NCAA Football

Kyler Murray Reaffirms Texas A&M Commitment After Considering Texas

Kyler Murray, a 5-star quarterback from Allen, Texas, decided once and for all that College Station is the place for him.

Despite committing to the Texas A&M Aggies last May, Murray recently allowed other teams to throw their names in the hat. On Thursday night, 247Sports' Brian Perroni reported that the blue-chip QB will stick with A&M.

Murray then confirmed the news:

According to 247Sports' composite rankings, he's the best dual-threat quarterback in the 2015 recruiting class and 33rd-best player overall.

ESPN.com's Derek Tyson didn't downplay the significance of Murray's decision:

Aggies offensive coordinator Jake Spavital was also thrilled with the news:

Murray's commitment goes beyond Texas A&M. The Texas Longhorns were hot on the Aggies' heels in pursuit of the talented signal-caller. Murray himself only fanned the flames when he posted a photo on Twitter of a Longhorns jersey with his number Jan. 21:

Instead, A&M wins out, dealing a tough blow to Charlie Strong as he attempts to get Texas back into the national title picture. Getting Murray would've been a major moment early in Strong's tenure in Austin.

Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel added that the Longhorns are still woefully lacking at quarterback:

Texas A&M, meanwhile, gets a player perhaps ideal for head coach Kevin Sumlin's system. Murray is a mobile quarterback who can make a variety of throws.

Given Sumlin's past success with Johnny Manziel and Case Keenum, the sky is seemingly the limit for Murray at the college level. The Aggies will be a very dangerous team going forward when he gets under center.

 

Recruit star rankings and information provided by 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Nebraska Football: Focus on Local Recruiting a Smart Move for Huskers

When it comes to recruiting, Nebraska football head coach Mike Riley has a clear strategy. That strategy is putting a bigger emphasis on recruiting local talent.

For Husker fans, that's music to the ears. Former head coach Bo Pelini and his staff weren't as focused on the 500-mile radius that surrounds Lincoln, as HuskerOnline.com's Sean Callahan noted.

"At a Big Red Breakfast a couple of years ago, former offensive line coach John Garrison delved off to a side story about recruiting," Callahan wrote. "He told a story about being in Florida driving down Gator Alley asking himself the question why Nebraska is going all the way down here to recruit an offensive lineman when there are plenty of talented linemen in the Midwest."

Riley's staff plans to change that. With plenty of talent nearby, the Huskers want to ensure they never miss out on players they could have gotten.

“You look stupid when you're playing against kids that you could have gotten,” said director of player personnel Ryan Gunderson, per Jon Nyatawa of the Omaha World-Herald. "So we need to do our homework. At least recruit them, at least give them a shot. … Because I don't want to play against good players that we could have got."

This philosophy is a smart one, too. In order to be a successful program, the Huskers can't just focus in states like Florida, Texas and California. Those locations are crucial, of course. They just can't be everything.

Instead, Nebraska needs to find powerhouse players closer to home. It should be easier, too. Kids growing up in the Midwest are typically more aware of Nebraska's program. They may know about the Huskers' history and tradition, which is nothing but a benefit to the coaching staff as they recruit.

It's a strategy Tom Osborne used as Nebraska's head coach. Dirk Chatelain of the Omaha World-Herald even talked about it back in 2013.

"Osborne, from 1984 to 1997, signed 56 percent of his players from the 500-mile radius," Chatelain wrote. "Under Bo Pelini, that number is 31 percent. The four lowest percentages on record came in the past five recruiting classes."

Osborne had the recruiting plan worked out, too. As Chatelain noted, he searched for the needed kids in the Huskers' backyard. If the needed players weren't there, then the circle expanded outside of the 500-mile radius. It worked for Osborne then, and it can work for Riley now.

Riley has already started to put the plan in motion. In his first two months in charge, he made it a point to get to know the kids nearby.

“Our goal for the future will be to own this state—and obviously that means Omaha,” Riley said at the Outland Trophy banquet, per Rich Kaipust and Jon Nyatawa of the Omaha World-Herald.

That's made an immediate impression on not only local players, but also the local high school coaches.

“One thing, he told me, was that their No. 1 priority was the state of Nebraska,” Omaha Central coach Jay Ball said, per Kaipust and Nyatawa. “And on the first day available, being back here in Omaha, that says a lot.”

