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Can Anyone Challenge Ohio State for No. 1 Recruiting Ranking?

The Ohio State Buckeyes recently landed 5-star strong-side defensive end Nick Bosa, according to 247Sports.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down whether anyone will be able to take the 2016 class' No. 1 recruiting ranking from the Buckeyes.

Do you think they can keep the top spot? Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Former No. 1 RB Johnathan Gray's Advice to High School Football Recruits

DALLAS — Johnathan Gray graduated from Aledo High School as the nation's No. 1 running back and the No. 6 overall player in the 2012 class, per 247 Sports. He arrived at the University of Texas in May 2012 as an All-American running back in high school who rushed for nearly 11,000 yards and holds the all-time national record for career touchdowns with 205.

Now a senior for the Longhorns, Gray is a preseason candidate for the Doak Walker Award, which honors the nation's top running back. During Tuesday's Big 12 Media Day session, Gray delivered a first-person message to present and future recruits hoping to one day fulfill their dreams as a college football player.

 

You have to stay hungry, stay happy and stay humble. Never give up on your goals, and always stay true to yourself.

Back in high school, I broke a lot of records and won state championships. That was all great. I came to college and had expectations of winning a national championship, setting records and winning awards.

That's taken a back seat a little bit.

Coming out of high school, you come to the University of Texas, and you're expecting a 10-win season. For us to not have that, it's kind of frustrating.

Now for my senior year, I have to get better and have to work toward those goals to get a national championship and win that trophy.

Recruits need to remember it's a grind. Coming in as a young guy, you don't know what to do or where to go, and you'll have some fall outs with coaches. From my experience, you just have to take it and roll with it.

Every year is a new year. Everybody is on the same playing field. You've got to keep pushing, keep going and you can't get down.

You can't get down on yourself or your teammates. You always have to keep pushing forward. Stay prayed up, stay true to yourself and stay humble.

Life happens. Injuries are going to happen. Guys are going to come and go. You've got to stay focused.

For guys like Tristian Houston, Kirk Johnson and Chris Warren, those who are freshmen now, that's what I'm doing with them; I'm helping them understand the game and understand life.

When learning the game of football, understand that each and every day is not promised. You've got to be prepared to go to work.

Some of the guys I relied on when I was younger always said "work hard and be better than the next person." Always be aware of your surroundings, and always keep God first.

I stuck with that. My dad always told me the same thing.

Keep God first, and make sure you set yourself up for success. Whether you pick the University of Texas or anywhere else, just make sure you have a plan when you're done with college, and make sure you have a backup plan.

Never shy away from what you believe in. You always have to stay true to yourself and always keep pushing. Eventually, it'll happen for you.

 

Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

CFB Recruiting 200: Top 6 Dual-Threat Quarterbacks in Class of 2016

After thorough study using specific scoring criteria, Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analysts Damon Sayles, Sanjay Kirpalani and Tyler Donohue have graded the top 200 players in the 247Sports composite rankings and provided in-depth analysis on each young athlete. Bleacher Report will run a position-by-position breakdown series of the best college football recruits in the class of 2016. Here we present the Top Dual-Threat Quarterbacks.

Other Positions

 

Collegiate defenses are challenged by dual-threat quarterbacks throughout the season, forced to game-plan against playmakers who can obliterate opponents through the air or on the ground.

The prospects in the latest wave of this category present skill sets that could keep defenders on their heels for years to come. Several are already committed to high-profile college programs, setting the stage for immense expectations.

We broke down every dual-threat quarterback rated among America's top 200 players in 247Sports' composite rankings, taking a look at key attributes and their respective recruitments. Athletes are listed in order of composite rankings and graded based on criteria including accuracy, arm strength, mobility, leadership, football IQ and pocket presence.

 

All prospects graded by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue.

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Tennessee Football: Volunteers' Top All-American Candidates

If the hype is real and this truly is going to be an exciting Tennessee football season, the Vols are going to need some heroes to emerge.

That's not talking about players who post nice numbers and produce quality seasons, either. We're talking about bona fide All-American campaigns; the kind of seasons that get your name remembered in history books or your number enshrined in rafters.

For a team this young to shine, some guys have to rise above the rest of the pack.

Every great team has stars, and coach Butch Jones' 2015 Vols have their share of potential studs, even if most of them aren't yet proven.

Perhaps the best thing about UT's potential this season is it has veteran, experienced and talented players in vital positions. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs has started long stretches in each of the past two seasons, and the Vols have a formidable pass-rushing duo that can wreak havoc on quarterbacks.

Their secondary could be extremely stout, and there are former star prospects in place at other positions who could break out and have monster seasons.

If a team has one or two All-Americans, it can be special. So, obviously, all of these guys won't make the list. But who are the Vols most likely to get national recognition at the end of the season?

Let's take a look at UT's top candidates to be mentioned among the nation's best players.

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Jeremy Johnson Could Be the Breakout Star of 2016 NFL Draft's Quarterback Class

Entering his junior season, Auburn quarterback Jeremy Johnson has made just two starts and attempted only 78 passes so far in his collegiate career. Even so, it’s possible that Johnson could come out of his junior season as the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the 2016 NFL draft.

Johnson’s lack of playing time thus far makes Cardale Jones’ film look extensive. But like Jones, the fill-in quarterback who became an instant phenom in leading Ohio State to three wins and a national championship at the end of last season, Johnson has a combination of size, arm strength and pocket-passing potential that makes him one of the most intriguing prospects in the entire nation.

Whether Johnson ultimately emerges as a top prospect will be determined by his performance for the Tigers this fall, but he has already demonstrated tools and playmaking ability in limited action to give NFL scouts and draft analysts reason enough to be excited about his upside.

 

Physical Gifts, Passing Promise Already Apparent

As he takes over the Auburn offense this fall, Johnson will be looking to follow in the footsteps of Cam Newton, who parlayed a Heisman Trophy-winning junior year for the Tigers in 2010—his only season as a starter at the Football Bowl Subdivision—into being selected with the No. 1 overall pick by the Carolina Panthers in the 2011 NFL draft.

Physically, Johnson could pass for a replica of Newton. Listed at 6’5”, 240 pounds, Johnson has size that stands out every time he steps on the field.

Also like Newton, Johnson offers a cannon arm that would already be one of the strongest in the NFL. Even with his limited opportunities to play, Johnson has already displayed on numerous occasions that he can drive the ball deep down the field, and do so with accuracy and velocity.

In the following clip, from Johnson’s freshman year against Florida Atlantic in 2013, he delivered a picturesque deep ball 48 yards through the air to connect with wide receiver Sammie Coates for a 67-yard touchdown.

Last season against Arkansas, he put a ball right on the money for Coates approximately 55 yards downfield. While it might look in the clip below as though Johnson overthrew Coates, the pass likely would have been caught for a touchdown had the Arkansas defensive back covering Coates not committed defensive pass interference, which was called.

One more demonstration of Johnson’s arm comes from Auburn’s game last season against LSU. While the play as a whole has limited value for evaluators, as Johnson was lined up as a wide receiver in a trick-play formation, it is an excellent example of his arm strength as he completed a pass to Coates 47 yards downfield while throwing from just inside the right-side numbers to just inside the left-side numbers.

Johnson’s arm strength is not only apparent on deep balls but also in the zip he is able to put on throws to the intermediate level, like he did to hit Duke Williams in stride 20 yards downfield on the following throw against Arkansas last season that turned into a 62-yard gain.

Projecting forward to the NFL, Johnson’s ability to deliver the ball out of his hand quickly and with consistent velocity will be key for him to succeed, as those traits will enable him to complete passes with necessary timing and precision between tight windows.

As Gus Malzahn said of Johnson at SEC media days earlier this month (h/t Brandon Marcello of AL.com), “He can flat out throw it.”

Where Johnson fails to compare with Newton is as a runner.

Despite his size, Johnson has yet to show a regular ability to break tackles as a runner, while he also lacks the speed and agility that Newton possesses. He does exhibit comfort in throwing the ball on the run, which can lead to scrambling for positive yardage in some situations, but he has not had much success to this point in his career on designed runs.

