NCAA Football

SEC Football Recruiting: Latest Buzz Ahead of National Signing Day

Following the trend set in recent years, the SEC boasts some of the top recruiting classes in the country. With only one day left until national signing day, however, its classes are far from complete.

Five of the top eight current recruiting classes are held by SEC schools, including top-ranked LSU and No. 6 overall Alabama.

While SEC schools will likely land some of the top uncommitted recruits in the nation, No. 1 overall prospect Rashan Gary won't be one of them.

Brian Dohn of Scout.com reported on Monday that Gary cut both Auburn and Alabama from his list of finalists. Gary is now down to two non-SEC schools: Clemson and Michigan.

With Gary now out of the picture for SEC teams, 5-star defensive tackle Derrick Brown becomes the top uncommitted recruit. Brown, the No. 9 overall prospect, is being heavily recruited by his home-state Georgia Bulldogs in addition to Alabama, Auburn and Tennessee.

Brown will be announcing his commitment on Wednesday at 3:10 p.m. ET on ESPNU, ESPN2 and WatchESPN, although he has already chosen his school. According to Cody Chaffins of Fox 5 Sports, Brown "will be calling coaches tonight" to let them know where he'll commit:

Georgia was long considered the favorite to land Brown, but Auburn has closed the gap after hosting Brown's Jan. 15 official visit.

247Sports' Crystal Ball predictions still have UGA as the favorite with 50 percent of the picks, but it's barely ahead of Auburn's 42 percent. It would be a major hit for the Dawgs to lose their home-grown talent to their most bitter SEC rival.

Including Brown, the Dawgs are well in the mix for five of the top seven uncommitted prospects, including in-state 5-star recruits Mecole Hardman Jr. and Demetris Robertson.

Though Hardman named Alabama his leader back on Jan. 3, Georgia has fought hard to get back in favor with the nation's No. 13 overall prospect, and it appears to be paying off. 247Sports considers Georgia a clear front-runner for Hardman, with the Dawgs garnering 91 percent of predictions.

Robertson's recruiting chase has been both interesting and unpredictable. After he decommitted from Alabama last April, Georgia emerged as the favorite to sign him.

In recent months, however, Notre Dame has emerged as a strong contender to land Robertson, and 45 percent of 247Sports' predictions are leaning toward the Fighting Irish compared to 40 percent for Georgia.

Even though Robertson will likely wait until after national signing day to commit—247Sports' Kipp Adams (h/t FoxSports.com) reported that Robertson booked a visit to Georgia for the weekend following national signing day—things look good for the Bulldogs.

Last Friday, Robertson told Kipp Adams of Dawgs247 that he was "sold" on UGA: "My mom...I need to take this visit to show her around," Robertson told Adams. "I am sold on the school, I just got to let her see the school."

Adding Hardman and Robertson to the No. 9-ranked recruiting class in the nation would be a nice welcoming gift for new Georgia head coach Kirby Smart.

Alabama is looking to bolster its strong class as well. The top two prospects in the state of Alabama—5-star linebackers Ben Davis and Lyndell "Mack" Wilson—are nearing their decisions, and things look good for the Tide.

Davis, the son of Alabama all-time leading tackler Wayne Davis, has narrowed down his list to five schools:

Davis has been considered a lock for Alabama for quite some time, even when he named UGA his leader in the wake of Georgia hiring Kirby Smart as its head coach. 247Sports unanimously predicts that Davis will stay home to play for Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide.

Wilson's perceived choice is somewhat murkier. Having earlier named Florida as his favorite, he surprisingly dropped the Gators from his list last week. Like Davis, Wilson's top two choices are Alabama and Georgia.

Wilson raved about his Jan. 15 official visit to Athens, calling it "a perfect 10" and inspiring optimism among Bulldogs fans with this tweet:

Despite his apparent interest in Georgia, national recruiting pundits aren't buying it, as 96 percent of 247Sports' experts are picking Alabama to bring in Wilson.

Even with Davis and Wilson as likely options, Alabama is looking to land a trio of 5-star linebackers. It also has its sights set on 5-star linebacker Mique Juarez, a California native. Though Juarez is considered an overwhelming favorite to sign with UCLA and is also considering Ole Miss, his official visit to Tuscaloosa on Jan. 22 was a success for the Crimson Tide:

If Alabama can land even two of these three linebackers, its recruiting class could very well become the best in the nation.

In order for the Tide to claim the top spot, however, they would have to unseat LSU. The Tigers may not be in the mix for the likes of Brown, Davis and Juarez, but their top-ranked class is far from done.

Prized 5-star cornerback Kristian Fulton, the top recruit in the state of Louisiana and No. 21 overall player in the class, is a heavy favorite to sign with LSU. Fellow cornerbacks Trayvon Mullen and Shyheim Carter—both 4-star prospects—are also considering LSU. The Tigers are also in the mix for 4-star defensive tackle Stephon Taylor, a New Orleans native.

Much like the Tigers, No. 4 overall Ole Miss has already landed many of its top recruits. But if they can add in-state 5-star defensive end Jeffery Simmons, the Rebels would cement their impressive recruiting class.

Simmons will decide between Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Alabama, Tennessee and Auburn on Wednesday, and according to Yahoo Sports' Andrew Bone, he has gone to great lengths to ensure that he will pick the best school for him:

Although somewhat overshadowed by LSU, Alabama and Ole Miss, the Florida Gators have also put together quite an impressive recruiting class, ranked No. 7 in the nation.

The Gators have 25 commitments to date and are looking to steal Fulton from LSU. After his official visit to Gainesville on Jan. 29, that scenario looked much more possible:

The SEC is once again dominating recruiting, and it is landing prospects from all across the country. LSU's top-ranked class has thrived on in-state recruiting, Ole Miss has landed its big 5-star targets and the Crimson Tide can boast the top class in the country if things play out well for them.

Georgia and Florida are each a stone's throw—or a few blue-chip prospects—away from a Top Five recruiting class.

Much like in any other year, the SEC will boast many of the top teams in the nation come September. But each team's national title hopes begin with an elite recruiting class via national signing day.

 

Unless otherwise noted, recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Where Super Bowl 50's Top Stars Ranked as College Football Recruits

Two of the biggest days on America's football calendar are close—national signing day in the college game and the Super Bowl in the NFL ranks.

This intersection of recruiting hype and championship drama has made for an interesting look back at the players who will star in Sunday's big game between the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers.

Both franchises have former blue-chip prospects who went on to have huge college careers and breakout stars who were severely underrated out of high school. Some had a laundry list of scholarship offers from schools all over the country, while others didn't even get a single one at first.

Let's take a look at several stars from both the Broncos and the Panthers—seven for each squad—and see where they were rated as high school or JUCO prospects.

All recruiting information here comes from 247Sports, which has historical composite rankings from industry leaders dating back to the 2002 season. 

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Every SEC Team's Biggest Recruiting Wish on National Signing Day

We’re down to the final hours until national signing day in college football, and while every Southeastern Conference coaching staff will be nervous about every commitment until the paperwork is signed, sealed and faxed, each will also be on edge about the players who haven’t made even a commitment yet.

Everyone has a wish list. For some coaches, that list includes players they’re certain they don’t have a shot at and others they think they’ll land but still don’t know for sure.

It’s a stressful and fun day for everyone to be sure, but here’s a last-minute look at who each SEC team hopes to see join its official roster Wednesday.

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Scott Lashley to Alabama: Crimson Tide Land 4-Star OT Prospect

The Alabama Crimson Tide added another high-profile piece to their 2016 recruiting class on Tuesday in the form of offensive lineman Scott Lashley.

Chris Kirschner of SEC Country reported that Lashley chose Alabama over Mississippi State and LSU at a ceremony at his high school.

Lashley is a 4-star prospect who ranks among the top 20 offensive tackles and top 200 overall players in the 2016 class. He received offers from numerous top programs before making his decision.

The West Point High School (Mississippi) standout briefly committed to Mississippi State in May before deciding to reconsider the landscape.

Lashley decided to play out his senior season while continuing to gather information about the interested programs. He explained to Barton Simmons of 247Sports in December that getting on the field quickly was among his top considerations during the process:

Where I feel like I can fit in but not so much building a relationship with the coaches because coaches leave but really a place where I know I can come in and help them contribute. That's mainly the main factor.

