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College Football's Most Important Offers of the Week

One of the crown jewels of UCLA’s 2017 class is 4-star defensive end pledge Hunter Echols.

The 6’3 ½”, 231-pound pass-rusher from Cathedral High School in Los Angeles pledged to the Bruins in February. 

However, a number of programs remain in hot pursuit of the nation’s No. 6 weak-side defensive end and the nation’s No. 90 player overall in the 2017 class.

Last week, fellow Pac-12 power Oregon jumped into the mix by offering Echols:

Despite his pledge, Echols has taken visits to schools such as Arizona and USC. He’s also planning to visit Notre Dame later this month. 

The Ducks are another program looking to earn a visit from one of the top pass-rushers in the current cycle. 

Even though two of the four current Oregon commitments are from defensive linemen, Ducks head coach Mark Helfrich would love to add another player who happens to be one of the elite prospects on the West Coast.

With Echols not completely shutting the door on his recruitment, there appears to be a window of opportunity for the Ducks to get involved with him moving forward.

 

Florida Targets In-State WR

Florida already has one of the top in-state receivers in the 2017 cycle committed in 4-star Daquon Green.

Now, Gators head coach Jim McElwain and his staff have their sights set on another talented Sunshine State playmaker in 3-star athlete Jordan Pouncey—who received an offer from Florida last week:

The 6’2”, 185-pounder has more than 40 offers to his credit—with fellow SEC power Auburn offering him earlier this month.

However, with the Gators now in the running, the trajectory of Pouncey’s recruitment could change moving forward.

 

Florida State and Texas Offer Big-Time 2018 CB

Florida State and Texas battled over a few prospects in the 2016 cycle, and they are among the schools in the running for coveted 2017 standouts such as 5-star defensive tackle Marvin Wilson.

It appears that the Seminoles and the Longhorns will continue to battle for touted prospects in the future, as both titans offered 2018 corner Anthony Cook last week. 

The 6’0”, 168-pounder has more than 20 offers heading into the summer before his junior season at Lamar High School in Houston, Texas.

Alabama, Baylor, Clemson and LSU are among the other programs in the running for Cook in the early stages of his recruitment.

 

Nebraska After 2018 California RB

Nebraska head coach Mike Riley and his staff have targeted the state of California hard since their arrival in Lincoln.

Last week, the Cornhuskers continued their gold rush into the Golden State by offered running back T.J. Pledger:

Arizona, Oklahoma, Tennessee and UCLA are among the schools who have offered the 5’9”, 188-pounder in the last few months.

As a sophomore, Pledger rushed for 1,300 yards and accounted for 26 touchdowns on the ground for Chaminade High School in West Hills, California.

 

Best of the Rest

2017

 

2018

 

2019

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Projecting 8 College Football Players Who Will Soar Up NFL Draft Boards

Carson Wentz epitomized the term "late-rising prospect." The lead-up to the 2017 NFL draft will feature similar ascents—albeit not as meteoric.

Some college football players are stepping into larger roles this season or were overshadowed in the past, while a few others are established names who aren't yet consensus first-round talents. If the 2016 campaign goes as expected, though, that will change.

The list only includes draft-eligible prospects, although there is no guarantee the underclassmen highlighted will choose to forgo their final seasons of eligibility. But the following eight players could become darlings of the 2017 draft cycle.

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Who Are the Top Remaining Uncommitted 2017 QB Recruits?

The domino effect. It happens every year in recruiting.

When one big-name player commits, it means one less target for interested schools. This becomes a huge topic of discussion for teams looking for elite quarterbacks, particularly with the position being so vital and so limited.

Tate Martell's commitment to Ohio State on Sunday was huge for the Buckeyes—and a punch in the face for other programs still looking to land a stud quarterback. Prior to Sunday, Martell, the nation's top-ranked dual-threat quarterback, was one of only three 4-star (or better) signal-callers nationally still uncommitted.

That list is now at two—dual-threat quarterback Kellen Mond and pro-style quarterback Jack Sears.

Let's play the numbers game. Per the 247Sports composite rankings, there are 15 pro-style and 10 dual-threat quarterbacks in the 2017 class rated at least with four stars. The 4-stars of the 2016 class, the incoming college freshmen, featured 13 pro-style and eight dual-threat quarterbacks.

That's 25 quarterbacks combined for the 2017 class, 21 combined for the 2016 class. There are currently 128 FBS teams fighting for the handful of elite quarterbacks. And let's not forget some of these programs have two quarterbacks committed.

When news like Martell committing becomes legit, it has an immense trickle-down effect. College coaches are forced to skip to the next-available name on their quarterback charts—but that can be difficult when that chart only has a few names.

At a position that's so heralded in college football recruiting, names who are considered next-level material can be few and far between. That's how it's always been with the position some feel is the most important in recruiting.

Of the 64 teams that represent the Power Five (SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, ACC and Pac-12), only 22 are currently without a quarterback commit. Among those 22 are USC, UCLA, Oregon, Auburn, Baylor, Cal and Washington.

 

With so many household-name quarterbacks already committed, look for the battles for Mond and Sears to intensify with these programs without a quarterback pledge. Mond, a recent Baylor decommit, may be the prize get of them all. He has Auburn, Texas A&M and Ohio State high on his list, but with Martell choosing Ohio State—and becoming the second quarterback commit of the 2017 class for the Buckeyes—expect to weigh his options between Auburn and Texas A&M.

Consider this the perfect time for coaches to find those quarterback gems who are rated 3-star or below. Many of the high school 3-stars can play the game at the next level.

Take Jake Haener as exhibit A. Or Chase Garbers as exhibit B. Or Tyler Lytle as exhibit C. Haener and Garbers were participants in the Elite 11 Finals two weekends ago. Lytle has 25 reported offers, the majority of them coming from FBS programs.

There are also those quarterbacks just looking for a breakout opportunity. Nick Sipe is a 3-star with likable physical measurements at 6'4" and 191 pounds. Seth Washington is unrated but has eight reported offers, including UTEP, North Texas and Ivy League schools Cornell and Brown.

And let's not forget those junior college quarterbacks looking to find a home at an FBS program. One quarterback to keep an eye on at the JUCO level is D.J. Gillins, who is at Pearl River Community College in Poplarville, Mississippi.

Gillins signed with Wisconsin in February 2014 as the nation's No. 7 dual-threat quarterback of the 2014 class. Although he was recruited in high school as a quarterback, Wisconsin moved him to wide receiver. He left Wisconsin in an effort to play quarterback once again.

You can believe that there are many quarterbacks out there simply looking to prove themselves. With the way the dominoes are falling with quarterbacks this year, don't be surprised if one of these sleepers gets the opportunity to play in a respected Power Five program.

The domino effect for quarterbacks is alive and well. And for those still in need of a signal-caller, it's game on.

 

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

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Jim Harbaugh's Second Satellite Camp Tour More Style Than Substance Thus Far

Speaking to reporters following a stop at New Jersey's Paramus Catholic High School to close the final week of his highly touted satellite camp tour, Jim Harbaugh insisted that the purpose of his month-long journey across the country—and sometimes, world—isn't necessarily what many have been portraying it to be.

"Everybody keeps saying, 'the obvious thing is this is about recruiting' and I disagree. I've disagreed with that premise from its first inception," Harbaugh said, per Mark Snyder of The Detroit Free Press. "It's not about recruiting. If it really helped recruiting that much, people would have been doing this."

The Michigan head coach's claims would have been easier to take seriously had he not been wearing a Derek Jeter New York Yankees jersey in an attempt to pander to the Tri-state area.

