After only a few months, Penn State head coach James Franklin has turned the program into a recruiting juggernaut. If the next few days yields verbals from one or two highly touted prospects, the Nittany Lions could even have the best class in the country.
All three of the major high school football recruiting services—247Sports, Rivals and Scout—have Penn State's 2015 class ranked as the second-best in college football. The overall quality of the class (which features 11 commits) trails only Texas A&M (nine commits).
After recent pledges from 4-star recruits Josh Barajas and Steven Gonzalez, many fans thought Penn State's class would grab a hold of the top spot nationally. That hasn't happened yet, but Franklin and Co. are certainly on the verge of it.
Here are a few players who, if they commit soon, would likely give Penn State the top class in the country.
A 5-star defensive tackle from Virginia, Tim Settle has collected over 30 scholarship offers from some of the nation's top schools. One of those schools is Penn State, which will host him for a visit this weekend:
If the wounds from Thomas Holley's decommitment are still fresh for Nittany Lion fans, nabbing Settle would almost certainly heal those. The 6'3", 318-pound monster, who's athletic for his size and has a quick first step, could slide into the starting lineup as a freshman. Defensive line coach Sean Spencer would love to get his hands on a talent like Settle.
The sweepstakes for his services appear to be wide open at this point, with recruiting experts predicting a variety of schools as his eventual landing spot. In this case, Penn State's coaching staff needs to make a lasting impression this weekend.
Settle is ranked as the fourth-best defensive tackle in the country, and the No. 21 prospect overall. His future is certainly bright wherever he lands, as Rod Johnson of VirginiaPreps.com said last summer that Settle has "unlimited potential." For Penn State, getting Settle to commit would be a huge statement for he program.
Secondary is an area of need for Penn State in the 2015 recruiting cycle, and 4-star cornerback John Reid is arguably the program's top target in that category.
Reid was on hand for Penn State's junior day back in February. The program has been interested in him for quite some time, dating back to before former head coach Bill O'Brien even coached his first game.
The Pennsylvania native has very good instincts. His recovery speed and change of direction are also impressive, and he's a solid tackler to boot.
In case he needed it, Franklin is getting help in luring Reid. Running back Andre Robinson, who committed in late February, has said he'd try to convince Reid to follow him to State College:
Rated as the sixth-best cornerback in the country, Reid is starting to garner some serious national attention. He picked up an Alabama offer in early March and also recently visited Notre Dame. Many recruiting pundits think Penn State is the heavy favorite to land him, but Franklin should try to lock him up before another team swoops in.
A commitment from Reid would easily give Penn State the best class in the country, while asserting James Franklin's dominance over the commonwealth.
Like Whitehead, 4-star offensive tackle Sterling Jenkins could also be nearing a verbal commitment. He recently dropped Pitt from consideration, and narrowed his list down to two teams: Penn State and Ohio State.
According to Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Jenkins' high school coach has indicated that the Nittany Lions are his top choice:
He's one of the top players in Pennsylvania, and for good reason. Jenkins already has elite size (6'8", 305 lbs), and seems every bit the part of a bookend left tackle. With Donovan Smith slowly approaching an NFL career, there will soon be a hole at that position in Happy Valley.
Jenkins was in State College for Penn State's junior day back in February. Of the prospects on campus that weekend, five have since committed to the program.
Penn State has slowly emerged as the favorite to land Jenkins, and envisioning him in blue and white isn't as hard as it once was. He'd instantly provide the Nittany Lions with the boost needed to supplant Texas A&M in the national rankings.
Unless noted, all recruiting rankings and information came courtesy of 247Sports.
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The weather finally broke in Ohio, and for the first time this spring, Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes felt the sun on their shoulders as they ran through drills on the outside practice field this week.
It was a short-lived experience, though, as extreme winds forced Ohio State back into the confines of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center midway through Tuesday's practice.
Under roof or sunshine, however, the Buckeyes kept grinding through spring drills. Here's the latest news out of Columbus.
Another week of practice produced another significant injury to a key starter.
