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Notre Dame Football: 5 Irish Stars with Best Chance to Win 2014 National Awards

Beginning on Monday with the Bednarik and Maxwell Awards, the watch lists for a variety of college football’s top honors were released.

The names and watch lists will continue to roll in between now and next Friday, when the watch list for the Walter Camp Award (nation’s most outstanding player) is named.

So far, seven different Notre Dame football players have earned nine citations on various watch lists.

Of Notre Dame’s selections thus far to these preliminary watch lists, which Irish players have the best chance to win those national awards in 2014?

For now, we’ll only consider the awards for which the watch lists have already been released. That means we’re not including the Biletnikoff, Butkus, Davey O’Brien, Doak Walker, Jim Thorpe, Lombardi and Walter Camp Awards for consideration.

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The Biggest Takeaways from Tennessee's Recruits' Performance at The Opening

It would be difficult to script a much better result from The Opening for the Tennessee Volunteers, who went into the event with two commitments and had three by the time everybody left Beaverton, Oregon.

That third—5-star defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie, who won the event's Defensive Lineman MVP award—is the crown jewel of Butch Jones' second recruiting class.

All three of the future Vols acquitted themselves admirably in the camp setting laid out to separate the best from a group of the top players across the country.

McKenzie's performance was one of The Opening's most buzz-worthy stories, and he cemented his status as one of the top overall players.

Fellow 5-star and UT commit Preston Williams was one of the best receivers at the event, and inside linebacker Cecil Cherry also had a surprising showing, drawing some rave reviews.

UT had many more targets participating who showed up—guys like Van Jefferson, Josh Sweat and Bryce Love. But their recruitment status is up in the air, so let's stick with the players who've vowed to be Vols.

Here are some of the biggest takeaways from The Opening for UT.

 

Kahlil McKenzie is a Destroyer of Worlds (Or, At Least, Offensive Linemen)

If you followed coverage of The Opening, chances are you heard McKenzie's name…a couple dozen times.

The Vols were the recipient of one of the biggest prizes—if not THE biggest—in this year's recruiting cycle Thursday night when the 6'4", 341-pound stopgap chose UT over Arizona, along with pretty much every major college football team in the nation, per Bleacher Report's Tyler Donohue.

McKenzie has grown up around the NFL (his dad, Reggie, is the Oakland Raiders general manager, and both he and Kahlil's uncle, Raleigh, played in the league), and he already looks like an NFL rookie.

He treated high school linemen like ragdolls the past few days as well, tossing them aside and surging into the backfield. While camps like The Opening are set up for more athletic players like defensive ends to excel, McKenzie's name was called as much as anybody's.

Barton Simmons, 247Sports director of scouting, noted after Wednesday's drills (subscription required):

No prospect brings the kind of punch at the point of attack that Kahlil McKenzie brings. Predictably, the offensive linemen dread going up against him. The massive wide-bodied tackle is a threat to put an offensive lineman on his back on every rep because of his power and initial punch.

Here are a couple of examples of his dominance, against Alabama commitment Richie Petitbon and one of the nation's top tackle prospects, Matthew Burrell.

Words like "freak" and "beast" were thrown around by B/R's Michael Felder describing McKenzie, and those were backed up by his SPARQ score.

Basically, everybody who watched him was wowed by his size, surge and freakish athleticism. He will be a force at UT for years to come and will play right away.

 

Preston Williams Has His Work Cut Out To Remain Nation's Top Wide Receiver

There is elite talent across the nation at wide receiver, and UT has a commitment from the nation's top-ranked target in Lovejoy, Georgia 5-star Preston Williams.

Well, he's the nation's top target for now, at least.

Williams did nothing to disappoint this week, measuring in at 6'4", 191 pounds and turning in some impressive plays. According to 247Sports' Jamie Oakes (subscription required), Williams was singled out as one of the top performers:

Hampton (Ga.) Lovejoy wide receiver Preston Williams faced constant double teams today and some times tripled. And he still produced. The five-star Tennessee commitment has more than impressed.

But others, such as Alabama commit Calvin Ridley and his one-handed catch in-stride and UT target Christian Kirk, also garnered high praise.

Barton Simmons of 247Sports (subscription required) said Ridley was the "best receiver on the field Tuesday." B/R's Felder said he believed Kirk was the best on the field on Wednesday.

Considering Williams set out to prove he's "the best," according to 247Sports' Luke Stampini, he has a difficult task.

Williams was excellent at The Opening, but others were, too.

With his combination of size, route-running and strong speed for his size, Williams may be the most complete receiver in the class.

Is he the best? He's considered that for now, but while he didn't do anything to harm that status at the event, a couple of others may have done enough to jump him in the rankings.

 

Cecil Cherry Packs an Impressive Punch

It's extremely difficult to cause a fumble in two-hand touch football, but that's exactly what 3-star inside linebacker and UT commit Cherry did this week to running back Mike Weber.

Here's the video:

Cherry measured at 6', 230 pounds and is an ideal candidate to battle Gavin Bryant and Kenny Bynum to replace A.J. Johnson in the middle of the Vols' defense next year.

