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Michigan Football: Why RB Position Presents the Greatest Unknown in 2016

A basic look at Michigan's football roster shows an experienced roster riddled with returning starters and other team leaders. Running back is no exception, but there are two vastly different ways to frame the position.

You could say the Wolverines boast a two-time leading rusher and unquestioned starter. He's the No. 1 ahead of last season's backup as well as a previous highly touted prospect and an incoming 4-star recruit. Michigan is stacked with talent.

On the other hand, you could choose a pessimistic route.

De'Veon Smith's season-high mark is an unspectacular 753 yards. Drake Johnson managed just 271 yards last year, while Ty Isaac fell off the travel squad and still hasn't sniffed his 4-star potential. Kareem Walker enrolled early, but high expectations for true freshmen often go unmet.

Deciding which outlook is more correct doesn't matter. What's clear, however, is that the Wolverines can improve immensely at running back, yet there's no guarantee it happens in 2016.

Michigan's offense will not change from being a run-focused attack. That's a staple of head coach Jim Harbaugh's philosophy.

But last season, the offense mustered just 4.2 yards per first-down carry, which ranked 96th of 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams.

Smith was even less effective. He gained just 397 yards on 105 attempts, averaging a meager 3.8 yards on the initial down. Plus, according to B/R research, 139 of Smith's 180 season carries—77.2 percent—gained five yards or fewer.

Nevertheless, Harbaugh said during spring practice the senior is currently the starter.

Perhaps Smith has taken significant strides in his development. After watching Harbaugh take what most analysts considered a 7-5 team to a 10-3 record, that possibility cannot be discarded so easily.

Then again, blind hope isn't smart, either. Situational usage certainly had a small effect on Smith, but he tallied a mere 28 total first downs in 2015.

Comparatively, Johnson moved the chains nearly half as many times (13) in less than three times the carries (54). He also recorded 10 gains of 10-plus yards compared to 15 for Smith.

So does that make the other senior a better option? Maybe. But after working back from his second torn left ACL, Johnson was run over by a forklift. Harbaugh said the accident "would have killed a lesser man," per Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press.

Lumping a freak incident with recurring knee issues to call Johnson injury-prone is unfair. Still, the redshirt senior must recover from a scary mishap and hasn't held a significant role for an entire season while at full strength.

That's a stark contrast to Isaac, who was available for all of 2015 but slipped out of the rotation anyway. To his credit, instead of grumbling, Isaac went to work.

"I had to calm down, relax, understand there were things I needed to work on," Isaac said, according to ESPN.com's Dan Murphy. "It's not like it was going to be the end of the world for me. I still have opportunities."

Isaac looked like a new and improved back during the spring game, twice displaying a previously unseen burst of speed on gains of 30 and 29 yards while running for a scrimmage-best 78 yards.

But putting stock in a spring game performance is equally as dangerous as expecting greatness immediately.

Walker—the No. 4 running back of the 2016 class—arrived on campus in January. He registered three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and a pair of 1,500-yard outputs in high school. Walker hopes that success will continue right away.

"I came here to be great," he said on signing day, per Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com. "I didn't come here to sit the bench."

Although the opportunity is apparent, Walker will probably serve as an occasional rotational piece this season—especially considering the way Harbaugh views Smith.

The biggest wild card of this situation, though, could be the offensive line. Four starters return, and projected left tackle Grant Newsome impressed the coaches enough as a true freshman to not only avoid a redshirt but earn meaningful reps.

After inserting Newsome against Michigan State, Harbaugh lauded the tackle. According to Josh Henschke of Scout, the coach said:

He's physically mature than most, mentally very sharp moreso than most. He's a battler, he's tough. He doesn't take a backseat since he's been here. He gives no quarter, takes no quarter. I like that about him, all those things. I know he's going to be really good and he's ready now, you get better at football by playing football.

Plus, the unit as a whole improved considerably between the 2015 regular-season finale and 2016 Citrus Bowl. Prior to this season's opener against Hawaii, position coach Tim Drevno will have completed two more monthlong sessions that further develop his players.

Maybe Michigan's O-line dominated the offseason and this is the year Harbaugh's philosophy becomes apparent. Besides, the running backs should avoid a collective negative label. Behind a decent blocking unit, the Wolverines would put together a couple of excellent games.

As excitement builds, however, expectations rise—sometimes to unfair or unattainable levels. Last year, the offensive line was a mediocre run-blocking group. The Wolverines aren't simply looking to improve on a borderline-great campaign; no, their proverbial bar needs to hit "acceptable" and "solid" before flirting with "great."

Anticipating much better than average results from Michigan on the ground in 2016 is likely based more on hope than actual previous performance.

Yet Harbaugh and Co. shattered expectations last year. Perhaps the backfield is another major, unexpected success story. Heading into the season, there's no definitive conclusion either way.

    

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.

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SEC Media Days 2016: B/R Barrett Sallee's Predicted Order of Finish

HOOVER, Ala. — It's time for rubber to meet the road.

The SEC sent out ballots for predicted order of finish in each division and the SEC Championship Game on Tuesday morning. The conference will tabulate and release its full "media" picks on Thursday afternoon at the conclusion of the four-day event at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham - The Wynfrey Hotel.

Over the years, the group as a whole hasn't been right very much.

At Bleacher Report, we're in the business of transparency. Here is how I submitted my ballot for the predicted order of finish in the SEC and the result of the SEC Championship Game.

 

SEC East

  1. Tennessee
  2. Florida
  3. Georgia
  4. Vanderbilt
  5. South Carolina
  6. Kentucky
  7. Missouri

Yes, that's right—Tennessee is my pick to win the East for the second straight year (Georgia received the overall media vote).

Last year, I was one play away from being right, as Tennessee gave up a 4th-and-14 touchdown with just under 90 seconds remaining in its late-September game at Florida, which ultimately kept the Volunteers out of the SEC Championship Game. 

This year, the Vols will return to the Georgia Dome in December for the first time since 2007. The roster is the deepest and most complete in the division. The Vols upgraded at defensive coordinator with Bob Shoop, and they should be able to take the next step in the passing game thanks to the emergence of Preston Williams. They also get Alabama and Florida at home.

For the second straight season, that Florida game will be the one that decides the division, with Tennessee breaking its 11-year losing streak to the Gators. 

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart and his Bulldogs will show flashes of brilliance, but inexperience at the line of scrimmage will cost them a couple of games.

Behind the Bulldogs, Vanderbilt is dangerous with a defense that's one of the best in the SEC. The Commodores—who also finished fourth last year—won't win the SEC East but will scare the daylights out of a couple of teams and could spring an upset or two. South Carolina, Kentucky and Missouri have far too many questions and will be fighting uphill battles to make bowl games.

  

SEC West

  1. Alabama
  2. Ole Miss
  3. Auburn
  4. Texas A&M
  5. LSU
  6. Mississippi State
  7. Arkansas

Out West, it's Alabama's division to lose until further notice.

It won't lose it in 2016. 

The Crimson Tide defense is as deep, talented and fast as it has ever been, and it's loaded with potential high-round draft picks, including defensive end Jonathan Allen, linebackers Tim Williams and Reuben Foster, and defensive backs Eddie Jackson, Marlon Humphrey and Minkah Fitzpatrick.

Are there questions on offense? Sure. But offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin is back for his third season with the Crimson Tide and has proved over the last two years that he can handle massive roster holes and still lead the team to success.

Ole Miss has earned a little bit of that benefit of the doubt as well. The offensive line has been an issue for about two years now. The Rebels haven't been able to run between the tackles for three seasons and have still earned two straight New Year's Six bowl berths, improving every year under head coach Hugh Freeze.

Auburn and Texas A&M both made moves to improve their rosters this offseason. The health of defensive end Carl Lawson combined with a veteran defense that gave up just 339 yards per game over the final five games of 2015 and the presence of dual-threat quarterback John Franklin III will keep Auburn competitive. Behind the departures of two former quarterbacks and some Twitter shenanigans, Texas A&M hired the right offensive coordinator in Noel Mazzone to run the power spread offense, has a loaded defense that should improve in Year 2 under John Chavis and landed one of the best graduate transfer quarterbacks on the market in Trevor Knight.

Then there's LSU. The Tigers are essentially a mirror image of what they were last year. The defense should stay elite thanks to returning stars and the arrival of new coordinator Dave Aranda, and the running game is in good hands with Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice. But head coach Les Miles has employed an ultra-conservative offense for nearly a decade and hasn't shown the creativity and flexibility needed to win games 45-42 consistently when Plan A doesn't work. I can't count on that changing this offseason, which is why I have the Tigers tied for third in the SEC West with Auburn and Texas A&M but losing the head-to-head tiebreaker with each to finish fifth.

Mississippi State and Arkansas will both be competitive and make bowl games, but this a retooling year for each. 

 

SEC Championship Game

Alabama over Tennessee.

Yes, this will be a rematch of "The Third Saturday in October" in Neyland Stadium and serve as a revenge game for Alabama—which will fall in Knoxville to the Vols. 

The Crimson Tide won't fall in December under the big top in Atlanta in the SEC Championship Game.

Alabama will win a hotly contested SEC Championship Game, claim its third straight SEC title and make its third straight College Football Playoff over a Tennessee team that is not only worthy of the hype, but will be vying for a playoff spot as well.

 

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.

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Bleacher Report's Top 25 2017 Recruiting Classes After The Opening

A total of 13 players from the 2017 class ended their recruiting processes last week as the 2016 edition of The Opening took place. Five announced during Bleacher Report's "Commitment Week," and eight others made their decisions live either via Bleacher Report or ESPN.

With their decisions, there were shakeups in the team recruiting rankings. Some schools saw their stock rise, while others may have taken a slight dip because of the success of the schools around them.

Recruiting is a marathon and not a sprint, as final rankings will emerge after national signing day. For now, Bleacher Report wants to provide a top-25 recruiting ranking for the 2017 class. Rankings were based upon a team's success at landing 5-star recruits, 4-star recruits and its overall ability to fill its needs.

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SEC Media Days 2016: Highlights, Comments and Twitter Reaction from Monday

For the first time since 2004, the belle of the SEC media days ball was nowhere to be found. Steve Spurrier's absence cast a shadow over Hoover, Alabama, on Monday as things got underway for the 2016 session.  

The Head Ball Coach and owner of roughly the 1,000 best quotes from the SEC dog and pony show retired as South Carolina's head coach six games into the 2015 season, ceding his program and the spotlight to a new generation. Spurrier had been a head coach at an SEC program for all but three years (2002-04) since 1990.

