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Top storylines and players to watch at Elite 11 competition


For high school quarterbacks, a trip to the prestigious Elite 11 at Nike's headquarters represents the pinnacle of competition prior to entering the college ranks, and the 2014 edition of the event runs July 5-10.

This is where the best high school signal-callers come to compete and often times it's a national introduction to the top quarterbacks of the future.

Notable Elite 11 alumni currently in the NFL include Matt Cassel, Jake Locker, Matthew Stafford, Andrew Luck, EJ Manuel, Geno Smith and a number of others. Looking just at the 2013 class of Elite 11 quarterbacks, four of the players could end up starting for their college football team as a true freshman.

It won't just be the best passers competing, though. Held alongside the Elite 11 for five days is Nike's The Opening, which brings together just about every top recruit in the country (or, at least 150 of them). It's not just a 7-on-7 event, as the offensive and defensive linemen actually strap on the pads and get after it. When the 2015 NFL Draft rolls around, a number of The Opening alumni will hear their name called, and several of them could be first-round picks.

Here are a few storylines and top players to keep an eye on:

The Southern California quarterback class

There's been a lot of talk about how many Texas quarterbacks started in the NFL last season, but the Southern California region hasn't been a slouch in this department over the years. Many are hailing the class of 2015 recruits as the best ever to come out of the region and maybe the best group to emerge ever. Time will tell whether that's true, but the Elite 11 event allows us to see them compete against each other. Seven of the 18 players selected to the event hail from Los Angeles or the surrounding areas and are committed to Alabama, Oregon, Florida, USC, UCLA and other top college programs.

Can Josh Rosen hold onto the No. 1 quarterback ranking?

Five-star Bellflower, Calif., quarterback Josh Rosen is the headliner of the SoCal group at the Elite 11 and seems to have emerged as the top signal-caller in the country this year. At 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds with a strong arm and savvy pocket presence, it's easy to see why the UCLA commit has drawn rave reviews ever since his junior year. Still, the competition on the Nike campus is unlike anything the young quarterbacks have been through, and there's more than enough talent from others to challenge Rosen for the top ranking. Chances are he'll hold onto the top spot through the fall, but one never knows.

Will top recruits be swayed?

With so many great players, many of whom are already committed, in one place, The Opening is one time where high school players will often pitch their undecided teammates on why they should go to a certain school. With top five-star prospects like defensive tackle Trent Thompson, defensive end Josh Sweat, cornerback Iman Marshall and linebacker Malik Jefferson still deciding among college football powers, expect a few full-court presses from players at The Opening.

Who emerges as a position's top player?

Unlike in past years, there's not as much consensus developing as to the top high school player (or even a set top 10) in the country. There's no Jadeveon Clowney or somebody like Ole Miss' Robert Nkemdiche, so the race to be No. 1 overall in the class of 2015, or the best at one position, is somewhat wide open. While film in the fall will have a huge impact, the head-to-head competition at the Elite 11 and The Opening can provide analysts a tie-breaker.

The college football and NFL players in attendance

As great an event as it is to see future college football and NFL stars all in one place, the tips and pointers the players get from college football and NFL stars make it even better. Past coaches have included Jerry Rice, Larry Fitzgerald, Ndamukong Suh and Richard Sherman, among others from the NFL. Star college quarterbacks like Oregon State's Sean Mannion, Michigan State's Connor Cook, Baylor's Bryce Petty and Ohio State's Braxton Miller are among those that will serve as counselors for the high school signal-callers. Former Super Bowl champion Trent Dilfer is in charge of the Elite 11 and is an integral part of the operation.

Top quarterbacks at the Elite 11

Blake Barnett, Corona (Calif.) Santiago High

Size:6-foot-4, 195 pounds
Committed to:Alabama
The skinny:A former Notre Dame commit, the dual-threat quarterback opened up his recruiting and eventually settled on Alabama after offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin put on the full-court press.

Take a look ahead to the 2014 college football season with the best quarterbacks to follow this fall.

Alex Malzone, Bloomfield Hills (Mich.) Brother Rice

Size:6-2, 205
Committed to:Michigan
The skinny:The Wolverines have a pair of former Elite 11 quarterbacks battling to be the starter in 2014 and are set to add another one next year in pro-style QB Malzone.

Kyler Murray, Allen (Texas)

Size:5-11, 170
Committed to:Texas A&M
The skinny: He's won a pair of state championships and his ability to run circles around opponents leads to plenty of comparisons to former Aggies star Johnny Manziel.

Josh Rosen, Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco

Size: 6-4, 205
Committed to:UCLA
The skinny:Considered by most to be the top quarterback prospect in the nation, the possible heir to Brett Hundley will have a target on his back.

Jarrett Stidham, Stephenville (Texas)

Size:6-2, 185
Committed to:Texas Tech
The skinny:Considered to be the top dual-threat quarterback in the country, Stidham made an early pledge to the Red Raiders and former Manziel tutor Kliff Kingsbury.

Ricky Town, Ventura (Calif.) St. Bonaventure

Size:6-4, 200
Committed to:USC
The skinny:He might be the direct competition to Rosen as another Southern California prospect who also happens to be wearing the colors of rival USC after spending several months committed to Alabama.

Travis Waller, Anaheim (Calif.) Servite

Size:6-2, 195
Committed to:Oregon
The skinny:The dual-threat signal-caller recently made his commitment to the Ducks and is one of the fastest-risers in the rankings over the past few months.

Other top prospects at the Elite 11 include Ross Bowers (Bothell, Wash.), Ryan Brand (Detroit, Mich), Sam Darnold (Sam Clemente, Calif.), Deondre Francois (Florida State commit), Ben Hicks (Houston pledge), Sheriron Jones (Florida commit), Brian Lewerke (Michigan State commit), Drew Lock (committed to Missouri), Brady White (Arizona State pledge) and Brandon Wimbush (Penn State commit).

Take a look at Nike's latest updates to college football uniforms for the 2014 season.

Top players at The Opening

Martez Ivey, OL, Apopka (Fla.)

Size:6-foot-5, 285 pounds
Considering:Florida, Auburn, Alabama and South Carolina, among others.
The skinny:Similar to the questions Greg Robinson faced leading up to the draft, Ivey is one of the best run blockers in the country, but needs to work on his pass-blocking skills.

Iman Marshall, CB, Long Beach (Calif.)

Size:6-1, 190
Considering:USC, Stanford, UCLA, LSU and others.
The skinny:A lockdown defender who has been near the top of the rankings for a few years, Marshall will be looking to do his best Richard Sherman impression at The Opening.

Byron Cowart, DE, Seffner (Fla.)

Size:6-3, 255
Considering:Alabama, Florida and Oregon, among others.
The skinny:Several analysts believe he's the No. 1 recruit in the country and The Opening will be a place where Cowart can convince others that he's deserving of that lofty ranking.

Josh Sweat, DE, Chesapeake (Va.)

Size:6-5, 240
Considering:Florida State, Georgia, Ohio State, Virginia Tech and Tennessee, among others.
The skinny:The five-star end has a tremendous ceiling with his blend of size and speed. He displays his athleticism every time he steps on the field.

Kevin Toliver II, CB, Jacksonville (Fla.)

Size:6-1, 190
Committed to:LSU
The skinny:Another top cornerback from Florida, Toliver looks like he could step on campus right now and has been rumored to be looking at teams other than the Tigers.

The full The Opening roster can be found here.

*Follow Bryan Fischer on Twitter **@BryanDFischer.*

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