Effective collegiate rushing attacks require significant depth. The most reliable ground games in America utilize multiple running backs who can shoulder the load when called upon.
The 2016 recruiting class promises to provide reinforcements for offensive backfields across the country. While several premier playmakers—most notably 5-star talents Tavien Feaster and Kareem Walker—have already announced commitments, many top talents remain undecided.
Here's a look at the current recruitment situation and potential landing spots for top uncommitted prospects at the position.
Recruits listed in order of 247Sports' composite rankings.
When it comes to college football recruiting the word "hype" gets thrown around quite often. Each player is built up by recruiting analysts and pundits across the country. But, there are certain recruits who have all the goods.
Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder was out at the Opening Regional in Dallas, evaluating the talent. Quarterback Seth Green and tight end Kaden Smith were two players who stood out the most in his eyes.
What is the ceiling for Kaden Smith and Seth Green? Check out the video, and let us know!
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Only three schools at the FBS level play their games in domed stadiums, but the number that have the ability to practice indoors is exponentially greater. In the neverending arms race of college football, having an indoor practice facility is no longer a luxury but rather a necessity, and not just for schools in cold-weather climates.
With the ability to work on plays and implement schemes in a closed (and private) environment, schools use these fields as a way to separate practices from the games themselves. Those who have one can do what they want, when they want and how they want, while those still stuck practicing outdoors are at the mercy of mother nature.
Which ones stand out above all others? We note some of the best indoor facilities in the country.
When Penn State takes the field for its first spring practice of 2015 on Friday, there won't be any question who the Nittany Lions' No. 1 quarterback will be.
The 2013 Big Ten Freshman of the Year and one of the top prospects in the 2016 NFL draft, Christian Hackenberg has served as a Band-Aid over not only unprecedented NCAA sanctions but Penn State's transition from the Bill O'Brien era to James Franklin's regime. The former 5-star signal-caller endured a down year statistically in 2014 but is by far the Nittany Lions' best option and has the talent to be one of the top quarterbacks in the country with the right talent around him.
Make no mistake about it: There's no quarterback controversy brewing in Happy Valley. But this time next year, it could very well be a different story.
WalterFootball.com currently ranks the 6'4", 234-pound Hackenberg as the No. 3 draft-eligible quarterback for the 2016 draft, and with a strong junior season, it's not a stretch to say the Palmyra, Virginia, native could be the first signal-caller selected in the draft after the upcoming season. That would leave Franklin searching for a new starter for the first time since arriving in State College in early 2014, but the second-year Penn State head coach already likes what he sees in one potential replacement.
Tommy Stevens wasn't as highly recruited as Hackenberg, or even Brandon Wimbush, who was the first quarterback to commit to the Nittany Lions' 2015 class before opting to sign with Notre Dame. A 3-star prospect by way of Decatur Central in Indianapolis, Indiana, Stevens committed to Franklin last November, having also received offers from Michigan State, Cincinnati, North Carolina State and a number of mid-level Big Ten and Mid-American Conference programs.
But in just two months on campus as an early enrollee, Stevens has already managed to catch the eye of his head coach. The Circle City native won't be counted on in 2015 and will likely redshirt behind Hackenberg and redshirt freshman Trace McSorley, but he's already building a bond with Franklin, who is clearly excited for his future.
"Getting Tommy here at mid-semester as our quarterback, he's already went from 187 to 200 pounds. He's 6'3"," Franklin said on signing day. "I called his dad two nights ago just to say everybody's in love with your son, he's just one of these kids that doesn't take things for granted anymore, he's very appreciative.
"I got three text messages in the middle of the night from him saying how much he loves Penn State, how appreciative he is of the opportunity, and I want more of our guys to be like that. Just to be appreciative."
Stevens may be thankful to be a part of the Nittany Lions, but his relationship with Franklin could prove to be mutually beneficial.
As opposed to Hackenberg, who was recruited by the NFL-minded O'Brien, Stevens is more of a dual-threat quarterback and could prove to be a better fit in Franklin's more spread-oriented offensive system. The 21st-ranked quarterback in the 2015 class, Stevens threw for 1,891 yards and 16 touchdowns in his senior season, adding 842 yards and 10 scores on the ground.
Originally committed to Indiana, Stevens was set to stay home and be a Hoosier before receiving a scholarship offer from Penn State in the wake of Wimbush's decommittment. A visit to State College to witness the Nittany Lions' thrilling double-overtime loss to Ohio State sealed the deal for Stevens, who flipped his commitment to Penn State two weeks later.
"It was a hard process overall," Stevens said during the on-campus signing day celebration. "I only took one visit here, and that was enough to show me that this is the place for me."
And after just a couple of months on campus, it's clear he doesn't regret his decision.
"The thing I've noticed the most is probably the family-like feel that's been brought here," Stevens said. "I feel like I've been very welcomed from the very beginning. The guys in the locker room have gone out of their way and the coaching staff as well, they've really taken care of us.
"I'm glad to be here, and I can't wait for that next step forward."
That next step forward will start on Friday, when the long-haired Stevens—nicknamed "Sunshine" by his teammates—takes his first snaps in his new blue-and-white No. 4 jersey. Barring injury, he'll presumably participate in Penn State's Blue-White spring game on April 18 but will then likely be relegated to the scout team for the 2015 season.
But while he'll temporarily take a back seat, all eyes could be back on Stevens this time next year should Hackenberg opt to bring an early end to his college career. Franklin isn't prepared to talk about life without Hackenberg just yet, but it could very well be around the corner, only increasing the emphasis he's placing on having a replacement ready.
"Whenever you're trying to get your No. 2 quarterback, or the quarterback that's competing with your starter, however you want to look at it," Franklin said, "getting that guy ready to play is very, very important."
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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As Nebraska football’s spring practice winds on, a number of storylines have emerged. Given the hiring of new head coach Mike Riley and the installation of entirely new schemes on offense and defense, the flood of news certainly isn’t surprising. But there are a few storylines that really stand out as we work our way to the 2015 season.
Here are three of the biggest storylines that have emerged this offseason.
A Simpler Defense
Under Bo Pelini, Nebraska’s defense was famously difficult and challenging to learn. It appears that under new defensive coordinator Mark Banker, Nebraska’s defense will be far simpler. Junior safety Nate Gerry had this to say about the contrast in styles at a press conference before spring practice (transcript via Huskers.com):
My first impression is that I’m really excited for it. It’s a lot simpler than it was. … That’s the thing [new defensive coordinator Mark Banker] wants us all to do, to be able to get to the ball faster and to stay loose. Last year we had a lot of people overthinking. Mentally we weren’t as sharp as we were maybe supposed to be.
Simpler doesn’t always mean better, of course. Derek Johnson’s noted on HuskerMax that Nebraska’s defense could struggle by insisting on remaining in a three-linebacker set.
But a simpler defensive scheme will, at the very least, mean that talented players are less likely to be kept off the field based on a lack of scheme knowledge. And that change in defensive philosophy might be the biggest one in Lincoln we’ve seen this offseason.
