Feed aggregator

7 SEC Surprises from the 2015 NFL Combine

The annual job fair known as the NFL Scouting Combine took place over the weekend at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, and during the time there, many SEC players made positive impressions on NFL scouts who were just itching to tear them down.

Several simply won't let that happen.

From former Georgia wide receiver Chris Conley's record-setting combine to former Alabama safety Landon Collins' accolades to former LSU cornerback Jalen Collins' surprising performance, it was a big event for former SEC stars.

Which stars shined brightest? Our picks, based on combine results, pre-combine hype and college performance, are in this slideshow.

Begin Slideshow

Notre Dame Football Recruiting Offers of the Week

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The Notre Dame football coaching staff handed out two new scholarship offers this past week to class of 2016 linebackers.

Each week we’ll be keeping tabs on the new scholarship offers sent out by the Notre Dame coaches, tracking the recruiting process as the Irish turn their attention toward the classes of 2016, 2017 and maybe even 2018.

 

Daniel Bituli

Notre Dame extended an offer to class of 2016 linebacker Daniel Bituli at the beginning of last week. The Nashville, Tennessee, native is pegged as the No. 7 outside linebacker and the No. 112 overall player in the country.

The 6’3”, 227-pounder has also landed offers from Ohio State, South Carolina, Auburn, Oklahoma, LSU and Tennessee, among others. Bituli has taken multiple unofficial visits to both Tennessee and Vanderbilt.

 

Julian Okwara

A familiar name resurfaced Friday afternoon when class of 2016 linebacker Julian Okwara reported an offer from Notre Dame.

Okwara, the younger brother of Notre Dame senior defensive end Romeo Okwara, is currently slotted as the No. 12 outside linebacker and No. 145 overall prospect in the class. The 6’4”, 210-pound Charlotte, North Carolina, product also boasts offers from Michigan, Georgia and Ole Miss, among others.

According to 247Sports’ Steve Wiltfong, Okwara said he has been familiar with Notre Dame’s coaches since eighth grade and his “interest is definitely there.” Wiltfong said, “Notre Dame is strongly in the mix to sign [Okwara].”

Romeo Okwara played in all 13 games for the Irish in 2014, earning 12 starts along the defensive line. He piled up 39 tackles and notched a team-high four sacks.

Notre Dame has now offered 10 linebackers in the class of 2016 (three inside, seven outside). The Irish inked a highly regarded group of linebackers in the recent recruiting cycle, hauling in 4-star signees Te’von Coney, Josh Barajas and Asmar Bilal.

 

 

Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting stats and information courtesy of 247Sports.com and all quotes obtained firsthand. Star ratings reflect 247Sports composite rankings. 

Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

10 College Football Programs with the Most Compelling QB Controversies

Who likes a good quarterback controversy?

Everyone, of course. Well, except fans of the team in question. It's so much easier when things are laid out nice and neat.

Of course, it doesn't always work like that. Whether there's turnover at the position or no clear-cut front-runner, quarterback competitions typically make up the most interesting offseason storylines. 

Not all quarterback controversies have to be "bad" to be compelling, however. Ohio State has the most compelling offseason storyline of anyone because it has three quarterbacks who could take the Buckeyes to another national championship. 

Which programs have quarterback questions to answer this spring and summer? The answers, along with Week 1 projections, are in the following slides. Teams on this list were selected based on projected spring rosters and incoming freshmen/transfers. 

Begin Slideshow

Virginia Tech Football: Tracking 2015 NFL Combine Results for Former Hokie Stars

The 2015 NFL Scouting Combine has concluded, and for a few Virginia Tech Hokies, it's time to look toward the school's pro day next month in Blacksburg.

Offensive tackle Laurence Gibson and defensive backs Kyshoen Jarrett and Detrick Bonner were Tech's only attendees at the 2015 combine. Unlike last year when Kyle Fuller was a first-round pick, the Hokies don't have any players expected to go in the first three rounds.

Gibson, though, could be a sleeper in the 2015 draft. He stole the show Friday in the offensive line workouts.

While neither of the three former Hokies expects to be selected high in this spring's draft, Virginia Tech will miss them. Gibson, Bonner and Jarrett leave Blacksburg with 98 career starts between them. 

How did the three former Hokies fare in the 2015 combine? 

 

All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports, while NFL Scouting Combine results were obtained directly from NFL.com.

Begin Slideshow

How Brian Kelly and Notre Dame Distracted Attention from the QB Battle

Usually just about every off-field headline to come out of Notre Dame is a huge cause for concern.  

But while the news hasn't stopped flowing from South Bend since signing day, it's actually been a great help to the health of the Irish football team. 

No, not because the reported changes on the coaching staff will make Notre Dame a better football team. (It's just too soon to tell.) But because the coaching carousel spinning its way through South Bend has kept the attention off quarterbacks Everett Golson and Malik Zaire. 

The seemingly combustible quarterback battle reached dangerous levels in the days following the Music City Bowl victory. After Zaire played a leading role in the 31-28 victory over LSU, the rumor mill starting spinning—with Golson being lumped among the high-profile transfer candidates potentially looking for a new home. 

Nowhere did that rumor spread faster than among Notre Dame fans. As we've seen all too often over the past years, Irish fans were doing their best to create just another self-fulfilling prophecy, news spreading through the echo chamber that had Golson all but on his way out the door, assuring another chaotic offseason. 

But all of that has been forgotten, with fans glued to the comings and goings on the Irish coaching staff. And worries about replacing Matt LaFleur or Tony Alford are much easier to quell than a starting quarterback. After all, the love letters are already being drafted to Mike Sanford and Autry Denson. 

No news from Notre Dame has been made official. So if Brian Kelly is responsible for the leisure pace of the announcements, then the Irish head coach is pulling a page from a political playbook that'd make even Francis Underwood proud. 