I would like to play early. If I redshirt, I redshirt. You can learn from the coaches, learn the position. I'm still new to the game. This is really my second year playing football so I would like to go so somewhere and play early but if I do redshirt that would be OK.

His strong play earned him a chance to take part in the 2015 Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game alongside several other top prospects. The group included prized defensive end Jeffery Simmons, and Courtney Cronin of the Clarion-Ledger spotlighted that matchup:

Lashley has the raw tools to become a top-tier college tackle. His combination of size (6'6'', 300 lbs), power and athleticism makes him the type of prospect a coaching staff can mold into a special player.

It's going to take a while before he can reach that level, though. He has plenty of work to do in terms of his technique, and there will be an adjustment period as he moves to the college level, where he won't be able to rely on outmuscling opponents.

Ultimately, Lashley becomes the latest in a long line of star recruits to land at Alabama. Perhaps it was that arcade basketball game with head coach Nick Saban that made the difference:

Choosing the Tide does make his path to playing time a little less certain. The loss of senior Dominick Jackson does open up a spot in the starting lineup, but the incoming freshman will have plenty of competition if he's focused on earning that spot.

The likelier scenario is he'll need to wait a season or two before he's able to make his presence felt.

Ultimately, Lashley opted for Alabama in what comes as at least a minor surprise after Mississippi State and LSU pushed hard for his commitment.

Lashley could be given a chance to prove himself right out of the gate, and if he's impressive enough, he may be given a chance to start as a freshman. His comments made it clear he'd like to contribute right away.

We'll see if he ends up getting that opportunity, but his long-term outlook will remain positive either way.

 

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The 1 2016 College Football Recruit You Need to Know from Every State

Wednesday's national signing day will serve as the culmination of months—sometimes years—of intense effort from players, coaches and parents to connect the nation's top high school football prospects with the schools they best fit with. Most of the attention will be on the big names, the uncommitted recruits who make their final decisions and the top-tier schools that land another big haul of future talent.

But the day is just as much about the unheralded stars from all corners of the country, players who might have been stars in their hometowns but have gone relatively unnoticed outside of their own states. Those players' signings won't stand out as much overall, but we're shedding a little light on at least one from each state.

We've identified a 2016 high school football recruit from each of the 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, whose story and accomplishments are worth knowing about.

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National Signing Day 2016: Top Recruits' Star Ratings and Commitment Schedule

Love it or hate it, national signing day is the biggest moment in the lives of a lot of young athletes, many of whom are also capable of affecting the landscape of college football.

Sure, it sometimes gets ridiculous, depending on the style of some announcements. What used to be just picking a hat out of a bag has turned into a game of one-upmanship in which everyone tries to do something new. Still, it is all in good fun, as these players are getting their first exposure in the national spotlight.

Meanwhile, the actual decisions made will be extremely important. The top players are the future of the sport, and where they choose to go to school will make a difference for many programs around the country. If you are a fan of college football, make sure to keep up with the biggest announcements during signing day on Wednesday, Feb. 3.

 

Top Recruits to Watch

Rashan Gary, DT

As the No. 1 recruit in the nation, Gary's process has been closely followed for months. The defensive tackle has the size (6'5", 293 lbs), strength, agility and technique to make an early impact at the next level and has been pursued by just about every team in the nation.

For much of the process, Michigan seemed like the clear leader for the New Jersey native, although Clemson is making up ground in a hurry and is now featured in the final two, according to Brian Dohn of Scout.com. Gary's mother, Jennifer Coney, explained how impressed she was with the recent visit to Clemson, via Dohn:

The academics, and the academic support, I was pleasantly surprised with everything at Clemson. The staff, the whole staff, the whole student body. I'm not talking about the football players, and the football players were phenomenal, but the whole student body. The players want them to recruit good football players because it's only going to make them better.

Mike Farrell of Rivals.com also noted that the Tigers were serious competitors in this race:

Although Gary might still end up being a Wolverine, Clemson has certainly made things interesting in recent weeks. Considering how much talent is returning to the roster for the national runners-up, this announcement could end up being extremely important for next season.

 

Ben Davis, ILB

The experts certainly think this won't be a contest, with 100 percent of predictions from 247Sports' Crystal Ball leaning toward Alabama. The local product has certainly leaned toward Nick Saban's team for a while and could easily end up being the latest in a long line of impressive linebackers in this program.

However, he still does have his options open while keeping five teams on his shortlist:

Perhaps the biggest discussion, though, might be what happens after he commits.

Bleacher Report's Tyler Donohue speculated that Davis and Lyndell "Mack" Wilson could end up being a package deal after spending time together on their latest official visit. The other Alabama linebacker could create quite a tandem in Tuscaloosa, although both are also considering Georgia since former Crimson Tide defensive coordinator Kirby Smart now the head coach.

In any case, Davis has the talent to be one of the top defensive players in the nation within a few years, and any team will be extremely lucky to have him.

 

Mecole Hardman Jr., ATH

This recruiting cycle is definitely dominated by defensive players, with studs capable of making an impact at each level of the defense. However, one top recruit who can fare well on the offensive end is Mecole Hardman Jr. 

Although he hasn't decided on a position, Hardman is likely to spend his college years at receiver. This is bad news for cornerbacks, because the Georgia native is one of the fastest players in the entire class, as he displayed in recent practices for the U.S. under-19 team:

Hardman still has a lot of schools in consideration, with Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Michigan, Georgia, Tennessee and Ohio State all technically still alive. That's a lot of hats on the table before Wednesday.

Despite the multiple options, Georgia might have the edge as the hometown team, but you never know what will happen when these players eventually make their choices.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for year-round sports analysis.

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Can the Big Ten Pass the Pac-12 with Another Strong National Signing Day?

Every preseason is filled with an ever-evolving group of major storylines that seem to dominate the conversation from spring meetings through media days and on up to the opening kickoff in Week 1.

More often than not for the past decade, some form of "What conference will challenge the SEC?" has been a key talking point for coaches, players and the media nearly every week of the year. The talk has picked up the past two seasons in particular with regards to the Pac-12, and whether Commissioner Larry Scott’s great western renaissance project has drawn even, or close to even, with the Southeastern Conference.

In many respects, the Pac-12 has come close to matching (and even exceeding, depending on what metric you use) the SEC. The Pac-12 has certainly proved to be deeper than any conference in the country, it has some of the best coaches in college football, and many of the 12 schools’ facilities are now either up to par or class-leading.

While a national title is still lacking since the days of Pete Carroll at USC, on the field and in terms of national perception, it seems as though the two leagues are closer than ever before.

But will that still continue to be the case going forward?

There appears to be little slowing down the SEC at the top. The conference captured yet another national title this past season thanks to coach Nick Saban and Alabama, and the league will continue to dominate the recruiting rankings with nearly every program capturing a top-25 class by the end of national signing day. But while there appears to be a firm grip on the top conference in college football, who’s No. 2 might be more of a question up for debate in the coming years.

The Pac-12 is certainly well-positioned to keep taking a run at the top. But could the Big Ten be nipping at its heels with yet another strong recruiting cycle in 2016? Yes, it can.

Let’s start at the top of the conference. As much as we would like to discuss depth or how it really matters to have a competitive middle and lower tier, conference superiority is—in the eyes of many—chiefly measured by how the alpha dogs of the league perform.

When it comes to the Big Ten, that’s a good thing.

In the case of one of those heavyweights, it was just over a year ago when Ohio State throttled Oregon in the national title game to signal a return to prominence for head coach Urban Meyer and his home state Buckeyes. OSU seemed to battle the perception that the Big Ten was down all season long in 2014 but, in the end, had the last laugh by holding up the trophy to conclude the season. A head-to-head win against the SEC and Pac-12 champions wasn't lost by many either.

Combined with a 12-1 campaign and Top Four finish in 2015, it's clear Ohio State has returned to being an annual title contender. Given how energized Meyer has appeared on the sidelines and on the recruiting trail (three top-five classes in the past four years, according to 247Sports), the Buckeyes will likely have something to do with the Big Ten title—and a possible playoff spot—for the foreseeable future.