Johnson reportedly told ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg this April that he has run a 4.51-second 40-yard dash, but his film is not indicative of him bringing that degree of athleticism to the field.

Regardless of what his 40 time might ultimately be, Johnson acknowledged at SEC media days that his skill set is not the same as what Newton brought to the Auburn offense.

"Cam is Cam and I'm me," Johnson said, according to Marcello. "I don't too much compare myself to Cam. We're different people. We've got different talents.”

The good news for Johnson, especially looking forward to the NFL, is that he does not need to be a dual-threat runner—and should not be penalized in the draft for his limitations in that regard—if he can be a great passer.

How effectively Johnson can lead an offense will be uncertain until he gets more meaningful game action under his belt, but he has already shown glimpses of advanced pocket-passing prowess that could make NFL scouts fall in love with him this upcoming season.

Altogether, Johnson has completed more than 73 percent of his passing attempts in his career, while averaging 11 yards per attempt.

Numbers without context, of course, are not very useful in the evaluation of an NFL draft prospect.

It is fair to suggest that Johnson’s statistical performance has been inflated by the fact that the vast majority of his playing time has come against inferior opponents (Western Carolina and Florida Atlantic in 2013) and/or in late-game mop-up duty. Over the course of a full season in which he will be playing many tough defenses within the Southeastern Conference, Johnson’s impressive averages will almost certainly decrease.

That being said, it’s also not as if Johnson has puffed up his numbers by dinking and dunking the ball around in a tempo offense. The following chart, which tracks all the throws Johnson has made in Auburn games thus far, shows that nearly half of his completions to date (26 of 57) have been on passing attempts of 10 yards or more from the line of scrimmage.

With the exception of throws of 20 yards or longer to the right side of the field—an area in which he has yet to complete a pass in his Auburn career—Johnson has been successful on at least half of his passing attempts to every other area of the field.

As the chart also indicates, Johnson has frequently had success when throwing off play action, completing more than 70 percent of passing attempts on plays in which he has faked a handoff.

For an inexperienced quarterback, Johnson demonstrates an impressive ability to utilize fakes of all sorts to his advantage and to progress off them to find open receivers.

The following play from last year’s Arkansas game was one such example. By pump-faking as if to throw a screen pass to Coates, Johnson fooled three Razorbacks defenders into cheating up toward the line of scrimmage. This enabled Williams to get open behind those defenders, and Johnson took advantage by progressing his eyes to the middle of the field and connecting with Williams on an 18-yard strike.

Another example came last season against Louisiana Tech. By faking two handoffs, first to the running back alongside him and then to a wide receiver running a jet sweep motion, Johnson enticed Louisiana Tech’s left cornerback to move up as if to play the run, enabling Williams to get open on a 14-yard crossing route to the left side, which Johnson found for an easy completion.

Appearing to be a generally smart decision-maker, Johnson showed improvement between 2013, when he was intercepted twice on forced throws into coverage over the deep middle, and 2014, when he did not commit any turnovers.

Seemingly comfortable going through his progressions and making multiple reads within a play, Johnson does not simply rely on his physical tools to make things happen. Ultimately, his ability to win mentally is what could enable him to maximize his physical gifts and become a star quarterback prospect.

 

What Johnson Needs to Prove in 2015

Altogether, Johnson needs to prove this upcoming season that he can string together the positive traits he has displayed in limited action and put them to work consistently as he becomes entrusted with leading the Auburn offense week in and week out.

To this point in his career, Johnson has yet to be thrust into a situation in which he has had to carry his team to a victory late in a game. Those situations, whenever they might present themselves, will provide a true test of Johnson’s ability to maintain his composure and make big plays in the clutch.

Another area in which Johnson remains largely untested is in dealing with pressure. The ability to make sound decisions and throw with accuracy against the rush often plays a make-or-break role in the success or failure of young quarterbacks, and to this point in his collegiate career, Johnson has yet to be in a game situation in which he has to deal with repeated heat in his face.

Given the composure and ability to make quick reads that Johnson has shown in limited action, it would seem likely that he will be able to continue to thrive under pressure. An example came in the aforementioned game against Louisiana Tech, in which he was able to complete a 15-yard touchdown pass to tight end C.J. Uzomah despite having a rusher diving at his feet.

Even on that play, however, you can see that Johnson’s mechanics started to break down as he ran out of room to maneuver. To prove to NFL teams in 2015 that he is worthy of being a top draft choice in 2016, he will need to show that he can stand tall in the pocket against the rush and continue to deliver on-target passes down the field.

As a whole, Johnson’s ball placement could be better. He has a tendency to throw passes a bit too high, forcing his receivers to leap up to catch them, while he will also miss behind his intended targets at times.

Another regard in which NFL scouts could have concerns with Johnson could be with his footwork. Having worked all but exclusively out of the shotgun formation at Auburn, his ability to be a dropback passer could be questioned. Those questions might not be answered in 2015, however, unless Auburn makes unexpected changes to its offense this year.

Once Johnson starts taking every snap in every game, it will become more readily apparent what he needs to work on going forward, as opposing defenses will start to expose his flaws. Going into the season, however, the most important step for Johnson is to prove that the passing promise he has shown can carry over into regular action as a starting quarterback.

 

Can Johnson Become the 2016 Draft’s Top Quarterback?

While Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota were already widely projected to be the top quarterbacks in the 2015 NFL draft at this time last year, there is no consensus this summer as to who the top quarterbacks will be in the 2016 draft. The door is open for a physically gifted quarterback like Johnson to break out from obscurity and shoot all the way up to the top of the board.

That’s not to say Johnson won’t have steep competition.

California junior Jared Goff, who already has two years of starting experience under his belt, ranks as the most NFL-ready quarterback prospect in college football this year. Ohio State’s Cardale Jones, as aforementioned, is just as physically gifted, if not more so, than Johnson.

Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg, Michigan State’s Connor Cook, Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett, USC’s Cody Kessler and Cincinnati’s Gunner Kiel are also among the quarterbacks who could garner first-round consideration next spring.

Johnson, truly, is the biggest wild card in the mix. He projects to have the highest upside of the entire group and could prove to be the best passer in the nation, but it is also possible that he could crash and burn, making all of the preseason hype look silly. At this point, it really is unknown how good Johnson actually is.

Nonetheless, Johnson should be on the radar of every team—or at least every team that might need a quarterback next offseason—until that becomes clear.

There’s no guarantee that Johnson will declare for the NFL draft after this season; in fact, it would probably be in his best interest to stay at Auburn for his senior year, given his lack to experience to this point.

If Johnson lives up to the lofty expectations, however, the allure of an early-round selection in the NFL draft could be tough to pass up.

In his preliminary big board for the 2016 draft, Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller ranked Johnson as the “Biggest Sleeper” in the quarterback class.

Sleeping on Johnson, however, could be a big mistake if you’re looking to make a bet on who the next great quarterback to emerge from college football will be, as Draft Breakdown’s Shane Alexander noted earlier this week.

 

All GIFs were made at Gfycat using videos from Draft Breakdown and YouTube.

Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Braxton Miller's Move to WR Is Perfect for NFL Future

COLUMBUS, Ohio — When Braxton Miller announced his intentions of moving from quarterback to wide receiver to SI.com's Pete Thamel on Thursday night, it sent shock waves through a college football world that was already having a hard time figuring out how anyone would defend Ohio State's offense in 2015.

Miller said of the shift: "This is the smarter thing for right now, God blessed me with a lot of talent and different opportunities. I’m going to have fun with that and still score a lot of touchdowns and help the team out and be dominant at that."

But for the Buckeyes' newest wideout, this position switch was less about the fits the OSU offense is going to cause opponents in the coming year and more about an NFL future that may not have existed without it.

"The position change is a great idea for Braxton's NFL future. He wasn't going to be drafted as a quarterback—the accuracy just isn't there," said Bleacher Report NFL Draft Lead Analyst Matt Miller. "But as an offensive weapon—receiver, returner, sometimes runner—he has upside."

While Miller proved to be one of the most dynamic players in all of college football in his three seasons as the Buckeyes' starting signal-caller from 2011 to 2013, scouts never viewed him as an NFL-caliber passer. And that was before his draft prospects took their most significant hit last August, when a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder ended his 2014 campaign before it even started.

