NCAA Football

National Signing Day 2015: Buzz and Predictions for Top Recruits

The first week of February is a big week for football, at every level. One can see the long throughline of a football player's career in this time, with the Super Bowl on Sunday and national signing day on Wednesday. 

The Super Bowl turns regular players into heroes and legends. Before they were regular players, they were NFL draft hopefuls. Prior to declaring, they were collegiate stars. Before they became the big men on campus, they were wide-eyed freshmen, redshirting, working the scout team and maybe, just maybe, playing on Saturdays. 

And before that, they were high school phenoms, stressing over which college program they would bet their future on. 

Feb. 4 will see the top uncommitted football recruits finally announce their college decisions, assuaging the fears of some fans and opening up anxieties in others with a few simple words or the donning of a baseball cap emblazoned with their new home's logo.

With a few days until National Signing Day, let's take a look at the final twists and turns in some interesting recruiting sagas and predict where a trio of coveted teenagers will play college ball.

Iman Marshall, CB (No. 4 overall, No. 1 position)

Long thought to be a lock to don a USC cap on national signing day, top-rated cornerback Iman Marshall has been the subject of a late-stage recruiting frenzy, with illustrious programs such as Michigan, Florida State and LSU making late overtures.

Marshall had positive things to say about all three schools, highlighting key aspects of each school that illustrate the difficulty of the choice ahead of him.

"At Florida State, the football atmosphere and the coaching staff is great," he said, via ESPN Insider's Erik McKinney. "At Michigan, the networking and the new coaching hire. And LSU, that's DB U." 

However, there is one top-tier program that has Marshall on its wish list but could be out of the running. According to ESPN's Craig Haubert, Marshall decided to cancel a late visit to Oregon:

With so many top programs to choose from, it makes sense that Marshall is trying to simplify things before he makes his announcement—scheduled for 4 p.m. ET on Feb. 4, for those interested.

The Long Beach Poly product is the type of player who can make an immediate impact on campus with his strong frame (6'1", 190 lbs) and undeniable athleticism. Marshall racked up 79 tackles and 16 passes defensed as a senior in 2014. 

UCLA and USC are still in the running apparently, with the Trojans perhaps the favorite to win the local kid over. According to 247 Sports' Crystal Ball predictions, 98 percent of experts polled see Marshall heading to Southern California. That's an outsized level of confidence for such a highly recruited player, but USC showed this past year there is room for true freshmen to compete should they prove themselves worthy.

With Marcus Mariota leaving Oregon and Brett Hundley leaving UCLA, there could be a bit of a power vacuum in the Pac-12. Look for Marshall to stay close to home and commit to USC.

Prediction: USC Trojans


Daylon Mack, DT (No. 14 overall, No. 4position)

Daylon Mack, a bruising Texas high school football product through and through, is deciding among some of the top programs in the Lone Star State.

At 6'0" and 330 pounds, you could theoretically line Mack up against some NFL squads, and he would hardly look out of place.

The wide-bodied mauler racked up 17 sacks and a staggering 89 tackles for loss in three varsity seasons at Gladewater (Texas). He also moonlighted as perhaps the most terrifying prep fullback in the nation his senior year, rushing for 264 yards and 12 touchdowns. 

Texas A&M, TCU and Texas all appear to be contenders for Mack's signature, but the Horned Frogs may have slipped in the race, per ESPN's Gerry Hamilton: 

They could still very well be in the running, but the canceled visit doesn't bode well for the program. The Aggies also have to be quite nervous considering Mack was a former commit before re-opening the process in recent months.

Apparently, Mack has already made up his mind, per his Twitter account:

Maybe his Twitter account has a potential clue. Let's take a look:

I think he's trying to tell us something. Charlie Strong's commitment to the Longhorns program will sway the young lineman, and Texas fans will be delighted watching the young man wear burnt orange in the coming years.

Prediction: Texas Longhorns


K.J. Hill, WR (No. 152 overall, No. 16 position)

Urban Meyer and Nick Saban's storied rivalry isn't limited to furious gridiron battles and championship contests. With Meyer running Ohio State and Saban presiding over Alabama, it's of little surprise that the two men will fight for the same prep recruits from time to time.

The latest such example is the saga of wide receiver prospect K.J. Hill, a 4-star player who was thought to be heading to Arkansas but could now very well end up a Buckeye or member of the Crimson Tide.

