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Michigan vs. Penn State in 2014 Will Be in Primetime, Under the Big House Lights

This year's game between Michigan and Penn State was already going to feel different, as the Wolverines and Nittany Lions will meet for the first time as division rivals within the newly formed Big Ten East.

On Monday, the deviations between next year's game and the previous 17 meetings in series history continued to pile up, with UM officially announcing that the game will be played under the lights (kickoff is at 7 p.m. ET) at the Big House in Ann Arbor.

Said head coach Brady Hoke in a statement released by the school:

The night game atmosphere created by our fans has been electric and we expect that same type of energy for our first-ever conference night game against Penn State. Our players really enjoy playing in primetime at Michigan Stadium.

Not that they've had many chances.

Michigan hosted its first home night game against Notre Dame in 2011 and has only repeated the feat against Notre Dame in 2013. This will thus be the first Big Ten game played at night in the Big House, as well as the first against anyone other than the Irish.

According to the press release, either ESPN or ESPN2 will televise the game, which is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 11. An average of more than eight million people watched the first two night games against Notre Dame, both of which were carried by ESPN, and the network is surely hoping for (and expecting) a similar number this fall.

Much of that will depend on the form of the teams. Traditionally two of college football's biggest powers, Michigan and Penn State combined to lose 11 games last season, but improvement is expected out of both in 2014.

If nothing else, the game will be a great prime-time look at Penn State sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg against Michigan freshman defensive back Jabrill Peppers—two of the most touted recruits of the past two years.

What better way to see that than under the lights?

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ole Miss Football: What We Learned from Rebels' 2014 Spring Game

The first weekend of spring games provided a glimpse of what the SEC could look like in 2014.

Judging from the way Ole Miss played in its annual Grove Bowl, the future is bright in Oxford.

The offense beat the defense 15-12 in a modified scoring system designed by head coach Hugh Freeze, but don't worry about the score. What should grab your attention is the play of some of the Rebels' stars.

What did we learn from Ole Miss' spring game?

 

Depth and Diversity at Running Back

Ole Miss gets a lot of pub for its wide receivers, most notably former wideout Donte Moncrief and current sophomore Laquon Treadwell. But the bread and butter of Freeze's attack is the running game. Ole Miss' spring game proved that there's a lot of talent, depth and diversity at running back for this year's Rebels.

The star of the spring show was junior I'Tavius Mathers. The 5'11", 187-pounder rushed four times for 121 yards, including a 96-yard scamper inside the 5-yard line, to lead all rushers. Mathers emerged as a dangerous weapon off the edge last season and appears to have picked up right were he left off.

"I’Tavius Mathers is just special," Freeze said in quotes released by Ole Miss. "We’ve got some good backs. Today he made a phenomenal run. Yesterday he made a run where he made two guys miss in space. That guy has improved."

Mathers was a known commodity, but establishing a between-the-tackles running game was the No. 1 job for the Rebels offense, because it would take some pressure off quarterback Bo Wallace in the running game and give Freeze even more options out of the backfield.

The Rebels did that on Saturday, as 6'1", 209-pound redshirt freshman Jordan Wilkins rushed for 26 yards and a touchdown, and 5'10", 198-pound sophomore Mark Dodson accounted for 78 yards and a touchdown. Freeze was very complimentary of those two running backs in my Q&A with him last month, and both proved that they can be reliable, versatile every-down backs in the spring game.

A consistent, versatile, deep running back corps will make the Ole Miss offense tick. It will keep Wallace from shouldering the load, help him keep that shoulder healthy and open up those passing lanes to those talented wide receivers and tight ends.

 

Talent Outside

Speaking of those wide receivers and tight ends, Ole Miss has those by the boatload in 2014.

Laquon Treadwell was a machine in possession situations last season for the Rebels as a true freshman, catching 72 passes for 608 yards and five touchdowns. He was solid in the spring game with two catches for 46 yards and a touchdown.

But check out the diversity. Cody Core, a 6'3", 196-pounder, caught four passes for 51 yards, and tight end Evan Engram had two catches for 77 yards.

Treadwell can be the over-the-middle threat in short-yardage situations. He's already proved that. But the addition of several big targets, including 6'3" Quincy Adeboyejo, who was nicked up late in spring, makes this receiving corps extremely versatile. 