A Pro-Style Offense
When Riley first arrived, questions lingered over whether he would be importing his pro-style offense. Certainly, given what happened the last time Nebraska brought in a coach to revamp the offense, things didn’t go well. So many Nebraska fans wanted to downplay the likelihood of offensive upheaval.
And there is some cause for that reassurance. Riley has talked about the need to adapt the game plan to the talent available, per Steven M. Sipple of the Lincoln Journal Star.
"We have what we've done as coaches and we have a new skill set at quarterback almost all the way around," Riley said. "We are trying to blend the two as best we can together so we can help them be comfortable.
"This is not about what we (as coaches) want to do; this is about giving them (the players) the best tools to play fast and win games. It's kind of interesting, and kind of fun for us, too."
With that said, there is no doubt that Nebraska will run a pro-style offense under Riley. In a pre-spring press conference (transcript from Huskers.com), wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp said that Nebraska will have a “pro-style type of offense.”
In addition, quarterback Tommy Armstrong told Eric Olsen of The Associated Press that he was told by offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf that he would “not be a running back” and that his job as a quarterback would be to “sit in the pocket, deliver the ball when I can and make smart decisions.”
How does incorporating a pro-style offense mesh with using the talent available on the roster for Riley? That’s the fascinating question we will see answered in part during spring practice, and in full this autumn.
The Starting Quarterback Job Is up for Grabs
Yes, Riley has said that Armstrong’s experience is a benefit as he determines who will start next year at quarterback, per Steven M. Sipple of the Lincoln Journal Star. But that doesn’t mean he’s guaranteed to win the job.
Gerry DiNardo of the Big Ten Network is in the midst of touring spring practices from around the conference. Check out what he said about the quarterback races he’s seen so far.
BTN Spring Practice Tour Stop 3 #Huskers 3rd stop in a row where QB decision isn't clear. NU UM Neb.— Gerry DiNardo (@gerrydinardo) March 14, 2015
A savvy outside observer says Nebraska’s quarterback decision “isn’t clear.” Add in the report from 247Sports that back spasms have been hampering Armstrong's performance and caused him to sit out Wednesday’s practice, and the recipe is certainly there for someone other than Armstrong to win the job.
I previously pegged Armstrong’s chances to be the 2015 starter at 50 percent. Looks like recent developments from spring camp make that number just about right.
For a different look at Nebraska football, check out The Double Extra Point.
Or you can use the Twitter machine to follow @DblExtraPoint.
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The USA Today salary database tells us how much money each FBS head coach earned last season (with the exception of seven coaches, whose schools kept their contracts private).
What it doesn't tell us? Return on investment.
Fortunately, computing how much each head coach earned per win last year is simple: salary divided by number of victories. Using that approach, we found which coaches gave their schools the best and worst values per dollar in 2014.
Here are the findings from each power conference:
1. See why Larry Fedora is on the hot seat? In a vacuum, he's a fair-enough bargain, but his two primary in-state rivals, David Cutcliffe and Dave Doeren, are the best values in the conference. This is not the first time Cutcliffe and Doeren have teamed up against Fedora.
2. Based on the available data, the ACC has the fewest bad-value contracts in the country. Of course, the lack of Dave Clawson's and Scott Shafer's contract info plays a role in that, as Wake Forest and Syracuse posted the fewest wins in the conference last season. Still, it's worth noting that the ACC, as far as our data can tell, mines great value from its head coaches.
*fired after starting the year 2-2
1. The Big 12 flaunts the most bad-value contracts in the country, although part of that results from giving out so many big contracts in general. Still, Charlie Weis, Paul Rhoads and Charlie Strong all finished in the bottom five among power-conference head coaches, earning more than $800,000 per win in 2014.
2. The top of the league fails to compensate for the lack of value at the bottom. Kansas State's Bill Snyder, who finished No. 2 in the Big 12 with $322,222 per win, would have finished No. 8 in the ACC, No. 6 in the Big Ten, No. 7 in the Pac-12 and No. 4 in the SEC.
1. I see you, Kyle Flood. And apparently, so does Rutgers. Flood signed an extension last September that will bump him to $1.25 million next season, making him New Jersey's highest-paid state employee, per Keith Sargeant of NJ.com. Even then, however, Flood's eight wins would have made him the No. 2 value among power-five head coaches. As it stands, he was the runaway No. 1.
2. Former Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen was one of the best values, in addition to one of the best overall coaches, in high-major college football last season. New head coach Paul Chryst has big shoes to fill after Andersen left for Oregon State. The Badgers will pay Chryst an average of $2.5 million per season, according to Lance Allen of TMJ4 in Milwaukee. Andersen won 19 games in two seasons on a smaller contract, while Chryst went 13-12 at Pittsburgh.
1. Eight Pac-12 head coaches earned more money last year than Mark Helfrich—and that's omitting Steve Sarkisian, whose salary USC did not disclose, but which one can assume exceeded $2 million. Despite that, Helfrich led Oregon to a Pac-12 title, a victory over Florida State in the Rose Bowl and a trip to the national championship game. In February, the Ducks rewarded their head coach with a lucrative and well-earned contract extension, which will pay an average of $3.5 million over five seasons, starting with $3.15 million in 2015.
"The success of our student -athletes on the field and in the classroom will continue with Mark 's leadership," said Director of Athletics Rob Mullens, per the official news release, "and we are thrilled that he will stay at home in Oregon for a long time to come."
2. Not a good look for Mike Leach, whose $2.75 million salary exceeds that of Arizona State head coach Todd Graham. Leach earned his money two seasons ago, when he led Washington State to a surprising bowl game, but the Cougars regressed badly in 2014. Great as Leach can be, another down season might land him on the hot seat.
*did not coach Florida's bowl game
1. Let's start with the obvious: No SEC coach earned less than $300,000 per win. Only four earned less than $420,000. However, while indicting at first glance, most of that concerns the size of SEC head coaching contracts in general. In this regard, one could argue SEC wins are worth more than other conference wins, since they come, by and large, against coaches with bigger salaries. It all depends on how you want to look at it. And that, of course, depends on how you feel about SEC football.
2. Alabama head coach Nick Saban will always rank toward the bottom of this list. His $7.16 million salary is the highest in college football, so even if Alabama went 15-0, his stipend per win, $477,346, would rank below the 50th percentile for power-conference coaches. Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin has a similar, albeit less extreme, predicament.
Full FBS Value Chart
On a win-per-dollar basis, the little guys will always beat the big guys. The No. 1 power-conference value, Flood, rank No. 30 on the full FBS table. The No. 3 power-conference value, Andersen, ranks No. 50.
Again, reading these numbers requires context. Power conference teams pay more per win because their wins, when accumulated near 10 or 11 per season, lead to major bowls on national stages.
And those are worth every penny.
Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeigh35
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama will be a little short-handed on the defensive side of the ball this spring.
Cornerback Cyrus Jones and linebacker Denzel Devall—two regular defensive starters and rising seniors—will miss the spring with injuries suffered during the season, according to an announcement from Alabama coach Nick Saban after Friday’s first session of the spring. Devall had foot surgery while Jones had cartilage in his hip repaired.
These two injuries aren’t the end of the world by any means. In fact, long-term, they may end up being blessings in disguise.
