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What Would Nile Sykes' Absence Mean for Notre Dame in 2014?

Blue and Gold Illustrated’s Dan Murphy (subscription required) reported Wednesday that incoming Notre Dame football freshman linebacker Nile Sykes won’t be playing for the Irish this fall, citing unnamed sources.

Soon after the report was published, Sykes tweeted, “I am still currently a Notre Dame student.” The tweet has since been deleted from Sykes’ Twitter account.

Further reports from Chris Hine of the Chicago Tribune and Tyler James of the South Bend Tribune suggested the possibility of Sykes transferring.

If—and that's still an important distinction to make—the linebacker were to leave the university, what impact would that have on Notre Dame in 2014?

Sykes, a 3-star signee from Oak Park, Illinois, was slated as the No. 36 outside linebacker in the country and ranked at No. 459 overall. On national signing day, Irish head coach Brian Kelly called Sykes a “great addition to our class.”

“[We] really like Nile and his personality,” Kelly said. “He's got a great family. Mom and dad, really excited about being a part of the Notre Dame family. Listen, that matters, too. We want people that want to be part of Notre Dame and be part of our family.”

Kelly praised Sykes’ ball skills and instincts and said the Montini Catholic High School product has the versatility to play inside and outside.

Sykes is one of three linebackers in Notre Dame’s class of 2014. According to Murphy, Sykes has been projected to play outside linebacker for the Irish. While Sykes—the lowest-rated linebacker signee in Notre Dame’s class—likely would not be making major contributions as a freshman, a potential departure would further thin an already questionable position.

Notre Dame returns sophomore Jaylon Smith but must replace Carlo Calabrese, Dan Fox and Prince Shembo in the linebacking corps. With Jarrett Grace’s status still up in the air and Ben Councell also returning from injury, Smith is the only healthy player with starting experience.

Still, Sykes probably would not be expected to leapfrog other returning players such as John Turner and James Onwualu on the depth chart.

Thus, a potential departure would mainly impact the Irish down the road. Should Sykes leave the program and free up a scholarship, Notre Dame could take on another player in the class of 2014. Thanks to a recent run of commitments, the Irish currently have 17 players in their class of 2015. Over the past 34 days, Notre Dame has landed 10 new commitments. The surge has bumped the Irish to No. 8 in the class rankings.

But Notre Dame may also be approaching its upper limit for commitments in the class of 2015. A host of players in the senior class could have fifth-year options, which would further tighten the strings on the size of this cycle’s recruiting class.

Whose is next to join? Class is closing out quickly. Go Irish!

— Kerry Cooks (@CoachKerryCooks) July 3, 2014

First, however, there is clarity needed on Sykes’ situation.

Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting stats and information courtesy of 247Sports.com and all quotes obtained firsthand. Star ratings reflect 247Sports composite rankings.

Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

An Inside Look at the Complex World of College Football Recruiting Rankings

“Initially college coaches hated us. They didn’t want anything they were doing scrutinized. They didn’t want kids they were trying to hide being discovered. High school coaches didn’t trust us. They didn’t know who we were. Now that the high school and college coaches associate us with the rankings and they are more cooperative. We’ve earned our stripes."

– Mike 'The Godfather of Recruiting' Farrell

Over the last decade, I’ve had the opportunity to cover college football recruiting for ESPN and Rivals.com. The most common question I get, is who has the better rankings? The answer is none. Rankings are too subjective. There isn’t a rankings formula where you plug in stats, height and weight, SPARQ Rating, or level of competition to get a star rating. 

As an evaluator, I watched a ton of football.  Every season I attended well over 30 games and watched countless other game tapes for up to 12 hours a week.  As you might guess, this is the most time consuming part of the job.  During the spring and summer camp season I traveled the country every weekend to scout players in person.   The other analysts and I teleconferenced for weeks at a time, 8 to 10 hours a day, going over thousands of players individually while breaking down film and fighting for star rankings.   

“Derrick Henry is a five-star to me.  But, is he better than Ty Isaac? They have similar body types and upright running styles and Isaac is a five-star right now.  If we keep him as a four-star it’s going to be difficult to justify. Let’s vote.” – Quote from a Rivals.com evaluation meeting for the final rankings of the 2013 recruiting class.

