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Predicting Preseason AP Top 25 Poll for 2016 College Football Season

The Associated Press has been conducting a weekly college football poll since the 1930s, tapping into the opinions of sportswriters across the country to assess who are the best teams in the game. This poll used to determine who would play for the national title each year, though the creation of the BCS, as well as the current playoff system, has rendered it mostly obsolete.


The AP Top 25 remains incredibly relevant in college football as a conversation piece, something to spark debate, and nowhere is this more prevalent than with its annual preseason poll. A few weeks before the 2016 season begins, the AP will release its initial rankings, which will essentially be a mass of educated guesses.

Each of the 61 voters will submit their preseason top 25 based on a combination of what happened in 2015 and what they expect will occur this season. There's no set criteria they use, though sportswriter Phil Steele has noticed some commonalities that seem to go into making these choices:

  • The number of returning starters, particularly on offense. AP voters tend to place more value in returning offensive talent than losses on defense.
  • End-of-season performance, most notably in bowl games. Teams coming off big wins in bowls—not just the high-profile games—often gain a boost in the preseason rankings.
  • Being ranked to end the previous season. Though there's some parity in college football, the best of the best seem to remain as such each year.

Using these observations as a guide, we've made our own prediction as to how the preseason AP Top 25 will look. These are not Bleacher Report's own rankings—the latest of which were published on April 26 and will be updated again during the preseason—but rather our guess at how the AP voters will rank them. Last year, we correctly picked 23 of 25 teams, eight in their exact spots, including each of the top five schools.

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Alabama Football: Predicting the Crimson Tide's 2016 Win-Loss Record

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It was nothing short of an aberration.

The University of Alabama football team had stumbled in the month of September and was heading to Georgia with some serious questions, beginning at the quarterback position.

Jake Coker had finally won the starting job, but his hold on it appeared to be tenuous. How would he hold up against Southern Conference competition and playing in opposing venues? The defense had a lot of potential, only the young secondary was still experiencing growing pains and hurting from the 43-37 loss to Ole Miss.

Similar to 2008, Alabama visited Sanford Stadium with the Bulldogs enjoying a lot of momentum and the advantage of being at home. The previous meeting between the teams had gone down to the wire, 32-28 in the 2012 SEC Championship Game, and many smelled the potential for a loss.

There hadn’t been many since the last trip to Athens, 12 to be exact, and even head coach Nick Saban acknowledged it was a pivotal point of the season.

"It's kind of time to really start thinking about what you want, what you want to accomplish, what you want to do, how you want to play and get zeroed in psychologically on what we've got to do,” Saban said at the time. “I think you have to have the right mindset when you play on the road. It's difficult circumstances.”

Make that different circumstances but the same result. Similar to that 2008 game, a 41-30 victory against the No. 3 Bulldogs that was sort of a coming-out celebration of Saban with the Crimson Tide, Alabama crushed No. 8 Georgia in impressive fashion, 38-10.

While 2015 was a deja-vu season for numerous reasons, the Georgia win stood out in part because it marked the first time since the 2009 SEC Championship Game that Alabama was considered an underdog.

Odds Shark had the game listed as a pick’em during the days leading up to kickoff, but it ended up with the Bulldogs as a one-point favorite.

That snapped the streak of 72 games in which the point spread had been listed in Alabama’s favor, a span of 2,128 days. To put that into perspective, when the string began, the movie Avatar was breaking Titanic’s records at the box office, and the Marvel movie universe was just gaining momentum, square between the release of Iron Man and Iron Man 2.

Of course, Alabama subsequently started another streak, as it was favored against each opponent after the Georgia win, and by a touchdown or more against everyone except Texas A&M (five points) and Clemson (6.5).

The trend will continue in 2016, because even though Southern California is on the short list of teams with talent comparable to Alabama’s, the reigning champions will clearly be the team to beat when they meet opening weekend at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas (September 3).

Coming off an 8-6 season (1-5 against ranked opponents), the Trojans have a new head coach, Clay Helton, new quarterback Cody Kessler has moved on and the entire starting defensive line has to be replaced.

Plus, one has to think that Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin is especially looking forward to facing the school that fired him as a head coach.

History alone dictates that an upset wouldn’t be out of the question, just pretty unlikely, as Alabama has yet to lose one of these high-profile neutral-site openers under Saban. Moreover, not having a set quarterback coming out of training camp hasn’t been nearly as big a problem for the Crimson Tide as it would be with most teams.

Regardless, expect talent-rich Alabama to be assigned big point spreads against most of its 2016 opponents including Kentucky, Arkansas, Mississippi State and Auburn (which won’t change unless Gus Malzahn finds lightning in a bottle with a quarterback).

It’ll likely be favored against Ole Miss as well, even though the Rebels have won the last two meetings and will be home for this year’s game. Except for quarterback Chad Kelly, nearly every offensive starter has to be replaced, and the revamped line will be tested by Florida State in its season opener in Orlando on Sept. 5.

That leaves the tough three-game span from October 15 to November 5—at Tennessee, Texas A&M and at LSU—a stretch that would cause nearly any team to stumble and will more than test this team’s mettle.

Fans can hope that this Crimson Tide team can run the table, and it certainly has the talent to do so if everyone stays healthy, but it’s simply not a realistic expectation considering the conference, division and schedule.