Jones and Devall are two veterans who know the ins and outs of the defense and Saban’s system. They won’t fall behind or miss much by having to sit out the spring.
But this is a massive opportunity for young players at both positions. The Crimson Tide have stars in the making at both spots, a process that could get a little bit of a boost with these extra reps.
At cornerback, Alabama has an embarrassment of riches.
Bradley Sylve, Eddie Jackson and Tony Brown all started games opposite Jones this season. That No. 2 starter was never really solidified, and those three were going to be the ones duking it out for the honor anyway. Now, that process will be accelerated with two spots for starting reps this spring instead of just one.
Behind them, former 5-star Marlon Humphrey should be in line for some sort of playing time after redshirting last season. He should be at least the No. 4 cornerback, getting second-team reps for much of the spring.
Fans are no doubt excited to watch Humphrey’s growth, and they’ll get a chance to do so, but the really intriguing matchup here is between Brown and Jackson, as it's where the No. 2 starter will probably come from.
Both played a lot last year, and both took their fair share of lumps and should be more seasoned and improved in 2015.
Where you’re likely to see a more tangible impact, though, is at outside linebacker.
Devall saw limited playing time last year between his injuries and the wealth of depth behind him. That wealth of talent should be set to shine next year. Senior inside linebacker Reggie Ragland pointed out two in particular.
"Like I tell Tim (Williams), Rashaan (Evans) all the time, 'Denzel's out, it's time for you to step up,’” Ragland said.
At 6’3”, 242 pounds, Williams is everything you look for in a 3-4 pass-rusher. He has shown flashes of that at times during his career, but hasn’t been able to put things together over a consistent stretch.
“I told Tim, ‘You're going on your third year and it's time for him to step up and be the man that you can be,’” Ragland said.
“Because if he puts his mind to it, he can be the best pass-rusher in the country. He can lead the country in sacks, that's how fast and physical he is. He's just got to keep getting in that playbook and keep learning it, because I know he's physical. He's got to come in, and if he does what he's got to do, he's going to be hard to stop."
That’s high praise coming from one of Alabama’s defensive veterans and leaders.
The other, Evans, had an impressive freshman season in a backup role. He could be in line for more playing time as well.
"The thing is he's got to keep learning that playbook and just keep growing and maturing as the weeks and days and years go by,” Ragland said. “If he keeps maturing, like Shawne Merriman says, he's a freak. He's a freak of nature for real. The things I've seen him do, some people don't get a chance to see that and play with a guy like that. If he does what he needs to do he can be very freakish."
Indeed, Merriman, an NFL veteran, had praise for Evans himself.
"I didn't even need to look at it. I just saw somebody out there playing at a different speed than everyone else," Merriman told AL.com’s Matt Zenitz on Monday.
Both Evans and Williams will get more chances to impress coaches and teammates (and maybe more NFL stars) with Devall out. Devall and Jones will likely spend their spring practices on the exercise bike with strength coach Scott Cochran.
Meanwhile, on the field, Alabama’s future stars will get a head start in their development.
Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes and reporting were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.
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The winner of the Iron Bowl has played in either the BCS National Championship or the College Football Playoff in each of the last six seasons, and the 2015 edition of college football's biggest rivalry already looks like it could be one for the ages.
The two SEC West heavyweights from the Yellowhammer State enter 2015's spring practice dancing around the top 10 of many "way-too-early" top-25 rankings, and will undoubtedly be in the mix for the College Football Playoff once toe meets leather this fall.
There are problems to solve, though.
Alabama has to replace nine starters from last year's offense and must fix a secondary that's been struggling for two seasons, while Auburn has to replace its starting quarterback, top running back and fix a defense that hasn't finished in the top half of the SEC in total defense since 2007.
Which one is set up better, though?
It's Alabama, by a nose.
"I think by Alabama not changing philosophies on either side of the ball, obviously puts them a little ahead of the curve," said Cole Cubelic, host on WUMP 730 in Huntsville, Alabama, and analyst on the SEC Network. "Even though I think they're going to have some real issues in the secondary, they're still running the same systems and they've recruited well. To me, that'd give them a slight advantage."
Plus, it's already clear that Alabama can win at a high level despite its major problems. Auburn simply can't overcome its issues and play at the same nationally competitive level.
The Crimson Tide played in the Allstate Sugar Bowl national semifinal last year with a defensive backfield that, quite simply, got torched. Despite Cyrus Jones' improvement from Game 1 through Game 14—which was tremendous—head coach Nick Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart's defense gave up an SEC-worst 133 passing plays of 10 or more yards.
That cost them in New Orleans, as Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones lit up Alabama to the tune of 13.5 yards per completion.
At least the Tide got there, though. A big reason they were there to begin with was a fast and physical defensive line that included A'Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed, D.J. Pettway, Jonathan Allen and a host of others who helped mask Alabama's primary problem as much as possible.
All of those players return this season, which should allow history to repeat itself.
"They're going to have the best defensive line in the nation," said Cubelic, "as well as one of the best linebackers in the nation in (Reggie) Ragland."
Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin had a big role in it, as well.
In his first season in charge of the Crimson Tide's offense, Kiffin set the school record in total offense (484.5 yards per game) with quarterback Blake Sims, who played running back at one point in his Alabama career.
Is it a little bit different this season with nine new starters? Sure. Kiffin won't have wide receiver Amari Cooper to rely on, but there are still plenty of playmakers on the offense to choose from, including running backs Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake, wide receivers ArDarius Stewart, Cam Sims, Robert Foster and Chris Black, as well as tight end O.J. Howard.
Are you willing to doubt Kiffin after last year's success?
Kiffin has a medium-sized village of talented players to work with, and last year's success with Sims, when combined with success at other schools, should give Tide fans confidence that he will make it work with whoever steps forward in the five-man quarterback battle.
One player in that battle, senior Jake Coker, showed more comfort in the system last Friday at Alabama's first spring practice, according to Saban (via Michael Casagrande of AL.com).
"You know, today is the first day, he certainly seemed a lot more confident out there and comfortable," said Saban. "Obviously when he started last year it was a whole new offense to him, everyone was ahead of him and right now I feel like right now he's a lot more comfortable and confident with what we're doing."
Alabama's offense doesn't have to be a sequel to last year's smash hit in order for the team to stay competitive, though.
"If they decide to throttle back and go more towards a run-heavy offense, they've probably got the best left tackle in college football (Cam Robinson), have a pretty good center (Ryan Kelly) coming back and one of the best running backs in the league in Derrick Henry," said Cubelic.
"They're one of the few teams that can get around the lack of a big-time quarterback based on the style of football that they're capable of playing."
That's not to say that Auburn won't compete too.
There are roster holes to fill, sure. But head coach Gus Malzahn was the first coordinator in FBS history to produce a 5,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard rusher and three 1,000-yard receivers in the same season, when he was with Tulsa in 2007. Plus, he has produced 12 1,000-yard rushers in nine seasons as a college head or assistant coach.
His system works, regardless of pieces.
