NCAA Football

Texas Football: Mid-Season Grades for Each Longhorn Positional Unit

Texas enters the second half of its season at 2-4, losing two embarrassing blowouts and close calls apiece.

That's one way of looking at it.

The other would be that the Longhorns played five AP Top 25 teams in their first six games, knocking off No. 10 Oklahoma in Week 6. They play one the rest of the way, and the combined record of their remaining opponents currently stands at 19-18.

That, the 24-17 win in the Red River Rivalry and the fact that this team is coming off a bye will set the Horns up for success in the second half of the season. They're a young team with a redshirt freshman quarterback and a brand-new offense. With all these growing pains behind them, these guys have a chance to do some good things over their final six games.

So while most of these mid-season grades are middling to low, there's improvement in sight.

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The Decline of the Alabama-Tennessee Rivalry

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Standing in the heart of the University of Alabama campus, you wouldn’t know that the “Third Saturday in October” is looming.

RVs are beginning to roll into town, and the Quad is being prepped for mass tailgating, but life goes on around Denny Chimes like it does during every other game week. There’s nothing to indicate that Tennessee will be visiting Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday.

That’s because it isn’t one of college football’s biggest rivalries any more.

“In my lifetime, it’s at its lowest point,” said former Alabama fullback Baron Huber, who has a unique perspective on the Crimson Tide-Volunteers series.

He grew up in Tennessee and at an early age was fed football stories from his grandfather, from Kenny Stabler spiking the ball on fourth down to the murmur in the stands when Paul W. “Bear” Bryant would walk out and lean against the goalpost as his players warmed up.

Huber also participated in some of the games when things were arguably the most intense between fans roughly a decade ago, and it had little to do with what was happening on the field. There were allegations and threats, lawsuits and a criminal conviction of an Alabama booster.

It was football’s version of a modern blood feud.

Yet, it’s slid into the current state of being a big-time rivalry, in name only, despite the stormy history that dates back in Nov. 28, 1901. When the initial game was called due to darkness with the score tied 6-6, spectators rushed the Birmingham field in protest.

That kind of thing was pretty typical in one way or another until Jan. 4, 2007, the day Nick Saban was announced as Alabama’s head coach.

Since then, only one of the eight meetings was close, “Rocky Block” in 2009, when the Volunteers were coached by Lane Kiffin, who is now the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator.

Not only is Alabama a perfect 8-0 in those games, but it has a scoring advantage of 283-95 in points, for an average outcome of 35.4-11.9.

Tennessee has had the lead at the end of a quarter just once, 7-3 after the first quarter in 2010. 

In the 480 minutes of game time, the Vols have been ahead for just 11 minutes and 46 seconds. That works out to 2.45 percent.

During one game, the Tennessee student section wasn’t full, and more often than not the stands have emptied early. The tradition of the winning team lighting up cigars still exists, but last year a security guard in Knoxville yelled at the Crimson Tide players coming out of the locker room about it being a smoke-free area.

Volunteers coach Butch Jones has spoken repeatedly about making the games relevant again, but even if the Volunteers pull off an upset on Saturday, one has to wonder if it would really register as a rivalry win.

The teams don’t play in the same division, don’t recruit against each other like they used to, and about the only thing they have in common is that the athletic directors have ties to the other school.

The only players from Tennessee on the Crimson Tide’s roster are sophomore linebacker Walker Jones (who hails from Memphis, which isn’t exactly Volunteers territory), senior defensive back Jabriel Washington and two walk-ons.

From Alabama, the Volunteers have junior offensive lineman Dontavius Blair and redshirt freshman Gavin Bryant, neither of whom might play on Saturday.

That leaves the two obvious storylines of Kiffin and Tennessee running back Alvin Kamara. Kiffin made his first return to Knoxville last season, and only the media seemed to care, while Kamara, even though he used to be on the Alabama roster, never played in a game for the Crimson Tide and originally hails from Georgia.

Nevertheless, Alabama is favored by more than two touchdowns.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for Tennessee,” Alabama senior quarterback Jake Coker said. “I’ve grown up watching those games, so yeah it means a whole lot.”

But Coker’s view is becoming more of the exception rather than the norm, especially with Alabama recruiting more on a national level.

Consider the comments by his teammates this week and what they said after towing the line and calling it a big rivalry game that’s important to the fanbase.

Running back Derrick Henry: “It's a SEC game. We're going to prepare for this game like we would any other team.”