While Harbaugh may remain steadfast in his argument that the Wolverines' recruiting strategy and satellite camp plans are separate, it remains hard to believe that a high-profile head coach would willingly spend his June working more than 40 camps without the added benefit—or intent—of attracting talent to his program.

It's no coincidence that Harbaugh's camps happen to be occurring in traditionally talent-rich areas, or in the case of Paramus Catholic, directly at programs that possess high profile prospects.

And in the event Harbaugh is being less than truthful when he says the primary purpose of his camps aren't rooted in recruiting, it's hard to consider the first two weeks of the sequel to last year's Summer Swarm Tour an outright success.

At least not compared to a year ago. The former San Francisco 49ers head coach's original revolutionary satellite camp tour started with a slew of commitments to Michigan from prospects who coincidentally or not had participated in one of Harbaugh's camps. Within the first 15 days of last June, the Wolverines had received no fewer than six commitments to their 2016 class, four of which came from satellite camp attendees.

"Coach Harbaugh is why I committed, coach Harbaugh, that's it," 4-star all-purpose back Chris Evans told MLive.com's Nick Baumgardner after committing to Michigan following a camp in his hometown of Indianapolis last summer. "I've never seen a head coach like him before."

The same could likely be said for the prospects who have attended the 14 camps Harbaugh has already taken part in this year. Though, thus far, the only commitment the Wolverines have yielded has come from 2018 offensive guard Jalil Irvin, who attended Michigan's June 2 stop in Atlanta.

The Wolverines have received commitments from 2017 4-star defensive ends Luiji Vilain and Corey Malone-Hatcher since the start of June, although neither pledge came as the result of a satellite camp stop.

"We know the 200-250 people that we're recruiting already," Harbaugh insisted, per Snyder. "We can easily recruit them from Ann Arbor."

But despite his public objections, Harbaugh can also use satellite camps to recruit them on the road too, especially with Michigan's first week's-plus worth of camps coming on the fertile recruiting ground of Ohio, Mississippi, Georgia, Atlanta, New Jersey, Florida and Texas.

As for the lack of commitments, that could perhaps be attributed to an adjustment in the Wolverines' strategy after multiple 2016 commitments—including some whose pledges stemmed from satellite camps in early June—ultimately didn't wind up in Michigan's class.

"There were mistakes made and I take full accountability for them," Harbaugh said this past national signing day, after accusations that the Wolverines were forced to trim their class due to size limitations. "But I won't apologize."

But even without actively taking commitments—Michigan has only received three verbal pledges to its 2017 class in the past two months—Harbaugh has managed to use his unprecedented camp tour to his advantage.

Over the course of the past two weeks, no coach in college football has garnered more attention than Harbaugh, who's shown up at each satellite camp stop wearing the jersey of a hometown hero. The result has been a steady stream of tweets and headlines announcing what Harbaugh is wearing as if he were an actress on the red carpet at an award show.

After all, if Jim Harbaugh wearing an Allen Iverson Philadelphia 76ers jersey to a camp in Delaware isn't going to generate headlines in the college football blogosphere in early-June, then nothing will.

It's a play straight out of the Jim Harbaugh playbook: Maximize the attention on yourself and your program in order be a constant in the news and the minds of recruits. It's a strategy that helped the Wolverines land the nation's No. 5 class in 2016, with Michigan's 2017 class currently ranking fourth in the country.

"From a marketing and publicity standpoint, he is an absolute genius," Rivals.com National Director of Recruiting Mike Farrell told Bleacher Report last month.

Harbaugh has insisted this summer hasn't been about recruiting, going as far as to telling Snyder and other reporters, "I'm not going to say it anymore, this is the last time. We're doing this because we really enjoy it. You can believe that or not, I don't really care anymore."

But through his first year-and-a-half as the head coach at his alma mater, Harbaugh's ability to build a brand that benefits his program on the recruiting trail has been apparent.

The jerseys, the excessiveness, the overall extravagance of Harbaugh's latest venture, all of it fits a track record that's helped make Harbaugh one of college football's top recruiters—even if tangible results from this year's satellite camp tour have been few and far between, thus far.

But fear not, Michigan fans. There's still more than two weeks and dozens of camps left for Harbaugh to make the most of this month.

And if his history has shown anything, it's that he'll certainly make some noise while doing so.

 

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. Recruiting class rankings courtesy of 247Sports' composite.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Football Q&A: Which First-Year Head Coach Will Have Most Success in 2016?

Three coaches will don the headsets for the first time with new programs in the SEC in 2016, as former Florida head coach Will Muschamp will take over at South Carolina, former Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart and former Memphis defensive coordinator Barry Odom will take over at Missouri—where he played and worked as an assistant under former head coach Gary Pinkel.

Which one is set up for the most success in Year 1?

That question and more are answered in this week's edition of SEC Q&A.

 

Monday on Bleacher Report, this year's edition of "Optimistic, Pessimistic and Realistic" expectations went up, and the three new head coaches don't exactly have groundbreaking, realistic predictions. I have Georgia at 9-3, Missouri at 3-9 and South Carolina at 5-7.

Based on expectations, I wouldn't define any of those hypothetical seasons as overly "successful." However, the path that I think Smart will take to get to 9-3 will be the most impressive of the three.

Let's be real: 9-3 at Georgia isn't great. In fact, 9-3 regular seasons in back-to-back years got former head coach Mark Richt fired. But Smart can use the grace period associated with being a new head coach, reach 9-3 and set the tone for the future of the program.

The future is true-freshman early-enrollee quarterback Jacob Eason, who I think will start from the moment toe meets leather in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game against North Carolina. In that prediction piece linked above, I have Georgia winning in the Georgia Dome in the opener and springing an upset at home vs. Tennessee.

If Georgia posts a 9-3 record with Eason at the helm with those two signature wins, that'd be a pretty solid inaugural campaign for Smart.

However, Muschamp isn't out of this battle.

I have South Carolina at 5-7 at this point of the offseason. But if Muschamp can find another win in there somewhere and reach a bowl game, I would consider that a more successful season than Georgia's 9-3 relative to expectations, based on the massive talent gap that exists on the rosters of the two border rivals.

 

It depends on how you look at it.

Is LSU 9.5 points better than Wisconsin? I don't think so. 

Sure, some great defensive players like linebacker Kendell Beckwith, cornerback Tre'Davious White and defensive lineman Lewis Neal chose to return to college and play for new defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. Plus, star running back Leonard Fournette is back for his third (and likely final) season in Baton Rouge.

But LSU still runs a painfully conservative offense under head coach Les Miles, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and quarterback Brandon Harris, and it doesn't seem to have the capability to get into and win shootouts consistently. 

Harris is 2-3 as a starter on the road during his two years at LSU, and there undoubtedly will be a home-field advantage for Wisconsin in the home of the Green Bay Packers. LSU will probably win, but as Odds Shark noted in its predicted score of 38.3-35.5, grabbing those points and taking the Badgers is rather tempting. 

But LSU is getting a ton of hype this offseason nationally, including from ESPN.com's Football Power Index, which ranks the Tigers No. 2 in the nation behind Florida State.

The job of oddsmakers is to get an equal amount of money on both sides, so setting a line at 9.5 seems to make sense considering the public thinks very highly of the Tigers.

It is a sucker bet, though.

 

Not very likely (Muschamp's one good year was actually his second year at Florida, when he went 11-2 and made the Sugar Bowl).

Unlike Muschamp, Jim McElwain has made good decisions on both sides of the ball in the coaching offices, which should give him much more staying power. 

Muschamp came to Gainesville in 2011, and his big coaching hire was Charlie WeisCharlie Weis.

Are you kidding me?

Two years of Brent Pease didn't do much to spark the offense either, and by the time he found Kurt Roper in 2014, it was far too late for Muschamp to save his job. 