Those pieces this year—including pro-style passer Jeremy Johnson, superstar wide receiver D'haquille "Duke" Williams and junior college transfer running back Jovon Robinson—are still supremely talented and will put up video game statistics on the Plains.
"We've seen a little bit of Jeremy Johnson, but there still needs to be somebody to step up opposite of Williams," said Cubelic. "If they don't, teams will be able to roll coverage, bracket him and minimize what he's able to do."
The big question is on defense, where Will Muschamp was brought in to fix a unit that has been a sore spot ever since the end of the Tommy Tuberville era.
He's got players, but Auburn has gone through Paul Rhoads, Ted Roof and Ellis Johnson as its defensive coordinators since it last finished in the top half of the SEC in total defense (not coincidentally, with Muschamp). Is he the solution to the lingering problem?
As Bill Connelly of SB Nation notes, the stats suggest he could be.
He has a solid foundation to work with up front, with defensive end Carl Lawson returning from a torn ACL and joining Montravius Adams along the defensive line, Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost at linebacker and Jonathan Jones—one of the most underrated cornerbacks in the SEC—anchoring the back end.
But the climb is steeper for Auburn than for Alabama, as Saban has the program to a point where its "down years" are still 10-win seasons.
It looks like the Iron Bowl could decide the SEC West title for the second time in three seasons, and while both teams look like national title contenders, Alabama has a slight edge heading into spring practice.
"Alabama is the safest bet," says Cubelic, "but Auburn has the potential to be a better team."
The battle that ensues between now and then should add more spice to a rivalry that's already the college football equivalent of habanero sauce.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.
Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.
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Say this for the long offseason: Pretty much everyone is a playoff contender.
The records are all the same, as no one has lost a game yet. There's as much optimism as a renewable energy source to power the United States for a century.
But which teams are really legitimate playoff contenders? Which ones are just dark horses? It's not evenly spread from conference to conference, either. With a little less than six months until the start of the 2015 college football season, let's put some of those teams into perspective.
Below is each Power Five conference, ranked by the number of potential playoff teams it has based on which players and coaches are returning.
FOUR: SEC, Pac-12
Legitimate: Alabama, Auburn
Dark Horse: Texas A&M, Tennessee
How It Will Shape Up: The strength of the SEC should once again be in the West Division. Alabama and Auburn figure to be the preseason favorites, though both teams have to replace significant losses on offense. The Iron Bowl, once again, could have national implications.
Two teams that could become intriguing playoff dark horses are Texas A&M and Tennessee. Former LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis, now holding the same job with A&M, could be that missing piece that the Aggies need to take the next step in their program's trajectory.
While Tennessee has been building its program for what seems like an eternity, the Vols are the sexy SEC East favorites. That doesn't necessarily mean that they're legitimate playoff contenders, but what the heck, it's March. Let's go ahead and toss them into the conversation.
Dream Scenario: The fantasy of having an all-SEC College Football Playoff comes to fruition. I mean, seriously, is this conference not the best or what? It's where real men go to play football. Roll Tide.
Nightmare Scenario: The SEC cannibalizes on itself and no team finishes with fewer than two losses. Though conference supporters claim that shows the SEC's overall strength, it's not enough to convince the selection committee. Zero teams get in, and adding salt to the wound, Alabama drops from No. 4 to No. 5 in the final rankings.
Legitimate: Oregon, USC
Dark Horse: Arizona State, UCLA
How It Will Shape Up: The post-Marcus Mariota era at Oregon might not be as depressing as expected if Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams can make an immediate splash at quarterback. The Ducks have a key early nonconference game at Michigan State, which should be a litmus test for both teams. Then, a possible Pac-12 championship preview takes place on Nov. 21 with USC and Oregon.
The Trojans are the trendy playoff contenders in head coach Steve Sarkisian's second year. However, there are some notable losses, especially on defense with lineman Leonard Williams. On top of that, the Trojans had a tough time finishing close games last season, losing on the road at Boston College and on a Hail Mary against Arizona State.
Are Oregon and USC legitimate playoff contenders? Sure, but there are some serious questions that will need to be answered.
Dream Scenario: Oregon and USC meet in two Pac-12 classics, with both teams getting into the playoff. Oregon shows it can succeed without a once-in-a-generation player, getting back to the playoff. This time, the Ducks finish the job by winning it all. The toughness narrative? Gone. Chip Kelly's shadow looming over head coach Mark Helfrich? Also gone.
Nightmare Scenario: Adams doesn't pan out and, in rich irony, the Ducks lose a stunner to Eastern Washington in Week 1. USC chokes away a couple of games again, pushing the narrative that the Trojans still...aren't...quite...back.
THREE: ACC, Big 12
Dark Horse: Georgia Tech, Florida State
How It Will Shape Up: In the past, listing Clemson as a legitimate playoff/title contender may as well have been agreeing to a death sentence. However, if there's any ACC team that can make a playoff run, it's the Tigers. 2015 sort of has an "if not now, then when?" vibe to it. Florida State is rebuilding and could experience a down year, relatively speaking. Plus, Clemson gets the Seminoles at home.
The defense must (must) reload and find new leaders given the departures of guys like defensive end Vic Beasley. If that side of the ball can even be passable, quarterback Deshaun Watson and Co. have enough firepower to win shootouts.
Dream Scenario: Head coach Dabo Swinney has done a spectacular job, winning at least 10 games in each of the last four years. As Dan Wolken of USA Today wrote, Swinney recruits at a championship level, too.
Yet, it never feels like he gets enough credit or like he's considered one of the best in college football. That skepticism, whether or not it's merited, gets put to bed for good as Swinney takes the Tigers to the national championship game.
Nightmare Scenario: "Clemson-ing" is a thing of the past...or is it? The Tigers finish the regular season 11-1 but then lose in the ACC championship game—badly—to a 7-5 North Carolina team. The playoff dream is crushed on live television for everyone to see.
Legitimate: Baylor, TCU
Dark Horse: Oklahoma
How It Will Shape Up: Barring a major injury or other development, Baylor and TCU appear bound for a playoff collision course. The Frogs should be a preseason Top-Five team after finishing 12-1 with a Peach Bowl victory over Ole Miss. Baylor shouldn't be too far behind, though the offense must replace quarterback Bryce Petty.
And as much as expectations for Oklahoma have tempered following a disappointing 8-5 season, the Sooners remain an interesting option. The talent is there. If the quarterback situation can improve, there might be something to this team. Head coach Bob Stoops has made his most critical staff changes to date—will they work out?
Dream Scenario: Imagine the opposite of last season, when Baylor and TCU were left out of the Final Four. In 2015, the Nov. 27 game between the Bears and Frogs is another classic with fans demanding more.
Nightmare Scenario: The CFP selection committee sits in a dark room. Arkansas athletic director and committee chair Jeff Long takes a long cigarette drag. He thinks for a moment and then says, "I just don't know how we're going to decide between TCU and Baylor, so let's leave them both out. Again."
"But sir--" replies another member.
In a desperate attempt to please the committee, the Big 12 expands back to 12 teams, adding Connecticut and North Dakota State. It does not work.