Even with a steady stream of talent departing for the NFL draft each offseason, Ohio State is an elite program. 

Then there are the Buckeyes’ rivals to the north. Head coach Jim Harbaugh’s debut season for Michigan went better than most expected, with a New Year’s Day throttling of SEC East champ Florida serving as a cherry on top of a 10-win campaign. Nobody is doubting Harbaugh’s coaching chops based on his resume, and with the way momentum is going in Ann Arbor, it feels like it’s only a matter of time before the Wolverines are in the College Football Playoff with a shot to land another national title.

Michigan already returns quite a bit from last year’s team and Harbaugh—a quarterback whisperer of a coach—will have a number of quality signal-caller options, including 247Sports 4-star Brandon Peters.

He’ll add a top-10 class and might even be able to land a signature recruit on Wednesday in 247Sports No. 1 overall recruit Rashan Gary.

If you are looking for a statement that things are a bit different around the conference for 2016 and beyond, that might be one.

It’s not just the two brand names in the Big Ten, either. Michigan State remains one of the most consistent and elite programs in the country under head coach Mark Dantonio. The Spartans, this year’s semifinal result notwithstanding, are capable of beating anybody whenever they take the field and are recruiting at a higher level than ever before.

Combined with Dantonio’s penchant for developing talent, it seems pretty clear that there’s depth and staying power at the top of the Big Ten.

Though they may not be quite to the level of their peers at the top of the league, Penn State, Iowa, Wisconsin and even Northwestern have been Top 25 programs as well. The Nittany Lions in particular could be a team to watch going forward as they move further past their scholarship restrictions and rely more on the talent (yet another top-20 class appears to be a lock in 2016) head coach James Franklin is bringing to Happy Valley.

While there’s plenty of momentum heading into national signing day this year in the Midwest and the 2016 Big Ten race is shaping up to be the most interesting in some time, there appears to be signs of regression out West.

The highest-rated recruiting class in the Pac-12, according to 247Sports' composite rankings, belongs to defending-champion Stanford at No. 11. While the Cardinal have become a West Coast powerhouse and a threat to make the final four what seems like nearly every season, they will not come close to a top-five class and may very likely slip out of the top 12 Wednesday.

The team does return Heisman Trophy runner-up Christian McCaffrey to headline its 2016 squad but also must find replacements on the current roster or among the incoming freshmen for a host of key contributors, such as quarterback Kevin Hogan and linebacker Blake Martinez. Pollsters will no doubt rank the team highly in the preseason and consider the Cardinal one of the favorites to win the Pac-12 next year, but a slight regression from their 2015 form should be expected.

Then there’s North Division rival Oregon, which will be one of the most intriguing teams in the country this season when its top-30 recruiting class full of speedy playmakers infuses its fairly talented roster.

The Ducks still face plenty of questions, such as replacing departed stars (such as quarterback Vernon Adams Jr.) and the recent staff shakeup under head coach Mark Helfrich, so it remains to be seen if the typically flashy program from the Pacific Northwest can get back to the level it was just two seasons ago when it found itself in the national title game.

Down South, the two Los Angeles schools are both in the middle of an interesting offseason. UCLA lost an impressive amount of talent to graduation and the NFL draft but will return plenty of star power, led by quarterback Josh Rosen.

The Bruins already have a number of recruits on campus, and this year is shaping up to be yet another with a top-25 recruiting class for head coach Jim Mora Jr. Whether that will be enough to finally get over the hump in Westwood remains to be seen, but regardless, it will be clear that the level of buzz around the program won’t quite be what it was in years past without Myles Jack, Paul Perkins and others in the powder blues.

Across town at USC, head coach Clay Helton has brought stability to the land of Troy but faces an uphill battle in returning the Trojans to being a consistently elite powerhouse. It remains possible that they’ll finish with another top-10 recruiting class in 2016, but as has been the case the past several seasons, that doesn’t mean much when it comes to on-field results for the Cardinal and Gold.

Elsewhere, Washington will add a quality group of recruits to an already young and talented team to form a legitimate Pac-12 dark horse for head coach Chris Petersen. Aside from the Huskies though, question marks remain for most teams around the league, and even solid recruiting classes won’t do much to dampen those thorny issues that will be the focus when spring ball rolls around everywhere from Utah to Arizona.

As good of a recent run as the Pac-12 has had, momentum appears to be slowing. On the flip side, Harbaugh is creating headlines daily, Meyer is recruiting furiously for another title, and the rest of the Big Ten is slowly doing what it takes to raise its game on the field and off it.

Can the Big Ten move past the Pac-12 to firmly establish the league as a firm choice for the second best around? One great recruiting class in 2016—as it looks right now—might help the conference do just that.

Combine that with a solid base of talented returning players, and it wouldn't be surprising if the topic of conversation this summer turns from whether the Pac-12 is the league chasing down the SEC to whether the Big Ten is actually the one that has closed the gap.

The results won’t be in until midseason at best, but there appears to be a real opportunity for the once-downtrodden Big Ten to capitalize on some recent energy and go from mocked to highly praised on the national scene.

 

Bryan Fischer is a national college football reporter for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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The Commitment: 4-Star ATH Lamar Jackson Reveals School in 'Decision Nightmare'

Four-star athlete and physical phenom Lamar Jackson has finally decided where he'll play college football next year. Watch the star from Elk Grove, California, make his announcement in the video above.

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Kyle Porter to Texas: Longhorns Land 4-Star RB Prospect

Running back Kyle Porter is reportedly staying in Texas. The coveted recruit made the decision to join the Longhorns on Tuesday.

 

Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman passed along the news, citing a tweet from one of Porter's high school teammates. Mike Roach of Horn Sports also confirmed the commitment.

Texas head coach Charlie Strong provided his take:

Davis noted the impact of picking up Porter's commitment on the Longhorns' overall class:

Porter is a 4-star prospect who rates just inside the Top 275 in the 2016 class, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. More importantly for Texas, he checks in as the No. 11 running back among the incoming group, and it managed to keep him in state.

The Katy, Texas, standout didn't spend much time focused on recruiting during his final season of high school football. That meant he had a lot to learn about the Longhorns during the final weeks before national signing day, as he explained to EJ Holland of 247Sports in January: "I don't have much time to make a decision, so I really want to see what Texas has to offer. I'm going to go in there with a lot of questions about the program, the system and everything. I just need to learn as much about it as possible."

Clearly, Texas impressed him enough during his visit to earn his commitment.

Porter is a dual-threat rusher, equally capable of running between the tackles or becoming a useful piece in the passing game. The transition for running backs typically goes smoother than most other positions, which means he could make a quick impact, as well.

There should be plenty of snaps available in the Longhorns backfield. The departure of senior Johnathan Gray opens the door for Porter to earn some playing time alongside the likes of D'Onta Foreman and Chris Warren III, if he can impress right out of the gate.

Even if he's forced to wait before seeing the field regularly, his long-term outlook is positive, and it's certainly a nice addition for Texas ahead of signing day Wednesday.

 

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2016 QB Recruits Most Likely to See Field as True Freshmen

Getting major minutes at quarterback as a true freshman is quite difficult, especially at the Power Five level.

For every Josh Rosen or Brett Rypien, dozens of highly regarded quarterback recruits spend their first years way down on the depth chart or with a redshirt.

But this talented 2016 quarterback class has a handful of signal-callers who could make an instant impact at their new school by either battling for the starting job immediately or nailing down a key role as a backup. Several are already on campus, preparing for spring practices and their first opportunities to climb the depth chart at the college level. 

Here are seven 2016 quarterbacks who are the most likely to see the field as true freshmen this fall. These incoming freshmen aren't No. 1 contenders for their respective starting jobs this far in advance—and some might still take redshirts—but they all appear to have the ability and opportunity to get some sort of early playing time.

Which 2016 true freshman quarterback do you think will have the most success in the upcoming season? Tell us in the comments below.

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Which New Head Coaches Face Most Pressure to Nail First Recruiting Classes?

The furious sprint that started in the month of January toward national signing day is almost over, and in just a short time thousands of players will be putting pen to paper for their college choices.