McElwain is an offensive wizard who has found success wherever he has gone and lured Geoff Collins away from Mississippi State prior to last season to run his defense. Collins made Mississippi State's defense one of the best situational defenses in the country (first in red-zone scoring defense, seventh in red-zone touchdown percentage and 21st in third-down defense in 2014 according to CFBStats.com).

What's more, he lured Torrian Gray from Virginia Tech this offseason to run the defensive backfield after Gray posted the second-best pass defense in the country over a 10-year span, according to Florida's release

Muschamp neglected the side of the ball that he was less familiar with. McElwain has paid closer attention to it than he has his own side.

Because of that, he'll be around Gainesville for a long time.

 

The only reason I can fathom is because he plays for Mississippi State, and Mississippi State always gets overlooked.

If you discount South Carolina's Skai Moore—who's out for the year with a neck injury—Richie Brown is the SEC's leading returning tackler at the linebacker position (109) and third-most prolific overall.

That's more than Tennessee's Jalen Reeves-Maybin (105), Vanderbilt's Zach Cunningham (103), Arkansas' Brooks Ellis (102) and Florida's Jarrad Davis (98). 

A legitimate case can (and should) be made for Brown to be a preseason All-SEC First Team linebacker when we vote at SEC media days in Hoover, Alabama, next month, but I would be floored if he even makes the second team.

That's a shame. 

He was a monster in big road wins for the Bulldogs last year against Auburn and Arkansas, when he notched double-digit tackles in each and totaled 4.5 tackles for loss.

Head coach Dan Mullen replaced his entire on-field defensive coaching staff this offseason, which could have led to tumultuous times in Starkville if there was no leader in place. Luckily for Mullen, Brown is that leader and should help ease the transition. 

 

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The 1 Position That Needs Most Improvement for Every Power 5 CFB Team

There's always room for improvement. Ask any college football coach and he'll be quick to point out at least one area on his team that could be better, either in terms of personnel, scheme or production.

Every college football team has that one position that could stand to get better. Better quarterback play, stronger blocking on the offensive line, more pressure from the defensive line. Whatever the case, it's an area that isn't as good as it could be.

Trying to improve at that position is among each teams' key offseason goals, and being able to get better could mean the difference between a good or great season.

We've pointed out the most notable position area that's in need of improvement for every Power Five conference team, along with top independents BYU and Notre Dame.

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Tyrell Shavers to Alabama: Crimson Tide Land 4-Star WR Prospect

Wide receiver Tyrell Shavers announced Monday he's committing to the Alabama Crimson Tide.

The 4-star recruit broke the news on Twitter:

According to 247Sports' composite rankings, Shavers is the No. 159 player overall in the 2017 recruiting class and the 23rd-best wideout. The 4-star recruit ranks 25th in Texas.   

"I enjoyed myself," Shavers said after taking a visit to Tuscaloosa, per 247Sports' Ryan Bartow. "Alabama is the national champs. My recruitment is over. I'm playing for the best."

According to Bartow, Shavers had 36 receptions, 800 yards and 13 touchdowns in his junior year at Lewisville High School.

He'll join a loaded 2017 recruiting class for head coach Nick Saban. Alabama is second to the Ohio State Buckeyes in 247Sports' team composite rankings, boasting two 5-star recruits and 10 4-star recruits.

In March, Shavers participated in The Opening's Dallas regional and tested off the charts for a player of his size (6'6", 202 lbs). Below are his final numbers, courtesy of StudentSportsEvents.com:

The Dallas Morning News' Michael Florek noted Shavers turned heads during the event:

Shavers already had 12 Division I offers coming into the day, but there were some gasps when it was announced that at 6-4, 200-pounds he ran a 4.38 40-yard dash, tied for the second fastest at the regional. (It was wind-aided.) Shavers ran a race with the top three finishers in the 40, but lost to Cedar Park cornerback Javelin Guidry, who originally recorded a 4.35. (Again, wind-aided.)

Shavers didn't disappoint in the individual drills either. At one point he made a leaping catch over a cornerback's head that drew awe from the corners on the sidelines watching.

Shavers' height will make him an immediate target inside the red zone, depending on how quickly Saban wants to get him on the field. Over time, as his route running improves, he should grow into one of the Crimson Tide's best receivers:

Calvin Ridley joined Alabama in 2015 and proceeded to record 89 receptions, 1,045 yards and seven touchdowns. Expecting Shavers to make a similar impression out of the gate would be unrealistic.

By the time Ridley leaves Tuscaloosa—be it after his junior or senior year—Shavers will be poised to become the team's No. 1 aerial target.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Football: Projecting Who Will Win Buckeyes' Open Starting Positions

The Ohio State Buckeyes entered the 2016 offseason needing to replace 16 starters from last year's 12-1 team, and head coach Urban Meyer wanted to use a pivotal spring camp to put together some semblance of a two-deep depth chart ahead of the summer.

Establishing that pecking order didn't go as planned, though, as 11 players expected to contribute this fall were either rehabbing from serious injuries or limited with nagging ones.

"With 11 guys out, that's the thing that kicks you in the teeth," Meyer said, via Eric Seger of Eleven Warriors. "If everybody's ready to go, I think you could [establish a depth chart]. But we're not."

The Buckeyes finished up spring practice with far more questions than answers, and with so many holes to fill, the coaching staff will need players to emerge and prove they're ready for the spotlight this fall.

What will Ohio State's starting lineup look like when it kicks the season off against Bowling Green on September 3?

With quarterback J.T. Barrett, center Pat Elflein and right guard Evan Lisle returning, Ohio State's offense has its centerpiece and foundation to build around in 2016.

That process starts with rebuilding the line—which has been the heart and soul of the team since Meyer took over in 2012. Jamarco Jones secured the left tackle spot this spring, and Isaiah Prince surged to the front of the pack at right tackle.

The big surprise came at left guard, when true freshman and early enrollee Michael Jordan surpassed Demetrius Knox for first-team reps. Jordan is certainly talented—he was a 4-star prospect and the No. 127 prospect nationally—but it usually takes a first-year player (especially on the offensive line) awhile to acclimate to the speed and power at the collegiate level.

That wasn't the case for Jordan, and because of that, he'll be the final piece in Ohio State's line this season.

Ohio State is also in the midst of reloading on pass-catchers after losing all three starting wide receivers (Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall and Braxton Miller) and tight end Nick Vannett to the NFL.

And while young guns such as redshirt freshman Torrance Gibson and true freshmen Austin Mack and Binjimen Victor will see the field regularly this year, Meyer will start the year with the experienced trio of Noah Brown, Corey Smith and Curtis Samuel on the perimeter, with Marcus Baugh at tight end.

That leaves the key vacancy at running back, which Ezekiel Elliott's early departure to the NFL draft created. The Buckeyes have hung their hat on a strong, power-spread run game, and redshirt freshman Mike Weber looks like the perfect fit to fill that role. He's quick and hard to tackle, and he complements that by finishing runs with his bruising strength.

That much was on display in the spring game, when he ran for 38 yards and two touchdowns on just eight carries. Backup Bri'onte Dunn will be heavily involved in the rotation, but Weber will be the first back on the field.

Ohio State's rebuild defensively starts up front as Meyer tries to identify successors for superstar defensive end Joey Bosa and defensive tackles Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt.

Bosa's void is easy enough to fill with the return of Sam Hubbard, who served as his primary backup and ranked second on the team with 6.5 sacks. But the Buckeyes will get a familiar boost on the strong side when Nick Bosa, Joey's younger brother, reports to campus and wins the backup spot in fall camp.