Even with his five national championships, Saban has had only one team finish undefeated (2009), and it was led by a proven running back who won the Heisman Trophy. In contrast, this team doesn’t have any proven players in the backfield.

“I think it's very difficult in this day and age,” Saban said about finishing undefeated, and that was before the playoffs were created. 

Odds Shark's early odds have Alabama and Ohio State as the favorites to win the 2016 national title, just ahead of Clemson and Michigan State, but even then you’re still probably talking about an 11-1 record during the regular season—and that’s assuming that a whole lot of things go right for this team.

But few would bet against it.


Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Football: Predicting the Wolverines' 2016 Win-Loss Record

The 2016 Michigan squad has College Football Playoff aspirations, but the Wolverines must capitalize on a home-heavy early schedule before hitting the road down the stretch.

Returning starters all over the roster highlight Jim Harbaugh's second year at his alma mater, so the Maize and Blue should enjoy a fast start to the season.

While that experience and a soft schedule will allow new contributors to steadily become comfortable, Michigan must be ready for a tough slate beginning on Oct. 29. The Big Ten's top three finishers from 2015 await the Wolverines.

And the level of success—or lack thereof—in those contests will determine whether Michigan reaches the Big Ten Championship Game and potentially the CFP.

Note: Some predictions may change at a later date, especially when we have a better idea of what to expect from programs like Michigan State and Ohio State. But most results won't change.

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10 College Football QBs with Most to Prove in 2016 Season

College football quarterbacks typically garner the most national attention at any given program, and with that recognition comes high expectations.

However, even at schools such as LSU where a different player dominates the headlines, the man under center often provides the difference between a successful season and a disappointing one.

Each of the following gunslingers fits at least one of these categories: He lost his No. 1 target (or multiple key contributors), leads a nationally hyped 2016 squad, underperformed last year or must assemble a productive season to bolster his draft prospects.

The order is loosely based on national championship contenders, starting with a Group of Five player and working toward a quarterback at a powerhouse program.

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5 Top-Performing Quarterback Recruits from 2016 Columbus Elite 11 Regional

After weeks of working its way up the East Coast, Elite 11 action began to shift west Saturday with a showcase in Columbus, Ohio. With just three regional events remaining—Chicago, Oakland and Seattle—opportunities are dwindling for quarterbacks to claim a spot in national finals. 

Minutes away from an Ohio State campus that's produced several star Buckeye passers, high school standouts battled for recognition in front of Elite 11 coaches. Instructor Matt James joined Bleacher Report to break down top performers from Columbus, where B/R was also in attendance during the action.

On a day that saw unrated athlete Drew Keszei set an Elite 11 record for highest SPARQ rating score (124.86) based on combine-like testing, Penn State pledge Sean Clifford established himself atop the pack in passing drills. Here's a glimpse at five quarterbacks who particularly stood out to Columbus camp leaders and took part in "pressure chamber" sessions that concluded Saturday's competition.

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B/R Recruiting Notebook: 5-Star OT Discusses Top 5; 4-Star DE SEC-Bound

As we venture into May, recruiting for the 2017 class is starting to pick up. More and more players are beginning to narrow their top lists and plan their official visits for the fall.

And let's not forget those athletes who've already committed.

Look for May to continue being a trending topic in regard to recruiting, particularly with athletes finishing up spring football at their respective high schools. Here's a look at where a few of the nation's top athletes currently stand recruiting-wise.


5-star OT weighing options for top schools

Isaiah Wilson still remembers his first offer. Boston College made him a very happy freshman.

As the Brookyln, New York, 5-star offensive tackle wraps up his junior year, he's now faced with a decision to choose out of his top five consisting of Michigan, USC, Alabama, LSU and Georgia. A decision is expected to be made sometime shortly before national signing day.

For now, the process is moving at a slow pace for Wilson, who claims more than 50 offers. He said he'll begin planning official visits soon.

"I'm taking my time. This can be really fun, but it can be tedious, too," Wilson said. "I'll put my officials out soon. I think I'm going to make a decision either in December or early 2017.

"It's an amazing opportunity to be able to say I can have my pick of the litter and choose the school I want. I just want to make sure I explore all the options."

At 6'7" and 322 pounds, Wilson is ranked as the No. 5 offensive tackle and No. 20 player overall in the 2017 class. Additionally, he's the top-ranked player from the state of New York, something he takes pride in and works extremely hard to protect.

The five schools being considered all have the qualities of a great on-campus environment, solid player-coach relationships and overall game atmosphere, Wilson said. Academics will also play a role in his final decision.

The X-factor, however, in making a decision: Wilson wants to go somewhere that feels like his home in Brooklyn.

"Once it feels like home, that's it," he said. "If I can find a place where I can see myself the next three or four years, a place where I feel really comfortable, then it's a wrap."


4-star DE ends process, chooses Ole Miss

He never announced a list of top schools, but Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 4-star defensive end Bryan Jones kept a close eye on the schools taking the extra steps to recruit him. Ole Miss was one of those schools that always ranked high because of the constant communication.

On Sunday, the nation's No. 6-ranked strong-side defensive end in the 2017 class chose to end his recruitment and commit to head coach Hugh Freeze and the Rebels.

Jones is Ole Miss' fourth commit of the 2017 class and the first 2017 pledge for the Rebels since February.

