Former Mississippi State Bulldogs wide receiver Chris Smith was killed in a shooting Friday night in Meridian, Mississippi.
Few details surrounding the incident are known currently, but police are still searching for a suspect, according to WTOK.
Following news of Smith's death, several former teammates paid tribute, including Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Deontae Skinner:
Former Mississippi State and Eagles linebacker Jamar Chaney had the following to say:
Smith played for the Bulldogs from 2009 through 2012, registering 109 receptions for 1,180 yards and five touchdowns during his collegiate career.
Smith's best season came as a senior in 2012 when he set personal bests with 47 grabs for 564 yards and two scores. He also appeared in three bowl games during his four seasons at Mississippi State.
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With SEC media days behind us, it's smooth sailing until preseason camps for Southeastern Conference football teams, and then the 2016 season will be here.
Those long, slogging summer days are almost over, and it's nearly football time in Tennessee…and Alabama…and Mississippi…and everywhere else.
At this point of the offseason, everybody has massive expectations. After all, everybody's still undefeated, right?
If you listen to the conference's media contingent, it's going to be Alabama over Tennessee in the SEC championship game. That's according to this week's media polls released, and even though the scribes and analysts have been right just five times in 24 years, the Crimson Tide are a safe pick.
Can you imagine two of the oldest rivals meeting twice in the same year? It would be the first time the Volunteers and Tide have met for the conference title since there was a championship game, and it would be one of the toughest tickets in all of sports.
But they aren't the only programs with huge expectations. LSU is expected to be stout again, and if Ole Miss can wade through its off-field worries, the Rebels could shine, too. On the East side, Florida is the defending champion, and Jim McElwain's team has to be better on offense than it was a season ago, right?
Also, there are three new coaches in the East with Georgia's Kirby Smart, South Carolina's Will Muschamp and Missouri's Barry Odom. So, there is new life in all three of those atmospheres.
Expectations abound, so let's take a look at best- and worst-case scenarios for each program this year.
If we’ve learned anything in the two full seasons of the new College Football Playoff era, it’s that scheduling matters.
Ask Baylor and TCU, who were passed for the final playoff spot by Ohio State in the final week of the 2014 regular season thanks in part to weaker nonconference schedules. A year later, the Buckeyes’ only loss came at Michigan State’s hands, making them one of only five one-loss Power Five teams competing for three playoff spots. Their best nonconference win was over an average Virginia Tech team, and they finished sixth in the final regular season poll.
Getting quality opponents on your nonconference slate matters. Every Power Five team has at least one fellow P5 team on its nonconference schedule, and winning high-profile games matters even more. Many programs, most notably Alabama, are skewing toward neutral-site games that protect lucrative home schedules.
Home-and-home series are less common, but series like Ohio State-Oklahoma, Notre Dame-Texas, Houston-Oklahoma, Clemson-Auburn and Penn State-Pitt will highlight 2016 while also building the resumes of those involved.
They’re great, but here’s a look at home-and-home series we wish would happen in college football. These series were selected for a variety of reasons, from geographic proximity to natural ties to fascinating storylines that could be created if the teams meet on the same field anytime soon. Here we go:
Hundreds of new players will be joining college football teams this summer, but a select number will draw far more attention than the rest. These are the freshmen who were at the top of the national recruiting rankings for 2016, the blue-chip prospects every program coveted, but only a few could haul in.
With the increasing push to play freshmen right away, and not just in a limited role, there's even more pressure on the top prospects to live up to their hype. Many meet or exceed expectations in that first season, but others do not.
How will these top freshmen fare in 2016? Using 247Sports' final rankings as a guide, we've got some bold predictions for the exploits of the top 10 players (listed alphabetically) this fall.
Two days of interviews, photo sessions and bottle-flipping demonstrations are in the books, putting a quick finish to the Pac-12 Conference's media days in Hollywood, California. Unlike the SEC, which spreads its media days over four days and has wall-to-wall coverage, the Pac-12 embodies a more low-key approach that's got a casual tone to it.
Players and coaches donned team polos rather than suits and ties, spending as much time in the sun—the event was held at an outdoor mall—as in convention halls.
What else was there of note from the Pac-12's first media availability for the 2016 season? Follow along as we highlight some of the "winners" and "losers" of the past two days.
Remember the Voltron cartoons? Remember how five lions formed to make a giant robot to battle the opponent in every episode?
Consider Notre Dame's Voltron nearly complete.
Emphasis on the word "nearly."
Many who follow college football recruiting will admit that Darnell Ewell's commitment to Notre Dame late Friday morning wasn't a huge surprise. What Ewell's announcement did, however, was give the Fighting Irish that big-name prospect to spearhead the defensive line. Although Notre Dame already had defensive linemen committed in 3-stars Kurt Hinish and Jonathon MacCollister, Ewell gives added pop to that defensive class as a national top-10 tackle and top-150 overall player.
The Irish now have 16 commits in their 2017 class. Eleven of the 16 are 4-star pledges, including Ewell, a stud from Lake Taylor High School in Norfolk, Virginia. He committed to Notre Dame at his high school over offers from Ohio State, Alabama, Michigan, Clemson and others.
Notre Dame has a 4-star pledge at every major offensive and defensive position, sans one. Ewell is the defensive lineman. David Adams and Pete Werner are the linebackers. Isaiah Robertson is a safety commit, and Paulson Adebo, a legit, two-way option, can play safety, cornerback or wide receiver. Adebo confirmed to Bleacher Report Friday afternoon that he will play in the secondary for the Irish.
Offensively, Avery Davis is the 4-star leader at quarterback. After his play at The Opening, there's a good chance C.J. Holmes, also listed as an athlete, could take snaps at a receiver position upon his arrival. Notre Dame, additionally, is hoping to eventually land 4-star receiver Osiris St. Brown, the younger brother of sophomore receiver Equanimeous St. Brown.
Robert Hainsey, a recent commit, headlines Notre Dame's offensive line class. He and fellow 4-star Joshua Lugg will challenge for playing time early in their career. And this doesn't even include the possibility of landing a few more studs for the line, including 5-star Foster Sarell, and 4-stars Jedrick Wills Jr. and Trey Smith.
That only leaves the running back position vacant for Notre Dame. Pretty easy, right?
Eleven of the top 15 running backs are committed to other programs. None of the four uncommitted targets—5-star Cam Akers, and 4-stars Ty Chandler, A.J. Davis and Colin Wilson—are predicted in their respective 247Sports "Crystal Balls" to choose Notre Dame.
Devan Barrett is a major player to watch as the Irish look to fill that void. Barrett had Notre Dame in his top 10, which he announced via Twitter last month. Barrett rushed for nearly 1,900 yards and 21 touchdowns as a junior for Tampa Catholic High School in Tampa, Florida.
If Notre Dame fails to land a running back for the 2017 class, it should be OK at least for the upcoming season. The position is loaded with depth, led by Tarean Folston and featuring four underclassmen who could see starter's minutes and a junior in Justin Brent who is ready for a breakthrough season.
If the Irish, however, do finish their 2017 class with an elite running back, consider it a huge win. And look for their version of Voltron to be successful in the near future.
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This week the media days circus opened across the college football landscape, from the four-day extravaganza in SEC country over to the tamer Pac-12 event on the West Coast.
Media days are often said to be the unofficial start of football season. But everyone knows they're nowhere close. The return of the real thing—college football in its truest form, a jam-packed Saturday of morning-to-late-night action—is just 50 days away.
College football's offseason is passing one of its biggest mile markers Friday, as we are seven weeks and an extra day from perhaps the greatest Week 1 Saturday in the sport's history.
With 50 days left until Sept. 3—yes, we know there are a handful of games before that first true college football Saturday—here are the major storylines fans and pundits alike will discuss and dissect between now and that long-awaited game day.
Below you'll find the 20 biggest questions, the 10 most important quarterback battles, 10 of the most anticipated debuts and 10 individual matchups fans should already circle.