While every head coach wants to nail down a top-notch group out of the Class of 2016, those who are taking over new programs face a different kind of pressure. They don’t have the luxury of time to recruit their kind of players, and many also have to deal with the fact that they’re changing offensive or defensive systems.

For some, one great first signing class could lay the foundation for a successful tenure. For others, a bunch of misses as they scramble to cobble together a group of high school players could mean their tenure is over before it began.

Here are eight head coaches who face the most pressure to nail their first recruiting classes.

 

Kalani Sitake, BYU

Like many others on this list, Sitake is a first-time head coach who has had to make the transition from having a narrower focus when it comes to recruiting to seeing the whole picture.

It helps tremendously that he is coaching at a place he knows well as an alum and in an area where he spent nearly a decade as an assistant. Also, the Cougars do draw upon a narrower pool of recruits than other schools, which helps in some respects for Sitake but can also make it tough to nail down evaluations.

Then there’s the roster management that must occur by default each and every year, starting with this year’s crop of recruits. With various players coming and going from their two-year missions, it can sometimes be difficult to truly get a sense of how the roster will look until fall camp really gets underway.

Sometimes things work out (see Mangum, Tanner) but it’s another thing on Sitake’s plate that other head coaches don’t have to deal with as much. While Sitake does inherit a solid team coming off a good year, he’ll have to lock down a number of contributors with this recruiting class, because the 2016 schedule he faces is likely the toughest in the country (featuring six Power Five teams, plus Toledo, Boise State and Cincinnati).

 

Kirby Smart, Georgia

Like Sitake, Smart returns to his alma mater as a first-time head coach. The biggest difference between them, however, might be the simple fact that expectations are sky high in Athens.

After all, Mark Richt was shown the door after going 9-3 last season and despite signing a pair of top-eight classes in the 247Sports Team Rankings the past two years. In short, the bar is very, very high for Georgia, which puts a lot of pressure on Smart.

The good news is that the biggest pieces of the 2016 class are already on campus: 5-star QB Jacob Eason and 5-star TE Isaac Nauta. Landing those two were big signs that Smart and his staff could hold their own despite some serious challengers.

The Bulldogs will be considered one of the favorites to win the SEC East again in 2016 and a top-notch first effort from Smart on the recruiting trail and strong finish on Wednesday could help make a division title a reality.

 

Mike Norvell, Memphis

Norvell is a sharp young coach who faces a big challenge in his first head coaching job on two fronts.

First off, the fact that the Tigers have won 19 games the past two seasons after being one of the worst FBS programs in the country results in a very high bar for the team’s new head coach. The Tigers don’t just have to maintain a high level of play in the transition from Justin Fuente to Norvell but also have to do so in one of the most competitive conferences in the country in the AAC.

Add in the fact that several key pieces from Memphis’ recent run will be lost to graduation or the NFL (especially QB Paxton Lynch), and the pressure will be on to bring in a class that is both deep and filled with some early contributors.

Norvell has already brought in several JUCO recruits to help fill the gaps, including landing former Tennessee quarterback Riley Ferguson.

 

Barry Odom, Missouri

Odom has landed his dream job, but things haven’t exactly been smooth sailing in Columbia since he took over.

The recent Maty Mauk incident drew plenty of negative headlines, and the school is still dealing with the issues caused by the recent protests (in which the football team had a prominent role). Having to recruit in that kind of climate is difficult for any head coach, much less a first-time one in the extremely tough SEC.

The other big thing that puts pressure on Odom is the fact that he’s a defensive-minded coach who needs to fix the Tigers offense…badly.

Only six of the team’s commitments are on that side of the ball as of Feb. 2, which that might cause Odom to make a false start before his career gets going if he can’t close on a high note with some offensive reinforcements.

 

Dino Babers, Syracuse

Babers was hired to bring Baylor’s prolific style of offense to the Carrier Dome, which means finding players who will fit in perfectly with what he wants to do on that side of the ball.

Upstate New York isn’t exactly fertile recruiting ground for athletes who make plays in space, but Babers has done a good job expanding the recruiting base to key areas around the country. The ACC is a big step up from the MAC when it comes to recruiting, but it seems as though the Orange staff has come in with a good plan and have followed through on it.

It might take a season or two for the fast-paced offense to really take hold at Syracuse, but if it does, finding some big-time playmakers in the 2016 class will be a big reason why.

 

Scott Frost, UCF

Like Babers, Frost was brought in to juice an offense that seemed to go sideways more often last season than it went forward.

He’ll have a big advantage of not being able to go far to find fast athletes and will be able to sell the fact that he will run the Oregon version of the spread in a state full of college teams running more pro-style offenses.

Still, it’s undeniable that Frost is going to have to dig the Knights out of a big hole, given how bad they were last season and how competitive their conference is. That means finding players who can play right away as freshmen.

 

Clay Helton, USC

The past five recruiting class ranks for USC are, according to 247Sports composite team rankings: No. 2, No. 10, No. 13, No. 9, No. 3. That's despite turmoil at the head coaching spot and some brutal NCAA sanctions.

In short, few schools recruit as well as the Trojans do, and the result is a very, very high level that Helton must reach with his first recruiting class.

What is strange about USC this season is that there is such little buzz about the team heading into Wednesday’s festivities. It figures to be a smaller class than most, but it’s a bit abnormal to see the class sitting third in the Pac-12 and not in on as many 5-stars as past years.

The head coach at USC always has plenty of pressure put on him, and that is the case on signing day as much as it is on the first day of the season.

 

Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia

Mendenhall was one of the most left-field hires of the offseason, which puts a little pressure on him to land a quality class as he attempts to remake the Cavaliers.

The fact of the matter is that he seems like such a fish out of water after spending so much time at BYU. Sure, the Cougars recruited nationally under Mendenhall, but things are a bit different when you need to focus more regionally at Virginia.

Further complicating things is that most of the BYU staff went east with its head coach, so there might not be a ton of strong local ties present for this first recruiting class.

Given how competitive the ACC has become on the recruiting trail, Mendenhall has his work cut out for him trying to make a dent in such a short time period with his first class.

 

Bryan Fischer is a national college football writer for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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Do Top 10 Recruiting Classes Really Equal Championships?

Whether you want to admit it or not, recruiting at an elite level is critical in competing for and winning a national championship. Yes, coaching matters, too. So does player development. We can be nuanced and honest enough to understand there's not one factor that overrides all else when it comes to putting together a championship-caliber team. If you want to head down that road, lucky breaks play a role, too. 

However, combining individual factors like those can't lead to blanket statements like "recruiting stars don't matter." Of course they do. The star system is an inexact science, but it matters all the same. 

Just look at the string of recent national champions. Every single one recruited annually at a high level. Alabama, in fact, has taken its dynasty and made it twofold. There's the dynasty on the field and the dynasty on the recruiting trail. 

"Nobody has had a recruiting dynasty like this in college football," Mike Farrell, a national recruiting analyst for Rivals, told Bleacher Report's Lars Anderson last year. 

In the table below are the last 10 national title winners and their previous four recruiting classes dating from four years before (Year -4) to the year immediately preceding (Year -1).

With the exception of Auburn in 2010, every single championship winner averaged a top-10 class in the four years leading up to their big win.

However, the Tigers had a once-in-a-lifetime player in quarterback Cam Newton—who, by the way, is likely going to be this year's NFL MVP, is playing in the Super Bowl on Sunday and who is, according to B/R's Mike Freeman, "the most dangerous quarterback weapon we've ever seen." Still, Auburn averaged a top-15 class for this exercise. 

There are variances, of course. First of all, not all recruiting services rank players and classes the same. Where 247Sports and Rivals rank the same class could vary. Secondly, as Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports rightly explained, "whether your favorite school finishes fourth or seventh is a largely arbitrary distinction. ... ultimately those are both really good classes." 

The distinction, as Mandel goes on to write, is "between fifth and 35th." 

Additionally, claiming that recruiting matters doesn't instantly mean a program is going to win a national championship. LSU, Texas and USC are recent examples of underachieving programs in the star-system era. Conversely, one could look at programs like Baylor, Michigan State and Stanford as overachievers. 

These are outliers, though. And, for the record, the aforementioned overachievers have a whopping zero national championships in the star-system era among them.

