Lemming: Foster will be a star at Illinois

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Lemming: Foster will be a star at Illinois

Illinois football fans who are calling for the ouster of first-year coach Tim Beckman are reminded that Wisconsin boosters and the Madison media endorsed the firing of Barry Alvarez after his first Badger team went 1-11.

From all available evidence, however, it hasn't seemed to deter Beckman's ability to recruit. Longtime recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS College Sports predicts running back Kendrick Foster of Peoria Richwoods will be a star at Illinois.

Foster, who rushed for more than 2,000 yards as a junior and senior, is the type of player that Beckman needs to improve the talent level of his program, a difference-maker, an instant impact player, a game-changer. Bolingbrook quarterback Aaron Bailey could be the same. But the Illini need more of everything.

At Purdue, Joe Tiller re-energized his program when he recruited Drew Brees. Auburn did the same with Cam Newton. And look what Johnny Manziel, a 6-foot quarterback who was passed over by Texas and other major schools, has done for Texas A&M.

"Illinois isn't winning so they don't have any attraction for kids," Lemming said. "But give them an A for effort. Their organization is great. They have been on guys in the Midwest quicker than anyone else in the Big Ten. The bad-mouthing by fans and alumni is undeserved.

"Of course, you must win to draw kids back. Beckman must get the good Illinois players to stay at home. Remember, Beckman was left with an empty cupboard. There isn't much talent on the current roster. They need to get impact players."

To restock the roster with talent that can be competitive in the Big Ten, Lemming said Beckman and his staff must recruit nationally and evaluate everybody from coast to coast. Even Northwestern has become a national recruiter.

"If you can't beat Michigan and Ohio State and Notre Dame in the Midwest, you must go national and be aggressive recruiters. You've got to get a player like Marian Central's Chris Streveler, who went to Minnesota, or Ethan Pocic, who went to LSU, or Ty Isaac, who went to USC, or Jordan Westerkamp, who went to Nebraska."

Beckman is doing his best to make a dent in the class of 2014. There are no first-team All-Americans in Illinois, like Ty Isaac in the class of 2013, but it is a good class that is headed by five players who likely will rank among the top 100 in the nation.

They are tight end Nic Weishar of Marist, linebacker Clifton Garrett of Plainfield South, linebacker Nyles Morgan of Crete-Monee, safety Parrker Westphal of Bolingbrook and tackle Jamarco Jones of De La Salle. None of them, however, figure to rank in the top 50.

The nation's No. 1 player in the class of 2013, 6-foot-4, 270-pound defensive end Robert Nkemdiche of Loganville, Georgia, apparently is headed for Ole Miss after de-committing from Clemson.

Why Ole Miss over Alabama and Georgia, the two other schools he said he was considering?

"When I interviewed him in February, I thought he would go to Alabama," Lemming said. "But he attended the Ole MissArkansas game. His brother plays for Ole Miss. And his mother wants her sons to play together. I think he will go to Ole Miss."

Lemming spent the month of October traveling and observing and evaluating players in Missouri, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. "There are a lot of great players in the South," he said.

Alabama has at least seven players who could rank in the top 50 in the nation in the class of 2014.

The best ones are 6-foot, 180-pound cornerback Marlon Humphrey of Hoover, 6-foot-2, 220-pound running back Bo Scarborough of Tuscaloosa and 6-foot-2, 220-pound linebacker Tre Williams of Mobile.

Humphrey, son of former Alabama star Bobby Humphrey, is a top 10 player who likely will attend his father's alma mater. Scarborough, who is committed to Alabama, is one of the top five running backs in the nation.

Missouri's top prospects are 6-foot-5, 300-pound offensive lineman Andy Bauer of St. Louis Vianney, who is committed to Missouri, and 6-foot-6, 320-pound offensive lineman Roderick Johnson of St. Louis Hazelwood Central.

It shapes up as a subpar year for quarterbacks nationally but Oklahoma has two blue chippers in 6-foot-5, 220-pound David Cornwell of Jones and 6-foot-4, 200-pound Justice Hansen of Edmond. Another standout is 5-foot-11, 210-pound running back Devon Thomas of Broken Arrow.

But the best player in Oklahoma is 6-foot-5, 235-pound defensive end Deondre Clark of Oklahoma City, who had 21 sacks in his first eight games. He is a top 20 player nationally.

It is an outstanding year for talent in the Nashville area. The No. 1 prospect in central Tennessee is 6-foot-3, 190-pound wide receiver Josh Malone of Gallatin.

Two of the best players in Arkansas are a pair of nose tackles, 6-foot-2, 320-pound Bijhon Jackson of El Dorado and 6-foot-4, 330-pound Josh Frazier of Fayetteville.

Notre Dame unit preview: Searching for the next go-to WR

Notre Dame unit preview: Searching for the next go-to WR

With the start of Notre Dame preseason camp approaching fast, we’re looking at what to expect from each unit that’ll take the field in primetime Sept. 4 against Texas at Darrell K. Royal Stadium. 