With a three-man quarterback battle between himself, potential first-round pick Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett brewing, Miller's NFL hopes were only dimming as the 2015 season drew closer. But with his move to wide receiver, there is now a sudden sense of renewed optimism when it comes to Miller's potential as a pro prospect.

 

With so much still undetermined, Matt Miller said that it's too early to speculate on what type of draft grade the two-time Big Ten MVP could earn in the coming months. But the comparisons he drew were favorable. Expected to play the H-back position—which combines the abilities of a wide receiver and running back while lining up in the slot—in Urban Meyer's spread offense, Miller could best be used as a player without a truly defined role.

Because of that, Matt Miller likened him to Green Bay Packers wideout Randall Cobb, former Pittsburgh Steelers legend Hines Ward and another do-it-all player who starred under Meyer in his college career.

"Percy Harvin [is a] good reference given the offensive comparisons," the NFL draft analyst said. "Brad Smith might be more realistic, athletically."

Admittedly, there's a wide range among the production of Harvin (first-round pick in 2009), Cobb (second-round selection in 2011) and Smith (fourth-round pick in 2006 who predominantly played quarterback throughout his college career at Missouri).

But all three players have made their marks on both offense and special teams, and more importantly, sustained lengthy NFL careers.

The 6'2", 215-pound Miller is now in a position where he could do the same, as he's already put enough on film—including 3,054 career rushing yards and 32 rushing touchdowns—to make scouts believe that he could make an instant impact at his new position. That's especially true when it comes to making plays in open space, which he excelled at throughout the first three years of his college career.

"From what I've seen of his movement and explosive ability, it's all there athletically," Matt Miller said. "He's a powerful runner for his size and has the get-up-and-go to pull away from defensive backs. Ideally, he'll be used a lot in space on shorter routes where his ability to make defenders miss can come into play."

Of course, there's only so much that you can project for a player at one position when he's spent the entirety of his college career playing another.

Can Miller catch, run routes, separate consistently and put it all together with less than seven weeks remaining until the start of his senior season Sept. 7?

These are the questions that will need to be answered before Miller's potential as an NFL player is ultimately determined. But as of Thursday night, he finds himself with perhaps more upside as a pro prospect than he ever previously has.

"There's risk, but I think it's a very calculated one, and it's the right move because his upside at QB was so limited," Matt Miller said. "And even if he struggles in one year of wide receiver at Ohio State, the potential is still there for him to be drafted on."

 

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

Braxton Miller to Play WR For Ohio State: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

Head coach Urban Meyer can erase one option in the Ohio State Buckeyes' quarterback race. According to Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel, Braxton Miller will move to wide receiver for his senior season in Columbus, Ohio.

According to Thamel, Miller's decision was a matter of being pragmatic:      

But Miller said with more than two months until he'll be completely healthy at quarterback, he's approaching this season as primarily a wide receiver.

"For the most part, it's going to be H-Back and punt return," Miller said in a phone interview on Thursday night. "It's a long process to get back totally to throwing and throwing every day. This is the smarter thing for right now, God blessed me with a lot of talent and different opportunities. I'm going to have fun with that and still score a lot of touchdowns and help the team out and be dominant at that."

It's hard to believe how much Miller's college career has changed in the space of a year. Entering the 2014 season, he was a potential Heisman Trophy candidate. He had thrown for 2,094 passing yards and 24 touchdowns while rushing for another 1,068 yards and 12 touchdowns the season before.

Then he suffered a shoulder injury in practice last August that wiped out his entire 2014 campaign. In his absence, J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones helped lead Ohio State to a national title.

With both Barrett and Jones returning, Miller was essentially crowded out at quarterback. His best shot at seeing the field on a regular basis seemed to be moving to wideout.

Both ESPN.com's Joe Schad and CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco believe the position switch will benefit Miller in the long run as well:

Meanwhile, OSU wide receivers coach Zach Smith is happy to have another weapon at his disposal:

Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer wonders if this development will just create headaches at a different position:

With Barrett, Jones, Ezekiel Elliott, Jalin Marshall and Michael Thomas all coming back for 2015, the Buckeyes were set to have one of the most explosive offenses in the country. Shifting Miller to H-back strengthens the group.

Ohio State still has a long way to go to repeat as national champion, but sorting out Miller's position before the season helps eliminate what could've been a potential snag in achieving that goal.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Football: Buckeyes' Biggest Position Battles Heading into Fall Camp

Unless you've been completely ignoring the sports world since the start of 2015, you've probably heard about the Ohio State Buckeyes' upcoming quarterback battle.

The Buckeyes are gearing up for another run at the College Football Playoff, and even though the three-horse quarterback race gets all the headlines, head coach Urban Meyer will have to sort through a few pivotal position battles during fall camp.

Here's an overview of the key spots that are still open on Ohio State's roster and the candidates vying to fill those roles.

 

Quarterback

After months of speculation and hype, the most polarizing position battle in all of college football is set to start when the Buckeyes open fall camp in early August.

Cardale Jones, fresh off a three-game tear through the 2014 postseason, has a leg up after taking the lion's share of first-team reps during spring camp. Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett, meanwhile, spent the offseason recovering from the injuries that ended their seasons last year.

But with Miller and Barrett close to 100 percent, each signal-caller will get a long look from the coaching staff this fall. And as Meyer clarified during spring practice, he will evaluate each quarterback and determine Ohio State's starter midway through camp, so the final two weeks can be spent on scheme and game-planning.  

But in reality, there isn't a wrong answer here. Each quarterback has proven their abilities to lead the team at a championship level.

 

H-Back

The Buckeyes have just as much of a logjam at H-back as they do at quarterback.

Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall shared time at the position last fall, with Marshall surging down the stretch after Wilson broke his foot against Michigan State and missed most of the remainder of the season. Both are back for the Buckeyes this fall, which gives the offense plenty of fire power at the position.

But it doesn't just stop there.

In an effort to get his most dangerous playmakers on the field, Meyer moved Curtis Samuel—Ezekiel Elliott's primary backup at running back last season—to the slot with Wilson and Marshall. It was a move that gave Ohio State's already deep stable of receivers another weapon, and one that Meyer insisted on.

"The days of Curtis Samuel playing 10 plays are over," Meyer said, according to Ari Wasserman of The Plain Dealer. "It's our job to get him on the field for 40 or 50 plays."

Beyond those three is another great option in Parris Campbell. The redshirt freshman has elite speed and excellent hands, and he showed that off during the spring game when he caught five passes for 38 yards and a touchdown. He certainly caught Meyer's attention, especially on his four-yard touchdown catch that featured a nice move into the end zone.

"He took the ball, put his left foot in the ground and drove in, made a great cut and scored,” Meyer said, according to Tim Moody of The Lantern. “And I saw his celebration in the end zone. That’s one I remember from the spring game. That’s going to help him get into the rotation.”

 

Cornerback

The departure of Doran Grant left Ohio State with a significant hole to fill in a secondary that improved drastically in 2014.

After getting consistently gashed by opposing passing attacks in 2013, the Buckeyes simplified their pass coverage last season via an overhaul by new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash. Grant and Eli Apple formed a formidable pair at cornerback, but the Buckeyes went back to the drawing board to find Apple a new running mate.

Coming out of spring practice, Gareon Conley held the edge to win the job.

The redshirt sophomore gained that edge over Damon Webb and Marshon Lattimore, a pair of redshirt freshmen who have a high ceiling. Because of that, Conley will have to finalize his status as a starter by beating out Webb and Lattimore in fall camp. 

Can he handle the pressure?

That's something he struggled with last year. In a marquee game against Michigan State last year, Conley was thrust into early action because Apple was battling a lingering injury. Connor Cook and the Spartans went after him, completing passes of 44 and 15 yards to the man he was covering, the latter of which went for a touchdown.

The Buckeyes are hoping those struggles are behind him

"We talk about that in very honest terms in our room. So when he trots out there Saturday the 18th, he’s gotta know it’s a big boy world," cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said, according to Eric Seger of Eleven Warriors. "You’re out there on an island and you’ve gotta make those plays."

Because if Conley can't make those plays, the coaching staff won't hesitate to give Webb or Lattimore a shot. 