TWO: Big Ten
Legitimate: Ohio State
Dark Horse: Michigan State
How It Will Shape Up: Saturday, Nov. 21 could be a big day for the Big Ten. That's when Michigan State travels to Columbus to take on the defending national champs, Ohio State. The Buckeyes should be favorites, if not massive favorites, in every game. Their toughest conference games are at home, too.
Michigan State won't get the same level of national hype as Ohio State, but it does get a key nonconference game (Oregon) at home early in the season. That could establish the tone for this year. Are the Spartans really playoff contenders, or will they be unable to get over the hump?
"We look forward to making 2016 that national championship," defensive end Shilique Calhoun said upon announcing that he is returning for his senior season, per Mike Griffith of MLive.com.
Dream Scenario: Normally, predicting an undefeated season is silly, no matter how good a team is. It's just difficult to think that a group of 18-to-23-year-olds won't do what they're great at, which is screw up. However, head coach Urban Meyer has already led Ohio State to two straight undefeated regular seasons in 2012 and 2013. In this scenario, he does it again, and the Buckeyes become back-to-back champions.
And, for kicks, we'll say Sparty gets into the playoff as well. That'll really stick it to anti-Big Ten folks.
Nightmare Scenario: The quarterback trio that makes for the most interesting offseason competition falls to pieces. Braxton Miller transfers, J.T. Barrett gives up football for a life at sea and Cardale Jones sustains an unfortunate season-ending injury.
Ohio State and Michigan State both fail to meet expectations, and the Big Ten becomes college football's favorite target again.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
Late last month, 5-star defensive tackle Derrick Brown released his top eight schools in order, with Georgia and Auburn holding down the top spots in his recruitment.
According to Keith Niebuhr of AuburnUndercover, the Bulldogs are still on top, but the 6’4”, 305-pounder is planning to visit Auburn over spring break.
However, can the Tigers turn the tables and lure Brown away from the Peach State?
Considering the momentum that the Tigers have with new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, it’s a possibility.
Brown told Niebuhr that while he hasn’t built a strong bond with Muschamp yet, he has been communicating frequently with Tigers defensive line coach Rodney Garner.
“I just like talking to Coach Garner and being able to come down there, watch games and hang out,” Brown said. “It’s a great atmosphere down there. That’s what I like. It’s a small town and it’s a football town.”
Even though he’s still in the process of getting to know Muschamp, Brown admits that the former Florida head coach’s reputation is something that has his attention.
“I’ve never talked to [Muschamp] on the phone, but my parents have,” Brown said. “My mom and dad like him. Will Muschamp is defense and that’s what I play.”
Even with those positives in Auburn’s favor, at this stage, it’s the Bulldogs that seem to have a commanding lead for the nation’s No. 5 player overall in the 2016 cycle.
Brown took an unofficial visit to Athens earlier this month, and according to Jake Rowe of Dawgs247, he was impressed with what the Bulldogs can offer him on the academic side.
Brown told Rowe:
The academic part where I got to meet with the three people from the business school. My mom liked it a lot. She liked how at the Terry Business school the people came over and spent time with us and got to talk to us about stuff other than football. My dad liked that part, too.
Rowe also noted that Brown, who plans to decide on national signing day, has plans to visit a handful of other schools in addition to Auburn during his spring break next month.
The Peach State's top prospect in the 2016 class mentioned Alabama, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Tennessee as other possible destinations during that period.
While those schools are also in his top eight, they are all chasing the home-standing Bulldogs.
Given that Richt, along with defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and defensive line coach Tracy Rocker, have made Brown a top priority, it’s hard to see another team supplanting Georgia from the top of his list on signing day.
Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.
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Michigan fans clamoring for a program resurgence have plenty to be excited about with a new regime led by former star Wolverines quarterback Jim Harbaugh.
The 51-year-old head coach is coming off a four-year stretch with the San Francisco 49ers that featured three conference championship games and a Super Bowl appearance. He quickly became one of the most recognizable figures in the NFL by turning around a proud franchise that had lost its luster before his arrival.
Harbaugh's San Francisco revival occurred immediately after his program-changing tenure at Stanford, which included the emergence of Andrew Luck.
For a fanbase that saw Michigan finish 6-10 against Big Ten opponents during the past two seasons, Harbaugh became an ideal candidate to clean things up in Ann Arbor. Now on the job for nearly three full months, he's well underway with spring practice and close to securing a possible starting quarterback in Iowa transfer Jake Rudock.
Progress on the field is imperative at Michigan, but may be even more paramount on the recruiting trail as Harbaugh attempts to build a new culture at his alma mater.
Those efforts have come with mixed results.
He salvaged what he could from a 2015 class that was decimated during the final year of Brady Hoke's reign. The recruiting losses that preceded his arrival were catastrophic, highlighted by 5-star prospects Damien Harris and George Campbell.
Harbaugh inherited six commitments from Hoke and added eight more players during the six-week span he had to work with before national signing day. The haul was headlined by former Texas quarterback commit Zach Gentry and former Iowa running back pledge Karan Higdon, but signing day also featured a slew of stinging misses (notably Mike Weber, Iman Marshall and Van Jefferson).
The class finished 38th overall in 247Sports' composite rankings, though Harbaugh could only be held accountable for a small portion of the 2015 cycle in the wake of a widely publicized program collapse last season.
We acknowledged in the aftermath of this past singing day that Harbaugh would ultimately be judged more harshly or favorably based on how he fared on the 2016 recruiting trail.
To this point, there isn't much to report. Harbaugh has been stonewalled so far.
That's right—you've landed as many 2016 prospect commitments as Michigan's new leader managed during his first 10 weeks with the Wolverines. Unless, of course, you happen to be Nick Saban or Urban Meyer (in which case, thanks for reading, coaches).
Michigan claims two 2016 pledges—each from the Hoke era—in a class that currently rates 40th nationally. Harbaugh has retained holdover commitments from 4-star Illinois offensive lineman Erik Swenson and 3-star Maryland linebacker Dele Harding.
Despite a lack of resounding recruiting success, there's reason to believe Michigan may be on the verge of making strides.
The Wolverines are in good standing with several premier high school juniors, including 4-star North Carolina running back Robert Washington. The coveted rusher named Michigan a finalist this week and is expected to announce a commitment in April:
Ahmir Mitchell, a 4-star New Jersey wide receiver and defensive back, confirmed with Bleacher Report he intends to spend time in Ann Arbor this weekend.
Mitchell echoed sentiments we've heard from recruits since Harbaugh's hiring.
"It's big-time," he said. "The opportunity to be coached by one of the best doesn't come around often."
Top-ranked California quarterback K.J. Costello also heaped praise on Harbaugh during a discussion with B/R's Damon Sayles. The promising passer is expected to decide between Michigan, USC and Stanford sometime soon.
"He's a coach I have a ton of respect for," Costello said. "I watched him in the NFL. He's an intense guy, and I like his style. I think he can turn the program around in two years."
Still, there's a difference between being starstruck and being convinced to commit.
Top-rated 2015 tight end Chris Clark called Harbaugh "the LeBron James of coaching" before choosing UCLA over Michigan on signing day.