Recruited by defensive line coach Chris Kiffin, Jones chose Ole Miss over LSU, Tennessee, North Carolina State, Texas, Texas A&M and several other programs. Jones claims 32 offers.

"I love the great job Coach Kiffin is doing with the [defensive linemen], and I love the way the defense attacks offenses and uses its best players to get the job done," Jones said. "I love Coach Freeze because he's a players coach, and he's down to earth. The whole coaching staff has been in touch with me since they offered me, every day, nonstop."

Jones, now at 6'5" and 243 pounds, is Ole Miss' highest-ranked defensive pledge. He is expected to team up with 3-star junior college pledge Markel Winters on the defensive line.


Top 5 for RB, son of former NFL back

As the son of a former NFL running back, Chase Hayden constantly gets advice from coaches and older individuals to become the consummate student-athlete at the next level.

The best advice comes from his father, Aaron Hayden, who played college ball at Tennessee, then spent four years in the NFL and was a part of the 1997 Green Bay Packers team that advanced to Super Bowl XXXII.

"He says all the time that everybody arrives on campus talented. You've got to show something to separate yourself," Chase said. "You've got to be a student of the game. You've got to know your playbook inside and out and do all of the little things if you want to stand out."

Hayden's parlayed that advice and more into success on the football field, which includes 16 reported offers. The Collierville, Tennessee, 3-star running back rushed for 2,625 yards and 37 touchdowns as a junior. 

On May 5, Hayden announced his top five of Arkansas, Illinois, Oklahoma State, South Carolina and Tennessee, his father's alma mater.

"I'm trying to find out more about them," Hayden said of the five schools. "Out of all the offers, those were the most serious about me. I'm trying to choose the best place for me and pick a place where I feel I can fit in. I want to go to a place where I spend my years and be happy, even if I wasn't playing football."

Hayden said he's relying on his father, mother and other family to assist in making the right decision.

He added that while he has a top five, he's keeping his recruiting door ajar in case he receives a marquee offer by the end of the spring or early summer.


Offers galore for versatile 2-sport standout

From a recruiting standpoint, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, athlete Jordan Wright is playing with house money. He's a two-sport standout with a total of 24 college scholarship offers for football and basketball.

On the football field, Wright is a 3-star defensive end/tight end who has 20 offers. His latest offer came from Alabama last week, and Wright said the Crimson Tide offered him as a tight end.

Wright has football offers as both a defensive end and tight end, and he also has offers as a shooting guard and wing on the basketball court. Wright holds a Virginia Tech basketball offer and has also been offered by Florida International, Binghamton and San Francisco.

"It's been hard, but it's a blessing to have this opportunity," Wright said. "Most kids don't even have a chance to play at the next level. To be offered in both [sports], it's a blessing."

Wright admits his first love was basketball. He first picked up a basketball at two years old, compared to first trying football at age five. Wright said there are many who feel football would be his best path athletically, but he's looking to give both sports a try in college.

"I feel I can step up to the challenge and work hard in both," said Wright, who has football offers from Alabama, Michigan, Miami, Mississippi State, USC and a host of other programs.

Wright said he will make public a top-10 list after spring football. The winning school will get a long, athletic playmaker who is focused on being in a good environment where he has solid relationships with the team and coaching staff.

Wright also said academics will play a major role in his decision. He is looking to major in sports medicine.


Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter @DamonSayles.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Football: Ranking the Top 16 Players Heading into 2016

The SEC led all conferences with 51 players selected in the 2016 NFL draft, but that doesn't mean the cupboard is bare in the nation's deepest college football conference. 

Far from it, actually.

Stars such as LSU running back Leonard Fournette, Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly, Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen and others return in 2016 to carry the torch.

Who are the best players in the SEC heading into 2016? Our picks based on talent and production are in this slideshow.

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Big Ten Football: Ranking the Top 16 Players Heading into 2016

The start of the 2016 season is officially less than four months away, and college football is set to enter the quietest portion of its offseason.

But as fans begin to look toward the coming year, they'll notice an impressive crop of players returning to the sport and particularly the Big Ten, as recruiting in the conference has seen a boost in recent years.

In fact, the Big Ten's talent entering 2016 might be as impressive from top to bottom as any year in recent memory. So much so, in fact, that when ranking the Big Ten's top players, it's hard to find a fair cutoff point to end the list.

But with 2016 being the upcoming season, this particular writer opted to limit his list to 16 players.

With that said, here are the 16 best players in the Big Ten entering 2016, based on both past production and potential for the coming year. 

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B/R 5th Down: Trick Shot Videos and Top CFB Social Stories of the Week

Editor's Note: Bleacher Report's 5th Down captures the top social college football stories of the week. As the long, bitter offseason continues, we'll focus on moments from the schools, coaches and players that kept us entertained as we wait for actual college football to make its long-awaited return.


1. SJSU's QB and Florida's kicker show they've got range

It's trick shot season, the time of the offseason when college football players perform some crazy challenge with a ball and try to set social media ablaze with videos of it.

Distance was the name of the game for San Jose State quarterback Kenny Potter, who was taped chucking a football from the top of Spartan Stadium into a trash can sitting on the sidelines:

The field-level angle of the trick shot is quite impressive, as it shows just how narrow of a gap he needed to hit with his toss at a high elevation. Accuracy is Potter's thing when he's not throwing to trash cans, too, as he completed 67.4 percent of his passes in 2015.