Riley's local attention paid off quickly, too. Defensive end recruit Daishon Neal of Omaha Central was considering other programs, like Michigan, but ultimately reaffirmed his commitment to the Huskers. With the defensive end position needing extra attention in the 2015 cases, Neal's decision was a big win for Riley.

Re-establishing the 500-mile recruiting radius won't be easy. Riley and his staff will have to put in the hours over the next few years to really build the trust in the Midwest. Doing so could pay off big, though.

That's not to say all of the Huskers' recruits will be local. It's a good place to start though. Andy Vaughn, the Huskers' director of football and recruiting operations, confirmed that strategy.

"If we can't find it inside that first area, then we go look for it," Vaughn said, per Nyatawa. "There's no reason to go across the country to find a position or talent that we have close by."

And that's not only a good strategy for Nebraska, it's also a smart one.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Football: Projecting Jim Harbaugh's Offensive Starters

Jim Harbaugh is wrapping up his first recruiting class with a whirlwind series of home visits across the country. He is hoping to convince a few undecided players to commit to Michigan and flip some commitments from other programs.

Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press reports that:

Harbaugh has spent the contact period since Jan. 15 all over the country, occasionally in multiple states, not to mention multiple schools, in the same day. The class could now reach 16 prospects by Wednesday's National Signing Day.

After national signing day Harbaugh will know which players he’ll have on his roster for his first season at Michigan.

Here is a projection of how his first recruiting class will impact his offensive starters for next season.


Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations obtained firsthand

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@PCallihan

All season statistics from mgoblue.com, the official University of Michigan athletic department website.

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Will Ohio State's 2015 Recruiting Class Surge or Falter on National Signing Day?

On the heels of a run through the first-ever College Football Playoff, head coach Urban Meyer and Ohio State are hoping to close out their 2015 recruiting class with a bang.

There's a chance, though, that the Buckeyes could sputter by losing a few key commitments before national signing day on Wednesday. And right now, it's too early to tell which way the scale will tip.

The Buckeyes could get a huge boost with last-minute commitments from some of the top remaining prospects who are still uncommitted. 

Most noteworthy among that group is Porter Gustin, a 4-star standout and the No. 41 prospect overall. The outside linebacker/weak-side defensive end hybrid has offers from programs such as LSU, Florida State, Notre Dame and Oregon, but the recruiting experts have USC as the heavy favorite to land his services. 

Ohio State, however, is making a late rally. 

Meyer made his way out to Utah to visit with Gustin this week, and the 6'5", 245-pound athlete is returning the favor by making an official visit to Columbus this weekend. If the trip goes well, Ohio State could seal one one of the biggest recruiting surprises of the year by stealing him away from USC.

Another player the Buckeyes are pushing for is 4-star wide receiver K.J. Hill

A 6'0", 188-pound pass-catcher out of North Little Rock, Arkansas, Hill was long considered a lean to play for Bret Bielema and the home-state Razorbacks. But Meyer and the coaching staff have given Hill a lot of attention down the stretch, and that could pay off. The Buckeyes hosted him last weekend while the team celebrated its national title in Ohio Stadium, and Meyer checked in with him in Arkansas on Thursday. 

Some, like Bleacher Report's Tyler Donohue, feel that Hill's commitment to the Buckeyes is imminent.

The Buckeyes have an outside shot of landing other highly rated prospects. Players such as 5-star defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr., 4-star offensive tackle Isaiah Prince and 3-star offensive tackle Venzell Boulware (who's currently committed to Tennessee) are all on Ohio State's board.

Perhaps the most important recruits on signing day will be a pair that is already on board with the Buckeyes.

Two of Ohio State's top pledges—4-star quarterback Torrance Gibson and 4-star running back Mike Weber—have been feeling a lot of heat from other programs. Both are rated as top-100 prospects (Gibson 75th, Weber 78th), and both have the ability to leave a crushing blow to Ohio State's class if they were to defer.

Gibson has gone on a spree of visits over the last few weeks in an effort to make sure he's "100 percent" sure that Ohio State is the right place for him, per his first-person column for USA Today High School Sports. After visiting Auburn and LSU over the last two weeks, the dual-threat signal-caller plans to visit Miami this weekend before making a final decision on signing day. 

Ohio State did get the chance to make one last impression with him on Thursday as Meyer stopped in for a visit. The Buckeyes are hoping they can hold on to one of their top prospects and, possibly, their next great quarterback.