Spring football has also been delayed, now kicking off on March 18. That'll give Kelly time to coach his coaches, and the new faces on staff time to meet the players they'll be working with. 

That means starting from scratch in the quarterback room. With Sanford reportedly entering the picture, it adds another dimension to a quarterback battle already filled with intrigue. 

If you were placing bets on Golson or Zaire, all the changes in South Bend would take this off the board in Vegas. 

How will Sanford's philosophies mesh with his new boss's? What does the success against LSU mean for the long-term future of the offense? Can Kelly talk both quarterbacks into believing in a two-quarterback system? 

There is still so much to watch and wonder about when it comes to the upcoming battle between Golson and Zaire. And beyond that, Golson still needs to earn his degree in May before he can even officially explore his options. 

All the discussion and noise surrounding the most important position on a football team is enough to distract even the most focused team. So while the slowest-moving confirmation of a coaching staff continues to crawl forward, it's a welcome diversion this time of year.  

And maybe that's exactly how Brian Kelly wants it. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football's Most Important Offers of the Week

With colleges across the nation now fully immersed in scouting top talent in the 2016 class, a handful of schools have focused their efforts on need positions in this cycle. 

For example, Gus Malzahn and the Auburn Tigers are aggressively targeting the offensive line in their current class. 

Last week, the Tigers offered five offensive linemen.

Their spree in the trenches began with an offer to 4-star Virginia tackle Clark Yarbrough

The 6’5”, 255-pounder told Keith Niebuhr of AuburnUndercover that he’s very interested in the Tigers program. 

“I’ve watched them a lot on TV,” Yarbrough told Niebuhr. “Their offense fits me very well with how much they have their guys pull, and move east and west. And, I like how fast they go." 

The Tigers also offered fellow 4-star tackle prospects Michal Menet and Jean Delance, who is committed to Oklahoma.

Interior prospects who received Auburn offers last week include 4-star and current LSU pledge Donavaughn Campbell and 3-star Chris Owens.

Auburn brought in five offensive linemen in its 2015 class, and it looks like the Tigers are positioning themselves to land another solid group of big uglies in the trenches.

 

Ohio State Hands out Defensive Offers 

Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes are off to a fast start in their 2016 recruiting class.

Last week, the Buckeyes seemed to focus their efforts on some of the top prospects from in Georgia and Tennessee.

According to Bill Kurelic of Bucknuts, Meyer and his staff tendered 4-star defensive backs Marlon Character and Nygel Edmonds.

Additionally, another defender from the Atlanta area who earned an offer was 4-star defensive tackle Antwuan Jackson.

Finally, the Bucks headed out to the West Coast to offer 4-star linebacker Curtis Robinson, according to Scout’s Greg Biggins. Adam Gorney of Rivals reports that Georgia and UCLA also offered Robinson.

Coming off the momentum of a national title, the Buckeyes are likely to gain more traction with prospects all over the country, and they are doing their part by casting a wider net with their early offers on defense.

 

Michigan Offers 2016 In-State RB

Michigan is a school that has been very active in the early periods of the 2016 cycle.

Last week, Jim Harbaugh and his staff handed out an offer to in-state 4-star running back Matthew Falcon.

As Clint Brewster of Wolverine247 notes, Falcon is a big back at 6’1”, 215 pounds who has an intriguing blend of size and speed. 

The Wolverines join the likes Minnesota, NC State, Ohio State and Tennessee as a few of Falcon’s most notable offers.

Time will tell if the state of Michigan’s sixth-best prospect in the 2016 class will eventually land in Ann Arbor.

 

FSU Offers 5-Star Alabama Duo

Florida State is one powerhouse who is actively involved with a number of elite recruits early in the 2016 cycle.

Jimbo Fisher and the Seminoles threw their hat into the ring with another pair of 5-stars last week when they offered 5-star defensive end Marlon Davidson and 5-star linebacker Lyndell Wilson.

Both players hail from Carver High School in Montgomery, Alabama. 

Early in the process, both Alabama and Auburn recruited both standout defenders aggressively. But the Noles are hoping to get their foot in the door with two of the nation’s top players at their respective positions.

 

Best of the Rest

  • 2016 4-star linebacker and current FSU pledge Emmett Rice picked up an offer from Miami.

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

How Football's Next Great LB Dylan Moses Relies on Pressure to Make Him Better

Dylan Moses, a 5-star linebacker in the 2017 class, according to 247Sports' composite rankings, has been opening eyes on the football field for the better part of his life.  

Having been offered a scholarship to LSU when he was in the eighth grade, Moses has been dealing with the pressure of being a standout football player and thriving. 

Get to know the talented linebacker by checking out this video and hearing some of his fondest football memories. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football's Top Head Coaching Rivalries in 2015

What makes for a great head coaching rivalry?

Mainly, it's a mix of two factors.

A history of playing memorable, competitive games plays a big role, but so does drama between the characters. The best head coaching rivalries feature both on-field and interpersonal intrigue.

By this definition, Alabama's Nick Saban and LSU's Les Miles aren't "rivals" as much as opponents. Their teams are definitely rivals, but Saban and Miles are friends who in 2014 shared a touching on-field moment where Saban consoled Miles after the loss of his mother.

The rivalries that follow—unlike Saban-Miles or even Saban-Gus Malzahn—check both boxes of criteria.

Sound off below and let us know what you think.

Begin Slideshow

Robert Burns to Miami: 2017 RB Commits to Canes over Alabama, FSU and More

The pipeline between Miami and nearby Gulliver Prep continued to strengthen on Monday morning, as standout 2017 running back Robert Burns committed to the Hurricanes:

The 5'10", 210-pound prospect becomes the fourth player from the Miami-Dade County institution to pledge to Miami since last summer. That group includes teammates Joseph Jackson (defensive end), Cedrick Wright (safety) and Dionte Mullins (wide receiver), who are each members of the 2016 class.