 

David Regimbal is the Ohio State football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

LSU Hopes to Maintain Status as Having Most Players in NFL

One of the most impressive accomplishments for head coach Les Miles since he arrived at LSU in 2005, other than winning a national championship and two Southeastern Conference titles, is continuing the pipeline of players to the National Football League.

Although LSU only had four players selected in this year’s NFL draft after having nine in each of the previous two, it’s had 64 players picked during the Miles era (since 2006).

Consequently, during the NFL’s opening weekend last season, the 38 former LSU players on active rosters topped all schools, one ahead of Southern California and two more than Alabama.

On Friday it’ll start to try to hold on to that lead when the first NFL training camps open. Rookies on the Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns and New Orleans Saints are due to report, with the rookies and veterans of the Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers following suit on Saturday. Every camp will be in full swing by Aug. 2.

The Hall of Fame Game, which opens the preseason, will be played Aug. 9 (8 p.m. ET, NBC). With Super Bowl rematches a season-long theme as part of the buildup to Super Bowl 50, the Steelers will play the Vikings (Super Bowl IX).

As of Thursday afternoon, both teams had one former LSU player on their roster, punter Brad Wing for the Steelers and defensive lineman Danielle Hunter with the Vikings. Actually, the only teams that didn’t have any former LSU players were the Baltimore Ravens, Detroit Lions, Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints—sort of.

Defensive back Delvin Breaux was an LSU commitment who sustained a serious neck injury during a high school game in 2006. The school honored his scholarship, and he enrolled and served as a player/coach but was never cleared to play.

Breaux eventually stopped going to practices and left school, only to play in the Arena Football League and then in the CFL before signing with the Saints. However, he’s officially listed as not having played college football.

On Sept. 1, after each NFL team has played at least three preseason games, rosters must be reduced to a maximum of 75 players on the active list. 

Just four days later, the final cuts to 53 players must be made.

The regular season is set to open Sept. 10. 

Here’s a look at who’s where:

Kwon Alexander, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, LB

Joe Barksdale, San Diego Chargers, OT

Lamin Barrow, Denver Broncos, LB

Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants, WR

Alfred Blue,Houston Texans, RB

Dwayne Bowe, Cleveland Browns, WR

(Delvin Breaux, New Orleans Saints, DB)

Michael Brockers, St. Louis Rams, DT

Ron Brooks, Buffalo Bills, CB

Morris Claiborne, Dallas Cowboys, CB

Jalen Collins, Atlanta Falcons, CB

La'el Collins, Dallas Cowboys, OL

Glenn Dorsey, San Francisco 49ers, DL

Lavar Edwards, Dallas Cowboys, DE

Ego Ferguson, Chicago Bears, DT

Matt Flynn, New England Patriots, QB

Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati Bengals, RB

Kenny Hilliard, Houston Texans, RB

Trindon Holliday, Oakland Raiders, WR

Danielle Hunter, Minnesota Vikings, DE

Tyson Jackson, Atlanta Falcons, DE

Ricky Jean Francois, Washington Redskins, DE

Anthony Johnson, Miami Dolphins, DT

Donnie Jones, Philadelphia Eagles, P

Brandon LaFell, New England Patriots, WR

Jarvis Landry, Miami Dolphins, WR

Bennie Logan, Philadelphia Eagles, DT

Craig Loston, Jacksonville Jaguars, S

Roland Martin, Seattle Seahawks, S

Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona Cardinals, S

Danny McCray, Dallas Cowboys, S

Zach Mettenberger, Tennessee Titans, QB

Barkevious Mingo, Cleveland Browns, LB

Kevin Minter, Arizona Cardinals, LB

Sam Montgomery, Cincinnati Bengals, DE

Connor Neighbors, Tennessee Titans, FB

Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals, CB

Rueben Randle, New York Giants, WR

Jermauria Rasco, Green Bay Packers, LS

Eric Reid, San Francisco 49ers, S

Stevan Ridley, New York Jets, RB

Perry Riley Jr., Washington Redskins, LB

Russell Shepard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, WR

Kelvin Sheppard, Miami Dolphins, LB

Tharold Simon, Seattle Seahawks, CB

Trai Turner, Carolina Panthers, G

Spencer Ware, Kansas City Chiefs, RB

Andrew Whitworth, Cincinnati Bengals, OT

Kyle Williams, Buffalo Bills, DT

Brad Wing, Pittsburgh Steelers, P

Al Woods, Tennessee Titans, DL

James Wright, Cincinnati Bengals, WR

 

Team-by-team list with jersey numbers

Atlanta Falcons: Tyson Jackson, 94, DE; Jalen Collins, 32, CB

Arizona Cardinals: Tyrann Mathieu, 32, S; Kevin Minter, 51, LB; Patrick Peterson, 21, CB

Baltimore Ravens: None

Buffalo Bills: Ron Brooks, 33, CB; Kyle Williams, 95 DT

Carolina Panthers: Trai Turner, 70, G

Chicago Bears: Ego Ferguson, 95, DT

Cincinnati Bengals: Jeremy Hill, 32, RB; Sam Montgomery, 67, DE; Andrew Whitworth, 77, OT; James Wright, 86, WR

Cleveland Browns: Dwayne Bowe, 80, WR; Barkevious Mingo, 51, LB

Dallas Cowboys: Morris Claiborne, 25, CB; La'el Collins, 71, OL; Lavar Edwards, 95, DE; Danny McCray, 40, S

Denver Broncos: Lamin Barrow, 57, LB

Detroit Lions: None

Green Bay Packers: Jermauria Rasco, 59, LS

Houston Texans: Alfred Blue, 28, RB; Kenny Hilliard, 38, RB

Indianapolis Colts: None

Jacksonville Jaguars: Craig Loston, 20, S

Kansas City Chiefs: Spencer Ware, 30, RB

Miami Dolphins: Anthony Johnson, 76, DT; Jarvis Landry, 14, WR; Kelvin Sheppard, 62, LB

Minnesota Vikings: Danielle Hunter, 99, DE

New England Patriots: Matt Flynn, 8, QB; Brandon LaFell, 19, WR

New Orleans Saints: (Delvin Breaux, 40, DB).

New York Giants: Odell Beckham Jr., 13, WR; Rueben Randle, 82, WR

New York Jets: Stevan Ridley, 22, RB

Oakland Raiders: Trindon Holliday, 16, WR

Philadelphia Eagles: Bennie Logan, 96, DT; Donnie Jones, 8, P

Pittsburgh Steelers: Brad Wing, 9, P

St. Louis Rams: Michael Brockers, 90, DT

San Diego Chargers: Joe Barksdale, 72, OT

San Francisco 49ers: Glenn Dorsey, NA, DL; Eric Reid, 35, S

Seattle Seahawks: Roland Martin, 42, S; Tharold Simon, 27, CB

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Kwon Alexander, 58, LB; Russell Shepard, 89, WR

Tennessee Titans: Zach Mettenberger, 7, QB; Connor Neighbors, 46, FB; Al Woods, 96, DL

Washington Redskins: Ricky Jean Francois, 99, DE; Perry Riley Jr., 56, LB

 

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer.

Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

As Training Camps Open, Alabama's Numbers in the NFL Continue to Rise

While the Evan Mathis watch goes on, as the All-Pro guard is still looking for his next NFL home following his recent departure from the Philadelphia Eagles, the rest of the Alabama contingency in the league is getting ready to go back to work.

On Friday, the first training camps will open as the Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns and New Orleans Saints rookies are due to report. The rookies and veterans of the Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers have to show up Saturday, and every camp will be in full swing by Aug. 2.

The Hall of Fame Game, which opens the preseason, will be played Aug. 9 (8 p.m. ET, NBC). With Super Bowl rematches a season-long theme as part of the buildup to Super Bowl 50, the Steelers will play the Vikings (Super Bowl IX).

However, the Steelers are one of just five NFL teams that don’t have at least one former Crimson Tide player on their roster. The others are the Denver Broncos, Cleveland Browns, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs.

Overall, there wasn't too much movement of former Alabama players during the offseason. The exceptions include running back Trent Richardson with the Oakland Raiders, defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick on the Houston Texans and offensive lineman James Carpenter is now a New York Jet.