Defensive end Jonathan Allen: “I didn’t even know there was a winning streak, to be honest with you. That’s the first time I’ve heard about it. I’d like to continue the streak, but that’s not what I’m focused on.”

Senor wide receiver Richard Mullaney, who transferred in from Oregon State, said no one even mentioned the rivalry to him until this week: “There was a story about something in the past. I'm not sure really about it, but I know it's a big game."

That story might have been about Bryant, who played on a broken leg and scored a touchdown against Tennessee as a player, or maybe the undefeated 1934 season when Tennessee coach Gen. Robert Neyland made his famous comment: “You never know what a football player is made of until he plays against Alabama.”

Perhaps it was the story of Bully Van de Graaff, Alabama’s first All-American, who made a lasting impression during the 1913 game. 

“His ear had a real nasty cut, and it was dangling from his head, bleeding badly,” Tennessee lineman Bull Bayer said. “He grabbed his own ear and tried to yank it from his head. His teammates stopped him and the managers bandaged him. Man, was that guy a tough one. He wanted to tear off his own ear so he could keep playing.”

For years, Alabama vs. Tennessee was arguably as intense of a rivalry as any because they were often the two best teams in the Southeastern Conference. To win the league, they had to go through each other, and the games were played with zeal and a sense of desperation.

Everything started to change when the SEC split into divisions, and the intensity carried over with Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer. Crimson Tide fans will never forgive him for feeding the NCAA and Southeastern Conference information and making numerous recruiting accusations against Alabama, which helped lead to NCAA sanctions—followed by the lawsuits, Logan Young trial, etc.

But Fulmer was dismissed Nov. 2, 2008 and resigned the next day. Since then, Tennessee’s on its fourth coach, it hasn’t finished a season ranked in the Top 25, nor been bowl-eligible in three of the last four seasons.

Even if the Volunteers win on Saturday and suddenly surge back as a national power, the rivalry still wouldn’t be the same. As Huber points out, the digital age brought a 24-hour news cycle and a stronger focus on the here and now. Trends come and go with the blink of an eye, and this year’s freshmen were born right around the time Tennessee last won a title.

Consequently, students increasingly view the “Third Saturday in October” as their parents’ rivalry. They can’t relate to Gene Stallings playing “Rocky Top” in the locker room all week long, the scout team wearing orange jerseys or the five-overtime game in 2003 when Alabama’s enrollment was barely 20,000. 

It’s now up to 37,100, with more than half of the students hailing from places where they grow up with other legends, heroes and rivalries.

“It’s 100 percent generational,” Huber said.

The younger the fans, the less it means to them, even though this is one of the matchups the SEC has tried to preserve with the permanent cross-division opponent in the schedule. It’s a concept that appears to be more outdated with each passing year.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted, while the Bull Bayer and Neyland quotes are attributed to 100 Things Crimson Tide Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die, written by the author of this story.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

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The College Recruitment of Russell Wilson

Back in the summer of 2006, a handful of college coaches descended upon the campus of the Collegiate School in Richmond, Virginia, to ask head coach Charles McFall about Russell Wilson.

Wilson was the star quarterback for the Cougars, who were in the middle of a run that would lead to three consecutive state titles, but his dazzling prep resume didn't seem to matter much to the coaches at the next level.

McFall, who served as the head coach at Collegiate from 1986 to 2006, recalls most of them having a similar question for him—one that made him laugh and frustrated him at the same time.

"[College coaches] kept asking, 'Do you think he can play defensive back?'" McFall remembers. "I said, 'Yeah, but he's a quarterback.' Anybody who has ever coached and had somebody who had that type of talent knows what a quarterback is. I told them, 'I never coached in college, and I can't tell you what you need. What I can tell you is what kind of player he is, what kind of person he is. If you talk to any coach who has coached against him, they will tell you too.' [College coaches] were always hung up on the height. Never once questioned arm strength, speed or size. It was always height."

Of course, that same issue has dogged the current Seattle Seahawks Pro Bowl passer throughout his career. However, his habit of proving his doubters wrong began during his career at Collegiate.

In fact, ask anyone familiar with him and his time there, and you're likely to get a story with a common theme: Wilson wasn't your average high school athlete—on or off the field.

One of McFall's favorite stories occurred when Wilson was a ball boy and his older brother played for the Cougars.