I’ve been asked countless times, are there industry requirements to evaluate and rank college prospects? The answer is no. Each site has a slightly different model in place.

The System:

247Sports, ESPN RecruitingNation (ERN), Rivals.com, and Scout.com make up the “Big Four” of the recruiting industry. Each site is tasked with the difficult process of keeping up with the ever evolving college football recruiting landscape.  Everyday prospects are offered earlier and earlier such as middle schoolers like Dylan Moses and David Sills. Between new seven-on-seven events constantly popping up, fans hounding prospects on social media outlets, and student-athletes receiving over a 100 letters a day from persistent colleges, it’s a never-ending cycle.

The Big Four

Rivals

Rivals was founded in 1998 as an advertising based site by Jim Heckman and his group out of Seattle, the first Rivals Rankings came out in 2002.  Rivals can be seen as the breeding ground for the Big Four recruiting services as early officers Shannon Terry and Jim Heckman went on to found 247Sports and Scout respectively.

Farrell has been there since the beginning and currently serves as the National Recruiting Director. Former Rivals Radio host Chris Childers gave him the “Godfather” of recruiting moniker when introducing him on his show. 

“In the beginning we were an ad based company that started ranking kids and doing recruiting updates," Farrell recalled. "Essentially we were doing what the magazines were doing quarterly on the Internet. We were giving people quicker access to what kids were thinking and where they were committing. Then we started ranking kids off video.”

247Sports

247Sports is the new techy kid on the block. Rivals.com co-founder, Shannon Terry launched the service merely four years ago in 2010. The site has differentiated itself from the competitors with a couple of key components.

First, the 247Sports Composite is the only list to factor in rankings from other sites in addition to 247's own Top247. The Composite offers an unbiased look at where a prospect stands throughout the entire industry. Second, their Crystal Ball prediction engine also allows for fans and media to guess where prospects will end up. It’s considered the fantasy football of the recruiting space.

“There was a lot of excitement when we launched 247Sports in August 2010, Terry said. “Our industry had been stagnant for several years with very few editorial and product enhancements --while at the same time the digital sports media landscape was moving at warp speeds. We are just now starting to focus on what 247Sports is all about -- Your Team all the Time.”

Scout

Scout.com was founded in 2001 by the aforementioned Jim Heckman and was sold to Fox Sports in 2005. Recently, the North America Media Group led by Heckman purchased the rights back from Fox and led an impressive site redesign.

Scout has one of the most unique origin stories of any of the big four.

“Scout started as The Insiders,” explained veteran west coast recruiting analyst Greg Biggins. “You made money by 900 numbers. If you wanted to know about Notre Dame you would call a number and someone will tell you about this prospect.”

ESPN RecruitingNation

ESPN is the only one of the four sites to have a dedicated TV component to cover recruiting which gives their staff a credibility advantage when discussing recruiting on ESPNU, College GameDay, College Football Live, and SportsCenter. The network has come to own National Signing Day with it’s 12-hour show complete with live commitments, analysis, college staff reaction from the “War Room”, and a running ticker to track all the news. 

Another defining factor for ESPN is that they are not solely dependent on a subscription revenue model. 

When it comes to evaluators, ERN truly values coaching and scouting experience at the college or professional levels.  They also have a smallish staff ranking 2,500 players, so resources are limited.  But, what ESPN may lack in breadth they make up for in depth as their analysts pride themselves on viewing most of the top prospects in person.

The World Wide Leader in Sports also televises high school games, The Opening, and the Under Armour All-America Game.

“ESPN has made a massive commitment to integrating into all of their college football platforms.” said ESPN’s Director of National Recruiting, Tom Luginbill “We have a tremendous advantage when it comes to National Signing Day because our company treats it like the NFL Draft. We also are the only site to offer full player evaluation on who the player actually is and I care more about that than where a player is ranked.”

Showcase Events

As each site has grown over the last few years, the competition to stand out has evolved exponentially. In 2011, ESPNHS (later dissolved and renamed Student Sports) created Nike Football’s “The Opening”. The Opening takes place at Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon and has since been combined with the Elite 11 Quarterback “Campetition” to come to be considered the nation’s top skills competition.  