The point is if a program routinely recruits at a top-10 level, it puts itself in a better position to win a national title. This is what Josh McCuistion of SoonerScoop.com firmly believes:  

Based on the above chart, McCuistion isn't wrong. Paul Myerberg of USA Today, on the other hand, puts that magic number at 15: 

There's a large degree of truth in both statements. Auburn has already been discussed, but there's another example that somewhat supports Myerberg's assertion: Clemson, which was No. 1 in the eyes of the College Football Playoff selection committee last season.

Over the last four recruiting cycles, the Tigers averaged a recruiting rank of 14th, which puts them just inside the cutoff point. Clemson, of course, came oh so close to winning it all. 

In short, top-10 classes are as close as you're going to get to a sure thing when it comes to translating raw talent to national championships. Top-15 classes are probably the limit. 

With that in mind, who fits the mold for 2016-17?

A quick glance across this year's 247Sports recruiting rankings shows a lot of the usual suspects: LSU, Ohio State, Florida State, Alabama, Michigan, Notre Dame, etc.

Historically speaking, those are the types of programs capable of putting together top-10 to top-15 classes. In other words, don't be surprised if one of those teams hoists the playoff trophy next January. 

As Gerry Hamilton of ESPN.com notes, national title-winning teams have a history of recruiting extremely well in the year leading right up to the championship: 

So the next time you hear someone say national signing day is overrated or that stars don't matter, tell them to look at the numbers, because they say something different entirely.

Is recruiting a perfect formula? Absolutely not. Nothing in sports is predicted with 100 percent accuracy. 

But the correlation is there. That's what matters.  

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports

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No. 1 2016 QB Takes On Future Michigan QB in Obstacle Course Through B/R Office

Recently, 2016 stud quarterback recruits Brandon Peters (Michigan) and Shea Patterson (Ole Miss) stopped by the Bleacher Report office to duke it out in the grandaddy of them all: the office obstacle course.

Watch the two future stars face off in the video above.

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Jacob Park to Iowa State: Latest Comments and Reaction

After coming out on the losing end of a quarterback battle at the University of Georgia and subsequently leaving the school, Jacob Park "plans to sign" with Iowa State.  

According to Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports, the soon-to-be sophomore is looking for a new lease on life in the Big 12.

"I feel blessed to have another opportunity," Park said on Tuesday. "I know a lot of people don't get one shot at it. I'm getting two. I'm going to make the best of it."

Tommy Birch of the Des Moines Register believes landing Park could turn out to be a major coup for the Cyclones:

After current Georgia starting signal-caller Greyson Lambert transferred from Virginia to Georgia last summer, Park decided to leave Athens, per Chip Towers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“I just want to say thank (you) dawg nation and everyone else who made my stay in Athens special," Park said on social media. "Never will forget the people and friends. Time to move on and turn the page to the next chapter. Go Dawgs."

According to Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald, Park attended Trident Technical College this past season rather than playing football at a junior college.

The former South Carolina Mr. Football honoree was a redshirt freshman in 2014 during his only season with the Bulldogs.

Per Wiltfong, Park was rated as the No. 5 pro-style quarterback in the Class of 2014, and he is excited about the opportunity to play for the Cyclones:

Coach (Matt) Campbell, he's the most down to earth coach I've ever met. Coach (Alex) Golesh is like talking to my big brother. (Passing game coordinator) Coach (Jim) Hofher is like the best teacher. I spent 45 minutes in the room for him for two days and learned more in those 45-minute sessions than I did in my whole time at Georgia.

When I showed up on campus they treated me like family and I felt like I was at home. They have a good situation to me at quarterback walking in the door, all signs are pointing that this is has to be the right decision.

With Sam B. Richardson no longer in the picture and Joel Lanning failing to establish himself as the definitive starter as a sophomore, Park has a golden opportunity to step in and start right away for Iowa State.

Park has his work cut out for him since the Cyclones haven't won more than three games since 2012 and haven't had a winning record since 2009, but he should receive the playing time he covets.

It clearly wasn't going to happen for him at Georgia, but Park now has a chance to show the Bulldogs why he deserved a longer look under center.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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Where Do Auburn, Alabama Turn After No. 1 Recruit Rashan Gary Trims List?

The race to land 5-star defensive tackle and No. 1 overall recruit Rashan Gary is down to two final suitors in Clemson and Michigan, according to Scout’s Brian Dohn.

With the news that they are no longer in the running for the nation’s premier defensive tackle prospect, SEC powers Alabama and Auburn—who were in Gary’s previous group of contenders—have to look elsewhere for help along the defensive line.

Both the Crimson Tide and the Tigers are recruiting other stud recruits at that position, but where will each program turn after missing out on Gary?

As if the two fierce rivals need anything else to battle over, it’s likely that the No. 1 focus for both Nick Saban and Gus Malzahn is 5-star defensive tackle Derrick Brown.

Keith Niebuhr of AuburnUndercover reported that a source close to Brown indicated the Peach State’s top overall prospect has a top three that includes Alabama, Auburn and Tennessee.

Of that group, the Tigers seem to have the most buzz with Brown—as evidenced by the heavy movement toward Malzahn’s program on Brown’s Crystal Ball page.

After his official visit to Auburn the weekend of Jan. 15, Brown told Niebuhr that his comfort level on the Plains is part of what appeals to him with the Tigers.

"Coming out here, you always get the family atmosphere," Brown told Niebuhr. "Some people say that but you can't really tell that. But definitely coming here you get that feel." 

The Tigers would love to pair Brown with fellow Georgia native and 4-star defensive tackle Antwuan Jackson—who is already on campus as an early enrollee.

Another defensive tackle prospect from the Peach State who has both the Tide and the Tigers among his final group is 4-star Michail Carter.

While it would be tough to pull the 6’4”, 302-pounder away from the Bulldogs, it appears as if Alabama is in the best shape to challenge Georgia.

As noted by BamaOnline, Carter visited Tuscaloosa during the week before making his way to Georgia, and he’s been on the Tide’s campus on numerous occasions throughout his recruitment.

Even if the Tide can’t pull Carter on signing day, Saban and his staff have the luxury of already having three 4-star defensive tackles pledged in Raekwon Davis, Kendell Jones and Quinnen Williams.

While losing out on Gary is a blow, both the Tide and the Tigers appear to be in a good position to meet their needs at the defensive tackle spot when the dust settles on national signing day.

 

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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Last-Minute Predictions for Top Uncommitted 2016 Recruits

We're getting down to the final moments before Wednesday's national signing day, and we're predicting where the top uncommitted recruits will land.

Which programs will Mecole Hardman Jr., Ben Davis and Rashan Gary sign with?

Watch Stephen Nelson and Bleacher Report College Football Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue break it down in the video above.

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The Toughest Part of NSD for Recruits: Understanding It's a Business

From the end of April through early December, TaDarryl Marshall was a proud Tennessee commit for a little more than seven months.

On Dec. 6, he and Tennessee officially parted ways. On Monday night, the Leeds, Alabama, 3-star athlete committed to Samford.

Marshall is excited about his college future, but outsiders looking in immediately ask the same question: How does someone once committed to play in the SEC—someone with 26 reported offers—prepare to play FCS football?

These are the questions of recruiting that come right around the closing hours before national signing day. And with three words, Marshall seemed to answer every question that comes up regarding the random—and oftentimes unfair—activities that happen before signing day.

"It's a business," Marshall said, "and every athlete should learn how to sell themselves in order to land the offer to the school they want."

The harsh reality of recruiting is that in some cases, commitments don't stick. And by that, we're not talking about athletes decommitting from a program.

In Marshall's case, Tennessee reportedly chose to part ways with him. He said in a tweet that the Volunteers revoked his offer, which forced him to look at different avenues within his recruiting process.

"Once I committed to Tennessee, some of those offers I had went away. Schools were looking at other people," Marshall said. "So after I decommitted, it was so late in the game, and spots were already taken. Kentucky and Arizona ended up pulling their offers the same day.

"I mean, I understand it, but it can be a lot better—especially with the communication part of it. I think it's better to just tell a recruit early rather than when they're looking for something last-minute. If Tennessee told me three months ago, I wouldn't have been in this situation."