Similar pressure is being put on Weber by Ohio State's chief rival. After Michigan hired Jim Harbaugh as head coach, the Wolverines have re-engaged the stud running back, making him a top priority in their struggling class. New running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley has been in to see Weber personally two times this month, pushing the Detroit native to stay in-state.

Meyer is hoping he can get Gibson and Weber to stick with their commitments, something he failed to do with 4-star cornerback Carlton Davis. The Miami, Florida native committed to Ohio State in August, but he decommitted on Thursday with plans to consider offers from Auburn and Miami. 

Will Ohio State be able to end the recruiting season the way it did on the field—with an unexpected series of pledges from players such as Gustin and Hill? Or will the Buckeyes stumble down the stretch and lose key members to other schools?

Meyer won't get those answers until national signing day, but in the meantime, he'll be doing everything he can to close things out on a high note.

 

All recruiting rankings and information via 247Sports.

David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Virginia Tech Football: 3 Commits Who Will Start a Game in 2015 for the Hokies

Starting as a true freshman in college football is incredibly difficult. Sometimes, there is this special athlete that takes the nation by storm and forces his way onto the field. For the Virginia Tech Hokies, such players have been rare in recent years.

However, in the past two seasons, cornerback Kendall Fuller and wide receiver Isaiah Ford became first-year starters. 

Fuller made All-American teams in both of his first two years on campus while Ford led the Hokies with 56 receptions and 709 receiving yards in 2014. 

Does any such player exist in 2015? Here are three incoming true freshmen that could start for Virginia Tech in 2015. 

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UCLA Football: 3 Commits Who Will Start a Game for the Bruins in 2015

For the first time in the Jim Mora era, it appears as if the UCLA football program will be able to build depth and redshirt the majority of its upcoming recruiting class. 

A lack of depth across the roster in the previous three years necessitated the implementation of inexperienced players at most spots within the starting lineup. With the majority of those players now upperclassmen, the team can theoretically afford to become a bit more selective within its decision to play true freshmen. 

With that said, there are three newcomers with the distinct possibility of starting games in 2015. Two of these new additions will be true freshmen, while a third comes to Westwood from the junior college ranks. 

This piece focuses on three new Bruins ready to make an impact early. The selection of these players largely stems from both a talent standpoint, as well as need on the current roster. 

 

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UCLA Football: 3 Commits Who Will Start a Game for the Bruins in 2015

For the first time in the Jim Mora era, it appears as if the UCLA football program will be able to build depth and redshirt the majority of its upcoming recruiting class...

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SEC Football: Most Intriguing Conference Games in 2015

It's been more than three months since the SEC released its full conference slate for the 2015 season, but at the time it was far too early to start looking ahead to the next year's games while the current season was still playing out.

Not anymore. It's the offseason, time for plenty of advance analysis, as well as planning, in case anyone is interested in putting together an SEC road trip next fall.

With 12 teams making bowls in 2014, including all seven from the West Division, 41 of the 56 matchups will involve foes that had winning records. Only one game, when Kentucky visits Vanderbilt on Nov. 14, will pit teams with losing records.

Which games stand out more than others? Check out our list of the 12 most intriguing SEC conference games in 2015.

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Why USC Will Have Strongest Finish to 2015 National Signing Day

National signing day is less than one week away, and USC is among a small handful of programs hoping to dominate the final stretch leading into the day that the nation’s top prospects make their commitments official.

Currently, USC has 20 commitments and a class currently rated No. 3 in the country.

But Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian is far from being done with the 2015 class.

With four targets remaining who are rated among the nation’s top 50 prospects overall still left on the board, USC has a chance to make a serious run at the top overall class.

But can Sarkisian and his staff finish strong?

If last year is any indicator, Trojans supporters will be a happy bunch next Wednesday. The Trojans landed studs such as receiver JuJu Smith, corner Adoree' Jackson and offensive lineman Damien Mama at the final hour—which helped them earn a place among the nation’s top 10 classes for 2014.

This year, Sarkisian and his staff began their push a little earlier.

January has produced pledges from highly touted prospects such as 5-star linebacker Osa Masina, 4-star running back Ronald Jones II, 4-star safety Marvel Tell and 4-star corner Ykili Ross.

The biggest remaining fish on the board is the nation’s top corner—5-star in-state standout Iman “Biggie” Marshall.

Schools such as Florida State, LSU, Michigan, Notre Dame and Oregon are among the programs trying to lure him away from California, but as his Crystal Ball page indicates, the Trojans are still the heavy favorite.