Additionally, cornerback Javier Arenas is a free agent, linebacker Jarret Johnson and offensive lineman Mike Johnson both retired and fullback Le’Ron McClain is attempting a comeback.

On Sept. 1, after each team has played at least three preseason games, rosters must be reduced to a maximum of 75 players on the active list. Just four days later the final cuts down to 53 players must be made.

The regular season is set to open Sept. 10.

In 2014, Alabama had 36 players on active rosters during the NFL’s opening weekend, which was third-most among all schools behind LSU (38) and Southern California (37). What really makes that number stand out is the Crimson Tide wasn’t among the top 25 schools when Nick Saban arrived at the Capstone in 2007.

Overall, there were 42 former Crimson Tide players on active rosters or injured reserve, tied with the Trojans for the most. That figure also didn’t include the five players who spent the whole season on various practice squads.

Every offensive starter from Alabama's 2012 season opener is currently on a roster, and if you counted Dee Milliner instead of DeQuan Menzie, every defensive starter from 2011 is as well.

However, two players who are notably absent are last year’s signal-callers for the offense and defense, quarterback Blake Sims and linebacker Trey DePriest.

Regardless, here’s a look at who’s where:

Mark Barron, St. Louis Rams, S

Leon Brown, Baltimore Ravens, G

James Carpenter, New York Jets, G

(Duron Carter, Indianapolis Colts, WR)

Josh Chapman, Indianapolis Colts, NT

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Green Bay Packers, S

Landon Collins, New York Giants, S

Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders, WR

Marcell Dareus, Buffalo Bills, DT

Brandon Deaderick, Houston Texans, DT

Quinton Dial, San Francisco 49ers, DT

Xzavier Dickson, New England Patriots, LB

D.J. Fluker, San Diego Chargers, OL

Jalston Fowler, Tennessee Titans, FB

Wallace Gilberry, Cincinnati Bengals, DE

Roman Harper, Carolina Panthers, S

Jerrell Harris, Detroit Lions, LB

Dont’a Hightower, New England Patriots, LB

Adrian Hubbard, Green Bay Packers, LB

Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints, RB

Kareem Jackson, Houston Texans, CB

Nico Johnson, Cincinnati Bengals, LB

Rashad Johnson, Arizona Cardinals, S

Barrett Jones, St. Louis Rams, OL

Christion Jones, Miami Dolphins, WR

Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons, WR

Dre Kirkpatrick, Cincinnati Bengals, CB

Arie Kouandjio, Washington Redskins, G

Cyrus Kouandjio, Buffalo Bills, OL

Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers, RB

Robert Lester, Carolina Panthers, S

Cody Mandell, Green Bay Packers, P

AJ McCarron, Cincinnati Bengals, QB

Rolando McClain, Dallas Cowboys, LB

Dee Milliner, New York Jets, CB

C.J. Mosley, Baltimore Ravens, LB

Kevin Norwood, Seattle Seahawks, WR

Jeoffrey Pagan, Houston Texans, DL

Nick Perry, Baltimore Ravens, S

Trent Richardson, Oakland Raiders, RB

DeMeco Ryans, Philadelphia Eagles, LB

Austin Shepherd, Minnesota Vikings, OL

Brad Smelley, St. Louis Rams, TE

Andre Smith, Cincinnati Bengals, T

Damion Square, San Diego Chargers, DL

Anthony Steen, Arizona Cardinals, G

Ed Stinson, Arizona Cardinals, DE

Vinnie Sunseri, New Orleans Saints, S

Carson Tinker, Jacksonville Jaguars, LS

Courtney Upshaw, Baltimore Ravens, LB

Brian Vogler, Chicago Bears, TE

Chance Warmack, Tennessee Titans, G

DeAndrew White, San Francisco, WR

Michael Williams, Detroit Lions, T

Jesse Williams, Seattle Seahawks, DT (out indefinitely)

T.J. Yeldon, Jacksonville Jaguars, RB

 

Team-by-team list with jersey numbers

Arizona Cardinals: Rashad Johnson, 26, S; Anthony Steen, 71, G; Ed Stinson, 72, DE

Atlanta Falcons: Julio Jones, 11, WR

Baltimore Ravens: Leon Brown, 69, G; C.J Mosley, 57, LB; Nick Perry, 36, S; Courtney Upshaw, 91, LB

Buffalo Bills: Marcell Dareus, 99, DT; Cyrus Kouandjio, 71, T

Carolina Panthers: Roman Harper, 41, S; Robert Lester, 38, S

Chicago Bears: Brian Vogler, 47, TE

Cincinnati Bengals: Wallace Gilberry, 95, DL; Nico Johnson, 52, LB; Dre Kirkpatrick, 27, CB; A.J. McCarron, 5, QB; Andre Smith, 71, T

Cleveland Browns: None

Dallas Cowboys: Rolando McClain, 55, LB

Denver Broncos: None

Detroit Lions: Jerrell Harris, 41, LB; Michael Williams, 73, OT

Green Bay Packers: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, 21, S; Adrian Hubbard, 49, LB; Eddie Lacy, 27, RB; Cody Mandell, 9, P

Houston Texans: Brandon Deaderick, 61, DT; Kareem Jackson, 25, CB; Jeoffrey Pagan, 97, DL

Indianapolis Colts: (Duron Carter, 9, WR); Josh Chapman, 96, DT

Jacksonville Jaguars: Carson Tinker, 46, LS; T.J. Yeldon, 24, RB

Kansas City Chiefs: None

Miami Dolphins: Christion Jones, 1, WR

Minnesota Vikings: Austin Shepherd, 74, OL

New England Patriots: Xzavier Dickson, NA, LB; Dont’a Hightower, 54, LB

New Orleans Saints: Mark Ingram, 22, RB; Vinnie Sunseri, 43, S

New York Giants: Landon Collins, 27, S

New York Jets: James Carpenter, 77, T; Dee Milliner, 27, CB

Oakland Raiders: Amari Cooper, 89, WR; Trent Richardson, 34, RB

Philadelphia Eagles: G; DeMeco Ryans, 59, LB

Pittsburgh Steelers: None

St. Louis Rams: Mark Barron, 26, S; Barrett Jones, 67, OL; Brad Smelley, 87, TE

San Diego Chargers: D.J. Fluker, 76, T; Damion Square, 71, DT

San Francisco 49ers: Quinton Dial, 92, DL; DeAndrew White, 18, WR

Seattle Seahawks: Kevin Norwood, 81, WR; Jesse Williams, 90, DT

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: None

Tennessee Titans: Jalston Fowler, 45, FB; Chance Warmack, 70, G

Washington Redskins: Arie Kouandjio, 74, G

 

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer.

Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Football: How Brian Kelly Can Stay off the Hot Seat This Season

Brian Kelly has won at least eight games in each season he's coached at Notre Dame since arriving in 2010. But outside of the 2012 run to the BCS National Championship Game, Kelly's Irish teams have mostly been mediocre. If the 2015 Fighting Irish underachieve instead of playing into the College Football Playoff conversation, Kelly's job will start to be called into question. 

Last season, Notre Dame began the year 6-0. The Irish seemed to have shaken off the disappointments of 2013, and quarterback Everett Golson was being mentioned as a Heisman candidate. 

Then the wheels fell off. A controversial call on a pick play led to a loss at Florida State and was the start of a 1-5 slide to end the regular season, including blowout losses against Arizona State and USC. Notre Dame was able to salvage some momentum at season's end with a victory over LSU in the Music City Bowl. 

Notre Dame is a football program with maximum standards and expects to be in the title conversation every year. The 2012 season made many believe Kelly was the man to take Notre Dame back to that standard, but he hasn't done anything to back up the success from that campaign. 

2012 was a great run. But one title run in five seasons doesn't earn Kelly immunity for largely underperforming since then. For the Fighting Irish, competing for a national championship should be an expectation, not an exception. 

A third consecutive season with four or more losses won't have Kelly sent packing from South Bend. But it will be the start of offseason grumblings. 

Golson was suspended in 2013. Last season, the Irish were riddled with injuries. This time there is no reason for the Irish to stay stuck in mediocrity. 

Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel agreed that Kelly can't afford another average season. "This year's team is experienced, athletic and devoid of excuses," Mandel wrote. "An 8-5 record this time would unquestionably garner some hot-seat chatter."

Notre Dame has plenty of talent on both sides of the ball after returning 19 starters. There is also certainty at the quarterback position. After Golson's transfer, talented junior Malik Zaire will have the task of leading the Irish offense.

That offense will be loaded with weapons as the Irish return 1,000-yard receiver William Fuller as well as leading rusher Tarean Folston. 

The defense will have to improve. Notre Dame gave up 5,254 yards last season, which was by far the most of any season under Kelly. But some of the defense's struggles were due to the extreme number of injuries. 

Bringing back talented players like Sheldon Day and Jarron Jones from injury should have the defense playing at a much higher level in 2015. 

Notre Dame's returning talent and experience were enough to land it at No. 7 on Sports Illustrated's Ben Glicksman's preseason power rankings. 

With a capable veteran roster, Brian Kelly needs to have Notre Dame competing for a spot in the College Football Playoff in 2015. 

As usual, the Irish will play a tough schedule this year. But that gives them plenty of opportunities to rack up a few big wins. 

Two of the toughest matchups for the Irish heading into the season come on the road against Clemson and at home against rival USC. Notre Dame needs a victory in at least one of those games.

Losses in both would knock the Irish out of playoff contention and have them sitting at 5-2 with a tough game at Stanford left on the schedule.

Two losses in the regular season are all that Brian Kelly can afford to avoid the hot seat. Going 9-3 or 8-4 won't work for a third straight season, not with this talented of a team.

Notre Dame has all the right pieces to win double-digit games, compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff and be playing in a bowl game on New Year's Day. Otherwise, Brian Kelly's job security will be one of the key talking points of the next offseason.  

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The 25 Strongest College Football Positional Units Heading into 2015 Season

Most of the great teams in college football have one or two positions that they can point to year in and year out as a strength.

LSU is known for being "Defensive Back U." Ohio State is experiencing a "Linebacker U" renaissance under Urban Meyer. Georgia conjures up images of stellar 5-star running backs, while USC consistently has golden-armed pocket passers ready to light up the West Coast.

Other programs are looking to build those traditions with improved recruiting classes and development, such as Baylor on the defensive side of the ball and TCU with its new-look offense.

Here are the 25 strongest positional units in college football for the 2015 season. These units were chosen by the amount of depth, production, talent and overall experience—the complete foundation for success instead of just a one-off group with a star or two.

The units are listed in alphabetical order in the following slides. Sound off on what you think is the strongest unit in college football in the comments below.

Begin Slideshow

Mississippi Football: 5 Toughest QBs Rebels Will Face in 2015

The Mississippi Rebels face the most challenging array of quarterbacks this upcoming season of any team in the SEC West. 

Coming off a breakthrough season for head coach Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss returns seven starters from a vaunted defense that finished first nationally in fewest points allowed with 13.8 per game. 

This should allow the Rebels to be up for the task against some of the conference’s best signal-callers in Arkansas’ Brandon Allen, Auburn’s Jeremy Johnson and Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott. 

A road game at Memphis also means a matchup with Paxton Lynch, arguably the best quarterback nobody is talking about right now. 

Let us take a look at the five best quarterbacks Mississippi will face based on what each player has already proved on the field, his individual skills and his supporting cast.

Begin Slideshow

Arizona Football: Wildcats' 2016 Recruiting Heating Up at Right Time

Arizona's strong three-year run under Rich Rodriguez has been fueled by moderate success on the recruiting trail, leaning more toward discovering hidden gems and developing strong mid-range prospects than landing high-profile targets.

The Wildcats have also concentrated most of their efforts on filling up a class early and then keeping it intact rather than chasing after big names right up until signing day.

The 2016 recruiting performance had been lagging in that respect until the calendar turned to July, when suddenly Arizona went from one of the least active teams in terms of commitments to maybe the hottest.

Nine of its 15 commitments have come this month, including seven since a recruiting event the school held on July 18.

The 2016 "OKG Day" saw Arizona host dozens of potential targets, the school's first big push this year after a relatively quiet spring and early summer. Five players committed during the event, including 4-star junior college defensive end Josh Allen, and others pledged on Monday and Tuesday.

The commitment binge shot the Wildcats far up 247Sports' composite rankings, going from 57th to 33rd in the nation as of Thursday.

Allen and JUCO safety London Iakopo are probably the most noteworthy prospects to come on board, both because of their rankings and likelihood to make an immediate impact in 2016.

The Long Beach City College teammates are considered the 10th- and 58th-best JUCO recruits in their class, respectively, with the 6'4", 260-pound Allen ranked as the nation's second-best JUCO strong-side defensive end and the best non-high school prospect in California.

Each plays a position where Arizona will need to fill a significant hole next year. Allen could be tasked with replacing both senior end Reggie Gilbert and junior linebacker Scooby Wright, who is very likely to turn pro after the 2015 season, while Iakopo could be the successor to senior Will Parks.

"I know I have a good chance to play as soon as I come in," Allen, who also had offers from Arizona State, Boise State and Louisville, told Zack Rosenblatt of the Arizona Daily Star.

Most of the rest of Arizona's recent pickups fit the mold of the kind of offensive players that Rodriguez has preferred throughout his career, first at West Virginia and Michigan, and now with the Wildcats.

Referred to by the coaching staff as "Our Kinda Guys," which is what OKG stands for, those would be speedy, versatile prospects who could be used in a variety of ways in order to keep Arizona's uptempo attack moving as quickly as possible.

Similar players are among the top targets that Arizona remains in the hunt for, such as 4-star Phoenix-area athlete Chase Lucas. The 5'11", 166-pound running back/receiver/cornerback from Chandler High School is ranked 186th overall and has the Wildcats among his final seven choices along with ASU, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Texas and UCLA.

The rankings themselves don't matter much to the Wildcats, especially considering Wright—who led the FBS in tackles, tackles for loss and forced fumbles in 2014 en route to winning three national awards—was a 2-star prospect whom 247Sports rated as the No. 2,078 player in the 2013 class.

One place you won't see Arizona's name mentioned this recruiting season is among the contenders for uncommitted 5-star players.

The Wildcats have never signed a 5-star prospect, and the last two they had commitments from (safety Jalen Tabor for 2014 and quarterback Shea Patterson for 2016) ended up flipping shortly thereafter to Florida and Ole Miss, respectively.

 

Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports, unless otherwise noted.

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Arizona Football: Wildcats' 2016 Recruiting Heating Up at Right Time

Arizona's strong three-year run under Rich Rodriguez has been fueled by moderate success on the recruiting trail, leaning more toward discovering hidden gems and developing strong mid-range prospects than landing high-profile targets...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Manning Award Watch List 2015: Full List Released

As the 2015 college football season approaches, some of the nation's best teams and players begin to get dissected from all angles as they prepare to compete in the second-ever College Football Playoff. 

For many teams, they are only as good as their quarterback, the leading man who has to endure pressure from not only opposing defenses, but from the national spotlight. The Allstate Sugar Bowl announced its watch list for the Manning Award on Wednesday as it honors some of the NCAA's top players under center.

Here is a complete list of the 30 candidates, per SportsNOLA.com:    

The Manning Award was created in 2004 to honor one of the greatest football families ever in Archie, Peyton and Eli Manning. It recognizes the best quarterback in the nation while taking his bowl performance into consideration. This is why the voting panel gives out the award after the national championship game.

One of the names that can develop into a favorite is Mississippi State's Dak Prescott, who was a top-20 passer last season with 3,449 yards while leading the Bulldogs to a meteoric rise to No. 1 for four weeks after starting the season unranked. 

Prescott led Mississippi State to three consecutive victories over ranked teams in No. 8 LSU, No. 6 Texas A&M and No. 2 Auburn before the Bulldogs lost three of their last four games, including a 49-34 loss to Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl. 

It is also safe to assume the starting quarterback of the defending national champions, the Ohio State Buckeyes, will be in the mix for the award when the team names a starter, whether it be Cardale Jones, Braxton Miller or J.T. Barrett.