Tracy Sprinkle and Michael Hill will clog the middle at defensive tackle, and they'll have a ton of young depth behind them with the likes of Jashon Cornell and Dre'Mont Jones in the rotation.

Returning starter and middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan will anchor the linebacker corps—and by extension the entire defense. Meyer and the coaching staff have already dubbed him a team captain. He was productive in his first year as a starter last year, leading the team with 119 tackles, but according to co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell, it's his leadership that sets him apart.

“[McMillan] was ready when he walked in the door, to be honest with you,” Fickell said, according to Tim Shoemaker of Eleven Warriors.

The Buckeyes will need that leadership while they break in Chris Worley and Dante Booker as the new outside linebackers.

In the secondary, the Buckeyes need two new safeties and an outside corner to replace Vonn Bell, Tyvis Powell and Eli Apple, who all burned remaining eligibility to enter the NFL draft. 

Malik Hooker looks like Ohio State's next great safety, and he put on a show in the spring game when he intercepted a Barrett pass attempt and returned it 82 yards for a touchdown. But rounding out the secondary will be a pair of high school teammates who were staples in Ohio State's 2014 recruiting class—cornerback Marshon Lattimore and Erick Smith.

Both have played sparingly in backup roles throughout their careers, and they're also coming off injuries that limited them in spring practice. But the pair should be ready to go by fall camp and complete Ohio State's secondary.

 

All recruiting information via 247Sports.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Position-by-Position Preview of Auburn's 2016 Roster

AUBURN, Ala. — It's approaching full-blown preview time in the college football offseason calendar. The traditional print preview magazines are starting to hit the newsstands, and more online outlets are pushing out 2016 predictions as the long summer months continue.

Now that spring practices are in the rearview mirror and summer enrollees are starting to arrive on campus, Auburn nearly has its roster for a crucial 2016 season finalized.

The Tigers are looking to bounce back from a disappointing 7-6 campaign in a big way with a good mix of returning starters and exciting new talent. Another quarterback race is heating up the Plains, and with the amount of playmakers back for 2016, Auburn's defense could be one of the best since the days of head coach Tommy Tuberville's stifling units.

The regular-season schedule will be brutal and bookended by games against the two teams that played for last season's national championship—Clemson and Alabama, respectively. But the Tigers have shown themselves to be capable of quite a few surprises under head coach Gus Malzahn, and his new-look staff will be looking to turn around the momentum in Jordan-Hare Stadium after falling short of high expectations. 

Let's take a position-by-position look at this Tigers roster, focusing on the starters, the key reserves and the next generation of talent Auburn fans everywhere will be talking about this fall. 

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Michigan Football: Projecting Who Will Win Wolverines' Open Starting Positions

Michigan returns a veteran roster in 2016, but the Wolverines need to fill eight total starting positions.

While the offense must replace the quarterback and center—perhaps the two most important spots—the defense brings back a majority of its production on the line and in the secondary.

Despite a fair bit of turnover, though, Michigan has clear-cut starters at each vacancy except one. The problem? That position carries the greatest responsibilities on the team.

For Jim Harbaugh's team to reach its championship potential, the new—yet often recognizable—starters must excel.

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College Football's 10 Most Valuable Backups for 2016

College football teams always need meaningful contributions from non-starters, but coaches try to stack the rosters with game-ready backup plans.

Several of the nation's top reserves in 2016 will occupy a weekly role. Others, though, are top-notch insurance policies for an unquestioned—or eventual—starter.

Quarterbacks are the featured players on the list, which is intended to show the 10 players who could replace a starter yet still help his team achieve its ultimate goal. A few 5-star freshmen and young backups also claim a spot.

Each program represented is considered a preseason contender for a conference championship or the national title.

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B/R Recruiting Notebook: 5-Star ATH Has Top 7, but 3 Standing Out

It's mid-June. Satellite camps are in full swing, and unofficial visits to campus are trending.

Additionally, more and more verbal commitments are being made. Look for that trend to continue as the summer progresses. Plus, June will be loaded with ever-changing recruiting news.

Here are the latest updates from some of the nation's top 2017 targets.

 

3 of top 7 stand out for 5-star ATH Stevens

When Murfreesboro, Tennessee, 5-star athlete Jacoby Stevens announced his top seven schools late May, he was hoping to eventually find something to help separate a leader and to simplify his recruitment.

Stevens, the nation's top-ranked athlete in the 2017 class, said three schools so far have emerged as front-runners in his process—Clemson, Auburn and LSU. Stevens said those three schools "have been the most interested in me" but also added that there's still plenty of time for things to change in his recruiting race.

"With Auburn, I feel like Coach [Gus] Malzahn is turning things around," Stevens said. "They pulled in one of the best DTs in the country [Derrick Brown], and they're getting ready for a big run. Adding Coach [Wesley] McGriff from the Saints was a great move. He'd be a good DBs coach for me if I choose to go to Auburn."

Stevens continued, "LSU is a school that I've always loved. I like the family there, and I like what Coach [Les] Miles and Coach [Corey] Raymond are doing. Their recruiting classes are always amazing. They're always shooting for championship runs and dynasties. There's a special feeling and a special vibe in Baton Rouge."

Stevens said he is planning summer visits to LSU and Alabama. A Clemson trip will also be a part of his summer rotation.

"It's the excitement of the program," Stevens said of Clemson. "Coach [Mike] Reed is really coaching up the DBs. He and coach [Dabo] Swinney are helping to make that program very exciting. I like where they're going with everything."

While Stevens has his current three to watch, he added that Tennessee has been working diligently to keep him in-state. The Volunteers on Sunday landed its top-ranked pledge in safety Maleik Gray, who is also an in-state commitment. Stevens said the Tennessee staff has made him a major priority.

"They've been working the hardest. They always stay in contact," Stevens said of the Volunteers. "Coach [Bob] Shoop, Coach [Willie] Martinez and Coach [Butch] Jones all have been very serious about putting the program back to the top. I know they pulled in Maleik, so that tells me how much they're trying to build the program."

 

4-star DT Hansard in no rush with his top 9

For the time being, Fred Hansard is making the recruiting process something of a priority, but not the most important thing on his plate. The next few weeks for the Princeton, New Jersey, 4-star defensive tackle is all about getting better as a player and validating his status as an elite defensive lineman.

Hansard, ranked No. 10 among defensive tackles nationally in the 2017 class, tweeted his top nine on June 6 and on Sunday said nothing has changed with his recruitment. He said he is using this time to monitor all of the schools and find the pros and cons in each of them in an effort to eventually trim his list.

"With all of the schools, I really feel comfortable, and they've been keeping in touch," Hansard said. "I've been talking to these schools a long time. A lot of coaches are saying I'd fit at their school, but right now I just want to take my time and take more visits."

Hansard said he's taking an unofficial visit to Tennessee this weekend and a visit to Florida next month. He is also trying to make it to Oklahoma and USC before the summer is over.

As for a commitment date, Hansard said nothing is set but that he's hoping to have his college plans finalized before the start of his senior season.

"I want to have it done so I can pay attention to my team and my season," he said.

 

2 weekend commits for Texas A&M...who's next?

It's only 13 days into the month of June, but Texas A&M has had a respectable showing from a recruiting standpoint. The Aggies have scored four commitments this month, including two pledges over the weekend in 4-star athlete Keldrick Carper and 3-star running back Travis Etienne, two Louisiana standouts.

The Aggies now have 12 commitments in the 2017 class, but head coach Kevin Sumlin and his staff are working hard to land a few more studs.

One name to keep an eye on is 4-star quarterback Kellen Mond.

After Mond decommitted from Baylor on June 1, he announced that Auburn, Ohio State and Texas A&M were his top three schools. Ohio State added a second quarterback to its class Sunday when Tate Martell, the nation's top-ranked dual-threat quarterback, gave his verbal pledge to Urban Meyer and joined longtime commit Danny Clark on the recruiting roster.