Auburn's Gus Malzahn, Florida's Jim McElwain and Vanderbilt's Derek Mason all spoke on opening day, along with SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey. Here is a look at some of the most notable quotes from each respective press conference and reaction from the always-reasonable SEC fandom.

     

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey

Sankey refused to say his conference had a problem with off-field issues despite a number of ongoing cases at multiple schools, per Alex Scarborough of ESPN.com: 

If we really evaluate what's at the center of some of the recent articles, we're talking about some issues that probably occurred in 2012 and 2013 that are just being adjudicated. We might be talking about one or two or three individuals and their misbehavior. I don't think that attaches properly to the entire conference. The body of work in this conference far outweighs those problems, yet we are attentive to those realities. We understand when the issues arise, we need to be even more attentive, whether that's on campus or as a collective group.

Ole Miss is under investigation for alleged NCAA violations, while Tennessee recently settled a Title IX lawsuit regarding its handling of alleged sexual misconduct. Missouri men's basketball has also run afoul of NCAA bylaw.

“Our institutions are expected and will continue to handle these matters with integrity,” Sankey said, per Scott Rabalais of the Advocate. “We hope both of the current matters are completed in a timely manner. We understand there are issues that arise. That’s why the expectation for integrity is so high. And as we move forward together, we can’t have any more of those issues arise." 

Going further, Sankey took the time to explain the conference's policy on incoming players. While transfer students can and are restricted for past criminal activity, that is not the case for incoming freshmen. When asked why that's the case, Sankey offered a detailed response, per Scarborough:  

Our working group spent a lot of time dealing with that. A couple of concerns were consistently identified with that. A couple of concerns that were consistently identified, which is, what can you know, what can you learn through something, particularly one's juvenile past. Can you access information in a consistent way? When someone enrolls in college, they're generally an adult, you expect you'll have access to more consistent information to make decisions.

So we as a group decided and said, let's go further on transfer issues, since they have been adults on a university campus.

Sankey also took the time to address the deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and five Dallas police officers last week, per Rabalais:

Last Monday, we, as a nation, celebrated Independence Day. Parades, field days and fireworks provided gatherings that are special that bring people together in America. One week seems like a long time ago. The sadness from the past few days remains on all of our minds, and it’s appropriate to make that observation up front as it remains in our hearts as well. This is one of those times in our nation where we weep, we mourn, for those families and cities who have experienced loss.

Dan Wolken of USA Today commented on the measured approach Sankey took:

    

Gus Malzahn, Auburn

After Auburn posted a 15-11 record over the past two seasons, Coach Malzahn is sitting on an increasingly hot seat three years after leading the Tigers to a national championship game berth. Malzahn's offense has sputtered, nosediving all the way to 80th in total offense in 2015. 

Auburn's 27.5 points per game last season were a dozen fewer than its 2013 run. Malzahn spoke of his desire for a return to form, per James Crepea of AL.com:

Offensively, one thing we have focused on in the spring and will in fall camp, getting back to playing with pace. That's the edge of ours in the past, and that's got to be the same this coming year. Also executing at a high level. We always pride ourselves in executing at a high level. Last year we didn't dote get that done. Those were the two focuses from my standpoint to get this thing turned around so we can play quality offense like we expect.

Malzahn said one way he looks to ensure a return to form from the Tigers is getting more involved in the day-to-day coaching and play-calling himself: 

One thing that really hit me pretty hard is that I got to be more active with the daily X's and O's and coaching that goes with that. And that's what I look at as my strength. And so that's what I meant by that, and I'm looking forward to getting back in the middle of things and enjoying the actual coaching on the field.

Malzahn categorized the way things fell apart in 2015 as "humbling": "We had high expectations, and we do every year. We weren't able to reach our goals. And that was very frustrating, and it was very humbling to go through an experience like that. And I think you got to evaluate everything, like we talked about. You got to figure out a way to improve."

The coach cited his team's failures in close games as the biggest reason the Tigers dropped toward the bottom of the conference:

In this league, you're going to have a lot of close games. The two previous years, we were one of the best in the country at winning close games. And we had opportunities. And usually it comes down in this league to two or three plays in these close games, and you got to find a way to make them and you got to have your guys prepared and you got to be able to execute.

Saturday Down South noted the amusement of the mostly by-the-books presser:

On the subject of domestic violence, Malzahn said "we do our homework" on who Auburn brings in:

Matter of fact, we do our homework thoroughly on everybody we recruit. I've said before as far as domestic violence is something that we don't touch. But we do our homework on everyone we bring in the program. There's a lot of information out there these days, which makes it—makes it better. But, you know, that's just our approach.

   

Jim McElwain, Florida

After McElwain's largely successful debut season at Florida, a lot of his presser revolved around the discussion of other programs. McElwain, who was Nick Saban's offensive coordinator from 2008-11, said the Alabama head coach could go for as long as he wants.

"I think he can go forever," McElwain said, per Michael Casagrande of AL.com. "That's just how he's wired."

"I didn't see one less bounce in his step, anything like that," McElwain continued. "And you know what? He's—the guy's something special."

A member of the media also asked McElwain about Florida State supplying its players with state championship rings after it defeated Florida, Miami and the University of South Florida last season. His response was one of bemusement while also arguably throwing a little shade at his own administration.

"Well, I mean, they won it, so why wouldn't you?" McElwain said, per Thomas Goldkamp of 247Sports. "That's a hell of a deal."

"I don't really get that jacked up in that stuff," McElwain continued. "I've got too much to worry about with our guys, and yet I know what a great job they do up there and what a great program they have. [Head coach] Jimbo (Fisher) has done an outstanding job, when he took over changing that thing and winning a bunch of ballgames.

"I don't know whether our administration has it in our budget to do that. I don't know."

Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports commented on the curious nature of the presser:

On the subject of his own team, McElwain offered insight into the statuses of receivers Antonio Callaway and Treon Harris. Both were suspended from the program in January and have returned to the team for workouts. They have not, however, been fully reinstated.

"Right now they're obviously back on campus, doing team workouts and some things like that," McElwain said, per Matt Baker of the Tampa Bay Times. "Nothing's been resolved yet, and there's really not a time frame on it."

"More than anything, the help you have academically at Farrior Hall and the Hawkins Center is huge. That's really what it's all about. We'll see," McElwain continued.

     

Derek Mason, Vanderbilt

First, let's pay respect to Mason and his dope suit:

Seriously, this thing is a one-in-a-kind beauty:

When the conversation finally turned to his football team, the Vanderbilt head coach revealed himself as a dreamer who has high hopes for the Commodores.

"This football team knows how to compete," Mason said, per Evan Reier for TideSports.com. "But it's not about competing, it's about winning. ... We let some things slide, we missed some opportunities, and that has not gone unnoticed by this football team."

Vanderbilt is 7-17 in Mason's two seasons. However, the team improved to a 2-6 record in SEC play last season—thanks in part to the head coach retaking defensive play-calling reins.

"People looked at me a year ago and thought I was crazy for going back and calling defense," Mason said. "But that's my wheelhouse. I'm a head coach who understands exactly what my strengths are."

Mason also took time out to back his selection of rising sophomore Kyle Shurmur as his starting quarterback.

"Towards the end of the season, you saw an occasion for a young quarterback by the name of Shurmur," Mason said. "He played some meaningful football in those last three-four games. That's important. I have named Shurmur the starter, that's where we are. ... He is the guy to lead this football team."

Also of great importance:

If nothing else, Mason had the most entertaining of the press conferences Monday.  

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Florida Football: Best Quotes and Key Takeaways from SEC Media Days

Defending SEC East Division champion Florida got its turn in front of the cameras and microphones Monday during the first day of SEC media days in Hoover, Alabama. And not surprisingly, many of the questions coach Jim McElwain and his Gators players faced were related to the team's offense.

Florida managed to win 10 games in 2015 despite ranking 11th in the conference in scoring and 12th in yards per game. The offense went into a major backslide after quarterback Will Grier was suspended by the NCAA in mid-October for a failed drug test, with the Gators averaging 16.5 points and 296 yards over their final eight games.

A three-game skid to end the season put a sour note on the overall season, with Florida managing just 24 points in that span.

"I'm very disappointed in how we finished," McElwain told reporters. "Not something we're proud of or something we take very lightly. Learning from that, it will be interesting to see how this team responds. Looking forward to seeing what this team is all about."

There's an ongoing competition to determine the starting quarterback, with two true freshmen (Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask) and two transfers (Purdue graduate Austin Appleby and ex-Alabama/Oregon State passer Luke Del Rio) battling for the job. The winner will be working behind an offensive line that was a major weakness a year ago, allowing 45 sacks in 14 games.

McElwain noted that playing three true freshmen on the line contributed to the struggles but that it should also help this year in terms of experience and expectations. He'd ideally like to have a rotation of nine guys to shuffle through the five line spots, with versatility needed across the board.

To that end, sophomore Martez Ivey—who was the nation's No. 1 offensive tackle prospect in the 2015 recruiting class—is being worked at guard heading into this season, per Zach Abolverdi of SEC Country.

"Our offensive line play has got to get better," McElwain said.

 

Personnel update

Much of how Florida operates on offense might depend on whether it has a full assortment of wide receivers to work with. For now, that's still very uncertain.

Antonio Callaway and Treon Harris, suspended since January for unspecified reasons, remain in a state of limbo as far as their status with the football program. McElwain said the duo are enrolled in school and "using the academic center and working out," but beyond that, nothing has been resolved.

"There's not really a timetable on that," he said.

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports noted McElwain said it's "out of his hands" about whether the duo will be on the roster for 2016.

Callaway led the Gators with 678 receiving yards last year as a freshman, his four touchdown catches tying for the team lead. Harris, who was switched from quarterback in the winter, threw for 1,676 yards and nine TDs while rushing for 238 yards last season. He also caught a TD pass in Florida's 41-7 loss to Michigan in the Citrus Bowl.

If neither player is available this season, Florida's top returning pass-catcher will be junior Brandon Powell, who had 29 receptions for 390 yards three TDs in 2015.

 

Forgotten front-runners

As previously referenced, Florida won the SEC East and played in its first conference title game since 2009. Yet a high percentage of questions posed to McElwain, offensive lineman David Sharpe, linebacker Jarrad Davis and safety Marcus Maye were in reference to other teams.

Beyond the expected queries about reigning SEC and national champion Alabama, the Gators were asked about East Division foes Georgia and Tennessee, West contender Ole Miss (whom Florida beat in 2015 but doesn't play this past season) and even in-state rival Florida State.