"Everybody was crowded around the sideline, and the ref wanted the ball quickly," McFall explains. "I heard the ref yell, 'Get the ball in!' Russell was in either sixth or seventh grade at the time. Next thing I know, that ball went flying across the field and everyone looked around and it was like, 'Wow!' At an early age, he had a really nice arm."

Will O'Brien, who is currently the Associate Athletic Director at Collegiate, was interviewing for the strength coach position back in 2005. Wilson was part of a student panel selected to participate in part of O'Brien's interview process.

"I remember, and none of the ADs told me who this kid is, but I distinctly remember this young man leaning over the table, and he had more questions than anyone else," O'Brien recalls. "It was like, 'Hey, how do I get faster? How do I get stronger? I'm a baseball player and a quarterback. What are the things that I need to do to get better?'"

Wilson made plenty of plays on the field, but his coaches were equally impressed with his leadership skills and work ethic.

Those were the two traits that led McFall to emphatically back his star player and his merits as a quarterback during his recruiting process.

While colleges doubted Wilson's prowess at the game's most important position because of his height, there were other reasons that schools—particularly those in the ACC footprint—hesitated to recruit Wilson.

Since Wilson wasn't a household name in recruiting circles, McFall helped him come up with a plan to attack his recruitment, beginning in the summer of 2006.

"After his junior year, which he had a great year that year, what we decided he needed to do was to pick the schools he was interested in and go to their one-day camps in the summer so they could see him up close," McFall said. "We told him not to waste his money and his time going to schools to visit. He definitely wanted to go somewhere close [to Richmond], so his parents could come and see him. His dad was in poor health at the time."

He had already visited in-state programs Virginia and Virginia Tech. Both schools were interested in Wilson, but only as an athlete who could play another position—preferably defensive back.

That's because both schools also had their eyes on other touted in-state passers.

Virginia had targeted 4-star Peter Lalich, who possessed NFL measurables at 6'5" and 235 pounds and was rated the No. 11 pro-style passer in the 2007 class. Lalich ended up signing with the Cavaliers.

In Blacksburg, Hokies head coach Frank Beamer had his sights set on 5-star Tyrod Taylor, who was billed as the nation's top dual-threat passer.

"[Virginia Tech coaches] were honest and said that they wanted to focus on Tyrod and winning the recruiting wars in the Hampton Roads area," McFall said. "They get a lot of players down there, and they told me they would recruit Russell as an athlete only."

With the lukewarm attention from in-state schools, Wilson identified four other ACC programs—Duke, North Carolina, NC State and Wake Forest—as schools he wanted to camp at.

Curt Cignetti, who is currently the head coach at Division II Indiana University of Pennsylvania, was the recruiting coordinator for the Wolfpack at the time.

While Wilson visited North Carolina first, Cignetti actually was tipped off about his exploits in Chapel Hill prior to his arrival on NC State's campus.

"The first guy that actually brought his name to my attention was my brother, Frank. He's with the Rams now, but he was the [offensive] coordinator at North Carolina at the time, and I was at NC State," Cignetti told Bleacher Report. "[UNC] had him in camp in the summer, and [Frank] loved [Russell]. But they had already taken an early commitment from another kid. He couldn't convince [UNC head coach] John Bunting to take another quarterback. [Frank] told me about him."

McFall remembers hearing about Wilson's performance that day from then-Tar Heels running backs coach Andre Powell, whom he had known for a long time.

As McFall recalls, Powell told him how he and a couple of fellow Tar Heels offensive assistants went into Bunting's office to plead their case as to why Wilson deserved an offer.

But Bunting relented because he already secured a commitment from 4-star quarterback Mike Paulus, a 6'5", 220-pound New York native rated as the nation's No. 7 pro-style passer in 2007. Bunting was leery of adding a second quarterback who could potentially give Paulus second thoughts.

"Russell really gave them a show, but they were a little afraid to offer Russell if Russell didn't sign with them and they lost the other guy," McFall explained.

With the Tar Heels out of the equation, the next stop was at Duke, where Wilson also impressed the coaching staff for the Blue Devils. Unlike the situation in Chapel Hill, there was no hesitation on the part of then-Duke head coach Ted Roof and his staff.

"They offered him on the spot," McFall said.

NC State was the third stop on Wilson's tour of the triangle area in the Tar Heel State.

Armed with the knowledge his brother had given him, Cignetti watched as Wilson dazzled during drills. He saw similar traits that led him to recruit another overlooked passer to Raleigh just a few years earlier.