Burns became the progam's next coveted recruit with strong underclassman campaigns. The speedy sophomore has developed a reputation as a playmaker who is capable of taking it the distance regardless of where he receives the football.

He is tremendously agile, a credit to sustained balance in the trenches and beyond. Burns exhibits excellent bend, building momentum that results in violent collisions at the point of contact.

His size at this stage suggests he could eventually develop into a physical specimen with workhorse potential in college. Burns' blend of burst and physicality brings a balanced approach to the offensive backfield.

Though complete composite rankings haven't yet been created for the 2017 class, expect Burns to land among the top-rated rushers in Florida. Surrounded by significant talent at Gulliver Prep and bolstered by another year of physical maturation, he appears primed for a dominant junior campaign this fall.

Plenty of coaching staffs have already identified Burns as a valuable commodity in his class. The Hurricanes overcame nearly 20 other collegiate suitors, including Alabama, Clemson, Wisconsin, Tennessee and Ohio State.

Burns was drawn to the Hurricanes because he believes plenty of promise is in place for a program renaissance.

"They've made some coaching changes. They seem like they are going back to how it was in the past," Burns told Ryan Bartow of 247Sports. "It's intriguing."

Miami has enjoyed an impressive stretch on the recruiting trail, holding 18 pledges in a 2016 class that tops 247Sports' composite rankings.

Head coach Al Golden and his staff are also off to a strong start in the 2017 cycle. Burns gives the Hurricanes four sophomore commitments in a haul that also includes fellow local running back Bentavious Thompson.

 

Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Should Florida State Worry Its 4-Star Commits Are Visiting SEC Programs?

The recruiting process is a marathon, not a sprint—particularly this early in the process. This is the time of year when it's vital for athletes to weigh all options and take unofficial visits in an effort to make the right decision for their futures.

Even the committed athletes.

Florida State has seen a couple of its 2016 pledges make visits to other programs in recent weeks. To raise any red flags regarding the commits' loyalty to the Seminoles, however, may be a little premature.

After all, this is the time of the year where unofficial visits happen. While commitments seem to happen earlier and earlier in college football recruiting as a whole, few commits sign letters of intent to a program without checking out at least one other option.

Florida State has nine commits. Six are 4-star athletes, and a seventh, quarterback Malik Henry, is a 5-star prospect. But like many other schools nationwide, the Seminoles are dealing with the concern of losing commits to other programs.

Take 4-star defensive end Janarius Robinson, for example. The in-state prospect, who has been committed to Florida State since Sept. 21, recently took in the junior day at Alabama and told Luke Stampini of 247Sports that Florida could get an unofficial visit, as well as Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Ohio State and Tennessee.

North Carolina 4-star defensive end Josh Brown, who committed to Florida State the same day as Robinson did, was at Tennessee's junior day over the weekend and told Ryan Callahan of 247Sports he enjoyed his time in Knoxville. Brown picked up a Tennessee offer on Saturday and added that he's considering taking in the Volunteers' spring game.

Brown then told Callahan something that a lot of committed athletes are saying around this time of the recruiting process:

"My commitment is firm," he said, "[but] I'm still taking all my visits."

The Seminoles and coach Jimbo Fisher love to hear the first part. And being so early in the game, they understand the latter. It's the latter, however, that determines this game called recruiting for many coaches.

Who can close the deal? What can a coach do to keep a prize player committed? How does a program compete with programs who are as sexy—if not sexier—from now until next February?

Florida State picked up two 3-star 2016 commits over the weekend in defensive end Keir Thomas and athlete Jamel Cook, as well as a third commit in 2017 running back Zaquandre White during its junior day. These environments are when a program can sell itself best during the offseason—and having multiple commits the same day helps a program's recruiting resume in targeting the next top prospect.

Florida State shouldn't be worried for now about losing any commitments. The Seminoles have nearly a year until the next signing day, which means two things:

No. 1, pledges will consider taking other visits.

No. 2, Florida State coaches have plenty of time to continue selling to prospects why they committed there in the first place.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

What Does Nick Marshall's Position Change Say About Gus Malzahn's Offense?

Former Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall was on double duty at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine, working with the quarterbacks and defensive backs as he attempts to make the move back to the defensive side of the ball while serving as an emergency quarterback on an NFL roster.

In 2013, the Pineview, Georgia, native led Auburn to an SEC title and to within 13 seconds of a national title after transferring from junior college. He followed it up by throwing for 2,532 yards, 20 touchdowns and rushing for 798 yards and 11 touchdowns as a senior for the Tigers.

Head coach Gus Malzahn said at the Senior Bowl in January that the change came as a surprise, according to Alex Byington of the Opelika-Auburn News.

What does it say, though, that such a highly decorated quarterback in Malzahn's system is forced to make a position change at the NFL and may only see snaps as signal-caller in running packages or in case of emergency?

Nothing. 

This isn't a Malzahn trend; it's something that is pervasive in college football, as Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians noted at the combine (via Chris Wesseling of NFL.com):

So many times, you're evaluating a quarterback who has never called a play in the huddle, never used a snap count. They hold up a card on the sideline, he kicks his foot and throws the ball. That ain't playing quarterback. There's no leadership involved there. There might be leadership on the bench, but when you get them and they have to use verbiage and they have to spit the verbiage out and change the snap count, they are light years behind.

For Malzahn specifically, though, he's been typecast as a coach who thrives with a dual-threat quarterback after his success with Marshall and the national title he won with Cam Newton as Auburn's offensive coordinator in 2010.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

While Newton hasn't exactly set the world on fire, he did win the Heisman Trophy and get drafted No. 1 overall due in part to his big arm and ability to make all the throws in college. His career in the NFL isn't exactly that of Peyton Manning, but he has led the Carolina Panthers to back-to-back playoff appearances.