247 Sports' Trevor Hewett has the latest on the young wideout:

On Wednesday night, Nick Saban and wide receivers coach Billy Napier had an in-home visit with North Little Rock (Ark.) four-star wide receiver and top Tide target K.J. Hill and his family. The 6-foot, 188-pounder recently decommitted from Arkansas following his official visit with the Tide earlier this month.

Arkansas is a program on the rise, but it's hard to beat the allure of Alabama, where SEC and national championships are expected instead of merely aspired to. 

However, Ohio State isn't out of the running, although it could be a long shot as's Ari Wasserman noted: "Ohio State hosted Hill for an official visit last weekend, but the Buckeyes are still seemingly on the outside looking in for the 6-foot, 188-pound prospect. A former Arkansas commit, Hill is very high on Alabama and is officially visiting the Razorbacks this weekend."

A national championship is a nice asset to flaunt when persuading young recruits. Ohio State could have a very real shot at landing Hill if he's looking for programs that can virtually guarantee success in the coming years—a reassurance the Razorbacks cannot provide after a 7-6 season.

The rousing success of wideout Amari Cooper and his departure to the NFL ranks make the Crimson Tide a uniquely compelling destination for a top wideout. Cooper racked up 124 receptions in 2014. The next-best player in that category was DeAndrew White, who racked up 40 catches, a relatively meager sum.

As an Arkansas kid, Hill knows all about the allure and power of the SEC. Look for him to take his collegiate chances with this hard-nosed conference and give Saban at least one small victory over Meyer this winter.

Prediction: Alabama Crimson Tide

Composite rankings, stats, recruiting info and measurements courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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15 Best Returning College Football Players You've Likely Never Heard of

Top players from college football's power conferences are often showered with compliments, and rightfully so in many cases. The Group of Five boasts a solid collection of talent, however, and those stars are widely overlooked.

NFL-bound contributors Jay Ajayi and Jacoby Glenn might be recognized on the national landscape, but casual followers of the NCAA often don't know the small-school superstars. So that's where Bleacher Report comes in.

To qualify, a player must be returning for the 2015 season and have represented a school that competes in the American Athletic, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West or Sun Belt conferences—as well as FBS independents—in 2014.

With that being said, we excluded all Notre Dame players because the program is a national brand.

While the list is organized alphabetically by school, notable factors used to determine inclusion are individual production, all-conference honors, national awards and expectations for 2015.

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Tavares Chase to Clemson: Tigers Land 4-Star WR Prospect

The Clemson Tigers added another weapon to their passing game for the 2016 season.

Wide receiver Tavares Chase, a 4-star prospect, revealed that he's headed to "Death Valley," per Paul Strelow of

According to 247Sports' composite rankings, Chase is the 32nd-best wideout for 2016 and 137th-best player overall. The Plant City, Florida, star is also the top-ranked player committed to Clemson's '16 recruiting class so far.'s Derek Tyson sees Chase having a big impact for the Tigers:

While he's still far from a finished product, it's easy to see why Chase is such a highly regarded recruit. He may not be a track star in terms of speed, but he has more than enough to succeed at the FBS level. Chase's agility and acceleration will also help him create separation from his defender in tight spaces.

The area where Chase needs the most work is his route running. He's proficient enough to excel in high school, but college will be a different story.

At this time, his lack of top-end speed somewhat limits his ceiling, which could be the difference between being an All-ACC-caliber player and an All-American.

Chase will have at least one year of Deshaun Watson as his quarterback, which would give the Tigers a lethal aerial combo.

Dabo Swinney has had a lot of success at Clemson since taking over in 2008. He hasn't yet gotten the school over the top, though. Securing commitments from players like Chase will help rectify that problem.

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SEC Football: Each Team's Most Loaded Position Group for 2015

In an ideal world, every SEC team would prefer to have the same amount of balance and depth at every position, both offensively and defensively. It doesn't happen that way, though, thanks to injuries, graduation, early NFL departures and recruiting.

Instead, what more often happens is that teams end up looking OK in most areas but really good in a few others. Not surprisingly, those loaded positions tend to determine how those teams will fare.

Taking a look at the SEC rosters as they sit now, including the expected arrivals of recruits who are set to sign on Wednesday, we've identified a position group that each school can be proud of. It might not be the team's best unit, but it is the one with the least depth-related questions.