A pair of studs out of Serra High School in Gardena, California—a school that has been kind to the Trojans in recent history—in 5-star defensive tackle Rasheem Green and 4-star linebacker John Houston are high on Sarkisian’s wish list as well.

According to Ryan Bartow of 247Sports, Green enjoyed himself during his official visit to USC on the weekend of Jan. 16.

"Coach Sark told me how much he wants me and pretty much recruited me," Green told Bartow. "He's trying to get me to USC."

Another high-profile defensive standout who is in play for USC is 4-star linebacker Porter Gustin. The Trojans are battling Arizona State, Notre Dame and Ohio State for the right to land the Utah native.

As Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports notes, the vibes are strong that USC will finish with another flurry that includes most, if not all, of its top targets. 

If that scenario unfolds, national signing day will once again have a Cardinal and Gold flavor to it.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

12 Biggest Recruiting Visits on Final Weekend Before National Signing Day

It all comes down to this.

Years of letters, texts, phone conversations and campus visits conclude this weekend as the 2015 recruiting cycle crawls toward a close. By this time next week, we'll know where the country's next crop of college football stars will continue their careers. 

The fate of this class remains an enigma until national signing day takes center stage Feb. 4, when prospects put pen to paper and seal their collegiate fate. Plenty of players will be on the move in coming days, catching one last glimpse at universities they could eventually call home or return to as rivals.

Here's a look at 12 campus visits that command attention as the clock ticks down toward signing day.

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Projecting Every Pac-12 Team's Quarterback for 2015 Season

The year of the quarterback lived up to the hype as the Pac-12 conference saw records broken, mind-boggling amounts of passing yards and the league's first Heisman Trophy winner in a decade.

The spectacular aerial displays each week were a direct result of experience at the position with guys like Marcus Mariota, Sean Mannion, Brett Hundley, Connor Halliday and others having started many games in previous seasons.

2015 will be unique in that the aforementioned signal-callers along with Arizona State's Taylor Kelly have either exhausted their eligibility or declared early for the NFL draft. With a bevy of new starters entering the fray, the Pac-12 could experience a down year at the position, at least by its own lofty standards.

But coming back are more record-breakers, experienced backups and some extremely talented recruits who will do the best to keep the bar raised.

Some projections are obvious and won't cause discussion barring injury, while some programs have the quarterback spot wide open entering spring practice. Let's take a look at the likely starters for each team in 2015.

 

All stats via cfbstats.com. Recruiting info via 247Sports.

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Projecting Every Pac-12 Team's Quarterback for 2015 Season

The year of the quarterback lived up to the hype as the Pac -12 conference saw records broken, mind-boggling amounts of passing yards and the league's first Heisman Trophy winner in a decade...

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How Ohio State Can Make Big Splash on National Signing Day

The football gods have been good to Ohio State football.

It wasn't long ago when the Buckeyes weren't considered a College Football Playoff-caliber team. After winning the Big 10 championship, Ohio State went on to make the tournament as the No. 4 seed, shock top-seeded Alabama and then dominate No. 2 Oregon to win the national title.

And if that wasn't enough, the Buckeyes are now sitting with 24 commits for the 2015 class. Four of them are early enrollees: defensive end Jashon Cornell, linebacker Nick Conner, cornerback Jamel Dean and offensive tackle Grant Schmidt. Cornell, Conner and Dean are 4-star athletes, while Schmidt is a 3-star player, according to the 247Sports Composite ratings.

If signing day was today, Ohio State would have a 5-star in LB Justin Hilliard and 12 others who are 4-star prospects. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, there's still time to improve on an already-solid class.

And we all must remember: Urban Meyer is one of the best at landing commits in the clutch. Look at Dontre Wilson, once an Oregon commit before switching to Ohio State days before national signing day.

Ohio State's class is ranked No. 7 nationally by 247Sports. The Buckeyes could challenge for top-five status—maybe even top three—with the additions of a couple of athletes.

Nothing is a lock, but Illinois 5-star defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr., Maryland 4-star OT Isaiah Prince and 4-star do-it-all LB Porter Gustin (emphasis on do-it-all, per Rivals analyst Brett Angulo) are three players the Buckeyes are hoping to sway. Landing one of the three would be a huge deal. Landing two would be outstanding.

Landing all three would be Christmas. But again, this is Urban Meyer we're talking about. With last-minute recruiting, he's shown that he can make things happen.

