The Pac-12 was one of four Power Five schools that voted in favor of a ban on FBS satellite camps, but the conference's commissioner revealed Wednesday that wasn't the original plan.
According to Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott, UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero went rogue, deviating from the wishes of the conference as a whole, per Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel:
The Michigan Wolverines weren't the first school to use satellite camps, but head coach Jim Harbaugh's "Summer Swarm" tour largely served as the genesis of the movement against the events. Earlier in the month, the Pac-12, ACC, SEC and Big 12 all cast their ballots to end the practice, which means schools can now only hold player clinics at facilities they use throughout the entire year.
Washington State head coach Mike Leach wasn't afraid to voice his criticism of the decision, per the Seattle Times' Stefanie Loh:
It appears that the selfish interests of a few schools and conferences prevailed over the best interests of future potential student-athletes. The mission of universities and athletic programs should be to provide future student-athletes with exposure to opportunities, not to limit them. It appears to me that some universities and conferences are willing to sacrifice the interests of potential student-athletes for no better reasons than to selfishly monopolize their recruiting bases.
I will be fascinated to hear any legitimate reasoning behind this ruling. We need to rethink this if we are actually what we say we are.
The fact the AD from another Pac-12 school appears to have acted unilaterally to vote against satellite camps will only upset Leach and his fellow coaches more.
Of course, even if Guerrero had gone with the rest of his conference, it wouldn't have changed the result. According to ESPN.com's Mitch Sherman, the vote count was 10-5 against satellite camps. Power Five conferences carried two votes, so a reversal by the Pac-12 merely would've made it a closer margin, 8-7.
ESPN.com's Tom VanHaaren reported Tuesday that some coaches and athletic directors are already working behind the scenes to overturn the ban. NCAA executive Oliver Luck also said Monday the topic of satellite camps will likely be up for discussion again at some point in the future, per Pro Football Talk's Zac Jackson.
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We're a little more than one week away from the 2016 NFL draft, when the best college players in the country get started on their pro careers. In the lead-up to the draft, every prospect ends up getting compared to a current or former NFL player as a way of projecting what he'll be like at the next level.
These comparisons aren't limited just to outgoing college stars, though. Those still in school are regularly compared to NFL standouts who have similar skill sets, physical attributes or styles of play. It's by no means an exact science since every player is unique in his own way; then again, most projections are firmly rooted in guesswork.
Using Bleacher Report's list of top college football players entering spring practice, we've come up with comparisons for the 25 best. They're listed alphabetically rather than by their overall ranking.
Spring game season in college football—the only time we'll see stadiums packed and fields filled around the country until all the way in September—is coming to a close.
But for the third straight weekend, fans will get to see plenty of developments for a number of major conference teams when the action kicks off again.
This upcoming spring game weekend is heavy on talent in the Big Ten and the Pac-12, including a defending College Football Playoff semifinalist in Michigan State. Intriguing contenders in both Pac-12 divisions—UCLA, Utah and the Washington schools—will line up for their respective scrimmages, while Wisconsin and Iowa will look to follow up their double-digit-win campaigns with a strong spring finale.
Those aren't the only two leagues taking the spotlight this Saturday. The SEC's monthlong spring game extravaganza will wrap up with the always interesting action down in Arkansas, and an exciting new era will also begin in ACC country when Justin Fuente takes over in Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium. The Big 12's West Virginia will hold its spring game at a golf resort.
As we've done for the last two Wednesdays, let's take a look at the entire FBS spring game schedule for this weekend and preview 10 of the biggest ones on the card.
While 5-star wide receivers Joseph Lewis and Jalen Hall may be teammates at Hawkins High School in Los Angeles, it was an all-out war when these two went toe-to-toe in the Bleacher Report Sumo Challenge.
See which prospect was the king of the ring in the video above.
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Recent success and future expectations have allowed the Michigan football program to chase—and already land—several of the 2017 recruiting cycle's best prospects.
Although head coach Jim Harbaugh and Co. aren't pursuing every highest-rated option, the Wolverines are in the picture for commitments from those players.
Summer events like unofficial visits and camps will allow the coaching staff to get an up-close look at some of the talents. Those interactions might even lead to verbal pledges.
While the Wolverines assuredly won't grab every top-ranked prospect, they'll likely keep contact until pen meets paper on signing day.
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart acknowledged Tuesday the status of running back Nick Chubb remains up in the air following the player's left knee surgery in October 2015.
Seth Emerson of DawgNation.com reported, "despite what by all appearances is an amazingly fast recovery, Smart is remaining cautious, saying Tuesday that 'to say he’ll be ready, I can’t say that.' That term—'I can’t say that'—can sometimes be a nice way of saying 'no.' But Smart appeared to mean that as in he literally doesn’t know."
You can follow Timothy Rapp on Twitter.
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More than 40 college football coaching staffs have extended a scholarship offer to dominant Maryland defensive prospect Chase Young, and he believes it's time to focus on favorites.
The DeMatha Catholic (Maryland) junior took a significant step in that process April 5 when he announced a top-15 list featuring several of America's premier programs:
Less than two weeks later, while speaking with Bleacher Report at The Opening's Washington, D.C., regional camp, Young expressed plans to pare things down further this summer. He aims to settle on seven top schools, and he'll utilize upcoming visits to help prepare him for the process.
"They're going to be places where there is a strong relationship between coaches and players, where I fit the scheme and schools that help guarantee you a job after college," Young said.
Rated No. 4 nationally among weak-side defensive ends and No. 52 overall in 247Sports' composite rankings, he is considered one of the Mid-Atlantic's premier players and perhaps the nation's most menacing pass-rusher.