The Gator contingency deftly handled these inquiries, with McElwain saying he wished new Georgia coach Kirby Smart was in "another division somewhere" and giving props to FSU for the state championship rings it gave to its players by virtue of going 3-0 against other Florida teams in 2015.

"They won it, so why wouldn't you?" McElwain said. "That's a hell of a deal."

But it wasn't all humility and diplomacy. Davis made the most of an opportunity to throw shade at Tennessee:

Florida has won 11 straight games against Tennessee, including last year's come-from-behind 28-27 win in Knoxville. The Gators and Volunteers meet in Gainesville, Florida, on Sept. 24 in a matchup that figures to go a long way toward deciding the SEC East.

 

Florida fashion

SEC media days have become an unofficial offshoot of New York's famed Fashion Week, with last year's edition featuring discussions on footwear and other clothing items. Through one day in 2016, the biggest apparel topic seems to be about socks—or the lack thereof.

McElwain is apparently not a fan of wearing them. He told ESPN's Mark Schlabach that even his daughter's upcoming wedding won't change his aversion to socks:

 

All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports, unless otherwise noted. All statistics provided by CFBStats, unless otherwise noted.

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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Auburn Player Discipline and the Top Moments from Gus Malzahn at SEC Media Days

Player discipline will be a constant topic at this week's SEC media days as several programs across the league prepare to answer questions about suspensions—or the lack thereof.

So it came as no real surprise Monday when Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn opened his time in Hoover, Alabama, by announcing four of his players would not miss any playing time in 2016 for their marijuana-related arrests during the spring.

Before taking the podium at the Hyatt Regency hotel, Malzahn told reporters cornerback Carlton Davis, defensive end Byron Cowart, cornerback Jeremiah Dinson and wide receiver Ryan Davis would not be suspended for their May arrests on misdemeanor marijuana charges:

The situation Malzahn faced entering SEC media days wasn't new to him. In 2014, former quarterback Nick Marshall was not allowed to attend the event after being cited for marijuana possession days before.

A few weeks later, Malzahn announced Marshall would not start in the 2014 season opener against Arkansas. Cornerback Jonathon Mincy—who was arrested for marijuana possession in June of that year—missed the opening series of the contest. 

Two years later, though, Malzahn is going a different direction with the discipline for marijuana charges.

Carlton Davis will be able to return as a key starter at cornerback September 3 against defending national runner-up Clemson. The other three players are expected to be important reserves when the season opens.

During his main time with the media Monday, Malzahn was asked by Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports if the caliber of Clemson played a role in determining the punishment for the players who got in offseason trouble.

Malzahn said it did not.

"We have the same expectations regardless of the opener," Malzahn said on the SEC Network broadcast. "It just so happens we're playing one of the best teams in college football, a team that almost won it all last year. ... We have high expectations from our players, no matter who we're playing the first game."

While the news of no suspensions for the four Tigers was by far the biggest highlight of Malzahn's fourth time at the event as Auburn's head coach, he also provided some insight on how he's heading into what will be a crucial 2016 season for him and his program.

Here are some more key takeaways from Malzahn and the Tigers' time in Hoover.

    

Get ready for a "hands-on" Malzahn in 2016 

Auburn is coming off the worst year of offense for a Malzahn-coached team—one filled with quarterback issues, poor execution and questionable play-calling in crucial situations.

On Monday, Malzahn was particularly candid about his responsibility in a season in which the Tigers ranked 86th nationally in yards per play and 74th in points per game.

"From an offensive standpoint, [2015] really was the first time since I've been coaching college that we didn't execute at, what I say, a high level consistently," Malzahn said. "And that goes back on me."

Malzahn sounded like a head coach who knows he's under great pressure to fix the once-stellar offense that got him hired at Auburn in the first place:

In order to prevent a repeat of those offensive woes, Malzahn said he plans to go back to his roots as a coach this season. He said he was too much like a CEO of the team in 2015.

"One thing that really hit me pretty hard is that I got to be more active with the daily X's and O's and coaching that goes with that," Malzahn said. "And that's what I look at as my strength. ... I'm looking forward to getting back in the middle of things and enjoying the actual coaching on the field."

If Malzahn was indeed more hands-on with the offense in 2013 and 2014 than he was in 2015, then a turnaround on that side of the ball should be on its way for the Tigers.

The most crucial aspect of a potential bounce-back season on offense will be selecting the right starting quarterback. 

Malzahn, who was more hands-on with the quarterbacks during drills this spring, said Monday the battle continues to be open among JUCO transfer John Franklin III and former starters Jeremy Johnson and Sean White.

"The positive is we have three guys that we feel like can execute our offense," Malzahn said. "The challenge we have is defining and figuring out who that guy is that gives us the best chance to win games. The good thing is we do have experience in this."

Malzahn's focus on the three-way battle among Franklin, Johnson and White means true freshman quarterback Woody Barrett, who enrolled at Auburn late last month after some academic issues, will not compete for the starting job in fall camp.

"I think every player has a shot, but realistic right now the three older guys are going to be ahead," Malzahn said, per Michael Niziolek of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. "The fact that he just showed up two weeks ago, we are going to focus our attention on those three guys trying to win the position, and we will bring Woody along."

     

Great confidence in defense, despite coaching changes

It's been a while since Auburn has entered a season with more known qualities on defense than on offense.

But that's where the Tigers are right now in 2016. With so many questions about quarterbacks, play-calling and wide receivers on offense, the defense has the potential to be a strength again for Auburn. 

"We do have a lot of experience back, which I think is very important, we played well in the second half of the season," Malzahn said. "There's a lot of carryover, as far as our defense last year and defense this year, which I think is important. And I think we got a chance to have one of the best, if not the best, defenses we've had at my time at Auburn, which I think is very important."

A lot of Auburn's defensive success in 2016 will come down to one of the players he brought with him on the plane to Hoover on Monday—defensive end Carl Lawson.

Since he arrived at Auburn as a freshman in 2013, the Tigers defense has been better in almost every major stat category with him on the field. He missed all of 2014 and half of 2015 with injuries, so keeping him healthy will be vital, because he has elite talent.

"He's a game-changer. When you have a guy like that, it changes everything," Malzahn said. "And it really makes people better than maybe they are, or it hides some of your deficiencies. He's got that ability. ... He's at his fastest and quickest and strongest he's ever been."

Lawson will lead a defensive line that is so deep, 6'8" redshirt freshman defensive end Prince Tega Wanogho has moved over to the offensive line:

Auburn will be able to rely on the likes of returning starters such as defensive tackle Montravius Adams, safety Johnathan "Rudy" Ford, cornerback Carlton Davis, safety Tray Matthews and defensive tackle Dontavius Russell. 

But they'll still have to adjust to a new defensive coordinator, linebackers coach and defensive backs coach after the exodus of Auburn assistants to South Carolina this offseason. 

Still, with the changes to former LSU defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, former Auburn linebacker Travis Williams and former NFL defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff, Malzahn remains confident in his defense.

"Our defenses responded extremely well," Malzahn said. "Our players were flying around during the spring. They were having fun with our defensive staff. You can just sense it when you go on the defensive staff room. They are all on the same page. It's a great feeling."

If Malzahn and his new-look staff can keep those good feelings going on both sides of the ball through the fall, then he'll be under a lot less pressure the next time he lands in Hoover for media days.

          

All quotes obtained from SEC Network's broadcast 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

The Biggest Takeaways from Ohio State Recruits' Performance at the Opening

BEAVERTON, Oregon — Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer has assembled college football's top-rated 2017 recruiting class in composite rankings, and several members of the group attended The Opening national finals this past week.

Held July 5-10 at Nike's world headquarters, the event featured more than 150 athletes from high school football squads across America. Recent alumni of The Opening include Leonard Fournette, Deshaun Watson, Ezekiel Elliott and Jalen Ramsey.

Ohio State recruits and targets arrived in abundance, competing alongside each other in seven-on-seven action and also making an impact in the trenches. Bleacher Report was in attendance throughout the week and observed a variety of Buckeyes-related developments.

              

J.K. Dobbins Receives Hardware from Former Buckeyes Star

J.K. Dobbins, a 5'9 ½, 199-pound running back from La Grange, Texas, committed to Ohio State in March. In Beaverton, he encountered one of the program's most impressive players of the Urban Meyer era.

Ezekiel Elliott, offensive MVP of the 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship, was on location Friday when athletes underwent combine drills during the Nike Football Ratings Championship. An alumnus of The Opening, the dynamic Dallas Cowboys rookie running back commanded plenty of attention from recruits during his time on the field.

He spent some time with Dobbins shortly after the Ratings Championship wrapped up. The Lone Star State recruit took top honors at the event with a cumulative score of 146.76.

His effort included a 4.45 in the 40-yard dash, a 4.09 in the agility shuttle, a 42-foot power ball toss and a 43.1-inch vertical leap.

"Honestly, I felt I should've done better," Dobbins told Bleacher Report's Sanjay Kirpalani. "But, I came out on top, and that's been the main goal the whole time."

Elliott presented him with the trophy afterward. Now embarking on the next phase of his career, the No. 4 overall NFL draft pick appreciates a legacy of strong play at the position in Columbus will continue years after his departure.

"The thing that motivated me at Ohio State was continuing the lineage and upholding the reputation of the great pedigree of running backs," Elliott told Bleacher Report's Damon Sayles (via Kirpalani). "To see the next guy up come out and represent for the Buckeyes—for that running back role that so many greats played in—it's really good to see that."

Dobbins, who rushed for 4,971 yards and 72 scores during the past two seasons, didn't take the moment lightly.

"It's cool, man," Dobbins said. "He was an Ohio State running back, and I'm going to be the future there, hopefully. He's a great guy."

              

QB Commit Tate Martell and Targets Join Forces but Fall Short in Tournament

Things couldn't have started on a more positive note for Team Alpha Pro, a seven-on-seven squad stocked with Ohio State targets. The squad, also heavy on Georgia commits, shredded its first opponent Saturday, 33-0, carrying the swagger of championship favorite.

The tandem of Elite 11 finalists Tate Martell and Bulldogs pledge Jake Fromm appeared prime to deliver a deep run. The supporting cast included priority Buckeyes recruits Tyjon Lindsey, Jeffrey Okudah and Trevon Grimes.

When competition resumed Sunday, several onlooking analysts anticipated Alpha Pro would climb toward the top of bracket play. However, after earning a first-round bye, momentum was squashed.

Alpha Pro lost consecutive games in shocking fashion, failing to score a point in either contest. Offensive drives routinely reached the goal line and stalled, to the frustration of Martell:

It wasn't a banner day for the Bishop Gorman High School (Las Vegas) star, who hasn't suffered a loss through two seasons at the school. He's also been one of the country's most productive and successful seven-on-seven field generals.