Malzahn's system is founded on the running game but still can be very passer-friendly.

During his time as Tulsa's offensive coordinator, he helped the Golden Hurricane become the first team in FBS history to boast a 5,000-yard passer (Paul Smith, 5,065), a 1,000-yard rusher (Tarrion Adams, 1,225) and three 1,000-yard receivers (Brennan Marion, Trae Johnson, Charles Clay) in the same season, according to Paul Myerberg of The New York Times

He followed it up with quarterback David Johnson producing another prolific passing season in 2008 with 4,059 yards and 46 touchdown passes.

He used Marshall's best skills—his running ability and big arm—to his advantage over the last two years. While the Auburn offense is a true, two-back, power attack out of the spread that thrives with a punishing running game, the addition of a passing quarterback doesn't change the system, it's a supplement.

That should become apparent in 2015 on the Plains.

Auburn will still produce a punishing running attack with Jovon Robinson and Roc Thomas, but a more pass-happy approach with quarterback Jeremy Johnson, wide receiver D'haquille "Duke" Williams and a deep wide receiving corps should add some fuel additive to the offensive machine that's already clicking on all cylinders. 

The simplicity of Auburn's offense exists primarily due to the desire to play faster, which has become more popular in college after it became the norm over the last few years in high school. That's not going to change in the future. The bottom-up transformation of football that puts a bigger emphasis on tempo will continue to challenge NFL scouts and force NFL teams to adapt—not the other way around.

Even this year in college football, some of the "traditional, pro-style offenses" adapted to new-school football.

Alabama ran 72.7 plays per game in 2014 with dual-threat quarterback Blake Sims incorporating spread elements into the offense. That's more plays per game than tempo-based teams Auburn (72.2), Texas A&M (71.9) and Ole Miss (69.5). Michigan State, which isn't exactly known for its innovative offense, averaged 76.5 plays per game.

"Scouting quarterbacks is now, more than ever, about projection," said B/R NFL draft lead analyst Matt Miller. "You have to focus so much on traits over production and try to guess at how they'll translate. It's what makes the Jameis Winston's and Andrew Luck's so valuable, because you've seen them do it."

College football has adapted, and the NFL is struggling with how to evaluate players as a result. Ten years ago, college football went through the same frustration, and it turned out just fine.

Don't view the critics of Malzahn's system, Marshall or spread offenses in general as anything more than people voicing their frustrations with the evolving game. 

Instead of venting, though, maybe they should just adapt.

 

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Georgia Football: 5 Players with the Most to Gain in Spring Practices

With the coaching staff settled and national signing day in the rearview mirror, the Georgia Bulldogs now shift their collective focus to spring practice.

For a team looking to maintain a prolific offensive profile under new coordinator Brian Schottenheimer while improving defensively under second-year coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, there is a lot to look forward to. And much of that anticipation centers on individual player development.

Though spring practice isn't the only measure of growth for athletes, it does serve as a good barometer for evaluating who's checking the right boxes. This spring, five players in particular stand to gain a lot from practice and scrimmage time.

Here's a closer look.

Begin Slideshow

25 Biggest Trap Games for 2015 College Football Season

Although winter has much of America in its icy grip, it’s never too early to start thinking about football. Before spring practice begins, we have plenty of time to go over 2015 schedules, week by week, and examine what they mean for teams across the nation.

We all have our eyes on the biggest matchups of the season: key nonconference games and rivalries that will determine which teams make their way into the 2015 College Football Playoff. But what about games that might slip under the radar and cause teams to fall off their track to a national title?

They’re trap games, and they happen every season. Here’s a look at the top 25 trap games that will take place this college football season.

Begin Slideshow

Michigan Football: Realistic Expectations for Jim Harbaugh in 2015

Winning the Big Ten and reaching the College Football Playoff has to top Jim Harbaugh’s list of team-specific priorities. However, the Michigan coach doesn’t have to incite overnight change in 2015 in order to have a successful first season in Ann Arbor.

Harbaugh, who previously coached the San Francisco 49ers, faces the task of rebuilding his unstable alma mater—and that task will take a couple of years, maybe longer, to accomplish. The Wolverines’ circumstances probably won’t immediately change this fall, but Harbaugh is capable of coaching them to seven or eight wins in their current condition. 

After plummeting to 5-7 under former coach Brady Hoke in 2014, it’s safe to assume that a record of 8-4 or 7-5 would suit Harbaugh just fine. It'd probably satisfy a hungry fanbase, too. 

For now.

Expectations are justifiably high, but it’s important for Michigan—and its fans—to keep things in perspective. Harbaugh is one of the best coaches in the game, but he needed three years to dust off Stanford, which went 4-8, 5-7 and 8-5 before topping out at 12-1 in 2010.

Time tells all. With that said, this fall will likely serve a rough sketch for Harbaugh. 

 

Start the Winning Ways

As mentioned, a record of 7-5 or 8-4 would be a vast improvement upon recent efforts. Hoke had the talent, but he had trouble making it work on the field. As of now, Harbaugh’s cupboards aren’t bare, but he’s essentially starting from scratch.

That’s never easy. Then again, Hoke went 11-2 in 2011, his first year, with former coach Rich Rodriguez’s guys—so go figure.

Today, it’s difficult to see better than 8-4, which is the absolute high end for Michigan in 2015. For starters, it doesn’t have a starting quarterback. On top of that, its O-line is in desperate need of care. The Wolverines are a decent team, on paper, but they lack strength at the core.

Now that’s not to say Harbaugh won’t find a bit of magic, lock in a starter and craft the line to his liking this spring and into summer. That’d be a recipe for an 8-4 team.

However, remember the three-year reference in regards to Stanford? It took time for Harbaugh to groom Andrew Luck and establish balance in the trenches, but once accomplished, Harbaugh had a national power. 