Young erupted for 19 sacks last season, according to Brandon Parker of the Washington Post, and recorded 27 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. He formed a feared defensive duo with Penn State signee Shane Simmons, who secured 16 sacks of his own and was considered Maryland's No. 1 overall 2016 recruit.
"I think we were the best bookends in the nation," Young said. "We balled out."
Simmons moves on to Saturday games in Happy Valley this fall, leaving his former teammate with an expanded bull's-eye on his back. Young, who admits much of that junior-season production resulted from sheer athleticism, has embraced the challenge by elevating his focus.
"I'm going to take things way, way more seriously than I did last year," he said. "I need to study the film more than ever before, break down the offensive tackle I'm going against and make calls for my teammates on the field. This is my defense, and I have to lead it."
Young, who stands 6'5", 220 pounds, figures to fill a variety of roles at DeMatha as a senior. His length, quickness and a physical frame that leaves room for substantial growth continue to inspire intrigue in college recruiting offices across America.
Some programs are targeting Young purely as a defensive end. Others envision him at outside linebacker, while plenty believe he can capably fill a hybrid role that incorporates elements from both positions.
"I can play whatever a coach wants me to," Young said. "If they want me to stand up, I can definitely stand up. If they want my hand in the ground or want me to drop back, I can do that, too."
Alabama and Maryland, a pair of primary contenders in this pursuit, see him taking snaps predominately in a stand-up role. The Terrapins particularly point to "Buck" linebacker duties, which challenges a defender to patrol the perimeter and provide containment off the edge.
Spearheaded by first-year head coach D.J. Durkin, a new Maryland regime continues to make its presence known in his recruitment. The former Michigan defensive coordinator is attempting to seal off state borders, and few local targets compare to Young this cycle in terms of importance.
"They're coming after me very hard," Young said. "The new staff is exciting, and I like Coach Durkin. The camaraderie and chemistry with the coaches is just unreal. Coach Durkin leads the way. If he can turn Maryland into a top-10 defense like he did at Michigan, I think they can really be a contender."
Alabama head coach Nick Saban has left little room for doubt about his defense during a wildly successful tenure in Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide have stockpiled versatile edge defenders carrying a physical makeup similar to Young, who will soon take a closer look at Saban's squad.
"I like Alabama a lot, and that's going to be my next visit," he said. "I'm excited to get down there and see Coach Saban and [linebackers coach Tosh] Lupoi. That's definitely something I look forward to."
Young hasn't yet set a date for his trip to Tuscaloosa, but it figures to be one of a few campus trips he'll take in the coming months. He identified Florida, Michigan and USC as other intended destinations before this fall.
Along with this group, Young also specifically pointed to Florida State and Ohio State as serious suitors in the process. Eventually, these visits and interests will result in a top-seven list, which he'll likely unveil sometime this summer.
There may not be much time between the public release of those favorites and a verbal pledge.
"I want to commit before the season so I can get it off my chest and just play, but things might change," Young said.
Another element to monitor moving forward is Young's close relationship with DeMatha Catholic teammate Anthony McFarland Jr., who's rated No. 3 nationally among all-purpose backs. They share several common interests, including Alabama, Florida and Maryland.
McFarland told Bleacher Report he doesn't expect to commit until national signing day. If Young does indeed announce collegiate intentions months in advance, it could provide a program with extra pull in the recruitment of his talented teammate.
"I think [playing together is] a very realistic possibility," Young said. "That's my close friend; that's my brother. If we go to the same college, we'll turn up together."
There's plenty to consider before they reach that point, and both standouts are surely approaching their respective college searches from a unique perspective. Young places plenty of stock in how a university can fulfill his specific educational needs.
He plans to major in criminology with the goal of someday becoming a member of the FBI. This ambition follows the footsteps of his father, who carved out a career in criminal justice.
If Young's projected football skills pan out, the FBI may need to wait until a lengthy playing career concludes. On Sunday, he punched his ticket to The Opening national finals, which is the elite invite-only showcase held in July at Nike's world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon.
Johnny Jordan, a highly recruited offensive lineman from Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C., crossed paths with Young during Sunday's regional action. The two also battled on practically every snap last season when their respective squads met.
He did well summing up the sentiments swirling around Young and provided further indication of why so many college programs covet the dynamic defender.
"You're dealing with a dude who has long arms, gets his hands on you and extends," Jordan said. "It's really hard to get your hands back on him after that. His quickness also makes things very difficult. Plus, he's powerful. He may look kind of skinny, but he's a strong guy."
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Though Notre Dame has College Football Playoff aspirations in 2016, its schedule and roster shortcomings could result in the program falling short.
Last season, Stanford crushed the Irish's dreams during their regular-season finale. Brian Kelly's squad will attempt to avoid a similar fate at the hands of this year's power-conference opponents.
Notre Dame doesn't necessarily have a weakness at any position because the coaching staff has regularly signed top classes. However, many expected key players—particularly on defense—spent a majority of the 2015 season on the sideline.
The Fighting Irish are capable of challenging for a CFP spot, but any potential run is contingent on their new starters performing well in key games.
Upsets are part of college football’s fabric. Sometimes, it’s fun to see a 40-point underdog come out of nowhere and stun a top-tier foe (as Stanford did to Southern California in 2007) or watch an FCS school vanquish a titan of college football (as then-FCS team Appalachian State did at Michigan earlier that season). Upsets are a part of college gridiron life, and they happen on a yearly basis.
At times, however, they can deal a blow to a more meaningful college football season. As exciting as upsets are, Top 10 showdowns and battles for a spot in the College Football Playoff are far more interesting. An untimely upset can steal much of a prime matchup’s meaning. Sure, the games will go on as scheduled, but perhaps they won’t have the same impact if a league title or more is no longer on the line.