Add them all up, and you have 50 reasons to get even more excited for college football's grand return.
20 Biggest Questions for 2016
1. Can Alabama repeat? The Crimson Tide will always be in the national championship discussion, and they return several key pieces from their title run last season—a deep defensive front anchored by sack master Jonathan Allen (14.5 sacks in 2015), an experienced secondary and several star receivers. But the Tide also have major questions in their backfield, and everyone will be gunning for head coach Nick Saban's crown.
2. Will Clemson stay strong? The Tigers destroyed all notions of "Clemsoning" last season by going undefeated in the regular season, winning the ACC and taking Alabama down to the wire in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game. There are zero questions about the strength of an offense led by quarterback Deshaun Watson—a Heisman Trophy finalist last season. But the Tigers only return three starters from an elite defense. Can head coach Dabo Swinney and his team continue to be a model of consistency and contend again?
3. Is Florida State national championship material? After a brief dip in form last season in which it still won 10 games, Florida State could return every starter from its offense and brings back the majority of its defense in 2016. Head coach Jimbo Fisher still has a major question to answer at quarterback, but there is ridiculous talent all over the field for the Seminoles, who will have to navigate through a treacherous schedule to get back to the playoff.
4. Can we trust LSU as a contender? On paper, the Bayou Bengals have everything they need to win it all, including perhaps the best player in the game in running back Leonard Fournette. We've seen this script from LSU before, though. The passing game must take a step forward with returning quarterback Brandon Harris or else LSU will fall well short of the increasing expectations placed on it in 2016.
5. Will any of the hot seats cool in the SEC West? LSU head coach Les Miles could be on his way out of Baton Rouge if the Tigers don't live up to the hype this fall—especially considering how his job was in jeopardy late last season. Elsewhere in the division, Auburn's Gus Malzahn and Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin need better seasons to ease the pressure off them. That all starts with challenging Week 1 matchups against Clemson and UCLA, respectively.
6. Is Tennessee for real? For the second straight year, this is the year in Tennessee. The Volunteers couldn't make it happen last season, but they still return a lot of firepower from a team that won nine games. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs and his "Chain Moving Gang" in the backfield should pair well with new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop's unit. They've all got to get over the hump on Rocky Top.
7. When will Nick Chubb return for Georgia? New Georgia head coach Kirby Smart has plenty of weapons for what could be a strong 2016, and none is better than running back Nick Chubb. The superstar suffered a devastating knee injury against Tennessee last year, and it's unknown when he'll return to action for the Bulldogs. If doctors clear him for action Week 1 against North Carolina, watch out.
8. How much better will the ACC be as a whole this season? Speaking of North Carolina, the Tar Heels won the Coastal Division last season and should be contenders again in 2016. They'll have to battle the rest of a conference that is looking to close the gap. Louisville is dangerous in the Atlantic with all of its returning talent. Strong head coach hires have the Miami Hurricanes (Mark Richt), Syracuse Orange (Dino Babers), Virginia Cavaliers (Bronco Mendenhall) and Virginia Tech Hokies (Justin Fuente) all on the rise.
9. Is Michigan the team to beat in the Big Ten? Jim Harbaugh's first season as head coach at his alma mater was a success both on and off the field. The Wolverines return the most experience of anyone in the loaded Big Ten East, boast new defensive coordinator Don Brown and are coming off a fantastic recruiting cycle. Can the likes of Jabrill Peppers, Jourdan Lewis and Jehu Chesson lead UM through a tough road slate and into the playoff?
10. Does Ohio State have too much inexperience? Head coach Urban Meyer will always have championship-caliber talent at Ohio State. But the Buckeyes return only six starters—fewer than anyone else in the country, according to Phil Steele—ahead of a challenging 2016 slate. Heisman contender J.T. Barrett and defensive star Raekwon McMillan will be tasked with paving the way for this massive youth movement in the Horseshoe.
11. Are repeats on the cards for Michigan State and Iowa? These two teams played an instant classic at the Big Ten title game last season. They both have the chance to follow the same blueprints in 2016. Michigan State has a tough defense and its ball-control offense in the East, while Iowa has established talent in quarterback C.J. Beathard and Jim Thorpe Award winner Desmond King, as well as a favorable schedule in the West. Michigan and Ohio State get most of the spotlight in the conference, but don't sleep on Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio and Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz's squads.
12. Does Notre Dame have what it takes to win it all? Notre Dame might be the national title contender that is getting the least amount of love this preseason. There are stars to replace in South Bend, including 2016 first-round NFL picks Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, and All-American LB Jaylon Smith, but the depth behind those departed players got plenty of experience in an injury-filled 2015. Head coach Brian Kelly's team also has a favorable schedule with only three true road games.
13. Can Oklahoma keep things going? Oklahoma rebounded in a huge way last season, bouncing back from a disappointing 2014 to win the Big 12 and make it to the College Football Playoff in 2015. The Sooners' rejuvenated offense still has Baker Mayfield under center as well as running back Samaje Perine and wide receiver Dede Westbrook. The secondary is also loaded with Jordan Thomas and Steven Parker returning. If OU can reload up front, another championship campaign is in the cards.
14. How will Baylor look on the field? Baylor will enter the 2016 season not as a title contender again, but as a giant question mark after the dismissal of head coach Art Briles and the exodus of several of its recent top recruits in the wake of its sexual assault scandal. No one knows what to expect from the Bears under interim head coach Jim Grobe. There's still plenty of talent, but some difficult days could be ahead.
15. Who will contend in the Big 12? If the Bears regress on the field in 2016, who will step in to challenge Oklahoma? While TCU needs to rebuild its high-powered offense, Gary Patterson's trademark 4-2-5 defense should be a strength again. Oklahoma State has a talented passing game led by Mason Rudolph and James Washington, but the running game and the defensive front need to find some answers. Watch out for the under-pressure talent of Texas and the wide-open aerial attack of Texas Tech.
16. Will Christian McCaffrey lead Stanford to a Pac-12 repeat? Stanford finished 2015 on top of a wide-open Pac-12 conference but fell short of a playoff bid. Christian McCaffrey and his jaw-dropping skills are back, but there's a void at quarterback after veteran Kevin Hogan's departure. The defense should be deeper in 2016. Head coach David Shaw must navigate through the major depth-chart changes and the added pressure to repeat with the Cardinal.
17. Is Washington really a contender? The Huskies might be a bigger preseason darling than Tennessee. They return a lot of young talent from a team that lost a number of close games in 2015 but turned it on late in the season to post some impressive victories. Head coach Chris Petersen knows how to build a surprise contender from his days at Boise State, and he has the tools to do it in Seattle with the sophomore combo of quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin, as well as the Pac-12's No. 1 defense.
18. Who will win CFB's battle of Los Angeles? The Pac-12 South looks like it will be a competition between the UCLA Bruins and USC Trojans this fall. These two teams have the most talent in the division, and both retain stars. UCLA returns quarterback Josh Rosen and defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes, while USC has wide receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster and Adoree' Jackson back in the fold, just to name a few. USC has more overall returning starters than UCLA, but it will have to deal with the toughest schedule in the country.
19. Can Houston prove it wasn't a one-hit wonder? Head coach Tom Herman's first season in Houston was nearly a perfect success, as the Cougars ran wild with a 13-1 record and a Peach Bowl victory over FSU. Quarterback Greg Ward Jr. returns to lead Herman's high-flying offense, and some highly touted newcomers are set to fill in the gaps for an attack-minded defense. The road will be more difficult with an opener against Oklahoma and a matchup against a tougher Louisville team. Let's see if the takeover continues in H-Town.
20. Will any "Group of Five" team challenge Houston? Houston is far and away the favorite to take the Group of Five's lucrative berth in the New Year's Six bowl matchups. But Boise State is eyeing a bounce-back campaign after losing control of the Mountain West to what should again be a stout San Diego State program. Can USF and Cincinnati spoil the party for Houston in the AAC? Who will be the breakout program in the MAC? They will all be fighting for Houston's spot.
