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The 8th-Grader Taking the Football Recruiting World by Storm

Today, Jesus Machado Sr. hopes, is the day everything will change. Today is the day he will finally beat his son in Madden.

Jesus Machado Jr. and his father are tucked away in their Miami Gardens home. It is a Saturday afternoon in early June, and the madness has temporarily subsided. 

"Little Zeus," as he's known around Miami, picks the Seattle Seahawks. His father, "Big Zeus," selects the Miami Dolphins, hoping that local allegiance will lead to a breakthrough.

The outcome of the game is decided before Little Zeus turns to his trademark hurry-up offense. His father has no answer for quarterback Russell Wilson. The upset will have to come another day.

Like most 15-year-olds, Machado plays video games. He loves fishing with his father and playing basketball with friends. His favorite subject in school is math. Machado, the oldest of four, loves being a big brother to his two sisters and infant brother, "Baby Zeus."

On June 10, Machado will take his final class in the eighth grade. He will acquire the freshman label at Champagnat Catholic School in Hialeah, Florida.

Machado lives the life of a young man seesawing between childhood and adulthood. He has the suggestion of a baby face. His voice is still reluctant, inquisitive and polite.

It is here, however, that normalcy fades quickly. This is the part where it gets uncomfortable for some.

Even though Machado has yet to step foot into his first freshman class, he is already being courted by Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban. In fact, Machado owns a verbal scholarship offer from Alabama to go along with offers from North Carolina State, Iowa State, West Virginia and Michigan State.

The linebacker from the class of 2020—a classification fitting of a sci-fi movie or a time machine—has become one of the sport's most discussed young players.

"He's a big kid obviously for his age, and he is more advanced when it comes to ball recognition, not just relying totally on his athleticism," Mike Farrell, national recruiting director for Rivals.com, told Bleacher Report. "What I am seeing is football instincts, football technique and actual football IQ rather than a kid who is just bigger and stronger than anybody else. It doesn't surprise me that he's getting offers."

At 6'1" and 195 pounds, his body is closer to that of an NFL safety than a classmate. He's not quite as tall as his father, who stands at 6'6" and played football and basketball growing up. But the gap is closing rapidly.

Locally, Machado has become a celebrity of sorts. Playing in a youth football hotbed—a place that has seen eighth- and ninth-graders offered before—Machado has emerged as a star.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't shocked by the Alabama offer," Machado's former coach, Travis Thomas, said. "But I just knew that he was going to be one of the top players of this class. Just being around youth football, you know when a guy like this is special. I expected offers to come in after this year."

Thomas watched Machado finish a game with nearly 20 tackles as a 13-year-old. The next year, Thomas coached Machado on the Miami Gardens Ravens and played him at defensive tackle.

Although teams would run away from Machado at all costs—and double- and triple-team when they didn't—he still dominated the league. So much so that at the end of the year, Thomas sat down with Machado, his father and Dennis Marroquin, the head coach at Champagnat Catholic School.

"He could have played 14 and under," Thomas said. "But he was dominant. The only thing left for him to do was risk a freak injury. No one was equipped to deal with him. He was on a different level physically."

Because Champagnat Catholic, a small private school, offered classes for grades six through 12, Machado could complete his eighth-grade year and still play for the high school team.

"I knew he was ready," Machado Sr. said when asked about the decision.

There was comfort and trust from all parties, especially Machado, in the decision.

While rare, this kind of leap is not unheard of. Georgia running back Sony Michel and former Florida running back Kelvin Taylor were both prep stars in the state of Florida, and both played with their varsity teams as eighth-graders before excelling at the high school level.

So at the age of 14, Machado joined a roster that was limited in overall numbers. Instead of having him sit and learn, Marroquin plugged his new player in as the team's starting linebacker. He also played him at defensive end.

"I've been around a lot of players, been around a lot of kids," Marroquin said, who also coached current Alabama wideout Calvin Ridley among other local standouts. "Sony Michel is about the only one that comes to mind when talking about how advanced he was physically."

In 10 games last season, Machado finished with 97 tackles and 12 sacks. He missed one game with food poisoning. Otherwise he would have finished the year with more than 100 tackles.

While Champagnat Catholic School is 2A with fewer than 300 kids enrolled, it does not shy away from bigger schools and quality opponents. Entering his third year, Marroquin has made a point of moving up in class against. The team's 3-7 record in 2015 is not an indictment of its talent but rather a product of scheduling and numbers.

This spring, coaches have flocked to Champagnat to see the team and players in action. In some cases, they did not come to see Machado.

They came to see 3-star linebacker Donovan Georges, one of the better Florida linebackers in the class of 2018, who holds more than 10 offers. They came to see wideout Brieon Fuller, who is already one of the hottest names in the class of 2019.

But each time Marroquin has thrown on the tape for coaches, Machado jumped off the screen. "I think his Hudl highlights promoted some of the interest," Machado Sr. added.

In less than a month, Machado picked up five offers. The first came from NC State; the most recent, and most notable, came from Alabama.

Mario Cristobal, one of Saban's most recognized recruiters, will serve as the primary contact once that time comes. With strong ties in the area, this is right up Cristobal's alley.

Whether he's still recruiting the state of Florida for Saban or Alabama four years from now is another discussion entirely. It also outlines the uniqueness, absurdity and delicacy of the situation in present time.

NCAA rules limit the contact coaches can have with Machado outside of camps. For now, Marroquin is funneling all interest and offers to the family as they arrive.

When Alabama first offered, Machado hoped to keep it concealed for as long as possible. He was flattered and thrilled but in no rush to become national news. The industry, which is now covered more closely than it has ever been, had other ideas.

"Alabama has offered ninth-graders in Miami in the past, so we didn't think it was a big deal, to be honest," Marroquin said. "Next thing you know, his name is ringing on ESPN."

Dylan Moses, 247Sports' No. 2-rated composite player in the class of 2017, can relate. As an eighth-grader, the Louisiana native picked up offers from LSU and Alabama. His recruitment quickly became a public discussion.

Since reaching the celebrity threshold, Moses has changed positions. He's now a linebacker after starring at running back. He's added weight to an already-ridiculous frame. He's become more polished as a player and done little to cool the enthusiasm when it comes to his possibility at the next level.

He's also committed to and decommitted from LSU in this time—a reminder of how little significance any pledge or offer carries.

"Until you sign on signing day, these really don't count," Marroquin said. "You still need great academics all four years of high school. You have to pass your tests. There's so much more to it. You don't just get some verbals and all of the sudden you made it. It's a process."

More specifically, it's part of the game. Machado is undoubtedly worthy of a scholarship offer—a verbal investment—even at this age. That's because this investment is more of a marketing ploy and early loyalty push than anything else. It's a way to establish a connection early on, and it comes with little risk on either side.

Still, the idea that an eighth-grader could hold multiple scholarship offers has always received mixed reviews. Recruiting at its core is peculiar and invasive; when it toes the line of established norms, it doesn't always receive rousing applause.

This is something Machado, his father and his coaches are deeply aware of. They understand the negative stigmas attached and the perception that this could ultimately serve as a negative for the player. Thus far, they have little reason to be concerned with the attention.

"He's the most humble kid you'll meet. It hasn't gotten to his head at all," Marroquin said. "He's just playing football and having fun right now."

As part of the attention influx, Marroquin has politely denied all media requests to speak with Machado. Currently, they are working on ways to deal with the media, how to handle questions and the appropriate mindset to combat such incredible expectations at such a young age.

There is little doubt Machado will continue to flourish on the football field. He will add weight to his frame, shed the baby face and perhaps see eye to eye with his father by the time national signing day in 2020 rolls around—if such an event even exists by then.