“The Opening is the best [camp] from an evaluation standpoint because you at least have players that are equal caliber competing in things that you would actually see on the field at a football practice,” said Luginbill

Student Sports is in charge of selecting the 150-plus participants and all other player personnel matters. The team of experts selects players from in-person evaluations at Nike Football Training Camps, along with film break down and evaluation of student-athlete character. They have “Big Board” of all the prospects and devise teams in their “War Room”. Despite the fact that Student Sports has an experienced group of personnel of talent, they are not directly involved in rankings for any of the “Big Four”.

Rivals responded to The Opening in 2012 when they created their own showcase event called the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge presented by Under Armour.

At theses premiere events, a player’s stock can rise or fall depending on his performance. These camps serve as a unique platform for top prospects to compete against each other and see how they stack up. Your average four-star prospect may not face top tier talent in their region until they arrive at an elite camp or The Opening. If he doesn’t perform at a high level, he could plummet in the next round of rankings.

Who Cares About The Rankings?

The rankings are mainly for the fans. According to a FootballScoop.com story, only 29% of college coaches trust Rivals.com, they are the first to tell you they don’t pay attention to rankings or stars.  Fans, on the other hand, may know more about their team’s recruiting class than the Athletic Director. 

“The system is flawed. said Former Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) University School defensive coordinator, Chad Wilson. “You have reporter types without any intimate knowledge of the game trying to determine how much a kid is worth as a player. College coaches by and large don’t respect these opinions, but some for various reasons feel the pressure to govern themselves according to these opinions. Doing so usually ends up being a mistake. With that said, rankings aren’t going away anytime soon.”

Like it or not college coaches have to care about recruiting for two reasons: The fans care and it is a metric their bosses used to evaluate their job performance.

“Now the coaches have bought into recruiting more because the fan base talks about each recruit more, so it’s almost like they are accountable,” Biggins explains. “Where as before you could say oh well who cares how we recruit. At times you have fans that care more about recruiting than how their team does on the field.”

As for the players, some care and some don’t. 

“Stars and rankings don’t mean anything,’ said Florida State commit, Calvin Brewton. I’m a 4-star on Rivals and a 3-star on other sites. Rankings are determined by size, opinion, and what schools offer you. They can measure your height and weight, but they can’t measure your heart.” 

An Inexact Science

There isn’t a guideline or a specific set of criteria for analysts at any of the Big Four to rank and break down athletes consumed by the masses. Again each list is flawed to an extent and that’s all right. The debate gives fans something to talk about and college coaches something to gripe about.

College coaches will tell reporters they don’t look at recruiting sites and that star rankings are for the fans.

However, when a kid commits to their respective school and is considered under ranked or overrated fans are first to let you know via message boards and social media and college coaches will blow up your phone with complaints.

On National Signing Day in 2013, a head coach at a BCS program called to let me know we had one of his signees severely underrated and asked if I could change his ranking after the fact.

I replied, “I’m sorry, I’ve had the chance to see him in game action two or three times in the last couple of seasons and we feel we have ranked accordingly based on his talent.” His response, “I’ve been coaching college for over 30 years and I know South Florida talent. He is better than all the running backs rated in front of him in the state.”

How do you reply? Here is a coach at a major BCS program telling you he knows more about football than you ever will. And you know he is probably right. Yet, he is biased towards his recruit and it is my job to determine the player’s strengths and weaknesses. I saw some holes in his game, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a quality prospect. You do your best job with the information you have. It’s similar to the NFL Draft and every year the draft experts start the telecast with, “its not an exact science.” The boom or bust factor is evident when ranking high school players as well.

"Do the coaches believe we know more than they do? Farrell asks. "No. They never will. But when David Shaw at Stanford says he doesn’t look at rankings. You absolutely know 100-percent that if he isn’t looking then he should be. Not for the rankings, but you have to know who is out there, who’s hot, and what they are saying.”