It was announced on Tuesday that starting tight end Jeff Heuerman would be out for the remainder of spring practice after suffering a foot sprain and undergoing surgery last week.
It was Heuerman's second injury of the offseason—he broke his nose in a weight-lifting accident in March—but he's only expected to miss six weeks.
Heuerman joins a long list of walking wounded for the Buckeyes. Braxton Miller hasn't seen a bit of action as he recovers from shoulder surgery. Vonn Bell went down with an MCL sprain during the team's first spring practice, an injury that sidelined him until the summer. Two weeks later, Ohio State lost Jalin Marshall for the spring after he underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus.
Needless to say, it has been a tough spring on the injury front.
On the field, the Buckeyes are working through some dramatic changes defensively.
Meyer brought in Chris Ash to replace Everett Withers as co-defensive coordinator, and with that, the Buckeyes are adapting his aggressive pass defense.
Over the last two years, Ohio State had its corners playing off the line in scrimmage. The theory behind that strategy was to give the corner a better view of the play as it evolved, but the results weren't there. The Buckeyes ranked No. 110 out of 123 teams in pass defense last season, prompting Ash's dramatic change.
This spring, the Buckeyes' corners have played exclusively in press coverage.
If the secondary can pick up the new scheme quickly, there won't be as many holes for opposing quarterbacks to exploit this season.
The backup quarterback competition has been one of the biggest and most important battles this spring, and with Miller sidelined, the contenders have been seeing a lot of action.
After four weeks, a leader has emerged.
Cardale Jones, a redshirt sophomore who played in three games last season, has pulled ahead of freshman J.T. Barrett.
Despite having a bad practice this week, Meyer praised Jones, saying, "Without question he could play quarterback at Ohio State, and he's done a good job."
Jones is also gaining respect from his teammates.
With Miller's injury history, it's pivotal for the Buckeyes to have a viable backup. Kenny Guiton filled that role perfectly over the last two years, but Jones appears to be stepping up.
David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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The annual Orange & White Game is eight days away, and Tennessee head coach Butch Jones is cramming just about all he possibly can into the limited sessions.
With the basketball team's Sweet 16 run coming to a heartbreaking end last week, all Volunteers fans' focus shifts completely to the football field, where position battles rule the headlines.
Even though major breaking news on the four-man quarterback race is hard to come by, there was still plenty to talk about in Week 3. Let's take a look at the main storylines being churned out of Knoxville this past week.
Jones Calls Defensive Front Seven "Soft"
Many of the biggest questions entering spring revolved around the revamped offensive line, but it's the other side of the football that's causing consternation.
Tennessee's defensive line has been the biggest concern of camp. Even with star defender Curt Maggitt shifting up a level to put his hand down regularly at defensive end, the Vols haven't been able to find consistency along the line.
That's a major concern for Jones—who called his front seven "soft"—and defensive coordinator John Jancek. It was echoed by Maggitt to Volquest's Brent Hubbs (subscription required).
We didn't have a good scrimmage as a defensive line… There were a lot of things that weren't good. We are far away (from what Jones is looking for). We know the expectation, and the defense he wants and Jancek wants. Our position coaches and us know we are far from it. That's why we can't take any days off.
According to GoVols247's Ryan Callahan (subscription required), the line again had "trouble stopping the run" during the team's second full scrimmage last Saturday. It's a familiar refrain from a spring filled with UT's offense one-upping the D.
The Vols will get a major boost this fall when junior Trevarris Saulsberry returns from injury that has sidelined him this spring, and vaunted recruits like Dewayne Hendrix, Charles Mosley, Michael Sawyers, Derek Barnett and Joe Henderson get to campus.
For now, DL coach Steve Stripling is trying to piece together a depth chart that offers at least some resistance. That includes athletic midterm freshman Dimarya Mixon getting an extended look at tackle, according to Callahan.
There are talented players in the rotation, but they're virtually all inexperienced. That's really shown this spring.
Hurd and Lane on Top of Their Game
It doesn't matter that rising senior tailback Marlin Lane suffered a broken bone in his hand; he's still having the kind of spring that UT coaches have been seeking since he arrived on campus.