Sadly, these things happen in recruiting.

Scholarships are given, and then they can either be downgraded to grayshirt opportunities or, worse, pulled altogether. It's not an illegal process. Some may consider it immoral, but it's not illegal.

When it happens, it puts an athlete in an awkward situation—particularly the athlete who is blindsided by a program's plan or the athlete who spent months helping a program recruit other players. Perhaps even more disturbingly, these situations occasionally happen extremely close to national signing day, which leaves some athletes in desperate situations.

Riley Cole now finds himself in that situation. After committing to Alabama in June, the 3-star linebacker tweeted on Sunday that he has reopened his process after Alabama downgraded his offer to a grayshirt—when an athlete doesn't enroll in class until the second term of his freshman year.

The NCAA allows college athletes five years to complete four years of eligibility.

Athletes grayshirt all the time. It's the timing of the situation that makes Cole's process tough for some to process.

Alas, recruiting is a business. And it isn't always fun.

Last month, 4-star offensive tackle Erik Swenson decommitted from Michigan after reportedly having his offer rescinded. The decommitment happened on Jan. 20, but he found a home at Oklahoma 10 days later and is planning to sign with the Sooners on Wednesday.

Patrice Virgil knows about these horror stories all too well.

Her son is Fresno State quarterback Chason Virgil, a member of the 2015 recruiting class and currently a sophomore-to-be who once thought his future would be at Mississippi State.

The Bulldogs, however, pulled Virgil's scholarship and offered him a grayshirt. The timing sent his family into a frenzy, as Mississippi State pulled the offer 16 days before he graduated early from West Mesquite High School in Mesquite, Texas.

"It was devastating for us because of the fact that we've always taught Chason when you decide where you want to go, there won't any changing of the mind," Patrice Virgil said. "We didn't want to go into thinking it could be Mississippi State today and another school the next.

"Knowing they waited all that time and never said anything until he had 16 days left before he graduated, that hurt."

Additionally, Virgil had to put his college future to the side momentarily in November 2014. He and his family received the news two days before he had to lead his team in a playoff game.

"When they lost, it took him a long time to leave the field," Patrice Virgil said. "It hit him. He didn't have anywhere to go. He said, 'Mama, where am I going to go?' That broke my heart."

The good news for Virgil is that he ended up with an FBS scholarship, as did Swenson. Marshall, who said many of his scholarship offers were no longer available because of lack of space in the class, is currently the top-ranked player in Samford's class.

As for Cole, there's still time for him to land somewhere. Remember, national signing day is only the first day of the actual signing period. Cole will have until April 1 to sign a national letter of intent.

It won't be with the school he originally committed to, but that's the business side of recruiting that no one likes discussing.

 

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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National Signing Day 2016: Predictions and Rankings for Top Uncommitted Recruits

With one day left before national signing day on February 3, coaches are hustling around like Christmas Eve shoppers looking to secure that one last recruit that will solidify their classes. 

While there are plenty of great prospects who have already announced, Wednesday will still serve as decision day for many of the nation's top high school athletes. 

Here's a look at the top prospects in the nation who have yet to sign, according to 247Sports' composite rankings, and where they could be headed.

 

Most Intriguing Prospect to Watch

Rashan Gary, DT, Paramus Catholic (Paramus, New Jersey)

Defensive tackle Rashan Gary will undoubtedly be the biggest prize on Wednesday. The 5-star defensive tackle has the body and athleticism to make an immediate impact on the field as well as the final recruiting rankings. He's the No. 1 player in the nation, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. 

Gary isn't just media hype, either. Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports spoke to several college coaches who believe the incoming freshman is the most likely to make a difference right away. One coach even compared him to Leonard Fournette in terms of ability to contribute right away:

"This is a really good defensive line class and he is head and shoulders above every other D-lineman in this class," one longtime college coach said. "He's 300 pounds and he moves well enough, he can play end. He's great with his hands. He's strong. He's been very well-coached and has had a great high school D-line coach. Rashan Gary is the Leonard Fournette of this class."

Gary will make his decision live on SportsCenter during the 1 p.m. ET hour, according to ESPN.com. When he does, it's believed that his decision will come down to Michigan or Clemson, according to Brian Haines of Fox Sports.

Jim Harbaugh has gone to great lengths to turn Michigan's signing day into a spectacle. As SportsCenter noted, a slew of celebrities and athletes will be in Ann Arbor to announce the new Wolverines:  

Harbaugh's efforts have proved to be worthwhile thus far. Michigan sits at No. 6 in the nation heading into the big day, according to 247Sports' composite team rankings. 

His first 5-star recruit could propel that class even higher in those rankings. 

 

Mique Juarez, OLB, North High School (Torrance, CA)

If you're looking for a potential curveball announcement, 5-star linebacker Mique Juarez could take the proverbial cake by going to BYU. 

UCLA is the definite favorite to land the Californian. The Bruins garner 87 percent of 247Sports' Crystal Ball predictions, with Alabama getting the other 13. 

But new BYU coach Kalani Sitake and Co. have made a late push for Juarez as signing day approaches. The LDS athlete took an official visit to Provo, Utah, on Jan. 29, and his mother, Nathasha Juarez, grew up as a fan of the Cougars:

It's a long shot. It isn't very often that a player of Juarez's caliber shuns Power Five conference schools to go to a place like BYU. However, a mother can be a very powerful factor for a high school athlete in choosing his school. 

If Juarez weren't at least considering becoming a Cougar, it's hard to believe he'd schedule an official visit over the final weekend before signing day. 

 

Demetris Robertson, WR, Savannah Christian Prep (Savannah, GA)

Come February 4, the most highly sought-after recruit still looking for a school will be Demetris Robertson. That's because the No. 1 receiver in the nation has already decided that he won't announce where he's signing until after February 3. 

"The timeline right now will be Feb. 10 or Feb. 17," Robertson said, via Kipp Adams of 247Sports

The site's Crystal Ball predictions have tabbed the Notre Dame Fighting Irish as the favorites to land the class's No. 1 wide receiver with 42 percent of the vote. Georgia is right behind them with 37.

However, it's a trip to Athens that Robertson plans on making post-signing day. The Georgia native will give his home state program one last opportunity to sway a potentially big catch.

"My thoughts are really high for the Bulldogs," Robertson said via Adams. "The coaching staff is great. I have known Coach Kirby Smart and Coach Glenn Schumann for a long time. And meeting coach James Coley and coach Jim Chaney boosted them up." 

Waiting until after signing day to sign a letter of intent isn't necessarily a popular move, but it does allow a prospect to see what kind of recruiting class his potential schools will have in place. 

The Bulldogs (No. 8) are already rated slightly higher than the Irish (No. 10) heading into the final day, and the gap could widen on Wednesday. The Bulldogs could be in play for Derrick Brown, Mecole Hardman and Lyndell Wilson, among others. 

Robertson will have his choice between two of the best classes in the country. With his decision coming last among the elite prospects in the country, he will be one of few remaining questions about where the biggest unsigned prospects will be playing in the fall. 

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Ultimate Guide to 2016 National Signing Day

Championship teams are not first assembled on sweltering practice fields in the heat of August. They do not come together during the quaint, unorthodox December intermission. They are constructed on days like February 3—a national football holiday known as national signing day.

On this celebrated calendar moment, the sport's future will become its present. The nation's premier crop of high school players will confirm where they plan to spend the next three or four years.

Time-honored fax machines will give off a distinguished hum before spitting out commitments one by one. Logoed hats will be lifted off tables to dramatic applause. 

And on the outside, otherwise responsible adults with children and mortgages and successful jobs will call in sick—developing a "cough" in the wee hours of the morning—all to watch this grandiose spectacle unfold.

In the normal world, none of this would make sense. But in our world, the absurdity of national signing day is strangely comforting. This year is no exception.

There is still much work to be done. With unexpected surprises waiting around every corner, 2016's recruiting Super Bowl promises to deliver yet again. Just what it will deliver is yet to be determined; that's why we'll all be glued to the madness of it all.

So, manufacture the appropriate illness yet again and make it a good one. This statured day deserves more than, say, the common cold.

 

Who Is the Best Player in the Country?