Here’s a look at 10 hypothetical upsets that would ruin the 2016 college football season. We spotlighted these games because, if they happen, they’d drain meaning from much bigger, marquee games on the schedule or ruin a talented team’s hopes of challenging for an important goal down the line.
Since he was hired in late November 2011, Urban Meyer has been absolutely dominant at the helm of Ohio State.
The Buckeyes' head man has gone an incredible 50-4 since the start of the 2012 season. He's signed the Big Ten's best recruiting class in each of the last five cycles, including four top-five finishes nationally, according to 247Sports. He laid waste to college football heavyweights Alabama and Oregon on his way to winning the first-ever College Football Playoff.
Oh, and he's also a perfect 4-0 against That Team Up North.
But despite everything he's accomplished in Columbus over the last four-and-a-half years, he's only won the Big Ten Championship once—during the Buckeyes' magical run to the national title in 2014.
The stars aligned against Ohio State in 2012. It incurred a postseason ban as a result of the tattoo-for-memorabilia scandal that rocked the program in 2011. A year later, on the heels of a school-record 24-game win streak, the Buckeyes were upset by Michigan State in the 2013 conference title game.
And of course, last year's team was supposed to be Meyer's most dominant in Columbus, but Ohio State again fell short against the Spartans—this time at home in late November—which kept them from making another trip to Indianapolis.
With spring practice over and summer conditioning and fall camp on the horizon, the focus has shifted toward another conference title run in 2016. But the Buckeyes have some significant hurdles between them and another trip to the Big Ten Championship Game, and Meyer is working hard to get his team through the grind and to the finish line this December.
Picture an overzealous safety cracking a tight end high on a seam route and the uncertain, silent seconds that follow. As the offensive player slowly lifts himself off the turf, the official glides to the defensive player awaiting his fate, who's gesturing his innocence to his sideline and the crowd.
The official, having seen the play in real time at indefinable speeds, has an impossible obligation of making a ruling in front of more than 110,000 fans and millions of eyeballs at home.
They watch—you watch—as his right hand moves toward his front right pocket. The rumbles escalate to a buzz as a decision looms.
A yellow card—the kind that governs disputably violent plays in soccer—emerges, which prompts a golf gallery-like applause from the home crowd defending one of its own by default. The safety claps enthusiastically after checking on the injured player, reassured of his fate that afternoon.
The intent, according to the lead official explaining the play in detail, wasn't egregious. The safety didn't fully launch himself or make obvious, dangerous contact near the head.
There was enough high contact, though—a determination that becomes apparent on replay. Yards are walked off, but the safety avoids being ejected. The game proceeds as planned as the official slips the yellow card back into his pocket. The tight end, seemingly fine after going through concussion protocol, returns a few plays later.
Now, come back to reality. Let's piggyback on this scene with a disclaimer. This world, in present time, is purely hypothetical. But the possibility of college football adopting one of soccer's guiding principles is something we should at least talk about.
Many probably shun the idea on principle. But we should separate the symbols from the fact that the sport needs a new way to legislate on-field violence as it happens—or, at the very least, something more than it has right now.
"The rules committee this year had great discussions around it," SEC coordinator of officials Steve Shaw told Bleacher Report when asked about yellow and red cards. "The concept of incorporating flagrant-1s or flagrant-2s, to use basketball terms, was discussed. Giving replay more latitude to look at all aspects of the targeting foul will accomplish a little bit of this. What you don't want to do is create something in the rule that gets us to back up from player safety."
The term "targeting" is enough to send chills down the most passionate football fan's spine. No rule has been more widely debated in a sport under increasing scrutiny.
What has become clear since the NCAA adopted these ejection rules in 2013 is that there is no going back. Whether it's yellow cards or something still unknown, the days of players launching themselves like tactical ballistic missiles without fear of major consequence are over.
Though targeting merited a penalty long before the NCAA adopted this legislation, the landscape changed the moment college football implemented accelerated punishments.
Hours after the curtain was lifted on the first season under the new targeting rule, multiple players experienced the full spectrum of these punishments. On the opening Thursday, Indiana State's Carlos Aviles was ejected for his dangerous hit on Indiana's Shane Wynn—which prompted some confusion over how the play would be ruled but not necessarily over the hit itself.
This particular moment showed the positive impact targeting ejections could have. A player was punished for a dangerous hit according to its potential impact. But it also opened the door to the fact that judgment would govern calls and confusion would follow.
The NCAA has since modified its legislation regarding targeting—more aptly recognized as high, dangerous contact made with the helmet—though the origins of the rule remain intact.
All targeting calls made on the field are subject to a 15-yard penalty and an ejection following a video review. While the 15-yard penalty used to be walked off regardless of the replay ruling, that is no longer the case. The ruling based off of the review holds all the cards.
Moving forward, this theme will only be amplified. In 2016 (and beyond), replay officials will be granted more power to review the totality of a potential targeting play—the launch, contact and possible intent. This power will expand beyond reacting to flags that have already been thrown. Starting in the fall, the replay booth will have the authority to stop a game and review a hit even if a flag hasn't been thrown.
"It's a slippery slope," Shaw said. "The rules committee isn't saying we're going to evaluate all judgment calls. But the impact of targeting is so important to our game. This is one where we'll allow replay to tiptoe over that line."
The sport deserves the utmost credit for seemingly rebooting the conversation each year—exploring new and creative ways to police the game. As a result, intent has never really been an issue.
More important has been the way a wide range of collisions, each with vastly different intents and subtleties, are being punished as equals.
