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The Dark-Horse Contender in Alabama's 2015 Quarterback Race

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — As Alabama’s spring practice enters its last week before the long offseason ahead, there hasn’t been too much focus on the quarterback race so far. Especially not as much as there was last year, when AJ McCarron left after a decorated career.

The Crimson Tide have had plenty of other problems to worry about, like the other eight starters they’ll be replacing on offense, the three arrests and two subsequent dismissals, or the two long-term knee injuries to key players.

But as the battle under center has largely played out in the shadows so far, a dark-horse contender for the job is very much emerging on the inside.

What looked like a race between Jake Coker and the field has seen a major push from an unsuspecting candidate: redshirt freshman David Cornwell.

Cornwell has been injured or on the bench for most of his short time in Tuscaloosa, but now healthy and with an opportunity to shine, Cornwell is impressing and has a very legitimate chance at the starting job in 2015.

“He has done probably as good a job as anybody this spring,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said Saturday after Alabama’s second spring scrimmage. “He’s very bright, has a great understanding of the offense, does a great job from a leadership standpoint of helping other players play better when he’s in there. And he has played smart for the most part all spring.”

That scrimmage, which was closed to all but a select few members of the public, was when Cornwell had his time to shine and showed what those inside the program think of his development.

During a warmup period seen by reporters prior to the scrimmage, Cornwell was taking snaps with the first-team offensive line. And that proved indicative of Cornwell’s standing at the scrimmage.

A source inside the scrimmage said that Cornwell took the first snaps at quarterback and was essentially a starter for one of the scrimmage teams. On an overall rough day for the quarterbacks, the source said, Cornwell continued to play meaningful snaps and made several nice throws.

In a photo of the scrimmage released by UA, Cornwell is seen working against first-team defensive lineman D.J. Pettway, who is being blocked by first-team tight end O.J. Howard:

“It was going to be interesting today to see, we put him in situations today where, even though he doesn’t have game experience, how he would handle those things, and in some cases he did a really good job,” Saban said afterwards. “A couple of other times I’m sure he’s going to learn from that experience and have a chance to do better. So we’re really encouraged by the progress he’s made all spring.”

That bump up in the rotation is a far cry from the seniority order we have seen so far. For the most part of the spring, quarterbacks worked from Coker down to early enrollee Blake Barnett in order of class standing.

Cornwell jumping Cooper Bateman and Alec Morris for the day shows at least some form of movement at this point in the quarterback competition and signals that he has a very real shot at winning the starting job.

His status in the quarterback race is surprising.

There was little buzz around the former 4-star from Norman, Oklahoma, coming into the offseason.

He came in as one of the crown jewels of Alabama’s 2014 class. At the time, Cornwell was the highest-rated quarterback Saban had ever signed. He was a pro-style quarterback and seemed to fit the mold of McCarron—a so-called “game manager” that could make plays when needed and play an overall smart game.

Then a couple of things happened.

Lane Kiffin came in, opened up the offense and Blake Sims led a record-setting offense using his legs to run a dynamic system. Alabama signed 5-star and mobile prospect Blake Barnett and, as so frequently happens in the short-attention-span recruiting cycle, Cornwell became an afterthought.

He’s also battled several injuries that, up until now, have hindered his development and limited what he could show off in practice.

In high school, Cornwell tore an ACL that cut his senior season short. He spent much of last year’s spring practice limited after enrolling in January.

To compound matters, he suffered an ankle injury during that spring that required surgery after A-Day, according to Marq Burnett of the Ledger-Enquirer.

During the fall, he was relegated to scout-team duties, simulating passing downs while Bateman handled the dual-threat role, per Burnett.

Now fully healthy, though, Cornwell is showing off the skills that made him such a highly rated prospect out of high school.

He told Burnett after the Sugar Bowl:

I'm there to compete everyday with all the quarterbacks. But getting better each day is my priority, not worrying about the spot, the No. 2 spot, No. 3 or anything. I'm just here to get better as a quarterback because even if you get the job here, you're going to have to beat someone out in the (NFL) draft or even in life. I'm just keeping my head down, working to be the best quarterback I can be and seeing where it takes me.

Right now, it’s taking him into the front lines of Alabama’s quarterback competition, where he has emerged as a very real threat to win the starting job.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes and reporting were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Power Ranking Top 10 Most Talented States in 2016 Recruiting Cycle

High-profile football talent can be found from coast to coast, from California to New York and beyond. And between and around those boundaries, there's pride within the states. Tons of pride.

Each year, when it comes to where the future college football players reside, a handful of states are viewed as the usual suspects. But each year, a few sleeper states include a list of big-time players to watch as the football world prepares for the annual marathon that is recruiting.

In the 2016 class, states like Alabama, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Arizona feature some of the best players in the country. However, 10 other states are loaded with talented prospects from top to bottom this year.

Here are the 10 most talented states in the 2016 recruiting cycle. The states were chosen using the quality and quantity of each state's talent base, with the assistance of 247Sports' composite ratings.