Kynon Codrington is a national recruiting analyst formerly of Rivals.com.  Unless otherwise noted all quotes were obtained firsthand. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas Football: Incoming Freshmen Most Likely to Start

David Ash's progress toward a clean bill of health decrease the chances that we will see Jerrod Heard start a game in 2014, but the 4-star recruit is far from the only incoming Longhorn that could run with the first team.

"[Ash]'s not all the way back, but he's out there competing," a source told 247Sports.com's Jeff Howe. "He's throwing a little bit and looking good. He looks like he's going to be fine."

The health of Texas' fourth-year quarterback improves the outlook for the Longhorns and fans who are willing to wait for a little while on Heard. That said, it's too early to completely rule out seeing the future start as a freshman.

And for fans who are eager to get a look at Heard's 2014 classmates, there are three others with a chance to start in their first season on campus, listed in order most likely to least. 

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Nebraska Football: Incoming Freshmen Most Likely to Start This Season

Nebraska football fans will be studying the depth chart, looking to see who will be making an impact. While the established stars look pretty clear, success in college football depends on a constant influx of talent. So a good measure of a program’s health is seeing what incoming freshmen will be able to compete for starting positions.

Now, I will admit to cheating a little on this particular assignment. I’m not limiting my discussion to true incoming freshman, but broadening the base to include players who will be new to Nebraska’s roster in 2014. Yeah, it’s not quite the barometer of Nebraska’s recruiting acumen. But if the idea is to discuss how new faces for Nebraska’s roster will help shape the team next year, this criteria should work just fine.

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SEC Football: 2014 Stat Predictions for Every New Starting QB

Whether SEC football can retain the mantle of the nation’s strongest conference will largely hinge upon the success of the nine new full-time starting quarterbacks.

Normally staunch SEC defenses watched helplessly over the past few years while high-profile quarterbacks such as Johnny Manziel, AJ McCarron and Aaron Murray picked them apart.

This year those defensive coordinators might exact a measure of revenge while programs break in new starters at the game’s most important position.

At least eight, and possibly nine, SEC programs will feature new starting quarterbacks in 2014.

Some—like Missouri’s Maty Mauk and South Carolina’s Dylan Thompson—have seen substantial game experience already but step into the primary starter role for the first time.

Other quarterback battles—like those at Texas A&M, Alabama and LSU, to name three—will continue when camps resume in August.

Today we attempt to predict the stats for the SEC’s new starting quarterbacks, which also means forecasting a starter in some cases.

One program that will be missing from this post will be Tennessee, which we are currently forecasting to return Justin Worley as the primary starter.

Since none of these quarterbacks have seen a full season of game action for one of these programs, it should go without saying that these projections are set for entertainment purposes only.

Here go our 2014 stat predictions for every new starting quarterback in the SEC.

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Power Ranking the Top 25 Elite 11 Alums of All Time

With the Elite 11 Finals starting alongside The Opening on July 5, it's time to be nostalgic. Without question, the Elite 11 camp is the most prestigious event and honor for a high school quarterback.

Some of the best passers of this generation are alums of the camp, and many of your favorite NFL teams and college programs have had an Elite 11 alum throw a touchdown pass for them. 

While arriving at just 25 for this list was a bit tough, it was done. A few field generals on this list are former No. 1 overall NFL draft picks, while a few others have a Heisman Trophy in their collections.

Plus, there are several interesting names on this list.

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Reassessing Notre Dame's Recruiting Situation After Commitment Frenzy

As the calendar turns to July, the structure of Notre Dame’s 2015 recruiting class is beginning to take shape.

Wednesday provided Notre Dame with both good news and bad news as the flurry of verbal commitments during the NCAA-mandated “dead period” in the recruiting calendar continued.

4-star New Lenox, Illinois, wide receiver Miles Boykin gave the Irish their third commitment in as many days and 17th overall when he chose Notre Dame over Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State and Missouri.

The addition of Boykin comes on the heels of commitments from Warrington, Pennsylvania, running back Josh Adams on Monday and District Heights, Maryland, cornerback Ashton White on Tuesday.