This past week, new Florida kicker Eddy Pineiro showed he wasn't going to take it easy this summer by drilling a 64-yard field goal on a practice field:

Pineiro, who commanded huge applause from Florida fans in the Gators' spring game last month by hitting attempts from 56, 52 and 46 yards out, isn't new to these distance-kicking videos. While he was a recruit, Pineiro hit a jaw-dropping 72-yard field goal that made him an overnight sensation.

After seeing those distance shots from both coasts, we just have one question—who's next? Get your cell phone cameras ready.


2. Baker Mayfield takes his dance moves to a new sport

Before leading Oklahoma to a Big 12 title and a College Football Playoff berth last season, Baker Mayfield first captured the Internet's attention as a Sooner by hitting some absolutely perfect whips:

Football has its famous touchdown dances, but it's not a sport that can fully unlock Mayfield's potential for moving and/or grooving. Gymnastics, on the other hand, can.

According to Jenni Carlson of the Oklahoman, Oklahoma filmed several videos for a recent athletic awards night that featured Sooner athletes switching sports. Members of OU's national championship gymnastics team played football, while Mayfield and former teammate Nila Kasitati tried gymnastics.

Mayfield performed a choreographed floor routine, and it was as spectacular as expected:

Notice the determination in his eyes on those early moves and that final cat pose. Look at the form on his cartwheels and forward rolls. And he definitely knows how to stick his landings.

So whenever Mayfield finds the end zone later this fall for Oklahoma, keep an eye on any celebration techniques he picked up during his time on the mat this spring. His moves have developed past the unbeatable whip.


3. Jim Harbaugh is all about those dingers and dabs

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh is a football machine, but he has time every now and then for a little baseball. He coached first base for the Oakland A's in a spring training game last year, and he did the same for the Detroit Tigers this spring.

Now Harbaugh is focusing on his skills playing on the diamond more than coaching on it. He practiced for a charity home run derby with the Michigan softball team, cranking some home runs off a tee while wearing his signature khakis:

And, of course, he had to celebrate one of his bombs with the dab—the dance move popularized by his good friends in Migos:

Unfortunately for Harbaugh, his dabs wouldn't extend to the actual derby. According to Jackson Alexander of ESPN.com, Harbaugh didn't hit a single home run in his showdown with Rick Leach, a former MLB player who also played quarterback for Michigan.

But if a rematch happens, rest assured that Harbaugh will attack it with "Enthusiasm Unknown to Mankind."


4. Bret Bielema is going global

While the SEC wasn't in support of satellite camps throughout this offseason's biggest debate, they're now going to be a reality for the 14 head coaches in the conference.

One of those head coaches, who is not shy about making headlines with his quotes, has huge plans for his camps down the road, per Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee: 

Just the thought of international satellite camps with Bret Bielema sent Twitter into a brief frenzy. Here are the best destination ideas for the Hogs from the college football corner of the Internet:

Bielema is already ahead of the last suggestion, which was posted by Dan Wolken of USA Today. As David Ching of ESPN.com noted on Twitter, Arkansas currently has Hjalte Froholdt, an offensive lineman originally from Svendborg, Denmark, on its roster via Florida's famed IMG Academy.

It may sound like a joke now, but don't be totally surprised in a few years when entire European countries know how to do the "Woo Pig Sooie" chant.


5. Boise State's stadium is still not a lake

One of college football's best quirks popped its head up on social media last week thanks to an A-plus tweet from Boise State.

There's an urban legend that birds fly into the blue turf at what is now Albertsons Stadium at Boise State—sometimes to great injury—thinking it's a lake. The Broncos are here to remind all types of fowl that this just isn't the case:

Boise State isn't the only college football team in the country that has a non-green field, though. Since the 5th Down is a friend to all creatures, here's a helpful guide to any geese, ducks and birds who might be flying over in the future:

  • Boise State's blue turf IS NOT a lake. (Neither is Division II school New Haven's blue turf.)
  • Eastern Washington's red turf IS NOT a gaping pit of lava. (Not that birds would try to land in that.)
  • Eastern Michigan's gray turf IS NOT a giant parking lot.
  • Central Arkansas' purple and gray turf IS NOT a trippy scene caused by the Cheshire Cat from Alice In Wonderland.

Be aware and be prepared, birds.


6. UCF hired an Oregon coach and got some Oregon uniforms

New UCF head coach Scott Frost used to lead players who wore seemingly countless uniform combinations during his days as the Oregon offensive coordinator. Now his new players will get close to the same treatment from Nike.

UCF's new duds include white, gold, anthracite and pewter options for helmets and black, white, anthracite and pewter jerseys and pants. Those choices give the Knights 64 different uniform combinations.

That means a UCF player could make it all the way to the College Football Playoff National Championship each year for all four seasons of his eligibility and still never have to repeat a uniform.

According to Shannon Green of the Orlando Sentinel, the uniforms also include player names—something the Knights haven't had on the back of their jerseys since 2004. 

With a slick sword design on the new helmets and some striking jersey numbers, the Knights are definitely going to look better on the field in Frost's first season in Orlando. 