Auburn is a major player for Beckner, and Missouri is a safe pick being closest to home, but Beckner took an official visit to Ohio State last weekend and spent some time with Hilliard and Cornell. Per Jeremy Birmingham of Eleven Warriors, the idea of Beckner choosing the Buckeyes isn't as far-fetched as some may think. Birmingham chatted with Darren Sunkett, the head coach at East St. Louis High School, Beckner's school, about Beckner's thoughts of being a Buckeye.

"Yeah, it's real close," Sunkett said. "[Ohio State] has a lot to offer. [The visit] was a surprise to him; there's nothing like seeing it in person."

Bill Kurelic of 247Sports, however, said an in-home visit isn't planned between Ohio State and Beckner. Kurelic added that assistant coaches Ed Warinner and Larry Johnson visited with Prince on Wednesday. Prince is no longer listed as an Alabama commit and, per 247Sports' Ryan Bartow, plans to officially visit Maryland this weekend.

Gustin may be the one to keep an eye on. He is considered a USC lean, but again, this is Urban Meyer we're talking about. Gustin had an in-home visit with Meyer on Tuesday, and Meyer was at Gustin's basketball game prior to the visit.

For Gustin, the in-home visit was one to remember, according to Rivals analyst Marc Gilver.

"It was pretty awesome," Gustin told Gilver about the in-home visit. "[Meyer] is intense and demanding and has that grinder attitude."

Gustin added that Ohio State is making a late push, and his top three schools are Ohio State, Arizona State and USC. The Trojans are considered the heavy favorite, but Ohio State gets the luxury this weekend of having Gustin's final official visit.

And, we must remember...we're dealing with Urban Meyer. Stay tuned.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon Football: Will Possible FCS Transfer Live Up to Marcus Mariota's Legacy?

With Marcus Mariota heading to the NFL, there is now a major void at Oregon. Who will come in and play quarterback for the Ducks?

Bleacher Report's Stephen Nelson is joined by The Oregonian's Andrew Greif to discuss candidates to replace Mariota.

Who is the best QB option for Oregon? Check out the video and let us know!      

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon Football: Will Possible FCS Transfer Live Up to Marcus Mariota's Legacy?

With Marcus Mariota heading to the NFL, there is now a major void at Oregon. Who will come in and play quarterback for the Ducks? Bleacher Report's Stephen Nelson is joined ...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

How Much Will Scholarship Guarantees Really Change College Football?

Two years from now, the college football coach will look at the 6'6" specimen—his Signing Day gem from Feb. 4, 2015—and mutter, "He's more use as a light-bulb changer than a tight end."     

They teach you in regular school the world is round, and in The School of Coaching they teach you another fundamental: manage your roster. Let that 6'6" light-bulb changer leave and be a football player again at another D-1 school, or maybe a D-2 one. Coaching 101 allowed Phillip Sims, once the nation's No. 1 quarterback recruit, to exit Alabama in 2012 because AJ McCarron was too good. Bryce Brown was the star running back at Tennessee for Lane Kiffin in 2009, stayed one year, and was unhappy and left for Kansas State.

Will 65 autonomous coaches still be able to do that with the new rule that guarantees scholarships inside the five-year eligibility window?

Try and use some common sense here.

Can you see a football player who turned out not to be as skilled as intended sticking his tongue out at Nick Saban or Urban Meyer and saying, "Nah, nah, nah, nah, you can't get rid of me now"?

There will be whiffs in recruiting, and when they show up the sophomore season, Saban, Meyer and a dozen other coaches I can think of will have a remedy.

A gun was put to the head of major college programs—unionization of Northwestern athletes, lawsuits—that forced them to offer multi-year scholarships, but there is fine print, and there are unwritten rules, in this scholarship agreement.

Coaches have told me so.

There will be medical retirements of players—"That knee is just kinda messed up, son"—and when that happens, the player will not be a "counter" to the 85-scholarship limit. He will get to keep his scholarship money, and the program will be able to go find a better player.

There will also be banishment to the scout team. Entombed is a good word here. There will be eye-to-eye talks between the player and the most important man on campus, the head football coach, and there will be some convincing to move on to Division II. There will be guys encouraged to take jobs as a student assistant coaches.

There is one last remedy, and it is not sinister at all. It is a player's competitiveness and zeal for the game. Call it the Cardale Jones Rule. The Ohio State quarterback declared on Twitter that players go to college to play football, not go to class. The whiffs in recruiting just might take care of themselves. A player will go where he can play football and leave on his own.

