Jordan Wilkins are all competing to earn bruiser carries for the 2015 Rebels. Of that trio, Wilkins—a 6'1", 209-pound sophomore who finished second on the team in rushing last year with just 361 yards and one touchdown—was the most impressive this spring.

"Wilkins is going to be a solid player for us," Freeze said in quotes released by Ole Miss. "He is a good pass protector and a hard runner. He can get the football out of the backfield. I think he sees that now is his time to start getting more reps and more opportunities to help this football team. He has been good this spring."

Only with the first team, though. 

Injuries decimated Ole Miss' offensive line this spring. Star tackle Laremy Tunsil broke his leg in the loss to TCU and missed all 15 practices. According to Hugh Kellenberger of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, starting guard Aaron Morris, center/tackle Robert Conyers, tackle Daronte Bouldin, tackle Davion Johnson, center Sean Rawlings and tackle Talbot Buys all missed practice time this spring as well.

On top of that, sophomore Christian Morris was just back off battling the injury bug, and Jeremy Liggins—the massive former tight end/Wildcat quarterback—was playing as an offensive lineman for the first time as a Rebel.

The injuries prevented Freeze from getting a good gauge on his running backs.

"It was a bit unfair not only for them, but for the quarterback who had that rotation of playing with the second and third units," Freeze said on Tuesday's coaches teleconference. "We got those kids better up front, but our defensive line is really talented and deep, so that makes it very difficult for us to evaluate how those guys did. When they drew the straws to go with the first guys, I saw good signs from all of them."

Judd is a 6'0", 222-pounder from Durham, North Carolina, who redshirted last year after moving over from Georgia Military College. At 5'9", 189 pounds, Brazley is more of the happy medium between a bruiser and an edge threat.

Freeze was impressed with the straight-line speed that Brazley showed this spring, and that could be a huge asset for the 2015 Rebels.

"We are excited about Eugene's progression," Freeze said. "[He] ran one of our fastest 40-yard dash times when we tested right before we broke for May."

The injury issues up front and inability of the staff to get a really good gauge on where they stand with the running back position could be a blessing in disguise, though. Those backup offensive linemen got plenty of work this spring with both the first and second teams, and that experience will be invaluable to them as backups once the starters get back to full strength.

That will help the running backs continue to develop during fall camp. In an ideal world for Freeze, it will also provide the balance that Ole Miss desperately needs to become a legitimate SEC West title contender.


Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

One Week Away from Decision, Kenney Lyke Breaks Down Top Schools

Around this time next week, at about 2 p.m. CT, Palatine, Illinois, defensive back Kenney Lyke will announce his college plans. He also will give his parents one of the best belated birthday presents money can't buy.

On May 22, the Fremd High School 3-star prospect will verbally commit to one of four schools—either Notre Dame, Michigan State, Baylor or Oregon. He also will put a huge smile on the face of his mother and father, Latoya Williams and Kenneth Lyke, who will celebrate birthdays before the announcement.

Lyke's mother is celebrating her birthday today. His father will celebrate his birthday on Monday.

"I'm excited about [May 22]; I think they are, too," Lyke said.

"We're definitely very, very proud of him and all of his accolades," Williams said of her son, the No. 13 player from the state of Illinois and a top-40 safety nationally. "He has worked really hard to get to this point. To see that he was so talented to peak so many schools around the nation, it's amazing."

Lyke announced his top four on Tuesday and officially announced his decision day on Thursday via social media.

Lyke said the past couple of days have been exciting for him and his family, and he's using the next few days to not only weigh his options but reflect on the process. He said he has enjoyed his process, but he's ready for everything to slow down.

"I think it's been a pretty positive experience so far. It's always good to go out and meet other people and coaches on visits and see how the coaches come at you," he said. "It's always good to see where you fit in at a new place."

Lyke said he has "a pretty clear understanding of where I'd like to play college football." Of the three schools, Oregon has yet to offer. Lyke, however, put Oregon in his top four because of the strong relationship he's built with the staff. He believes an offer will come soon.

For the time being, Notre Dame and Michigan State appear to be the front-runners. Notre Dame has a slight proximity advantage, but both schools are less than a three-hour drive away from Palatine.

"Michigan State was the first [Power Five] school to recruit me and offer me," Lyke said. "Everybody in East Lansing are real cool. The recruits they have right now are doing a good job of recruiting prospects. Plus, the coaches keep it real. I like [recruiting coordinator] Coach [Brad] Salem and [head] Coach D [Mark Dantonio].

"With Notre Dame, when I took my first my visit there, I wasn't offered. I was a little discouraged, but they told me they'd offer down the line, and they kept their word. Coach [Brian] VanGorder is a good defensive coordinator to play underneath. They run a lot of NFL defenses and work a lot with the secondary."

