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June 22, 2012

Storylines: Who's out for No. 1?

MORE: Rivals Challenge live stream

ATLANTA -- As we inch closer to the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge at Lakewood Stadium in Atlanta on Saturday and Sunday, many interesting storylines are emerging. Who can propel themselves closer to that coveted No. 1 overall status up for grabs this year? How will the nation's best quarterback since Matt Barkley fare under pressure, and which big man will emerge as the king of the titans? Our Rivals.com analysts break it all down and let you know what to watch for.

1. The Battle For No. 1: There are quite a few prospects who are within striking distance of that coveted No. 1 slot held by defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, a recent Clemson commitment. However, Nkemdiche will have to be knocked off his perch and that is no small task. Auburn (Ala.) linebacker Reuben Foster is next in line at No. 2, but Olney (Md.) Good Counsel cornerback Kendall Fuller, Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Luers linebacker Jaylon Smith, Sammamish (Wash.) Skyline quarterback Max Browne and Elkton (Md.) Eastern Christian Academy defensive end Kenny Bigelow are all national top 10 players and ready to make a push. The absence of Nkemdiche, along with the amazing talent level at the event, opens the door a bit for others to make that case for No. 1.

2. Better than Barkley?: Max Browne is the top-rated quarterback and fifth-best prospect overall by Rivals.com. This weekend, at the Rivals.com Five-Star Challenge, Browne will have his opportunity to prove those lofty rankings once and for all. The Sammamish (Wash.) Skyline prospect was arguably the best quarterback at the Stanford Elite 11 last year and could have competed with the best at the Elite 11 including Gunner Kiel and Jameis Winston, both five-stars from the class of 2012. He has special talent, put up huge numbers and looked great at the Oakland Elite 11. But this will be the first time Browne has seen this kind of competition, so he can excel, or just blend in, which could open the door for other quarterbacks. Perhaps the biggest question of all remains, is he better than Matt Barkley, the last five-star quarterback to pledge to USC?

3. Quarterback or athlete?: There is no question that Whitewright (Texas) five-star quarterback Tyrone Swoopes is a dynamic playmaker. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound dual-threat quarterback rushed for more than 500 yards in a game this past season, but the question remains as to how good an actual passer the Texas commit is. Of the four quarterbacks who'll be in Atlanta, he is the least polished. The Five-Star Challenge will give Swoopes a chance to prove he has the tools to become a college quarterback. With a very good group of wide receivers and tight ends, there will be a lot of pressure for Swoopes to get them the ball. He looked better than expected at a recent Nike Camp, so the hope is that he will show even more improvement. If he can throw as well as the other three in action, then he would make a case for the top quarterback prospect in the country.

4. Five-Star Tight End?: Autauga (Ala.) Autauga Academy four-star tight end O.J. Howard enters the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge as the No. 2 ranked tight end in the nation and No. 30 overall prospect. At his position, he is ranked only behind Camp Hill (Pa.) Cedar Cliff four-star tight end Adam Breneman, who is the No. 27 overall prospect in the nation. With Breneman sidelined due to an injury that will force him to miss his junior season, the door is open for Howard to make his case for top honors at the position. But more importantly, can he prove he's the first five-star tight end since Kyle Rudolph? A lot of folks down South think so.

5. Future Five-Stars?: While the majority of the prospects on hand are from the 2013 class, the 2014 class is also well represented. We already know that Woodbridge (Va.) Woodbridge Senior defensive end D'™Shawn Hand, Chesapeake (Va.) Indian River defensive tackle Andrew Brown, New Orleans (La.) St. Augustine running back Leonard Fournette and Virginia Beach (Va.) Bayside defensive back Quin Blanding are all either locks to be five-stars next year or are very close. But what about the rest? Who will emerge and show that potential against older players at the camp? The most likely candidates are Hinesville (Ga.) Liberty County inside linebacker Raekwon McMillan, Detroit (Mich.) Loyola defensive lineman Malik McDowell and LaPorte, Texas linebacker Hoza Scott. See below for more on McDowell, one of the more intriguing prospects in his class.

6. Wide Receiver or Tight End: Currently, Ricky Seals-Jones of Sealy, Texas, is the nation's No. 1 wide receiver prospect. However, the 6-foot-5, 220-pound standout plays quarterback and safety for his high school team, and like Tyrone Swoopes, he has something to prove in regards to his future position. The top receiver in the country should probably be a five-star prospect, but it is hard to rank Seals-Jones as one without seeing him at the position. This will be an opportunity for him to shine and earn that fifth star, as he is currently the nation's No. 18 overall prospect and one spot outside five-star status. However, if he struggles with routes and speed, there could be a chance he ends up as a tight end. If that is the case, then it will be hard to rank him nearly as high.

7. Prove It At Wide Receiver Part II: Rivals100 athlete Jalin Marshall has played quarterback almost exclusively for his Middletown (Ohio) team, but the 6-foot, 190-pound prospect is expected to transition to wide receiver in college and will be playing there during the Challenge. From a size and skill standpoint, Marshall strongly resembles current NFL wide receiver Percy Harvin, and he is headed to play for Harvin's former coach, Urban Meyer, at Ohio State. Marshall went out and had a very strong showing at last month's Nike Camp while playing wide receiver, but the defensive back talent in Atlanta this weekend will be noticeably more impressive. Marshall is extremely fast and has displayed soft hands, but we will find out exactly where he is in his development as a wide receiver in this setting.

8. Continued Upward Movement: There are a lot of prospects talking out West that they're under-ranked. Well, this is the weekend to back it up. Neither Joe Mathis or Tahaan Goodman have expressed that, but both could continue moving up the rankings with outstanding weekends. Mathis has trimmed down, looking faster than ever at the Southern Cal Rivals.com Showcase. He is definitely motivated coming into this event. Some swear that Goodman is the best safety in California and he will have his chance to prove it against some outstanding competition. Goodman has looked great in numerous 7-on-7 events this spring and he has great junior film.

9. Can McDowell Hang?: Class of 2014 defensive linemen Da'Shawn Hand and Andrew Brown of Virginia have competed against one another several times already. This weekend, the duo will be joined by another class of 2014 defensive lineman who is generating huge national attention early on -- Detroit Loyola's Malik McDowell. McDowell has not seen defensive linemen his caliber in the 2014 class, but he has faced some of the best offensive linemen in the Midwest and should be able to handle the competition in Atlanta. The question is, will he prove he is in the same conversation as Hand and Brown? Overshadowed so far, this is his chance to grab the spotlight.

10. Attack of the Southeast Linebackers: Rarely in a camp setting do linebackers grab the spotlight, but it will be tough to keep it off the group playing for the Southeast squad. The foursome is led by the top player at the event, Auburn (Ala.) five-star inside linebacker Reuben Foster, who is ranked No. 2 overall. Foster is complimented by Lawrenceville (Ga.) Central Gwinnett four-star outside linebacker Trey Johnson. That duo is joined by a pair of rising juniors in Hinesville (Ga.) Liberty County inside linebacker Raekwon McMillan and Bamberg (S.C.) Bamberg-Ernhardt inside linebacker Kevin Crosby. While they won't be able to show off their physicality in a camp setting, the group should grab plenty of attention for their size and athletic ability as they try to prove they are the best group of linebackers at the event.



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