So in the end, there will be roster transitions in Division I football, same as before. Tell me I'm wrong.

There will also still be this: admiration. College football is full coaches who were benchwarmers wouldn't quit. They will coach up the kid who is not fulfilling his destiny and can't be convinced to give it up; the coach will see what he can squeeze out of this kid. Somebody like, oh, Blake Sims might just pop out and save a season.

There is so much money from TV in the game now that schools may end up with 100 players on scholarship, with 15 of them not "counters" on the program's 85 limit. They are players that were persuaded to take a knee with an injury that might be serious, or might not be serious. Some college coaches have told me that there will be more players "medical'd" when it is determined they just don't belong at a high major, skillwise.

Is that OK? Sure it is. The kid keeps his scholarship, the coach reloads, and schools waste more of the money they haul in from TV. Same as always.

Some schools, the more ruthless ones, might just have a hard time with the multi-year scholarship rule. "There may be some schools who are in the habit of dropping players who underperform after a year or two that may look at their signees a little more closely," an SEC coach told me. That's a good thing.

This past January, the vote on guaranteed scholarships did not go down very well. Coaches want players to be hungry. The vote was 50-29-1, which means it barely passed the threshold to become NCAA law. I just don't think the coach has to worry. He will find a way to manage his roster, just like before. You watch.

Many of you probably think it wrong for an athlete to get a multi-year deal when the student who has an academic scholarship has to make good on their grades year-to-year or else lose their academic aid. In Georgia, the Hope Scholarship is maintained with a 'B' average, year-to-year, which in the football equivalent, means you have to make 14 out of 20 field goals, and make all of them inside 30 yards.

The difference between the student academic scholarship and the student athletic scholarship is that the athlete is working a 30-40 hour job for the highest-paid guy on campus (the football coach). The player is tied to football from 2 in the afternoon until 8, or longer, and Saturdays and Sundays, I have been told by players.

His position coach is pushing cutups to the player's team-issued iPad at 7 a.m. The film is of the guy he has to block on Saturday. The coach wants the film studied before practice.

Monday through Friday, the student who is an athlete is engulfed by the hype of the big game. How do you focus in that 24/7 cauldron? In the offseason, he is required—voluntarily—to be on campus for strength and conditioning. Yes, he has access to tutors, but it doesn't make up for all the time he spends in his sport. There is a significant difference between an academic scholarship and an athletic scholarship.

It comes down to this. What is the right thing to do? It is a confusing question for some people. It shouldn't be.

When mistakes are made in recruiting, the player can move to a lower division. If he wants to stay and be a good teammate and work hard, he should be able to stay. There are plenty of head coaches and assistant coaches who will hold that athlete up as an example and say, "Here is a guy who won't quit. He's worth keeping around."

 

Ray Glier covers college football for Bleacher Report.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Football: Grading Nick Saban's 2012 Recruiting Class

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It’s a familiar signing day refrain for Alabama coach Nick Saban, one we’ll probably hear again next Wednesday when Saban and the Crimson Tide haul in what should be another No. 1 class.

Recruiting rankings don’t matter, he says, at least on national signing day before anybody plays their first college snap.

“I really do think the most accurate way to be able to rank any recruiting class would be three years down the road,” he said nearly a year ago. “Because I think the challenge for all these young men that got recruited today, wherever they're going, is to be able to stay focused on what they need to do to improve as players and do the things that they need to do to become very effective college football players.”

Three years ago, Alabama’s 2012 class was rated No. 1 and had the highest average rating per player.

So where are they now? Which players panned out and which ones didn’t? Which still have something left to prove? Now that we have Saban’s blessing, let’s re-grade that class.

These grades correspond to expectations. A 3-star who becomes a superstar obviously gets a higher grade than a 5-star who turns into a solid contributor. These aren’t final grades, either. Some players could be due for expanded roles in the future, which could bump them up eventually but haven’t proven it yet.

We’ll take a quick look at each player, sorted by their grade.


All recruiting information comes from 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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Inside the Life of Trent Thompson, the Nation's No. 1 College Football Recruit

Inside Octavia Jones’ Westover High School office lies a piece of football treasure. Although it’s not protected in glass casing just yet, the head coach of this Albany, Georgia, program has already mapped out this next step.

This piece of football treasure is in fact a football, but it’s not just any football. Jones has plenty of those at his disposal, although he won’t bother showing those off. This one is different; it’s actually one of a kind.