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Georgia Spring Buzz: 3-Headed QB Battle Rages On, Defense Looks Dominant

The Georgia Bulldogs competed in their spring game over the weekend and some storylines emerged from the big game. The quarterback battle is heating up with three viable candidates competing for the job. The running back position seems to be loaded, while the Bulldogs defense will once again be dominant.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee broke down the game with Stephen Nelson, touching on these developments and previewing what Bulldog fans can expect next season in Athens.

Who will win the QB battle? Check out the video and let us know!


QB stats obtained firsthand by Barrett Sallee.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Don't Be Surprised If a True Freshman Is South Carolina's 2015 QB

South Carolina wrapped up its spring practice session Saturday with the annual Garnet & Black Game at Williams-Brice Stadium, and all eyes were on quarterbacks Connor Mitch, Perry Orth and Michael Scarnecchia.

Mitch, a redshirt sophomore, was the most impressive of the bunch. The 6'3", 220-pound Raleigh, North Carolina, native competed 10 of 16 passes for 183 yards and a touchdown—a 22-yard strike to country music star Darius Rucker in what was the one special play head coach Steve Spurrier runs during each spring game.

Orth was efficient but made a couple of big mistakes. The former walk-on from Ponte Vedra, Florida, completed 11 of 19 passes for 137 yards but was picked off twice. Scarnecchia finished 12-of-19 for 191 yards and a touchdown but took two sacks.

"Connor Mitch is doing fine, and all three of them are," Spurrier said in quotes released by South Carolina. "Statistically, they're pretty similar. Michael Scarnechia, we need to get the ball out of his hands. Sometimes, he won't throw it if he doesn't think it has a chance and so forth. They all do some good things."

Who has the lead? Mitch probably does, at least for now, based on his experience in the system and his familiarity with the personnel.

Will that last, though?

Lorenzo Nunez—a dual-threat, 4-star Class of 2015 prospect—signed on the dotted line with Spurrier and the Gamecocks in February and could earn playing time in the offense as a true freshman.

"Lorenzo Nunez was here watching the scrimmage," Spurrier said. "He'll be ready to step into the competition as soon as he gets on campus in the summer. We're still trying to see if one guy is better than the rest."

Nunez is more of a dual-threat quarterback than any of the other QBs currently on South Carolina's campus. The 6'2 ½" 190-pounder from Harrison High School in Kennesaw, Georgia, has good top-end speed, is incredibly dangerous in space and keeps his eyes downfield when buying time behind the line of scrimmage.

"Nunez is an intriguing player," said Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Sanjay Kirpalani. "He's got a good arm, and he's clearly a guy who can make things happen when he escapes the pocket."

He can clearly bring the element of surprise to the Gamecock running game and add a different dimension alongside running backs Brandon Wilds and David Williams and do-everything receiver Pharoh Cooper—who's going to play some role on the ground again in 2015.

While Nunez brings the dynamism on the ground, he still has work to do through the air.

"He completed less than 50 percent of his passes as a senior, so I wonder about his fit in Spurrier's offense," Kirpalani said. "He's a guy who needs time to develop as a passer."

Nunez needs some work through the air, but South Carolina has a really good offensive staff led by Spurrier and quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus. Can they get him prepared enough as a passer during the month of August? That's a tall order, but Nunez's ability to create on the ground makes him as close to a Connor Shaw clone as any quarterback on South Carolina's roster.

Isn't that what South Carolina needs?

Shaw was the catalyst to the golden age of South Carolina football. He took over for Stephen Garcia midway through the 2011 season and was a big reason the Gamecocks won 11 games for three straight seasons from 2011-2013. 

Spurrier's offense evolved into a force different than his "Fun 'n' Gun" days at Florida with Shaw at the helm. Seemingly constant shots deep were replaced with a multidimensional ground game featuring Shaw and a tailback (first Marcus Lattimore and then Mike Davis) and a wildly efficient passing game founded in keeping the chains moving and taking the top off the defense when safeties began to creep up.

Nunez can follow that same blueprint if he can grasp some basic passing concepts early in fall camp.

It's a lot to ask for Nunez to win the job out of fall camp, especially with a tough out-of-conference matchup with North Carolina on the docket to open the season. But a ton of questions surround the South Carolina quarterback position exiting spring practice, and Nunez has the wheels to at least be part of the game plan as a situational quarterback from Day 1.

Once he gets his feet wet, he could slide into the starting role by midseason if no true leader emerges before then.

After all, it's Spurrier, and he has been known to play musical quarterbacks at times during his head coaching career.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, unless otherwise noted, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

10 Sleeper Heisman Trophy Candidates in 2015

What are the chances that the next Heisman Trophy winner hasn’t even been named a starter for 2015?

That’s precisely what happened just two winners ago, in 2012, when Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel didn’t get the nod until August 6, just weeks before the season opener.