"[Russell] could really spin the ball. He had what Philip Rivers had," Cignetti said. "He was just a quick decision-maker and a winner. He could beat you with his arm or his legs. Marc Trestman was coaching our quarterbacks then, and Marc loved him. There was no hesitation because of that."

Wilson earned an offer from Wolfpack head coach Chuck Amato and finished his tour at Wake Forest. While he also performed well at the Demon Deacons camp, their staff lost contact with Wilson's camp shortly afterward.

With both NC State and Duke pulling the trigger on offering him, his list quickly condensed to the two Tobacco Road stalwarts.

He returned to Raleigh with his parents shortly afterward. That visit helped seal the deal for both Wilson and the Wolfpack, as he committed shortly before his senior season.

"We knew he was special. He came from a great family," Cignetti said. "His grandfather had been the president, I think, at Norfolk State. His dad was very successful, and so was his mom. He was just extremely alert, intelligent and aware of everything on the field. He was just a natural. He was a great baseball player too."

While other schools were unsure of Wilson's abilities, Cignetti never wavered and took advantage of being one of the few schools to show faith in his potential.

"He was looking for a good place to go, because I'm sure he had been told 'no' by some other people," Cignetti explained. "He was looking for an opportunity."

Cignetti notes that there was still work to be done after Amato got fired after the 2006 season and the school hired Boston College head coach Tom O'Brien to replace him.

"Tom O'Brien came in, and I was retained. Other people started to recruit [Russell], and I kept him committed for us," Cignetti said. "Tom was a little leery because of his height, so I kind of had to sell Tom on how special he was."

Ironically, in part because of O'Brien's stance on not wanting Wilson to play baseball in the spring, Wilson ended up going through the recruiting process a second time as a graduate transfer in the summer of 2011.

McFall recounts getting a phone call from then-Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, who is currently the head coach for the Badgers.

The Badgers were interested in Wilson, but as McFall notes, Chryst made the trek to Richmond to do his due diligence because he "couldn't afford to make a mistake on a one-year guy."

McFall gave Chryst a laundry list of reasons why Wilson could be successful at Wisconsin, highlighted by his maturity, leadership and competitiveness.

Wilson ended up choosing Wisconsin over Auburn, and after three weeks on campus in Madison, McFall remembers getting a text from a giddy Chryst.

"Better than advertised, coach."

Of course, Wilson used a banner senior season with the Badgers as a launching pad for his pro career—where he's continued to defy the odds by becoming one of the elite passers in the NFL and leading the Seahawks to a Super Bowl title in 2013.

However, his journey may have never taken off if not for the belief of his high school head coach, who insisted Wilson could play quarterback at the highest level.

"I think it's a great story as far as recruiting, because it is not an exact science," McFall said. "Russell was one a lot of schools missed the boat on. He's such a competitor, and he's got such a good head on his shoulders. He made a lot of them wish they would have given him a better look."

 

Editor's note: Throughout the 2015 football season, Bleacher Report will continue a series on the college recruitment of today's biggest sports stars. For previous installments, see below:

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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Notre Dame Football: Mid-Season Grades for Each Irish Positional Unit

Finally, after seven weeks and seven season-ending injuries, Notre Dame football gets a reprieve.

The Irish have a bye week and a chance to return home while the university splits for a week-long fall break.

Notre Dame is 6-1, ranked 11th in the country and gearing up for the home stretch with its final five regular-season games.

Before we move ahead, let’s take stock of Notre Dame’s different position groups and assess their performances through these first seven weeks. We’ll judge production in the context of all circumstances, including unexpected injuries. An average performance will be graded a ‘C.’

Let’s get to it.

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Thaddeus Snodgrass to Transfer from Kentucky: Latest Details and Reaction

According to Jennifer Smith of the Herald-Leader (via KentuckySports.com), University of Kentucky wide receiver Thaddeus Snodgrass left the program on Wednesday. 

A redshirt freshman, Snodgrass didn't record a single catch during his time with the Wildcats after he was merely listed as a participant for the last three games.

When asked about his lack of playing time, head coach Mark Stoops told Smith that "there’s some other guys playing and he’s been having his struggles, but we’ll see where that goes."

Snodgrass was a 4-star recruit out of Springfield, Ohio. Of the class of 2014, he was the 15th overall prospect in the state and the 43rd-ranked wide receiver in the country, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. 

He impressed Stoops in the spring, as the coach told Smith: "We really feel like he’s got a bright future. He’s strong and he’s got a lot of upside. He’s a guy we feel like can help us outside, got some deep balls, just needs to be a little bit more consistent."   