"I never thought it would get this big this fast," Machado Sr. said. "But there is still so much work to do. There are four more years left."

By then, he might not be a linebacker. He might be a 240-pound defensive end, with his body fully developed, terrifying quarterbacks around the edge.

Alabama, knowing how much can and will change in this time, has decided to invest in the young man at the ground floor. This is by no means a guarantee, but it is revealing. As are the other offers that have come and the many more that will follow.

Nothing will be the same from here on out. And yet, on this unassuming Saturday in June, less than two weeks before Machado will graduate from the eighth grade, one wouldn't know it.

There are far more pressing matters to be concerned with, starting with this lopsided game of Madden.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Jim Harbaugh Responds to Rutgers Secret Society's Message About Satelite Camp

Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh has long been an advocate of satellite camps, but members of a Rutgers University secret society evidently don't want the Maize and Blue boss encroaching on their territory. 

According to NJ Advance Media's Keith Sargeant, the Order of Bulls Blood vandalized the football field at Paramus Catholic High School in New Jersey—the site of Michigan's satellite camp—with Scarlet Knights magnets and a teddy bear as a sort of protest against Harbaugh's arrival. 

The secret society also sent out a warning to Harbaugh and the Wolverines, as captured by Eleven Warriors on Twitter: 

In typical Harbaugh fashion, the Michigan coach responded with a message of his own—although it is a bit cryptic: 

"While some may perceive this as a silly prank, in today's world it is inadvisable for people to trespass on a school campus for any reason,'' Paramus Catholic president James Vail said of the incident, per Sargeant. "So the police are looking into it, and it's considered an active investigation."

From a rivalry perspective, the Order of Bulls Blood's actions likely won't stir up more bad blood between the Scarlet Knights and the Wolverines on the gridiron.

According to Sports-Reference.com, Michigan and Rutgers have clashed a grand total of two times—both of which have come since the New Jersey school joined the Big Ten in 2014. The Scarlet Knights won the first meeting, 26-24, but the Wolverines bounced back with an emphatic 49-16 triumph last season during Harbaugh's first year as head coach.

Although both programs will be afforded more opportunities to impose their respective wills on the field and establish more hatred, Michigan has more entrenched foes, such as Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State and Iowa, to fret about for the time being. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tren'Davian Dickson Requests Transfer from Baylor: Latest Details and Reaction

Baylor freshman wide receiver Tren'Davian Dickson met with the Bears coaching staff last week to request his release from the program with the intent to transfer.  

ESPN.com's Max Olson reported the news Wednesday, indicating Baylor gave Dickson permission to seek out any school to move to except for its Big 12 rivals. Because of the fact that Dickson participated in spring practice at Baylor, he will be ineligible for the 2016 season.

Dickson was a 4-star recruit in the class of 2016 from Navasota High School in Navasota, Texas, which is where he returned to upon his departure from Waco, according to Olson.

According to 247Sports' composite rankings, the 18-year-old was the 14th-best receiver, the No. 16 player out of Texas and 104th overall prospect in the nation. 247Sports lists him at 5'11" and 165 pounds.

Bleacher Report's Tyler Donahue highlighted why Dickson was so highly touted coming out of the Lone Star State:

The Bears program has been under scrutiny of late in the aftermath of a sexual assault scandal, which led to the dismissal of head coach Art Briles.

Per Olson, six prospective Baylor players have requested a release from their signed national letters of intent. Olson also indicated defensive lineman Jeremy Faulk and offensive lineman B.J. Autry left the team Tuesday.

Likely to be an effective slot receiver at the NCAA level, Dickson should have eager suitors as he seeks to begin the next chapter of his career. Although he won't be able to make an immediate impact amid a de facto redshirt year, Dickson's absence from the gridiron in 2016 may be best for his long-term development.

With the need to pack on weight and become a more refined route-runner, Dickson could well benefit from primarily focusing on gaining strength and working on his craft.

 

Star rating courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Announces Stadium-Wide Beer Sales for 2016 Football Season

Ohio State announced Wednesday its plan to implement stadium-wide beer sales during the 2016 season after allowing the sale of alcohol in select areas of Ohio Stadium last year.

A release posted on the Buckeyes' official athletics site noted the additional revenue will be directly used to create two new full-time positions within the Ohio State Police Department, which come with a price tag of roughly $300,000.

"The safety of our campus community, including fans and visitors, is our No. 1 priority," said Craig Stone, chief of the Ohio State University Police Division, in the release. "Thanks to this partnership with the department of athletics, two new, full-time officers will bolster our security presence and enhance campus safety year-round."

Additional revenue—$50,000 over the next two years—will be used to fund research in the school's Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Drug Misuse Prevention and Recovery. Any remaining money will go into the general athletics department budget, according to the announcement.

Selling beer during college football games has become a growing trend in recent years. Christian Malone of Saturday Down South cited VinePair statistics last fall that showed 34 stadiums across the country served beer during college games.

The biggest concern is the distribution of alcohol at a sporting event where a sizable portion of the crowd is underage. Although beer still can't be sold to anyone under 21, West Virginia University president E. Gordon Gee told Marc Tracy of the New York Times last October that he's had an internal debate about the issue since the school started allowing beer sales.

"I'm sometimes conflicted about it," he said, "because I do believe one of the main issues confronting universities is alcohol abuse—binge drinking."

It's hard to pass up the additional cash flow, though. West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons explained to the New York Times that the beer sales led to "approximately $500,000 a year" in revenue.

Ohio State, which also introduced a new bag policy as part of the new stadium guidelines, said the extra money going to the general athletics department budget will help fund study abroad and community service programs as well as cost of attendance, supplemental nutrition and other needs.

The Buckeyes are scheduled to play their first home game of the 2016 season on Saturday, Sept. 3, against MAC opponent Bowling Green.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

How SEC Football Should Reorganize Its Divisions

When it comes to realignment, it’s time for the Southeastern Conference to bow to fate.

The league has been geographically out of whack for a while, having grown and expanded over the years and even added a television headquarters located in a state that doesn’t include any of its participants.

A simple glance at a map reflects the issue, with Missouri playing in the SEC East against schools that are a short drive away from the Atlantic Ocean. The farthest, Florida, is over 1,000 miles away, a 15-plus-hour drive should anyone want to take in a game.

Granted, long trips are now pretty much par for the course in the conference, especially for Texas A&M fans. But, in general, they should be minimized as much as possible.  

Actually, the division problem extends far beyond the latest round of expansion in 2011.

For example, Alabama, now probably the SEC’s most centrally located school, has both Arkansas and Texas A&M in its division, which are both a 10-plus-hour drive from Tuscaloosa, while Georgia and Vanderbilt are both roughly four hours away, depending on traffic.

“I don’t know,” Commissioner Greg Sankey said when asked when the next realignment shift could occur while visiting with reporters during April's Associated Press Sports Editors southeastern regional meeting in Birmingham.

“We’re doing well as the Southeastern Conference with 14 members and the SEC Network, and we’ll look at maximizing our strength each and every day.”

Consequently, the subject wasn’t discussed during the recent spring meetings in Destin, Florida, and it probably won’t be at length until the league's hand is forced.

After all, it took this league three years to figure out a schedule rotation that everyone could agree on, which will last through the 2025 season—the controversial 6-1-1 format (each team plays every division opponent, one permanent opponent from the other division and a crossover game).

Yet sooner or later, there will be a correction, and assuming further expansion (the possibility of which appears to be as unpredictable as a Steve Spurrier press conference) isn’t on the doorstep, there’s really no reason it shouldn’t be sooner.