Though this year’s early Heisman odds are stacked with running backs, eight of the last 10 winners were quarterbacks. It means the long shots with the most realistic chance of hitting the big board will play under center.

The common thread shared by the last five Heisman winners, all quarterbacks, is that they accounted for 60-plus percent of their team’s total offensive output. And this wasn’t just any ordinary attack—each ranked in the Top 20 nationally in yards and each won 10-plus games.

Take a look at the following names—some of which you’re already well acquainted with, while others haven’t even earned a starting role. All share a place of the Heisman radar, at least for now.

 

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Texas Football: 5 Reasons to Be Optimistic About the Longhorns' Spring Game

No matter the difference Texas head coach Charlie Strong has made on this Longhorn team since his arrival, it's tough to be optimistic about the team's outlook this season.

The Longhorns have lost 10 starters from a 6-7 team, lost even more experience to injuries this spring and, you know, still have no idea who their quarterback will be.

However, none of that should keep Longhorn fans from being excited to watch this team take the field in Saturday's spring game. Strong still has this group working hard to get back to the upper echelon of college football, drawing healthy competition from every position in the process.

Yes, that includes the troublesome quarterback position.

The fire Strong pulls from his guys alone will make this an entertaining scrimmage. Even if this team proves far from a polished product, at least everyone gets that long-awaited look at Malik Jefferson.

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Virginia Tech Football: Week 3 Spring Practice Stock Report

Could Virginia Tech's offense carry the team this fall? If Saturday's scrimmage meant anything, the Hokies could be a dangerous offense this fall.

For years, Tech fans have gotten accustomed to defensive coordinator Bud Foster and his ferocious defense leading the Hokies to numerous conference championships and 22 straight bowl appearances. While Foster's defense could once again be dominant in 2015, the offense ruled the day in VT's second spring scrimmage.

Senior quarterback Michael Brewer returned after missing some practice due to back spasms and looked like a completely different quarterback from the one who struggled at times in 2014.

Unofficially, Brewer completed 10 of 15 passes for 256 yards and five touchdowns. Now, keep in mind that it was a scrimmage and offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler was sure to keep things in perspective, per Andy Bitter of The Roanoke Times:

There were some touchdowns today that we had that there’s particular looks that Bud [Foster] gave us to look on. So they’re skewed. They’re completely skewed. This is a scrimmage. I just don’t think it’s fair on either side of it. It’s just not right. Because we’re trying to get things done and accomplish things as coaches, and everything is skewed and things are looked at positive or negative. It’s just, that’s why.

Loeffler's right: Scrimmages are generally controlled. The offensive coaches will ask the defense to give them a certain look and vice versa. However, when has a Virginia Tech offense been this productive in a scrimmage over the last several years?

Longtime head coach Frank Beamer was impressed by the number of big plays in the scrimmage, per Tech's official site:

That was probably the most long plays I’ve seen in a scrimmage. And that’s both good and bad. We’ve had a long of young guys making the long plays, and you have to give credit to your offensive line when things are happening good. Defensively, you miss a tackle in the secondary and all of a sudden, it turns into a long play. We’ll get those things corrected, but you feel good when you feel like you’ve got a threat and most of the guys doing it are young guys. I like where we are as a football team.

 

Brewer's Return

Tech has some bodies at the quarterback position in 2015. Brewer and Brenden Motley both return, while redshirt freshmen Andrew Ford and Chris Durkin now have a year of experience under their belts.

Highly regarded freshman Dwayne Lawson also arrives on campus this summer.

But let's get back to Brewer. The senior, who missed a good portion of spring practice recovering from back spasms, is being counted upon in 2015 to help take Tech's offense to another level. A full offseason in the program should help Brewer.

In his first season with VT in 2014, Brewer completed 59 percent of his passes for 2,692 yards, 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Turnovers plagued Brewer early last season, but he had only four interceptions in Tech's final seven games of the season after throwing 11 picks in his first six games.

Brewer is at his best when he's taking chances and pushing the ball down the field. The Hokies certainly have the weapons to get the ball down the field in 2015.

The biggest question surrounding Brewer right now is his health. Are the back spasms related to the back surgery he had over two years ago while he was at Texas Tech?

Tech athletic trainer Mike Goforth doesn't think so, according to Bitter.

“We’re just taking all the precautions that we can,” Goforth said. “It’s not like it’s a setback at this point.”

Brewer, meanwhile, was upbeat about his performance after the scrimmage but feels it's mainly because he's more comfortable with his surroundings and his teammates than he was when he entered the program last year, per Bitter.

"I would say just more of a comfortable atmosphere for me,” Brewer said. “ I’ve been able to kind of build a little more camaraderie, some timing."

If Brewer finishes the spring on a strong note, he will likely head into fall practice alone atop Tech's depth chart at quarterback.

 

Defensive End Depth a Concern

The Hokies will return the most productive pair of defensive ends in college football in 2015. Ken Ekanem and Dadi Nicolas both return, but it's Tech's lack of depth behind them that is concerning.