The tall and versatile receivers give Freeze options in the passing game. Treadwell can take over some of the deep-threat responsibilities that Moncrief had last season, but he doesn't have to. The flexibility with the wide receivers will allow Freeze to get creative and Wallace to exploit mismatches when they present themselves.

Judging from the spring game, they will be present early and often.

 

Don't Sleep on the Defense

Ole Miss' defense last season was extremely underrated, and the majority of those playmakers on that side of the ball are back, including All-American safety Cody Prewitt. All Prewitt did on Saturday was notch 10 tackles and force two fumbles.

But it wasn't just Prewitt on Saturday. 

True freshman early enrollee safety C.J. Hampton had five tackles as he introduced himself to Rebel fans, freshman defensive end Marquis Haynes had two sacks, and second-team Associated Press All-SEC linebacker Serderius Bryant had a fumble recovery. 

A nice mix of new stars and current stars shined on Saturday, and none of them were named "Robert Nkemdiche" or "Tony Conner."

Not only is this Ole Miss defense talented, but it's also very versatile. Nkemdiche moved from defensive end to defensive tackle as last season progressed, and Freeze told me last month that Prewitt's full-time home at the next level is probably at outside linebacker.

This defense is loaded with talent, has built depth over the last two seasons and is poised to make a big jump in 2014.

 

Is This Team Prepared to Contend for the SEC West?

Needless to say, Freeze was pleased with the spring game and pleased with his team throughout the entire session of practices.

“I’m really, really thrilled with our spring," he said in quotes released by Ole Miss. "I’ve obviously coached a lot of spring practices, and I can’t remember one being better in the area of effort."

But can this team contend for the division title?

It's a giant leap from being a lower-tier bowl team to a division title contender in the SEC West, but considering the relative uncertainty with LSU's offense, Alabama's cornerbacks and Texas A&M's defense, the door is certainly open for the Rebels to make a run. 

In order for that to happen, though, the three pieces of the puzzle mentioned above need to be consistent. That was one thing that plagued the Rebels over the last two seasons. But if some of those highly recruited players from each of the last two recruiting classes live up to the hype, the Rebels creating havoc in the West isn't out of the realm of possibility.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All spring game statistics are courtesy of Ole Miss' sports information department, and all stats from last season are courtesy of CFBStats.com.

 


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5 Unaswered Questions Heading into Notre Dame's Spring Game

With the Blue-Gold game approaching Saturday, Brian Kelly and his staff have just a few more practices to build the Irish until fall camp. Tasked with an ambitious list of objectives, the work already accomplished has been plentiful.

Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder has installed a new scheme. Kelly and offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock have rebooted the offense as well, going back to Kelly's spread roots, with hopes that it brings a return to the prolific scoring offenses Kelly had at Cincinnati. 

As it often happens during spring, some answers have revealed themselves. Ronnie Stanley looks like the heir apparent to Zack Martin. Steve Elmer will move into Chris Watt's spot at left guard as redshirt Mike McGlinchey takes over at right tackle. 

With Everett Golson being pushed at quarterback by Malik Zaire, Kelly finally has two triggermen that can run his up-tempo spread attack. 

But with a national broadcast of the Blue-Gold game on tap for Saturday on the NBC Sports Network, let's look at five questions that still need answering for the Irish. 

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. 

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Miami Football: Ryan Williams' Injury Opens Door for Kevin Olsen to Win QB Job

As unfair and unfortunate as Ryan Williams' ACL injury is for the Miami quarterback, it might also usher in a new era for the Hurricanes. 

Williams, the Memphis transfer who was slotted to start this year as Stephen Morris' successor, will have surgery on his right knee this week, according to assistant athletic director Chris Yandle.

There's no timetable for Williams' return, but depending on the severity of the injury and recovery time, Williams could be sidelined for part, if not all, of the 2014 season. There's really no way to know how it will impact Williams' season until he begins rehabbing. 

For what it's worth, a university email to Susan Miller Degnan of the Miami Herald confirmed that Williams' injury was non-contact. That's typically not a great sign. 

In the meantime, that puts the first-team reps on redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen. With just two practices left until Miami's spring game on Saturday, there's not much time for separation in the quarterback competition. 