It’s certainly something the coaches are considering. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn recently told ESPN.com’s Chris Low he'd be OK with Auburn moving to the SEC East:

Meanwhile, Tennessee coach Butch Jones made it clear in Destin that he’s against realignment even though an SEC West representative has won the last seven conference championships and 11 of the past 15.

With opinions all over the place, coming to a consensus on the issue won’t be easy. Concessions in other areas will probably have to be negotiated.

Some have suggested completely doing away with the divisions, which would make scheduling extremely controversial every year. Others suggest a quick fix by swapping Missouri with a team in the SEC West, or even Missouri and Vanderbilt for Alabama and Auburn, even though it would separate two in-state rivals.

An even more radical approach would be to throw out travel concerns and put the strongest rivals in different divisions, making them the permanent crossover games. It would look something like this:

  • Division 1: Alabama, Mississippi State, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, LSU
  • Division 2: Auburn, Ole Miss, Georgia, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Missouri, Texas A&M

Except for the rivalries, there’s barely any rhyme or reason to it, since teams from the same geographic region would hardly play. So that, too, is unappealing.

Region, though, is the key word. It's one the NCAA has embraced—especially with the way it makes postseason pairings—and the National Football League discovered when it went to four-team divisions.

The SEC ought to think of the conference as having four regions and use that as the basis for determining the divisions both now and if it eventually expands again.

The breakdown would be as such: 

  • Eastern: Florida, Georgia, South Carolina
  • Southern: Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss, Mississippi State
  • Northern: Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
  • Western: Arkansas, LSU, Missouri, Texas A&M

From there, combining the four- and three-team regions into two divisions is pretty easy, particularly since the Eastern and Western regions shouldn’t be paired for obvious reasons. So the Eastern and Southern schools would go together along with the Northern and Western.

We’ll call them the Northwest and Southeast Divisions.

  • Northwest: Arkansas, Kentucky, LSU, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt
  • Southeast: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, South Carolina

Is it perfect? No.

Separating LSU from the Mississippi schools isn’t ideal, but you have to draw the line somewhere and it’s better than splitting two in-state schools. Alabama and LSU also wouldn’t play annually, but the possibility of them meeting in the championship game would arise.

With this plan, there would still be some long road trips, but not as many. And with division games like Auburn-Georgia, there would be less of a need for the permanent crossover game. Alabama-Tennessee would be a sticking point, but that—along with playing a nine-game conference schedule—is a subject for another day.

Moreover, most of the conference’s greatest rivalries would be preserved. Even though Tennessee-Vanderbilt may not be the league's most competitive rivalry, it doesn't mean they shouldn't play every season. Outside of Alabama, Auburn's biggest rivals all lie to the east. Crimson Tide fans would certainly rather travel to Florida, a state that it borders, than Arkansas.

The Iron Bowl and Egg Bowl would go on like usual, as would neutral-site games like Florida-Georgia and Arkansas-Texas A&M. The two schools closest together, Alabama and Mississippi State, would still play annually.

Some rivalries would also be renewed, while others would be magnified. Arkansas-Missouri would only intensify if they were in the same division. South Carolina fans went crazy when the Gamecocks knocked off Alabama in 2010; how about making that a regular game? Ole Miss has actually played Georgia more times in its history than it's played Auburn.

Just think, Nick Saban could potentially be in the same division as three of his former assistant coaches, and Alabama and Georgia would be especially huge rivals again.

After all, the fight song “Yea Alabama!” has a Georgia reference in 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

Brett Neilon to USC: Trojans Land 4-Star Center Prospect

USC secured the commitment of one of the best interior offensive linemen in the country on Wednesday after Brett Neilon announced that he's heading to Los Angeles.

Neilon announced his decision on Twitter:

According to 247Sports' composite rankings, Neilon is the No. 2 center in the 2017 recruiting class. The 4-star recruit is also the 196th-best player overall and 21st in the state of California.

Interest in Neilon was particularly fevered on the western half of the country, with nine of the 12 Pac-12 schools offering him a scholarship, per 247Sports.

In an interview with Scout.com's Greg Biggins last September, the Rancho Santa Margarita, California, native discussed how he was going to be patient regarding his commitment.

"I'll commit when I'm ready, hopefully before my senior season," he said. "Right now, I don't have any leaders or favorites. I'm in no rush, and every school that I'm looking at stands out the same for me. I'll take some of these visits, and that should help me figure out where the best place for me is."

Although Neilon has played left tackle for Santa Margarita Catholic High School, there's little chance he lines up there at the next level.

At 6'2" and 280 pounds, he lacks the size for the position, with his height being a significant roadblock. In an interview with Bleacher Report's Tyler Donohue in March, Neilon said he is hoping to move to center, which would benefit him in the long run.

His time at tackle will be beneficial, though, since he showed off his lateral agility and ability to get to the second level. Matt Moreno of GOAZCATS.com highlighted the former with the Vine below:

The Rivals Camp Series also showed how Neilon can stick tightly to his man:

There won't be any doubt either as to whether he has the strength to handle defensive tackles in the FBS. His high school coach, Rich Fisher, showed him flexing in the weight room:

Especially if center becomes his full-time position, Neilon will inevitably need an adjustment period once he hits college.

For one, building a strong relationship with his quarterback will be important. He'll also need to have a better understanding of how to read opposing defenses. Fast-tracking those traits isn't easy, so USC would be smart to let him spend his first season on campus in a more peripheral role.

Once he finds a nice comfort zone on the line and on the team as a whole, Neilon has the potential to be among the best interior linemen in the country.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Power 5 Schools with Biggest Gains and Losses in 2015 CFB Stadium Attendance

Average attendance at college football games slipped yet again in the 2015 season, but another yearly downturn didn't affect every team across the country.

While other schools' crowds suffered from bad on-field performances or lackluster home schedules, a few teams made sizable gains in their gate numbers. New head coaches reenergized fan bases, including the one that packs the second-largest sports stadium on the entire planet.

Let's take a look at the 10 Power Five schools that had the biggest gains in average attendance from 2014 to 2015 and the 10 that had the biggest moves in the other direction. (Here are last year's 10 biggest gains and 10 biggest losses.)

The average attendance numbers have been taken directly from the NCAA, and it's worth noting that these numbers are based on reported attendance—not necessarily the exact number of seats that were filled on Saturdays.

 

Biggest Gains

1. Pittsburgh (+6,835): Pittsburgh had the second-biggest drop in average attendance from 2013 to 2014, but Panthers fans rebounded in a strong way last season. According to Sam Werner of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, average attendance at Heinz Field was boosted by the excitement surrounding Pat Narduzzi's first season as Pitt's head coach and a strong home schedule led by a 68,400-seat sellout game against Notre Dame. 

2. Michigan (+5,259): "Harbaugh Mania" brought bigger crowds back to college football's largest stadium as the Wolverines led the nation in attendance with an average of 110,168 per game, passing Ohio State and Texas A&M from 2014's numbers. Jim Harbaugh's arrival and 10-win turnaround season coincided perfectly with a strong home schedule for Michigan, which hosted Northwestern, Michigan State and Ohio State inside the Big House.

3. Minnesota (+4,490): Minnesota received a good-sized bump in attendance at TCF Bank Stadium last fall thanks to some blockbuster home games against teams with strong fan bases. The Golden Gophers opened the season with a Thursday night game against TCU and also hosted Nebraska, Michigan and Wisconsin in Big Ten play. Will the Gophers be able to keep up that momentum under Tracy Claeys?