The Lakeland, Florida product doesn't have the best lateral speed, but he can punish runners when he gets there.

Even though Cherry is one of the lowest-rated players invited to The Opening as a 247Sports Composite 3-star, he had a nice showing.

After the first day of action, Simmons (subscription required) named Cherry among the "best of the best" at his position. Said Simmons:

Tennessee commit Cecil Cherry is going to bring Volunteer fans plenty of highlight reel hits. Even in this camp setting, you can tell that the stocky linebacker is itching to stick his forehead on somebody’s chest.

There wasn't much chatter from Cherry afterward, but he did show some flashes. Cherry's hit on Weber also was noted as the "signature play" of the day from the group by Simmons.

 

All recruiting rankings and statistics courtesy of 247Sports Composite

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter here:

@Brad_Shepard

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The Biggest Takeaways from Auburn Recruits' Performances at The Opening

While a quick start to the 2015 recruiting cycle currently has Auburn at No. 5 in 247Sports' Composite Team Rankings, the Tigers have a lot more room to improve their already star-studded class.

For proof of that fact, look no further than The Opening.

Nike hosted 163 of the nation's top high school football players at its Oregon headquarters this week for four days of prestigious skills testing and head-to-head competition.

None of The Opening's attendees are currently committed to Auburn, but the Tigers are in the hunt for more than a dozen of the elite athletes who were on Nike's campus. 

Several of those targets saw their stock rise in the national spotlight, while Auburn emerged as a new contender for a couple of standout performers.

Here are three things Auburn fans should take away from The Opening as this year's recruiting cycle heads into the late summer months.

 

Offensive Line MVP Martez Ivey Is a "Friday Night Guy"

Despite his ranking as the nation's top offensive lineman, 5-star tackle Martez Ivey finished toward the bottom of the results list of recruits who received a full SPARQ rating at The Opening.

Ivey's combine numbers, which included a 5.27 in the 40-yard dash, were not spectacular, but 247Sports' Keith Niebuhr said the scores were not reason for any alarm:

The 6'6" Florida native proved that in the one-on-one lineman challenge, impressing those in attendance with his work against some of the country's top defensive players. He further defended his lofty positional ranking by winning the camp's offensive line MVP award.

"I like competing," Ivey told Niebuhr (subscription required) earlier this week. "Whenever you’re going up against the best out there and you’re putting your hand in the ground, you don’t want anybody to be better than you. When you’re facing the best in the nation, there is no patty-caking around."

Ivey said Auburn and Florida currently stand out in his recruitment, and he expects to visit each school soon. While Ivey grew up a fan of his home state Gators, Apopka HS teammate Chandler Cox is a 3-star Auburn commitment who is pushing America's top tackle to be a part of another dominant offensive line on the Plains.

 

The Tigers' Key Targets at WR Are Athletic Freaks

Several high SPARQ ratings of Auburn's top targets at The Opening belonged to players who are currently recruited to play wide receiver. Notables include 4-star K.J. Hill (133.95), 4-star Christian Kirk (129.30), 5-star George Campbell (122.70) and 5-star Georgia commitment Terry Godwin (103.17).

Hill had the third-fastest agility shuttle time at 3.88 seconds. Kirk, who is interested in a handful of elite programs with spread offenses, carried his standout performance from the SPARQ drills over to the seven-on-seven competition, where he caught several touchdowns Wednesday.

Campbell, a Florida native and the nation's No. 2 wide receiver, ran a 4.36 in the 40-yard dash and made several spectacular downfield plays in the passing game.

Another 4-star, Kirk Merritt, won the SPARQ National Championship with a stunning 147.60 rating, which featured a 4.46-second 40-yard dash and a 43-inch vertical. He is currently the nation's No. 3 all-purpose back, but the Tigers have emerged as contenders for him, per 247Sports (subscription required), as he likes "how they use receivers in space."

Finally, 5-star Torrance Gibson went through drills as a wide receiver after going through the famed Elite 11 camp as a dual-threat quarterback earlier in the week. Some recruiting analysts believe he has more of a future at wide receiver than his preferred spot as a signal-caller.

 

Top In-State Recruit Daron Payne's Game Is Still Developing

Daron Payne, the No. 1 player in the state of Alabama, has got the power game all figured out as one of the nation's strongest defensive tackles.

But the 5-star from Shades Valley HS said he wants to work on doing more than just manhandling offensive linemen in order to become a more complete player at the next level.

"I really need to work on my speed rush," Payne said at The Opening, per AL.com's Gary Laney. "Just working the edge is something I need to do."

If the 330-pound Payne can develop more of an edge rush, he could be an instant starter at Auburn, who will be without Gabe Wright, Ben Bradley, Angelo Blackson and Jeffrey Whitaker after this season. He was able to showcase some of his all-around skills in the final one-on-one battles of The Opening.

The Tigers still have a lot of work to do to secure the top star from their home state. Rival Alabama is said to be a slight leader in front of Auburn, and Payne said this week Texas is also in the mix for his commitment. 

 

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports

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