Despite some struggles at The Opening and ensuing criticism on social media from rival fanbases, Martell maintained his composure and kept things in perspective. He told B/R those days of working with Ohio State commits and targets at The Opening were invaluable, and also noted it's time to get back to work at Bishop Gorman:

Longtime Ohio State safety pledge Brendon White expressed confidence in the quarterback to help take this talented class to a new level.

"Tate brings a lot of swagger to us," he said. "He has some people doubting him because of his size [5'10 ½"], but he's a very good athlete. He's going to help us put together the nation's best class and win championships."

              

Ohio State in Excellent Shape to Add More Top Talent

No college football program presently carries more combined 4-star and 5-star commitments than Ohio State (13), but there's reason to believe the Buckeyes are just getting started toward a rather amazing recruiting class.

Several elite talents at The Opening include Ohio State in their top group of collegiate options, including multiple 5-star prospects. These possibilities include a pair of premier pass-catchers in Grimes and Lindsey.

Lindsey is one of Martell's closest friends. Although USC, Alabama and Auburn are also in the pursuit, the Buckeyes are widely viewed as a slight favorite over Big Ten foe Nebraska. Rated No. 4 nationally among receivers, he earned first-team all-tournament honors at The Opening and expects to announce a decision in August.

Grimes has repeatedly gone on record to identify Ohio State as his favorite. The nation's No. 5 receiver also plans to reveal college plans next month, potentially setting the stage for Meyer to land both before the season starts.

Former Alabama running back commit Cam Akers, who was among the most explosive offensive weapons in Beaverton, is also high on the Buckeyes after multiple trips to Columbus. Rated No. 2 among rushers in the 2017 class, he could complement Dobbins well for years to come.

The Buckeyes are also among favorites for 4-star Tennessee offensive tackle Trey Smith, who could be in line for a 5-star bump soon in composite rankings after another impressive performance on the camp circuit.

"The Buckeyes are definitely in good contention with me," the 6'5 ½", 299-pound blocker told B/R. "I love Urban Meyer. He's a good dude, and obviously a great coach. He's got a family atmosphere up there, which I like a lot. It's a top-notch program."

Defensively, there are just as many possibilities to imagine for Ohio State fans.

Okudah, the country's top-rated safety, and Browning, the No. 2 outside linebacker, are both strong candidates to join new coordinator Greg Schiano's attack. Texas linebacker Anthony Hines, who held the most offers at The Opening with 90 scholarships, is also considering the Buckeyes.

Maryland edge-rusher Chase Young is another exceptional talent who could be on commitment watch with Ohio State. 

Interest also extended into the 2018 class at The Opening. Columbus-area all-purpose back Jaelen Gill was one of a few underclassmen invited. He's developed a strong rapport with Buckeyes assistant Tony Alford, and it may just be a matter of time until the local playmaker climbs aboard.

"This 2017 class is unreal," Gill said. "I also know they have a lot more great players coming in 2018, so things are going to keep getting better and better there."

            

Quotes and observations obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings.

Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake.

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The Biggest Takeaways from USC Recruits' Performance at The Opening

BEAVERTON, Ore. — High school football's premier prospects traveled to the Pacific Northwest from July 5-10 for The Opening's national finals at Nike's world headquarters.

As usual, the event included multiple USC Trojans storylines, including the presence of current standouts and future contributors. Head coach Clay Helton is looking to gain momentum as his first full cycle continues, and several competitors in Beaverton could ultimately aid that effort.

Bleacher Report spent the entire week witnessing developments on and off the field. Here are few USC tidbits from an action-packed showcase.

      

5-Star Running Back Commit Compares Himself to Leonard Fournette

Stephen Carr was amazed on Friday when The Opening staff revealed an awe-inspiring group of college counselors. It was heavy on All-Americans and Heisman Trophy contenders just a few years removed from competing at the event themselves.

Carr, rated No. 3 nationally among running backs, was particularly dazzled by the accomplished group of players at his position. The collection of counselors included Christian McCaffrey (Stanford), Nick Chubb (Georgia), Royce Freeman (Oregon) and Leonard Fournette (LSU).

"I was honestly starstruck," he told B/R. "It was incredible just watching them all walk onto the field together. I talked to McCaffrey for a while and he told me how much different the college game is from high school. You've got to be zoned in or you won't make it out there. It was a blessing to spend some time and learn from these guys."

Each member of the group would serve as a solid role model in terms of career trajectory, but Carr identified Fournette as someone he specifically hopes to measure himself against.

"I think I can match up with his style," Carr said. "He's a tough, physical runner who breaks tackles and can also get outside with his speed. That's a lot to deal with for a defense."

The 6'0", 202-pound California product is also an above-average receiver out of the backfield. He should contend for immediate touches in Los Angeles.

          

USC Squarely in the Picture for Top-Ranked Uncommitted Passer 

The Trojans carry a blue-chip 2018 quarterback commitment from 5-star recruit Matt Corral, but the position remains unaddressed in the 2017 cycle.

That could change this month if Jack Sears elects to join USC's class.

He hails from the same high school (San Clemente) that produced second-year Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold. Sears, rated No. 10 nationally among pro-style passers, didn't downplay the role of that relationship in his overall feelings toward USC.

"It's great having Sam there because I know I can trust him to give me his thoughts straight up," he told B/R. "He always talks about how much he loves it there."

Sears expressed plans to publicly pledge somewhere before August, naming USC as a legitimate local contender along with UCLA. He also recently visited Tennessee, Duke and North Carolina. 

The 6'3", 200-pound prospect produced 2,697 passing yards and 37 touchdown tosses last season while also inflicting damage as a capable runner. Sears is among the most athletic members of this Elite 11 class and was actually the only uncommitted quarterback in Beaverton.

"I like to go down my own path, and that's exactly how I'm handling the recruitment process," he said. "I know some quarterbacks have been committed for more than a year now, but I'm OK with taking my time while finding the right fit. I want to make my decision once, stick with it and have that be my home for the next four or five years."

Carr wouldn't give us a name but said a quarterback at The Opening informed him that a Trojans commitment could be coming. It would be a major upset if that player wasn't Sears.

        

Los Angeles Duo Could Further Bolster Trojans' Receiver Corps

Hawkins High School (Los Angeles) teammates Joseph Lewis and Jalen Hall form a fearsome tandem in the passing game. USC aims to keep these two together for years to come, and it's not far-fetched to think the Trojans are well positioned to eventually pick up both 5-star recruits.

Lewis, rated No. 2 nationally among 2017 receiver prospects, told B/R he's comfortable with the coaching staff.

"It’s a really cool relationship. I was just talking with [USC offensive coordinator] Tee Martin earlier. It was a really good talk. I’m good with those guys," he said. 

Lewis plans to use official visits at various universities, including Oklahoma, Nebraska and Arizona, but USC is still the safe bet to bring him on board this winter. That could ultimately set the stage for another celebrated receiver to sign in 2018, when Hall will be among the most coveted pass-catchers in his class. 

The rising junior already stands 6'3", 186 pounds and was the lone underclassman receiver invited to compete at The Opening. Hall, who reports 35 scholarship offers, intends to trim his list of options down to five or 10 teams later this year.

Helton and his staff would put the Trojans in enviable position if Lewis is on USC's roster when the decision-making process accelerates for Hall.

"We talk about playing together all the time and that would be special," he said. "We both need to make sure we're doing what's right for ourselves, but if it comes down to us attending the same school, that would really be great."

          

Quotes and observations obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings.

Follow Tyler via Twitter @TDsTake.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The Biggest Takeaways from USC Recruits' Performance at The Opening

BEAVERTON , Ore. — High school football's premier prospects traveled to the Pacific Northwest from July 5-10 for The Opening's national finals at Nike's world headquarters...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Greg Sankey's 2nd 'State of the SEC' Speech Shows He's Right for the Job

HOOVER, Ala. — Greg Sankey stepped to the microphone to officially open SEC media days, with the eyes of the college football world watching.

He showed everyone a leader.

Sankey's first "state of the SEC" speech at media days last July served as more of an introduction of the newly minted commissioner than it did as a platform for change. 

His sequel on the biggest offseason stage of the offseason accomplished the latter, solidifying him as the right man to lead the SEC into the murky future of college athletics.

Sankey's theme centered on a new catchphrase the SEC is rolling out for the 2016 season: "It just means more."

"I want SEC teams to win every possible championship, and I expect us to be victorious the absolutely right way," Sankey said. "All of us who call the SEC home, our administrators, our coaches, our fans, our players. We're all contributing to something that lasts, something that matters. Can't be measured on a scoreboard. It can be measured through people's lives, through service trips to foreign lands and families who live better because of a college education, and in one changed life after another."

It was clear during Sankey's 30-minute stump speech and subsequent 10-minute sessions in smaller rooms that the phrase comes with multiple meanings. 

From a publicity standpoint, it accomplishes the obvious. The SEC—home of eight of the last 10 college football national championships—has risen to become the unquestioned top conference in the sport due in large part to the resources that are being dedicated to it.

According to the USA Today coaching salary database, 11 of the top 20 highest-paid head coaches in the country were in the SEC in 2015. Six of the nine million-dollar assistants coached on SEC staffs last year. Multimillion dollar training facilities—some that come complete with waterfalls—have risen out of the ground around the South over the last 10 years like the humidity rising on a hot July day.

It's a marketing ploy but an effective one. That's job No. 1 for somebody who's essentially the CEO of a major business.

The slogan also means more from a fan perspective.

Where else do fans flock in droves to stand in a hotel lobby for eight hours while hoping to get a small glimpse of their favorite head coach or player as he rides down an escalator?

That happens at SEC media days ever year. 

For Sankey, "it just means more" also means more responsibility for players within the conference.

Sexual assault and interpersonal violence have dominated offseason headlines in the sport, including the sexual assault scandal that led to the dismissal of Baylor head coach Art Briles, the recently settled lawsuit regarding a hostile sexual environment at Tennessee and Mississippi State's decision to allow former 5-star defensive tackle signee Jeffery Simmons to enroll after video surfaced of him punching a woman while breaking up a fight.

"I think if you heard the activities, the last month reminds us that we even need to be more attentive and with the settlement that was announced and some of the commentary about changes at the University of Tennessee, there's a communication opportunity there to help educate on those changes," Sankey said.

"You saw a program that LSU introduced last week [requiring players and coaches to take sexual harassment classes]. University of Kentucky, two, three years ago went through an exhaustive search across campus survey process to understand and educate how they proceed. But I would caution that we not assume that people don't do the right things most, if not all of the time."