Targeting legislation in the present does an injustice to deeply complicated football moments. That's why the notion of incorporating yellow and red cards—or flagrant-1s and flagrant-2s, if that's more comfortable verbiage for your taste—could be valuable.
"Any time we have legislation and rules to protect our players, I think that's fantastic. We need more of it, but the rule itself definitely needs reformation in the way it is seen and penalized," Houston head coach Tom Herman said. "Whether that's through flagrant calls or cards, there needs to be some kind of separation."
UAB head coach Bill Clark, having watched countless hours of football last fall while waiting for his program to be reinstated, wasn't as eager to make such a robust change.
"That's kind of weird," Clark said when asked about yellow and red cards. "I don't think there's any coach out there that is opposed to throwing someone out of a game if they were trying to hurt somebody. But for me, it's when the intent isn't there and you're still being ejected. I'd have to think about it."
In 2015, players were penalized for targeting 115 times, according to Jon Solomon of CBS Sports. That was up from 72 calls the year before and 55 in 2013—the first year college football implemented the ejection rules.
Of last year's 115 targeting flags, replay officials overturned the call on the field on 43 separate occasions—a reversal rate of nearly 40 percent.
These figures have risen by design. Officials, tasked to police a game being played at warp speeds, have been given the guidance to throw flags on plays when even the possibility of targeting exists. Video replay officials essentially serve as a backstop.
Some rulings require little discussion. Notre Dame safety Max Redfield's hit on Purdue quarterback Danny Etling in September 2014 was flagged and then upheld.
It was textbook targeting on a defenseless player. It was worthy of an ejection—a red card, a flagrant-2. It was the type of hit the game is trying to remove and why this conversation is taking place in the first place.
Not all targeting calls are this concrete, however. There are many that prompt mass confusion and curiosity. Video replay officials' increased role should help resolve some of the issues going forward, but inconsistency remains a chief concern—among players and coaches, as well as fans who struggle to grasp what constitutes targeting.
"All you can do is explain this particular case and what elements are in play to the viewer," ESPN and ABC play-by-play announcer Chris Fowler told Bleacher Report when asked about narrating such plays. "Everybody wants to see more consistency in the way they are called, but it does seem to be evolving.
"Fans are going to get overheated when these calls are made, but the motive is noble. They have got to find a way to reduce the frequency and severity of these injuries, and there's a number of ways to do it."
In perhaps the most actively debated targeting ejection since the rule was implemented, Nebraska's Nate Gerry was dismissed in the first half of the Foster Farms Bowl late last year for his hit on UCLA running back Paul Perkins. The call ignited reactions on social media and beyond.
Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa had his college career end on a targeting ejection in the first quarter of the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day.
While Bosa clearly led with his helmet—and his tackling in this instance should be used as an example of poor helmet placement—he appeared nowhere close to launching himself at Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer's head.
The contact made in both instances above was questionable. Was it high enough to be, by definition, targeting? By the letter of the law, most likely.
But are these the kinds of hits the game so desperately needs to get rid of? And above all, should moments such as these be penalized with the same iron first that rules some of the sport's most devastating and dangerous collisions?
By segmenting targeting, as soccer does fouls with its card system, there would be various levels by which to measure this type of contact.
That is the purpose of a yellow card—to warn a player that his actions, while not catastrophic, warrant some response. Football, unlike soccer, could also use yards as currency, utilizing that feature when an ejection might not be necessary.
Yellow cards could also carry over a certain number of games, like in soccer, meaning multiple instances of questionable contact would still be punishable with an ejection down the line. The red card would serve a clear and defined purpose as well.
All targeting ejections are essentially red cards right now. If a play is dangerous enough, then a player can (and should) be ejected for the rest of the game and perhaps, depending on when the infraction occurs, miss time the following week.
"I think that yellow and red cards are a good idea if we are properly identifying what is red and what is yellow," former Texas head coach and current ESPN analyst Mack Brown said.
The idea that football could adopt this penalty system is not necessarily new. Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald broached the concept of yellow cards long before the NCAA Football Rules Committee talked it over.
"It's a total hypothetical," Fitzgerald said at Big Ten media days in 2013, not long after the NCAA added the ejection rules. "I'd rather warn the player, telling him this is not the hit we want in football."
This isn't about taking a step backward from the bold steps the NCAA has taken to make the game safer. Punishing a player by taking away his field time—the most valued commodity he has—is still very much a part of this blueprint. Moving forward, it should stay that way.
But there should be a better understanding of which hits cannot and will not be tolerated—and which other hits may have similar attributes but fall well short of meeting the requirements for an ejection.
These calls are significant. They are complicated. They are controversial and will remain controversial in whatever system the sport adopts. With seemingly everyone involved fully acknowledging the intricacies involved, it seems prudent that such a large portion of these calls comes down to more than a simple yes or no.
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ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. doesn’t quite understand it either.
When the NFL draft is held next week in Chicago, the Southeastern Conference is expected to have high-profile picks at nearly every position but the one that gets talked about the most: quarterback.
Although Peyton Manning just won his final Super Bowl and Cam Newton is the reigning league MVP, former Florida quarterbacks Jacoby Brissett of North Carolina State and Jeff Driskel of Louisiana Tech could conceivably be taken before or around the same time as Arkansas’ Brandon Allen and Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott.
“Good question,” Kiper said Tuesday about the conference’s perceived decline of top-level players at the position before noting that Alabama won the national championship with a Florida State transfer, Jake Coker. “A lot of factors go into it, but some of them were there and left.”
It’s with that backdrop that various quarterback competitions have been held all around the league this spring—some more intriguing than others. As for which one tops that list, the answer stands out by using the process of elimination.