4. Iowa State (+4,322): While the 2015 season wasn't a good one for Iowa State, Cyclone fans still came to the newly expanded Jack Trice Stadium in record numbers. The Cyclones started the season with a one-two sellout punch against in-state foes Northern Iowa and Iowa, which had 61,500 fans in attendance—an increase of 6,700 from its previous capacity. ISU will be a good candidate to be on this list again next year with the excitement generated from new head coach Matt Campbell.

5. Florida (+4,232): Jim McElwain helped bring some more buzz back to the Swamp last fall as the Gators made their surprising run to an SEC East division title. This 10-win Florida team took full advantage of a strong home schedule, too, as Tennessee, Ole Miss and Florida State all made the trip to Gainesville in 2015. The rivalry game against FSU set a new Ben Hill Griffin Stadium record with 90,916 in attendance.

6. Virginia (+3,964): After dropping to its lowest attendance average in 21 years last season, Virginia got some of those numbers back in 2015 despite a rough 4-8 record. The Cavaliers were helped out by a home game against powerhouse Notre Dame and a season finale against Virginia Tech that was Hokie head coach Frank Beamer's final regular-season game. The numbers could continue to rise in 2016 under new head coach Bronco Mendenhall.

7. Kentucky (+3,723): No one in the SEC—which set an all-time record for largest season attendance for a conference—had a bigger percentage increase than Kentucky. After only having two home games in 2014 with 60,000-plus fans in attendance, the Wildcats had six of those at Commonwealth Stadium in 2015. Although UK didn't reach the postseason, its fans were loyal throughout the campaign.

8. Oklahoma State (+3,281): After dipping in average attendance from 2013 to 2014, Oklahoma State bounced back up last season with perhaps the best possible home schedule in the entire Big 12. The Cowboys hosted TCU, Baylor and rival Oklahoma in Boone Pickens Stadium in the span of four weeks, and they also had a season-high in attendance for a homecoming game against lowly Kansas. 

9. Indiana (+2,657): Attendance has been steadily climbing for Indiana football under head coach Kevin Wilson, and the Hoosiers filled Memorial Stadium even more in 2015 with a great home schedule. IU sold out its home game against then-No. 1 Ohio State and also hosted Iowa and Michigan. The Hoosiers play a fun brand of football, and they'll have forward momentum for 2016 after making it to a bowl game for the first time since 2007.

10. NC State (+2,590): NC State saw a modest climb in attendance last season as the Wolfpack went 7-6 under head coach Dave Doeren. Carter-Finley Stadium was sold out for games against Clemson, North Carolina and even FCS program Eastern Kentucky in Week 2. With attendance decreasing elsewhere across its home state, the Wolfpack will be proud it went the other direction last fall.

 

Biggest Losses

1. UCLA (-9,792): UCLA broke its all-time attendance record at the Rose Bowl in 2014, and the door swung the other way in 2015. The Bruins had nearly 10,000 fewer fans per game in 2015 thanks to a lackluster home schedule that included smaller crowds for Virginia, Cal and Colorado. Things should pick back up at the Rose Bowl this fall, though, as the Bruins host both Stanford and USC.

2. Florida State (-9,082): After excellent 2013 and 2014 seasons for home attendance, a reloading Florida State team dropped off in attendance last year for a number of reasons. As Bud Elliott of Tomahawk Nation noted, Florida State only had two night home games all season, and early kickoffs against underwhelming competition are bad combinations. With North Carolina, Clemson and Florida set to come to Tallahassee this fall, attendance at Doak Campbell Stadium should be right back up again.

3. Syracuse (-8,345): Syracuse had the biggest percentage drop in attendance for any Power Five school last season, with over a fifth of the average crowd from 2014 not coming back for Scott Shafer's last season. The Orange had its smallest crowd in 32 years for a Week 2 win over Wake Forest, and an eight-game losing skid kept the Carrier Dome looking more cavernous than usual for most of 2015.

4. Kansas (-6,795): Attendance bottomed out yet again for Kansas in 2015 as the Jayhawks slumped to an 0-12 record under first-year head coach David Beaty. Five different home games had fewer than 30,000 fans, and a 49-0 loss to West Virginia in late November only drew 21,415 fans. The good news? There shouldn't be anywhere to go but up for Beaty and the Jayhawks at 50,000-seat Memorial Stadium.

5. Oregon State (-6,097): The arrival of new head coach Gary Andersen didn't have the desired effect on Oregon State's attendance, as the Beavers slipped to a 2-10 record last fall. After having more than 40,000 fans at all seven of its home games in 2014, Oregon State didn't have a home crowd larger than 38,074 in 2015. It was a rough season on the eyes for the Beavers both on the field and in the stands.

6. Northwestern (-5,247): A 10-win campaign in 2015 wasn't enough to keep Northwestern's attendance from declining for the second straight season—although a lot of that had to do with a home schedule that included games against Eastern Illinois, Ball State and Purdue. A trio like that will drag down any average attendance figure, especially for a smaller Power Five school such as Northwestern.

7. North Carolina (-5,024): North Carolina came close to crashing the College Football Playoff last season by making it to the ACC title game, but its home game attendance was lacking. Wide receiver Bug Howard sent out a frustrated tweet about attendance in late September, during a low-attended stretch in which the Heels played two FCS schools and Illinois. Numbers picked up as the Heels ran the table in the ACC, but that slow start put UNC more than 5,000 fans below its average in 2014.

8. Miami (-4,957): Considering some of the images that came out of Miami last season—this shot of the Senior Day crowd was especially rough—Miami's average attendance of 47,651 in 2015 seems generous. The 'Canes had announced crowds of over 50,000 for just three home games in the nearly 65,000-seat Sun Life Stadium. Those attendance figures should start to turn around, though, in Miami's first season under new head coach Mark Richt.

9. Arizona State (-4,467): Average attendance dropped by more than 4,000 for the second straight season at Arizona State, which is currently renovating Sun Devil Stadium. Outside of a home game against Oregon and the annual rivalry matchup with Arizona, the Sun Devils had a weak home slate with Cal Poly, New Mexico and Colorado all coming to Tempe. Combine that with a lackluster 6-7 record, and any school is bound to slip.

10. Iowa (-4,370): Iowa's softer regular-season schedule translated into a big 12-0 run for the Hawkeyes last fall, but it didn't help much in terms of attendance. Kinnick Stadium's only sellout came in a game against rival Minnesota, and the Hawkeyes hosted only one other team—Pittsburgh—that made it to a bowl game in 2015. But with Iowa State, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Michigan on the home schedule for 2016, the crowds should grow again in Iowa City.

 

Justin Ferguson is a National College Football Analyst at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ranking Top 15 Venues for Night Games in College Football

College football games make for an amazing in-person experience, regardless of where you are. But they're even better when the sun goes down and the lights come on.

Night games create an even greater atmosphere, one where the darkened sky becomes part of the venue. Colors are more defined, sounds are more amplified, and in most cases, the home team has a much larger advantage.

While TV contracts tend to drive when games are played, there are certain venues that take those late start times and run with it, making night games feel like a completely different world.

We've ranked the 15 best nighttime college football venues, based on the ambiance created after dark as well as the success of the home team. If the host doesn't frequently win these games, it can take away from the aura.

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QB Mac Jones Flips to Alabama: Crimson Tide Now Claim Two Elite 11 Finalists

The Alabama Crimson Tide reeled in another blue-chip quarterback recruit Tuesday night when longtime Kentucky Wildcats pledge Mac Jones flipped his commitment to an SEC foe.