The slogan means more for the players to set a positive example and give hope to a community, like Georgia running back Nick Chubb does with every carry to Chubbtown, Georgia.

It means more for the coaches to set and provide that example, like Hugh Freeze of Ole Miss does when he sets up and sometimes attends his team's spring break trip to Haiti

It means more if the conference takes positive steps toward improving player behavior, as it has done the last two offseasons, passing and subsequently expanding transfer restrictions preventing college athletes with a history of interpersonal violence from gaining entrance to any of the 14 member institutions.

"The last few months remind every one of us in college athletics that we are entrusted with the public, with leadership for what is at its heart an educational endeavor that's important in our culture," Sankey said. "It spills out on to the fields of competition. And it does, like many areas of life, present us ethical challenges and opportunities."

Sankey proved on Monday when he opened SEC media days that he gets it.

He gets that the SEC's power and influence should be used to effect positive change while also recognizing that the reflection in the mirror is far from perfect.

Sankey has held the job of commissioner for the last 13 months.

On Wednesday, he became what his predecessor, Mike Slive, was for a decade.

The most powerful man in college athletics.

    

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.

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The Biggest Takeaways from Texas Recruits' Performances at The Opening

BEAVERTON, Ore. — The Texas Longhorns had two commitments competing at The Opening last week, quarterback Sam Ehlinger and offensive lineman Xavier Newman.

Two commitments, and a handful of potential targets.

The Longhorns are sitting at seven commitments and could use a recruiting jolt with their 2017 class. With 5-star, in-state athletes like defensive tackle Marvin Wilson, safety Jeffrey Okudah and linebacker Baron Browning still available, Texas could do exactly what it did last year: start recruiting slowly and finish strong.

Here are a few takeaways from The Opening involving Texas recruiting.

 

QB commit Ehlinger values experience, eyes targets

Austin, Texas, 4-star quarterback Sam Ehlinger understands that in a couple of years he has the chance to be the face of the Forty Acres.

As the nation's No. 6 dual-threat quarterback, Ehlinger is constantly looking to be challenged. He is aware that he'll win battles, but he'll also lose some. Ehlinger didn't lead his seven-on-seven team at The Opening, Fly Rush, to a championship, but he helped the team make the tournament finals and said the weeklong experience is one that will help him prepare for the regular season and next-level football.

"It's been a great experience. I've never been around this many great athletes before," Ehlinger said. "It's been good getting to know all of them and competing against the best."

In addition to getting better, Ehlinger used his time in Oregon to scout some of the elite uncommitted talent, particularly the big guys up front. He said he has his eyes on a few athletes who could help the Texas class flourish tremendously.

"All the big guys in Texas—Walker Little, Marvin Wilson—all the guys everyone thinks of," he said. "They're just so large. They're physical specimens. It's crazy watching them."

He then added, "I'm looking forward to getting a bunch of good players."

 

Tutelage beneficial for OL commit Newman

There's nothing that revs up Xavier Newman more than good, old-fashioned competition. Lining up against the best defensive linemen of college football recruiting was right up the 3-star offensive guard's alley.

"We were going after it, man. We were having fun and competing," said Newman, who committed to Texas on April 20. "It was a great experience. I was loving it."

Newman said he learned a lot from LeCharles Bentley, one of The Opening offensive line coaches and someone who played six years in the NFL as an interior lineman. Newman said he is looking to process the tutelage he received for use in the upcoming season.

"Learning from [Bentley] in the days I've been here, has really helped my game," he said. "We were learning, and we were going against the best in the country. There's nothing more you can really ask for."

As for being a player-recruiter, Newman said he spoke with a few guys privately about playing for the Longhorns.

"I've been trying to talk to pretty much everybody," he said, "but at the end of the day, it's their decision. I will help as much as I can."

 

Longhorns LB serves as The Opening counselor

Texas sophomore linebacker Malik Jefferson was one of several camp counselors at The Opening assisting athletes and sharing personal stories from his days at the prestigious event.

To Jefferson, mentoring is key. He wanted to make sure every athlete he spoke with had a similar—or better—experience in Oregon.

"There are a lot of guys out here; it's their future and their opportunity," Jefferson said. "If they ask me anything, I'll be honest and tell them how it is. I think that the biggest part is honesty; they'll respect that more than anything."

It's that attitude that makes Jefferson a likable person on and off the field. It's also draws young athletes to Jefferson. While he didn't mention any names, he's hoping to see Texas' 2017 recruiting class see a major spike before national signing day.

Jefferson's primary objective at The Opening, however, was to be a solid mentor.

"They deserve that much. It's something I wanted to do when I first came here," he said. "I think the biggest part with us being college kids is they want to relate more to what we do and know what we do at the next level that will be crucial. Getting them to prepare for it all is big, and I'm happy to be back."

 

5-star DT Wilson a follower since the "Colt days"

Arguably the biggest target for Texas—perhaps literally and figuratively—on defense is Houston defensive tackle Marvin Wilson. The 5-star lineman didn't disappoint at The Opening, winning defensive lineman MVP honors and, while competing against a very talented offensive line class, consistently letting the world know of his ever-growing nickname, "Real Life Goon."

Among the schools Wilson said he's considering making official visits to are USC and Florida State, but he also said Texas is one of the schools he's been high on since he was in elementary school. He has built a solid relationship not only with head coach Charlie Strong but also defensive coordinator Vance Bedford.

"I've always loved Texas, especially in the Colt days," Wilson said, referring to former Longhorns quarterback Colt McCoy (2005-09). "They've always had a special place in my heart. Coach Bedford has been recruiting me really hard."

At 6'4" and 329 pounds, Wilson can be a reliable interior lineman in Texas' scheme. He's a powerful athlete who plays with a mean streak. And despite being the nation's top-ranked lineman and the No.3 overall player in the 2017 class, he lines up every play as if he's the lowest on the totem pole.

Texas is a school to watch, but so are Texas A&M, LSU, Alabama, USC, Florida State and others. He said on Saturday that he plans on taking official visits to USC and Florida State in an effort to see two out-of-state schools.

"I just want to go and see where I can be comfortable," Wilson said. "In my mind, if you can't be comfortable wherever you go...you want be able to develop. If it's far away and I feel comfortable, that's where I'll go. If it's in-state, with either Texas or Texas A&M, then that's where I'll go."

 

2018 5-star Foster to visit Texas' campus soon

Angleton, Texas, has been a hotbed for Texas recruiting in the past. Former Longhorns include Quentin Jammer, Ahmard Hall and Quandre Diggs, among others.

Could 2018 5-star safety B.J. Foster be the next in line?

While it may be still too early to say, Foster is well-aware of the connection—and success rate—when discussing the Longhorns and Angleton alumni.

"We've had a few Angelton players there, and I like their facilities and the coaches," Foster said. "I'll be there July 23 to visit and to go to a camp."

The Longhorns are hoping to land Foster's commitment, as he's the nation's No. 13 player overall and No. 2 safety in the 2018 class. He has 22 reported offers and showed exceptional ball-hawking skills during the week for Vapor Speed, the team that won the 7On Championship at The Opening.

Foster had an interception in overtime that sent Vapor Speed to the tournament semifinals. Later, in the finals, he had a pick in the end zone that put a halt to a possible scoring drive.

Texas fans wouldn't mind seeing him use those skills for their team—particularly if he can be a similar playmaker as Jammer and Diggs were as defensive backs for the Longhorns.

 

4-star OT Little: Texas "a school on the rise"

Bellaire, Texas, 4-star offensive tackle Walker Little made the Final Five of The Opening's Lineman Challenge and held his own at the right tackle position.

With 33 reported offers, Little has his options with recruiting, but according to his 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions, the Longhorns are in a solid position to add him to their 2017 class.

"Texas has been a top school for me throughout the process," Little said. "I've grown close with [offensive line] Coach [Matt] Mattox and Coach Strong. They are a school on the rise, and a lot of recruits are looking at them."

Stanford, Ole Miss, Alabama and other programs will be battling Texas for Little, who was impressive throughout his time at The Opening. At 6'7" and 305 pounds, Little used his size and length to frustrate defensive linemen in one-on-one challenges.

Lining up against Duke defensive end commit Drew Jordan, Little made possibly the most impressive plays of the lineman challenge finals. Little threw Jordan to the ground, bringing quite the roar out of his offensive lineman teammates, as well as the crowd watching.

 

Fox end attractive to 4-star DE Chaisson

The one thing Houston 4-star K'Lavon Chaisson loves doing is keeping offenses guessing as to what he's going to do next. As a top-five nationally ranked weak-side defensive end, Chaisson is looking for a place where he can be that type of athlete frequently.

This is where the "Fox" end comes into play for the Longhorns.

The Fox is Texas' specialty position for hybrid defensive ends/outside linebackers who can not only be rush ends but also drop into pass coverage when necessary.

"They have the Fox end, which I'm very interested in," Chaisson said. "I think it really fits my skill set."

Texas is in the race for Chaisson, but the Longhorns will have to battle schools like Oklahoma, Houston, Florida State, LSU and Colorado, according to him. He did mention that Texas "is really high on my list" and is hoping to take a visit to the Forty Acres soon.

As the nation's No. 5 weak-side defensive end and the No. 88 player overall, Chaisson said Texas would give him the perfect balance of proximity, a nice campus atmosphere and overall scheme fit. He added that he's a fan of the academics, specifically the business program.

"I was told their business program is ranked 16th in the nation," he said. "Texas isn't too far, but it's not too close to home. It's kind of like a getaway, but when you feel like going home, it's just a two-hour trip from where I stay."

Chaisson said he is still open in his recruiting process and said he will start looking into setting up official visits soon.

 

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

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The Biggest Takeaways from Notre Dame Recruits' Performances at The Opening

BEAVERTON, Ore. — How would you describe Notre Dame football? 

Foster Sarell, a 5-star offensive tackle and top-10 player overall in the 2017 class, may have one of the better definitions.

"It's a football mecca of the country, pretty much," Sarell said. "There's the campus, the academics, the stadium, Rudy, all that. It's just amazing."

For Notre Dame commits and targets, there's much to like about the school. Here are some takeaways regarding the Fighting Irish from some Class of 2017 targets, led by one of the group's newest members.

 

New commit Holmes eyeing 5-star CB as teammate

Cheshire, Connecticut, 4-star athlete C.J. Holmes committed to Notre Dame on Friday and didn't waste much time recruiting uncommitted players at The Opening.

"I'm trying to holler at as much people as I can," Holmes said, "but at the same time, I understand everyone has to make their own choices. I'm trying not to be overbearing. That can be annoying."