10 QB Battles to Watch During Fall Camp
21. Alabama: For the third straight year, Alabama will enter fall camp with a question at starting quarterback. Cooper Bateman is the only one with any substantial experience for the Crimson Tide, but promising young signal-callers Blake Barnett and Jalen Hurts have put themselves firmly in the competition along with David Cornwell. Bateman is the projected leader, but there might be room for an upset in a new-look backfield this fall.
22. Auburn: A productive dual-threat quarterback makes all the difference for head coach Gus Malzahn in his offense. JUCO transfer John Franklin III looks to follow in the footsteps of Nick Marshall with his run-first ways. However, 2015 starters Jeremy Johnson and Sean White are out to prove they deserve another chance to give Auburn's offense the teeth it had in 2013 and 2014.
23. BYU: Brigham Young won't contend for a national title this year, but its matchups against six Power Five teams in the first seven weeks of the season mean the country needs to pay attention to the enthralling battle between veteran QB Taysom Hill and 2015 breakout star Tanner Mangum. The 6'2", 230-pound Hill is a bruising force at quarterback when healthy, but Mangum stepped in to save the Cougars in a eye-popping freshman season.
24. Florida State: Sean Maguire didn't get a chance to secure his starting job at Florida State this spring as he recovered from a nasty Peach Bowl ankle injury. That opened the door for redshirt freshman Deondre Francois and true freshman Malik Henry to battle it out in practices and the annual spring game. Maguire will be ready to go in fall camp, when he'll go head-to-head with Francois for the chance to lead an FSU offense filled with experience into 2016.
25. Georgia: Kirby Smart wasn't the only new arrival at Georgia that made offseason headlines. Five-star quarterback Jacob Eason stayed true to the Bulldogs through the coaching change from Mark Richt and put on a show at a sellout spring game in Athens. This fall, Georgia must decide between the highly touted true freshman, returning starter Greyson Lambert and reserve Brice Ramsey. The decision might be the difference in a potential SEC East title run.
26. Michigan: Jim Harbaugh got a lot out of Iowa transfer Jake Rudock in his first season in Ann Arbor. This season, he could do the same with former Houston quarterback John O'Korn, who had a fantastic freshman campaign for the Cougars before switching schools. But Wilton Speight had the edge leaving spring practices, and Shane Morris won't go down without a fight, either. This a battle of the highest profile.
27. Notre Dame: Notre Dame will have to decide between two dual-threat passers with starting experience. Malik Zaire won the job in 2015 and was riding high until an early-season injury. DeShone Kizer stepped in and led a banged-up Irish team to a Fiesta Bowl berth. Kizer will likely keep his job in South Bend, but head coach Brian Kelly is keeping all of his options open as the Irish prepare for fall camp.
28. Stanford: David Shaw's biggest offensive weapon in Christian McCaffrey is back, but he'll have a new backfield partner this fall after the departure of veteran quarterback Kevin Hogan. The preseason Pac-12 favorite has to pick between Keller Chryst, who backed up Hogan last season, and Ryan Burns, an older reserve who has spent more time in the system. The two have similar size—Chryst is 6'5", 237 pounds, while Burns is 6'5", 233 pounds—and skill sets, so this battle will come down to who takes charge the most in Palo Alto, California.
29. Texas: Texas must improve on offense in order for head coach Charlie Strong to stick around in Austin, and a lot of that will come down to the quarterback for new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert's run-pass option scheme. True freshman Shane Buechele had the best spring of any of the Longhorns quarterbacks. But there's a chance a new system is just what former starters Jerrod Heard and Tyrone Swoopes need to get back on track.
30. USC: USC's quarterback battle seemed to be decided before spring practices started, as many expected Max Browne to take over for Cody Kessler. However, the younger Sam Darnold had a fantastic spring, and the Trojans exited spring camp without a clear-cut No. 1 guy under center. Browne will most likely get the nod for the season opener against Alabama, but the Trojans can be confident in Darnold's abilities as well.
10 Debuts We Can't Wait to See
31. Georgia head coach Kirby Smart: The former Alabama defensive coordinator is back at his alma mater, ready to see if he can get the Bulldogs to the title games it missed under Mark Richt. Defense shouldn't be a problem for this Saban disciple, but his squad will get a tough test in Week 1 with North Carolina's attack.
32. Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver: Ed Oliver was a top-10 recruit in the class of 2016 who decided to stay at home and become an instant-impact star for Tom Herman at Houston. He'll be one of the most talented Cougars from the moment he takes the field at NRG Stadium for the highly anticipated showdown with Oklahoma.
33. LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda: Dave Aranda built elite defenses out of overlooked and under-recruited players with the Wisconsin Badgers. Now he inherits a roster from former defensive coordinator Kevin Steele that's filled with blue-chippers at LSU, which wants to get back to its elite defensive form. And it just so happens that his debut with the Tigers will come against his former employer.
34. Miami (Florida) head coach Mark Richt: Mark Richt will start life at his alma mater easily with back-to-back games against Florida A&M and Florida Atlantic. But no matter the caliber of the Hurricanes' opponents, Richt's first contests at Miami are going to be quite a sight. Can he bring the swagger back to "The U"?
35. Michigan defensive tackle Rashan Gary: The nation's No. 1 recruit decided to join Jim Harbaugh's growing powerhouse at Michigan, and Rashan Gary will carve out a role on a deep defensive line from day one. The Wolverines begin the season against lowly Hawaii, so Gary will have a chance to shine brightly from the first snaps of his college career.
36. Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa: Opponents who got tired of seeing a Bosa line up at defensive end for Ohio State will have to endure at least three more seasons of it. Former Buckeyes superstar Joey Bosa's younger brother, Nick Bosa, will most likely make his collegiate debut in Week 1 against Bowling Green, and he has the talent to fill his brother's shoes.
37. Ole Miss offensive tackle Greg Little: Greg Little was the No. 3 recruit in the class of 2016, and he'll jump into an Ole Miss offensive line that lost a lot of talent, including elite left tackle Laremy Tunsil. There's a great chance he replaces Tunsil right away. His first matchup? The attack-minded defense of Florida State.
38. Oregon quarterback Dakota Prukop: Last season, Oregon had an FCS transfer quarterback in Vernon Adams Jr. who was electrifying when healthy. Dakota Prukop fits the mold of the dual-threat Ducks passer, and he should put up some huge numbers on opening weekend against the UC Davis Aggies before facing Virginia and Nebraska in back-to-back weeks.
39. TCU quarterback Kenny Hill: Remember Kenny Hill? The last time he played in a season opener, he torched South Carolina for Texas A&M. Now he's at TCU, where he was named the Preseason Newcomer of the Year in the Big 12 as the presumptive replacement for Trevone Boykin. He'll look to set the tone in Week 1 against FCS school South Dakota State before facing former SEC rival Arkansas.
40. Texas A&M quarterback Trevor Knight: And while we're on the subject of Texas A&M, the Aggies also picked up a talented transfer quarterback during the flurry of movement in the Lone Star State. Coach Sumlin already named former Oklahoma starter Trevor Knight the No. 1 signal-caller at Texas A&M, where he'll lead an offense searching for its mojo again under new coordinator Noel Mazzone.
10 Week 1 Must-See Matchups
41. Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley vs. USC cornerback Adoree' Jackson: As a true freshman last season, Ridley flashed Amari Cooper-like skills and led the national champions in receiving with 1,045 yards. The South Florida native will go up against USC to open his sophomore campaign, and the Trojans will look to counter with the ultra-athletic talents of do-it-all cornerback Jackson.