Concerns ultimately stem from a lack of concrete results, though Harbaugh and his staff are clearly making strides with key targets.
When your head coach spent last season watching film on NFL opponents instead of potential high school prospects, it's going to set things back a bit for formulating a cohesive recruiting strategy. However, momentum could swing at any time.
Rival Ohio State suffered a near-four-month commitment drought while assembling its 2015 class and ultimately ended up among the top 10 nationally in terms of signed talent.
There's still a long way to go toward February 2016 and this process is far more like a marathon than a mad dash. Improved on-field results would undoubtedly help Harbaugh's case, but we expect him to begin gaining steam this spring as more prospects spend time on campus, perhaps setting the stage for a scintillating summer.
The total lack of a 2016 pledges credited to Harbaugh is glaring right now, but he will ultimately be judged on what this class looks like 11 months from now.
In the meantime, Michigan fans are best off keeping the faith that their lauded new leader is on the verge of finding his recruiting groove.
Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.
Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.
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Spring is a time of renewal and opportunity in college football. With starting roles left open across the land due to graduation and NFL draft departures, this is a time for young players and reserves to make their impression on coaches and fight for a more prominent role.
As spring practice ramps up, that’s exactly what players will be thinking about: How can I make my mark, now that I have the chance? This fall, new stars will emerge on college football’s landscape. You might not know them, but you will soon. Here are 25 players who’ll shock college football fans this fall.
It's an unwritten rule: Every college football coach has to have a little salesman in him.
When he's talking about the positives of a program, he has to overemphasize. When he's discussing the parts of a program that need improvement, he's got to speak highly about the expectations for what's to come.
Every good coach does it for his program, and when we're talking about the SEC, every school has something that makes it attractive. There's a reason why the conference is arguably the most popular in college football.
Here are the 14 SEC schools, listed in alphabetical order, and some of the popular recruiting pitches that win over many of the nation's recruits.
Spring practice is in full swing for the Georgia Bulldogs, and they are hard at work to get ready for G-Day, as well as the 2015 regular season. The spring season is to not only get the players ready for the upcoming regular season, but it also helps fans figure out whether the team is ready to be a contender in the College Football Playoff.
That’s a storyline for the Bulldogs this upcoming season, but there are some bigger storylines this offseason that will determine if the Bulldogs have a chance to win the SEC, let alone get a berth in the College Football Playoff.
Here’s a look at the biggest storylines so far this offseason.
Josh Shaw is more well-known for what he didn’t do off the field than anything he has done on the field, but that shouldn’t stop NFL teams looking for secondary help from taking a close look at the USC cornerback.
Back in August, Shaw made national headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Having suffered two high-ankle sprains from jumping off a balcony, Shaw initially told USC officials that he suffered the injuries while saving his nephew from drowning in a pool. His tale of heroism quickly turned to one of shame, however, when Shaw admitted that the story “was a complete fabrication,” per Jordan Moore of USCTrojans.com.
Suspended indefinitely for his lie, Shaw did not play in any of the first 10 games of his senior season.
Finally allowed to return to action against UCLA on Nov. 22, Shaw has been left to fight an uphill battle to restore his name.
So far, he has done a great job making his way over that mountain of embarrassment, and toward being one of the top defensive back prospects for the 2015 NFL draft.
Star of the All-Star Game Season
As a consequence of his suspension, Shaw’s senior season consisted of just three games, only two of which he started.
With limited chances to prove his skill set during the season, it was vital for Shaw to take advantage of the opportunities he received to participate in predraft all-star games.
The first of those opportunities came at the East-West Shrine Game in St. Petersburg, Florida, during the second week of January, just over three weeks after his collegiate career finale in the Holiday Bowl against Nebraska.
There at the Shrine Game—which is widely viewed as the second-best predraft all-star game, and annually includes players at each position who go on to be drafted—Shaw was dominant.
Over the course of the week of practices, Shaw shut down the vast majority of opponents he faced. He displayed physicality at the line of scrimmage, effective body positioning, good feet and a desire to compete for the ball.
Shaw continued to excel in the game itself, including an interception on a perfect break in front of a pass intended for Michigan wide receiver Devin Gardner in the end zone.
Thanks to his excellent showing in St. Petersburg, Shaw was rewarded with an invitation to the Senior Bowl—the premier game on the predraft circuit—and another chance to show scouts he could play against NFL-caliber competition.
During that game and its practices, at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama, Shaw once again proved he belonged. He held his own in man-to-man coverage against highly talented wide receivers all week, and recorded another pass breakup—this time against Auburn wide receiver Sammie Coates, a projected first- or second-round pick—in the game.
Shaw’s Senior Bowl was not perfect; he got flagged for a defensive pass interference penalty that cost his team 41 yards, and he was also beaten on two catches by Central Arkansas wide receiver Dezmin Lewis, one of the top small-school prospects in this year’s draft.
Overall, though, Shaw’s efforts in Mobile capped a two-week run for the USC graduate that proved—at least in regards to his on-field talent—that he is worthy of an early-round selection in the 2015.
FootballGameplan.com’s Emory Hunt, who attended practices and both the Shrine Game and Senior Bowl, went as far as to say Shaw was the most impressive player he saw in action at those events (h/t Ryan Burns of FootballSickness.com):
Fitting the Physical Prototype
Largely by virtue of the success that Richard Sherman and the Seattle Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom” secondary has had in the past few years, NFL teams are increasingly on the prowl for big cornerbacks—specifically, cornerbacks who measure in above 6’0” and 200 pounds.
Shaw meets the threshold. At the NFL Scouting Combine, he measured in at 6’0” and 201 pounds with 30¾” arms, according to NFL.com.
Of course, being big doesn’t mean much for a cornerback unless he combines that size with strength, speed and leaping ability.
Shaw checked all of those boxes in Indianapolis too.
In the bench press, Shaw put up 26 repetitions of 225 pounds, the most among all defensive backs at the event.
His 40-yard dash time of 4.44 seconds was tied for the best among defensive backs who weighed in at 200 pounds or more, and was tied for the fourth-fastest time among all defensive backs.
Shaw also tied for third among all defensive backs in the broad jump (10’10”), and 12th among all defensive backs in the vertical jump (37.5”).
NFL scouts have reason to question what they can’t see in his limited tape, and they certainly have reason to question his honesty and reliability. But the combine should have erased all doubts about his athleticism, and therefore increased the likelihood that Shaw will come off the board in the first two rounds.
What Can Shaw Be for an NFL Secondary?
Ultimately, evaluators have to go back to Shaw’s game tape—even though there is not much of it from his senior season—to most accurately determine the answer to that question.
For the most part, scouts should like what they see from Shaw on the field. While he was never what one would call a lockdown cornerback, he regularly showed the ability to stay stride-for-stride and compete with even the toughest competition he faced.
The following clip from the 2014 Holiday Bowl is a textbook example of Shaw’s ability to cover deep. In one-on-one man coverage, Shaw put his speed to work as he stayed right in the hip pocket of Nebraska wide receiver Kenny Bell—who ran a 4.42-second 40 at the combine and is an NFL prospect in his own right—up the right sideline to force an incompletion.