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Courtney Lark to TCU: Horned Frogs Land 4-Star WR Prospect

TCU's ascent to national relevance in 2014 is continuing to pay dividends. Courtney Lark, a 4-star receiver out of Bellaire (Texas) High School, committed to the Horned Frogs on Saturday, spurning offers from Baylor and Nebraska among others.

Gerry Hamilton of ESPN reported the news:

TCU was a bit of an upset choice given expert predictions. 247Sports' crystal ball gave Lark a 62 percent chance of committing to Baylor, with Oklahoma coming in second place at 25 percent. None of the predictions listed went TCU's direction.

Lark is considered the No. 78 recruit in the nation and 11th-best receiver in the Class of 2016, according to 247Sports composite rankings. Listed at 6'1" and 170 pounds, Lark has excellent hands and has become an increasingly solid big-play threat. He made 58 receptions for 1,138 yards and 16 touchdowns as a junior.

While he'll need to bulk up to withstand Big 12 punishment, Lark is yet another coup in what's becoming a landmark class for Gary Patterson. Lark's signing moves the Horned Frogs up to No. 7 on 247Sports' Class of 2016 rankings, fifth-highest among schools with seven or fewer recruits. Patterson has inked four 4-star recruits already, double the number from his 2015 group.

With a 12-1 season in the books, a number of players returning and reinforcements like Lark on the way, the future in Fort Worth is sure looking bright.


Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

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Tennessee Football: 4 Commits Who Will Start a Game in 2015 for the Vols

The Tennessee Volunteers are on pace to welcome another top-five recruiting class Wednesday, when their non-early enrollees sign letters of intent to spend their college careers in Knoxville.

If head coach Butch Jones' impressive 2014 class was the foundation for restoring Rocky Top to its former glory, the 2015 class is the mortar that holds that foundation together.

One of the perks of being a highly rated recruit in last year's class was the sheer number of opportunities to see the field right away. In fact, players like Jalen Hurd, Von Pearson, Jashon Robertson, Derek Barnett and Ethan Wolf have all locked down starting spots heading into 2015.

However, that doesn't mean the class of 2015 will be relegated to merely providing depth next season. As good as the 2014 class is, there are still some holes in Tennessee's roster that can immediately be filled by this year's new crop of signees.

Here are four current commits or enrollees who have great chances of landing atop the depth chart in the 2015 season.

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Is Ole Miss 2015 Recruiting Class in Danger of Last-Minute Collapse?

Ole Miss managed to assemble another impressive recruiting class during the 2015 cycle, but the Rebels suddenly appear at risk of watching things unravel as national signing day nears.

Head coach Hugh Freeze, hosting a collection of prospects during the final weekend of official visits, received some disheartening news Friday evening. Leo Lewis, the nation's No. 1 inside linebacker, decommitted from Ole Miss during the first day of his stay at LSU:

The 4-star prospect, listed 63rd overall in 247Sports' composite rankings, will presumably end up with an SEC rival—signing with either the Tigers or Mississippi State.

The loss of Lewis, long considered a paramount in-state prospect, puts a damper on the program's final push toward signing day.

His departure from the Rebels' class could potentially be the first domino to fall in a series of negative developments. 

"Priority No. 1 was keeping its top 100 commits committed," wrote Riley Bevins of The Clarion-Ledger. "Priority No. 1 won't be accomplished, at least not completely."

Freeze must also face the fact that two more of his top recruits are currently being fawned over at foreign campuses. 

Drew Richmond, a Memphis product rated third nationally among offensive tackles, is spending time at Tennessee:

Fellow 4-star commit Van Jefferson, a Georgia receiver who joined the class just last week, leaped at the chance to visit Michigan following a late offer from the Wolverines:

It isn't uncommon for committed players to explore other collegiate opportunities down the stretch, but when three foundational members of a class are looking elsewhere the situation becomes a bit scary. 

Lewis has already been lost, while situations with Richmond and Jefferson seem tenuous at best.

"Jefferson had to convince his dad, who was against his son going to Ole Miss, to be on board with his decision," Bevins wrote, casting further doubt on the pass-catcher's potential of landing in Oxford.

It's worth noting that Mr. Jefferson spent eight seasons in Michigan serving as an assistant coach with the Detroit Lions. 

Tennessee, meanwhile, has never cooled on Richmond. Not even when he spurned the Volunteers for Ole Miss at his September signing day ceremony. 