I'm glad you asked.

It's rare to see all recruiting outlets acting as one. In the instance of the No. 1 overall recruit for the 2016 class, however, debate is essentially nonexistent.

The top overall player in this class, according to 247Sports and everyone else, is defensive tackle Rashan Gary—a 6'5", 293-pound quarterback-eating, offensive lineman-destroying monster. He runs the 40-yard dash somewhere right around 4.8 seconds, which is a terrifying bit of football physics.

Gary has the knack of making his entire deep catalog look entirely too natural. At some of the elite gatherings of prospects, he regularly made gifted linemen look helpless.

It was much more about him than them; he is a physical rarity and a potential once-in-a-decade type of player.

The growing buzz is that Gary will take his talents to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to play for Jim Harbaugh—the tree-climbing, sleepover-having head coach currently doing anything possible to make an impression.

Chris Partridge, Gary's former high school coach at Paramus Catholic (New Jersey), is now on the staff and recently received a promotion. Obviously, his presence can only help nurture this connection that seemingly felt right from the onset.

It would seem that the only team that is still standing in the way of this connection is Clemson, according to Brian Dohn of Scout.com (h/t the Detroit News). A race that began with many is down to two. Stay tuned.

 

So Alabama Is Going To End Up with the No. 1 Class Again, Right?

For the first time in a long time, the answer to this question will likely be no. I say this with full understanding that I am regularly, um, wrong and could be once again.

Now is not the time to dump your Nick Saban stock and question why college football's great empire is crumbling. Alabama has a top-10 class heading into signing day and will likely close remarkably strong.

Legacy recruit Ben Davis, the nation's top inside linebacker, and Mecole Hardman Jr., the nation's top athlete, are considering Alabama's enticing offer. More on them in a bit.

Outside of some names near the very top, A.J. Brown (No. 5 WR) and Jared Mayden (No. 13 CB) could both sign on the dotted line and call Tuscaloosa home soon enough.

Saban won't lure away all of the players Alabama is vying for—and there are quite a few. But he will land a last-second wave of talent that will push this class even higher.

In the end, Alabama likely will have to settle for (sigh) a deep class loaded with prospects and finish somewhere around the top three in the team rankings.

 

If Not Alabama, Then Who Will Win the Recruiting National Championship?

Let's assume Alabama does not climb its way to the top for another recruiting national championship. If that is indeed the case, someone will have to lift the heavy recruiting crown.

Here are some of the likely contenders.

 

LSU

Even if Les Miles' team simply holds serve from this point—capping off an unbelievable recruiting year—it still might be the top class in the country. There's a possibility LSU could land Kristian Fulton, the nation's No. 2 cornerback. If not, it still will have absolutely dominated the talent-rich state of Louisiana. Remember when Miles was almost fired a few months ago?

Notable players already committed: Rashard Lawrence (No. 5 DT), Saivion Smith (No. 5 CB), Michael Divinity (No. 5 OLB), Eric Monroe (No. 3 S), Edwin Alexander (No. 8 DT)

 

Ohio State

In a year when everyone, including the mascot and ball boy, decided to bolt from Columbus, Urban Meyer has assembled yet another magnificent class. The highlight of this group is unquestionably defensive end Nick Bosa—the gifted younger brother of Joey Bosa. The Buckeyes are also still in the mix for more elite talents, including Hardman (No. 1 ATH).

Notable players already committed: Bosa (No. 1 SDE), Jonathon Cooper (No. 3 WDE), Demario McCall (No. 2 APB), Austin Mack (No. 10 WR), Dwayne Haskins (No. 7 PRO QB)

 

Ole Miss

The possibility of an enormous close to an already enormous year exists. The Rebels are still in the mix for cheat code Gary, defensive end Jeffery Simmons, safety Deontay Anderson and others. If Hugh Freeze simply hangs onto the pieces he has, it will be a wonderful day. But if he adds more, Ole Miss could be a surprising closer.

Notable players already committed: Shea Patterson (No. 1 QB), Gregory Little (No. 1 OT), Benito Jones (No. 6 DT), DeKaylin Metcalf (No. 18 WR), Octavious Cooley (No. 6 TE)

 

Others in the Mix

Florida State has quietly put together a monster. A strong few days could push the Seminoles to the top, which would not be surprising in the least. They're right there. The same can be said for Michigan, especially with the nation's No. 1 player feeling good about Ann Arbor. This one, however, will require a few more dominoes. And in the SEC, Florida, Georgia and even Alabama—despite what's written above—are still hovering near the top.

 

The "Look What We Have Here" Class of 2016

Houston is no longer a cute little story about a nice team with the head coach who got a grill with that rapper you used to listen to from time to time. It has assembled a class that personifies true program momentum.

Ed Oliver, the nation's No. 3 defensive tackle and the No. 6 overall prospect in this class, is committed. So is Tyrie Cleveland, the No. 2 wide receiver, although be sure to keep an eye on him. Tom Herman is assembling a mammoth in a place that has not enjoyed this kind of recruiting success in recent years.

Each year, a team or two tend to pop up on national signing day, make a splash and then fade back to the normal standing. But this feels different. If Herman stays at Houston—which is indeed an enormous "if" given how much interest will continue to come—this might be the start of something spectacular.

 

National Signing Day Headliners

Eight of the top 20 players listed on 247Sports' composite rankings remain uncommitted. Almost all of these players will commit on signing day.

Outside of the nation's No. 1 still waiting his turn, here are other pieces who will generate tidal waves come commitment time.

Derrick Brown (No. 4 DT, No. 9 overall): In a class seemingly bursting at the seams with elite defensive linemen, Brown will provide an immediate boost to a SEC team. At 6'3 ¾", chances are he'll cause havoc for Auburn, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia or Mississippi State. Those are the finalists for the Buford, Georgia, product, whom Kirby Smart (Georgia) would love to welcome.

Ben Davis (No. 1 ILB, No. 10 overall): The nation's premier linebacker also happens to be the son of Wayne Davis, Alabama's all-time leading tackler. That, of course, gives you an idea of one team in the mix, although Saban is not alone in his pursuit of this great tackling machine. The Alabama native is also considering Auburn, Georgia, LSU and Notre Dame.

Mique Juarez (No. 1 OLB, No. 11 overall): A deadly combination of speed and size, the nation's top outside linebacker, who hails from Torrance, California, is going to spend the next three or four years at UCLA, Ole Miss or Alabama. Saban appears to be churning momentum with the product late in the process, but will it be enough to lure him away from the West Coast?

Mecole Hardman Jr. (No. 1 ATH, No. 13 overall): One of 2016's most unique prospects, Hardman could play on either side of the ball. Ultimately, a team will be thrilled to use him on offense or perhaps even play him both ways. Hardman, yet another fascinating piece out of the state of Georgia, is considering the Bulldogs, along with Ohio State, Clemson, Florida, Alabama and Tennessee. This feels like the first of many Smart vs. Saban recruiting battles.

Lyndell Wilson (No. 2 OLB, No. 15 overall): A fascinating recruitment will finally come to an end; Wilson, after dropping his leader, Florida, late in the process—or so a tweet said before it was quickly deleted—will likely decide between Alabama, Georgia and Auburn on signing day. Just how bad does the head coach of the Crimson Tide want to add Wilson to an already impressive stable?

Well, this bad.

 

Teams to Watch on Signing Day

Texas: The strong finish for Texas is already underway, although no team situated outside the top 25 in 247Sports' team rankings could surge higher than Charlie Strong's Longhorns. Brandon Jones (No. 1 S) and Jeffrey McCulloch (No. 4 OLB) are two of the key pieces in this late movement, although they are not alone. There is work to be done, and Strong is in a position to add many new pieces at the finish line.

Georgia: It's easy to see why Georgia will be featured in so many places on signing day. With many of the state's top players waiting to announce (see: above) and the Bulldogs under consideration in almost every major recruiting battle, it could be a busy day in Athens. They won't hit on all of them, but they will hit on some. A top-10 class is almost guaranteed. Now, let's see how much higher they can climb.