Fresh off an appearance at Elite 11 national finals in Redondo Beach, California, the 4-star Florida prospect announced a change of plans on Twitter:

Jones, a marquee member of Kentucky's 2017 class since last summer, expressed gratitude for the Wildcats interest but ultimately couldn't pass up a chance to compete in Tuscaloosa.

"I would like to thank the University of Kentucky for recruiting me, however, an opportunity of a lifetime has presented itself to my family and me," he wrote.

The 6'2", 180-pound passer spent time at Alabama this week, returning to campus for the second time since head coach Nick Saban extended a scholarship offer in April. Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin reacted on social media with an emoji that surely stung in Lexington:

Jones, rated No. 14 nationally among pro-style quarterbacks in composite rankings, joins fellow Elite 11 finalist Tua Tagovailoa in a talent-laden Alabama recruiting class. Before either player pledged to the program, Saban secured a commitment from No. 3 pro-style passer Jake Fromm, who eventually flipped to the Georgia Bulldogs.

Alabama added scintillating dual-threat Texas talent Jalen Hurts to its roster this past winter, while 2014 Elite 11 MVP Blake Barnett is approaching his second season in Tuscaloosa. With Jones and Tagovailoa also on board, Saban now boasts one of college football's most compelling young crops of quarterbacks. 

Jones tallied more than 2,100 passing yards and 26 touchdown tosses as a junior at The Bolles School of Jacksonville, according to Tre Hogue of SEC Country. His preseason pledge to Kentucky occurred before the recruitment process really ramped up.

Arizona State, Indiana, Rutgers, Washington State and Illinois each extended offers during a busy February stretch that spanned just over a week. Cal, Texas A&M, Ole Miss, Missouri and Pittsburgh joined the pursuit in May.

Jones' commitment to Kentucky remained in place for more than 10 months, but many wondered whether it would actually reach national signing day as alternative options opened across college football. The dismissal of offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson, who served as his primary recruiter, didn't do the Wildcats any favors in terms of staff rapport. 

Less than 24 hours after his commitment flip, Jones is already at work attempting to attract other top talents to Alabama. He publicly targeted 4-star Louisiana receiver Devonta Smith on Wednesday afternoon:

His presence in this class should further enhance Saban and Kiffin's sales pitch to interested offensive prospects. Though he didn't make the cut at Elite 11 finals for an invitation to The Opening, an annual showcase held in July at Nike's world headquarters, Jones has firmly solidified himself among America's most promising high school passers.

Meanwhile, Tagovailoa was arguably the premier competitor at Elite 11 finals, where the Hawaiian punched his ticket for The Opening. He registered the highest score in Pro Day sessions, threw seven touchdowns and just one incomplete pass in seven-on-seven action and made a strong case for consideration as the cycle's No. 1 overall quarterback recruit.

Tagovailoa, accustomed to working in a spread offensive attack at St. Louis High School (Honolulu) that produced Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, proved he can adapt to various offensive attacks. Questions surrounding his ability to thrive in a pro-style setting were largely alleviated last weekend.

Elite 11 head coach and Super Bowl champion quarterback Trent Dilfer issued a challenge to Tagovailoa two weeks earlier at a regional camp in Oakland.

"I told him, 'Hey, Tua, the way you play the position, even though it looks great, doesn't translate to the next level. It lacks discipline. It doesn't benefit the way you move in the pocket. You can't throw in tight spaces. You have to work on this," Dilfer said during Bleacher Report's exclusive reveal of Elite 11 selections.

Tagovailoa, who totaled 3,100 total offensive yards, 33 touchdown tosses and just three interceptions last season, per MaxPreps, answered the bell in a big way.

"I have never seen a kid since I've been doing this change more in two weeks," Dilfer said.

Just one day after Tagovailoa earned Elite 11 status, he suddenly became paired with Jones in an Alabama class that could threaten to become Saban's seventh straight haul atop national composite rankings on signing day. At the expense of an SEC opponent, the reigning College Football Playoff champions continue to put together components for future title runs.

 

Tyler Donohue is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings.

Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Football: 5 Toughest RBs Wolverines Will Face in 2016

Michigan football should boast a premier defense in 2016, but the Wolverines must contain a handful of talented running backs throughout the regular season.

Last year, the unit ranked No. 16 nationally against the run and only surrendered more than 150 yards twice. Additionally, seven of Michigan's 13 opponents didn't even reach 100.

That previous success is the primary reason the Wolverines are expected to dominate. However, they haven't faced two of the five players highlighted, so it's not simply a matter of repeating what happened in 2015.

While the list is ordered subjectively, factors include a player's past contributions, his potential this season and the projected performance of a team's offensive line.

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Auburn Football: What's Next for Tigers' Backfield After Roc Thomas' Transfer?

AUBURN, Ala. — Gus Malzahn was already light on established offensive playmakers entering what will be a crucial season for him at Auburn, and that number took another hit last week.

Former 5-star running back Roc Thomas decided to transfer away from the Plains to Jacksonville State, the defending FCS runner-up that nearly stunned Auburn with an upset last season. While Thomas was only entering his true junior season, he had more seasons of experience than any other rusher on the roster.

Although Thomas appeared to be transitioning to more of a slot receiver role for the Auburn offense in 2016, his departure to Jacksonville State will cause a shakeup in a backfield that needs to find its magic again after a down 2015.

Even with his inconsistencies with injuries and ball security, Thomas would have been a valuable offensive weapon for the Tigers this fall. His burst and shiftiness made him a big-play threat whenever he kept the ball in his hands.

So how will the Thomas transfer impact the present and the future for Auburn's running backs? Let's take a closer look.

 

Jovon Robinson is the clear-cut No. 1 RB for 2016

This seemed more and more obvious as the spring went on, but Thomas' transfer removed all doubt—senior Jovon Robinson will be the top running back for the Tigers this fall. 

According to Wesley Sinor of AL.com, running backs coach Tim Horton "implied" last month that Robinson was the favorite over Thomas to become the starter after calling it a close battle between the two during spring practices. 

"Obviously, Jovon Robinson really had a nice spring," Horton said, per Sinor. "He kind of elevated himself going into fall camp. He's in a good position."

After battling an ankle sprain early in the year, Robinson came on strong during the end of 2015, rushing for more than 90 yards in five of Auburn's final six games. He had more carries down the stretch than starter Peyton Barber, who declared early for the NFL draft this offseason.

The JUCO transfer showcased the abilities that made him a coveted recruit on two separate occasions for the Tigers. The 230-pound Robinson is a physical, downhill running back who also has good burst and moves in the open field. In short, he's the ideal all-around rusher for a Malzahn offense.

"Jovon has been in the offense for one year, and now you can tell he's more confident than he was," Malzahn said during spring camp. "We can do some more things with him."

Robinson averaged nearly 5.5 yards per carry in 2015 and proved he could handle the wear and tear of being a primary back late last season. With another offseason of preparation in the offense behind him, he could be a real force in the SEC this fall.

"I have high goals and high expectations for myself," Robinson said. "I want to be the next 1,000-yard rusher. I like that title. I'm definitely looking forward to starting off the season right, playing Clemson, starting off the season on a high note."

 

Look for Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway to step up

Of course, Robinson can't do it alone. Malzahn likes rotation at the position, and he's had three different running backs carry the ball at least 40 times in each of his three seasons as Auburn's head coach.

With Barber off to the NFL, most expected Thomas to be one of those top alternates, even with a position switch to slot receiver. Receiver Ricardo Louis, who was in a similar role, carried the ball just under 30 times last season.

Auburn has a handful of younger options to plug into the three-headed backfield, and sophomores Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway appear to be the leaders there.