He is Butch Jones' top priority at this point and would punctuate a sensational class for the rising SEC East squad.

The Rebels currently hold 17 commitments in a class rated 17th nationally in 247Sports' composite rankings. Big additions could be on the way—notably 5-star Florida defensive end CeCe Jefferson and 4-star Texas wide receiver Damarkus Lodge—but at this juncture it's just as important to hold onto what you already have in a class.

Lewis is out of the equation, and that hurts. If Jefferson and Richmond both join him by jumping off the bandwagon, the sting could become unbearable in Oxford on signing day.


Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Notre Dame Football: Should the Irish Run More in 2015?

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — From start to finish in its 31-28 victory over LSU in the Music City Bowl, Notre Dame football featured a run-based offense directed by quarterbacks Malik Zaire and Everett Golson.

In total, the Irish rumbled 51 times for 263 yards and three touchdowns, boasting a grueling ground game against the Tigers.

For some Irish fans, it raised a recurring question: Why doesn’t Notre Dame do that—gash teams with a sustained running attack—more often? Irish head coach Brian Kelly was asked after the game if a run-heavy offense can be Notre Dame’s identity moving forward.

“We had to have a game plan for today,” he said. “We know what we have with both quarterbacks. ... We’re going to continue to utilize [Zaire’s] strength. He’s a very good runner of the football.”

The game plan certainly worked against LSU. But should Notre Dame run the ball more in 2015? Let’s start with the data.

Kelly is 34-5 in his five seasons at Notre Dame when the Irish rush for more yards than their opponent.

Before the Florida State game in October, Notre Dame had compiled a streak of 26 consecutive games in which it did not lose when it tallied at least 30 rushing attempts.

Notre Dame is 33-3 since the start of the 2002 season when it gains at least 200 rushing yards.

Compelling evidence? Maybe. But not so fast.

Of course, such rushing statistics can easily be skewed in many cases, as teams that are leading—comfortably or not—may choose to run more and milk the clock.

We’ll analyze the run-pass breakdowns of other elite teams across the country in comparison to that of Notre Dame, bearing in mind that such successful teams could be more likely to run when leading.

Of the Top 10 teams in the final AP poll, nine averaged more rushing attempts per game than Notre Dame, per Only Florida State, with Jameis Winston leading the offense, rushed less than the Irish.

Viewed through another prism, Notre Dame had a fairly even run-pass balance in 2014. The Irish ran on 49.64 percent of their plays. Eight of the Top 10 teams in the nation rushed more often than Notre Dame, per

Again, it bears repeating that correlation doesn’t necessarily imply causation here. These teams aren’t necessarily winning because they’re running more.

So sliced another way, we can consider Notre Dame’s propensity to run the ball on first down throughout the season. Running on first down could be indicative of Kelly’s commitment to the ground game on any given Saturday.

Clearly, Kelly was committed to running the ball against the Tigers, opting for the ground on more than 80 percent of the team’s first downs. Notre Dame also remained committed against Navy and piled up 218 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 39 carries. Against North Carolina too, the Irish eclipsed the 200-yard mark with a 216-yard showing to go along with four scores on the ground.

Finally, we’ll try to somewhat control the numbers here for winning and losing by large margins. For each game in 2014, we’ll compare Notre Dame’s percentage of rushing plays in the first half with that ratio for the entire game. In theory, the game plan is more likely to still be intact in the first half and the run-pass breakdown is less likely to be skewed by the score of the game.

A look at the numbers shows Notre Dame never really relied on the run against USC. And even though the Trojans put up a quick 35 points before the Irish really settled in, it’s worth noting that Notre Dame dialed up just two runs in its first 10 plays while the game remained scoreless. The Irish also went into games against Syracuse, Stanford and North Carolina with more of a pass-happy approach.

No statistic is perfect here when analyzing the rushing game, and it’s difficult to determine cause and effect with choices that have so many variables.

The shape of Notre Dame’s offense in 2015 is still to be determined. Once the quarterback position is settled, Kelly could have a better idea of his plan. Zaire certainly appeared more comfortable running the zone read in his extended work against USC and LSU, and running backs Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant will be talented juniors.

It worked against LSU. Can it work for a full season?