Snodgrass is one of a number of Kentucky players who left the program in 2015, per Smith. Cornerback Jaleel Hytchye, linebacker Dorian Hendrix, wide receiver Rashad Cunningham and offensive linemen Josh Krok and Nick Richardson left the Wildcats this season.

According to 247Sports, Snodgrass received offers from 15 other schools, including Ohio State, Michigan State and Notre Dame. It remains to be seen where he will transfer to, but one would have to believe that one of those 15 teams will be in the mix.

 

Stats courtesy of ESPN.com.

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Mike Hughes, M.J. Stewart's Suspensions to Be Lifted by North Carolina

North Carolina Tar Heels head coach Larry Fedora reinstated freshman cornerback Mike Hughes on Wednesday and plans to do the same for sophomore cornerback M.J. Stewart on Sunday, per Aaron Beard of the Associated Press (via the San Diego Union-Tribune).

"Based on everything that I know at this time, it’s the appropriate action," Fedora said when asked why he made his decision, per Greg Barnes of Inside Carolina.

Less than a week ago, he suspended the two players indefinitely following their arrests on Oct. 4. According to WRAL.com, they were involved in a fight at a fraternity house on the University of North Carolina campus. ESPN.com's Jared Shanker reported Stewart was charged with misdemeanor assault/affray and battery, while Hughes was charged with assault with a deadly weapon.    

Neither player has resolved his legal issues, and Fedora admitted he could ultimately discipline the players further depending on the result of their cases, per Barnes.

Stewart has played in five games for the Tar Heels this year, making 20 total tackles, and his three interceptions lead the team. Hughes, meanwhile, has made three total tackles in his five appearances this year.

Hughes will be available to play against the Virginia Cavaliers on Saturday, while Stewart's return will come against the No. 25 Pittsburgh Panthers on Oct. 25.

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Otaro Alaka Injury: Updates on Texas A&M LB's Shoulder and Recovery

The Texas A&M Aggies defense suffered a big blow Tuesday, as head coach Kevin Sumlin confirmed sophomore linebacker Otaro Alaka will miss the rest of the season after suffering elbow and labrum injuries, according to Suzanne Halliburton of the Statesman.

Continue for updates.   

Alaka Will Be Ready for Next Season After Surgery Wednesday, Oct. 21

After an impressive freshman season in 2014 that culminated with Alaka being named Liberty Bowl Defensive MVP, 2015 could have been a breakout campaign for the young linebacker. Instead, his season is over after 12 total tackles in three games. Sumlin talked on Tuesday about the woes his players have gone through this season, per Halliburton.

It’s been a tough time for him. He dislocated an elbow in fall camp, had a serious illness in the family, came back and…had a torn labrum, about three quarters of it. The decision was made to just have him have surgery and he’ll fall under the time frame that we’ll apply for a medical redshirt. I think he’ll get this year back and it’s a time for him to get better mentally and physically. With the surgery being this early, we’ll have the opportunity to get him back for spring ball and we’ll need him.

Sumlin seems positive for now, and it's not like the Aggies have a huge hole to fill considering Alaka had only played sparingly.

However, it's still bad news for a defense that may have been holding out hope for his return. The Aggies defense is only allowing about 19 points per game in SEC play—if you don't count the 21 points scored by the Alabama Crimson Tide defense against Texas A&M last week—and will certainly find a way to move on without its linebacker.

It remains to be seen if Alaka will be awarded the medical redshirt, but it certainly would be a huge lift for the team if he entered next season with three years of eligibility. 

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Ohio State Football: Midseason Grades for Each Buckeyes Positional Unit

Ohio State entered the year as college football's first unanimous preseason No. 1 team in the AP poll, and it was expected to dominate an easy schedule en route to a second appearance in the College Football Playoff.

Seven weeks in, the Buckeyes are undefeated and still No. 1, but they haven't looked as strong as many had anticipated heading into the season.

After opening the season with an impressive-looking 42-24 victory over Virginia Tech on the road, Ohio State looked sluggish and uninspired in victories over Hawaii, Northern Illinois, Western Michigan and Indiana. But the Buckeyes have impressed over the last two weeks in blowout victories over Maryland and Penn State, showing flashes of the dominance that most expected in the preseason.

With things starting to click for Urban Meyer's squad, here's a look at how each unit has performed through the first seven games of the 2015 campaign.

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