42. BYU's quarterbacks vs. Arizona's new defense: It will be worth watching how BYU uses both Hill and Mangum in new offensive coordinator Ty Detmer's scheme this fall. The Cougars open with Arizona, which will look to turn around its struggling defense from 2015 with the aggressive stylings of former Boise State coordinator Marcel Yates. This will be an underrated but awesome matchup.
43. Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson vs. Auburn defensive end Carl Lawson: Watson will look to start his Heisman campaign for Clemson with a strong performance away from home at Auburn, which is eager to attack him with a healthy, edge-rushing Lawson. This will be a matchup between two stars Bleacher Report's Matt Miller thinks could be top-five picks at next year's NFL draft.
44. Florida State running back Dalvin Cook vs. Ole Miss' "Landsharks": The most explosive running back in college football is going up against one of the most recognizable defenses of the last few seasons. Cook will lead the way for an experienced FSU offense against Ole Miss and its swarming, physical Landshark defense. Expect speed, speed and even more speed.
45. Georgia running back Nick Chubb vs. North Carolina's defense: Chubb's spot here comes with an asterisk, as he might not be 100 percent healthy when Georgia takes on North Carolina inside the Georgia Dome. If he is, though, he'll meet a Tar Heels defense that improved across the board last season under coordinator Gene Chizik but gave up a bowl-record 645 rushing yards against Baylor to end 2015.
46. Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. vs. Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield: Two of the country's best dual-threat gunslingers will open the season in style at NRG Stadium. Ward Jr. is a touchdown machine who could put up massive numbers in 2016. Mayfield has his sights set on another title run for Oklahoma and, this time, a spot in the Heisman Trophy ceremony. This has the potential to be one of the best quarterback matchups of the season.
47. LSU running back Leonard Fournette vs. Wisconsin's defense: Can Fournette open 2016 on the same destructive streak that he had for most of 2015? In order to do that, he'll have to go through a stiff test from Dave Aranda's old defense at Wisconsin, which returns six starters from a top-10 unit. This matchup will be at Lambeau Field, which is fitting for a superstar running back who should be a star in the NFL for years to come.
48. Notre Dame's starting quarterback vs. Texas' defense: Whether it's Kizer or Zaire, the winner of the Notre Dame quarterback battle will want to put on a show from the start in the Irish's Sunday showcase against Texas. The Longhorns return eight starters on a Charlie Strong-coached defense, and linebacker Malik Jefferson should be making plays all over the place in Austin. It'll be a Texas-sized test from the opening kickoff for Notre Dame's starting signal-caller.
49. Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey vs. Kansas State's defense: Friday night of Week 1 will be McCaffrey's time to shine, as he'll take the field for Stanford in his first game since torching Iowa in a Rose Bowl rout on New Year's Day. Longtime head coach Bill Snyder always has Kansas State ready to play the underdog role, so don't expect this to be a breeze for the Cardinal superstar.
50. UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen vs. Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett: Rosen flashed his elite skills from the first series of his college career, when he lit up Virginia. Now a sophomore, Rosen opens the season against a much different challenge—a Texas A&M defense coached by coordinator John Chavis that will look to wreak havoc with superstar pass-rusher Myles Garrett. These two potential All-Americans will meet early and often in College Station 50 days from now.
Justin Ferguson is a national college football analyst at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
With just seven weeks left before the college football season kicks off, 40 players appear on the 2016 Walter Camp Award watch list.
As is often the case in football, quarterbacks dominate the list with 15 players, including Ohio State's J.T. Barrett, Clemson's Deshaun Watson and Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer.
The full list is available at the Walter Camp Foundation's official website.
The three standout names on the list are Watson, LSU running back Leonard Fournette and Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey.
McCaffrey and Watson finished second and third in last year's Heisman voting, respectively, behind Alabama running back Derrick Henry. Fournette finished sixth in the voting with 110 points. That trio owns the top three spots in Heisman odds for 2016, per Odds Shark.
Bleacher Report draft analyst Matt Miller had high praise for Fournette heading into his junior season:
There seems to be no limit to Fournette's ceiling. He was essentially asked to carry LSU's offense last year, racking up 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns on 300 carries. By comparison, Tigers quarterback Brandon Harris had only 212 more passing yards than Fournette had rushing yards.
McCaffrey was the breakout star in college football last year, even more than Henry. He led the nation with 2,664 yards from scrimmage to go along with 13 total touchdowns.
Watson is arguably the best quarterback in the country and plays for one of the best teams in the nation, which will give him an edge with the voters.
The Walter Camp Award watch list features essentially what any fan would expect a list of the best players in the nation to look like heading into 2016. There will be some surprises along the way, but college football will have no shortage of stars to watch this season.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
The SEC concluded its week of being the center of the college football universe Friday by unveiling its three preseason all-conference teams, which were voted on by the hundreds of media members who were in Hoover, Alabama for the league's annual press event.
Defending champion and 2016 pick to repeat Alabama led the way for the SEC with seven first-team selections, which was one more than the Crimson Tide had in 2015.
The star offensive trio of LSU running back Leonard Fournette, Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly and Alabama receiver Calvin Ridley took home the honors as the top vote-getters.
While the SEC media did mostly what was expected in sorting out the top talent in the league on the three loaded teams, there were a few surprises—good and bad—in the final tally from Hoover. Judging by the players' performances from 2015 and their potential for 2016, there were a few misses and slides down the ranks.
Here are the SEC media's three preseason all-conference teams and several notable hits and misses from the results.
Darnell Ewell rose to prominence at the high school level as a two-way lineman, and his intriguing football journey will continue at Notre Dame after the 4-star recruit made his collegiate intentions official Friday.
BlueandGold.com first relayed news of Ewell's decision.
A photo of Ewell making his choice was subsequently tweeted out by 757Teamz:
Following the announcement, Ewell explained the reasoning behind choosing ND, according to Steve Hare of Scout.com:
It really means a lot to be given an opportunity to go there, just the opportunity itself means a lot. Notre Dame is really, really different from all the other schools I went to I've got to say. There's just something about there. It's not like any other school does the same stuff. Notre Dame does things a little differently.
Ewell fielded over 30 offers over the course of the recruitment process, with the Alabama Crimson Tide, Auburn Tigers, Clemson Tigers, Michigan Wolverines and Fighting Irish all vying for his attention.
And based on his raw physical tools, it's not hard to see why so many schools pursued the 6'3'', 298-pounder. Not only did Ewell flash promise as an offensive guard during his time at Lake Taylor High School in Norfolk, Virginia, but he throttled up lists of can't-miss prospects thanks to his play at defensive tackle.
Per Tyler James of NDInsider.com, Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network had high praise for Ewell:
According to 247Sports' composite rankings, Ewell ranked 149th among all players in the class of 2017 and No. 10 overall at defensive tackle. And among players in the state of Virginia, Ewell graded out fifth overall.
For a player who is considered "very flexible and extremely athletic for a prospect his size," and "has all the tools to become a dominant player at the collegiate level," per Scout.com, Ewell should be on national radars as a potential breakout star.
And with the spotlight ready to shine on Ewell as he transitions to life as a key cog on one of the nation's premier squads, it should be fascinating to watch his development from a coveted high school prospect into a foundational talent.
The Fighting Irish ranked 45th in total defense and 39th in points allowed last season. While Ewell may not step into a big role right away, he should be able to help improve those numbers if he can at least work his way into the rotation as a freshman in 2017.
Recruit rankings courtesy of 247Sports.com.
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Former Vanderbilt football player Cory Batey was sentenced to 15 years in prison Friday morning after previously being found guilty of raping an unconscious woman in 2013.
Stacey Barchenger of the Tennessean reported the 15-year sentence handed down by Judge Monte Watkins was the minimum term available in the case.
The unnamed female victim, who's now 24, spoke at the hearing and stated she has no memory of the incident, and only learned about what occurred during the investigation.
She also discussed the impact the incident has had on her life, according to the Tennessean:
It will never be possible for anyone to put into words how this has affected me. You will never understand what this has done to me if you aren't standing in my shoes. The humiliation, the pain, the isolation, being reduced to nothing but a piece of flesh right before your eyes, it does something to you that is truly impossible to describe.