Ekanem was unable to participate in spring practice after offseason shoulder surgery, opening the door for sophomore Seth Dooley and a host of others to take advantage of an opportunity.

According to defensive line coach Charley Wiles, only Dooley has seized his chance, per BeamerBall.com.

"And I tell you, Seth Dooley is coming along. I like it when a plan comes together. Seth is more physical, he understands what he’s doing and that’s good to see because he’s been a bit of a project," Wiles said.

That's good news for Dooley and the Hokies, but what happens this fall if Ekanem or Nicolas goes down for significant period of time?

Tech has already moved talented freshman Yosuah Nijman from defensive end to offensive tackle. Nijman, who was described as a "physical phenomenon" by strength and conditioning coach Mike Gentry, per Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, was struggling as Foster suggested his "mind was tying up his feet."

Sophomore Melvin Keihn would be next in line for the Hokies, but he hasn't exactly stood out this spring. At 6'1", 211 pounds, he is undersized and relies only on his speed to rush the passer. That will work against some teams, but not against better offensive tackles.

Keihn has the chance to be a special player for the Hokies, but he could be better suited for linebacker moving forward.

The Hokies have some talent coming in this summer. However, it's tough to project how ready the newcomers will be as true freshmen without a year in the school's weight program.

 

Bucky Hodges at Wide Receiver

Tight end Bucky Hodges is the new prototype at tight end. Hodges stands 6'6", weighs 249 pounds and runs like a wide receiver. According to Bitter, he ran a 4.46-second 40-yard dash in last year's winter workouts.

NFL scouts will likely drool over the third-year sophomore as soon as this fall, and his performance this spring should definitely have Hokie fans excited.

Loeffler has moved Hodges around more, lining him up as a wide receiver rather than having him play the traditional tight end role. That allows Hodges to get on the field with fellow sophomores Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips in three-receiver sets and helps get fellow tight end Ryan Malleck on the field, too.

"We’re putting him all over the place,” Loeffler said, per Norm Wood of the Daily Press. “There were some things that we looked at (in Saturday’s scrimmage) that he needed to improve immensely on the perimeter, so (we're putting) him a lot on the perimeter right now."

Loeffler is testing Hodges this spring. He wants to see how much he can throw at Hodges and determine what he can retain.

The Hokies will be much more dangerous on offense with Hodges lining up all over the line of scrimmage.

Hodges is an extreme mismatch for defensive backs and linebackers. His presence will consistently allow Ford and/or Phillips to see single coverage, something Ford proved he could beat last fall.

The Hokies take to the field again this Saturday for the final open scrimmage before the the annual spring game on April 25. Admission to Lane Stadium is free, with practice beginning around 10:45 a.m. ET. The scrimmage will begin shortly thereafter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Nebraska Football: Mike Riley's Biggest Concerns Post-Spring Practice

New head coach Mike Riley presided over his first spring game at Nebraska on Saturday. The score (Red 24, White 15) didn't mean much, but there were a number of lessons to be drawn from the teams' performances.

The most important thing to remember about the spring game, though, is that it is really just a glorified practice—one of fifteen in the spring, with another entire camp coming this fall. The results and performances of the spring game should be viewed through that lens and weighted accordingly.

Having said that, there are two glaring areas of concern for Riley after seeing how his team performed under the lights and in front of the crowd. It might only be two areas, but it's fair to say that they're big ones.

 

Throwing the Ball

Here are the stat lines for Nebraska's quarterbacks at the Spring Game:

PlayerCompAttYdsComp %TDINT Tommy Armstrong Jr. 6 12 77 .500 1 0 AJ Bush 12 22 124 .545 0 2 Zack Darlington 7 11 70 .636 1 0 Ryker Fyfe 2 6 57 .333 1 0 Tyson Broekemeier 4 6 65 .667 1 0 Johnny Stanton III 3 11 19 .273 0 1 TOTAL3468412.50043

That's just not good enough. Yes, some of the incompletions were dropped balls (more on that in a bit). But at least on the evidence of one practice (in front of 76,000 people), the only quarterback in whom you could put any faith to accurately deliver the ball was redshirt freshman Zack Darlington.

Again, remember the caveat about this being just one practice. But Armstrong's completion percentage was about what it has been so far in his career, making fair the question as to whether that number can reasonably be expected to markedly improve.

 

Catching the Ball

Nebraska's woes with the forward pass on Saturday weren't limited to the quarterbacks. Time after time, when passes were delivered on target, receivers were unable to make the catch. Wide receivers, running backs and tight ends were all guilty of drops in situations where a catch should have been made.

Of course, the two concerns run together. Nebraska's run game looked effective, with jet-sweep action (and play fakes off it) putting stress on the defense horizontally and providing an opportunity to get playmakers like De'Mornay Pierson-El the ball in space.

But if Nebraska's passing game is as anemic as it appeared on Saturday, it won't take long for opposing defenses to scheme for the run and dare Nebraska's quarterbacks to win with their arms. On the evidence of Saturday's performance (which, again, is limited evidence), it's hard to have too much faith in the team's ability to do so.