Both Johnson and Pettway fit into specific and much-needed roles for the Auburn rushing attack. Johnson is similar to Thomas with his speed and agility, while Pettway is a big bruiser who should thrive in short-yardage situations.

As Thomas struggled with nagging injuries last season, Johnson finished 2015 with more carries than the now-departed back. The former 4-star athlete had a breakout performance as a reserve in a win over Kentucky, and he found the end zone again in the Birmingham Bowl victory against Memphis.

Johnson missed spring practice while recovering from shoulder surgery, but he should be ready to go in time for fall camp. According to Brandon Marcello of SEC Country, Malzahn said Johnson "has a chance to be an impact player" in 2016 for the Tigers.

Pettway brings tremendous bulk to the position after playing fullback with Chandler Cox as a true freshman last fall. The 242-pound sophomore cross-trained at running back this spring, leading the team with 77 yards on just seven carries at A-Day.

While the team recruited Cox as a traditional fullback, Pettway is a natural running back, rushing for 1,402 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior at Alabama high school powerhouse Prattville. Both can carry the ball, but Pettway has more experience at the position.

"I think [Pettway and Cox] bring a certain element of toughness to the position that we needed," Horton said. "They're fall-forward backs. They're going to get yards after contact. They're going to move the chains."

Expect Cox to take over as the full-time starter at fullback as Pettway moves to a role in which he provides more depth at running back. Whenever Robinson is on the sidelines this season, Auburn could use Pettway and Johnson as a classic thunder-and-lightning combo in certain situations.

 

Reinforcements are coming to fill in the gap

With Robinson entering his final year of eligibility, the Tigers will have lost two running backs from their 2016 A-Day squad by the time spring practice starts in 2017. But the future isn't dark for the running back position on the Plains.

In addition to Johnson and Pettway, Auburn also has true freshman running back Malik Miller, who was a high-school teammate of Johnson's at Madison (Alabama) Academy.

The Tigers might not need to rely on Miller too much in 2016, but he'll be there to provide extra depth and build toward the future. Like Robinson, he has the look of a do-it-all back.

"You see someone that loves the game. He's very coachable. He's got a lot of really good qualities about him," Horton said. "He catches the ball well, he pass protects well and he knows the offense really well for someone who [is new to the team]. We're real pleased with Malik and what the future holds for him."

Auburn also gained a running back for the future last weekend after losing Thomas to a transfer, going back to the tried-and-true JUCO pipeline of offensive talent.

The Tigers flipped 3-star athlete Octavius Matthews from his commitment to Louisville during the annual "Big Cat Weekend" recruiting event. As Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports wrote, experts once rated Matthews as the No. 1 JUCO rusher in the class of 2017, and he has the potential to be "an every-down back" at Auburn.

"I feel like he is a game-breaker back," Sean Cannon, Matthews' coach at Itawamba Community College, told Wiltfong. "He had six or seven runs over 50-yards for us. I think the speed factor is definitely there. ... I think for what [Auburn does], the tempo offense they run and spread system I think he’s a perfect fit for what they do."

With Johnson, Pettway, Miller and Matthews all in line to lead Auburn's rushing attack in 2017 and beyond, the Tigers should be able to take the departure of Thomas in stride.

Now the key will be for the running backs currently on campus to help make sure Malzahn will still be with them this time next year.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com. Recruiting rankings are courtesy of 247Sports.

Justin Ferguson is a National College Football Analyst at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Teams with Worst Heisman Trophy Droughts

The Heisman Trophy is the most prestigious individual award in college football. Awarded annually to, as the Heisman Trust’s official website states, “the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity,” it is the crowning achievement of any college career.

Aside from the College Football Playoff, its voting is the most scrutinized in the college gridiron universe, with players regularly rocketing into consideration and falling out of favor with stunning quickness. Winning a Heisman is meaningful for a program.

Since the first Heisman was handed out in 1935, 35 different programs have boasted a Heisman winner. The game has changed plenty, however, since the 1930s, meaning there are many teams that have won a Heisman in the distant past but are still waiting for their next winner.

Here’s a look at the 10 FBS teams enduring the longest Heisman Trophy droughts.

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If Texas A&M Struggles in 2016, Will a Coaching Change Be a Quick Fix?

Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin stood in front of reporters during SEC spring meetings in Destin, Florida, earlier this month and didn't receive a single question about his job status, the state of the program or the future of Texas A&M football.

Why?

We didn't need to ask him.

It was already clear that Sumlin, the SEC's second-highest-paid coach at $5 million per year, according to the USA Today coaching salary database, is coaching for his job in 2016. He even said as much to Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel last month in an in-depth interview.

Wherever I've been a head coach and whenever you've been that guy, you know that you get paid on results. And like I said, from my standpoint it's—there are two ways to look at it. It's 'What have you done for me lately?' I get that. And like I said, over the course of time, there's no doubt this program is better than it was, from every statistical deal you can have. And can we get better? Yeah.

So from an urgency standpoint, there's always been a sense of urgency. When I got here and people said, 'I don't understand why you're going there, to play in the SEC West.' And in that short period of time, we've created an expectation, which is a good thing, for people to say, 'Hey look, here's a team that just basically was coming into the SEC and was hoping they could survive' to a team that's expected to win.

So what if Texas A&M struggles and decides to make a change? 

The Aggies play UCLA out of the gate, have likely SEC East favorite Tennessee as their rotating cross-division game, have road trips to Alabama and Auburn and have a 6-9 record vs. SEC foes at home since 2012—with the only home win over a conference team that finished the season in the AP Top 25 coming against Vanderbilt in 2013.

A lot has to change for Texas A&M to be competitive. If that doesn't happen in 2016, a shift at the top might come in 2017 and could bring a quick fix to Aggieland—especially if that change brings Tom Herman up the road from Houston to College Station.

After all, the offensive problems that have plagued Texas A&M over the last year-and-a-half shouldn't happen under an offensive-minded head coach like Sumlin.

The Aggies finished eighth in the SEC in yards per play in 2015 at 5.59 according to CFBStats.com, have averaged under six yards per play in conference over the last two seasons combined and have become a far cry from the Johnny Manziel-led offenses that gained over 6.6 yards per play against SEC foes during Sumlin's first two seasons in College Station. 

Sumlin jettisoned one of the problems when he fired former coordinator Jake Spavital in January and replaced him with Noel Mazzone—who runs more of a power attack with tempo out of the spread. That's what Texas A&M was built for last year as well, but Spavital shied away from that part of the playbook more than he should have. If the same thing happens, it'll be clear that it's more of a Sumlin problem than a coordinator problem, and the eyes of Aggieland will likely turn to Herman.

Regardless of who the specific hypothetical replacement is, Texas A&M has staying power.

Star wide receiver Christian Kirk will be a true junior in 2017 and will be the centerpiece of the Aggies offense whether Sumlin is there or not. James White and Keith Ford are both juniors this season and could return in 2017 to provide another one-two punch in the Aggie backfield ahead of youngster Trayveon Williams—who's loaded with home run potential.

Speedy Noil and Ricky Seals-Jones are both draft-eligible after this year but could return. Plus, the offensive line should lose two pieces of the puzzle from this year's squad.

Defensively, it's safe to assume stud defensive end Myles Garrett will jump early whether Sumlin is there or not; and bookend Daeshon Hall will exhaust his eligibility after this season. But tackle Daylon Mack is a true sophomore this year who has to return, and linebacker Otaro Alaka got a medical redshirt last year and will play as a sophomore in 2016. 