Baylor is the wild card of the three schools that have offered. While it is far away from home, Baylor's coaching staff has won Lyke and his family over with its sincerity. Williams likes that it's a private school built on religious morals.

"I love the way [defensive coordinator] Coach [Phil] Bennett and [safeties] Coach [Cris] Dishman are coaching the defensive backs," Lyke said. "They run the same defense as I run in high school, so that'll be a plus going in knowing the defense. My defensive coordinator is really good friends with Coach Bennett, and I've had extensive conversations with both Coach Bennett and Coach Dishman."

If Oregon offers between now and next Friday, credit secondary coach John Neal for keeping Lyke interested. Lyke has been paying attention to Oregon's defensive backs, and he likes what the coaching staff is doing to produce quality, Pac-12 athletes.

Lyke is being recruiting to all four schools as a safety, but he added that he may get opportunities to play on special teams and possibly kick returner. As a defensive back, Lyke had 81 tackles and two interceptions last season for Fremd.

Lyke said the "feeling of being at home" is the main factor in his decision. He also wants the chance to compete early. Williams said she's looking for a quality education for her son.

"At the end of the day, he can't go wrong with anywhere he chooses," Williams said. "We've been excited throughout the whole process. I think I was probably more stressed than he was, but I know that wherever he goes, he'll be at a great school. It'll make for a great belated birthday present."


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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4-Star DT Kendell Jones Jr. Opens Up on Top 5: 'I Want a Family Environment'

When Thursday came to a conclusion, Kendell Jones Jr. was able to describe it with one word.

"Relieving," he said.

For Jones (first name pronounced ken-DELL), it wasn't an average Thursday. The massive 4-star Killeen, Texas, prospect—all 6'4 ½" and 361 pounds of him—and the nation's No. 11 defensive tackle, per 247Sports' composite, went from being "committed" to being "uncommitted" to announcing a top five in a matter of roughly seven hours.

Late Thursday, Jones took to social media and said that he would take his talents to either the Big 12 or the SEC.

The Shoemaker High School star, nicknamed "The Hulk" because of his massive frame, saw Thursday take a weird turn of events when he saw reports that he committed to Alabama. His father, Kendell Jones Sr., went to social media following the report and quickly denied everything.

"I found out about [the commitment] on Twitter and then later on my phone," Jones Sr. said. "Then a few minutes later, my phone starting blowing up. I wanted to talk to him at school first. I didn't know what was going on. I didn't know if he told somebody something or what.

"It's funny how after something like this, people get your number who you've never talked to a day in your life. The popularity of it all is crazy. I mean, the Internet blew up. It's humbling and shocking, all glory to God."

Jones Jr. added: "I was like...'Oh, man. Who said this? Where did it come from?' I know it was blowing up at school, but I'm just glad we got it resolved."

The backlash from social media is warranted, as Jones is one of the most-wanted defensive linemen in the country. He showed insane power, deceptive elusiveness and agility at The Opening Dallas regional in March, walking away from the event not only with the defensive MVP award, but also an invitation to The Opening finals in July in Oregon.

Narrowing his top five from a reported list of 10, Jones said, was the toughest part. In the end, Alabama, Texas, Baylor, Texas A&M and LSU all had the same things in common.

"To me, it was all about who wanted me there the most," Jones said. "I wanted to know who wanted me no matter what. It wasn't really tough for me because I had my mom and my dad on my side."

A decision is scheduled to come next Friday, as May 22 is the date of Shoemaker's spring game. Originally, Jones Sr. said he wanted his son to make a choice in early 2016, but the family opted to a verbal commitment this month to help his son focus on academics and not have recruiting become a burden.

Jones Sr., however, did say that despite the upcoming commitment, he and his son will still take both unofficial and official visits. Jones is expected to balance trips with summer-school courses, as he's looking to get ahead in order to have a relaxing senior season.

While there is a top five, there's a chance for some other schools to still slide in and make a play for the defensive tackle.

"After summer school, I want him to still have a process," Jones said. "I want him to see Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Arkansas and some of the other schools we haven't been to yet."

Jones, who told Bleacher Report in March that he wanted to go to college to study psychology, said he has a solid relationship with the head coaches, defensive coordinators and defensive line coaches from all five schools. Comfort won't be a problem with wherever he plays.

For now, it's all about finding the best overall fit, and Jones said he will weigh all five of his options from now until May 22. The next seven days will be difficult, but he knows what he wants in a winning program.

"I'm looking for a team that will put God first in everything I do," he said. "I want a family environment, good academics and a place where I can learn a lot and have fun."


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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4-Star OLB Michael Divinity Tweets Top 15 Schools

Almost every team in the SEC and Big 12—and a few wild cards from other conferences—are in the hunt for 4-star outside linebacker Michael Divinity.