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

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National Signing Day 2015: Top Uncommitted Recruits to Watch

As Ohio State held up the national championship trophy following the inaugural College Football Playoff, it was little wonder how it reached that mountain top—the recruiting of coach Urban Meyer

Meyer’s 2013 class alone included critical championship contributors such as Ezekiel Elliott, Joey Bosa, J.T. Barrett, Vonn Bell, Jalin Marshall, Eli Apple, Dontre Wilson and Darron Lee, among others.

Meyer and the rest of the coaches across the country understand that effective recruiting is the lifeblood of college football and the only way to build a roster capable of winning national titles. The groundwork for future championships will be built on national signing day on Wednesday, Feb. 4.

While many of the nation’s top players have already pledged their talents to various schools, there are still some uncommitted “free agents”—if you will—whom fans should keep their eyes on. Here are a few.


Terry Beckner Jr., DT, East St. Louis, IL

Defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr. checks in as a 5-star recruit on 247Sports’ composite rankings and is considering the likes of Missouri, Ohio State, Auburn and Florida State.

Beckner may be 6’4” and 293 pounds, but he has incredible athleticism for a defensive tackle that jumps out right away when watching him play.

TJ Gaynor of Sporting News passed along his own glowing evaluation of that athleticism and playmaking ability:

One play. That's all it took. Watching Beckner Jr. sniff out a slow screen, deflect the ball out of mid-air to himself, then glide effortlessly to paydirt before delivering a nasty forearm shiver to the opposing QB all in one motion was all it took for this evaluator to see how special this powerhouse one-gap penetrator may become at the next level. This young man has been blessed with rare athletic gifts for a player of his size.

The scary thing about Beckner is the power behind that athleticism and speed. When he gets running downhill, he is nearly impossible to block and can stuff the running game up the middle with powerful hits.

Many defensive tackles are effective simply by occupying two blockers at once to open up the defensive ends on the pass rush, but Beckner is the rare talent who can occupy those two blockers and then break through them in one motion.

That type of raw skill translates well to the next level, and he already has the size to slide in to a defensive line rotation right away.

Missouri is the more local school among those interested and is the crystal ball leader in the clubhouse on his 247Sports profile. However, don’t underestimate the ability of Meyer to close on the recruiting trail or Auburn to swoop in as an SEC option that has won a national title within the past five years. 

The mere thought of Beckner and Bosa on the defensive line for the Buckeyes next year should be rather worrisome for the rest of the Big Ten.


Byron Cowart, DE, Seffner, FL

Byron Cowart is a 5-star defensive end on 247Sports’ composite rankings and is listed at 6’4” and 250 pounds. Florida, Alabama, Florida State, Auburn and Maryland are all among the schools interested in landing Cowart, but he appears to have narrowed the list to two schools, via Derek Tyson of ESPN.

"I would have to say, just to be honest, Auburn and Florida are my top two schools," Cowart said. "I have to keep it professional—I have to. Who knows, you see coaches and they go into the league, and when it’s time for you to get drafted, you don’t want to have a bad name."

That is great news for the Gators and Tigers.

It is often speed and pure athleticism that jumps out about defensive end prospects, especially at the high school level where faster players can simply blow past slower blockers around the edge. However, Cowart brings incredible power to the table, which helps him bull rush his way to the quarterback and levy a shattering hit when he gets there.

Don’t worry, the speed is there, too, especially for someone his size. That helps him chase ball-carriers down in the open field and make an impact against the running game when he is not pulverizing quarterbacks.

College offenses have been warned.


Iman Marshall, CB, Long Beach, CA

Iman Marshall is a 5-star cornerback on 247Sports’ composite rankings and checks in at 6’1” and 190 pounds. USC appears to be the heavy favorite, with Florida State just kind of hovering hoping for a late change of mind.

Ultimately, Marshall is choosing between staying close to home at USC and traveling across the country to play for Florida State. While that drastic of a move from home would be appealing to some college-aged children, Marshall has to decide for himself.

There is very little Marshall cannot do from the cornerback position. He spent much of his high school career playing on a man-to-man island, which is a critical skill at the next level that many corners are incapable of executing.

His athleticism and speed prevent him from getting burned on the fly route, and he has excellent ball skills when the pass is in the air. That could lead to some interceptions right away, especially when he uses his physicality to bracket the wide receiver and get to the pass first. 

Marshall also brings some versatility to the table and can return punts and kicks, which will likely help him see the field right away as a freshman, be it at USC or Florida State.


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