However, Olsen was the next in line behind Williams, and now is as good a time as any to see what Olsen is made of. The former 4-star prospect hasn't taken a snap in a college game, but he has a great pedigree. He's the brother of former Miami Hurricane and current Carolina Panthers TE Greg Olsen. He's also a coach's kid, having played for his father, Chris, at Wayne Hills High School in New Jersey. 

The physical measurables have never been Olsen's issue. It's the mental part of the game where he's had to grow the most.  

According to head coach Al Golden, Olsen has taken a big step in the maturation process this spring. From Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the Sun-Sentinel: "He's really doing all the little things that you need a quarterback to do and it's showing on the field…He has to continue to raise his confidence level and continue to lead, but that's going to come the more comfortable he is with the offense."

Golden added, even before Williams' injury, that he planned on giving Olsen more first-team snaps in practice. 

Olsen's maturity will be tested this summer during voluntary workouts. Does he rise to the occasion and become the leader he needs to be? Does it transition into preseason camp? Sophomore quarterback Gray Crow is still in the competition, and freshmen Brad Kaaya and Malik Rosier will arrive later this summer. 

Olsen has the edge. It's a matter of whether he'll keep it. 

As terrible as Williams' injury is, it's an opportunity for Olsen to make a move on the depth chart. Depending on how well he does, the move could be long-term. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. 

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Notre Dame Football: 10 Players to Watch in Notre Dame's Spring Game

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — It feels like it just started, but spring practice is coming to a close. As we embark on the final week, we’re getting ready to see everything and everyone put into action.

We’ve been able to see snippets of most players throughout these first 13 practice sessions, but who are the players to watch in Saturday’s Blue-Gold Spring Game?

Let’s take a look.

 

*All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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Auburn Football: Inside the Tigers' Revamped Special Teams Unit

One consistent feature throughout Auburn's surprise 2013 run to the SEC Championship and a spot in the BCS National Championship Game was the Tigers' excellent special teams play.

Several veteran specialists were difference makers for Auburn last season, from deadly accurate punter Steven Clark to punt (and field-goal) return speedster Chris Davis.

While the Tigers return considerable depth in almost every position on the depth chart for 2014, head coach Gus Malzahn and special teams coordinator Scott Fountain will have to find a new kicker, punter, return men and an extra point specialist for what they hope will be another championship-winning season.

As Auburn gets ready for its final few practices of spring camp, let's take a look at the Tigers' revamped special teams unit for the 2014 season.

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Making the Case Against a College Football Players' Union

On the surface, it sounded like a good idea.

When the National Labor Relations Board ruled in late March that Northwestern University football players qualified as school employees and could unionize, it sent shock waves through college athletics and the ongoing pay-for-play debate.

Surely, this would be the case which ended college amateurism forever and changed the way that college sports are played, right?

It might be, pending appeal by Northwestern and the NCAA.

But unions aren’t the right way to fix what is broken about college athletics.

There are far too many questions and too many variables to make a college football players’ union a viable option in our current system.

Speaking at a news conference for the Final Four on Sunday, NCAA president Mark Emmert called the idea of unionization “grossly inappropriate” and said it “would blow up everything about the collegiate model of athletics,” according to USA Today.

That might be going a bit far, but it is crucial to consider what unionization can mean, and how it would work across college athletics.

First, and perhaps most importantly, public schools are not required to conform to the NLRB’s rulings. That means that just within the Big Ten, Northwestern could unionize, while unions could be blocked at places like Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State.

In the Southeastern Conference, Vanderbilt players could conceivably unionize while Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and Florida players, for example, would not.

That could be a huge advantage for private schools like Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Duke and Stanford, whose players could negotiate pay-for-play benefits with their programs. But how does the model work for other programs?

Would, say, Alabama (whose athletic department generated $143 million in 2012-13, according to an Associated Press story) share some of that revenue with its football players, whose labor fueled the vast majority of that money for the university?

Or would deep-pocketed boosters step into the fray and pay players under the table to ensure the Crimson Tide (and similar programs) stayed competitive in the new marketplace?

Another factor to ponder: While Northwestern players say that payment isn’t the primary concern driving their unionization bid, it is surely a consideration.

Under the current system, Northwestern players receive a scholarship and room and board worth approximately $76,000 per year. All 85 scholarship players are equal, receiving the same benefits for their work.

How would a union system work? Would seniority earn players greater pay? Would starters earn more money than their second-string teammates? Would a freshman starter garner a larger paycheck than a senior backup?