The day wasn’t all positive for Notre Dame, as two consensus Top 100 targets from pipeline schools committed to Ohio State. Minnesota defensive end Jashon Cornell chose not to join fellow Cretin-Derham Hall (St. Paul, Minnesota) products Michael Floyd and James Onwualu and attend Notre Dame. Cincinnati linebacker Justin Hilliard’s high school, St. Xavier, is among the most represented high schools at Notre Dame. Like Cornell, however, Hilliard will also attend Ohio State.

Notre Dame has 10 seniors entering their final season this fall, while 14 others are seniors academically but are eligible for a fifth year in 2015. Among the junior class, only defensive tackle Sheldon Day and cornerback KeiVarae Russell are realistic possibilities to enter the NFL draft after this season. The Irish are likely to enter the fall with 82 or 83 scholarship players.

Simple math and projections of fifth-year returnees show that the Irish can probably sign 20-23 players in this class and stay at or under the 85-scholarship limit. With 17 commits already received, Notre Dame will be very selective going forward with who will fill out the remaining spots in the class, currently ranked No. 7 in 247Sports’ composite rankings.

After Anaheim, California, quarterback Travis Waller committed to Oregon on Tuesday, the likelihood of the Irish passing on a quarterback in this class increased. While some interest remains in Texas Tech commit Jarrett Stidham, the Irish may wait until 2016 to sign another quarterback with Everett Golson, Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer all eligible to return in 2015.

Tight end also is not a need after signing four in two years, but the Irish would like to land two more offensive skill-position players after not signing a running back and taking just two wide receivers in 2014. Adams and wide receivers Boykin, C.J. Sanders and Jalen Guyton are presently the only skill-position commits.

Offensive line is likely complete with Tristen Hoge, Trevor Ruhland and Jerry Tillery. A fourth defensive lineman, preferably an end, is sufficient given the five signed in the 2014 class, and the Irish probably need just one more linebacker to join Josh Barajas in the 2015 contingent.

White became the third cornerback in the class, joining 4-star Shaun Crawford and 3-star Nick Coleman. Two safeties, Nicco Fertitta and Prentice McKinney, round out a solid secondary group.

With anywhere from three to six spots still available, Notre Dame will be looking for two skill-position players, one defensive lineman and one linebacker. After that, any other spots will likely be reserved for premium targets without any stipulations on position.

Missing on Cornell and Hilliard is not without significance, but going head-to-head in recruiting battles with Urban Meyer are more often than not going to be losing propositions, even for prospects with built-in connections to Notre Dame.

As always, recruiting is fluid. Will all 17 current commits sign with the Irish on Feb. 4’s national signing day? History would suggest no. But working with the current state of affairs, Notre Dame is in a strong position entering the home stretch in compiling its 2015 signing class.

Filling remaining needs, avoiding any last-minute flips (that never happens to Notre Dame, right?) and landing one or two blue chips are the goals for Brian Kelly and his staff over the next seven months. Now it’s time to buckle up and enjoy the wild and mostly bumpy ride that is the final stage of the college football recruiting cycle.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Miles Boykin to Notre Dame: Fighting Irish Land 4-Star WR Prospect

Notre Dame added one of the best wide receivers in the class of 2015 after securing the commitment of Miles Boykin on Wednesday.  

Boykin tweeted the news himself:

Many college football fans had been waiting with bated breath to hear Boykin's decision. Just a few days ago, he tweeted out that he would be revealing his decision on Wednesday night:

Then on Tuesday, he teased fans on social media by revealing that he was heading out to buy a hat for his commitment ceremony:

Although Boykin had narrowed his choices to 10 schools, Bleacher Report's Tyler Donahue believed that Notre Dame was the firm favorite:

247Sports lists Boykin as a wide receiver/tight end, but he's almost certainly going to be a wideout right away at the college level. The website ranks him 23rd in its composite rankings at the position and has him as the second-best prospect coming out of Illinois.

At 6'4" and 220 pounds, he has the body of a tight end but the speed and agility a team looks for in a possession receiver in the passing game.

Boykin is fast, running the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds per his 247Sports profile page. He may not be the kind of receiver who is going to beat a lot of secondaries over the top once he continues to fill out his frame, but he'll break his share of big plays. Most of his damage will come in the middle of the field, though.