For the most part, the conference’s starting quarterbacks can be split into four groups:
1. Returning starters (5)
They’re listed with last season’s passer efficiency rating (and national rank):
- Chad Kelly, Ole Miss, 155.9 (13)
- Brandon Harris, LSU, 130.6 (63)
- Josh Dobbs, Tennessee, 127.0 (70)
- Drew Lock, Missouri, 90.5 (113)
- Kyle Shurmur, Vanderbilt, 100.6 (NR)
2. Won jobs during the spring (3)
None of these should be considered surprising.
"Trevor Knight will be our starter," Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin said in a release the Monday following the Maroon & White Game. "His on-field performance this spring along with his leadership earned him the starting job."
Despite having been on campus just three months, the Oklahoma graduate transfer completed 25 of 36 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns with one interception, and also ran in a touchdown. More importantly he looked the part and showed poise.
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops announced immediately after the spring game that sophomore Drew Barker had won the Wildcats’ starting job. While only playing in the first half, he completed 12 of 18 passes for 156 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception.
"The last week of spring...I feel like Drew was starting to pull away," Stoops said during the postgame press conference. “That's the nice thing to see about Drew is I thought he was very, very consistent this spring and really this whole offseason.”
At Arkansas, the only SEC team still holding spring workouts, Austin Allen has already been named the replacement for his older brother, Brandon, who was a three-year starter. The competition is over.
3. The Saban coaching tree (4)
Between Saban and his three former coordinators who are now head coaches in the SEC—Florida’s Jim McElwain, Georgia’s Kirby Smart and South Carolina’s Will Muschamp—no one has named a starting quarterback.
At Florida, Luke Del Rio appears to have a clear lead over Austin Appleby and true freshman Feleipe Franks. He completed 10 of 11 passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns in the Blue and Orange Debut.
It’s probably only a matter of time before early enrollee Jacob Eason takes over at Georgia, especially after his dazzling performance in the spring game. He completed 19 of 29 passes for 244 yards, with one touchdown and no interceptions.
South Carolina’s spring was disastrous at the quarterback position. Perry Orth suffered a broken collarbone, and Lorenzo Nunez was sidelined by a knee injury, helping lead to early enrollee Brandon McIlwain attempting the most passes in the Garnet and Black Game ahead of Connor Mitch and Michael Scarnecchia.
With prospect Jake Bentley arriving early in the fall, the Gamecocks have more of a logjam than a competition, and considering the lack of offensive talent that Muschamp inherited, well, let’s just say the winner will be sufficiently challenged.
Finally, Alabama doesn’t appear close to naming a starting quarterback and last year didn’t do so until after playing three games in the regular season. There’s no intrigue when there’s no decision looming, and Crimson Tide fans have learned over the past two seasons that the player closest to being the incumbent is the one who has to be beat.
This year that’s Cooper Bateman.
Nevertheless, none of these quarterback competitions will be resolved before the fall.
4. Wanted: Quarterbacks who can run (2)
A lot of experts thought heading into the spring that the Mississippi State starting job was Nick Fitzgerald’s to lose against Damian Williams, Nick Tiano and Elijah Staley. Yet, he hasn’t won the job, and two interceptions during the Bulldogs’ spring game didn’t help.
“I really don’t know if anyone was [standing out],” MSU head coach Dan Mullen said during his press conference. “I saw everyone make different plays and guys performed at a different level on different days. Some would do great on one day and be kind of average the next day, and someone else will stand out the next day. They were all pretty even coming out of spring.”
Regardless, no one is expecting another Prescott this season.
Which leaves Auburn, where the spring game raised more questions than answers about the quarterback competition—which made for a good headline.
Auburn’s entire philosophy and approach is based on tempo and execution of one player in particular: the quarterback. As everyone learned last year, when he struggles, everything else can fall apart.
You could ask numerous Auburn fans what they think head coach Gus Malzahn should do at quarterback this season and receive just as many different answers.
Feeding the opinions are observations that senior Jeremy Johnson appears to have regained his confidence. Sophomore Sean White is healthy again. Junior-college transfer John Franklin III is a former Florida State player looking for a chance.
During Auburn’s final spring scrimmage, the three rotated.
- Johnson made 6 of 13 throws for 35 yards and a touchdown.
- White completed 8 of 14 passes for 125 yards.
- Franklin hit 7 of 11 attempts for 61 yards and a touchdown.
Afterward, Malzahn said no one should put too much stock into the numbers, reminding everyone of Cam Newton's only A-Day performance in 2010: 3 of 8 passing.
He could have also pointed out that last year, Johnson completed 14 of 22 attempts for 252 yards and two touchdowns.
However, it was noteworthy that none of the three quarterbacks ran for any positive rushing yards, something that's been a staple of Malzahn's best offenses at Auburn as both a head coach and offensive coordinator.
- Johnson: Three carries for minus-two yards.
- Franklin: Three carries for no gain.
- White: Four carries for minus-12 yards.
Also, none of the quarterbacks were able to convert a third-down opportunity in 14 chances during the first half, and for the game, they combined to go 1-of-22.
Granted, it’s spring, the defense played well and Auburn has a new offensive coordinator in Rhett Lashlee. But this was with what Malzahn called “vanilla” play-calling.
Consequently, this quarterback competition is by far the SEC’s most intriguing, especially when one considers what could potentially be at stake, the rumblings that the coaching staff may be on the hot seat with another subpar season and Auburn’s schedule.
Three of the first four games are against Clemson, Texas A&M and LSU.