Such disparity could foment discontent among teammates, an unintended consequence of unionization.

And while scholarships are exempt from taxation under IRS rules, paying players would give federal and state governments the opportunity to tax players. Union dues could also be charged.

A union could give players the opportunity to bargain collectively on the group’s behalf, which could improve working conditions. The NLRB reported Northwestern players spent 50-60 hours per week on football in preseason training camp, 40-50 during the regular season and 20-25 in offseason and summer workouts.

During the season, the NCAA limits programs to spending 20 hours per week on football activities, which doesn’t count things like travel or time that players spend in training rooms nursing injuries or studying film and playbooks on their own.

Players could conceivably strike to get more palatable benefits, which is well within their rights. However, programs could also lock them out if they feel the need to do so, as has happened numerous times over the past 30 years in the NFL, NHL, NBA and MLB.

Would all players be required to be part of a union on their respective campuses? If a player opts out, what would his teammates’ reaction be?

Northwestern’s team is expected to vote on unionization April 25. The Chicago Tribunereported team leaders like quarterback Trevor Siemian, tailback Venric Mark, center Brandon Vitabile and receiver Kyle Prater all spoke out against the union.

Recently, former Stanford offensive lineman Conor McFadden (who began as a walk-on before earning a scholarship for his final two seasons) said unionization “is going from the devil you know to the devil you don’t know completely,” he told Bleacher Report.

“I don’t need more money in my pocket,” he said. “With celebrities and pro athletes, money gets them in trouble. That’s why college sports are so valuable. It gives kids an opportunity at an education, which is truly more valuable in the long term. Infinitely more valuable. Football, money, that stuff goes away at the end of the day.”

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is also firmly against unionization. He told The Charleston Post and Courier following a recent practice:

We've got enough entitlement in this country as it is. To say these guys get nothing totally devalues an education. It just blows my mind people don't even want to quantify an education.

I didn't get into coaching to make money - coaches weren't making any money when I got into coaching. It's what I wanted to do with my life, and I was able to do it because of my education. That's what changed my life. That's what changes everybody's life.

Unionization could change how college athletics are run and how many non-revenue athletes ultimately get the chance to play.

There is no question that football and men’s basketball earn the lion’s share of revenue for athletic departments across the nation. They support non-revenue sports financially.

But if football and men’s basketball are unionized, would non-revenue athletes follow suit and then ask for a piece of the pie themselves?

How would a union fit into the structure of Title IX, the landmark ruling that allows an equal opportunity for male and female athletes?

Would programs spread the wealth equally, or would they instead choose to disband non-revenue sports?

It is fair to suggest players receive something more than a scholarship and room and board for their efforts. The idea of paying for players’ cost of attendance (i.e., a supplement to their current stipends for room and board) would be understandable, as would stipends.

But the idea of unionization creates too many difficult questions, which don’t translate well across the spectrum of college athletics. If the Northwestern decision gets players and the NCAA to the bargaining table to hammer out a workable deal which enriches the players’ experience, all the better. But unionization isn’t the way to approach the matter.

Unless noted, all quotes for this article were obtained directly by the author.

Connect with Greg on Twitter @gc_wallace

 

 

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Tennessee Football: 10 Players to Watch in Volunteers' Spring Game

One of the most hotly anticipated Orange & White Games in recent memory will take place Saturday in Neyland Stadium, and there won't be any shortage of storylines for the Tennessee Volunteers.

While it is just a glorified scrimmage, head coach Butch Jones' second spring game at the helm of the Vols will feature plenty of excitement.

From a four-man quarterback race to 14 early enrollees to completely rebuilt offensive and defensive lines, the game will be a Big Orange sensory overload. 

Jones held open competitions virtually all over the field, and this will be the biggest stage yet for them to showcase their talents. 

Seventeen more fresh faces will get to Knoxville this summer to up the ante even more, but those guys will find themselves behind the youngsters who have arrived early. Many of those newcomers are firmly in the two-deep depth chart, and a few are penciled in as starters.

From some of those first-year Vols to other old faces who've stepped up and seized key roles, this spring has been huge for the program. Now, fans will get the opportunity to self-evaluate those guys and get their first peek at the 2014 Vols.

Let's take a look at 10 players to examine closely on Saturday.