Mond originally said Auburn was the top choice of the three, but with the IMG Academy standout originally from San Antonio and Texas A&M being much closer to his family than Auburn, proximity is a factor to watch as Mond continues his process.

Mond's 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions point heavily in favor of Auburn, but the majority of his latest predictions are in favor of Texas A&M. The winning school will get the nation's No. 3 dual-threat quarterback. Auburn is without a quarterback commit, while Texas A&M will add Mond to a roster that also includes Elite 11 finalist Connor Blumrick.

 

New school battling 4-star OL Hainsey's top 10

Kellen Mond's success at IMG's quarterback will rely on how successful offensive lineman Robert Hainsey performs for the upcoming season—and there's a reason why Hainsey is the nation's No. 4 guard.

Hainsey has 26 reported offers and released a top 10 back in March. Those 10 schools, however, may have an 11th to keep an eye on.

Hainsey said Auburn has made a major rise in his recruiting. He has a solid relationship with offensive line coach Herb Hand.

"I didn't have them in my top 10 because I hadn't visited," Hainsey said, "but when I visited with my team, I definitely liked it. I've known Coach Hand since I was a freshman and he was recruiting me at Penn State. I've gotten to know him, Coach [Rhett] Lashlee and Coach [Gus] Malzahn for a while."

Hainsey added that he's attracted to Auburn's campus atmosphere and family environment. Auburn is hoping to add Hainsey and Mond to the class, which would mean instant chemistry between the high school teammates.

Hainsey said that along with Auburn, schools like Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State have been recruiting him the hardest. No decision is expected anytime soon, but Hainsey knows what he's looking for.

"I definitely want to go to a school where I know I can make an impact early," he said. "I want to be successful on the field and in the classroom and go somewhere where the coaches prepare you for the next level. I also want to be at a place where I can call home.

"At this point, I'm just taking it step by step and figuring out when I want to make my decision. I'm not sure when I'll decide, but I'm working on that."

 

June performances benefiting 3-star QB Haener

The last couple of weeks have been good to Danville, California, 3-star quarterback Jake Haener. Although he didn't make it past the Elite 11 Finals, he managed to make a huge impression and attract more college interest.

Haener, who claims 11 offers, is hoping the summer is the start of something great from a recruiting perspective. He tweeted a new offer from Colorado State Sunday afternoon.

"Everything's going really well right now," Haener said. "I've gotten a couple of offers since [Elite 11 Finals], and I'm seeing more schools interested in me. Colorado and Washington have been in touch, and I've been talking to USC.

"I kind of just wanted to go [to Elite 11 Finals] and show that I could compete with some of the top guys. The main thing is that it legitimized me as a main player and someone who can spin it with the other top kids. It's helped me to turn some heads."

Haener said he's looking to take a summer visit to Washington if the Huskies offer. Other potential summer trips, he said, include USC and Utah State. Haener added that he wants to be close to a decision—if not verbally committed to a school—by the end of the month.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Football: Optimistic, Pessimistic and Realistic Predictions for Every Team

It's June, and you've probably just picked up that preseason preview magazine or downloaded one for your phone or tablet to peruse at the pool or the beach.

In it, you'll find a prediction for your team.

You might like it, you might hate it or you might agree with it completely. 

Since this is only June and there are two more months of the offseason to go before toe meets leather, this slideshow is here to cover all of those emotions.

How great can your team be? How bad can it get? Our optimistic, pessimistic and realistic predictions for every SEC team based on returning talent, scheme and schedule are in this slideshow.

Begin Slideshow

No. 1 Dual-Threat QB Tate Martell Is Urban Meyer's Signature Recruit at OSU

COLUMBUS, Ohio — While Las Vegas filled with partygoers and tourists as one of the final few weekends of spring melted into summer, one Sin City resident set sail for Columbus, Ohio.

And by the end of the weekend—and perhaps thanks to a little bit of luck—head coach Urban Meyer found himself hitting the jackpot.

Like a blackjack player on a hot streak, Ohio State has found itself riding a wave of momentum in the recruitment of 4-star quarterback Tate Martell throughout this past spring. On Sunday evening, the Buckeyes cashed out, with the Bishop Gorman product committing to Ohio State while in the midst of a weekend visit to his now-future school.

And as a result, Meyer finds himself with a verbal pledge from a prospect unlike any other he's landed during his four-plus years in Columbus.

Because for all of the three-time national champion head coach's recruiting medals—including the building of a top-five class two months into the job in 2012, a national-championship-cornerstone class in 2013 and the signing of numerous 5-star prospects and future NFL talents—Meyer was yet to have signed a top-ranked quarterback since arriving at Ohio State.

Obviously, the Buckeyes have been just fine, thanks to the previous presence of Braxton Miller, accelerated development of J.T. Barrett and even the promising future of Joe Burrow. But in Martell, Meyer finds himself with the No. 1-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the 2017 class, a stature of signal-caller prospect he hasn't landed since securing Tim Tebow at Florida a decade ago.

Although blue-chip prospects have populated Ohio State's roster for the past four years, quarterback recruiting—much like Las Vegas—remains a world unto itself, even for a head coach who once landed Tebow and Cam Newton in consecutive classes in Gainesville.

While the additions of Barrett and perhaps even Burrow could set the Buckeyes up for nearly a decade's worth of success, no quarterback the Buckeyes have signed under Meyer has created a buzz like Martell—something Ohio State tried to capture when it unsuccessfully chased Deshaun Watson throughout the 2014 recruiting cycle.

On the field, there's been no noticeable effect.

Win 50 of your first 54 games, and it becomes hard for anyone to question any aspect of how you've run your program. And for a position unlike any other in football, Meyer seeks a set of criteria less focused on rankings-friendly freak athleticism than he does for quick-twitch defensive ends or rangy wide receivers.

"Every great quarterback—the ones that we've had, and we've had great ones—the No. 1 characteristic is competitive spirit. No. 2 is toughness. No. 3 is ability to lead. No. 4 is intelligence, and then No. 5 is to [be able to] extend the play," Meyer said. "Notice I never said anything about arm strength, delivery."

Martell checks off all those boxes and then some, as evidenced not only by a 30-0 record at Bishop Gorman, but by his showing at last week's Elite 11 camp, which landed him one of 12 coveted spots in next month's finals of The Opening.

In addition to his dual-threat ability—Martell has rushed for a combined 1,037 yards and 14 touchdowns in his past two seasons—the 5'10 ½", 203-pounder goes even above and beyond Meyer's required physical expectations. While arm strength and delivery may not be requirements for a successful quarterback in Meyer's eyes, 247Sports director of scouting Barton Simmons has noted Martell's ability to "make big throws with a quick release all over the field." Simmons wrote in April:

Martell is the field general on arguably the nation's best team. Don't mistake that for Martell's success being a product of those around him, though. Bishop Gorman didn't have any BCS signees in the 2016 class. He overtook a senior starter and Ivy League quarterback signee to take the starting job as a sophomore. Bishop Gorman's offense has thrived ever since.

Of course, even coming from a powerhouse program like Bishop Gorman, there's a big difference between finding success at the high school and college levels. And before the Buckeyes can even benefit from the latter, Martell first needs to ultimately end up in Columbus, after having previously decommitted from Washington and Texas A&M in his recruitment.

But each previous pledge the San Diego native has made has been accompanied by extenuating circumstances, including his premature commitment to the Huskies coming in eighth grade and the current unrest that exists on the Aggies staff leading to his May decommitment. Meanwhile in Columbus, Meyer's on-field track record speaks for itself, and Martell's recent commitment has only furthered Ohio State's stranglehold on the nation's top-ranked 2017 class.