Granted, all three games are at home, but it doesn’t take much imagination to envision a 1-3 start and Auburn out of the SEC West chase before the end of September if a quarterback doesn’t step forward and win the job outright.
Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.
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On Nov. 1, 2014, Tennessee roared back from a late two-touchdown deficit to stun South Carolina on the road 45-42 in overtime.
Since that point, the program has been on the brink of something special.
The Vols have lost five games since that night in Columbia by a total of 25 points, including an overtime loss to Big 12 champion and College Football Playoff participant Oklahoma, a one-point loss to SEC East champion Florida in Gainesville and a five-point loss to eventual national champion Alabama in Tuscaloosa in 2015 in which the Vols held late leads in both.
What will get the Vols over the top? With a roster that's loaded everywhere else, the downfield passing attack is the missing piece of the puzzle.
That piece looked like it was sliding into place during the Orange and White Game on Saturday.
While quarterback Joshua Dobbs takes the brunt of the downfield passing attack criticism after finishing 10th in the SEC in yards per attempt at 6.7—behind Florida quarterback Treon Harris and South Carolina's Perry Orth—he didn't get much help from his wide receivers.
No Volunteer receiver had more than 38 catches or 409 yards last year, and leading receiver Von Pearson—who led the team in both categories—exhausted his eligibility.
Enter: Preston Williams and Jeff George.
Williams was a hot-shot recruit in the class of 2015 but didn't get cleared by the NCAA until the week of Tennessee's season opener and struggled with hamstring issues as a true freshman. George came to Rocky Top from Dodge City (Kansas) Community College with the expectations of making a big impact.
Both did on Saturday.
Williams, a 6'4", 209-pounder from Hampton, Georgia, had a team-high 77 receiving yards on three catches and looked to be in tune with Dobbs (0:48 mark). George, a 6'6", 190-pounder originally from Leavenworth, Kansas, caught four passes for 28 yards and a nice touchdown catch on a fade (1:25 mark).
[The wide receivers] were challenged in terms of having the injuries at that position and being set back, but also it provided tremendous teaching opportunities and valuable repetitions when you look at the amount Preston Williams was able to gain. Even Jeff George coming in here, really now understanding the endurance that it takes to play the receiver position, the mental toughness that it takes, the intensity that it takes day in and day out with your habits, your practice, your style of play, all that.
As Nick Carboni of WBIR-TV in Knoxville noted on Twitter during the game, George's stature will present problems down near the goal line.
Tennessee's passing attack looked dangerous on Saturday, and that was without veterans Josh Smith or Josh Malone, as well as former quarterback Jauan Jennings—who was raw last year after changing positions but has potential.
If either Williams or George becomes a threat downfield, the rest of the wide receiving corps will have a much easier time finding room to roam.
With a downfield passing attack suddenly in play or, at the very least, a threat, it will give even more room to the multidimensional rushing attack that features Dobbs and running backs Alvin Kamara and Jalen Hurd; and it will give tight ends Ethan Wolf and Jason Croom one-on-one matchups that both can exploit.
It will also vault Tennessee into playoff contention and make the 2016 Vols elite.
The Vols opened at plus-1500 to win the national title, according to Odds Shark—by far the best odds in the SEC East and third-best in the entire conference behind Alabama (plus-600) and LSU (plus-1200). That was with questions in the downfield passing attack.
If the spring game success of Williams and George translates to the fall, look out CFP—the Vols could be coming.
The Florida loss cost Jones the SEC East title—something that has eluded the program since 2007. The Alabama loss came after Dobbs led the team down the field on a drive that culminated with a go-ahead touchdown run from Hurd with 5:49 to play.
Those two games will be in Neyland Stadium this year, and both rivals have plenty of questions to answer prior to the kickoff of the 2016 season.
As I pointed out earlier this year, don't fall into the trap that Tennessee always has hype in the offseason. The Vols have been picked to finish higher than fourth in the SEC East at SEC media days once since 2010 (last year, when they were picked second behind Georgia) and haven't been picked to win the division by the assembled members of the media since 2005.
What's more, Jones has improved upon his record every year that he's been at the helm after taking over a roster that former head coach Derek Dooley treated like a run-down rental property.
If the passing game just presents a threat to opposing defenses, the multidimensional rushing attack and loaded defense should not only land the Vols in Atlanta in early December, but they could lead them back to the Georgia Dome on New Year's Eve, when it hosts one of the two national semifinals.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.
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Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher has quickly risen to the top of his profession, but his ascent almost never happened, as he considered retiring in 2011.
According to Tom D'Angelo of the Palm Beach Post, the 50-year-old coach revealed in March he gave thought to stepping away after just one year at the FSU helm due to his son, Ethan, getting diagnosed with Fanconi anemia:
Yeah, it did cross my mind, without a doubt. I didn't know what (Ethan's condition) required, what it meant. 'Should I coach? Should I not coach?' I don't know if we ever got to that point where we thought about it seriously but it crossed my mind to think about that because I didn't know until we found out everything.
Fisher admitted he was concerned at the time about whether he could be fully committed to coaching while also focusing on his son, but he explained his motivation to push through it: "Just had to do what you had to do. That's the way I was raised. You can't feel sorry for yourself because it's unfair to the kids I'm coaching."
The Clarksburg, West Virginia, native led the Seminoles to a 9-4 record in 2011, and he has won at least 10 games in every season since, including a perfect 14-0 mark in 2013 that culminated in a national championship.
Florida State had gone six straight seasons without winning double-digit games before Fisher's elevation from offensive coordinator to head coach in 2010, but he has been the driving force behind the program regaining its status as a national power and perennial contender.
Had Fisher decided to retire in 2011, that progress may never have happened, and the school may not have won its second BCS national title.