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5-Star WR Christian Kirk on Urban Meyer: "I Want to Be Around a Guy Like That"

Five-star wide receiver Christian Kirk recently visited Ohio State and was impressed with what he saw.

The Phoenix, Ariz., native braved the cold weather and enjoyed OSU's tradition and state-of-the-art facilities. Kirk is a rare talent who will contribute greatly on offense, and he has the skills to score from anywhere on the field. 

Watch Christian Kirk break down his Ohio State visit and what he liked most about Urban Meyer

 

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital.

All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Football: Updating the Crimson Tide's 2014 Quarterback Competition

TUSCALOOSA — If there’s one aspect of being a quarterback that University of Alabama senior Blake Sims clearly has down, it’s saying the right things.

For example, when asked last week if he had a favorite receiver yet, Sims didn’t blink and said “No” to the reporter.

“I love all my receivers.”

Of course, on Saturday, junior Amari Cooper easily topped all the receivers during the Crimson Tide’s first spring scrimmage by making 10 receptions for 190 yards and two touchdowns.

While only the statistical leaders of the closed session at Bryant-Denny Stadium were released to reporters, no one else had more than three catches (wide receiver Christion Jones and reserve running back Altee Tenpenny) or 48 yards (early enrollee wide receiver Cam Sims).

Similarly, when it comes to trying to measure the quarterback competition, fans finally have a sort of leaderboard, with Sims out in front after completing 16 of 23 passes (69.6 percent) for 277 yards and two touchdowns, along with Nick Saban’s post-practice comments.

“The quarterbacks really did a good job,” the coach said. “I think the stats are pretty good for what they were able to accomplish. They’ve been pretty consistent throughout the spring. I think that, as a team, when we get in certain situations, we have not been able to respond very well, and I think that it’s a matter of the whole team.

“The pass protection needs to be better. The quarterback’s gotta do a little bit better job. So when we’re in play action, move the field, running it, throwing it, getting the ball out of our hand quick, we do a nice job. But we get too much pressure in the pocket, so the quarterbacks can’t operate, which we’ve got to get cleaned up with the offensive line so that the guys have a better chance to function.”

With three-year starter AJ McCarron now preparing for the NFL draft, Saban is looking for just his fourth starting quarterback since arriving in 2007. Sims was the primary backup last season, so he’s the closest thing to an incumbent.

Because Jacob Coker won’t transfer until after graduation from Florida State next month, the competition is already guaranteed to go into the fall. However, all of the other contenders—sophomore Alec Morris, redshirt freshmen Cooper Bateman and Parker McLeod and early enrollee David Cornwell, who is coming off a torn ACL sustained last fall—are much younger.

“It's going to be a good competition,” senior safety Nick Perry predicted. “You have Blake Sims, who is an experienced guy. Then you have Alec Morris, who is a gunslinger. You have Bateman, who's more of a Greg McElroy type, AJ McCarron type.”

Blake Sims, a converted running back, has played in 23 games for the Crimson Tide, including eight last season when he completed 18 of 29 passes for 167 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also had 15 carries for 61 rushing yards, which is significant, because the previous year, he had a real propensity for tucking the ball and running.

In 2012, he had 30 carries for 187 yards and two touchdowns compared to attempting 10 passes and completing five for 77 yards in mop-up duty.

“That’s a work in progress for Blake,” Saban said earlier this spring. “I thought he made significant progress last year. I think that that’s one thing that we want to evaluate and know that he needs to progress in is his ability to be a more consistent passer, especially in the system that we implement now.”

That system, under new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Lane Kiffin, is designed to run the ball and create explosive plays. It’s primarily geared for a pro-style passer, but there’s no reason to think that a dual-threat quarterback can’t be successful in the scheme as well.

Saban’s had dual-threat quarterbacks before, just not with the Crimson Tide.

“There are two plays with Blake—the one they call on offense and then when that one doesn't go right, it's the one he makes with his feet,” Perry continued. “We've seen that in college football and even in the NFL with players like Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel. He's a dangerous player.”

During their spring breaks, Coker, who battled Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston for the FSU starting gig, was in Tuscaloosa working on learning the Alabama offense, while Sims, ironically, went to Florida to get in some extra work at the Mastrole Passing Academy.

The two things he especially wanted to improve upon were his footwork and ability to read defenses, particularly when not in the shotgun.