Batey was found guilty in an April retrial of aggravated rape and two counts of aggravated sexual battery along with less-severe but related charges, including another count of aggravated sexual battery, facilitation of aggravated rape and two counts attempted aggravated rape, per Barchenger.
Kara Apel of WSMV reported the other charges amounted to eight years of prison time, which he will serve concurrently with the aggravated rape sentence. The report also noted he will be forced to serve 100 percent of the sentence.
Three other players were also charged in the case. The Tennessean noted Brandon Vandenburg was found guilty on eight counts in June and is awaiting sentencing in September. Brandon E. Banks and Jaborian McKenzie are awaiting trial after pleading not guilty.
Judge Watkins noted each defendant found guilty in the case would have to register as a sex offender after being released from prison, according to the Tennessean. He also stated he weighed "thousands of cases" before deciding to give Batey the minimum term.
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Typically, aesthetics are overlooked in college football until a program unveils something spectacularly bad.
And sometimes the new look is really bad.
Instead of focusing on the unfortunate, though, we're taking a brief offseason moment to commend teams for paying attention to headwear—and in some cases not messing with it.
While a No. 1 spot is awarded, this list is not a ranking of the best helmets. Rather, the focus is on identifying the best categories and trends of helmets and facemasks in college football today.
5. Multicolored Facemasks
Thanks to Phil Knight and Nike, Oregon sits atop the uniform rankings. The program literally has thousands of possible combinations yet still breaks out new gear seemingly every weekend.
But the Ducks' facemasks are also ahead of the game.
Without a doubt, there's a decent amount of risk here. This feature could be abused in a hurry, but one example is quite tasteful. Oregon's silver wings blend into the primary yellow.
Rival Oregon State has flaunted a comparable look. While the Ducks' design goes from outside in, the stripes on the Beavers' helmets continue down onto the fasemask.
However, the question is which program's twist will be met with a negative review—something that seems imminent.
You're pushing it, Miami (Ohio).
4. Extra-Large Logos
Most helmet designs are perfectly symmetrical. No matter which side you're looking at, it's the same thing.
Recently, though, boundaries have started to get pushed. The 2011 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game between Boise State and Georgia—which also featured a multicolored facemask—displayed helmets with extra-large logos on one side and a number on the other.
Among others, Arizona State has joined the trend.
Boise State remains no stranger to sporting the massive logo, but the program combined it with a personal favorite, too.
3. Matte or Flat-Black Helmets
Chrome is fine, but a non-glossy black helmet is terrific.
Boise State showcased Halloween-themed digs against UNLV last season, complete with an orange eye for the Broncos logo. They also sported a great look in the 2012 MAACO Bowl.
This trend is catching on with stops all over the country. The list includes representatives from the ACC (North Carolina), Big Ten (Northwestern and Purdue), Big 12 (Baylor), MAC (Buffalo), Pac-12 (Utah and Washington) and SEC (Missouri), and that's certainly not all.
Here are some examples, like Missouri's back in 2013:
North Carolina busts out the helmet on occasion:
And finally, Northwestern:
2. Timeless Classics
Despite the fancy and often good-looking upgrades teams receive today, they'll simply never match or overtake tradition.
Each school listed in this section falls under the "blue blood" category—a program that has participated in college football for a long time and is basically revered as royalty in the sport.
Although the helmet design changes, the design of the helmet doesn't need alterations. When players put on this helmet, they're wearing something that exemplifies the history of the program.
"Simple, yet elegant" defines this group, starting with Alabama:
Nebraska dropped the "U" from its helmet in 1970 and hasn't changed:
Notre Dame underwent an "exhaustive" process to make sure the helmet's color properly replicated the Golden Dome on campus, per its official site:
Ohio State complements the black-, white- and red-striped helmet with Buckeye stickers— a tradition legendary head coach Woody Hayes started in 1968, per the school:
Here's Penn State—and a bonus second appearance by Northwestern's beautiful non-glossy black helmet.
Lastly, here's Tennessee's renowned block "T":
1. The Winged Helmet
Relativity is a funny thing. Imagine for a moment Michigan releasing the design today, and it wouldn't be surprising if the reception wasn't all that great.
However, the winged helmet dates back to 1938, according to the school. Thanks to that history, the pattern is synonymous with college football and should never, ever be touched.
Delaware and Princeton also wear similar versions of the winged helmet, a practice which Paul Lukas of Uni-Watch noted doesn't have an official beginning, though a version existed at Michigan State in 1934.
Wolverines and Spartans fans may proceed to argue about that, but there's no denying the Maize and Blue popularized the most recognizable look in college football.
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In what is typically the slowest sports week of the year, the SEC has dominated the headlines of the college football world thanks to the conference's annual media days. The Big Ten's own showcase with the press is only a week away, which can only mean one thing: Actual football is right around the corner.
With that in mind, let's get to this week's Big Ten Q&A, where we'll tackle the top-to-bottom strength of the league, Ohio State's biggest weakness, the potential for a brand new recruiting tool and a little drama in East Lansing.
As always, you can send me your questions each week on Twitter @BenAxelrod.
Let's get started.
Growing up around the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry, the phrase "Big Two, Little 10" was often tossed around, but really, it's been a while since that's been an accurate description of the Buckeyes and Wolverines' combined dominance over the rest of their conference.
In fact, you'd have to go back to 2007 to find the last time Ohio State and Michigan each still had Big Ten title hopes heading into the final week of the regular season—that was until last season, when Michigan State wound up winning the conference.
But with the way Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh have stood head and shoulders above the rest of the conference on the recruiting trail, it's easy to see why some may be starting to view the Big Ten as the Buckeyes, Wolverines and everyone else. That, however, ignores what the Spartans have accomplished in the past three years under Mark Dantonio and what could still be ahead in East Lansing.
As impressive as Meyer has been since arriving at Ohio State four years ago, it's worth remembering that Michigan State has won two of the past three Big Ten titles, both of which have come in years where the Spartans have gotten the best of the Buckeyes.
Having also won his lone head-to-head matchup with Harbaugh, Dantonio currently lays claim to a 3-2 record against the Big Ten's two most prominent coaches, whom he'll now be facing each season for the foreseeable future.
And while Michigan State has no shortage of talent departures to deal with moving forward, it's just now the Spartans are beginning to reap the recruiting rewards that often accompany on-field success. If Dantonio's been able to do what he's done with 3-star prospects, imagine what he'll be able to accomplish with a roster full of 4-stars, regardless of how far his classes lag behind Meyer's and Harbaugh's in the recruiting rankings.
Factor in a Big Ten West that's actually stronger than many people realize, and the conference is arguably as healthy as it's ever been from top to bottom. That, of course, is subject to change, but at the moment, the Big Ten appears to be far from just a two-team league, both now and in the future.
Looking at the preseason award watch lists that have been released over the course of the past two weeks, one thing in particular has stood out when it's come to Ohio State. Sure, J.T. Barrett has been present on most of the Quarterback and Player of the Year awards lists, and Buckeye defenders like Raekwon McMillan have been listed elsewhere, but with watch-list season now complete, there isn't an Ohio State skill player to be found.
Not on the watch list of the Biletnikoff Award, nor on the one for the Doak Walker Award or John Mackey Award and certainly not on the preseason watch list for the Maxwell Award.
It's tough to recall a time when a Buckeyes wide receiver, running back or tight end couldn't be found on a preseason watch list, given Ohio State's rich history at such positions. This year, however, won't be any ordinary season in Columbus, with 12 draftees—including a running back, two wideouts and a tight end—headed to the NFL.
But while the holes in the Buckeyes depth chart are unprecedented, so have been the recruiting classes Meyer will now be filling them with. You may not know their names now, but don't be surprised if players like Torrance Gibson, Austin Mack, Noah Brown, Mike Weber and Marcus Baugh step right in as impact playmakers from day one, despite not being present on any preseason watch lists.