Shaw is at his best when utilized in press man coverage. He excels at using his size, strength and length to jam a receiver at the line of scrimmage and stop his opponent from getting a clean release. That, plus his speed to stay in close quarters with his man, gives him the potential to be a star in a press-heavy scheme at the next level.
Playing in off coverage tends to give Shaw more trouble.
Shaw has adequate change-of-direction quickness, and good recovery speed, but his technical game needs some work.
Specifically, Shaw needs to become more comfortable in his back-pedal. While he is typically able to turn and run with a wide receiver with little trouble, he leaves himself susceptible to giving up underneath receptions, as receivers are able to stop their routes and break back to the ball before Shaw can get his head turned around and break with his man.
Another area in which Shaw needs to improve is in tracking the ball in the air. When he is able to do so, he is able to make plays on the pigskin, as evidenced by his six career interceptions and 14 career pass deflections. At times, though, Shaw will give up big plays even when he is in position, and even though he has good size, because he loses sight of where the ball is coming in.
The good news for Shaw—at least in terms of his draft stock—is that his flaws are not matters of physical deficiencies. With quality coaching and more time on the field, Shaw has the potential to improve upon his weaknesses, given that his measurables are top-notch.
That said, Shaw will be a far more appealing prospect to teams who regularly use their cornerbacks in press man coverage.
For teams that prefer off-man coverage and zone coverage, Shaw would actually project best as a free safety.
Shaw is a consistent tackler and has the height and range that scouts covet in a safety. He started numerous games in both 2012 and 2013 for USC as a safety, including the following game from 2013 against Arizona (video courtesy of Draft Breakdown).
In a draft class that is lacking in top-end safety talent, the prospect of Shaw being able to play that position could certainly elevate his draft stock. Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller, who ranked Shaw as the draft’s No. 106 overall prospect on his post-combine big board, considers Shaw to be among the top-five free safety prospects in this year’s draft.
Putting Shaw at safety would be a projection, and it would force him to improve upon his play recognition. But it's also easy to see why his tools could entice a team to draft him and move him there, as it is becoming increasingly common for collegiate cornerbacks to become NFL deep safeties because of their coverage skills.
With that being said, Shaw still projects to have higher value as a cornerback than he does as a safety. There are not many prospects in this year’s draft who can truly meet the NFL’s increasing demand for big cornerbacks, but Shaw is one of them. Additionally, moving Shaw to safety would take away his greatest strength, that being his ability to disrupt receivers' routes at the line.
Projecting Shaw’s Draft Stock: How Much Will His Lie Hurt Him?
No matter how successful Shaw is in the NFL, he might never be able to fully shake the stigma of his mistake this past August.
Much like former Notre Dame and current San Diego Chargers linebacker Manti Te’o in the aftermath of his girlfriend hoax scandal in 2013, Shaw will certainly be a frequent target of opponent trash talk and fan harassment as he begins his career in the NFL. Not that he hasn’t already, but as he steps into the limelight of playing professional football, Shaw will continue to be barraged with questions and jokes about the incident.
Shaw was investigated for domestic violence in connection with the August incident—as it turned out, Shaw’s fall from the balcony came in a moment of panic upon the arrival of police officers to his apartment—but ultimately, no charges were filed against Shaw, as reported by Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times.
All in all, the incident at his apartment and subsequent story fabrication appears to be a singular set of lapses in judgment for a prospect whose background is otherwise clean.
At least one NFL scout, according to NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein, believes there is no reason to have off-field concerns about Shaw.
"I know about the issues he had this year, but I did plenty of background work on Shaw and I had no problem giving him a passing character grade when I turned in my report,” the NFC North area scout told Zierlein.
There have been players in past drafts—and probably will be players in this year’s draft—who have done worse things than Shaw, yet have still been early-round draft picks.
In reality, the most negative effect that the incident is likely to have on his draft stock is that it kept him from playing the majority of his senior season, which lessened his window of opportunity to improve as a player and put his best foot forward on the field.
If a team’s brass believes that drafting Shaw can help the team win games—and most importantly, is confident that Shaw is now being completely honest and forthright in interviews—the events of last August are unlikely to preclude that team from selecting him.
There are enough questions about Shaw, both on and off the field, to likely keep him out of the draft’s first round. But it should come as no surprise if Shaw is drafted on Day 2, potentially as highly as the early second round.
The aforementioned Seahawks, who could be in the market to draft a cornerback after losing starter Byron Maxwell to the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency, would presumably be the ideal match for Shaw.
That said, it is no guarantee that Shaw will still be on the board for the Seahawks’ first pick, which is not until No. 63 overall. Other teams that could target Shaw could include the Jacksonville Jaguars (whose second-round pick is No. 36 overall), Minnesota Vikings (No. 45), San Francisco 49ers (No. 46), Philadelphia Eagles (No. 52), Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 56), Carolina Panthers (No. 57), Baltimore Ravens (No. 58), Green Bay Packers (No. 62) and New England Patriots (No. 64).
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.
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When you finish with a losing record at Texas, the expectation is that you launch a full-blown attack on the offseason. You establish yourself on the recruiting trail and do whatever possible to correct what caused the perceived failures.
By those standards, Charlie Strong has aced the pre-spring practice portion of his second offseason as head coach of the Longhorns.
Rather than letting blowout losses to TCU and Arkansas define the direction of his program, Strong has cranked out a top-10 recruiting class and established a new direction for his troubled offense. It also helps that he has a projected first-round draft pick providing some support for his leadership style.
We still have no clarity on the quarterback battle or how Strong plans on replacing his many departed starters, but the offseason has been almost a best-case scenario to this point.
Jefferson Keys Recruiting Resurgence
Malik Jefferson committed before the Longhorns' loss in the Texas Bowl, but his decision has still been the defining moment of this offseason.
After Jefferson pledged on December 19, the Longhorns reeled in 11 recruits plus his underrated high school teammate DeAndre McNeal. Of those 12 recruits, at least three will have major roles in 2015, namely projected starting cornerback Holton Hill.
The wild part is that the falling of the Jefferson domino almost led to something much bigger. Kyler Murray, Daylon Mack, DaMarkus Lodge and Soso Jamabo, a foursome of elite talent, all took hard looks at Texas late in the process before ultimately picking three different programs.
Some might consider missing on those three a failure, but it speaks to an encouraging truth—there's no quit in Charlie Strong. The Horns had no business getting even a whiff of these four so late in the game, and Texas' head coach came quite close to nabbing them.
Instead, he settled for six commitments within a week of signing day and the best class in the state.
Over a month later, it's become clear that the Jefferson signing was just the beginning. The Longhorns have already landed Shane Buechele, the state's No. 2 quarterback, for their 2016 class.
The recruiting resurgence is real, and it's completely changed the narrative of this offseason.
The Move to the Spread
The degree to which Texas commits to the spread remains unclear, but every word and deed to this point suggests it's happening.
The blame falls on several parties, including quarterback Tyrone Swoopes and a porous offensive line, but the numbers indicated a need for a fundamental change in how Texas attacks the defense.