“It worked out very well,” Sims said. “My footwork got better and accuracy, and I got a good relationship with Ken Mastrole and hopefully I get the opportunity to do it again.”

While there’s no guarantee that anyone will win the job by the end of training camp—McCarron didn’t finally beat out Phillip Sims until after the 2011 regular season started—Blake Sims is at least poised for two more weeks of spring practices and A-Day on April 19th followed by a summer of drills and film work.

In his words, it’s a “Once in a lifetime opportunity,” and early indications are that he more than passed the first big test with the scrimmage, when the initial pecking order began to emerge.

“Blake has had a really good spring and has taken some command,” Saban said. “Cooper Bateman has made a lot of improvement. He’s done a nice job. Alec’s still competing. Those three guys have sort of emerged as the three guys that look like they’re most ready to play.”

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Jauan Jennings Commits to Tennessee: Where Auburn, 'Bama Turn After Missing ATH

Impressive playmaker Jauan Jennings announced his commitment to Tennessee Monday morning, spurning offers from multiple national championship contenders in the process:

Jennings, a 4-star prospect, chose the Volunteers from a cluster of top options during a ceremony at Blackman High School (Murfreesboro, Tenn.). He narrowed his decision down to six finalists, featuring Alabama, Auburn, Ohio State, Northwestern and Mississippi State.

The final 10 days of his recruitment included campus visits to Auburn and Tennessee. Alabama made things interesting by extending an offer in late January, days after 5-star Crimson Tide quarterback pledge Ricky Town flipped his commitment to USC.

The 6'2.5", 186-pound junior received various offers throughout the course of his nationwide recruitment. Nebraska, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Penn State and Ole Miss are among several squads that fell short of his finalists list.

Jennings' outstanding junior season provided plenty of proof that he belongs among the country's premier playmakers. He shined as a passer and a runner while leading Blackman to a state championship.

Jennings threw for 1,465 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2013. He gained an additional 815 yards and 10 scores on the ground.

It was his first season as a starting quarterback, leaving many to wonder about his untapped potential at the position. Still raw as a passer and learning the nuances of how to operate in the pocket, Jennings is largely viewed as an "athlete."

He is the nation's No. 13 athlete in 247Sports' composite rankings, which also list him as the No. 4 prospect in Tennessee.

His efforts at the high school level feature strong play on defense, and he could eventually end up at safety in college. Not every team was willing to promise Jennings an opportunity at quarterback.

Even if he arrived on campus as a passer, it won't eliminate the chance of a positional switch to the defensive secondary or wide receiver. His athleticism and skill set will earn Jennings a spot somewhere on the field, but he envisions himself lining up behind center.

"A lot of coaches don’t feel I can play quarterback. A lot of fans don’t feel I can play quarterback," Jennings told ESPN reporter Greg Ostendorf. "I want to say, ‘I told you so.’”

Last month, he told AL.com reporter Wesley Sinor that each of his six finalists were targeting him at quarterback. Tennessee, a team that opted not to pick up a passer in the 2014 class, provides a solid fit.

His commitment gives the Volunteers 10 players in the 2015 class, more than any other SEC program. Head coach Butch Jones lands a versatile in-state prospect who could ultimately excel elsewhere on the field in Knoxville.

Meanwhile, Tennessee opponents Auburn and Alabama are forced to move forward with Jennings out of the picture. Both teams have sights set on the same quarterback target.

Torrance Gibson, a 5-star Florida prospect, recently visited Auburn during spring break and has caught the attention of Nick Saban. However, they still must contend with Tennessee for his signature.

Gibson was impressed by his stop in Knoxville last month and already announced he'll spend an official visit at Tennessee later this year.

Auburn already holds a commitment from 4-star Georgia quarterback Tyler Queen, but a dual-threat athlete like Gibson is certainly a stronger fit for the Tigers based on the team's recent offensive track record.

Alabama is still searching for a passer in this class. The Tide were dropped by Town nearly three months ago but have yet to find his replacement.

Saban has seen New Mexico quarterback Zach Gentry become a coveted recruit, and perhaps the Tide will push harder in his recruitment. He holds an offer from Alabama but visited Tennessee last month.