Ultimately, however, both Meyer and Barrett will find themselves relying on plenty of unknowns at the skill spots heading into the coming year. And if it's going to have one, that could ultimately be Ohio State's downfall in a season where few known quantities outside of Barrett are present on the roster.
Originally, the answer to this question seemed like a no-brainer. As innovative as Michigan has been on the recruiting trail under Harbaugh, the Wolverines would have to be the first program to find a way to incorporate the phenomenon that's become "Pokemon Go" into it's recruiting material, right?
And while I'm sticking with my answer of Michigan for this question, it now comes with a different reasoning. While it wouldn't have been a surprise to see the Wolverines take a pro-Pokemon stance in the near future regardless of what their rivals were up to, Ohio State's seeming disdain for the app has only made Michigan's use of it all the more likely.
The Buckeyes' issue with Pokemon Go started earlier this week, when Columbus users were allegedly sneaking into Ohio Stadium in an effort to catch digital creatures. This led to the official Brutus Buckeye Twitter account issuing a warning that no Pokemon could be found inside The Horseshoe, although some users have claimed otherwise.
Then there came a post from Ohio State's official Twitter account on Thursday, which showed Barrett taking out a Pikachu with a football as his teammates searched for the digital creatures inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
Considering the video went viral within moments of being posted, perhaps the Buckeyes are now more Pokemon-friendly than originally thought. In fact, they may have just beaten Michigan—and the rest of the conference—in firing off the first Poke Ball on the recruiting trail, which I can't believe is a sentence I actually just wrote in 2016.
For those of you unfamiliar with Jermaine Edmondson, he's the Michigan State defensive back who was allegedly involved in a fight with former Spartan and Golden State Warriors star Draymond Green, which led to Green being arrested for assault earlier this week.
Well, Edmondson was a Michigan State defensive back, until he opted to transfer from East Lansing later in the week, as details in the case continued to emerge.
"In discussions with Jermaine Edmondson following spring practice and in the weeks thereafter, it became clear that Jermaine wanted to play a larger role on the team," Dantonio said in a statement. "After consulting with him in the summer, he felt it was in his best interest to finish his playing career elsewhere. We have granted his immediate release to transfer to another institution to have that opportunity.”
Nevertheless, it's hard to imagine the timing of Edmondson's transfer being a coincidence.
So what we have here is a case of Sparty-on-Sparty crime, with one of MSU's most famous alums being charged with misdemeanor assault and a Spartans football player transferring in wake of the fallout. It remains unclear what caused the alleged altercation between Green and Edmondson, although according to WLNS, a part of it was Edmondson feeling "disrespected" that the NBA All-Star didn't recognize him.
If that's the case, this may very well be "peak Sparty" indeed. After all, no other program in college football has placed a more prominent chip (or chips) on its shoulder than Michigan State, although thus far, it's hard to argue with the results.
Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. Recruiting and class ratings courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings.
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Leonard Fournette is the biggest name in college football. In Sports Illustrated's recent effort to put together the top 100 players in the FBS, the LSU running back ranked first.
In June, Pro Football Focus' Jeff Dooley called the Tiger the toughest running back to tackle, comparing him to the Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson, who will likely become the NFL's leading active career rusher in the coming season. On top of that, Fournette is among the favorites for the Heisman Trophy, according to Odds Shark.
When Fournette recently told SEC media day guests "I enjoy college" in response to questions of his 2017 NFL draft status, he had a reason a reason for it. He's the man in college football.
Since his days as a super recruit, all eyes have been on Fournette. In high school, according to 247Sports, he combined for 90 rushing touchdowns and 7,630 rushing yards while as a prep in Louisiana.
Per Bleacher Report's Sanjay Kirpalani, Fournette was offered a scholarship by both LSU and Alabama, two of the Southeastern Conference's elite, when he was just a high school freshman. Three years later, as a senior, Fournette committed to play football at LSU as the top player in Louisiana, the top running back in the nation and the top overall player in America, per 247Sports' composite rankings.
Starting six games as a freshman at LSU, he rushed for 1,034 yards and 10 touchdowns. Last season, as a sophomore, he broke out with an All-American effort of 1,953 rushing yards and 22 rushing touchdowns. Most running backs at Power Five programs would be happy with Fournette's true freshman totals for their redshirt senior seasons, and he nearly doubled his numbers in his first season as a full-time starter.
What he's been able to accomplish in a short amount of time can only be compared to other sports prodigies such as LeBron James.
The draft process will be the first time Fournette goes through months of public scrutiny in his career, but luckily for him, his flaws are fairly limited and his positives jump off the screen on Saturdays.
NFL Draft Scout projects Fournette to weigh in at 230 pounds with a 4.47-second 40-yard dash. In the past 10 draft classes, the closest first-round running backs with that combo are Trent Richardson, with a 4.48-second 40-yard dash at 228 pounds, and Jonathan Stewart, with a 4.48-second 40-yard dash at 235 pounds. When people say Fournette is a rare big, explosive back—even on the relative scale of first-round talents—they're correct.
Like Richardson, Fournette can drop a shoulder and deliver punishment like he's a linebacker. Rarely does he go down at the point of first contact, as he's always falling forward with the ball. His trucking ability is highlighted when he's in the open space, where he has the opportunity to transition speed into power and can time a shoulder strike on a safety.
In the SEC, you don't often see a running back jump from four yards out into a linebacker who has his feet planted, ready to strike, and win the forward momentum battle, but here we are. When watching Fournette, it's important to expect the unexpected.
Want him to cut away from a diving defensive back into a future top-40 pick defensive lineman and drag him for five to six yards? Fournette has no issue with that task. He's just simply not going to go down without a fight.
LSU has a 2 v 2 on the right. If the LB fills, the QB is supposed to pull to a 4 v 3 in space. He doesn't. pic.twitter.com/kxKdhwiORJ— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) July 14, 2016
When watching Fournette's 2015, you start to get the feeling he'll transition even better to the professional game. Numerous times in LSU's shotgun spread looks, the quarterback will give the ball to Fournette on incorrect reads, leading him into failure less than one second into a play.
LSU folding their center, leaving a man open on the backside. Bama just beat them up front and suffocated Fournette. pic.twitter.com/W37vj59PNy— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) July 14, 2016
The difference between NFL run offenses and college run offenses can mean executing just one extra block, which can be crucial to any carry. After quarterback, there may not be a positional group that takes as stark of a jump from the college to professional level as offensive linemen.
During power rushing plays, backs can only hit the hole they've been designed to hit. If nothing is there, a runner will get stuffed.
LSU's offensive line can outathlete and outdrive the majority of the opponents they face, but when they face more talented run-pluggers, ones who are destined to play on Sundays, it's problematic. This is one reason for his season-low 1.6-yards per carry against the Alabama Crimson Tide, despite his stellar 6.5-yard-per-carry average on the season.
Numbers flat blocking an edge defender: go outside. Fournette is good about that for an "inside/power" runner. pic.twitter.com/itysGhJpe6— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) July 14, 2016
With that being said, he does freelance a bit when the opportunity presents itself. It's hard to go against the grain of pulling and folding blockers and survive with a positive play outside of structure, but Fournette has put that on film, even against top SEC defenses. When he sees an edge defender get blocked, either turning inside or staying flat with the last Tiger blocker on the line, Fournette's instincts to bounce the play outside kick in, and with his speed, he's rarely wrong.
There is room for improvement with the back, though. On inside runs, there's little time for dancing, and with Fournette's dominance to this point, it makes sense that he's not accustomed to taking a short loss behind the line of scrimmage. He does get himself in trouble in those situations, shaking his way into even bigger losses. He's not Barry Sanders, and he never will be. That's perfectly fine.