"It's a great program, and everyone understands how successful Urban Meyer has been, especially with his offense," Martell told Bleacher Report's Tyler Donohue at Elite 11. "There's a lot to like about Ohio State."

For the Buckeyes, the feeling is mutual, with Martell being the rare prospect who can add something to an Ohio State recruiting haul that it still hasn't seen under Meyer.

Perhaps it involved some luck for Martell to even be available at this point, with Texas A&M's reaction to his decommitment eliminating the Aggies from contention for his services moving forward. But to land a prize as coveted as Martell, it takes plenty of skill as well, and when it comes to Meyer's on the recruiting trail, no one is better at playing his cards.

This isn't Las Vegas, but the rich are only getting richer in Columbus. And with Martell now in the fold, Meyer's hot streak isn't showing signs of cooling down anytime soon.

 

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. Recruiting class rankings courtesy of 247Sports' composite.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

B/R 5th Down: LSU Bride Trolls Alabama Groom, OSU Player Used as Tackling Dummy

Editor's note: Bleacher Report's 5th Down captures the top social media college football stories of the week. As this long, bitter offseason continues, we'll focus on moments from the schools, coaches and players that kept us entertained as we wait for actual college football to make its highly anticipated return.

 

1. Sweet sabotage for one Alabama-LSU couple

Love knows no boundaries, including college football fandom. This is especially true of LSU fan Alexa DuBois and her new husband, Alabama fan Mike Portillo.

But DuBois couldn't help but pull off a rivalry-themed prank of Portillo on their wedding day.

Portillo's wedding cake was decorated with Alabama's colors and even featured a large Crimson Tide logo in the middle. However, when Portillo cut into the icing, the cake was revealed to be colored with the famous purple and gold of LSU, shown here by WBRC FOX6 News' Rick Karle:

According to Julie Boudwin of NOLA.com, DuBois continued the prank of her new husband by getting the DJ to play the Tigers fight song, which prompted a loud "LSU" chant from those in attendance.

There's no doubt this new couple will be ready for November 5, when the Tide visit the Tigers in Death Valley. DuBois might have won on her wedding day, but Portillo could get all the bragging rights in this divided household with a sixth straight Alabama victory.

 

2. Raekwon McMillan gets trucked as J.T. Barrett does his best Bachelor impression

Ohio State hosted a football clinic for women Sunday, and two of its star players—linebacker Raekwon McMillan and quarterback J.T. Barrett—found themselves in completely different situations at the event.

McMillan got up close and personal with some of the clinic's participants. The Ohio State middle linebacker was a human tackling dummy, and the Buckeyes posted this video of McMillan taking the brunt of one huge hit:

Barrett received the better end of the deal at the clinic, as he was a popular figure to those in attendance. The team's Twitter account took a guess at a possible TV future for the starting quarterback:

(I'm sure Bleacher Report's own Barrett Sallee and a surprisingly large section of College Football Twitter appreciates the Bachelor reference from the Buckeyes.)

Head coach Urban Meyer dished out some punishment of his own at the clinic when two participants showed up wearing blue. The color of rival Michigan just isn't allowed at Ohio State—except for one special occasion—as these two women quickly found out by having to do pushups on stage:

At least their fate was still better than McMillan's.

 

3. Charlie Strong lands at the wrong airport

After a pair of rough seasons to open his tenure as Texas head coach, Charlie Strong is trying to get the Longhorns on the right course.

If Strong's trip to Houston last Friday was any indication, that process is still ongoing.

According to Ryan Autullo of the Austin American-Statesman, Strong showed up late to his scheduled appearance at the Houston Touchdown Club because the plane he was on landed at the wrong airport:

The city of Houston has two major airports, Bush and Hobby, so Strong had to do a little more traveling than he expected. As Alex Chippin of The Score noted, the extra flight was fitting for a coach whose favorite phrase on Twitter is "#LetsRide."

However, Strong's arrival was worth the wait for those in attendance. According to Evan Basha of KPRC-TV, Strong told the Touchdown Club that Texas was working on bringing back the football rivalry with Texas A&M:

The Longhorns and the Aggies haven't met since 2011, the year before Texas A&M left the Big 12 to join the SEC. Rumors of restoring the series have gone on since the departure, but Strong's statement could be a signal of something concrete.

Hopefully by the return of the rivalry, Strong can get his plane pointed in the right direction so he can take on Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin and his famous helicopter.

 

4. Rutgers secret society declares war on Jim Harbaugh

Speaking of Michigan, the Wolverines and their head coach were the subjects of one of the weirdest offseason stories to date.

Last week, Michigan hosted a satellite camp at Paramus Catholic High School in New Jersey, the alma mater of star three-way player Jabrill Peppers. New Jersey school and Big Ten rival Rutgers had some supporters who weren't happy about Harbaugh's trip to the Garden State.

According to Keith Sargeant of NJ.com, a secret society called the "Order of Bulls Blood" pranked Paramus Catholic by putting Rutgers magnets and, strangely enough, a teddy bear on the school's football field. The group also wrote messages on the campus' sidewalks with chalk:

In addition to the pranks, the Order of Bulls Blood sent a letter to Harbaugh—which has a NSFW message in the first letters of each paragraph—that quickly made the rounds on social media:

Harbaugh responded to the message in the most Harbaugh way possible:

Michigan visits Rutgers on October 8. There's no word yet if the teddy bear will make another appearance. 

 

5. Dan Mullen fires Twitter shot at Michigan

Rutgers wasn't the only school that tried to get under Michigan's skin this past week.

Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen fired a much friendlier shot at the Wolverines on Twitter after taking part in a satellite camp in Pearl, Mississippi, that included Harbaugh:

The Bulldogs' Gator Bowl blowout victory on New Year's Day in 2011 capped a 7-6 campaign for the Wolverines under then-head coach Rich Rodriguez. Four days later, Rodriguez was fired.

Unfortunately, Harbaugh didn't have much ammo with which he could fire back, as the Gator Bowl is the only meeting all-time between Michigan and Mississippi State. The winningest program in college football history is winless against the Bulldogs from Starkville.

But if the two coaches happen to square off in the future, don't expect Harbaugh to forget about the latest yet lighthearted volley in the ongoing war between Michigan and the SEC.

 

6. Alabama freshman LB shows off massive new tattoo

Lyndell "Mack" Wilson is proud of where he's from and where he's going to play his college football.

Wilson, a native of Alabama's capital of Montgomery, recently enrolled in Tuscaloosa to play for the Crimson Tide. The 5-star outside linebacker showcased his Alabama pride by tweeting out a quick video of his new forearm tattoo:

The new ink should win over Tide fans everywhere, and there's a good chance Wilson will come up with some sort of celebration to show off the massive "ALABAMA" across his arm whenever he makes big plays down the road.

Wilson made the right call in getting the tattoo after he signed and enrolled at Alabama. Maybe new teammate and fellow linebacker Reuben Foster warned him about doing it too early.

 

7. Oregon WR Devon Allen is still insanely fast

Oregon's football program is home to some of the fastest players in the country, thanks to the influence of the Ducks' legendary track program.

Ducks wide receiver Devon Allen showed why he has a strong claim as the fastest player in college football by winning his second NCAA title in the 110-meter hurdles. CSNNW's Jordan Kent shared a glimpse of Allen's win in front of his home crowd at Hayward Field:

Allen won his first national title in 2014, but a knee injury he suffered in the 2015 Rose Bowl kept him from defending his title last season. After recovering, he's picked up right where he left off on the track.