Its first response was hiring Jay Norvell as a wide receivers coach. Norvell served as co-offensive coordinator for Oklahoma's spread attack from 2011 through 2014 while also coaching up dynamic receiving talents like Ryan Broyles and Jalen Saunders.
Norvell and offensive line coach Joe Wickline each have extensive experience implementing spread attacks in the Big 12. Working together with regarded quarterback coach Shawn Watson, some serious strides should be made this offseason.
With the coaches in place to implement the system, the Horns then went out and grabbed players who could run it. Quarterback commit Kai Locksley obviously fits as an athletic and intelligent football player, while Ryan Newsome's future as an all-purpose terror seems set in stone.
Before too long, the Horns should field an offense capable of keeping pace in the explosive Big 12 Conference.
Malcom Brown Leads Group of NFL Prospects
"Humbling" would be a pretty light description for Texas' failure to get even one player drafted in 2014. Malcom Brown and a trio of his Longhorn teammates are set to put that experience in the rearview.
With a month and a half until draft day, Brown is almost a lock to go in the first round. After backing up his 2014 production with a solid combine, he remains high on B/R draft expert Matt Miller's board.
NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah (transcript courtesy of 247Sports' Jeff Howe) sounds like he's seen enough: "One of my favorite players in this draft class, he's easy to figure out when you study him, he had a great day today. He can be dominant at the point of attack but also has that quickness to penetrate upfield and I thought he did a nice job through the bag drills today."
Brown is easily a top-three tackle in this class and should only get things started for the Horns. Linebacker Jordan Hicks also impressed at the combine, particularly in the vertical jump, three-cone drill and 60-yard shuttle.
Quandre Diggs, Malcolm Brown and Cedric Reed were the last Longhorn players to participate in the Underwear Olympics. Diggs probably secured a late-round pick with some decent measurables, though he still needs a solid pro day.
Reed was only able to compete in the bench press, but running back Malcolm Brown has become a surprise late-round candidate. He showed off some quickness that wasn't always evident on tape, and B/R's Ian Wharton sees a lot of Alfred Morris in his game.
At this point, Malcom Brown and Hicks have made themselves known. Diggs and Malcolm Brown will try to improve their stock at next week's pro day, where receiver John Harris gets a chance to enter the late-round discussion.
All recruiting stats and information courtesy of 247Sports.com.
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CHICAGO — It started three weeks ago, and Indiana tight end Jordan Fuchs didn't exactly show up to his first Hoosiers basketball practice in helmet, pads and cleats, but...
"I broke somebody's nose the second day," he said. "The team manager."
Broke the team manager's nose?
"Head butt," Fuchs said. "I'm adjusting."
Turned out, it was an accident. But Fuchs had to tone it down some.
Fuchs is a dying breed. He is an Indiana freshman football player who will play for the Hoosiers in the NCAA Tournament this week. Football players used to play basketball in the offseason to stay in shape. At some point, that's what people thought basketball was for. So football players popped up on basketball rosters everywhere. Now it's a rarity.
For Fuchs, it has been a transition period from one sport to the other, and the adjustment has been part body, part mind.
The thing is, I've already gotten this wrong. Fuchs isn't a football player who is playing basketball. He is both. He was a basketball player first in high school, a New York city star, as the New York Daily News once put it. He took a football scholarship to Indiana figuring he'd get a chance to play hoops, too.
In an era of specialization, kids are pigeon-holed into one sport, one event, one motion. Over and over and over in an effort to make them the next Tiger Woods. It's not healthy. It leads to burnout and to repetitve-motion injuries. And some coaches, notably Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer (a former football player and minor-league baseball player himself) are now looking for that rare kid who played multiple sports in high school.
When Pete Carroll was still coaching at USC, he once said "I hate that kids don't play three sports in high school. ...I really, really don't favor kids having to specialize in one sport. I want to be the biggest proponent for two-sport athletes at the college level."
There are still examples of multi-sport athletes making it. Tony Gonzalez did football and basketball at Cal. It worked out pretty well for him.
And now Fuchs should be the example to all parents. Playing multiple sports teaches multiple skill sets. It's healthier than offseason camps and year-round travel teams.
"Yeah, people are always telling me I can't do both," Fuchs said during the Big Ten Tournament in Chicago recently. "It just makes me want to do it more. People don't do it in college probably because it's so hard. Some days I have football workouts and go straight from football weight-lifting and just walk across to basketball."
There is something right about Fuchs, and it's not just that he's multi-talented. Years ago, Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders reached the top pro levels in football and baseball. But their stories were about freaks of talent. No one is suggesting that should be the norm at the major-league level.
But in school? High schoolers, and even younger, are becoming specialists because the goals have changed. Sports, even for kids, aren't about playing anymore nearly as much as they're about being a means to an end, a scholarship or career.
So Fuchs' story is about talent, but moreso it's about a kid doing something that looked fun, and not doing it as part of the professionalizing of our kids.
At some point, if he is good enough to be a pro, he'll have to give up one for the other. He has thought about that, and will give up basketball. But for now, he'll do both. And he was never groomed for the NFL. In fact, he didn't play football until his junior year in high school.
"I had zero thoughts of playing football," he said "And one day I was just watching college football on TV and was like, 'Hey, I'm going to play football.' "
From the first day, he loved it. It came naturally. He would get basketball scholarships offers from Florida and Iowa State, among others, and football offers, he said, from Connecticut, Rutgers, Indiana.
Fuchs figured that if he took a basketball scholarship, coaches wouldn't want him to play football. But if he took a football scholarship, coaches might let him play basketball, too. He was right: Indiana football coach Kevin Wilson approved.
"I knew football was my bread and butter," he said. "I knew I had to get a football scholarship to play both. You look at basketball and there are a lot of guys like me, my height and size (6-foot-6, 230). You look at football, not so much."
Fuchs hasn't been a star at the college level yet in either sport. He has only played football for a couple years so he's going to have to develop. But he did play all 12 games of the season. In basketball, he's defense and muscle and has only played a handful of minutes. He's only been on the team for a few weeks.
But if the multi-sport athlete is a dying breed, he isn't dead yet. Basketball players seem to make good tight ends. Last month, football recruit Noah Togiai, backed out of an oral commitment to Utah and signed to play for Oregon State because, Togiai told the Oregonian newspaper, "I've always wanted to go to a school that would allow me to play football and basketball. They went out of their way and said I can."
That's only a good thing, except for basketball team managers. They might need to wear facemasks.
Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report.
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The LSU Tigers are looking to rebuild after a solid 2015 recruiting class. Bleacher Report's CFB analyst Michael Felder breaks down the standout LSU commits from the opening regional in Dallas.
How well do you think these studs will do at the next level?
Watch the video and let us know!
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Forget about the stars in college football for a moment. Yeah, it's difficult, but following all the key players is too easy.
Which players around the sport aren't standing out as much but deserve to? Sometimes, spring phenomenons show up from the most unlikely places. From team leaders who are overshadowed nationally to fast risers, underrated spring stars have the chance to make a name for themselves before the season gets underway.
Which players are flying under the radar this spring but deserve more attention? Taking into account last year's numbers and projected role in 2015, we give 10 in the following slides.