His lateral agility is also fairly average on the relative scale of NFL running backs. Not all is lost for backfield penetrators, though. When defensive linemen are overly agressive, posting themselves further in the backfield than the initial starting point of offensive linemen, Fournette's pure speed allows him to jet past defenders into the secondary.
Some will also criticize his blocking when the ball isn't in his hands, but LSU asks a lot from him in pass protection. Typically, a back reads one side of a defense, from A-gap to C-gap or C-gap to A-gap, to assist in pass protection, whereas the Tigers seem to often ask him to keep an eye on the edges of both sides of the offensive line.
Downfield, he's also shown the effort to take two defenders out of a play for his fellow skill players, something 2016 fourth overall pick Ezekiel Elliott was praised for all last draft cycle. Ohio State's biggest play of the season, Braxton Miller's spin move, was sprung by Elliott's blocking of multiple Virginia Tech Hokies in one rep.
Fournette's flaws could either be avoided by scheme or are coachable. Effort is never an issue with him on film. It's why LSU ran him over and over again on the goal line against Alabama. It's why the Tigers implemented a pseudo-wildcat formation for him, where he was snapped the ball and ran downhill on defenses in short-yardage situations.
If Fournette falls into the hands of an NFL offensive coordinator who wants to run a traditional I formation offense, he'll thrive—just like he did in traditional formations in college.
With six or seven blockers in front of him and his breakaway speed, he's always one poor angle or missed tackle away from the home run ball. When the holes are there for him to explode straight into the secondary, he jumps on the opportunity with a hunger rarely seen at the professional level.
Against defensive backs, who almost always have to tackle the 230-pounder low, he knows how to game blindly diving players with either a spin move, a shoulder drive or with his offhand shifting through trash.
He has a clear second gear, which should help him out on screen plays despite the fact he's only caught 26 passes in two years with the Tigers. To put that speed into perspective, he has even pulled away from SEC edge defenders with outside containment responsibilities who had a clean outside shoulder on the boundary side of the field.
In any power scheme, Fournette is the best draft-eligible running back heading into the 2016 regular season. Even in a draft class that could feature Georgia's Nick Chubb, Florida State's Dalvin Cook, Stanford's Christian McCaffrey and Oregon's Royce Freeman, Fournette stands out. That speaks volumes in itself.
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Since Urban Meyer took over at Ohio State in 2012, the Buckeyes defense has been fueled an athletic freak at linebacker.
From 2012-13, Ryan Shazier brought his rare blend of speed and power to Ohio State's outside linebacker position, leading the team in tackles in both seasons. That speed is setting him apart with the Pittsburgh Steelers this offseason, when he beat wide receiver Antonio Brown—widely considered one of the fastest wideouts in the league—in a foot race.
Over the last two seasons, it was quarterback-turned linebacker Darron Lee who set the tone for Meyer's more aggressive defense. He was an AP freshman All-American in 2014 and a second-team AP All-American a season ago. He declared for the NFL draft, ran a 4.47 40-yard dash at the combine and was selected by the New York Jets in the first round.
Now with two open spots alongside middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan, Dante Booker is ready to emerge as Ohio State's next freak linebacker.
Entering his junior season with the Buckeyes, Booker has seen the field in a limited role over the last two years. He was Joshua Perry's primary backup in 2015 and registered 22 total tackles, but in seven games last year, most of his action was registered as a special teams ace on the coverage team.
The lone returning starter in Ohio State's linebacker corps thinks Booker could be even better than the All-Big Ten standout he's replacing.
“You can tell Josh [Perry] I said this: Dante [Booker] is a way better athlete,” McMillan said, according to Tim Shoemaker of Eleven Warriors.
Mickey Marotti, Ohio State's strength coach, agreed with McMillan's assessment that Booker brings something different to the field, via Shoemaker.
I just think it’s his turn. There goes Josh Perry, here comes Dante Booker.
He’s a gifted, talented player that has done some good things for us, but look around and it’s, ‘OK, it’s my turn.’ Some of these younger players after the other guys are gone, it’s just different.
There must be something to all the praise Booker has garnered this offseason, because on Monday he found himself among the best linebackers in the country on the preseason Butkus award watch list.
It's just a preseason watch list, of course, but Booker's inclusion speaks to his potential, as he's nearly two months away from making his first collegiate start.
The Buckeyes boast a defense he can thrive in, as they've showcased the ability to put speedy linebackers in position to produce. He has the skill set to shine, and his teammates are eager to unleash him in the open field.
"Dante’s a good athlete, man," McMillan said, according to Tony Gerdeman of The Ozone. "When he gets on the field, he does some stuff that you all haven’t even seen yet in practice. It’s amazing. One of the fastest guys on defense regardless of position. He just brings that pop."
All recruiting rankings and information via 247Sports.
David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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HOOVER, Ala. — For the record, LSU running back Leonard Fournette says he doesn’t eat anything except peanuts and yogurt after 7 p.m., his decision on turning pro next year will depend on his ability to get his degree and he still calls Georgia’s Nick Chubb the best running back in the Southeastern Conference.
Whatever. He’s a little more convincing regarding his top goal for the upcoming season.
“My personal goal is to win a national championship—nothing else,” he said Thursday while giving a good demonstration on how to handle the spotlight at SEC media days. “Any individual award, any dream I have is going to take care of itself.”
On Friday, Fournette will have his first chance to make history during the 2016 college football season when the media’s preseason All-SEC selections are announced, and he could become just the second player since 2000 to be a unanimous choice.
The first was Darren McFadden in 2007. The Arkansas running back was coming off finishing second to Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith for the Heisman Trophy. He had tallied 1,647 rushing yards, which were the fifth-most in SEC history at the time, and 14 touchdowns.
Fournette’s 2015 blew those numbers away. As a sophomore, he crushed LSU’s single-season rushing record with 1,953 yards, which, with the NCAA using average yards per game, made him its rushing king (162.8).
He set seven other single-season school marks while becoming the first LSU player to rush for 1,000 yards in each of his first two years.
“No doubt he’ll be better,” LSU offensive lineman Ethan Pocic said. “He’s probably what, 20 or 21 years old, and still developing. Each year, he’s only going to get better.”
That’s bad news for the rest of college football, especially with LSU returning 18 starters.
Through the first two months of last season, Fournette was running away from the field for the Heisman and became the fastest player in LSU history to reach 1,000 rushing yards in a season. He did it in just five games, including 244 at Syracuse, only to have it all stopped as abruptly as a needle being yanked off a record.
At Alabama, the eventual national champion, he was stonewalled en route to 19 carries for 31 yards, most of which came on one play. That and a touchdown were his only highlights, as Fournette was continually hit behind the line of scrimmage by Crimson Tide defenders.
“Having that extra week of preparation [during the bye] definitely did help some of the guys get healthy, but it was ultimately a pride thing,” Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen said. “The coaches didn’t really run a lot of different calls. It was just mano a mano.”
The 30-16 loss didn’t just dash his Heisman run, as the Crimson Tide’s Derrick Henry ran for 210 yards on 38 carries and three touchdowns; it also derailed LSU’s entire season. The team responded with two more losses (against Arkansas and at Ole Miss) and had to win its regular-season finale against Texas A&M to save head coach Les Miles’ job.
That’s why Fournette now calls last season a “learning experience” and downplays performances like his 228 rushing yards against Auburn. He knows better than anyone how performing in the biggest games counts the most.
“Everybody’s heads weren’t in the right place. That’s all it was” Fournette said.
“We forgot our why. Why we work so hard, just to get here. We were on top of the world, 7-0, and we’re in the SEC, the hardest and best conference to play in. We just have to get that back.”
With 18 starters back, few doubt that LSU can at least match that start or that the returning consensus All-American can again elude defenders like the braces that were on his teeth last season but are now absent.
Consequently, Fournette was recently listed first in Sports Illustrated's ranking of college football's top 100 players for 2016, and former LSU running back Jeremy Hill called him the best player in college football. “That means a lot,” Fournette said before adding that he’ll be saying the same thing about Derrius Guice next year.