What he lacks in explosiveness, he more than makes up for with strength and power: Boykin can outmuscle opposing defensive backs. That will come in handy when corners try to press him at the line of scrimmage. Boykin still needs to work on his technique, but at the very least, he has the physical tools to avoid getting jammed.

With his height, he doesn't need to be a high leaper in order to outjump defenders, either. Early on, he'll at least have value inside the red zone.

Down the line, Boykin could transition to tight end and be an Eric Ebron-like hybrid. In order to do that, though, he'll have to bulk up quite a bit, which would rob him of some of his speed. Still, he'd be more than fast enough to create mismatches inside against linebackers and safeties.

Perhaps a move to tight end might be the best thing for both parties since versatile, athletic players at the position are harder to come by than possession-based wide receivers.

Whether it's at wideout or tight end, Boykin should grow into a reliable pass-catcher. He's not going to be one of the most exciting playmakers, but his consistency will make him a valuable piece on offense.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Football: Over, Under Stat Projections for Devin Funchess in 2014

As a freshman, Devin Funchess showed glimpses of greatness. As a sophomore, he solidified himself as one of the Big Ten’s premier pass-catching threats. Today, Funchess, who is now known as one of the country’s best, could be months away from being a first-rounder in the 2015 NFL draft.

After being asked about the hype surrounding Funchess’ potential pro status and if it surprised him, Wolverines coach Brady Hoke tilted his head, paused for a brief moment, smiled and said: “No. He’s physically gifted, you know. But he has to keep maturing as a player…”

According to WalterFootball.com, the former Farmington Hills Harrison phenom is the No. 1-ranked draft-eligible tight end. However, as of last year, he’s now considered a wide receiver by collegiate standards.

Statistically, Funchess’ numbers have been on the rapid ascent. Of course, switching to wideout helped matters, but his experience is beginning to pay dividends.

In 2013, Funchess’ 49 catches were second to Jeremy Gallon’s 89. Now that Gallon’s gone, the offense, which returns just three receivers with 15 or more catches, will need to see next-level Funchess; Sunday Funchess—The real Devin Funchess. Judging by his progression, expecting anything short of a national-level, SI-cover-bound type of star would be aiming far too low.

This slideshow will examine key statistics such as receptions, total yards and, among others, touchdowns, before setting the over/under on what will probably be Funchess’ final year in Ann Arbor.

 

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The Opening 2014: Ranking the Top 25 Recruits in Attendance

If you enjoy elite athletes going toe-to-toe on the football field, you're going to love "The Opening." Nike's annual showcase in Beaverton, Oregon, takes center stage during the second week of July, offering competitors a chance to test their skills against fellow high school standouts.

The 2015 class will be well-represented in Beaverton, as more than 150 players received invitations to attend. Most of these prospects rank among the most elite recruits in this cycle, so the spotlight will shine brightly with bragging rights on the line.

We examined the event roster, ranking participants based on past performances and collegiate potential. Here's a look at the top 25 players, who can count on plenty of competition from those left off the list.

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Texas Football: Why Quandre Diggs Will Be the Longhorns' X-Factor in 2014

The spotlight on the Texas Longhorns is brighter than it has been it many years. Head coach Charlie Strong has a lot of players on his roster who have the opportunity to be important contributors toward the Longhorns' success in his first season.

It's obvious that a lot of attention will be on senior defensive end Cedric Reed, who ESPN's Mel Kiper projects as the No. 1 defensive end in the 2015 NFL draft. But one player who will be an X-factor for Texas is cornerback Quandre Diggs.

Diggs earned a starting role as a true freshman in 2011, and his growth has been evident since his first season. 

He is a bit on the small side, measuring in at 5'10", but he plays like a much bigger guy and earned the nickname "Quandre the Giant" because of his giant playmaking abilities.

Seeing the field in all 39 games during his three seasons at Texas, Diggs set the bar high during his freshman season when he was awarded the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year award and a variety of other All-American honors.

Opponents tried not to throw it in his direction as a sophomore, but he still managed to rack up a combined eight interceptions during his first two seasons.