Stanford didn't have half the foundation Michigan sits upon. So that has to encourage optimism all around.

As for the Wolverines, they could see real, honest-to-goodness progress as early as midseason.

 

Back in the Spotlight

In 2006, the Wolverines were involved in one of the greatest college football games ever played. Then ranked No. 2, they ended their season with a 42-39 loss to No. 1-ranked Ohio State—but they haven’t been nationally relevant since.

With exception to former quarterback Denard Robinson, Michigan hasn’t had much to cheer about during the past decade or so. Harbaugh can and will change that—but again, it’ll take more than one season to flip fortunes.

Due to his NFL pedigree, Harbaugh has commanded the attention of the national media. His khaki’d, “football dude” persona has already thrust Michigan back into the limelight. Everyone is talking about a team that’s yet to start practice, but in a good way. There is nothing but optimism oozing from The Big House.

Of course, he helped matters by picking up eight recruits during the month prior to national signing day.

That’s always a good way to set the wheels in motion, especially after losing eight members of the 2015 class, a cascade started by 5-star wide receiver George Campbell in December 2013.

That said, there aren’t many coaches who could have pulled off such a move in just 30 days. Imagine him during a full recruiting period, which is the next point of discussion.

 

Come One, Come All

Michigan’s already a favorite for Rashan Gary, a 5-star defensive tackle out of Paramus Catholic (New Jersey). The 6’4”, 285-pounder is the No. 2-ranked prospect of 2016 and comes in at No. 1 at his position, per 247Sports.

A show of serious intent, Harbaugh hired former Paramus Catholic coach Chris Partridge to head Michigan’s recruiting operations. Talk about a power play.

Plus he has defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin and D-line coach Greg Mattison, a pair of renowned recruiters, to lure the best to Ann Arbor. The Wolverines have two commits for 2016—linebacker Dele Harding and offensive tackle Erik Swenson—and they’ll undoubtedly stock the shelves with more elites this spring, summer and into fall.

Ten of Harbaugh’s top 14 targets are ranked among the top 10 at their respective positions.

National signing day 2016 could be a massive success for Harbaugh, who could easily land a top-20 class or better.

Harbaugh’s prowess will get the job done. Just don’t expect miracles during the first 12 months. He’ll recruit with the best in the land, that’s a given. He’ll field competitive teams, too.

But give him time. On Dec. 30, the date of his official introduction as coach, Harbaugh brought up his record of constructing palatial estates—a reference to molding teams—but not one was built overnight. 

 

Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and references were obtained firsthand by the writer via press conference, press release or other media availability. All recruiting information comes via 247Sports.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

CFB Future 100: Top 12 Defensive Ends in Class of 2016

After thorough study using specific scoring criteria, Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analysts Damon SaylesSanjay Kirpalani and Tyler Donohue have graded the top 100 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 Defensive Ends.  

Other Positions 

Among the group of rising seniors around the nation, one of the deepest positions in the 2016 class is pass-rusher.

In fact, 12 edge-rushers make up the Top 100 players overall in the 2016 class.

A Sunshine State standout and 5-star defensive end, Shavar Manuel headlines the 2016 crop at his position, but the class as a whole has its share of lighter, more explosive rushers and bigger bodies who can also excel against the run.

The latest edition of the CFB Recruiting Future 100 series will dig deep into the 2016 class of defensive ends. 

Bleacher Report scored the defensive end class on traits such as pass-rushing ability (15 points), tackling (15 points), strength (20 points), run defense (25 points), hands (15 points) and motor (10 points). The cumulative figures from those traits resulted in our overall grade for each prospect. 

How do the nation’s top defensive ends measure up to one another?

*All analysis provided by B/R National Recruiting Analyst Sanjay Kirpalani. All rankings courtesy of 247Sports Composite Rankings. WDE denotes weak-side defensive end, SDE denotes strong-side defensive end. 

Begin Slideshow

Meet 5-Star Signee Kahlil McKenzie, the SEC's Next Bold Freshman

This is Kahlil McKenzie, Tennessee Vols commit. You've reached my voice mail. I'll try to get back with you, but if I can't, it's probably because I'm out recruiting the greatest class in Tennessee history.

The voice-mail message smacks you around a little, much more than welcomes you with the standard warm greeting normally received on an unanswered call. 

Much like McKenzie himself, it isn't passive or shy. You know who it is up front, you know what's important to him, and there's a little good-natured trash talk at the end for good measure.

It's the perfect window into the mind of McKenzie, Tennessee's 5-star defensive tackle signee saddled with massive expectations mirroring those of the team where he's headed. 

Most Vols fans already have labeled McKenzie the next big thing, a player who hearkens back to the days of John Henderson and Albert Haynesworth. In their minds, he's already a 6'3", 354-pound, quarterback-eating, bucket-hat-wearing surefire starter.

It's heavy stuff for a high school kid who still isn't on campus. But for a player who makes a hobby of trolling Big Bad Bama and destroys the nation's top offensive linemen, it's just another task to tackle.

"Sometimes, I just laugh about it," McKenzie said of already being anointed a program savior. "Sometimes, it's just crazy that we haven't even stepped foot on the field, haven't put on pads, practiced a day, worked out a day, even stepped on campus as a student, and people are saying that kind of stuff.

"But, I mean, it does make you feel a little bit like, 'OK this is real.' There's no more messing around. This isn't high school football. This isn't middle school football. It's time to go now. We all understand that, and we're all looking forward to it, and we all accept that challenge. I don't look at it as being nervous or anything like that. I look at it straight up as a challenge."

A player who exudes confidence, McKenzie backs up that swagger with a game that has made him the nation's sixth-rated player on the 247Sports composite rankings. 

"Can't-misses" don't exist, but McKenzie is about as close as they come. Last year, LSU's Leonard Fournette was the big talker who announced his arrival on scene then backed it up with his play. Now, it's McKenzie's turn.