Scrawled across this pigskin resting comfortably on his desk are familiar rallying cries that could be qualified as gospel for some. On one side there’s a giant “Roll Tide.” On the other—as if to make the ball perfectly symmetrical and balance out the tremendous metaphoric weight—is an even bigger “War Eagle.”

Flip it over, and you’ll see “Go Tigers!” and “Go Rebs!” claiming ownership to this valuable real estate, although these familiar sequenced words are only a small portion of its worth.

Below these letters and an off-center depiction of the Georgia High School Association logo are the calling cards of some college football giants: Alabama’s Nick Saban, Georgia’s Mark Richt, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, Mississippi’s Hugh Freeze, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and others who have visited Westover, met Jones in his office and proudly signed this ball.

Each did not simply come out of the goodness of his heart. Each came with one definitive purpose in mind: to convince Trent Thompson, the nation’s No. 1 recruit in the class of 2015, according to 247Sports—a gargantuan, disruptive defensive tackle with more than 20 scholarship offers from the nation’s most elite programs—to commit to his program for the next three or four years.

It’s one of many gestures to make a small impression—any impression—and a lasting reminder of the magnificent, extreme and unusual life of a can’t-miss college football recruit.

 

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

There are four giant garbage bags inside the Thompsons’ house, each one filled to the brink. Inside these bags are handwritten letters, brochures and other mailers that they have collected from countless universities over the past few years.

There were so many items that the Thompsons threw out a good portion recently only because they were taking up too much space. They plan to save the rest as keepsakes.

When asked approximately how many letters Trent had received, Bridgette Thompson—Trent’s mother—could only laugh at the prospects of providing a legitimate estimate.

With tremendous talent comes tremendous interest. With tremendous interest come mailings, phone calls, text messages, visits, messages on social media and other means to communicate with the player. If there is an avenue to communicate with a recruit, a coach will find it. There simply aren't many 313-pound human beings capable of moving the way Thompson can.

“In the summertime of my junior year, it picked up,” Thompson recalled on the recruiting process. “I got invited to a lot of camps, a lot of coaches came to visit, and it started getting crazy. This year it got even crazier.”

Imagine being wooed by a celebrity every week. Imagine fielding calls from football idols to the point of boredom.

Being told you are the best at what you do is one thing; being told you are the best at what you do on a daily basis for years, all the while being sold a similar sales pitch each time, can be another. His coach heard very similar pitches, enjoying the process from a far different perspective.

“I think it got tiresome for him at times,” Jones said of his star defensive tackle. “One of the things about Trent is he’s a people pleaser. He likes to make people happy. And when you have that many people who are recruiting you, you’re going to have to tell a lot of people no. There’s only one person you’re going to be able to tell yes. I think that was one of the hardest parts he had to go through.”

“He’s handled it a lot better than I could have handled it at his age,” Jones added. “At no point in time has he ever let this go to his head. He’s been humble throughout the whole experience. I’m really proud of how he’s taken it all in stride.”

 

The Making of a Superstar

It was during Thompson’s sophomore season that his head coach saw a glimpse into the future.

Jones watched Thompson, who was blessed with incredible physical gifts long before he added extra weight—the good weight, the kind of weight that makes college coaches salivate—deliver a play against Cairo High School that will be forever ingrained in his brain.

“He was playing defensive end, and he crashed down inside right as the quarterback was handing the ball off,” Jones said. “Trent ran right through the fullback, and then he tackled the running back and the quarterback at the same time. At that moment, we knew we had something special.”

Other moments followed. Jones spoke of other plays in which Thompson—now a mammoth 313 pounds—grabbed a running back with one arm and brought him to the ground as if he were a teddy bear.

Voyage to YouTube, search for Trent Thompson, and you’ll unearth a treasure trove of spectacular moments. They are endless, each seemingly more physics-defying than the next:

There’s an inexplicable smoothness to his game, one you can’t quite put into the appropriate context. Thompson routinely and violently tosses aside normal-sized high school linemen who were given the unfortunate and impossible task of trying to prevent him from moving forward.

While you gasp out of pure sympathy for the young men playing the role of traffic cones, there’s a beauty in this destruction. It’s football art.

“His first step is unreal for someone his size,” Johnson added. “He gets off the ball so quickly. He can be a bull-rush-type player, but he has the speed to finesse you as well. He has the best of both worlds.”