Defensive backs Armani Watts, Priest Willis and Donovan Wilson will all be around in 2017 unless they jump, and Justin Dunning is the next in line once the upperclassmen defensive backs move on.

Are there quarterback issues on the horizon?

Maybe.

After Trevor Knight leaves following the 2016 season, Jake Hubenak will be there to hold down the fort along with 2016 signee and summer enrollee Nick Starkel. One good thing for the Aggies' future is Knight—a two-time captain at Oklahoma, including in 2015, when he wasn't even its starter—is leading by example this offseason with Hubenak and Starkel looking on.

"He's a grown man," Sumlin said at SEC spring meetings. "He's already got a degree and been in big games. Everybody talks about the positives, but what helps him is that everything always hasn't been great for him. He's been MVP of some big games, but to lose his job, he has a great understanding because of the experiences both positively and negatively. Being able to communicate that from an older guy who's seen a lot to our players has been fantastic."

Is quarterback uncertainty going to hinder Texas A&M moving forward?

It's hard to say how much since we don't know who will be running the program.

But first-year starting quarterbacks have won six of the last seven national titles, and 10 of the last 14 starters in the national championship game were first-year starters (as long as you consider Cole Stoudt, not Deshaun Watson, Clemson's starter in 2014). 

The cast around the quarterback matters more, and Texas A&M should have a solid one beyond 2016 as long as there are no surprising departures. 

The 2016 season will be a critical one for Sumlin and Texas A&M. 

If the Aggies can put things together for a full three months, there's no reason they shouldn't contend for the SEC West. If they don't, and Sumlin is shown the door, the new guy will have plenty of talent leftover to right the ship.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tennessee Football: 5 Toughest RBs Vols Will Face in 2016

As laughable as the list of quarterbacks on Tennessee's football schedule is in 2016, the stable of running backs on the docket is just as salty.

No, the Volunteers don't have to face LSU man-child Leonard Fournette unless they and the Tigers make it to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta, but the group of runners that UT must face is sturdy.

Georgia and Alabama always have stud running backs, and this season is no different. A couple of cellar-dwellers in the SEC East have dynamic players for quarterbacks to lean on, and there are few weeks where the Vols will have a break from game-planning around a top-shelf back.

When guys like Virginia Tech 1,000-yard rusher Travon McMillian, top-ranked JUCO running back Mark Thompson of Florida and Appalachian State star runner Marcus Cox failed to make the list, you know it's a strong one.

Thompson may wind up being one of the top players in the bunch, and the fact that he plays for the Vols-killing Gators should make UT fans everywhere cringe. But he isn't the only one who will.

There's plenty up in the air, too. The reasoning behind this list included some past performance, sure, but potential is a key piece, too. That's why an argument could be made for Thompson being on the list, especially considering one of the guys hasn't been in his team's two-deep yet.

Toss in the fact that Georgia star Nick Chubb's status is unclear, and there's a lot of guess work here. Still, many believe Chubb is going to be fine by season's start.

"Word is that Chubb is coming along nicely with his rehab, and he could be healthy by Week 1," ESPN.com's Edward Aschoff wrote. "But after shredding multiple ligaments in his knee, it's just not a guarantee that he'll be 100 percent by the first part of the season."

If he is, it's fairly certain Chubb will surge to near the top of this list. Let's take a look at the top runners the Vols will face in '16.

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Big Ten Football: 16 Most Anticipated Games for 2016 Season

The Big Ten hasn't been hesitant to play in marquee nonconference showdowns, and while that will continue in 2016, the highly anticipated rematches between Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State headline a loaded slate for the league this fall.

The conference's reputation took a huge leap forward during the 2014-15 postseason, when Michigan State beat Baylor in the Cotton Bowl, Wisconsin outlasted Auburn in the Outback Bowl, and Ohio State bulldozed its way through Alabama, as well as Oregon, to win the first-ever College Football Playoff.

But the league took a step back last year as Alabama and Stanford absolutely hammered its two championship participants (Michigan State and Iowa, respectively) by an average of 33.5 points.

Can the Big Ten continue to push forward and challenge the SEC for college football supremacy? These 16 games will shine the brightest spotlight on the league this fall and will go a long way in shaping the conference hierarchy across the board.

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Every Power 5 College Football Team's Top 2017 Recruiting Target This Summer

The 2016 college football season is still almost three months away, but planning for the future never takes a break. FBS teams are hard at work trying to secure recruits for their 2017 rosters, and the summer is a key time to make connections and land commitments.

Only 11 of the 33 players listed by 247Sports as 5-star prospects have pledged to a school at this point, but several figure to come off the board this summer. The same goes for those at the 3- and 4-star level, players who aren't as highly regarded from a national standpoint but might be the key player that makes or breaks a team's 2017 recruiting class.

We've identified an uncommitted player that's considered one of the top recruiting targets for every Power Five conference team, as well as top independents BYU and Notre Dame, and note why he's important to each school (as well as who else wants him).

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Former Baylor Student Dolores Lozano Speaks on Alleged Assault

Former Baylor student Dolores Lozano is reportedly planning to file a Title IX lawsuit against the school because it failed to take sufficient action after she reported a football player assaulted her.

Joe Schad of ESPN reported Tuesday that Lozano came forward to provide him with the details of three separate assaults by former Bears running back Devin Chafin. The alleged incidents occurred between March and April 2014.

Lozano said she alerted several Baylor staff members, including former head coach Art Briles and current passing game coordinator Jeff Lebby, about the alleged assaults. She also told Chafin's mother, who urged her not to take it up with police, according to the report.

She noted Chafin never faced serious discipline. He reportedly "slapped," "kicked" and "slammed" her against a vehicle and "to [the] ground" during the alleged attacks. She provided Schad with a picture that showcased her injuries, including bruising on her arms and back:

Chafin later told Schad he "grabbed" Lozano but did not "choke" or "kick" her.

Lozano said Baylor acrobatics and tumbling head coach LaPrise Williams asked about the bruises and then reported the situation to superiors, counselors and chaplain Wes Yeary. Briles reportedly then told Chafin to "stay away" from her, but he was allowed to continue playing, even after Lozano spoke with Waco police.

"Baylor turned their backs to what was going on," Ricky Patel, Lozano's attorney, told Schad. "The University is a place where people are supposed to feel safe. When something like this happens, it breaks your trust."

Baylor suspended Chafin indefinitely after he was arrested and charged with marijuana possession in March. He was dismissed from the school last week after his name surfaced in a May article from ESPN's Outside the Lines about previously unreported assaults.

At the end of May, the university announced Briles had been suspended with the "intent to terminate." Kenneth Starr was removed as president at the same time and later stepped down as chancellor as a result of the assault scandal, as ESPN.com noted.

Patel told Schad that Lozano decided to come forward because she "believes it's important for others to know they can seek help."

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Football: Recapping the Biggest 2016 Offseason News so Far

Although the offseason can be a lonely time for college football fans, Notre Dame has kept its supporters entertained in 2016.

The Fighting Irish started off by signing their 11th straight top-25 recruiting class, and the coaching staff added more than a handful of prospects to the 2017 group, too.

During spring practice, several players returned to the field after missing most—or sometimes all—of last season due to injury. Others made strides toward locking up a starting role vacated by one of Notre Dame's 13 NFL-bound talents.

 

Early Returns from No. 15 Class, Surge for 2017 and 2018

Head coach Brian Kelly and Co. secured another nationally respected haul that included 10 4-star prospects.

Headlined by a couple top-100 prospects in Tommy Kraemer and Liam Eichenberg, the Irish had the No. 15 class, according to the 247Sports composite rankings.