He appears ready to lead, ready to star and ready to become the face—and the voice—of the brash new era of Vols football.

 

Not-So-Quiet Confidence

The first thing that strikes you about Kahlil McKenzie isn't his keen football acumen that comes from having grown up in a football family. His father is Reggie McKenzie, a former Vol and NFL player who is currently the Oakland Raiders general manager. 

He possesses that quality, sure. But the thing that stands out the most for a kid who likes to swat offensive linemen to the side like cornstalks and then jaw to anybody who'll listen is that his confidence is devoid of arrogance.

For all the joking around he does with peers, future teammates and rivals, it's all in good fun. You'll find it difficult to locate anybody who dislikes him.

"I think I'm sort of a fun-loving guy," McKenzie said with a chuckle. "Even guys I've gone against, I try to joke with all of them. I try not to not be friends with anybody. I don't think many people out there hate me, and if they do, I don't really care.

"Trash talking, to me, is kind of fun, especially if it's in a game… I feel like I've been recruiting guys who feel like they're the best player you're going to go against and there's no way they can be beat. I think that's the mentality everybody should have. You should think nobody's going to stop you."

Rarely, anybody stops McKenzie.

At The Opening, Nike's prestigious summer all-star showcase, he dominated future Alabama signee Richie Petitbon more than once. He also made a "signature play" bull-rushing Ohio State signee Matthew Burrell and putting him on his back.

He and Burrell still became fast friends despite the competition.

It's that kind of swagger without stepping over the lines of respect that make people want to follow McKenzie. 

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones recalled a story about McKenzie's trip to Knoxville that bodes well for a team losing vocal leader Curt Maggitt after this season. It seems the big newcomer is already ready to fill that role.

"I joke about it: When he came in on his official visit, even the older kids were following him," Jones said. "He just has that unique personality, a confidence about him but also a humbleness about him as well. I love everything about him.

"I think Kahlil is a byproduct of his upbringing. He has tremendous passion for the game, his attitude, his enthusiasm is infectious and it's contagious, and he took ownership of this recruiting class and basically did everything on his own. The other thing about it is he had respect of his peers across the country. So whenever Kahlil spoke, people listened."

The perfect illustration of McKenzie's efforts to talk trash without being trashy came the weekend before national signing day.

After a whirlwind recruitment, UT had star in-state offensive lineman Drew Richmond on campus. McKenzie had recruited Richmond heavily, and as news began to leak over social media that Richmond was enjoying himself on the trip, McKenzie admittedly let the emotions get to him.

He let an errant tweet fly in the direction of Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze.

Some five hours later, with what he dubbed a "disrespectful" tweet still on his mind, McKenzie offered an apology. The Vols wound up flipping Richmond, and McKenzie showed what kind of person he is by swallowing his pride.

"After I sent that, I thought, 'Man, this wasn't right,'" he said. "I felt like it was disrespectful. Nobody needed to tell me that. Nobody really did. I took it upon myself to get rid of that tweet and apologize to Coach and that kind of stuff. That's what I did, and I just left it at that.

"I really couldn't sleep without apologizing, so I made sure I did that."

 

A Program Ripe for His Arrival

From a nasty-natured Derek Barnett pushing around quarterbacks to Maggitt saluting after big plays to anthem "Third Down For What" blaring over the Neyland Stadium loudspeakers, UT's defense got its groove back last year.

Enter McKenzie, the ultimate alpha dog, into a powder keg of pent-up frustration from years of losing that permeates the Tennessee football program. For him, that budding mentality and total program makeover was just another huge reason why he signed with Tennessee.

"I feel like that's been Coach Jones' main focus, which is why I really appreciated him as a coach," McKenzie said. "He was getting guys who really cared about the university, who really wanted to see Tennessee be a great football team.

"You have some coaches out there who want you on the team, but Coach Jones wants guys who really love the university and want to be a part of bringing Tennessee football back. It was really cool to see a coach who cared about the team and the university like that."

When Jones took over, UT had a loser mentality. The Vols had struggled to win for so long, the belief was gone.

That culture had to change, and it has. That first step was a big one, and it was completed with a TaxSlayer Bowl victory over Iowa that gave them their first winning record since 2009. The next step is getting guys like McKenzie to buy in.

From the time Jones got to Knoxville until now, the difference in the aura of confidence surrounding the program is immense.

"Monumental change," Jones said. "But that's a byproduct of the culture that's in place, but it's not fake. That's a direct byproduct of everyone's hard work and efforts, and it starts with our players first and foremost.

"I'm proud of our players…they've started to understand now the magnitude, the relevance of Tennessee football, what they represent, who they represent on a day-to-day basis, not just on the field but off the field, in the community and in the classroom."

McKenzie embodies all of that. 

Not only has he been ingrained with a love for the Vols that stems from having a father who played for UT alongside McKenzie's uncle Raleigh, he also is a football gym rat and a student of the game.

He's a kid who's grown up around football at its highest level, spending the first 16 years of his life in Green Bay as his father worked for the Packers and the past three in California with Reggie making all the key personnel decisions for the Raiders.

McKenzie witnessed firsthand what it takes to play at the highest level.

When it came to discussing the recruiting process, he talked with family friend Alonzo Highsmith, a Miami Hurricanes great and former NFL running back, as well as Raiders defensive end Justin Tuck.

Other brilliant football minds from which he's sought advice, he said, are family friends Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider, Kansas City Chiefs general manager John Dorsey, NFL Hall of Famer Howie Long, former Vol and current Oakland Director of Player Personnel Joey Clinkscales and several others. 

That's not to even mention his dad.

It's a reservoir of knowledge few players are fortunate to drink from, and McKenzie knows it. Perhaps having those resources and taking advantage of them help fuel his desire to be great.