On the football field, Allen had a quiet 2015 season after recording 684 receiving yards and seven touchdowns as a freshman in 2014.

Perhaps his return to success on the track—he will also compete for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team next month—will signal a return to bigger numbers in an Oregon offense that thrives on world-class speed.

 

8. Reddit user puts college football into the Sorting Hat

College football fans all have their own unique ways of getting through the long offseason. One Reddit user decided to spark some discussion by dividing every FBS team into houses from the Harry Potter book series.

Reddit user bakonydraco, who sports Stanford flair by his name, placed every team in the top subdivision into four categories related to the fictional houses. Here are bakonydraco's explanations for each house:

Gryffindor values bravery, daring, nerve, and chivalry. To measure this, I used winning percentage from 2006-2015 against Top 10 teams, courtesy of BCF Toys

Slytherin house values ambition, cunning and resourcefulness. To measure this, I used /u/Drunken_Wanderer's data from last year on revenue by FBS team.

Ravenclaw values intelligence, knowledge, and wit. To measure this, I counted the CFB Academic All Americans through last year as compiled by /u/jdchambo/u/nickknx865 and I last summer.

Hufflepuff values hard work, dedication, patience, loyalty, and fair play. Hufflepuff gets the leftovers the very nice teams.

The Reddit CFB Twitter account tweeted out a snapshot of the team-by-team results for the exercise, which was inspired by a comment from the always-entertaining Belk Bowl:

A lot of these results—Alabama and Texas in Slytherin, Stanford and Notre Dame in Ravenclaw—are perfect. But as College GameDay pointed out, who would've predicted Kansas to not be in Hufflepuff? Things are looking up for you, Jayhawks!

 

9. And, finally, a Washington State assistant releases tasty Top 10

One of the biggest trends with recruits is players posting "edits," or Photoshopped images of themselves. A lot of times a recruit will post an edit with the logos of the programs he's considering as a way of announcing his finalists.

Washington State linebackers coach Ken Wilson decided to join in the edit craze by releasing his own top 10. But instead of teams, Wilson went with something more near and dear to the heart of a traveling football coach—fast food restaurants:

Wilson has a list worthy of at least a 4-star rating. I loved his tweet, and since fast food is as important to a sports journalist as much as it is to a college football recruiter, I came up with my own top 10.

I'd like to announce that I have narrowed my fast food finalists down to Chick-fil-A, Cookout, Zaxby's, Sonic, In-N-Out, Bojangles, Whataburger, Dairy Queen, Five Guys and Full Moon BBQ.

What would be in your Wilson-inspired fast food top 10 tweet, 5th Down readers? Let me hear them in the comments below.

 

Justin Ferguson is a National College Football Analyst at Bleacher Report, and he wants to know what position that teddy bear is going to play for Rutgers in 2016. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Breaking Down the Best Offensive Players in Each College Football Conference

Right now is a great time to be an offensive player in college football. The proliferation of the Air Raid and other spread, hurry-it-up offenses have taxed defenses and scoreboards across the nation and made the game far more fun to watch than the staid, by-the-book National Football League.

Players have freedom to thrive, make big plays and score lots of points. Wasn’t Alabama 45, Clemson 40 a lot more fun to watch than Alabama 21, LSU 0 in the 2012 national title game? Of course. There’s a wealth of offensive talent spread across the nation, and five of the top 10 Heisman Trophy vote-getters from 2015 will return this fall.

Want a preview of the best offensive players in America? Here’s a look at the top offensive players in each FBS conference. Agree or disagree? Let us know in the comments.

Begin Slideshow

Tate Martell to Ohio State: Buckeyes Land 4-Star QB Prospect

The Ohio State Buckeyes added one of the elite offensive playmakers in the entire 2017 recruiting class Sunday when quarterback Tate Martell joined the fold.

Martell took to Twitter to announce his decision:

The 5'10 ½" and 203-pound Martell is a 4-star prospect, per 247Sports' composite rankings, and the No. 33 overall player, No. 1 dual-threat quarterback and No. 1 recruit from the state of Nevada in the 2017 class.

While Martell is a Las Vegas native, he generated interest from across the nation as a top-notch prospect. National powerhouses such as Ohio State, Alabama, USC and Michigan were all on his 247Sports college list, and he originally committed to Texas A&M before he reopened his recruitment in May.

There was plenty of drama surrounding Martell's decommitment from the Aggies, as Connor Tapp of 247Sports noted Texas A&M assistant coach Aaron Moorehead apologized for sending critical tweets after Martell decommitted. Tapp explained: "Moorehead's tweets criticized Martell—without mentioning him by name—for lacking loyalty and accountability."

Kevin Wade of Scout.com reported in April that Martell planned to use all of his official visits even before he decommitted from Texas A&M, which indicated he was still open-minded about his collegiate future.

Martell's choice to join the Buckeyes comes after the 247Sports' "crystal ball" predictions were split on May 5, with 42 percent going to Ohio State, 38 percent going to Texas A&M, 12 percent going to USC and eight percent going to California.

Hudl.com shared some of his highlights from his junior campaign that displayed his overwhelming talent that enticed so many blue-chip programs to pursue him during his recruiting cycle:

Scout.com provided a breakdown of Martell's game and pointed out he "is accurate on the short, intermediate and deep throws." Martell can hit wide receivers all over the field, but his athleticism also helps him stand out because he can escape pressure in the pocket or pick up first downs with his legs when plays break down.

Scout.com also listed "poise and leadership" as strengths for Martell, which will help him earn the respect of his new teammates from the early stages of his college career. If he fulfills his potential from a talent perspective and continues to be an on-field leader from the quarterback spot, Martell may be the face of a talented Buckeyes squad in the near future.

247Sports ranked Ohio State's 2017 class No. 1 in the country, and it only got stronger with Sunday's news.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Keldrick Carper to Texas A&M: Aggies Land 4-Star Athlete

The Texas A&M Aggies received a commitment for the class of 2017 on Sunday from 4-star athlete Keldrick Carper.

Carper announced his decision on his Twitter account.    

According to 247Sports' Brian Perroni, Carper's top four schools were Arkansas, Miami, Notre Dame and Texas A&M. 

Standing at 6'3" and 185 pounds, Carper is the 23rd-ranked athlete in his class and the 12th-ranked prospect in Louisiana. He is likely to play at cornerback or wide receiver in college, but Perroni sees Carper playing on the defensive side of the ball.

"He will likely play in the secondary for A&M, much in the same role that Donovan Wilson currently plays," Perroni wrote.

Head coach Kevin Sumlin and his staff are recruiting Louisiana well recently, as TexAgs' Billy Liucci noted:

Travis Etienne, a 3-star running back, is the other commit from Louisiana. 

The Aggies already have a deep receiving group that features Christian Kirk, Speedy Noil, Ricky Seals-Jones and Josh Reynolds, so Carper would have a quicker path to the field playing defense.

Should he play in the secondary, Carper will join a unit that only allowed 161.3 passing yards per game last season, which was fourth-best nationally. Gridiron Now's Cavender Neutze noted the unit will be strong again this season, as numerous key pieces from last season are returning.

Carper is a big and athletic player who could develop into a force at cornerback or safety. He has the size to cover bigger receivers and tight ends while also possessing the speed and quickness to stay with slot receivers. Expect Carper to become an immediate contributor for the Aggies because of his versatility. 

 

Recruiting information and star rankings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings.

Statistics are courtesy of ESPN.com. 

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Tennessee Football Recruiting: What Maleik Gray's Commitment Means for the Vols

With one huge tweet Sunday afternoon, Maleik Gray single-handedly flipped the narrative on Tennessee's sputtering recruiting returns for the 2017 class.

Now there's renewed reason for excitement for the Volunteers' recruiting class as summer camp begins to heat up.