Brandon Wimbush, a dual-threat quarterback from New Jersey, draws comparisons to Jennings. Alabama has yet to extend an offer so Saban would enter the race late, as Penn State, Ohio State and Miami are already in the mix.

The Vols keep a crucial in-state target close by and leave foes searching elsewhere.

If Tennessee continues to top conference rivals for key recruits, the Volunteers will begin beating SEC foes on the field with more consistency in the near future.

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Jack Mewhort Showcasing Versatility and Dedication During the NFL Draft Process

Dating back to high school, Ohio State offensive lineman Jack Mewhort has played every position on the offensive line. That kind of versatility is a rarity among top NFL draft prospects.

Currently rated ninth as an offensive tackle by Bleacher Report's Matt Miller (77th overall), Mewhort is coming off of a stellar Big Ten career, and is projected by most into the NFL as a right tackle prospect. 

However, Mewhort credits his versatility and love of the game and is willing to play wherever the team that selects him in May needs him the most—even center, where he was a high school All-American. 

At Ohio State, it's hard not to love the game, as Urban Meyer has turned around a program that was barely headed in any sort of the wrong direction under former head coach Jim Tressel.

It was just a momentary blip in the radar between the two coaches, and Mewhort credits both men (along with his parents and sister, "family first") with helping him become who he is today.

"Under Coach Meyer, everything you did was competing. He charted everything. If you were slacking in practice, it was up there on a board somewhere. Then, under Coach Tressel, we did this thing called quiet time and he’d talk to us every day. I remember, 'You are who you hang with.' The people you surround yourself with define you."

For the past four seasons, however, Mewhort has been defined as a "Buckeye," and that has meant a burning hatred—or, at worst, a competitive dislike—for those guys up in Ann Arbor. Asked about the Ohio State/Michigan rivalry, Mewhort said:

"Yes, it's definitely it’s the best rivalry in all of sports. Growing up in Toledo, I got to see both sides of the rivalry, which was pretty cool. There’s always something extra. Sure, you put everything you have into every game, but Ohio State/Michigan—coaches' careers end if they don’t win that game. We know it’s a bigger game."

Now that he's leaving Columbus and set to graduate with a degree in consumer and family resource financial services, Mewhort is working toward an NFL career. To further that goal, he's been training at IMG's facilities in Bradenton, Fla., as the draft approaches. 

"Your body is your business. That’s something that’s changed a little bit—just dedicating more time to making sure my body is healthy. Sometimes (as a college student), you get lost and just want food in your body. At IMG, they have a whole nutrition plan worked out for us."

On the field, Mewhort knows there's some things he needs to work on:

"Confidence in my game—there are times that I let things get to me and end up being too hard on myself. I would also like to get NFL coaching on how to protect the edge better."

For the past couple of seasons, Mewhort's been tasked with protecting more mobile quarterbacks in coach Meyer's scheme, and he knows that's helped him, saying that having a quarterback who can move "can make you look really good."

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller provided this projection of Mewhort's game:

"I like Mewhort as an early starter in his NFL career, but he lacks the agility and fluid movements of the other top tackles in this class. A possible move to right tackle may help, but he has shown flashes of sound pass protection. Speed rushers gave him fits throughout his career, but Vic Beasley of Clemson may have personally killed Mewhort's draft stock with his Orange Bowl performance."

Mewhort, when asked to scout his own game, was confident he could play all five positions on the line at a high level and said that his new team will love his versatility. He also called himself a "tough football player" and doubled down on his love of the game. 

While he may not have the buzz or publicity of some of the other top tackles in this class, Mewhort simply has too much to offer NFL teams to not make an impact throughout his career. The kind of guy who will simply grab his lunchpail and get to work, Mewhort has the talent and tenacity to appeal to just about any NFL team. 

 

Michael Schottey is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff on his archive page and follow him on Twitter.

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Ole Miss Football: Look for WR Laquon Treadwell to Be Superstar in SEC

Ole Miss' Laquon Treadwell had quite the freshman season, recording 608 yards and five touchdowns. Rebels coach Hugh Freeze is trying to build a powerhouse in Oxford, Miss., and Treadwell will be a major part of the team's success going forward.

Can Treadwell be a breakout superstar this season in the SEC? What will his production look like as a sophomore?

Watch the video as Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee and Michael Felder break down what to expect from the star wide receiver and project what his stats will look like this upcoming season.