7. Freeze fires in an eagle and Dabo dances with a cow

The Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Challenge is a highlight of the offseason in the Southeast, as coaches from the SEC, ACC and some Group of Five conferences team up with celebrities to raise money in a charity golf challenge.

The golf action itself was good this year, as Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee wrote in his piece from this past week's event in Greensboro, Georgia. Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze helped his team take home the victory with a stunning eagle from 150 yards out:

But that wasn't the most viral video from the event.

That happened off the course, when Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney led the way in a Running Man Challenge featuring Mississippi State legend Fred McCrary, former Heisman winner Andre Ware and a Chick-fil-A cow mascot:

What Swinney lacks in foot speed for the average Running Man Challenge entry, the dance-happy coach makes up for it with what he can do with his hands. He's locked in during this video, refusing to let the former NFLers or the giant cow one-up him.

May this trend never die.


8. And, finally, this recruit posts one of the strangest commitment videos of all time 

Meet Logan Rudolph. He's a 4-star weak-side defensive end from Rock Hill, South Carolina.

Over the weekend, Rudolph decided to announce his commitment to play for the in-state Clemson Tigers. But he didn't do a big ceremony with all the hats. He didn't shoot a long video with dramatic music, either.

Instead, he posted a short Twitter video of him chopping a tree, thanking his family and coaches, nonchalantly saying he'll attend Clemson and then continuing to chop said tree:

He's also doing these things while wearing some short shorts as "Danger Zone" by Kenny Loggins plays in the background.

Of all the commitment announcements I've ever seen, this is definitely the most bizarre one in my memory. However, I have a feeling Rudolph is going to be a real force in the trenches for Clemson down the road. He's obviously got all the confidence in the world.


Justin Ferguson is a National College Football Analyst at Bleacher Report, and now he can't get "Danger Zone" out of his head. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Football: Predicting the Buckeyes' 2016 Win-Loss Record

With road games against College Football Playoff contenders Oklahoma and Michigan State, Big Ten contenders Wisconsin and Penn State and the regular-season finale against rival Michigan, Ohio State's 2016 schedule is one of the most difficult in all of college football this year.

This would have been a great schedule for last year's loaded team, which looked like it was sleepwalking through most of its walkover slate. But with 16 new starters this year, the young Buckeyes will have a hard time keeping pace in the playoff race.

How will head coach Urban Meyer's fifth Ohio State team fare this fall?

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Tennessee Football: Predicting the Vols' 2016 Win-Loss Record

This could be a special season on Rocky Top for the Tennessee football team.

Not only do the Volunteers have a slew of talent, but they also have several players who've held key roles on the team since they stepped foot on campus and more depth than they've had in a decade, making this year's schedule finally manageable.

That's not to say there aren't pitfalls. Those will always exist in the SEC. But that won't dampen the excitement, which Knoxville News Sentinel columnist John Adams says may match 1998's.

The Vols should not only win the SEC East. They seemingly have enough talent and experience to challenge for greater championships. The most optimistic fan's excitement is approaching the 1998 level. That's when the Vols last won the SEC title. It's also when they went undefeated while winning the national championship. So a comparison is in order—as long as you make it for preseason only.

He goes on to say nobody was talking about national championships that year, either. Yet, the Vols went on to win one. While few are talking about the possibility of UT going all the way, it isn't out of the question for the first time since the early 2000s.

Championship ingredients are in place, and the hiring of defensive coordinator Bob Shoop along with the return of stars Cameron Sutton, Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Alvin Kamara only enhance that.

But to have the opportunity to do great things, the Vols must accomplish some goals they haven't achieved in a long, long time, beginning with beating rivals Florida and Alabama. 

Those are just two of the obstacles standing between the Vols and taking another tangible step forward after last year's 9-4 season culminated with a domination of Northwestern in the Outback Bowl. So, just how far can the Vols go?

The guess here is a 10-2 regular season with a trip to Atlanta. But where will those setbacks come from, and can the Vols get over the two biggest humps they have as a program?

Let's take a way-too-early look at a game-by-game prediction for UT's 2016 season.

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Penn State Reveals Settlements Over Jerry Sandusky Alleged Abuse Go Back to 1971

According to a Sunday report from Michael R. Sisak of the Associated Press, “Penn State’s legal settlements with Jerry Sandusky’s accusers cover alleged abuse dating to 1971.”

University spokesman Lawrence Lokman confirmed the date to the AP. Sisak noted 1971 was 40 years before the former assistant football coach was arrested for sexual abuse.

“Penn State President Eric Barron decried newly revealed allegations that former football coach Joe Paterno was told in 1976 that Sandusky had sexually abused a child and that two assistant coaches witnessed either inappropriate or sexual contact in the late 1980s,” Sisak wrote.

Barron called the allegations “unsubstantiated” and said Penn State “is being subjected unfairly to what he called rumor and innuendo,” according to Sisak.

Before his death in 2012, Paterno said he hadn’t heard a complaint against Sandusky until 2001, per Sisak.

The allegations came from a ruling by Philadelphia Judge Gary Glazer during a case between the school and an insurance company regarding the percentage of the settlement costs Penn State is responsible for moving forward.

Sisak noted Penn State has already paid more than $90 million in settlements for claims against Sandusky.