Holmes said Notre Dame was an easy choice for him because of "the academic aspect and how the school is so widely known for setting you up outside of football." He also appreciates the culture on campus and surrounding it. Holmes additionally said he chose a school "where I know I'll come out as a man and not a boy."

Post-Opening, Holmes said he's planning on targeting one player in particular to join him in the 2017 class.

"Definitely going for Shaun Wade," Holmes said, referring to the 5-star prospect and the nation's No. 2 cornerback out of Jacksonville, Florida. "He's an Ohio State commit, but I'd like to see him flip.

"He's long and physical. He's everything you look for in a corner, especially with his strength, skill and ability to make plays. You need big, physical corners out there to take care of those big wide receivers from all different conferences."

 

Potential O-lineman explosion for the Irish?

Of the 15 Notre Dame commits, two are offensive linemen, the latest being IMG Academy 4-star lineman Robert Hainsey, who chose the Irish over Michigan and Michigan State.

The good news for the Irish is that there's plenty of room to add numbers to the line. Along with Hainsey, two linemen to keep an eye on are the aforementioned Sarell and versatile 4-star lineman Jedrick Wills Jr.

Both athletes have expressed their appreciation for Notre Dame, and Irish fans would love to see them competing for Kelly and the team. Sarell is the nation's No. 2 offensive tackle, while Wills, who also can play guard, is ranked the nation's No. 7 tackle. Both are the top-ranked players from their respective states.

"I love Notre Dame. They're definitely a top school for me," said Sarell, who is from Graham, Washington. [Offensive line] Coach [Harry] Hiestand is amazing. I love how he interacts with his O-line and how he teaches the O-line beyond the specifics of the game."

Wills, who hails from Lexington, Kentucky, added, "When I went down and visited, I got to see more of the campus and hang out with the players. I liked how I bonded with them and got to see things I didn't get to see before. I have a good relationship with Coach Kelly and Coach Heistand."

Landing Hainsey, Sarell and Wills would be huge for the Irish, as the commits would give the recruiting class a major boost. 

 

4-star LB/DE Foster speaks highly of Irish

Shelby, North Carolina, linebacker/defensive end hybrid Justin Foster was on campus last month for Notre Dame's Irish Invasion. The Irish made Foster's list of his top seven schools in May.

The Irish are still high on his list two months later. Believed to be among the favorites are Notre Dame, Clemson and Tennessee.

"We talked a lot about academics, which is really big to me," Foster told Bleacher Report's Tyler Donohue about Notre Dame. "We also spoke about which position they would want me to play. They like me as a rush linebacker, almost the same thing I do at my high school."

Foster, at 6'4" and 240 pounds, is ranked the No. 4 outside linebacker in the 2017 class. He also is ranked No. 79 overall. He told Donohue that several schools have been discussing playing him at linebacker or defensive end, depending on the scheme.

 

4-star ATH Ahmed looking for best of both worlds

When Kirkland, Washington, 4-star athlete Salvon Ahmed released his top five on Thursday, he stressed the importance of wanting the best of both worlds—playing for a winning football program while earning a well-respected degree.

Ahmed knows that Notre Dame can be the answer for everything he wants, but Stanford, Oregon, USC and in-state school Washington also are just as qualified to satisfy his needs.

Notre Dame, Ahmed said, has football tradition on its side, and he's a fan of both that tradition and the coaching staff. Ahmed has heard from a host of Notre Dame coaches, including head coach Brian Kelly, defensive backs coach Todd Lyght, wide receivers coach Mike Denbrock and offensive coordinator Mike Sanford.

"They've stayed in contact with me through this whole process," said Ahmed, who is ranked the No. 6 athlete in the 2017 class. "When Coach Kelly got involved, it showed my interest in me, and that sparked my interest even more. I've talked with Coach Lyght through this whole recruiting process, so I've been able to build a relationship with him.

"I just love how they play as a team. The tradition there is amazing, and you know they're going to build something great every year."

Additionally, Ahmed said Notre Dame could fill his needs academically, as he is looking to major in business marketing. He also has an interest in media communications.

"One thing I've talked to Coach Lyght about is marketing," he said. "The program is second to none over there. That's obviously another bonus with them."

 

Notre Dame's balance intrigues 4-star DE Paschal

Notre Dame has two defensive linemen committed, and Maryland 4-star end Joshua Paschal would be a major addition to the Irish roster. Paschal has a few schools in the mix as he continues his recruiting process but speaks very highly of what Notre Dame brings to the table.

"It's the academics and the balance of academics to athletics," said Paschal, a top-300 player and the nation's No. 9 strong-side defensive back in the 2017 class. "I also like the tradition of the school. It's very similar to my high school. It's a small school, and I like the religious part of it all."

Paschal, who attends Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney, Maryland, has Notre Dame high but also is considering schools like Oklahoma, Maryland, North Carolina and USC. He said he is looking to announced a top list of schools soon.

For now, he is enjoying the summer and preparing for the upcoming regular season. Camps and major events like The Opening have been beneficial for him in getting better on the field.

"This has been great," Paschal said of The Opening. "I'm doing what I love against the best competition in the country."

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The Biggest Takeaways from Texas A&M Recruits' Performances at The Opening

BEAVERTON, Ore. — The Texas A&M recruiting class for 2017 is looking strong as the summer progresses. The Aggies have a top-10 class nationally, and nine of the 17 commits have come in since June 2.

Of the 17 commits, only one—Shawnee, Oklahoma, offensive lineman Creed Humphrey—was invited to The Opening. But Humphrey made an impact at the prestigious event, holding his own against some of the best defensive linemen in college football recruiting today.

Additionally, a few uncommitted targets were solid, as competition took place at Nike World Headquarters. Here are a few takeaways regarding Texas A&M recruiting.

 

A&M OL commit valued the coaching

As the lone Texas A&M representative, Humphrey said he wanted to leave his mark at The Opening. The 4-star interior lineman, ranked the nation's No. 3 center in the 2017 class, didn't disappoint, winning his fair share of one-on-one battles against defensive linemen.

Humphrey also showed his strength in the bench-press challenge, a part of the Bleacher Report Showcase. He pressed 225 pounds 25 times.

Additionally, Humphrey managed to get all kinds of tutelage from coaches who have excelled at both the college and pro levels. To him, that was the most important thing.

"The coaches here are the best coaches you can get at a camp," he said. "Having them out here is going to really develop me and get me ready for the next level."

In addition to honing his own craft, Humphrey said he's keeping an eye on a few athletes who could help Texas A&M in the future. He didn't want to mention names, but he does have a short list of players who he said would be solid contributors in head coach Kevin Sumlin's offensive and defensive schemes.

"I've talked to a couple of players here," he said. "I think there are a couple who could really help us."

 

4-star OT Little likes A&M's direction, OL coach

As of Monday, Texas A&M isn't a 247Sports Crystal Ball prediction for Walker Little. The Bellaire, Texas, 4-star offensive tackle, however, told Bleacher Report that the Aggies are a team on his radar, primarily because of their recent success with grooming offensive linemen to the NFL.

"Texas A&M has a great new [offensive line] coach with Coach [Jim] Turner, who has consistently put players in the league," Little said. "They have a great fanbase, and it's close to home."

Texas, Stanford, Ole Miss, Alabama and other programs will be battling Texas A&M for Little, who was impressive throughout his time at The Opening. At 6'7" and 305 pounds, Little used his size and length to frustrate defensive linemen in one-on-one challenges.

Little might have made the most memorable play of the lineman challenge finals. Little lined up against Duke defensive end commit Drew Jordan and threw him to the ground, causing an emphatic roar from his offensive lineman teammates and the rest of the crowd watching.

 

5-star DT: A 'Real Life Goon' in College Station?

The self-proclaimed "Real Life Goon" at The Opening made a statement throughout the week.

Houston 5-star defensive tackle Marvin Wilson put on a show against an extremely talented offensive line group, winning his fair share of battles and keeping the offensive linemen on their toes. As the nation's No. 1 defensive tackle, Wilson played with a target on his back and ultimately won defensive lineman MVP honors.

Wilson, who is still wide-open in his process, talked about playing at Texas A&M and showing his talents relatively close to home. He also likes how the Aggies have been recruiting him heavily.

"A&M's really come on strong. I really didn't know about A&M until I got recruited and started going up there," he said. "It started with Coach [Terry] Price when I was just cooling out with him. Now they've got Coach [David] Turner coaching the D-line. I've been talking with them and getting a real feel for A&M."

Wilson said he's looking into official visits to USC and Florida State, but he said Texas A&M has a good chance of landing one of the remaining visits, as does Texas. He said he wants to first focus on the official visits to USC and Florida State in an effort to see two out-of-state schools.

"I just want to go and see where I can be comfortable," Wilson said. "In my mind, if you can't be comfortable wherever you go, you want be able to develop. If it's far away and I feel comfortable, that's where I'll go. If it's in state, with either Texas or Texas A&M, then that's where I'll go."

 

2018 5-star Foster would be a major asset

Working on the 2018 class is never a bad idea for Texas A&M, and 5-star safety B.J. Foster would be a solid keystone to the class.

Foster is the nation's No. 13 player overall and No. 2 safety in the 2018 cycle. He has 22 reported offers and showed exceptional ball-hawking skills during the week for Vapor Speed, the team that won the 7On Championship at The Opening.

What may be even better news? He has legitimate interest in the Aggies.

"I visited [A&M] in the spring, and it was pretty nice up there," Foster said. "I like the coaches and the players around there. I'll go back and visit."

Foster's playmaking ability would be valued in College Station. He had an interception in overtime that sent Vapor Speed to the 7On tournament semifinals. Then in the finals, his pick in the end zone put the clamps on a potential scoring drive.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

10 College Football Teams with Coolest Facilities

College football teams try to equip their programs with the latest and greatest upgrades, and a school's facilities are perhaps the greatest example.

From indoor and outdoor practice fields to weight rooms and training rooms to training tables, programs take immense pride in delivering the best for their football players.

While this off-field competition can reach seemingly unnecessary levels, the result of mega-million projects are top-notch buildings.

The following list highlights 10 of the best current and soon-to-be-completed facilities in college football.

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Every Big Ten Team's Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios for 2016

The start of the college football season is officially fewer than two months away and anticipation for the coming year is already beginning to reach a fever pitch.

That rings especially true in the Big Ten, which possesses no shortage of teams with high expectations for the 2016 campaign.

But whether you're a team with championship aspirations or one just looking to improving on a losing season, every team in the conference has a best- and worst-case scenario that could potentially play out in the coming year. Most programs will likely find themselves in the middle of those two extremes—but that doesn't stop them from existing in the first place.