Depth Chart

W (Boundary)

1. Torii Hunter Jr. (Redshirt junior)
2A. Miles Boykin (Redshirt freshman)
2B. Alize Jones (Sophomore)
3. Chase Claypool (Freshman)

Z (Slot)

1A. C.J. Sanders (Sophomore)
1B. Corey Holmes (Redshirt sophomore)
2. Torii Hunter Jr. (Redshirt junior)

X (Field)

1. Equanimeous St. Brown (Sophomore)
2A. Torii Hunter Jr. (Redshirt junior)
2B. Kevin Stepherson (Freshman)
3. Javon McKinley (Freshman)

Hunter has the ability to play all three receiver positions, which is why he’s listed as the “backup” at the Z and X. He’ll probably take most of his reps, though, at the W, where Corey Robinson was in line to play before he retired due to suffering multiple concussions. 

Despite only catching 28 passes for 363 yards last year, Hunter is Notre Dame’s leading returning receiver, which is more a nod to the production lost from Will Fuller, Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle. But Hunter took command of Notre Dame’s wide receivers during spring practice — despite barely getting any sleep due to his football, baseball and academic workload — and emerged as an offensive leader in March and April. 

Outside of Hunter, there’s plenty of young, untapped potential in this group. Coach Brian Kelly has raved about St. Brown from the day he set foot on campus, and Notre Dame believes his combination of blazing speed and good size (6-foot-4, 205) will make his a dynamic receiving threat as soon as this fall. Sanders flashed his playmaking ability by returning a kick and a punt for a touchdown last year, though surgery on his hip flexor knocked him out of spring practice and could slow him during preseason camp. 

Holmes and Stepherson both impressed at times during spring practice, too, and are set up to carve out roles in the Irish offense. And Jones is the wild card here — he worked a bit at the W during spring practice and his athletic 6-foot-4, 240 pound frame could create some matchup nightmares if he slides over from tight end. 

Biggest question: Who becomes DeShone Kizer/Malik Zaire’s go-to target?

Fuller became a get-out-of-jail free card almost immediately for Kizer last year, with that 39-yard game-winning heave at Virginia sparking a rock-solid season for the new Irish quarterback. Brown, too, used his savvy skills to make some big catches, like his touchdown at Fenway Park against Boston College. 

But with both of those guys gone, Kizer or Zaire will need to figure out who that reliable pass-catcher is. The good news is Notre Dame has had one every year of the Kelly era, from Michael Floyd to Tyler Eifert to T.J. Jones to Fuller. 

Hunter is the most experienced one of the bunch, though St. Brown or Jones could very well emerge as that guy, too. But given Notre Dame’s track record, wide receivers coach Mike Denbrock deserves the benefit of the doubt here. 

Youthful impact

McKinley and Claypool both were four-star members of Notre Dame’s 2016 recruiting class. There are some questions about whether or not Claypool, who was listed at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds on signing day, could someday move to tight end, but for now, he’ll get a shot as a receiver, probably on the boundary. 

Stepherson, a three-star recruit, was roundly praised by coaches and teammates for how quickly he picked up the Irish route concepts and offense during spring practice, and his ability to catch the ball at a full sprint over the middle makes him a candidate to contribute as a freshman. 

Notre Dame hasn’t shied away form playing freshmen receivers in the past, and without much experience in this group, there could be opportunities for all three first-year players to get on the field this fall. 

They said it

“There’s a lot to be gained from playing baseball, but you have to be a special individual, especially at this level. I think the gains are competitiveness, discipline and the maturity that he shows and his ability to handle it.” — Brian Kelly on Torii Hunter Jr., who was drafted and signed by the Los Angeles Angels this summer

Comcast unveils new technology for Rio Olympics

Comcast unveils new technology for Rio Olympics

Comcast is rolling out new technology that will give Olympics fans a unique viewing experience. 

The X1 platform will give users access to more than 6,000 hours of live, on demand and streaming Rio Olympics events. Fans can follow athletes, nations and teams with ease throughout the Rio Games, and also record or view on demand. 

The ability to customize the Olympics experience will give audiences an unlimited scope and make it easy to watch what they want, when they want. 

Report: White Sox make James Shields available for trade

Report: White Sox make James Shields available for trade

With the Aug. 1 trade deadline right around the corner, a new name has been added to the mix.

James Shields, who was acquired by the White Sox in early June, is reportedly available for trade, according to Jon Morosi of MLB Network, after the 34-year-old right-hander has pitched his way into the trade market with his latest hot streak.

The White Sox traded for Shields in an effort to strengthen their rotation and alleviate some pressure off a taxed bullpen, but with the team six games back for the division lead and the final wild card spot, it would be wise of the White Sox to take advantage of this pitcher's market and flip Shields for assets that can help them in the future.

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After a rough start in Chicago, Shields has turned in five quality starts in his last five outings, which included a stellar performance in Tuesday's 3-0 win over the Cubs. He also owns a 1.71 ERA across his last six starts.

The biggest question will be, which team wants to take on Shields' contract?

He still has two years remaining on a four-year, $75 million deal he inked with the San Diego Padres in 2014. It's worth noting Shields has an opt-out clause after this season, and a club option to return in 2019.