USA Today shared some of Barron's statements: "I want you to know I am appalled by the rumor, innuendo and rush to judgment that have accompanied the media stories surrounding these allegations. All too often in our society, people are convicted in the court of public opinion, only to find a different outcome when all the facts are presented."

Sandusky graduated from the school in 1965 and accepted a spot as the defensive line coach in 1969. He then moved to linebackers coach (1970-76) and defensive coordinator (1977-99) before he retired. Paterno was the head coach at Penn State from 1966 to 2011 and won the most games in major college football history (409).

In 2015, the NCAA reinstated 111 of those wins after having vacated them as part of the punishment for the Sandusky scandal. Paterno was fired in the aftermath.

Sandusky is 72 years old and in prison for the sexual abuse of 10 children, per Sisak.

Sisak noted three Penn State officials are still awaiting trial for criminal charges because of the way they handled the Sandusky scandal. Among them is former President Graham Spanier.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Greg Bryant Jr., UAB RB, Dies at Age 21 from Gunshot Injuries

UAB Blazers and former Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Greg Bryant Jr. died Sunday after he was found shot in a car on Interstate-95 near West Palm Beach, Florida.   

Bryant's family confirmed the news to Lynda Figueredo of CBS 12.

Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry expressed his condolences on Twitter after learning of Bryant's passing:

According to the Palm Beach Post's Hannah Winston, the 21-year-old was originally listed in critical condition after arriving at St. Mary’s Medical Center on Saturday. Maurice Grover, 25, was the lone passenger in the car. Grover was also transported to St. Mary's Medical Center after reportedly suffering "minor injuries."

Suspects in the shooting have yet to be named, per Winston.  

A native of Delray Beach, Bryant Jr. committed to Notre Dame after he rose to prominence as a 3-star recruit, per 247Sports, and captured a state title with the American Heritage High School Stallions during his junior season.

He proceeded to rush for 303 yards and three touchdowns in two seasons with the Irish. However, head coach Brian Kelly deemed him ineligible for the 2015 season shortly after suspending the running back for the first four games of the year.

Bryant Jr. then left Notre Dame and transferred to ASA College Miami before committing to join the Blazers for the 2016 season.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

8 College Football Coaches Facing Make-It or Break-It Seasons in 2016

In a perfect world, coaches always receive at least four seasons—and maybe a fifth if the team is promising enough—to turn around a program.

But this is college football. No matter the circumstance, winning is expected immediately in this imperfect realm.

Plus, though some coaches notch the victories right away and establish themselves at the school, a couple frustrating losses or string of disappointing seasons often result in grumblings for a change from that long-term leader.

In 2016, several power-conference and Group of Five coaches face a critical moment in their respective tenures: the demand to win. Or they'll probably be hoping another school will call.

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Mario Pender Dismissed from FSU Following Arrest: Latest Details and Comments

Police arrested Florida State Seminoles running back Mario Pender on charges of domestic violence by strangulation and resisting an officer without violence Saturday, per Leon County, Florida, public records.

Following his arrest, Florida State dismissed Pender from the team, per Safid Deen of the Tallahassee Democrat.

"[Pender] has been permanently dismissed from the football team following his arrest earlier in the day," the school said in a statement. "The athletics department will have no further comment at this time."

According to 247Sports' composite rankings, Pender was the fourth-best running back in the 2012 recruiting class. Since arriving in Tallahassee, though, the fifth-year senior has failed to meet expectations on the field.

Florida State redshirted Pender in 2012, and he missed the entire 2013 season after being ruled academically ineligible. Injuries then limited Pender in 2014 and 2015, and he played 15 combined games during the two years. Complications from a collapsed lung wiped out most of his junior season.

Pender's absence coincided with Dalvin Cook's emergence. Cook rushed for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns as a freshman in 2014 and was even better last year (1,691 YDS, 19 TDs), finishing seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting.

Head coach Jimbo Fisher suspended Cook indefinitely last year after he was arrested in the summer. Fisher only reinstated the star running back after a jury found him not guilty of misdemeanor battery in August.

Following Cook's arrest and now-former quarterback De'Andre Johnson's surrender to authorities on a charge of misdemeanor battery, Fisher pledged to be more proactive when it came to player infractions.

"Florida State is a great university," he said in July, per the Palm Beach Post's Tom D'Angelo. "Our fans and supporters deserve better than to hear of actions that are not consistent with the school’s proud history and national stature. We will do better. I will not tolerate anything less."

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Highlights and Analysis from The Opening Columbus Regional

WESTERVILLE, Ohio — Hundreds of high school athletes traveled from near and far Saturday to measure their skills at The Opening's Columbus Regional just a short drive from Ohio State University.

Action commenced mid-morning and lasted deep into the afternoon, allowing both blue-chip college football prospects and under-the-radar talents an opportunity to share a spotlight. Competition was fierce and featured some of America's most coveted recruits.

With just three stops remaining on The Opening's spring camp circuit—Chicago, Oakland and Seattle—invitations are increasingly scarce for national finals at Nike's world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. Several of those spots were filled Saturday, as seven standouts punched their ticket for the annual elite showcase in July.

Cincinnati tight end Matt Dotson, Georgia cornerback Jamyest Williams and five Michigan players (receiver KJ Hamler, receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones, offensive lineman Jordan Reid, linebacker Antjuan Simmons and conerback Ambry Thomas) made strong enough impressions to secure invitations.