"It's something that I definitely look at as a blessing," McKenzie said. "Being around football my whole life, I know what to expect in certain situations; I've talked to countless guys who've been through every single stage of the game: being a high school player, being a top-rated guy, being a non-rated guy, being just in the middle, what it takes to get to college and the NFL and that stuff.

"I've listened to all them and learned what it really takes to get to the NFL and what it takes to be great. So, it's a blessing. That's the only way I can really think about it."

 

Homecoming to a 'Second Home'

McKenzie will lean on that advice when he travels across the country to his new home. While Knoxville will be a new place for him to lay his head, it's certainly not unfamiliar territory.

His paternal grandfather still lives there, and he has other family in Knoxville and nearby Chattanooga.

Tennessee became a home away from home to him. When asked what he remembers most, McKenzie beamed about time spent with people he loves.

"Just being there with my family; just being able to hang with them in Knoxville," he said. "Really, once I started getting recruited is like the first time I really went to Tennessee as a college. But Knoxville is really like a second home to me, because I've been there so many times with family and stuff."

Though he said he only went to one UT game growing up because of other football obligations, his life was filled with influences from Tennessee and UCLA, his parents' alma maters.

Once he visited UT and got to know the players and coaches, he felt he had another family in Knoxville. Maybe it wasn't biological, but the bond was still deep. It just verified his ultimate decision made to attend UT, which he announced at The Opening last July.

The months following his commitment to Tennessee were rife with trials. 

His transfer to Clayton Valley Charter High School led to the North Coast Section ruling him ineligible for his senior season, a decision met with disappointment from his family, according to an official statement relayed by the San Jose Mercury-News' Stephanie Hammon

Like any family, we have always made decisions based on what's in the best interest of our children, according to our Christian values. The fact that a system would deny any child of his or her senior year, in any activity for which that student has a God-given passion, is highly disheartening.

McKenzie also tore a meniscus in his left knee, forcing him to rehab the injury.

Even so, the time away from football, he said, taught him valuable lessons as he learned to lead in other ways besides dominating on the field. 

"I started to look at all the blessings I was getting, and at the end of the season, I really learned what the true meaning of being a teammate was," he said. "Being on the sideline every single game, being at practice and knowing you can't go out there and help your team win football games really lets you know what it's like to be a true teammate, to be there for your team, encourage your team and do everything you can to help the team.

"But knowing that you aren't going to play, it makes you look at how blessed you are and it humbles you like you have no idea. Especially with an injury, too, on top of that, you go from, 'I couldn't play this one game,' to you could get injured and not play ever again. It's something like that that really opens your eyes, and you see what it really means to be part of a team and the sacrifices you have to make."

Despite not playing in a game for 13 months, he was invited to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl as one of the best players in the country. He consistently starred, leading 247Sports director of scouting Barton Simmons to tell GoVols247's Ryan Callahan that McKenzie was "dominant all week long."

Now, McKenzie is wrapping up the last few months of school, continuing to get back to full strength, and before long, he'll be heading to Knoxville to compete for a spot in the middle of UT's defense.

That side of the ball played with a chip on its shoulder for UT in 2014, but it still needed run-stuffing forces up front. 

McKenzie said he's ready to get in there and work to be that guy, and with the confidence pushing a young man that big and powerful who shouldn't be able to move that quickly, the sky is the limit to what he can do.

He hears the massive expectations being placed on his broad shoulders. While he can't control them, he can control what he does about them.

"You feel that pressure, yeah, but you just kind of learn to embrace it," McKenzie said. "You sort of accept it for what it is and know that you're just you and all that other stuff doesn't really matter. It's about what you do, it's about what you show, how you perform and how you work. That's how I look at it.

"I think Tennessee swagger is coming back. The guys who are there now, the work they are putting in, the will to win. It's no longer the Tennessee attitude 'If we win.' Now it's like, 'We're going to win.' That's how the guys there are working and that's how their mindset is. I can't wait to be a part of it honestly."

 

All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports composite rankings unless otherwise noted. All quotes obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Spring Practices 2015: Full Schedule and Dates for Top 25 Teams

It's been slightly more than one month since Urban Meyer lifted up the national championship trophy after his Ohio State Buckeyes won the title and put an end to college football until the fall.

That is one month too long.

In a country that is starving for anything football related—how else could you explain the fascination and televised broadcast of something like the NFL combine—spring football is not that far away. That is music to the ears of fans across the country.

While spring practice and games can never match the allure of a fall Saturday that is dominated by tailgating and the sounds of fight songs carrying through the crisp air, at least it's football. With that in mind, here is a look at the spring game dates for the top 25 heading into the 2015 campaign and some key storylines to watch during practices.

The top 25 consists of my own personal rankings, and the spring game schedules can be found here, courtesy of FBSchedules.com.

 

Key Storylines

Cardale Jones Show Continues

There is one storyline that is going to dominate all of college football during spring practice and the entire lead-up to the season—the race to become Ohio State's starting quarterback. 

It really is an incredibly unique situation. Braxton Miller was a Heisman Trophy candidate throughout the 2013 season and was the assumed starter for 2014 before he got hurt in fall camp. J.T. Barrett took over and played his way into Heisman consideration before getting hurt himself in the Michigan game.

Then third-stringer Cardale Jones not only stepped into the open spot, he won the Big Ten and national championships by beating Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon.

With all three returning to Columbus, the question naturally becomes who will start in 2015? Kevin McGuire of College Football Talk pointed out just how ridiculous the whole situation truly is:

Jones will have a substantial advantage over the other two in spring practice because Miller and Barrett are still recovering from their injuries and won't be nearly 100 percent in April. Throw in the momentum on his side from the national title run (remember, he made mincemeat of the vaunted Alabama defense in the Sugar Bowl), and it is hard to make a case against Jones. 