On Thursday night, the Marrero, Louisiana, native tweeted out his top-15 list, which includes 247Sports' Crystal Ball favorites LSU and Texas A&M, plus a few important hashtags and emojis.

Standing at 6'2" and 218 pounds and boasting a time of 4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash, Divinity has good speed and athleticism for his position. If he continues to gain weight and strength, he could become the prototypical defender that all big-time programs covet.

Divinity is currently rated as the No. 53 overall player and the No. 6 outside linebacker in the class of 2016.

According to NOLA.com's Christopher Dabe, Divinity recorded 74 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, eight sacks, five forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries last season at John Ehret High School.

Divinity is cousins and teammates with 3-star linebacker De'jon Harris, and the two have discussed being a package deal for one lucky school. The two SEC West favorites for Divinity are in the mix, along with the No. 2 team on his unordered list from Thursday night.

"We talked about Oregon, LSU and Texas A&M," Harris told the Oregonian's Andrew Nemec. "Those are the three we talked about."

A move to Oregon would have Divinity following in the footsteps of 2014 athlete Kirk Merritt, the 2014 SPARQ champion from Louisiana who joins the Ducks this season.

Still, LSU remains a commanding favorite for Divinity on 247Sports' Crystal Ball, with 13 of the site's 14 predictions in favor of the Bayou Bengals.

Only time will tell if Oregon, Texas A&M or even one of the 12 other schools on Divinity's list can overtake LSU's reported lead for this prized Louisiana talent.

One thing is for sure—this looks like a recruiting saga to watch this year.

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Georgia Football: Brian Schottenheimer Creating an NFL Atmosphere

It was only a matter of time before Georgia head coach Mark Richt was forced to replace former offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.

The Bulldogs had finished no worse than fifth in the SEC in yards per play in every season since 2010, and they led the conference in the category twice (2014 and 2012). When Bobo got the head coaching job at Colorado State, Richt looked to the NFL ranks to find the next leader of his offense.

He found Brian Schottenheimer, who spent the last three seasons in the same role with the St. Louis Rams, and the six prior to that with the New York Jets.

It should come as no surprise that Schottenheimer is bringing an NFL mentality to the Bulldogs offense since making the jump to Athens.

"Coach Bobo had been a college coach for so long, and coach 'Schotty' is just getting back into that flow," wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell said after Georgia's spring game. "When he's teaching, he's rolling through. He's not taking five minutes to teach one play. It's like 10 seconds, and you better know it by tomorrow.

"He's brought that in. Every time we install, it's quick. A 30-play install might take five minutes."

For a team that is replacing its top two wide receivers, has a three-headed quarterback battle on its hand (and possibly a fourth if Everett Golson joins the Bulldogs) and is installing a new scheme, that may seem like it's "too much, too soon."

It isn't for Mitchell, because he knows what it could lead to down the road.

"We love it," he said. "Everybody in the room wants to go to the NFL, and that's where he came from. If he's doing that, he's showing us how to prepare at the next level."

After 15 practices, the transition from Bobo to Schottenheimer has gone as smoothly as anticipated.

"I was in almost every offensive planning meeting and most every quarterback meeting throughout the spring, and I can assure you that coach Schottenheimer is a great teacher," Richt said on Wednesday's teleconference. "He knows what he's doing and has a great process of going about his business, and [I'm] really comfortable with what he's bringing to the table."

The quarterback battle is the most notable issue Schottenheimer has to resolve during his first season in Athens.

Junior Faton Bauta, sophomore Brice Ramsey and freshman Jacob Park are all vying for the top spot on the depth chart in 2015. Not only do they have the pressure of a position battle to deal with, but they have to adjust to the faster pace in which Schottenheimer operates his practices.

Mitchell admitted following the spring game that the offense isn't where it needs to be, but that's more due to the instability created by three quarterbacks rotating with the first team rather than the transition from Bobo to Schottenheimer.

"We need a lot more chemistry," he said. "That's not bashing the chemistry we have now because we do have flow and you saw a little bit of that [in the spring game]. But we have a long way to go and everybody needs to be on the same page. That will be straightened out when we get that quarterback position solidified."

The absence of flow in the spring could pay off for the Georgia Bulldogs in the fall and each player once they exhaust their eligibility or decide to move on to the next level.

Georgia had two players—running back Todd Gurley and wide receiver Chris Conley—drafted in the first three rounds of the 2015 NFL draft. Quarterback Aaron Murray and tight end Arthur Lynch drafted in the fifth round a year ago.

If all goes according to plan, there will be more Bulldogs offensive players going to the next level in the draft in the near future. When they do, they'll be better-prepared to handle the fast-paced nature of NFL coaching thanks to Schottenheiemer.

"[The transition] has gone very well," Mitchell said. "His coaching style is different, but they're different people, though."


Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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