Alabama: I just finished telling you why Alabama likely won't finish with the nation's top recruiting class, although I am already second-guessing myself for this proclamation. Alabama is still in the mix for just about every 5-star player on the board. It won't land them all—and I still don't believe it'll finish with the nation's top class, final answer—but it will close with a bang. And if the day somehow all comes together, look out.

 

What Will This Year's Most Original and Elaborate Commitment Include?

Welcome to the best part of signing day. Pledging a commitment to a university is fine; pledging a commitment to that team with the help of a live animal or dangerous prop is where this day separates itself.

At the very least, there could be baked goods involved. Hardman, while speaking with Rivals' Jason Howell (h/t Georgia site DawgNation), revealed as such:

I think I am going to throw a school out on signing day. Like on that day I am going to throw a school out so I can have probably a set six. I don't know what that school is going to be. I will probably make that decision soon. It will be probably be hats or cakes. I don't know what. However my momma wants to do it, we will do it like that.

Cakes are a start. They are delicious and can be smashed. But we can do better than stopping at cakes.

I hope this is the year a recruit rides an elephant around his high school's parking lot, making his commitment to Alabama final. This will happen at some point. Hopefully, it's 2016.

If not an elephant, let's just hope other animals will be involved, and general weirdness—all in good fun, of course—will take place.

This is your day, recruits. Go nuts.

 

Best Names in the Class of 2016

We spend such an exorbitant amount of time assessing body size, scheme fit and growth potential that it's easy to look beyond one of signing day's most precious commodities.

Names. Yes, names.

This is a welcome party of sorts. College football isn't just being infused with a tidal wave of talent. Some of the great, original names headed our way are spectacular in nature.

Here are some of the highlights of a deep class.

  1. DiCaprio Bootle
  2. Divine Deablo
  3. Eddie McDoom
  4. Brodarious Hamm
  5. Lil'Jordan Humphrey
  6. Dude Donaldson
  7. Dakota Holtzclaw
  8. Dredrick Snelson
  9. Handsome Tanielu
  10. Nigel Warrior

 

Should I Tweet at Recruits?

No.

But let's continue. If a player picks up a hat off the table that does not display the logo you worship, the entire exchange ends right there. Sure, your program just missed out on a must-get prospect. You read that on a message board or recruiting outlet, so it must be true.

Why a perfect stranger would possibly contact this young man through Twitter or Facebook remains a great mystery. It's also creepy. Do not be that guy.

To the young man who is making an important decision on an important day, it means so much more. It's only football to the rest of us; there's no need to offer up any further direct commentary.

This is widely known and understood. And yet when a player announces a commitment, he is bombarded with atrocities through social media—anonymous words of hate and bitterness that no one should have to deal with.

It is a small, vocal minority exercising maximum stupidity. It still doesn't make it any easier to swallow when you sift through a dumpster fire of a recruit's timeline.

This probably isn't you. I hope this is not you. Thank you for exercising common sense and human decency. But because it cannot possibly be said enough, let's say it together one more time with feeling.

Do not tweet at recruits.

 

Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Adam Kramer covers college football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @KegsnEggs.

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Rashan Gary Would Give Jim Harbaugh Much-Needed Signature Recruit at Michigan

With a top-five class all but guaranteed, Michigan has already called for a celebratory atmosphere to follow the culmination of Jim Harbaugh's first full recruiting cycle in Ann Arbor.

There will be Tom Brady, Derek Jeter, wrestling legend Ric Flair and hip-hop trio Migos among other headline-worthy acts at an unprecedented "Signing Day with the Stars" event presented by the Players' Tribune. After having spent the past year dominating the headlines on the recruiting trail, Harbaugh has done everything he can to ensure that trend won't change come signing day.

But while Michigan will undoubtedly be the center of the college football world on Wednesday, a sense of uncertainty will hang over Ann Arbor until 1 p.m. That's when the nation's No. 1 overall recruit, 5-star defensive tackle Rashan Gary, will announce where he'll be spending his college career.

Should the Paramus, New Jersey, product choose the Wolverines as 247Sports' Crystal Ball projections currently predict him to do, it wouldn't just be the cherry on top of Michigan's signing day sundae—it'd be a whole other sundae to celebrate.

But if Gary chooses his other finalist, Clemson, as reported by Scout.com's Brian Dohn, an unprecedented signing day celebration could soon turn sour with many wondering what went wrong for the Wolverines.

While the merits of Michigan's 2016 class will stand with or without the presence of Gary, the addition of the 6'5", 293-pounder would solidify Harbaugh's status as one of college football's elite recruiters. The second-year Wolverines head coach already inked his quarterback of the future and took away one of Ohio State's prized prospects, but Gary would serve as his signature signing and first 5-star addition since arriving in Ann Arbor 13 months ago.

Dating back to the recruiting rankings boom in the early 2000s, each class has possessed at least one marquee player. And it's not a coincidence that each successful head coaching tenure in the past 15 years can usually be marked by the acquisition of such a prospect.

In 2002, Mack Brown boosted his resume by inking the nation's No. 1 player, 5-star quarterback Vince Young. That same year, Ohio State's Jim Tressel jumpstarted the Buckeyes' run to the national title with the signing of Maurice Clarett.

In 2003, USC's Pete Carroll signed a 5-star running back named Reggie Bush. And a year later, Bob Stoops' stay in Norman was solidified thanks to Adrian Peterson.

Urban Meyer inked Percy Harvin and Tim Tebow to the same class at Florida in 2006, one year before Les Miles signed Terrence Toliver at LSU and two years before Nick Saban landed 5-star wideout Julio Jones in Tuscaloosa. 

The examples continued into the 2010s, be it Jimbo Fisher signing Lamarcus Joyner at Florida State in 2010 or Meyer announcing his arrival at Ohio State with the addition of 5-star defensive end Noah Spence in 2012. Even as recently as 2014, it wasn't until Mark Dantonio signed 5-star defensive end Malik McDowell or Dabo Swinney inked Deshaun Watson that Michigan State and Clemson were considered college football heavyweights on the recruiting trail.

For Harbaugh, landing Gary would do that and then some and could hand Michigan the nation's No. 1 class as it crosses the finish line that is signing day. As currently constituted, the Wolverines' 2016 haul ranks sixth nationally, providing strong cornerstones like 4-star signal-caller Brandon Peters and former Ohio State commit and 4-star running back Kareem Walker for Harbaugh to build on.

The addition of Gary, however, would take Michigan's class to the next level. The nation's top-ranked player isn't just the type of prospect capable of becoming an instant impact performer, but also the kind of player who could one day become a No. 1 overall draft pick and become a sales pitch of his own to future Wolverines targets.

"We’re going to bring the finest student-athletes and character that we can to the University of Michigan," Harbaugh said last week as he defended his recruiting practices, unable to speak publicly about unsigned prospects. "That process continues for the next three to four days."

But for all the benefits that Gary, who recorded 13.5 sacks in his senior season of high school, would bring to Michigan, beating out Clemson for him could prove to be just as important for the Wolverines.

Having hired Gary's original high school coach Chris Partridge, first as director of player personnel before promoting him to linebackers coach this offseason, Harbaugh gave himself an inside track to 2016's top prospect more than a year ago. By the start of the 2015 season, Michigan was considered the favorite to land Gary over Alabama and Auburn as Partridge helped the Wolverines forge a pipeline into the Garden State.

But while a Gary pledge to Michigan seemed just like a formality a mere month ago, a late surge from Clemson has induced newfound drama into the final days of his recruitment. After taking a weekend visit to Clemson, Gary's mother, Jennifer Coney, told Dohn that her son's decision was truly up in the air.

"As it stands right now, if signing day was [Tuesday], Rashan would go on and say he hasn't decided yet," Coney said.

Pulling a move out of the Harbaugh playbook, the Tigers staff presented Coney with a birthday cake during her son's visit, which soon went viral across social media.

Should Clemson win out in the battle for Gary, it'd be hard to feel like Michigan didn't lose some momentum heading into signing day—no matter how impressive the Wolverines' 2016 class is otherwise.

But if Harbaugh comes through with his first signature prospect since arriving in Ann Arbor, the biggest signing day celebration in the country will somehow get even bigger.

Will Michigan's festivities on Wednesday feel authentic or artificial?

At this point, only Gary appears to know.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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