"I would like to go out there and reclaim my [SPARQ national] title," Peoples-Jones, a rare two-time finals participant, told Bleacher Report. "I'm just going to have fun. This is a fun football event with the nation's top prospects. We're just all out there working and having fun with each other."

This regional presented plenty of challenges for each participant, and those who rose to the occasion provided highlights throughout. Here's a glimpse at some of those moments and a peek into compelling conversations we encountered in Columbus.


Detroit Playmakers Dominate Across the Field

Several scintillating athletes drove approximately three hours from Michigan's most populous city to compete. They validated the mileage, controlling the narrative during drills on multiple fields.

"Everyone knows at these camps Detroit kids are going to put on for the city," Hamler said. "That's all we do. We compete and grind. Everybody underestimates Michigan kids, and we don't like that. We put in as much work as everybody else in the country, and people saw that today."

Hamler, a speedy pass-catcher from St. Mary's Preparatory, narrowly fell shy of earning the title of this camp's fastest man. Already a state track champion, he qualified for the final group of five sprinters after clocking a 4.43 in preliminary 40-yard dash testing.

Fittingly, only fellow Detroit burner Donovan Johnson beat him:

Johnson, a Cass Technical High School defensive back, is teammates with Reid and Peoples-Jones, who expected a celebration to ensue during their drive home.

"There's about three guys who got open in my car," the 5-star receiver said. "We're all going to be around each other, and we'll see each other in Oregon. That will definitely help our friendship."

Thomas, a 4-star prospect from fellow Detroit powerhouse Martin Luther King High School, will line up across from Peoples-Jones and Hamler in the Northwest.


Jamyest Williams Journeys North, Shuts Down Aerial Efforts

The Grayson High School (Georgia) junior enjoyed a busy Saturday many miles from his home in the Peach State. Rated No. 6 nationally among cornerbacks in 247Sports' composite rankings, Williams put on a show and absolutely validated that rating.

The video above provides indication this 5'9", 170-pound playmaker competes at a much-higher level than his size would initially suggest. He beat opponents with physicality at the line, maintained stride-for-stride coverage with elite acceleration and never lost his bearings even as field conditions grew slightly slippery due to occasional rain showers.

"I'm a guy who leads by example," Williams said. "You're always going to get my all on the field."

He continuously stepped in for reps, not satisfied to stand on the sidelines for more than a few snaps. This tenacity caught the attention of top-tier players in Columbus.

"He's a competitor," Peoples-Jones said. "He's really scrappy."

Even though he was only following along on social media, 5-star Alabama commit Alex Leatherwood felt the need to show Williams some love:

Williams, who recently visited Clemson, Georgia and Tennessee, also made his first trip to Ohio State on Saturday. He traveled to campus alongside Buckeyes quarterback commit Danny Clark, who is hosting him for the weekend.


Buckeyes Quarterback Pledge Could Face Competition in Class

Speaking of Clark, the Archbishop Hoban High School (Akron, Ohio) star told B/R he understands Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer may still be searching for an alternative option at the position in this recruiting cycle. 

"Coach Meyer said there is a possibility that could happen, but it doesn't really matter to me," he said. "I've been competing my whole life, and I'm not really worried about them bringing another quarterback in. I'm coming in to compete and dominate."

Clark, who stands 6'4", 223 pounds, pledged to the Buckeyes as a freshman. Since then he's seen Meyer sign compelling quarterback prospects such as Joe Burrow and Dwayne Haskins. 

Now there's rampant speculation Ohio State is in pursuit of a blue-chip passer to join him next national signing day. Baylor commit Kellen Mond and top-ranked dual-threat talent Tate Martell, who backed off his verbal pact with Texas A&M this week, both recently spent time on campus.

Despite the program's potential depth behind center, Clark believes it's part of the process that makes Meyer a three-time national champion.

"Coach Meyer is a smart guy," he said. "Every big-time program needs to have at least four legit quarterbacks at one time. Just like Ohio State showed in 2014, that depth is so important. The star Heisman candidate (Braxton Miller) gets hurt in the offseason, then J.T. Barrett dominates the Big Ten and sets records before breaking his ankle in the Michigan game, then the third-stringer (Cardale Jones) rises up and wins a national championship."

At this stage, it sounds like the longtime commit is all-in as a Buckeyes commit regardless of whether or not Ohio State lands another quarterback. Even better news for Meyer is his willingness to chase after key recruiting targets like Williams and Peoples-Jones.


Sean Clifford Claims Ticket for Elite 11 National Finals 

The Penn State pledge is the latest member of a talent-laden group slated to hit the fields of Redondo Beach, California, during the first week of June. Los Angeles County again hosts the final slate of action that separates America's marquee rising senior passers from a place in The Opening one month later.

Clifford, a 6'2", 203-pound playmaker from St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, earned quarterback MVP honors in Columbus. Minutes after receiving that accolade, coaches informed him he's headed to the West Coast. In total, 24 quarterbacks from the 2017 class will contend for an invitation to Nike's world headquarters during a multiday showcase in Southern California.

Rated No. 10 nationally among pro-style passers in composite rankings, Clifford clearly separated himself from the pack Saturday as the session progressed. Despite steady rain, he delivered tight spirals in the pressure-chamber challenge and maintained a calm demeanor during drills that take young athletes outside their comfort zone.