The fact that Fisher was not only able to coach but able to excel under such difficult circumstances against a high level of competition is a perfect example of why he is regarded as one of the elite coaches in college football.
His motivational tactics and recruiting have brought the 'Noles program back into a golden age, and they figure to continue contending on a regular basis for as long as he is in the picture.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.
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One of the tougher units for the average fan—and yes, sportswriter—to evaluate, a strong offensive line has often been a necessity for finding success in the Big Ten.
Between Woody Hayes' three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust mentality and the plethora of first-round picks the conference has produced throughout its history, the Big Ten has a long-standing tradition when it comes to impressive front fives.
The upcoming season shouldn't be much different, with the league as a whole returning no shortage of experience when it comes to its offensive lines. For some programs, that's a good thing, while for others, they still have plenty to prove based on their returning starters and the results they produced a year ago.
Spring football may just wrapping up, but success in the trenches has often led to success overall in the Big Ten.
With that in mind, here's how I rank each team's offensive line heading into 2016.
This 2016 Tennessee football team is deep enough, talented enough, experienced enough and has enough top-end star power to win the program's first SEC championship since 1998.
But will it?
Eighteen long years could come to an end this season. Leaders such as quarterback Joshua Dobbs, running backs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara, defensive end Derek Barnett, linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin and cornerback Cameron Sutton are determined to put Rocky Top back on the map.
With a slew of stars like that, it's hard to bet against UT this year, and that's why a lot of the experts around the nation are buying the Vols when it comes to legit contenders.
Nobody in Knoxville is dodging the darts being flung in their direction.
"We understand we have a lot of talent on this team and we can be as good as we want to be," Dobbs told the Associated Press' Steve Megargee after the spring game. "The goal for us is just take it day by day, focus on the process and embrace the grind."
Though the schedule is never easy in the conference, this year's sets up better than the past few. The Vols get Alabama and Florida at home. A road trip to Texas A&M won't be easy, but it isn't as daunting as in years past. Yes, Georgia is in Athens and South Carolina is in Columbia, but those programs have new coaches.
Things are shaping up quite well for a deep run and a good opportunity to knock the hated Gators off the SEC East throne.
But there are still numerous obstacles for UT, and when you aren't used to having your name in lights, the glare can be blinding sometimes. Already this offseason, some off-the-field transgressions and allegations have threatened the stability of the program.
Tennessee has stood firm through those issues so far, but what are some of the on-field things standing between the Vols and the SEC title? Let's take a look at five familiar hurdles.
Dynamic defender Joshua Paschal picked up his first collegiate scholarship offer from Ohio State in 2014, midway through a breakout sophomore season. It was a moment that vaulted him into the national recruiting spotlight.
Now, nearing the end of his junior year at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney, Maryland, he reports approximately 20 offers on the table. A consistently expanding list of options has provided him with plenty to consider.
"When Ohio State came in and offered, that was a really special time. Since then, the offers kept coming and coming," Paschal told Bleacher Report.
The 4-star prospect—who earned an invitation to The Opening national finals Sunday following a strong performance during a Washington D.C. regional—is considered one of the Mid-Atlantic's premier athletes along the defensive front. Rated No. 8 nationally among strong-side defensive ends in 247Sports' composite rankings, Paschal spent last season playing a variety of roles for his high school squad.
He would line up with his hand in the dirt, blitz the backfield from a stand-up start and even drop back into pass coverage on occasion. Paschal, who measured in at 6'3", 252 pounds at the D.C. regional, understands this versatility is a crucial element of what makes him alluring to college coaching staffs across the country.
"I hear a lot about playing a hybrid role," he said.
Paschal mentioned interest from scouts about his potential at the "Buck" linebacker position, which would require him to provide containment along the perimeter. Oklahoma, he says, is a program that particularly identified that role as a possible fit.
The Sooners are in a solid spot to line up an upcoming campus visit with the rangy defensive standout as he begins to chart out his travel itinerary. Alabama is another intriguing destination.
While other visit dates remain undetermined, a trip to Tuscaloosa is tentatively planned for June 3. Paschal doesn't yet hold an offer from the Crimson Tide, but aims to leave campus with an Alabama scholarship in his possession if things go well on campus.
"I'm hoping they'll offer me when I go down there," he said.
From a physical standpoint, Paschal would seem to be an appropriate fit in Alabama's front-seven scheme. If the Tide do indeed opt to extend an offer, head coach Nick Saban would have competition within his conference.
Tennessee is among the programs most ardently pursuing, Paschal said. Texas A&M, too, has recently intensified efforts.
Along with that SEC pair, Paschal pointed to Clemson, Maryland, Rutgers and Kentucky (where older brother TraVaughn Paschal played linebacker and defensive end) as universities recruiting him hardest.
In-state Maryland is on a mission to build a fence around its borders under new head coach D.J. Durkin. Unsurprisingly, Paschal is a pivotal part of those efforts, and he spent time at College Park on Saturday.
"I think big things are going to happen there," Paschal said. "Maryland is preaching the stay-at-home movement, and is also showing it through actions with how they build relationships with recruits."
Don't expect an early commitment from Paschal, who is in no rush to conclude his recruitment.
"I think I'm going to push it into next year," he said.
Multiple trips are likely to alter the course of this process as spring seeps into summer. Paschal plans to narrow things down to a top-five list before reaching a decision.
If he's able to accomplish this goal prior to the start of his senior season, expect each of those schools to host him for an official visit.
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College football fans are stressed enough; imagine if they had to worry about their team's star freshman considering an early jump to the NFL.