And with so much still unknown about the upcoming season as a whole, what better time to project the potential highs and lows it could possess? With that in mind, let's take a look at what would be the best and worst scenario for each Big Ten team in 2016.

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2017 Recruits Who Could Become 5-Stars After Their Performance at the Opening

BEAVERTON, Ore. — With The Opening now in the rearview mirror, there are bound to be movements when the rankings are updated for the 2017 cycle.

Some players validated their lofty ratings, while others were out to prove they were deserving of another star or two. 

After winning the Elite 11 MVP, 4-star quarterback and current Alabama pledge Tua Tagovailoa made a case to jump into 5-star territory. 

However, he was far from the only player who capitalized on the opportunity to make a statement competing against the nation’s top prospects at the premier summer-camp showcase.  

Which prospects in the 2017 class could join the exclusive fraternity of 5-star talents when the rankings are updated? 

  

Note: players listed in alphabetical order.

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SEC Media Days Schedule 2016: TV, Live-Stream Coverage and Known Participants

The 2016 SEC media days begin Monday and run through Thursday as numerous top college football players and coaching personalities provide fodder for fans and media with the buildup to the regular season beginning.

SEC Country released the schedule of coaches' pressers months ago, and ESPN.com's Greg Ostendorf recently posted the list of players who will make appearances. ESPNU will provide TV coverage for all four days, as will WatchESPN by way of live stream. Coverage begins at 3 p.m. ET on Monday and 1 p.m. ET on all other days.

Below is a glance at the order in which coaches will appear before the media this week, along with the juiciest storylines surrounding them and their programs:

The Hyatt Regency Birmingham-Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Alabama, serves as the venue for the media days.

Auburn's Gus Malzahn will be the first head coach to speak, just as he was last year, but he'll be facing a far different line of questioning this time around.

After guiding the Tigers to the national title game with a breakout 2013 campaign, Malzahn's team was expected to bounce back from a rebuilding 2014 of sorts this past season.

Barrett Sallee of Bleacher Report illustrated how that panned out—and how difficult it is to live up to the label of SEC favorite:

Tigers quarterback Jeremy Johnson fell woefully short of the hype, though, as Auburn struggled to a 7-6 record and finished at the bottom of the SEC West. The defense didn't click under new coordinator Will Muschamp either, and now Muschamp is at the helm in South Carolina.

Muschamp will be the last to speak among all coaches. He has big shoes to fill for predecessor Steve Spurrier in terms of building the Gamecocks and holding court with the media, an area where Spurrier excelled.

Like Spurrier, Muschamp was previously the head coach of the Florida Gators, albeit with far less success. The depth of the conference will make it a steep climb for Muschamp, but his enthusiastic style and defensive background may be just what South Carolina needs to rally and be competitive in 2016.

Plenty of intrigue is sandwiched between the bookends in Malzahn and Muschamp. Another defensive coordinator who left for a head job elsewhere is former Alabama play-caller Kirby Smart, who'll kick off Tuesday and speak on the outlook for his Georgia program.

Smart's first recruiting class ranks eighth overall in 247Sports' composite rankings, which bodes well for the start of his tenure at his alma mater.

Also speaking on Tuesday will be Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin, who lost two young, top-flight QBs to transfers in Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray. Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight is projected to start for the Aggies under center, so he and Sumlin should have some interesting things to say, even as his optimism has increased.

"I would say the perception right now about this program, based on what has happened since December, is drastically different," said Sumlin in June, per USA Today's George Schroeder. "From a stability standpoint. From a talent-level standpoint. From every aspect."

Talent at the QB position is generally lacking in the SEC at the moment, which is bound to amplify the attention around Knight, Tennessee's Joshua Dobbs and Ole Miss' Chad Kelly.

Already an entertaining interview, LSU's Les Milesalmost lost his job last year, making his Thursday session more compelling than usual. He'll be accompanied by superstar running back Leonard Fournette, who had a breakout sophomore year with 1,953 yards rushing and 22 scores.

It almost goes without saying the architect of Alabama's powerhouse, Nick Saban, is another boss to watch.

Although he'll likely espouse about "The Process" and maintain a rather even-keeled countenance as he often does, Saban is one of the best coaches in college football history and will be a big draw to start Wednesday's proceedings.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The Biggest Takeaways from Michigan Recruits' Performance at the Opening

BEAVERTON, Oregon — Multiple future members of the Michigan Wolverines football program assembled at Nike's world headquarters for The Opening national finals. 

The event, a culmination of 14 regional camps, the Elite 11 finals and year-round scouting efforts, featured more than 150 high school athletes from across the country. The annual showcase, which occurred July 5-10, provides an indication of which players are physically and mentally prepared to make an impact in college football.

There were plenty of storylines to follow for Michigan fans, ranging from the Elite 11 MVP race among quarterbacks to seven-on-seven tournament action. Here's a rundown of key Wolverines takeaways from a jam-packed week of action in Oregon.

 

QB Commit Dylan McCaffrey Makes Impression, Pursues Pass-Catchers

Head coach Jim Harbaugh secured an Elite 11 finalist in each of his first two recruiting classes with Alex Malzone and Brandon Peters. He's set to sign another this winter when McCaffrey, a 5-star recruit, officially climbs aboard the Michigan bandwagon.

The 6'5", 196-pound passer qualified for competition in Beaverton after a complete performance at the Elite 11 finals, which were held June 3-5 in Southern California. Rated No. 2 nationally among pro-style quarterbacks in composite rankings, McCaffrey produced plenty and further legitimized his reputation as an upper-echelon recruit at the position.

After receiving a nod as "best leader" at the Elite 11 finals, he again impressed as a vocal conductor of his offensive attack during seven-on-seven sessions. McCaffrey takes ownership of pass attempts, even when he's not thrilled with the result, and this accountability suits him well when it comes to gaining respect from his peers.

Nico Collins, a 4-star receiver from Alabama, enjoyed his up-close look at the Wolverines pledge with Team Hypercool. 

"Coming out here on the field, when it's time to shine, he's throwing the ball," Collins told Bleacher Report. "It plays a big part because that might be my quarterback the next three or four years. He wants me there pretty bad, and I'm kind of loving Michigan."

The 6'5", 195-pound playmaker is loving Michigan so much he declared the Wolverines his outright leader. McCaffrey, who's hoping to add Collins to the Wolverines' 2017 class, believes this experience gave the potential duo a chance to gain trust.

"He's looking at me, seeing how I play, seeing if he can jell with me for the next four years, so I'm taking it like a tryout…like I'm getting evaluated by the top guys," McCaffrey said.

The Valor Christian (Colorado) High School senior also shared a roster with priority Wolverines target Donovan Peoples-Jones, who is rated No. 1 among receivers in composite rankings. The Opening was actually their first in-person interaction, though the Detroit standout was unable to participate due to to a hamstring injury.

Michigan seems to be in excellent shape for Collins, and it's firmly in the picture for Peoples-Jones.

Hypercool advanced to the tournament semifinals, knocking out an Ohio State-heavy Team Alpha Pro along the way before bowing out. It's fair to wonder if a healthy Peoples-Jones would have altered that outcome.

 

Wolverines Running Backs Work with Heisman Trophy Finalist

Dylan McCaffrey wasn't even the most well-known McCaffrey on his own sideline in Beaverton. Older brother Christian McCaffrey, a Stanford running back who broke Barry Sanders' NCAA record for all-purpose yards last season, served as an assistant coach for Hypercool. 

It was obviously a special dynamic for these siblings, but it also allowed two Michigan commits to access insight from one of college football's finest. Wolverines pledges O'Maury Samuels and A.J. Dillon shared the offensive backfield during seven-on-seven action, each receiving guidance from a leading Heisman Trophy contender. 

"It's definitely an awesome opportunity," Dillon said. "He's done huge things at the next level. Now he's kind of taken us under his wing and helped us a lot, while giving us a bunch of little tips about how to improve and be most effective."

Dillon, who rushed for 3,255 yards and 47 touchdowns during the past two seasons at Lawrence Academy in Massachusetts, spent The Opening with Samuels as a roommate. Both backs spent extensive time running routes for Dylan McCaffrey.

"It's been awesome spending time with these guys," Dillon said. "You never know how you're going to bond with another running back but we've been getting close. The connection started early with us two and Dylan."

Samuels gained 1,468 yards on the ground last fall at Los Lunas High School in New Mexico, according to Nick Baumgardner of MLive. He and Dillon were two of the most physically formidable prospects among running backs in Beaverton.

 

Kai-Leon Herbert Becomes Official Zombie Hunter of 2017 Michigan Class

B/R's Commitment Week featured several top-tier recruits taking the plunge and pledging to the university of their choice. That group includes Herbert, a 4-star Florida offensive lineman who pledged to Michigan on July 6.

The 6'5", 284-pound American Heritage School blocker punctuated his recruitment process in frightful fashion. In a parody of popular television series The Walking Dead, Herbert fought his way past zombies representing several different colleges before revealing his intentions to attend Michigan:

His brothers actually joined the production cast, playing the roles of Michigan State and Ohio State zombies.

Rated No. 22 nationally among offensive tackles, he joins JaRaymond Hall as 4-star offensive linemen in the class. The group is now listed No. 4 overall in composite class rankings.

"All the Michigan fans loved the film. They're happy to have me, and I'm happy to be accepted by them. They feel like I can come in and help win games, and that's exactly what I'll try to do."

 

Quotes and observations obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings.

Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The Biggest Takeaways from LSU Recruits' Performances at the Opening

BEAVERTON, Ore. — Nearly half of LSU's 2017 recruiting class was on display at The Opening last week.

Tigers head coach Les Miles and his staff have put together a group that currently rates as the No. 5 class in the country, and a handful of stars from the class were among the main attractions at Nike World Headquarters throughout the event.

Commits such as 5-star defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin and 3-star quarterback Myles Brennan were among the future Tigers who lived up to their billing entering the event.

Also, the Tigers were represented in the form of All-American running back Leonard Fournette, who was at the event as one of a handful of college counselors.

"It just brings back memories seeing these young Tigers come out here and compete each and every day. It's cool knowing the future of LSU is going to be great," Fournette told Bleacher Report. "I love seeing them out here. I'm just telling them to stay focused and worry about what's going on in high school right now. I just tell them to keep their grades up and college will take care of itself."

There were also a handful of targets Miles and his staff are heavily pursuing who made an impression on the event's coaching staff.

Let's take a look at the main takeaways for LSU recruits who were competing in Oregon over the last week.