 

Highlights courtesy of xosdigital.com.

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Jauan Jennings to Tennessee: Volunteers Land 4-Star ATH Prospect

Jauan Jennings is headed to Tennessee.

Barton Simmons of 247Sports.com provided the news: 

The 4-star prospect, whose collegiate position is as much in the air as his destination was, verbally committed to the Volunteers on Monday, making him one of the first of what should be a slew of highly touted players announcing their decision. Jennings set a final six set of choices earlier this year and decided on a decision date last month. 

He chooses Tennessee over Alabama, Auburn, Northwestern Michigan State and Ohio State. Heading into Monday's announcement, Tennessee was largely seen as the favorite. The Volunteers received a 50 percent confidence rating on 247Sports' recruit page, Auburn (31 percent) and Alabama (19 percent) trailing by a good margin.

There was plenty of good reason behind that assumption. A rising senior at Blackman High School (Murfreesboro, Tenn.), Jennings is ranked No. 156 nationally and is the fourth-best player in the state of Tennessee. He also made a last-ditch visit to Knoxville before his decision, which typically means one of two things: A player is committing or he's going to give the proverbial breakup speech.

In the end, it turned out to be the former.

"From a family standpoint, that's something I want to do, but as an individual I can't limit my chances by staying close to home," Jennings told Wesley Sinor of AL.com of Tennessee. "I look for academics and how much the school brings a positive attitude."

Listed as an "athlete" by 247Sports, the biggest remaining question for Jennings is his position. He's going to have to make a choice between being a dual-threat quarterback, where he's electrifying as a runner but raw as a passer, and safety, where he's...mostly just very, very good but his ceiling isn't as high. 

ESPN's recruiting service has Jennings listed as a safety. In his profile of Jennings' decision, Sinor lists him as a quarterback. While the finalists all recruited him as a quarterback, there is no guarantee he finishes school on offense—and the still 16-year-old kid could always change his mind.

Commitments are nonbinding until a player signs his national letter of intent, which NCAA bylaw prevents from happening until February. Considering the level of uncertainty that went into Jennings' decision and the history of young players flip-flopping, it's hard to say his recruitment is over. By summer, a coach could sway him into re-opening his recruitment.

At least for now, though, Tennessee has landed one of the more intriguing prospects in this class. At 6'4" and 185 pounds, his body likely won't be ready to withstand SEC-level punishment as a freshman. He's going to have to hit the weight room and grow into his frame, which is lanky at the moment but leaves room for muscle growth.

Even if Butch Jones' plan is to use Jennings as a run-first option out of the backfield, he's someone who's going to need developmental time. He needs to learn how to read defenses and adjust to pressure without his first instinct being to run. 

Perhaps if he decides a move to safety is his best option, he'll be able to contribute earlier. Jennings' time at quarterback makes him an aware, athletic safety with the ability to jump on routes with his quickness.

But there's plenty of time to figure that all out. Jennings is a moldable prospect who could be special down the line at either quarterback or defensive back. It'll be up to Jones to see how he wants to go forward with that plan.

 

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4-Star ATH Jauan Jennings Commits to Tennessee: Meet the Next Russell Wilson

Jauan Jennings, a 4-star athlete ranked No. 7 by 247Sports, has announced his commitment to the Tennessee Volunteers, per Ryan Callahan of GoVols247.

Jennings possesses the skills to have a huge impact on the Tennessee offense in both their passing and rushing games. This is a huge get for Butch Jones, especially since the Vols do not have a starting quarterback coming out of spring practice—a role Jennings could fill in 2015. 

Check out Michael Felder break down what Jauan Jennings means to the Tennessee Volunteers. 

 

Highlights courtesy of XOs Digital

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Alabama Football: Look for Kiffin to Use WR Amari Cooper Like USC's Marqise Lee

Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper had somewhat of a down year last season when compared to his remarkable freshman campaign. After going for 999 yards and 11 touchdowns as a rookie, Cooper only recorded 736 yards and four TDs in his sophomore year.

With new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin on board with the Crimson Tide, look for Cooper to up his production in 2014. Will Kiffin try to highlight Cooper as he did Marqise Lee at USC?

Watch as Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer and Michael Felder break down how Cooper could be used in his junior season and what kind of stats should be expected from the star wide receiver.

 

Highlights courtesy of xosdigital.com.

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