But with plenty of talent—such as Michigan State's Connor Cook and the nation's leading passer last season, Western Kentucky's Brandon Doughty—the Sugar Bowl will have quite the tough decision to make come January.

 

Stats courtesy of ESPN.com.

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How TCU's Offense Has Evolved into a College Football Powerhouse

Twenty-one minutes. That's all it took for TCU's offense to show it had changed for the better. 

Twenty-one minutes into the second game of the 2014 season, against Minnesota, it was clear this was not the same TCU offense that barely mustered 25 points a game the year before. By the nine-minute mark in the second quarter, the Frogs were up 24-0 on the Golden Gophers thanks to a B.J. Catalon touchdown. TCU would score just six more points in the 30-7 win, but the damage was done. 

A quick look at the drive chart told the whole story:

Three plays, 18 yards, 35 seconds: touchdown.

Six plays, 45 yards, 1:29: field goal.

Three plays, 27 yards, 55 seconds: touchdown.

Five plays, 39 yards, 1:12: touchdown.

TCU had help from multiple Minnesota turnovers, but the Frogs offense still made the Gophers pay with quick-strike drives. Like the Baylors and Oregons of the college football world, TCU was suddenly making opponents pay for their mistakes. 

TCU would go on to finish second nationally that season in points per game (46.5), fifth in total offense (533 yards), and quarterback Trevone Boykin averaged about 355 of those yards by himself. The most dramatic offensive transformation was complete. Head coach Gary Patterson, who hired co-offensive coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie that offseason, was viewed as a genius for going outside his comfort zone and transitioning to a hurry-up, no-huddle offense. 

The thing is, though, it almost never came to be. 

"I think we were all surprised that offensively—because last spring, the spring before, going into last season—we just weren't very good when we ended spring. Some guys were hurt.  So you really couldn't tell," Patterson said at Big 12 media days. "Then our kids really came along during the summertime on their own, really bonded and started doing it, and things just happened."

It just happened. 

That's an appropriate way to describe TCU's offense, in a way. The Frogs had so many weapons last year: Boykin, running backs B.J. Catalon and Aaron Green, receivers Josh Doctson and Kolby Listenbee. How does a defense stop all of that? With an offense that athletic run by a collaborative brain trust made up of future head coaches, there's only so much a defense can do before the yards and points pile on. 

Eventually, if you do things long enough, they start to click. 

But just because the transformation happened doesn't mean it happened magically. There are reasons for it. Boykin needed a full offseason to be "the guy" at quarterback to build his confidence and consistency. For the previous two seasons, he had filled in as Casey Pachall's understudy while experimenting with other positions. "Really, he was the toughest quarterback that I've played against, it just had not come to fruition on the field," Patterson said. "Really, I wasn't surprised by his success." 

TCU's receivers needed to come together too. The receiving corp was a long, athletic group but one that underachieved in 2013. "Guys just bought in," Boykin said. "It was about the want-to. Once you weed out the bad apples, you see the potential you have.

"I knew we had guys who could catch the ball. It was all about being focused and mentally prepared."

The offensive line, previously marred by injuries, got healthy. (Rarely in '13 did the Frogs start the same five O-linemen two games in a row.) Put all of these factors together, and TCU's offense went from a unit that couldn't do much right to one that couldn't do much wrong. 

With the pieces in place, TCU's offense just needed the right scheme. This version of the hurry-up isn't complicated, as Patterson and starting center Joey Hunt explained, but it does offer plenty of options. 

"It's a player-friendly offense," Hunt said. "You go, get your play, and go do it. That's what I love about it."

Oh yeah, and the tempo. Hunt, a self-described "more athletic" center, loves keeping defenses on their toes. But the only way this can happen is if TCU's players are executing more and thinking less. Make a mistake? It's not the end of the world; you just have to throw the play away and move on—quickly. "If you're going to make a mistake, make a mistake full speed," Boykin said.

For Boykin and Hunt, success in the offense revolved around maturing in the decision-making portion of their games. For Boykin specifically, it was about identifying defensive formations and adjusting appropriately. For Hunt, it was about having the confidence to call out more blocking assignments and dictating the pace. 

"The transition was a little different," Hunt said. "For me, as a center, I was controlling how fast we go and snapping it. The snap's on me. Tre(vone) just tells me when he's ready. I make more calls, like which way we're sliding on the line and all that. I call a little bit more than I used to." 

Now in Year 2 of the offense, TCU's players feel there's even less caution than before. Considering practically the entire starting lineup returns, it's possible the Frogs could improve on their numbers from '14. 

Patterson, though, was his usual conservative self.

"Everybody has always told me there's always another level second year. Kind of like last year, I'm going to wait and see what the difference is," Patterson said. "When you've been around other kinds of offenses, you kind of know the progression.  This will only be my second year of being the head coach with this offense, so I don't know what the progression is besides playing against it.  But everyone I've talked to has talked about taking it to another level."

It's definitely possible. Perhaps no back in the Big 12 finished stronger than Green, who had four 100-yard games in the second half of the season. Boykin specifically pointed out Deante' Gray and Emanuel Porter as receivers who have stepped up their game this offseason. 

But what really all of those players give this offense are options. "You're not going to be perfect," Boykin said. "There are times when we're not passing the ball well and we have to rely on our running game. There are times when we're not running the ball well and we have to rely on throwing the ball."

As for Boykin himself, the extra year as the clear-cut No. 1 quarterback has given him more confidence than ever before. He, along with TCU's other veteran players, has improved as a leader by example. Patterson said that Boykin has been offered to work out in front of "NFL and quarterback" gurus. Instead, Boykin stayed with his teammates this summer to make sure they were doing seven-on-seven work. 

These are the types of lessons Boykin and Co. hope younger players pick up on so that, one day, they'll teach them to even younger players.

That's how TCU plans to keep its offense on an upward trajectory. Not just for 2015, but for all the years after. 

First up, though: Minnesota, the first FBS team exposed to the new TCU offense last year. 

"We've got a lot of practices before we get to Minnesota, which it's going to be a very tough ballgame," Patterson said. "It's like Custer. The only difference between Custer and us is we know what's on the other side of the hill."

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com

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Jim Harbaugh's Senior Tryouts About Creating Culture, Not Kicking Kids off Team

When former Michigan and current Ohio tight end Keith Heitzman revealed to Mark Znidar of the Columbus Dispatch (h/t the Washington Post) on Wednesday that new Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh held tryouts for fifth-year seniors upon his arrival in Ann Arbor, it was easy to assume the worst.

After all, it's not exactly unheard of for a coach to do everything he can to free up as many roster spots as possible once he accepts a new job.

Harbaugh has already been accused of such practices. According to ESPN.com's Joe Schad, defensive tackle Ondre Pipkins claimed the former San Francisco 49ers head coach pressured him to leave the program before he eventually transferred to Texas Tech.

"College football is a business. New coaches have to win games. They want to go with guys they think can win," Pipkins, who suffered a season-ending torn ACL in 2013 before returning for the 2014 season, said. "If I’m a victim of making room, so be it."

But while Pipkins' departure from Michigan is a matter of "he said, he said"—Harbaugh has vehemently denied the accusation, stating that the Wolverines medical staff's decision to disqualify the defensive tackle was only medically related—it's unfair to lump Heitzman's hard feelings in the same category.

In fact, team tryouts fall right in line with the culture that Harbaugh has been trying to create at Michigan, which has struggled to maintain stability since Lloyd Carr's departure in 2008.

And if there's one characteristic that's been prevalent ever since Ann Arbor's prodigal son returned home last December, it's the competition that's seeped into every aspect of the Wolverines program.

From quarterback camps to spring-game rewards, there have been plenty of winners—and maybe just as many losers—in Harbaugh's first seven months as Michigan's head coach.

"Within the program, the intensity and the enthusiasm of going out every day and competing and not only competing on the field, it never stops," Wolverines senior linebacker Joe Bolden said on a May conference call. "Just being in meeting rooms and when we're working out and running and stuff, too, the competition and enthusiasm, it's in every aspect of this building right now."