He and star freshman Jalen Hurd each had a very strong second scrimmage last Saturday, and that's a position the coaching staff has had a difficult time pumping the brakes on praising this spring.
Jones told Volquest's John Brice (subscription required):
I think that position group is really starting to come on. Marlin's been a warrior for us. He's playing with a cast, and to have him back and get some game repetitions and game-speed reps was big for us today. Jalen Hurd continues to develop, and he needs as many reps as he can. So that was extremely productive for us.
While Jones has to be careful dumping too many accolades on his players, media members don't. Nashville's 104.5 radio personality and former 10-year UT assistant Doug Mathews had some pretty high praise for Hurd on Thursday:
Tennessee Big Three: QB Recruiting Surging
Everybody wants to know how the four quarterbacks currently on campus are faring this spring, but the biggest UT QB news of the week had to do with the future.
After failing to sign a signal-caller in the 2014 recruiting class, it's essential UT plucks at least one elite quarterback from this year's class. In a little more than a week, the Vols have gotten extremely positive news on three top targets.
- The 247Sports Composite's No. 1 dual-threat quarterback Torrance Gibson visited Knoxville last week and told GatorBait.net (subscription required) about Butch Jones, "I believe in his dream." He went on to tell Bucknuts' Bill Kurelic (subscription required) that UT and Ohio State would "for sure" get official visits.
- Another of UT's top targets, 6'7", 230-pound New Mexico high school standout Zach Gentry, told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan he was "blown away" by his visit to Knoxville last weekend. Gentry is expected to visit Oklahoma State and Alabama, but UT "set the bar pretty high."
- Finally, Top247 athlete Jauan Jennings of Murfreesboro (Tenn.) Blackman High is expected to choose between Tennessee, Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State, Northwestern and Ohio State on April 7, according to GoVols247. Most of his recent Crystal Ball projections on 247 have him going to UT or Auburn. While Jennings could get a shot to play QB, he is a versatile athlete who also could play several other positions.
Week 3 Big Orange Buzz
Even though there hasn't been much reported separation between the four quarterbacks, that doesn't mean Jones thinks the group has operated poorly. In fact, it's the exact opposite.
He told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan that he is "very, very encouraged" with them and they're improving every day.
It may just be one of those spring fire-lighting sessions with junior college transfer left tackle Dontavius Blair, but the evidence gets clearer every day that Jones' decision to start fifth-year senior walk-on Jacob Gilliam over Blair may be more.
Gilliam has started all the practices since returning from spring break, and he told the Chattanooga Times Free Press' Patrick Brown he is treating every day with urgency:
You've got to come to work every day no matter how you feel or what it's like, and you've got to outwork somebody that obviously they've invested a lot of time and money into. That's what I just try to come with every day, knowing that at a moment's notice I could be replaced.
Tennessee held off some of the nation's top recruiting programs such as Alabama and Ole Miss to earn defensive lineman Jason Carr's signature.
Now, it may not be long until he moves to the other side of the football.
Jones told Volquest's Brent Hubbs, John Brice and Paul Fortenberry (subscription required) on Thursday that the 6'5", 300-pound Carr may be ticketed for offensive tackle.
"He still has some practices before we make that decision, but first of all it's where every individual can help you and help the team win," Jones said. "So we'll make that assessment, we'll continue evaluating him as we go."
Finally, here's a final photo that will make many UT fans cringe.
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Brady Hoke is more than the head football coach at Michigan, he's also a D-line specialist.
With that being said, the fourth-year man in Ann Arbor faces quite the workload in 2014. At this point, it's all about piecing together a firm game plan, from point A to point B.
Starting with Saturday's spring game, Hoke will finally have the chance to make meaningful adjustments to Team 135's defensive front with Mark Smith, a D-line coach.
And the changes couldn't come any sooner.
Not. A. Minute. Sooner.
However, for as topsy-turvy as the Wolverines' D-line appeared to be this past fall, it wasn't actually a complete train wreck. That, of course, is a welcome sign—one that suggests that there is plenty of room for improvement.