The 6'2", 186-pound safety from La Vergne, Tennessee, is the nation's fifth-rated player at his position and No. 57 overall, according to the 247Sports' composite rankings. In a loaded year for talent within state boundaries, he is the fourth-rated player in Tennessee.

He chose UT over Florida State, Clemson, Georgia, Alabama, USC and many others, and his commitment surged Tennessee up 14 spots in 247Sports' recruiting rankings to 22nd.

"They have just been there since [Day 1]," Gray told VolQuest's Brent Hubbs and Austin Price. "I enjoy everything about Tennessee. I love it football-wise. I love it academically. It's just always felt like home."

That breeze from the Smoky Mountains was a sigh of relief from UT fans who follow recruiting religiously when Gray's commitment became public. Though Vols head coach Butch Jones can't mention Gray by name, he sent out a celebratory tweet with an obvious connection to the news:

Thus far, things haven't added up for the Volunteers in in-state recruiting for 2017. UT looks like it's trending upward on the field following 2015's 9-4 campaign, and Jones has been steadily increasing the Vols' win total each year in Knoxville.

With Tennessee losing a lot of talent to the NFL draft following the '16 season and with this being arguably the best crop of Volunteer State talent in a decade (if not ever), the casual football fan may think Jones would be racking up commitments on the recruiting trail.

After all, he's done a banner job of keeping top players at home in his first three full recruiting classes.

But, for whatever reason, things haven't gone that way just yet.

The Vols are right in the thick of things for multiple top-notch Tennessee high schoolers, but Gray is just the second player from Tennessee on the Vols' current commitment list, joining kicker Brent Cimaglia.

Elite Oak Ridge receiver Tee Higgins pledged early to UT but backed off that commitment, even though he recently referred to the Vols as his current leader, per 247Sports' Ryan Callahan.

Two players the Vols wanted—receiver Amari Rodgers and running back Cordarrian Richardson—chose Clemson over Tennessee. Also, UT was dealt a significant blow this week when defensive tackle Rutger Reitmaier selected Oregon after long referring to Tennessee as his leader.

So Gray's commitment was needed if for no other reasons than perception and momentum. But it's bigger than that. Let's take a look at why it was such a big deal.

 

Where's the Gray Area?

The best thing about getting a player of Gray's caliber is his immense upside. He's an elite defender who is big, rangy and fast. Though he's listed at 186 pounds, he probably tips the scales at a bit more than that, and he possesses a projectable frame that can hold more weight.

Rivals.com analyst Woody Wommack told VolQuest's Paul Fortenberry that Gray plans to focus exclusively on playing safety this year, which should help him hone his skills at the position.

But like many of UT's more exciting recruits in recent years—such as Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Jauan Jennings, Tyler Byrd and Jonathan Kongbo—Gray isn't just pigeonholed into one spot. His versatility is an asset to his game.

He's athletic enough to play cornerback, which he has done at the high school level. He also has the frame and strength to grow into a linebacker.

That's the type of versatility UT defensive coordinator Bob Shoop covets and the kind the coach has been able to exploit throughout his career leading defenses.

Gray can play sideline-to-sideline, or he can step up and be a force in the box. He has the chance to be a prototype safety at the next level.

Yes, the Vols are currently loaded at that position. But when you factor in the fact that Todd Kelly Jr. will be entering his final season in Knoxville by the time Gray steps foot on campus, playing time will be there for the taking on the back level.

Scout.com analyst Chad Simmons discussed Gray's lofty ceiling upon his commitment to the Vols:

He really can run and close on the football with the best of them. He is used on blitzes, and he is very effective there. Coverage is not a true strength of his, but he is solid there. He can improve his footwork and his recognition in coverage. When he makes a tackle, he tackles with pop. He knows how to tackle through the opponent. Overall, Gray is a playmaker on defense.

After favoring Florida State and USC throughout his recruitment, the Vols did some stellar work to get back in the mix and storm to the lead for Gray's services. Other teams won't stop recruiting him, but to get Gray in the fold this early is big.

 

Will Gray Equal Momentum?

Peer recruiting is pivotal these days, and the Vols have witnessed plenty of examples of that against them so far in this cycle, as Rodgers and former quarterback commitment Hunter Johnson will try to lure Volunteer State prospects away from the state to play with them at Clemson.

Gray could be a huge boost for the Vols in reversing those efforts to steer Tennessee kids away from UT.

He plays with a lot of highly ranked and heavily recruited players on Tennessee's radar, especially those around the Nashville area.

Guys like running back Ty Chandler, Oakland safety JaCoby Stevens, offensive tackle Obinna Eze and La Vergne receiver Princeton Fant run in the same circles as Gray. Fant and Gray play at the same high school and have been on several visits to UT together.

If Gray is a vocal recruiter and alpha dog for the Vols on the trail, he could get the attention of those guys and perhaps even Higgins and Smith, who are also among the best prospects in the state.

When you have so many national recruits within state borders like Tennessee does this year, it's tough to get a lot of early commitments, but Jones has positioned his Vols nicely with a lot of the in-state players.

It just has to yield signees. Second place never matters in recruiting.

When the recruiting efforts pay off like Gray's did Sunday, that gets other prospects listening. It's a nice time for Tennessee to be building momentum with the Orange Carpet Day recruiting event coming up next week and several other summer camps on the docket.

Maybe Gray can be present at those events, and that will be another orange-toned voice to urge others to follow in his footsteps.

Having an Under Armour All-American like Gray in the fold doesn't just lead to in-state success; it also sends shock waves around the nation.

Jones has too strong of a track record in recruiting throughout his time in Knoxville to think the Vols will be down that long in the rankings. Gray could be that catalyst to get the prospects off the fence—much like Jalen Hurd and Todd Kelly Jr. were a couple of years ago.

Last year, the Vols didn't target a lot of players within the Volunteer State, so there weren't any momentum-swinging prospects needed, but that's not the case in the '17 cycle.

The Vols desperately need to keep the elite players at home with so much talent cycling out if they want to start their own run of competing for championships every year.

Gray is the type of player UT needs to lure if it is going to play at a high level.

 

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

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

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Luiji Vilain to Michigan: Wolverines Land 4-Star DE Prospect

Luiji Vilain has been one of the most sought-after high school football prospects in the country for some time now, and the Michigan Wolverines received a boost Sunday when the 4-star defensive end made his commitment official. 

Vilain announced his decision with a post on Twitter:    

According to 247Sports' composite rankings, Vilain is the 102nd-ranked player in the class of 2017 and the eighth-ranked weak-side defensive end among all 2017 recruits. He's also the third-ranked player in the state of Virginia. 

A native of Canada who played his high school ball at Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia, Vilain turned heads thanks to his size and his speed off the edge.    

"Luiji is really fast off the edge," Vilain's Canadian mentor and trainer, Victor Tedondo, said in 2014, per NJ Advance Media's Todderick Hunt. "Right now, he's about 6'3 ½", 230 pounds. And he's long, long arms and his speed off the edge is phenomenal. He's not gonna be moving inside any time soon. He's gonna be a kid suitable for a 4-3 defense as a defensive end."

Now 6'4" and 240 pounds, per 247Sports, Vilain has the look of a dynamic speed-rusher off the edge who can wreak havoc with an arsenal of spin and swim moves.

And while he could stand to expand that repertoire by learning how to utilize his power to supplement tremendous speed, there's plenty of time for that development to occur at the next level. 

Vilain may still be a tad rough around the edges, but he has the raw physical tools necessary to evolve into a pass-rushing force when he starts suiting up for the Maize and Blue on Saturdays. 

 

Recruit and star rankings courtesy of 247Sports

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