This would help explain why Harbaugh may have found it necessary to have fifth-year seniors try out this spring, proving that spots on his roster will be earned rather than given—even for the team's elder statesmen.

Only Heitzman didn't see it that way, telling Znidar that he felt disrespected by having to prove his worth to his new head coach.

"That definitely took me off guard," Heitzman said about the senior tryouts. "I was bummed out."

Rather than participate, Heitzman announced his intentions to transfer in January, ultimately landing at Ohio University as a graduate transfer eligible to play immediately in the 2015 season.

That's obviously his prerogative, seeing as playing time would have likely been hard to come by behind Mackey Award watch list member Jake Butt, but it shouldn't be viewed as an indictment of the way Harbaugh is running his new program.

Especially when considering that aside from Heitzman, only two other fifth-year seniors have opted to transfer from the Wolverines program since Harbaugh was announced as the team's new head coach. Both quarterback Russell Bellomy and running back Justice Hayes ended their respective Michigan careers before the start of spring practice, and neither player was projected to receive significant playing time in 2015 in the first place.

Another fifth-year senior, center Jack Miller, opted to end his football career altogether.

That would indicate that when it came to Harbaugh's alleged tryouts, every fifth-year senior who wound up participating—if they even happened—made the cut.

"We don't run off players," Harbaugh said about the Pipkins situation earlier this month, via MLive.com. "When it comes to the health and safety of the players, that argument trumps all other arguments."

And as for holding tryouts for fifth-year seniors, the ability to free up roster spots hardly suffices as logical reasoning, considering the logistics of the Wolverines' 2015 roster were pretty much set after national signing day in February.

If a coach was attempting to run off players from his program to gain a competitive advantage, it would certainly make much more sense to do so with players with eligibility remaining beyond the 2015 season.

That's not to say the practice isn't happening to a degree, whether it be at Michigan or other programs across the country. Sometimes it simply makes sense for both parties to move on, especially when a new coach comes to town hoping to instill a different mindset than the one his predecessor possessed.

But in the case of Heitzman's departure from Ann Arbor, that hardly appears to be the case. Rather, the situation screams of Harbaugh's desire for nonstop competition—something that not every player in college football is cut out for.

Whether that type of culture will work to Harbaugh's benefit or detriment with the Wolverines remains to be seen. But for now, he's letting his track record speak for itself.

 

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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4-Star John Simpson Breaks Down Top 7, Reveals Decision Date

John Simpson is less than 10 days away from the start of his final high school football training camp, and he understands it's time to focus on the future. 

The 4-star Charleston, South Carolina, offensive lineman moved closer toward deciding where that future awaits Wednesday morning, announcing a list of seven favorites on Twitter: 

This collection features six SEC squads—Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU, South Carolina and Tennessee—and in-state ACC contender Clemson.

Simpson expects to trim his list to five schools at some point this season, setting the stage for official visits and a commitment this winter.

"As of right now, I want to make my announcement at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl," he said.

The game is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 9, in San Antonio, Texas.

Rated 10th nationally among guard prospects in 247Sports' composite rankings, Simpson is seen as a versatile cog along the offensive front. In fact, the majority of college coaching staffs are targeting him at tackle.

"College coaches tell me I'm athletic enough to play anywhere on the line. I'm open to compete at any position my team needs me," he said.

Now that Simpson has narrowed things down in his recruitment, we caught up with the 6'4.5", 296-pound Fort Dorchester High School senior to discuss his outlook toward each top option.

 

Alabama

Tuscaloosa was a stop on Simpson's recruiting tour this summer. The Crimson Tide actually took him by surprise with significant interest.

"I honestly didn't think Alabama would offer, but I'm glad they did," he said. "The tradition down there is incredible. [Offensive line coach Mario] Cristobal taught me more there in a couple days of camp than anyone has ever coached me up at a different school."

Cristobal works with quite a depth chart at Alabama. Already loaded with former high school All-Americans and with more incoming talent in place this recruiting cycle, it's a positional group that isn't easily climbed by young players.

A crowded situation in the trenches doesn't bother Simpson. He's willing to wait for his opportunity while undergoing further development.

"I want to take the time to let my body mature more so I can be fully prepared to play when it's my time," Simpson said. "Obviously I'd be happy to have an early chance on the field, but that isn't necessarily the biggest thing for me."

 

Clemson

The Tigers have hosted Simpson more than any program in the country because of a combination of proximity and longstanding mutual interest. He looks at Clemson's location and atmosphere as key elements of strong interest.

"Clemson definitely stands out a lot," Simpson said. "It's pretty close to home, and I'm very comfortable with the coaching staff. Things are definitely personal between me and the program after all these visits."

He's focused on checking out other colleges now, but Clemson is clearly a top contender, if not the favorite for his commitment. Simpson is projected to sign with the Tigers by 75 percent of expert predictions in 247Sports' Crystal Ball.

 

Florida

The Gators offered Simpson following the arrival of a new coaching regime led by Jim McElwain. He attended the team's first spring game under new leadership in April.

A conversation with offensive line coach Mike Summers increased his intrigue.

"He told me they didn't have very many scholarship offensive linemen playing in the spring game. I guess a lot of them were walk-ons," Simpson said. "Coach Summers told me if I come there, I would basically be guaranteed a shot at a starting spot."

 

Georgia

Aside from Alabama, Simpson pointed to Georgia as a contender that carries the most tradition. He also expressed enthusiasm about how the coaching staff handles things.

"I really like the way those coaches carry themselves and treat players," Simpson said. "[Head coach] Mark Richt is an awesome leader, and I like his style."

The Bulldogs offered in December and impressed Simpson during his time on campus. Georgia now seeks an official visit to gain ground in this chase.

 

LSU

LSU is the lone university that hasn't yet secured a campus visit from Simpson. He plans to change that soon by traveling to Baton Rouge in order to develop a better feel for the program.

Simpson credits first-year assistant coach Kevin Steele as the driving force behind his desire to explore more with LSU.

"He was the one at Alabama who made sure they looked hard at me as a recruit," Simpson said. "Then when he went from Alabama to LSU, that's when LSU offered. Apparently he's really interested in me. I want to get down there to see what it's all about." 

 

South Carolina

The Gamecocks offered Simpson a scholarship before any FBS program, extending that opportunity shortly before his junior season. He is set to visit Columbia on Friday, July 24, and it could be a chance for South Carolina to reestablish its relationship with the in-state standout.

"I haven't been speaking with South Carolina as much lately, but I'm really cool with [assistant coach Everette] Sands. I know that will continue when I get there for my visit," Simpson said.

He admits some concern about the longevity of Steve Spurrier's tenure. Uncertainty continues to swirl around when the Hall of Fame head coach will retire, reverberating in the recruiting spectrum.

"I'm nervous about it. Personally, I really thought he was going to retire this year," Simpson said. "It makes me nervous because I really like [offensive line coach Shawn] Elliott. He's one of the best coaches that I know. But the thing is, if Coach Spurrier leaves, then Coach Elliott would probably leave, and I would be left behind."

He is hardly alone with this sentiment. It's an issue the Gamecocks—rated 53rd overall in composite class rankings—are forced to deal with moving forward. 

 

Tennessee

The Volunteers are the most recent team to welcome Simpson on campus. He attended a camp in Knoxville earlier this month and called it a positive experience.

"I thing their facilities are excellent, and the stadium is really big," he said.

His feelings at Tennessee were even more important than any sights.

"I'm looking for a family environment at these schools, and that's what I felt at Tennessee," Simpson said. "It feels like that at Clemson too. That's a big part of this process."

 

Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake.

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Ranking the Most Quotable Head Coaches in College Football

College football coaches are judged on their win-loss record, their performance in clutch situations and how they fare on the recruiting trail. Being a great quote is just a really nice bonus.

There are some coaches in the game today that have a knack for spouting out memorable lines during press conferences and other interviews. Often these come in the heat of the moment, usually in reaction to an unexpected event, but they also come as a result of that coach's sense of humor and personality.

Whatever the reason, when a microphone or tape recorder is nearby we're all ears, eagerly anticipating the next great quip or one-liner.

Here's our ranking of the most quotable college football coaches in the game today, ranked based on how memorable their lines tend to be as well as the reactions they provoke.

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