     

Ausbon Thrilled with Decision to Commit

Shortly before arriving in Oregon, 4-star receiver Jhamon Ausbon made the decision to commit to SEC power LSU.

The 6'2 ½", 217-pounder explained his decision-making process and how it came about.

"I was silently committed for like a week before that. [LSU is] my dream school, and I have a lot of family from around there. It wasn't that hard. It was hard in a sense for me to open my eyes and realize that I want to be in a pro-style offense because that's what the NFL is about," Ausbon told Bleacher Report. "It was about trusting the process. They had a satellite camp in Houston, and once that happened, I just had a gut feeling after being coached by them. I took a visit, and it was a wrap after that."

Ausbon was a handful for defensive backs to deal with in one-on-ones and during seven-on-seven in pool play.

He used his size and physicality to consistently get the upper hand against the nation's best defensive backs.

Another plus for the nation's No. 11 receiver and the No. 67 player overall in the 2017 class was the opportunity to work with one of his future quarterbacks in Brennan.

"This is my first time seeing him. I'm like man, he can throw it. I'm excited for the future. He's an old-school pro-style quarterback. He's got a crazy upside. It's going to be fun working with a guy like that," Ausbon said. "We just talked about why we picked LSU and just getting to know each other a little bit. We're both really excited about the future for sure."

    

Deculus Excited About LSU in the Trenches

Between 4-star Austin Deculus and 3-star Saahdiq Charles, LSU has plenty to be excited about with the future of the offensive line.

Deculus, who now reports his size to be 6'6", 340 pounds, said he's developed a strong bond with his future teammates.

"Me and Saahdiq are already close. Me and Tyler Shelvin are basically brothers. That's the easiest way to describe it," Deculus said.

The nation's No. 8 offensive tackle and the No. 40 overall player in the 2017 cycle committed to Miles in May. Nearly two months later, he's locked in with that decision.

"I can't even put it into words. It's just that feeling, and it's really hard to describe with words. It was nice," Deculus said. "I feel like it's the right decision for me, and I don't see myself decommitting at all."

He credited The Opening's coaching staff with helping him learn and apply new techniques. In one-on-one matchups, Deculus proved to be a versatile and powerful force with loads of potential at the next level.

He's hoping this experience prepares him for what he will see in Baton Rouge.

"Me being committed to LSU, the SEC is the best of the best. I want to get used to going up against these big, athletic guys. This will really help me with what I'm about to see in college."

    

Nation's No. 1 DT Impresses, Talks Tigers

LSU defensive line coach Ed Orgeron is known as one of the nation's premier teachers at his position.

His resume is certainly appealing to elite talents such as 5-star defensive tackle Marvin Wilson.

The 6'4", 329-pounder, who rates as the nation's top defensive tackle and the No. 3 player overall in the 2017 cycle, is intrigued by the thought of playing for Orgeron in college.

"Coach Orgeron is probably one of the best coaches in the country. He just knows how to groom defensive linemen, and he has that family vibe to him," Wilson said.

At The Opening, Wilson—who was named the MVP of the defensive line segment—was able to display why powers such as Alabama, Florida State, Oklahoma and Texas are among the other schools aggressively pursuing the Lone Star State standout.

He has the type of size, power and athleticism that make him practically unblockable on the prep level.

Moreover, Wilson worked through his bad reps and kept competing with the type of motor that brought out the best of his abilities.

"If you can bring the best out of somebody, you really get to see where you measure up to the competition," Wilson said. "I lost a couple of reps, and I won a couple of reps. It's good to see where you measure up to these guys. I love it out here."

The Tigers are hoping they can reel in another big fish from the state of Texas, where three of their current commits are originally from.

    

Miles Fired Up Over Newest Commit

LSU was one of a handful of programs whose commit list grew over the last week.

On Saturday, the Tigers landed 4-star safety Grant Delpit from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

The 6'3 ½", 181-pounder, who is originally from Houston, said his future head coach was elated to learn he had committed.

"[Coach Miles] was texting me every day waiting for this moment. He wanted to see what time it came on," Delpit said. "He actually sent me a selfie with a big L up saying how proud he was of me. I just love the whole staff."

The nation's No. 9 safety said he grew close with several members of Miles' staff—including defensive backs coach Corey Raymond. He also admitted LSU's reputation for molding defensive backs played a role in his choice to head to Baton Rouge.

"They had all the important factors I want in a school. They also put out DBs every year. I think I fit nicely into their defense, and I think I'd have an opportunity to play early," Delpit said.

He's already begun to put his recruiter hat on, with IMG teammate and 5-star linebacker Dylan Moses among his top priorities.

"[Dylan and I] have that connection at IMG. We're trying to start that pipeline from IMG to LSU," Delpit said.

As Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports noted, Delpit has the type of size, range and football IQ to develop into a star at the college level.

Delpit also remarked on how learning from coaches such as NFL Hall of Famer Aeneas Williams was among the highlights of his trip to The Opening. Overall, he's focused on growing from his experience in Oregon and preparing for the next level.

"[The Opening] was a good measuring stick and getting to see what type of players I'll be seeing in college. This is the best of the best, and this experience just showed me what it takes to succeed and what my work ethic needs to be like when I get to college."

    

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The Biggest Takeaways from Georgia's Recruits Performance at the Opening

BEAVERTON, Oregon — There’s little question that new Georgia head coach Kirby Smart has galvanized the program since taking over the program in January.

The Bulldogs brought a nice contingent of six commitments led by 4-star quarterback Jake Fromm and 4-star safety Richard LeCounte III.

However, the Bulldogs program was among the stories of the week in Oregon as their class added three members by week’s end.

Additionally, Georgia was represented by star running back Nick Chubb—who was at the event as one of the college coaching counselors.

“There’s a lot of talent out here and a lot of future Bulldogs on team Alpha Pro. They are looking good and I like what I see,” Chubb told Bleacher Report. “I just tell them to keep working hard and to just stay humble. Don’t think just because you are out here that you have arrived. Just stick with what got you here and keep working hard.”

What are their commits saying about the program and how did they perform in the nation’s premier summer camp showcase?

Let’s take a look at the most interesting news surrounding Georgia’s 2017 class.

 

Dawgs Add Pair on Commits on Sunday

Georgia’s week started off with a pledge from 5-star defensive end Robert Beal. That was just the beginning of the fireworks for Smart and his staff.

By week’s end, the class had expanded to add two more members in 4-star running back Toneil Carter and 4-star offensive lineman Andrew Thomas.

The additions helped the Bulldogs surge in the national recruiting rankings where they occupy the No. 2 spot overall.

According to Fromm, the Bulldogs' program is definitely gaining steam with a number of top prospects who were in attendance for The Opening.

“We are definitely putting Georgia on people’s minds, especially with the way our team played,” Fromm said. “We kind of turned some peoples' heads and we had a few guys tell us that they may come down and check us out soon. That gives us a chance and hopefully, we take advantage of it.”

With 15 current commitments and a ton of momentum surrounding Smart’s arrival, the Bulldogs have a shot to bring home the nation’s top class if they finish on a strong note.

 

Fromm Excels On and Off the Field

While most of the quarterbacks struggled at the beginning of the seven-on-seven tournament, Fromm was the exception to that rule.

On Saturday, Fromm was clearly the best quarterback in the Elite 11 field, as detailed by Barton Simmons of 247Sports. He led his club to seven scores on his first nine drives

His team had a rougher go of it on Sunday, but he kept his individual performance in perspective.

“Honestly, yesterday, even though everybody thinks I played amazing, I made a lot of mistakes yesterday,” Fromm said. “Today, I made a lot of great throws. But that’s how football goes sometimes, especially in seven-on-seven where it’s like a roller coaster that goes up and down.”

Still, perhaps the highlights of his trip was bonding with LeCounte.

“Honestly, I already love playing with Richie. He is amazing. It’s going to be great facing him in practice everyday,” Fromm said. “He’s one of the most competitive people I’ve ever met and one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. I can’t wait to spend the next four years of my life with him.”

He also took the experience of learning from the Elite 11 staff as one that could help his transition from high school to college.

“I just tried to focus on perfecting my craft and doing things like working under center and going through progressions and really not getting greedy. I think those things will help me transition to college.”

 

LeCounte Talks Loud, Carries a Big Stick

What Fromm was to his team on offense, LeCounte filled the leadership role on Alpha Pro’s defense. 

The 5’11 ½”, 174-pounder was all over the field as he recorded three interceptions on the first day of tournament play, as detailed by Keith Niebuhr of 247Sports.

LeCounte was simply a ball hawk in pass coverage and an intimidating presence who performed well overall even though his team fell short of advancing in the tournament.

“I hate to go out like that, but we did our thing out here this week, and I really appreciate everything Nike and everyone did for us,” LeCounte said. “I felt like I did pretty well overall. There’s always room to improve. I’m always looking for ways to get better.”

LeCounte was easily one of the more energetic prospects in attendance. His motor—and mouth—was always moving whether he was on or off the field.

Still, one of his favorite memories of the event will be the time he spent bonding with a handful of his future teammates.

“It was great to get a feel for the guys I’m going to be playing with at the next level. I had a great time with them. I couldn’t ask for a better week,” LeCounte said. 

Being that he was one of the more vocal recruiters on hand this week, LeCounte is full steam ahead on getting the Bulldogs class to be among the nation’s elite.

“I’ve been working my butt off trying to get the class to be the best it can be," he said. "I’m excited about where we’re headed. That’s one of our main things we talk about. We want to build our team up and win a national championship for our home state.”

 

Blount Relishes Opportunity To Compete Against Nation’s Best

One of the added bonuses for 4-star receiver and current Bulldogs pledge Trey Blount was the opportunity to catch passes from his future quarterback in Fromm.

The 6’2”, 185-pound Atlanta native was one of Fromm’s main targets when he was on fire early in tournament play.

“It’s great to get that early connection so that when we get to college, we will already be clicking,” Blount said. “He throws a great ball. It’s very catchable. I watched his film and he controls the game well. I just love being here with him.”

For his part, Fromm agreed and noted that working with Blount this week has already helped them establish a strong connection on the field. 

“It would probably take us a couple of weeks in practice, but we made a couple of nice connections. I can’t wait to throw to him,” Fromm said.

Blount also noted that he’s among the legion of Bulldogs commits hoping to recruit other talented players to Athens.

He can already consider himself a success after Thomas—who is teammates with Blount at Pace Academy in Atlanta—made the call for the Bulldogs on Sunday.

He mentioned 5-star running back Cam Akers and 5-star athlete JaCoby Stevens as two targets he will continue to work on.

 

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

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