In other words, Riley and company still have a lot of work to do before Nebraska tees it up against BYU on September 5.

 

For a different look at Nebraska football, check out The Double Extra Point.

Or you can use the Twitter machine to follow @DblExtraPoint.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida Spring Buzz: Grier Leads QB Battle, but O-Line Struggles Help Harris

The Florida Gators competed in their spring game over the weekend, and a few storylines emerged from the big game. The quarterback position seems to have a leader, while the wide receiver position could yield some breakout stars. However, the offensive line needs work. 

Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee joins Stephen Nelson to sum up all the moving parts after the spring game. 

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Who Deserves to Be the Highest-Paid Coach in CFB, Urban Meyer or Nick Saban?

According to Ohio State's official Twitter account, head coach Urban Meyer has signed a contract extension through the 2020 season. Meyer, who will be making $6.5 million per season, is still behind the highest-paid coach in college football, Nick Saban, who earns $6.9 million annually as head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide. 

Stephen Nelson is joined by Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder to debate who should be the highest-paid coach in college football.

Who do you think should be the highest-paid coach in CFB? Check out the video and let us know!  

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

What Urban Meyer's New Contract Means for His Future at Ohio State

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Three months and one day from the date Urban Meyer made his case for being college football's best head coach, Ohio State opted to pay him like it.

The school announced on Monday an extension for the head coach of the reigning national champion Buckeyes that will essentially make Meyer college football's second-highest-paid head coach. Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman has further details:

USA Today indicates that with an average annual salary of $6.5 million over the course of the next six seasons, Meyer will trail only Alabama's Nick Saban ($6.9 million) in base salary.

It'd be hard to make a convincing argument that Meyer isn't worth the money—a $1.6 million raise from his former base salary—after amassing a combined 38-3 record in his first three seasons at Ohio State, including last season's run to the first ever College Football Playoff National Championship.

But while the three-time national champion head coach's raise appeared to be a mere formality, the details are telling as they relate to his future with the Buckeyes.

For one, it's worth noting Meyer's new contract runs through 2020, a three-year extension from his original Ohio State deal that was set to expire at the end of the 2017 campaign.

For a coach who came to Columbus with questions pertaining to his longevity after an early retirement at Florida in 2011, Meyer seems to have put any such concerns in the past with his commitment to the Buckeyes for the next six seasons.

"I've learned lessons, like we all do, along the journey," Meyer said on Monday, just hours before his extension was announced.

Meyer's contract extension is also telling in that while it does offer a bump in salary, the three extra years are somewhat short of substantial. For context, the extension Saban signed at Alabama last summer runs through the 2021 season, and Saban is 13 years older than Meyer.

There are a couple of ways that one could read into that, but what would seem to make the most sense would be that Meyer is mapping out the remainder of his coaching career.

After his three-year run with the Buckeyes, he could have likely named his contract length to the Ohio State administration and it would have been approved, so the decision to only extend his contract through 2020 was likely Meyer's choice—and Meyer's alone.

Should he work through the remainder of his new contract—and there's no reason to think he wouldn't—that would mean Meyer would have spent nine seasons at Ohio State and 19 total as a head coach.

For a coach who began his career as an assistant with the Buckeyes in 1986, that would make for the quite the career—without even taking into account all that he has already accomplished.

Assuming he doesn't sign another extension, coach at another college or try his hand at the NFL, it would also mean that Meyer will be retiring at the age of just 56. For a football lifer who grew up idolizing coaches like Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden, that would seem to be relatively young, despite having logged more than a 30-year career in the coaching ranks by then.

Only Meyer knows for sure what his plans are, but it's also worth pointing out that ending his career at Ohio State in 2020 would be long enough to allow his son Nate, a talented high school football and baseball player, to spend his entire high school career at the same school.

During his one-year hiatus from coaching in 2011, Meyer spent time traveling to see his daughters Nicki and Gigi each compete in volleyball at the college level.

In 2020, Meyer's son could be in the midst of his own college career.

A lot can change in the next six years, but Meyer's decision to end his contract before Saban's points to an eye being on the bigger picture. What Buckeye fans can take solace in right now is that for the foreseeable future, Meyer will be Ohio State's head coach, which is more than anyone could have guaranteed just three years ago.

“I am honored to serve as football coach at The Ohio State University and to represent this great university,” Meyer said in a statement. “It is a privilege to coach and mentor the young men in this program."

For how long he'll continue to do so remains to be seen. However, his latest extension offers as much promise as it offers clues to his plans for the future.

 

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. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ole Miss Spring Buzz: Quarterback Battle Emerging While Defense Remains Dominant

The Ole Miss Rebels competed in their spring game over the weekend, and some storylines have emerged. The quarterback battle is getting interesting, and the defense remains dominant while Hugh Freeze and his squad try to improve the run game. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee joined Stephen Nelson as they discussed all things Ole Miss and their current situation this spring. 