Five players enrolled early, but the highest-rated player—Daelin Hayes—was limited in spring practice. Instead, a couple of 3-stars stole the spotlight.

Kevin Stepherson has rare ability at wide receiver, Kelly said, per Nick Ironside of 247Sports. Also, Devin Studstill spent a majority of the workouts as the first-string free safety.

In the meantime, coaches turned their focus to the 2017 cycle. Since signing day, six players have committed to Notre Dame, which currently holds the No. 10 class in the country.

David Adams leads the group of new pledges—five of which announced their non-binding intentions after visiting South Bend, Indiana, in mid-March. Avery Davis, Pete Werner, Drew White and Kurt Hinish fit that bunch, while Isaiah Robertson committed in April.

But the biggest recruiting win happened in mid-May. Phil Jurkovec, a 5-star and the No. 9 overall player for 2018, gave his pledge to the Irish. Although that's a long time to hold a commitment, Jurkovec is a terrific first addition.

 

Injury Updates

Last year, Notre Dame watched a significant contributor at nearly every position miss time because of an injury. Fortunately for the team, most were healthy for the spring.

Malik Zaire (broken right ankle) returned to the quarterback competition with DeShone Kizer. Running back Tarean Folston (torn right ACL) started his push to edge Josh Adams. Tight end Durham Smythe (torn right MCL, shoulder sprain) was cleared.

Defensive tackle Jarron Jones (torn right MCL) participated, though he played a bit tentative, Kelly said, per Mike Vorel of the South Bend Tribune. Safety Drue Tranquill (torn right ACL) and cornerback Shaun Crawford (torn right ACL) were available.

However, not every update brought good news—and as Kelly said according to ESPN's Matt Fortuna, it's not a problem of bad luck.

Wideout Corey Robinson's football future is cloudy because of concussions, which offensive lineman Colin McGovern also battled.

Receivers C.J. Sanders (hip) and Miles Boykin (finger) missed some practices, as well as cornerback Nick Watkins (fractured left humerus). Linebackers Te'von Coney and Greer Martini were sidelined for the entire session.

Hopefully for Notre Dame, the trend of injuries doesn't continue at this rate. But that seems highly unlikely.

 

Identifying Replacements for NFL Departures

Seven players from the 2015 roster heard their name called on draft day, including Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller in the first round. Six more signed contracts as undrafted free agents.

Although this transition won't be easy, the Irish have a respectable understanding of who's next.

Mike McGlinchey will replace Stanley at left tackle. Equanimeous St. Brown should step in for Fuller. Nyles Morgan (Joe Schmidt), Torii Hunter Jr. (Chris Brown) and Sam Mustipher (Nick Martin) all have clear paths to starting roles.

The list goes on with Sanders (Amir Carlisle), Folston or Adams (C.J. Prosise), Jay Hayes (Romeo Okwara), Jerry Tillery (Sheldon Day) and Crawford (KeiVarae Russell), just to name a handful.

Not every new starter will match his predecessor's production—especially on defense. But having a clear-cut favorite at nearly every vacancy is a promising sign for the Irish.

 

All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Did Jim Mora Really Deserve a Contract Extension at UCLA?

It's officially "extension season" in college football, and Jim Mora is the latest head coach to cash in on this lucrative time of year.

UCLA announced a two-year extension for Mora on Tuesday, meaning his contract will now run through the 2021 season. 

When the news of Mora's extension broke, Ralph D. Russo of the Associated Press summed up Mora's UCLA tenure to date in a single tweet:

That last bullet point from Mora will stand out above the rest. In his four seasons as the Bruins' head coach, Mora has been unable to get over the hump and win a Pac-12 Championship. In fact, his only division title came in his first season, when UCLA lost by three points to Stanford in the conference championship game.

Mora's teams haven't reached the Pac-12 Championship Game in three straight seasons, and he is coming off a season in which he had his lowest win total—eight games. The Bruins finished the 2015 season with three losses out of their final four games, including a 19-point loss to hated rival USC.  

All that may cause some to raise their eyebrows at Tuesday's news. Did Mora really deserve an extension right now?

Absolutely.

Mora has built UCLA into a team that will consistently rank in or around the Top 25, and the Bruins have cracked the Top 10 at least once in the last three seasons. According to UCLA's press release, that hasn't happened since the 1980s. Mora has also tied a school record for most victories in a four-year span.

UCLA has won eight or more games in each of Mora's four seasons with the Bruins. UCLA's previous two head coaches, Karl Dorrell and Rick Neuheisel, combined for only one such season in nine years.

Mora's hire back in 2011 was widelycriticized, but he's led UCLA to one of the best stretches in school history.

And his impact has been evident in more than just the win totals. UCLA is in a position to keep climbing over the next several seasons thanks to its recruiting surge under Mora:

That turnaround in recruiting has netted 5-stars such as quarterback Josh Rosen, running back Soso Jamabo and defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes—all of whom will play key roles in the 2016 campaign. Outside linebacker Mique Juarez and several more blue-chippers will join them on the roster this fall.

In order to compete for championships in today's college football, a team has to be able to recruit at the highest level. Mora hasn't had a class that has finished outside of the Top 20 nationally, and this extension should help with momentum in a currently small 2017 class that is headlined by 5-star defensive end Jaelan Phillips.

As Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee wrote Monday in his column on Gus Malzahn's extension at Auburn, contract moves like these are the "cost of doing business" in power conferences.

"Sure, [Malzahn's raise] sounds like a lot of money to most people, but all Auburn is doing with Malzahn's extension is buying a bit of recruiting stability through public relations," Sallee wrote.

The same goes for UCLA, even though the exact financial details haven't been released yet. The sour finish to 2015, combined with offseason rumors about Mora returning to the NFL this offseason, per NBC Sports' John Taylor, may have stalled efforts on the recruiting trail for the Bruins.

Now elite recruits eyeballing UCLA—and there are a lot of them in the talent-rich Southern California area—can see that the school is committed to Mora for the longer haul.

Another key factor to consider is that UCLA shouldn't be worried about money if the program somehow declines rapidly under Mora.

As Mark Whicker of the Orange County Register noted, UCLA's new NCAA-record breaking $280 million deal with Under Armour has given the athletic department more financial muscle for the future: 

Extending Mora's contract around the same time the department is about to come into a massive amount of money is a win-win for UCLA. The football program gets a boost of stability, and a buyout of the now-longer contract would be much easier to swallow.

The 2015 season was frustrating for the Bruins, but it's worth noting the team had to battle through numerous injuries to star defensive players such as standout linebacker Myles Jack, cornerback Fabian Moreau and Vanderdoes.

UCLA also had to adjust to life with true-freshman quarterback Rosen, who will now be an experienced cornerstone for the next two seasons after the ups and downs of his first campaign. Even with those issues, the Bruins were a couple of one-possession games away from reaching the 10-win mark for the third straight season.

The adversities of 2015 should benefit UCLA's roster in the seasons to come.

UCLA has the potential to bounce back in a big way in 2016, with Rosen leading a new-look offense that received rave reviews in spring practices and an experienced defense fitting well into a 4-3 scheme.

The 2015 season might just be a bump in the road for Mora, and his extension is a deserved reward for getting UCLA where it needed to be in order to contend for titles in a cutthroat Pac-12.

 

Recruiting rankings are courtesy of 247Sports.

Justin Ferguson is a National College Football Analyst at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

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Did Jim Mora Really Deserve a Contract Extension at UCLA?

It's officially "extension season" in college football, and Jim Mora is the latest head coach to cash in on this lucrative time of year...

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