It wasn’t long before the state of Georgia learned of Thompson. Word quickly spread to the rest of the SEC, and Jones watched the best player he has ever coached become a star in recruiting circles. In short order, the interest and offers began pouring in and recruiting outlets such as 247Sports advanced Thompson up their player rankings.

His play improved, he added more mass to a mass-filled frame, and the buzz grew louder. Over the past two seasons, Thompson totaled a combined 74 tackles for loss, according to MaxPreps. Thompson also flashed his versatility, intercepting two passes in his high school career.

His impact on individual games and matchups—the plays that won’t show up on stat sheets but are celebrated wildly in a coach’s office—were evident on almost every snap. Plug him in the middle of a defense and everyone around him is immediately better.

In 247Sports’ most recent (and final) composite ranking—which is a formula that tabulates its player rankings as well as other popular sites for a particular recruiting class—Thompson finished as the No. 1 player.

“He's lightning quick off the ball both with his feet and hands, two things you look for in an elite prospect at his position,” 247Sports’ national recruiting director JC Shurburtt said of the ranking. “He also has a high drive, meaning he loves football. He steps on the field with something to prove each and every snap.”

 

The Process

It is exhaustive, extreme and not something any player or family can ever truly prepare for. It is a tremendous, overpowering machine that sucks up time and invades privacy. And while Thompson and his mother are happy to see the recruiting cycle turn to someone else, both are incredibly grateful they had a chance to see it through.

“It’s something new,” Thompson said. “It doesn’t happen every day down here. I got to meet some great coaches, and some of them came to my school. It was great to attend football games and take some of my teammates and my mom.”

His mother, having heard every pitch as it pertains to school and football, is completely satisfied with where they’ve been—and more importantly—where they ended up.

“Go where you think you feel home at,” Bridgette Thompson said. “I stand behind Trent."

Football is giving Thompson an unspeakably positive opportunity—one that could ultimately translate into unspeakable wealth if the plan plays out. It’s not evil by any means, but it can be unrelenting and show its teeth every now and then.

Being the nation’s No. 1 recruit is a label millions of other high school football players would love to wear. But there is an anchor tied to this prestigious crown that Thompson and his mother are excited to be free from in short order.

That’s partly why Thompson decided to commit to Georgia on August 12 of last year. The thought was that an early decision would alleviate some of the inquiries from coaches and programs hoping to secure his commitment.

The reality, however, is that the calls still came. The visits still happened. The mailbox was still full.

“It’s not an easy message to get across,” Thompson said. “They were still coming after me, but I told a lot of them to stop because I wasn’t interested.”

Thompson didn’t rush his decision to Georgia. In many ways, this was a decision that was years in the making. A Georgia native and a fan of the program, the match between player and program was perfect before the Bulldogs ever showed any interest and Thompson flashed his incredible ability on film.

Gradually, these two came together, and the early matchmaking stages only confirmed what both hoped would be an ideal fit.

“From day one, I think he knew where he wanted to go,” Jones said. “His first trip to Georgia was very comfortable. He grew up being a Georgia fan, and he has pride in his state.”

With a clear choice in mind, Thompson and his mother took other visits. They voyaged out of state, acquiring as much knowledge when it came to football and academics, something Bridgette Thompson focused on almost exclusively.

With the knowledge necessary to make a decision, Thompson verbally committed to Georgia as his senior season was only getting started. He picked August 12 not only to hopefully slow down the ungovernable recruiting cycle, but also because it was his grandparents' anniversary.

With a photo of his grandparents on the table and his mother by his side, Thompson emotionally announced that he was committing to Georgia as the university’s fight song boomed over the speakers.

“That day was special,” Bridgette Thompson said. “That was the day of my mom and dad’s anniversary, and they are both deceased. My mom played a big part in Trent’s life. She always told him to never give up on what you want to do, and don’t let nobody tell you that you can’t do it.”

It didn’t stop there. Recruiting never truly does. Until Thompson faxes in his letter of intent and his commitment to Georgia is finally official, there will be a coach who believes he can change the player’s mind.

However, don’t expect any surprises from the Georgia native on national signing day on Wednesday. The suspense is dead. All visits to other campuses have been canceled; Thompson will head to Athens once more before officially ending his recruitment.

The football sitting on his head coach's desk can be be tucked behind glass, although the signatures and rallying cries from those who made the trip will remain. One journey is ending, another will begin soon enough. 

“I’m 100 percent,” Thompson said. “That’s where I wanted to go.”

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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