Who will emerge as the quarterback? Check out the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Urban Meyer, Ohio State Agree to New Contract: Latest Details and Reaction

Urban Meyer has posted a 38-3 record in three years as the head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes, and he was rewarded on Monday with a lucrative contract extension.

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports reported Monday that Meyer has signed a contract extension through 2020 that will pay him an average of $6.5 million over the next six seasons.

The NFL Network's Albert Breer reacted to the news:

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said in a statement, via Austin Ward of ESPN.com:

Urban Meyer has done an excellent job strengthening our culture of commitment to academics, career development and winning championships. Our young men continue to thrive under his leadership, whether on the playing field where they are national champions, through life skills pursuits like Real Life Wednesdays, internships and job fairs, and academically through program-wide efforts to monitor the progress of every student-athlete which has helped the team achieve its highest graduation success rate at 78 percent.

Additionally, he continues to develop his coaches and attract talented leaders when needed.

If the NFL ever becomes a temptation Meyer would succumb to, he'd be leaving behind a powerhouse program and a ton of money. After enduring a postseason ban in his first year at the helm, when OSU went undefeated, Meyer guided the Buckeyes to a 12-2 mark in 2013, but they lost in the Orange Bowl.

All Meyer did in his third year was overcome injuries to two highly productive starting quarterbacks, improve to 24-0 in the Big Ten and win the inaugural College Football Playoff for the national title.

It comes as little surprise that Ohio State wanted to reaffirm its faith in Meyer after conference success and a magnificent national championship run with such a young team.

The Buckeyes figure to be favorites to repeat as champions in 2015. They have three capable QBs set to battle it out for the starting job, along with a talented defense headlined by pass-rusher Joey Bosa and versatile linebacker Darron Lee.

Meyer's extension bodes well for how Ohio State will fare in the years to come. Recruits who are intrigued by the possibility of playing for Meyer can take comfort in the coach's long-term commitment on paper.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Watch 6'5" 200-Pound 8th Grader's Jaw-Dropping, Megatron-Like Highlight Tape

There have been some dominant players at the high school level, but rarely do you see that dominance on the field in middle school.

Watch as Blake Hinson, Class of 2019, dominate the competition. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Miami Commit Throws Up 'The U' During Visit to Florida State

It's safe to say Al Blades Jr. won't be flipping his commitment from Miami.

During a visit to Florida State over the weekend, the 2018 defensive back recruit—and son of former Hurricane Al Blades—threw up "The U" sign while standing on the field at Doak Campbell Stadium.

After seeing the tweet, Florida State junior cornerback Jalen Ramsey gave Blades some props for keeping the rivalry alive.

Of course Ramsey had to send a little trash talk back as well:

[Twitter, h/t CBS Sports]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Football: Week 4 Spring Practice Stock Report

COLUMBUS, Ohio — With baseball season in full swing, Ohio State football is rounding third base and heading home at spring practice. The Buckeyes will host their annual spring game this Saturday at Ohio Stadium, but even Urban Meyer knows there's only so much he'll be able to take away from it.

"Spring ball must not be very interesting," the Ohio State head coach said as he made note of a smaller-than-usual media contingent at his Monday press conference. "And I agree with you."

That doesn't mean this spring—or this Saturday, for that matter—won't wind up being valuable to the Buckeyes as they embark on their defense of the national title. Although plenty of experience returns from a year ago, Meyer is still breaking in some fresh faces and will use this Saturday as a way to gauge who he can count on.

"The thing that spring games give you at a place like Ohio State is a crowd," Meyer said. "A lot of times you'll see a player that comes out [on the practice field] when no one's around and plays well and then he goes out in front of a crowd and locks up. And that's real...I can't say it's going to be pleasant all the time, because you're going to have some young guys who aren't quite ready to play yet."

 

Spring Starters

With 14 combined starters returning on offense and defense from a season ago, the Buckeyes entered spring practice with only eight starting spots—quarterback aside—up for grabs. And while there's still time between now and the start of the season for circumstances to change, most of those vacancies appear to have been filled.

Right tackle Chase Farris, wide receiver Noah Brown, defensive end Tyquan Lewis, defensive tackle Tommy Schutt, linebacker Raekwon McMillan and cornerback Gareon Conley will each leave spring football with significant edges in their respective races to replace the starting seniors from last season's championship squad. The other two openings come at tight end, where senior Nick Vannett is a lock to replace Jeff Heuerman, and wide receiver, which will be filled by a shift of personnel.

"A lot of guys get the mentality that, 'I'll go get the job in August,'" Meyer said. "A spot in August is already done and we're trying to go win a football game."

Of course the irony of that mentality is that the Buckeyes' most important position battle won't be settled until the start of fall camp at the earliest. With J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller still recovering from their respective injuries, neither will be able to fully compete with Cardale Jones for the starting quarterback job until the summer—although Barrett has already gotten somewhat of a head start.