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports and Dave Briggs of The Toledo Blade noted that some former Buckeyes think Jones will win the job:

If Jones comes out in spring practice and the spring game (in front of what could be a crowd of almost 100,000 in "The Horseshoe" given the national championship) and dominates, he will have a substantial lead in this high-profile race. He has certainly come through under pressure before, so this will be an interesting storyline to follow.

 

SEC West Healing Begins

The SEC has been the king of college football for nearly a decade, but it took some lumps during bowl season.

Alabama lost to Ohio State in the College Football Playoff, Auburn lost to Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl, LSU lost to Notre Dame in the Music City Bowl, Ole Miss lost to TCU in the Peach Bowl (by 39 points), and Mississippi State lost to Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl.

That’s right, the big, bad SEC West went 2-5 in bowl season, and the only wins were low-profile victories by Arkansas and Texas A&M over Texas and West Virginia, respectively. So much for the untouchable division in the best conference (to the SEC East's credit, it played very well in bowl season and redeemed itself for what was perceived to be a down year).

If the SEC West is going to reclaim its throne in the 2015 season, it begins with spring practice.

Alabama will have to find a way to replace superstar wide receiver Amari Cooper, impact safety Landon Collins and quarterback Blake Sims, among others. Auburn needs to find the quarterback of the future after the departure of Nick Marshall. LSU has to find a way to score points this year, and Ole Miss needs to simply put the Peach Bowl behind it. 

Throw in Arkansas' quest to prove that its late-season momentum was not a fluke, and there are plenty of intriguing storylines to watch in the SEC West during spring practice. You can bet college football fans across the nation will be watching.

 

Marcus Mariota's Replacement

The last time we saw Oregon, the Ducks were walking off the field after a national championship loss. The future was unclear, especially since Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota was expected to leave for the NFL draft, which he eventually did.

It was only natural to wonder who was going to play quarterback in 2015. After all, Oregon has developed into an elite program, but it needs a dual-threat signal-caller running the no-huddle offense who can make plays with his legs and arm.

Enter Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams.

All Adams did in three seasons at Eastern Washington was rack up 110 passing touchdowns, 10,348 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns. He is the exact type of quarterback who can step in right away in Oregon's system and make those winning plays with his running and passing abilities, and he already beat the Ducks' archrival, Oregon State, once when he was at Eastern Washington.

Adams may have finished in second place in the race for the Walter Payton Award (the FCS' equivalent to the Heisman), but playing at Oregon with national title aspirations is a new set of pressure. How he handles it will go a long way toward determining how the season unfolds.

Sam Houston State coach K.C. Keeler discussed Adams’ ability, via Andrew Grief of The Oregonian:

Is he Marcus Mariota? There is only one of those who is pretty special. But he's a really talented kid who when you put a special group of athletes around him.

When he goes to the practice field, they're not going to say he's a guy who moved up from FCS. He'll be every bit as talented as the guys in the locker room he's with.

Given the talent and the fit in the system, it makes sense that Adams would be the favorite to land the job. The problem is, he cannot officially join the program until summer, which leaves the door open for the likes of Jeff Lockie, Ty Griffin, Taylor Alie and even Morgan Mahalak and Travis Waller to make some early strides.

Much like Miller and Barrett will be forced to watch spring practice while Jones takes control of the Ohio State job, Adams will be digging out from a hole once fall camp gets under way in Eugene. How big of a hole that is depends on the other quarterback performances in spring practice, which is what makes this storyline so intriguing. 

Fortunately for Ducks fans, Adams may just have the talent to overcome that deficit come fall.

 

Follow me on Twitter:

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

LSU Football: 4 Players with the Most to Gain in Spring Practices

LSU head coach Les Miles cannot wait until March 7. The date marks the first day of spring practice, which will allow Miles to evaluate his 2015 Tigers for the first time.

To the excitement of Miles, he will not have to deal with as much roster turnover as in years past. LSU only had three early entries into the NFL draft. The Tigers did also lose some major senior contributors, but they are well-equipped to fill the holes.

Spring practice will be a crucial time for players who were backups last season. They can show why they deserve to be starters or rotation players next season.

The competition will be intense on both sides of the ball as Miles and his staff will search for players they can trust.

The pressure on Miles to improve on LSU's mediocre 8-5 record is immense. Last season was the first since 2009 when the Tigers failed to win at least 10 games.

Here are four players who can help get LSU back to 10-plus wins next season. But first, they must take a major leap forward this spring.

Begin Slideshow

Miami Football: 5 Players with the Most to Gain in Spring Practices

The Miami Hurricanes must replace half of their starters from the 2014 season, and spring practice is a perfect opportunity for returning players to stake a claim at the vacated positions.

Al Golden's crew is entering its second week of spring practice, and top performers will slowly—and consistently—begin to separate themselves. The following players have some of the most favorable outlooks on the roster, but they must take advantage of their chances this spring.

One athlete listed transferred to "The U" during the offseason, while a pair of 'Canes were sidelined last year, and two more logged little meaningful action.

The expected depth chart and current injuries were the predominant factors in compiling the list.

Begin Slideshow

Michigan Football: 5 Players with the Most to Gain in Spring Practices

Spring practice starts this week for Michigan football, and head coach Jim Harbaugh will finally get to see his new team take the field. Harbaugh spent the week before practice tutoring NFL quarterback prospects and making appearances at Michigan basketball and hockey games versus archrival Ohio State.

Harbaugh continues to be a crowd favorite wherever he appears, but that popularity will wane quickly if he can't find success next season.

Michigan fans are hungry for victories—it’s been a decade since the team won or shared the Big Ten title, and with rivals Michigan State and Ohio State basking in national acclaim, patience is scarce in Ann Arbor.

These players have the most to gain as Harbaugh begins to evaluate talent for next season.

Begin Slideshow

Pages