In 2013, Diggs was moved to the nickel position, where he showed he could cause disruption in both the run and pass games. Although he did not gain an interception last season, Diggs managed to pick up 2.5 sacks and 10 pass breakups.

Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford has commended Diggs for his toughness and said the defense needs more players with his attitude.

"Diggs has been a four-year player here," Bedford said. "He has that type of swagger, as a player would say. We need more guys with Diggs' attitude."

Whether he is playing at corner or nickelback, Diggs will always be a vocal leader for the defense, which is a trait he has carried since his freshman season. 

"Being a senior, it is my time to step up and be the leader for this team," Diggs said during spring practice. "Coach Strong has given us the reign to be senior leaders, and if we have something we need to say, we can say it."

It is typically the goal of defenses to force opponents to be one-dimensional. Strong and Bedford's defenses show a lot of aggressive traits and heavy rushes, which is part of the reason why Louisville was ranked as the No. 1 rush defense in the nation in 2013.

If the defensive line lives up to its hype and puts pressure on the quarterback to get rid of the ball quickly, the backfield will have the opportunity to get turnovers. And that's where Quandre the Giant will have to step up and be the X-factor for the defense.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Football Recruiting: How Much Does the Loss of Petite Hurt the Trojans?

On a day when the recruiting bag offered mixed results, USC found out that one of their primary tight end targets will be taking his talents to North Carolina to play for David Cutcliffe and his Duke Blue Devils.

Tyler Petite, a 6'5", 225-pound smooth-running prospect, was thought to be a Trojan lean but surprised many with his decision to go east to ply his trade.

With tight end being a need for this class, it begs the question of how badly the loss of Petite hurts in this recruiting cycle.

Well, it depends.

USC still has offers out to others, such as Scout.com 4-star prospects Will Gragg and Devonaire Clarington, though both would have to be considered long shots to sign with the Trojans.

There is one other possibility, though, and it comes in the form of Tyrone Wheatley Jr., a Rivals.com 4-star tight end who made a trip out to USC not too long ago.

Wheatley is a 6'6", 260-pound beast whose upside is almost off the charts. Blessed with a college ready body, nice hands and an NFL pedigree, Wheatley would look great in the Cardinal and Gold of USC.

As of this writing, Michigan probably has a lead in his recruiting, but the Trojans are also in the mix, and, to be certain, if I had a choice between Petite and Wheatley, I would take young Tyrone all day long.

Don't get me wrong, Petite is a nice player, but, after looking at his videos, the Trojans can do better, especially if they can land a guy like Wheatley.

Of course, there are no guarantees that Wheatley will sign with USC, and this is not a great year for prep tight ends, so the loss of Petite does hurt to some extent.

This is especially true given the depth of the unit in 2015, when only Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick and incoming freshman Bryce Dixon will remain after Randall Telfer graduates after this year.

Still, the fact that Petite did not give USC a verbal commitment may work in their favor.

Recruits at the position will undoubtedly note that the Trojans are thin in the unit and that early playing time is likely to come their way.

And, with that in mind, the prospects of going west to play for USC should become even more attractive for those considering the Trojans.

So in the final analysis, the loss of Tyler Petite may not be a bad thing after all.

We'll know for sure after national signing day, right?

 

Follow me on Twitter: @RickMcMahan

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Football Recruiting: How Much Does the Loss of Petite Hurt the Trojans?

On a day when the recruiting bag offered mixed results, USC found out that one of their primary tight end targets will be taking his talents to North Carolina to play for David Cutcliffe and his Duke Blue Devils...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

10 College Football Players Who Can Best Help Their NFL Draft Status in 2014

The 2015 NFL draft is nearly a year away. Naturally, now's the time to start talking about who could help their draft stock next spring.

America's out of the World Cup. What else are we to do? These are indeed trying times. 

As you'll see, the players on this list are mostly highly regarded, but for one reason or another, have something that could hold them back in next year's draft. Maybe it was an off-field issue or a poor/injury-filled season in 2013. Or, perhaps a player just hasn't lived up to his potential.

The idea is that a big 2014 could alleviate any concerns and help that player's draft stock.

So which players could use a big season the most to help their draft stock in 2015? The answers are in the following slides. 

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