"I don't know who our quarterback's going to be," Meyer admitted on Monday. "We're exactly where we need to be. At the end of spring practice we've gotten J.T. Barrett a billion reps, probably more than I thought we'd get him [coming off a fractured ankle]. Cardale didn't have a particularly great day today but he's had a good spring and we're getting him as many reps as we can. And Braxton's getting healthy."

Although Barrett may be ahead of schedule, he will not be participating in this Saturday's spring game. The only two scholarship signal-callers who will be on the field will be Jones and redshirt freshman Stephen Collier, with college football's biggest quarterback battle of the offseason yet to truly take form.

 

Dominant D-Line?

While the losses from last season's national title team are minimal, one unit that has been undergoing somewhat of an overhaul in Columbus this spring has been the Buckeyes defensive line. Gone are defensive tackle Michael Bennett, who is expected to be a second-to-third-round pick in the upcoming draft, and the combination of Steve Miller and Rashad Frazier, meaning that Ohio State will be replacing half of its starting defensive line this season.

The half that is returning for the Buckeyes, however, happens to be pretty good, with defensive end Joey Bosa and defensive tackle Adolphus Washington reclaiming their starting spots from a year ago. Neither of the 2016 NFL prospects has seen significant snaps this spring, having little left to prove to Meyer and defensive line coach Larry Johnson, but both have stated a desire to make the most out of this offseason.

"Not much physical reps, but me and Adolphus have been down working with [graduate assistant] Vince [Oghobaase] and Coach Johnson on bags, so we've definitely been getting our work this past week," Bosa said. "We've been doing a lot more contact, so we've definitely been getting back in the swing of it."

As for the openings, Schutt and Lewis will enter fall camp as the front-runners to replace Bennett and Lewis. A former 4-star prospect, Schutt has provided depth on the Buckeyes defensive line for each of the past three seasons but now appears ready to take hold of a starting spot.

As for Lewis, the redshirt sophomore has been one of the more pleasant surprises for Ohio State this spring, after only seeing limited action in 2014. As opposed to the platoon of Miller and Frazier, which was steady but not spectacular, the 6'4", 260-pounder offers a dynamic skill set that could especially shine with the amount of attention offensive lines are forced to pay to Bosa on the opposite side.

"He's doing an unbelievable job this spring, just out there killing it, going hard every day," Bosa said of Lewis. "I'm excited to have another end like that on the other side."

In addition to Schutt and Lewis, Sam Hubbard, Jalyn Holmes and Joel Hale have all been mentioned by coaches and teammates as defensive linemen who are having big springs for the Buckeyes. According to Meyer, the plan is to rotate 10 players on the unit, a goal that now appears attainable, as opposed to a year ago.

"Last year we didn't feel too comfortable with putting some backups in," Bosa admitted. "This year's a completely different feel. We have a bunch of guys ready to go."

 

Receivers Ready

Much like the Ohio State defensive line, the Buckeyes wide receiving corps will also feature a new look this fall. Gone are Devin Smith and Evan Spencer, starters for the better part of each of the past two seasons, replaced by a talented albeit inexperienced group that has only seen its reps increased with the absence of Michael Thomas, who is recovering from sports hernia surgery.

Brown, a 6'2", 222-pound sophomore by way of Sparta, New Jersey, has stood out as the best of the bunch thus far.

"Noah Brown has had as good of a spring as I could have wanted," Ohio State wide receivers coach Zach Smith said. "He's dropped 25 pounds, and he's on a different level than he was in the fall. I'm really, really pleased with where he's at."

With the Buckeyes opting to showcase his ability as a run-blocker even a year ago, Brown appears to be a natural fit to replace Spencer, who was known for his do-it-all nature. As for replacing Smith, who led the nation in yards per catch with a 28.2 average, OSU has been experimenting with shifting H-Back Jalin Marshall from the slot to the outside, at least in the spring.

In Marshall's absence at H-Back, the Buckeyes have turned to Curtis Samuel, who spent his freshman season in 2015 backing up Ezekiel Elliott at running back. Samuel, however, has emerged as one of Ohio State's top playmakers this spring, and Meyer has vowed to get him on the field for 40-50 plays per game this fall.

"Curtis is really talented. Curtis could play a lot of different spots," Smith said. "He's been meeting in my room as we just try to saturate him at this position."

While it's currently a temporary setup, keeping Marshall on the outside could become permanent if Samuel proves to be the Buckeyes' best option at H-Back. What's promising is the number of options Ohio State appears to have, as despite its departures it appears to only be adding options.

"We had to go get more people that fit [our] type of system because we wanted to spread the field horizontally," Meyer said. "That's the Jalin Marshall-, Dontre Wilson-, Curtis Samuel-type player. We're still looking for more."

 

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. All statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Ranking the Top 25 Juniors Heading into the 2015 College Football Season

In the hierarchy of college football classes, the juniors stand atop the mountain.