Few who have faced him would argue the point.
“They are kind of freaky guys that are big, so you don’t expect them to move as fast as they do,” Mississippi State linebacker Richie Brown said about Fournette and Henry. “Players like that can really stress a defense.”
Fournette said he hasn’t been timed in the 40-yard dash at LSU, but he ran 4.36 in high school when he was a little smaller.
Miles has been encouraging him to lose some weight after Fournette gained 10 pounds during the early offseason, getting up to approximately 235. He quickly complied, thus the food-related questions here.
“He wants to be able to have speed, strength, and the combination of the two is certainly the advantage for the elite back, and so we felt like that would happen somewhere between  and 231, and he's right there,” Miles said. “Just where he needs to be.”
That statement could have had a double meaning, as Fournette had to dismiss rumors that he had been considering sitting out his junior year to avoid the risk of injury heading into the NFL.
He’s already used to those kinds of questions, which go hand-in-hand with the high expectations, even if he doesn’t want to admit to being the face of the SEC this season.
“There’s multiple guys just like me in the SEC,” Fournette said. “I don’t mind sharing the platform with those guys like Chad Kelly, Nick Chubb, Jalen Hurd and, I think he’s a sophomore now, Calvin Ridley.”
But none of them are quite like Fournette.
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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Few deny Chad Kelly is the best returning quarterback in the SEC. But the Ole Miss signal-caller and Heisman Trophy hopeful made it clear Thursday he's not satisfied with just being the best in his conference.
"I'm the best quarterback in the nation," Kelly said at SEC media days, per Greg Ostendorf of ESPN.com.
"You have to feel that way," Kelly continued. "In order to have confidence in yourself and team, you have to think you're the best. That's what I want our whole team—from offensive linemen to running backs—we have to think we're the best players and the best team out there. I want to be remembered as the greatest quarterback that ever played."
A redshirt senior, Kelly threw for 4,042 yards and 32 touchdowns against 13 interceptions in 2015. He became the first Ole Miss player to win the Sugar Bowl MVP since Archie Manning in 1970 and was named second-team All-SEC. Mississippi State's Dak Prescott bested him for first-team honors.
Expectations have only grown heading into 2016, with ESPN The Magazine and Lindy's naming Kelly the preseason SEC Offensive Player of the Year (h/t Ole Miss Sports).
What makes Kelly a potential NFL quarterback is his ability to affect the game through the air and the ground. He added 500 yards and 10 scores as a runner to his prodigious passing numbers last season. CBS Sports ranks him the best NFL quarterback prospect among seniors; Bleacher Report's Matt Miller had him seventh at the position overall in May.
Clemson's Deshaun Watson, the Miami Hurricanes' Brad Kaaya and Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph are just a few of the underclassmen Kelly will have to unseat on draft boards.
Kelly also has a long way to go if he even wants to be the best quarterback in his own family. Buffalo Bills Hall of Famer Jim Kelly is Chad's uncle.
Follow Tyler Conway (@jtylerconway) on Twitter.
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The Pac-12 Conference is the second league to hold its college football media days, beginning the first of its two sessions on Thursday in California just as the SEC ended its four-day marathon on the other side of the country. And the contrast between the events is staggering.
While the SEC has a rigid, regimented process held entirely within a series of hotel ballrooms in Alabama, the Pac-12 takes over a section of an outdoor mall in Hollywood. This laid-back atmosphere allows for more casual conversation as well as the chance for coaches and players to goof around—and show off their bottle-flipping skills—on a miniature football field set up in a mall concourse.
Oh yeah, and team-specific ice cream flavors:
But while college football fans might be anxious for the 2016 season to begin, that same sentiment isn't necessarily echoed by the coaches:
The Pac-12 will be the first of the five power conferences to get underway this year, as California takes on Hawaii in Sydney on Aug. 26. The logistics of playing a game in a foreign country have proved to be very taxing for Cal coach Sonny Dykes, who told reporters it's been difficult trying to secure passports for as many as 120 players.
A week later, the league will be in the spotlight thanks to a series of high-profile games, most notably USC taking on defending national champion Alabama in Arlington, Texas.
The Pac-12 is coming off a banner year in terms of bowl participants, sending 10 of 12 teams to postseason games. However, none of those invites were to the playoffs, as the league was the odd man out from last year's four-team College Football Playoff.
Speaking to reporters to open media days, via the Pac-12 Network broadcast, commissioner Larry Scott praised his league's dedication to tough nonconference scheduling and believes his teams will get “the benefit of the doubt” when the playoff committee compares teams with similar records this fall.
Six of the league's 12 teams return their starting quarterbacks from 2015, including big names such as UCLA's Josh Rosen and Washington State's Luke Falk. The other half of the league will have decisions to make before the season starts, and the competition between now and then figures to be fierce.
USC coach Clay Helton said he plans to choose between junior Max Browne and redshirt freshman Sam Darnold "two weeks before the season opener against Alabama," per the Orange County Register's Joey Kaufman. Either guy will have big shoes to fill, as Cody Kessler was the Trojans' starter for three years.
Another three-year starter who must be replaced is Cal's Jared Goff, who went on to become the No. 1 pick in April's NFL draft. The Golden Bears landed one of the biggest targets from the graduate transfer market this offseason in former Texas Tech passer Davis Webb, who originally committed to Colorado before signing with Cal.
Dykes said on the Pac-12 Network broadcast that the competition remains open among Webb, redshirt sophomore Chase Forrest and redshirt freshman Ross Bowers, and any of the three would make for a fine starter.
"We're excited about the level of quarterbacks we have, the depth that we have, but Davis is a little bit different right now," Dykes said.
Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez has a multiyear starter to work with in junior Anu Solomon, but he feels he has "two returning starters" (per Michael Lev of the Arizona Daily Star) in Solomon and sophomore Brandon Dawkins, and the pair will split reps in training camp. There's also true freshman Khalil Tate, who Rodriguez said "can throw it 80 yards but I don't have a player on the roster that requires an 80-yard throw" (per Zack Rosenblatt of the Arizona Daily Star).
Mike Leach at the mic
It's appointment viewing, or listening, any time the Washington State coach gets in front of a microphone. The many topics Mike Leach discussed at last year's Pac-12 media days included dating tips—bring a two-for-one coupon, maybe go sturgeon fishing—and thoughts on Batman and underwater treadmills. There was also a story, relayed by Arizona's Rodriguez, about a time Leach wore a Speedo at a Nike event.
What did Leach have in store this time around? Here are a few of his thoughts (with video context, when necessary).
His opening remarks (h/t Shotgun Spratling of Scout.com): "Alright, any questions?"
On the media's fascination with milestones:
On the recently retired Steve Spurrier (on the Pac-12 Network broadcast): "The guy's always on the move. I think we're kind of both examples of you need to figure out, to develop the ability to do nothing periodically. I need to work on it, maybe I'll call him and we can work on it together."
On the lack of communication between people due to the prevalence of technology (h/t Greg Beachem of the Associated Press): "I think the days before cell phones, when it was dirt clod wars at construction sites, was more wholesome, to be honest."
(Projected) leader of the pack
Stanford has won three of the last four Pac-12 titles despite not being picked to do so in any of those seasons. In fact, the Cardinal had never been chosen by the conference's media as the preseason favorite ...until now.
The Cardinal were the choice on 20 of 33 media ballots despite losing 11 starters, including three-year starting quarterback Kevin Hogan. Having FBS all-purpose yardage record holder and Heisman runner-up Christian McCaffrey back at running back helps, however.
Stanford was also the overwhelming choice to win the Pac-12 North Division, while UCLA narrowly edged rival defending South champ USC for the media pick on that side. But these are just predictions, and recently they've been way off. The Pac-12 media has correctly picked the league champ 29 times in 55 years but only twice in the last nine.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.
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