Think of it as a "nowhere to go but up" approach to revamping and re-energizing the ends and tackles. No longer the official, full-time, by-title D-line coach, Hoke will certainly have a say in matters as Smith and Greg Mattison, the defensive coordinator, devise strategy and tactics.
Playing with Purpose
Pressuring the quarterback was the downfall of Team 134's D-line.
Well, let's rephrase that: The lack of pressure was its undoing.
In terms of sack production, the Wolverines were horrible—they tallied a lukewarm total of 25 sacks for negative-182 yards, despite having turned up their intensity as the season progressed.
Given the unruly nature of this past fall, that total shouldn't come as a surprise. But again, the end results were a mere fraction of expected returns.
Due to talent levels, there is no reason why Hoke's D-line shouldn't compare head-to-head with any line in the Big Ten.
Ohio State pressured quarterbacks and finished with a respectable total of 44 sacks, a mark good enough for No. 3 in the nation. Nebraska came in with 39, putting it at No. 8 in that category. Michigan State, which had one of the most feared defenses in all of college football, had 32 sacks in 2013.
That's where Hoke needs to be. That's where past Michigan lines have been.
While together, the D-line can take over momentum and sway the outcome in Hoke's favor.
And really, it's not all about totals—it's about the quality of those numbers. Look at what the Spartans were able to do. Based on reputation alone, one would have thought they were averaging 10 a game; they made theirs count, despite being ranked No. 31 in that department.
Had there been increased pressure, Michigan could have forced more interceptions. That's a secondary issue—in both senses of the word—but the line and backs are interconnected by virtue of playing on the same side of the ball.
Getting players to understand the concept of "more isn't always better...but it helps" has to be a top concern for the coaching staff, along with establishing links between the 11 on the field.
Michigan doesn't have to lead the league in sacks. But being among the top netters just adds to perception. Teams that are known for getting at the quarterback tend to do just that—get at the quarterback.
Creating a sense of calm confidence starts Saturday.
Well, now that the preliminaries have been completed, it's time to move onto the second part of the plan: Taking the "more isn't always better...but it helps" mentality and installing that very idea into the minds of players.
Hoke's a hard-nosed, blue-collar kind of guy. That's been said over and over again; it'll continue being said for as long as he's at the helm. His attitude and work ethic are two of his selling points. He's a ball coach—nothing more, nothing less.
Let's assume that players respect honest, down-to-Earth coaches. In turn, those players feel the urge to work harder and a little extra. Well, at some point, that work turns into measurables.
The following table illustrates what Michigan's starting front four could look like this fall.
Chris Wormley is a possible option for nose tackle, and he's also a candidate for defensive end. The same goes for Matt Godin, who is also a redshirt sophomore. Taco Charlton, a sophomore who is due for his long-awaited arrival, rounds out the list of potential top starters/contributors.
Unproven talent can become proven goods this fall. However, in order for the maturation process to take place, Hoke's upperclassmen and those with the most experience have to anchor down and allow for roster flexibility.
If the "proven" crowd isn't getting the job done, don't expect Hoke to run with the less-qualified players. If he's going to win, he's going to win with experience and execution, not a rag-tag assembly of relatively "green" linemen making lucky plays.
Check out Michigan's full roster on MGoBlue.com.
Cries for the "old Michigan" are heard loud and clear. Not even Hoke could have anticipated such a slippery slope. After starting 11-1, he's posted 8-5 and 7-6 records...not exactly what the Maize and Blue faithful bargained for following the ouster of Rich Rodriguez in 2011.
He's had three full seasons to recruit, which is something he does incredibly well, and educate players on the traditions of Michigan football. The process won't just complete itself due to time. But time certainly helps.
Carr's public approval is worth its weight in gold, just ask the Lloyd Loyalists. However, it's difficult to imagine one of the Wolverines' most respected coaches blowing smoke for Hoke.
What does Carr have to lose by giving his honest opinion? He, perhaps better than anyone, knows about transition phases. Hoke's staying afloat, but a poor D-line could sink his career in Ann Arbor after 2014.
Another year of mediocrity in the trenches wouldn't be acceptable.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.
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