The junior class is where we usually find the next wave of NFL stars, and as a result, the best of the best from this group end up turning pro after the season. It's somewhat like the free-agent year for college players, as a strong performance can dictate what their future holds.

The future is now, though, for college football's top juniors, and the competition to be ranked among the 25 best in that class was fierce. We factored in past results, expected performance this fall and their overall impact on the game in how we've listed them, and the resumes of those who didn't crack the top 25 were almost as impressive as the ones of those who made the cut.

Check out our top 25 juniors heading into the 2015 season, and give us your thoughts in the comment section.

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Which SEC Team Can Dethrone Alabama with the Best Recruiting Class in 2016?

Alabama sits atop the college football recruiting world, having the best class in the country for five straight years. Could Bama's reign be challenged by someone in their own conference?

Stephen Nelson is joined by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Sanjay Kirpalani to discuss a possible SEC contender for the top recruiting class in 2016.

Who will have the No. 1 class in 2016? Check out the video and let us know!

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Which Notre Dame QB Needs a Bigger Spring, Everett Golson or Malik Zaire?

Here's what we know about Notre Dame's quarterback competition between Everett Golson and Malik Zaire: Barring an injury or some unforeseen circumstance, it will rage on into preseason camp. 

This Saturday's spring game on April 18th isn't going to change that, either. Spring games are essentially glorified scrimmages that the public sees. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, on the other hand, has been closely monitoring Golson and Zaire for weeks on end. He knows what they're capable of doing. 

That said, Golson has to be feeling the pressure to have the better spring. He has one more year of eligibility remaining and has been the subject of transfer rumors, namely to LSU, which he's denied on his Twitter account. 

Spring drills provide an opportunity to bounce back from disappointments and block out distractions. Whether you're talking about an early-enrollee freshman or a fifth-year senior, everyone for the most part starts with a new slate.

Even though Golson is a longtime starter, that's just what he needs. 

According to J.J. Stankevitz of CSNChicago.com, Golson has been battling hard with Zaire for the No. 1 spot. Golson could transfer at the end of spring and be eligible to play right away next year. However, his actions actually indicate he's working hard to be the best player he can be for Notre Dame, despite conjecture to the contrary. 

"If I sensed (Golson eyeing a transfer) at all, I would pull the plug on it myself because we’re wasting our time,” Kelly said via Stankevitz. "I’m not going to jeopardize our program, our staff, our livelihood, what we do, if somebody’s not bought in and 100 percent committed. So that’s the most honest answer I could give you from that standpoint."

For example: Golson hasn't spoken to the media in months and was scheduled to speak last week, according to The Associated Press. However, a school spokesperson said Golson opted not to instead: 

Notre Dame spokesman Michael Bertsch said Golson decided against talking with the media, saying he wants to focus on football and school. Bertsch said Golson is aware that some people will speculate about what his decision not to talk to the media means. When he receives his degree he is eligible to go to another school and play immediately.

Yes, people will take Golson's silence as a sign of his commitment—or lack thereof. Ohio State quarterback Braxton Millerhas also been quiet when it comes to media availability, which has only fueled similar transfer rumors over the past few months. 

But that doesn't mean those are the correct assumptions. 

The past two years have been filled with more downs than ups for Golson. He missed the entire 2013 season because of an academic issue and had ball-security issues last year. He was benched in the Irish's final regular-season game of '14 against USC, and Zaire got the start in the Music City Bowl against LSU. 

This is Golson's last chance to make an impact, to finish on a more positive note. If football and school are his biggest priorities as Kelly has indicated, then that's where he needs to put his focus. Kelly is willing to give him that, as he said via Stankevitz: 

He doesn’t want to talk about it, he doesn’t want to do media and stuff like that because he’s focused on his academics and graduating and I’m OK with that. I’m fine with that. He’s had his share of living in the bright lights of it.

Now in the fall, he’s going to have to do what everybody else does in the fall and when it’s media time, he’s going to sit in front of you guys and answer questions. We’ll give him his space.

That makes sense. Kelly and Golson have worked together for a long time. At this point, Kelly should know what his quarterback needs and what will make him successful. Critics can wonder why a senior still hasn't found the right balance of on-the-field success, academic success and media success, but it doesn't always click the same way at the same time for everyone. 

What matters is that Golson is concentrating on the things that are important. If anything, that should tell you he's committed to turning things around at his current school. 

If Kelly was to announce a starter after the spring game, publicly or privately, it would make sense to fuel the Golson rumors. As long as it's an open competition that will carry on for another few months, it means Golson has a chance. It's not a guarantee, but it's not nothing, either. 

That's all Golson needs. And it doesn't sound like he cares one bit if anyone says anything to the contrary. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. 

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SEC Players Who Have Surprised This Spring

Spring is a time for players to get better, and oftentimes, that means unknown or underrated players lay the groundwork for fall superstardom.

For others, it's a chance to hit the reset button after struggling in the hopes of turning things around.

Which players in the SEC have surprised this spring? Our picks, based on track record, depth chart movement and talent, are in this slideshow.

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