Clifford, who also holds offers from North Carolina, Louisville, Boston College and Pitt, pledged to Penn State last summer. Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin should be happy to learn he was also on the recruiting prowl in Columbus, specifically targeting a coveted Michigan receiver:


Under-the-Radar Running Back Makes Case for Increased Attention

While several elite prospects attempted to match lofty expectations, Morgan Ellison undoubtedly exceeded those assigned to him Saturday. The Pickering High School (Ohio) junior jumped off the board during SPARQ testing (combine-like drills), earning the highest score (131.19) of any competitor.

He measured in at 6'0 ½", 216 pounds Saturday, posting impressive results across the athletic spectrum. Ellison completed the 40-yard dash in 4.69 seconds, finished his shuttle in four seconds flat, launched his power ball toss 42 feet and registered a 35.6-inch vertical leap.

Following testing, he proceeded to impress in running back drills. His performance with the football caught attention from 247Sports Director of Recruiting Steve Wiltfong, who raved about Ellison's efforts:

Those are strong words from an industry analyst who helps assemble U.S. Army All-American Bowl rosters.

Ellison is only considered a composite 2-star recruit, rated No. 120 nationally among running backs and No. 1,675 overall in the 2017 class. His lone scholarship offer at this stage comes from in-state Toledo.

Expect his outlook to alter quickly if he can build off Saturday's showing. Ellison saw the past two seasons of high school football derailed by a fractured leg, according to Bill Landis of Cleveland.com.

"I got two games of film and one scrimmage on my tape," he told Landis. "I've gotta take off. That's the word that I'm gonna use. I have to take off this season."

Based on what we witnessed Saturday, things are truly beginning to trend in the right direction for Ellison.


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

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College Football's 25 Most Indispensable Players for 2016 Season

Every college football team has “that guy." You know him. The guy who, if he limps slowly off the field, prompts a phrase from announcers and fans alike: “They can’t afford to lose that guy.” He's a unique, special, talented player, the kind of guy whose contributions are difficult, if not impossible, to replicate.

In a word, these players are indispensable. They have game-changing talent, and without them, the outlook will change for their teams. Here’s a look at the 25 most indispensable players in college football. We ranked them after considering their track record, talents and overall value to their team.

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Greg Bryant Jr. Hospitalized: Updates on UAB RB After Highway Shooting

UAB running back Greg Bryant Jr. is in critical condition after being found with gunshot wounds in his car on Interstate 95 on Saturday morning, according to Hannah Winston of the Palm Beach Post.

"The UAB Football Family's prayers are with Greg Bryant and his family this morning," UAB head coach Bill Clark said in a statement, per Drew Champlin of AL.com. "He was injured in a shooting last night in Miami and is receiving medical care, surrounded by his family. We are working to get more information and to support Greg and his family in this difficult time."

Maurice Grover, 25, was also in the vehicle and sustained minor injuries in the incident, according to Winston, who also reported that West Palm Beach Police have not named any suspects in the case.

Bryant, 21, spent the 2013 and 2014 seasons with Notre Dame, rushing for 303 yards and three touchdowns before transferring to ASA College Miami in August 2015 and then to UAB in November. He had been suspended in June 2015 for the first four games of the season for violating team rules, and he was ruled academically ineligible for the entire campaign in August.

He would be in his fifth year of eligibility in 2017, when the recently reinstated Blazers program begins playing games again. UAB shut down its football, rifle and bowling teams in December 2014 because of financial concerns but announced in July 2015 that the programs would be revived.

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Mississippi St. Student Dies After Falling from Davis Wade Stadium Jumbotron

Andrew Scott Demboski, a 21-year-old junior at Mississippi State University, died early Saturday morning after falling from the top of the Jumbotron video system at the south end of Davis Wade Stadium, according to WTVA.com's Steve Rogers

Oktibbeha County Coroner Michael Hunt confirmed that Demboski went into cardiac arrest and died of apparent head injuries after falling from "a wide sheet metal awning that spans the top of the device."

According to Rogers, Demboski and two other male students climbed the Jumbotron. Mississippi State students have attempted to climb the structure in the past as part of dares. 

"It appears to be a tragic accident," Hunt said, per Rogers.

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Ryan Kelley to ASU: Sun Devils Land 4-Star QB Prospect

Ryan Kelley, a 4-star quarterback who ranks as the fifth-best pro-style passer in the 2017 class, per 247Sports, announced his commitment to the Arizona State Sun Devils on Friday.

Kelley had formerly committed to the Oregon Ducks before backing off that pledge Tuesday.

The Chandler, Arizona, native cited the fit between the team's offensive system and his skill set. Kelley possesses a strong arm while also being deceptively mobile, as his junior-year highlights demonstrate.

Arizona State fans can expect a quarterback similar to former standout Mike Bercovici, who started the last two seasons for the Sun Devils, tossing 30 touchdowns a year ago while rushing for six more. 

Devils Digest, Arizona State's Rivals.com affiliate, noted Kelley's pledge signals a continuation of strong recruiting momentum for the Sun Devils:

Bleacher Report's Damon Sayles also commended Arizona State:

Head coach Todd Graham's squad features little experience in terms of signal-callers, so Kelley could come in and compete for playing time right away in 2017.

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