It's a luxury for college football that players aren't eligible to be drafted until after their third season. Teams don't have to rush freshmen into action, and if someone breaks through in that first season they know they're going to stick around for at least three years.
Compare that to college basketball, where the ability to turn pro after one season—often referred to as being “one and done”—means many highly regarded players leave before they've really made their mark on the college game. According to NBC Sports, more than 20 freshmen college basketball players have declared for the NBA draft, with many of those having already signed an agent thus eliminating their opportunity to return to school.
If the opportunity to turn pro after one college football season existed, would there be any takers? Considering the amount of money at stake, the answer is certainly yes. But who would make the jump?
Out of the incoming 2016 freshman class, we've selected a handful of potential one-and-done candidates based on their skill set, their position and the likelihood they'd be coveted by an NFL team willing to draft someone so young.
Micah Clark, considered the top-ranked player in New Jersey, committed to Rutgers on Tuesday. The 4-star offensive tackle gave his verbal to the Scarlet Knights, choosing the university over schools like Penn State and Michigan.
He made the announcement via Twitter:
A breakout performer at St. John Vianney Regional High School in Holmdel, Clark had his recruitment centered on Penn State and Ohio State early on. 247Sports' "Crystal Ball" predictions initially gave the Nittany Lions and the Buckeyes the best chance of landing the lineman. Clark himself named Ohio State his front-runner in December.
"The visit from Urban Meyer put them No. 1," Clark said, per Brian Dohn of Scout.com. "I was like, ‘Wow, the head coach actually came down to see me.’ I know he goes to see other players, but I know for a fact he only goes to see players he is really interested in. It was cool he came to my school."
Clark was also complimentary of the pitch the Penn State coaches gave him that pushed the school's academic programs.
"The message to me is even if football doesn’t work out, if the next level doesn’t work out, your education is still there," Clark said, per Dohn. "I know that. I look at Penn State and their business school, and I know if I don’t make it in the NFL, I still have the education. I like that about Penn State, and how the alumni base backs up every player."
For now, there are few reasons to expect football not to work out. Clark is already a physical specimen at 6'5" and 283 pounds, equipped with the length and power to become an elite offensive tackle at the next level. He's also a two-way player who understands what it takes to be effective on the defensive line, putting him a step ahead of some one-sided players from an IQ perspective.
Once he begins fully filling out his frame, Clark is going to be a force. He'll be a foundational piece of Rutgers' offensive line and is already going to boost its Class of 2017 stock quite a bit.
At Rutgers, he may have the chance to earn a starting spot immediately at left tackle. The school finished 65th in the nation in rush yards per game (169.9) last year and gave up 25 sacks, 56th in the country.
But Rutgers does return 14 offensive lineman from a year ago, including four starters, per Keith Sargeant of NJ Advance Media. Three-year starter and left tackle Keith Lumpkin is the one starter no longer with the team, opening the door for Clark.
So while Clark will certainly have a fight on his hands to earn a starting gig in his freshman campaign, he looks like the early front-runner to play left tackle in Rutgers' new fast-pace offense.
All recruiting and star rankings courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings unless otherwise noted.
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Georgia bolstered its future offensive line Tuesday, as guard Netori Johnson committed to its 2017 recruiting class.
Johnson announced his commitment to the Bulldogs on Twitter:
The 6’3 ½” and 348-pound Johnson is a 4-star prospect, per 247Sports’ composite rankings, and he is the No. 122 overall recruit, the No. 4 guard and the No. 14 prospect from the state of Georgia in the 2017 class.
Being from SEC territory, Johnson naturally attracted plenty of attention from the conference. Georgia, Auburn, Ole Miss, Alabama and Florida all recruited him throughout the process, while other schools, such as Michigan, Miami, USC and Michigan State, also pursued the lineman.
He originally joined Alabama's class but decommitted from the Crimson Tide on Feb. 5. The pairing seemed to make sense on paper considering head coach Nick Saban has built a dominant program that thrives on physically overpowering opponents at the line of scrimmage. Johnson is a massive lineman prospect who could step in right away and contribute.
Johnson seemed to be leaning toward Georgia for a time after leaving Alabama’s class and suggested as much when he joined vsporto’s SEC Recruiting Buzz (via Kipp Adams of 247Sports):
I am liking the Bulldogs right now, especially with them getting [head coach] Kirby Smart. He was my recruiting coach at Alabama. He was on me. Especially with them getting Sam Pittman, that is my boy. I like him too, as an offensive line coach. I looked up his stats and he sent a lot to the NFL. I would love to play for him too.
Johnson also said the opportunity to play early was important (via Adams): "Georgia is recruiting me as hard as Alabama and Auburn. Right now, I do not see any threats to me on the offensive line at Georgia. I believe I could go right in and just play, as a freshman. … I have not really thought about any factors besides playing time. I just really want to play."
The Bulldogs appear ready to give Johnson an opportunity to play early when he arrives on campus next year.
Johnson's commitment is also a big win for Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, who not only lands one of the prized offensive linemen in next year's recruiting class but took him away from Alabama.
Smart came from the Crimson Tide, spending nine years on Saban's staff, so he's seen up close and personal what having a powerful and deep offensive line can do to make an offense better. The Bulldogs are also having an excellent start to next year's recruiting season, as Johnson gives them their sixth commitment from a 4-star prospect, per 247Sports.
The reason Johnson could play right away for his new team is his overwhelming power and physicality that allows him to drive defensive linemen into the second level and open holes for the rushing attack.
He also brings decent athleticism to the table for his size, which will help him in pass protection at the collegiate level. If Johnson continues to improve throughout his tenure at a top-notch college program, he could hear his name called on NFL draft day in the near future.
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