NCAA Football

Pat Haden to Retire as USC Athletic Director: Latest Comments and Reaction

The University of Southern California announced Friday that athletic director Pat Haden is going to retire from the position effective June 30. USC president C. L. Max Nikias passed along the news in a letter to the school community ...

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Big 12 Teams Most Likely to Start True Freshmen in 2016

With national signing day over, the rosters for 2016 are about 99 percent set. Now comes the true offseason when two-deeps are formed, crumpled up, thrown in the trash and then drawn back up. (And then the process is repeated again. Probably a few times.)

With high school football and summer camps creating a year-round sport, incoming freshmen are more prepared than ever to play, and in some cases start, right away. In the following slides are the teams most likely to start key 2016 signees next season. 

The reality is every Big 12 program will play some freshmen—and it's hardly alone in that, too—so where's the fun in projecting that? Rather, we're taking a look at teams that are most likely to start multiple first-year players, whom we identify as well, from Week 1 based on talent and depth-chart needs. 

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Pat Narduzzi Comments on James Conner's Battle with Hodgkin Lymphoma

Pittsburgh Panthers running back James Conner was one of the shining stars in college football when he won the 2014 ACC Player of the Year, but his world drastically changed in 2015 when he announced he was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma. Pittsburgh received promising news Friday, and its coach reportedly expects the running back to return in 2016. 

Jared Shanker of ESPN confirmed Pat Narduzzi believes Conner will take the field in 2016 and passed along this quote from the coach:

Conner was one of the best running backs in the country in 2014 and tallied 1,765 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns. He started the 2015 season in a promising way with 77 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the season opener against Youngstown State, but he injured his MCL and missed the rest of the campaign.

He announced he had Hodgkin lymphoma in December and was optimistic about the future at the time in a press release (via Matt Fortuna of ESPN.com): "I will play football again. I will be at Heinz Field again. I have the best coaches and teammates in the country. I thank God I chose Pitt because now I also have the best doctors in the country, and together we will win. I know this city has my back."

Narduzzi also pledged the support of the football team, via Fortuna:

Know this: James Conner will not face this challenge alone. We are all going to be right beside him every step of the way. And the day that he is declared cancer free, we will all celebrate like we do after one of his patented touchdown runs. James has never backed down from an opponent, and we all know this is a battle he will win.

Jerry DiPaola of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review noted in January Conner “reacted well” to the majority of the chemotherapy treatments and was already back in the Pittsburgh weight room at times.

Andrea Adelson of ESPN.com provided another update and said Conner wouldn’t participate in spring practice but “is targeting a September return.”

The Panthers play Penn State, Oklahoma State and North Carolina in September, so it would be a major boost if they added a game-changing running back to the mix during a daunting portion of their schedule.

If Conner does return, it will be another success story in football for a player dealing with this disease. Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in 2014, and all he did was make the Pro Bowl this season as an enforcer on the back end of the defense.

The Panthers do have some pieces to fill in for Conner until he is back.

Qadree Ollison played admirably in Conner’s absence in 2015 and topped the 1,000-yard mark with 1,121 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns in his freshman season. It is only natural to expect further development with a year of experience under his belt at the collegiate level, and he will certainly be ready to tote the rock until Conner is back (and share the backfield when that happens).

Darrin Hall was another freshman back for the Panthers last season who tallied 257 rushing yards and two touchdowns and adds important depth to the backfield.

Pittsburgh improved from 6-7 in 2014 to 8-5 in Narduzzi’s first season and reached the Military Bowl. The team could be even stronger and continue that ascension in 2016, especially if Conner joins an already talented running back group.  

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Big Ten Teams Most Likely to Start True Freshmen in 2016

National signing day is in the books for 2016, and the Big Ten has added a new crop of talent to its core for the coming years.

Overall, it was an impressive day for the conference, with two top-five classes and five top-25 finishes in the 247Sports' national rankings.

Some players will wait longer to develop, while other true freshmen will make an instant impact in the 2016 season. Much of that will be based on the specific needs of each team and the ability of its true freshmen to contribute immediately.

When it comes to the Big Ten, 2016 should be an interesting year, as several of the league's high-profile teams may need to count on true freshmen at one point or another. With that in mind, let's take a look at the Big Ten teams that are most likely to start their recently signed players in 2016.

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2017 4-Star OG Netori Johnson Tweets Decommitment from Alabama

Just two days after closing with yet another No. 1 recruiting class, Alabama's 2017 class is already shifting with a decommitment from 4-star offensive guard Netori Johnson.

On Friday, Johnson tweeted a message stating he was opening up his recruitment again, although Alabama would continue to be one of his top schools:

The 4-star offensive guard from Cedar Grove High School in Ellenwood, Georgia, had been committed to Alabama since receiving an offer from the Crimson Tide at a camp last June.

Johnson, a 6'5" and 330-pound junior, is currently rated as the nation's No. 5 offensive guard and No. 121 overall recruit. He was Alabama's fifth-highest-rated commitment for the 2017 class, which is currently ranked No. 2 behind Ohio State.

The news of Johnson's decommitment from the Crimson Tide is a good sign for SEC rivals Auburn and Georgia, who are said to be among his new leaders.

Half of Johnson's four "crystal ball" predictions at 247Sports have him staying in state with the Bulldogs this time next year. 

New Georgia coach Kirby Smart told reporters Wednesday that the offensive line would be a high priority for the Bulldogs in the 2017 class after missing out on several key targets in this past cycle.

"When you go to the offensive line, it's not exactly what we want," Smart said, per Edward Aschoff of ESPN.com. "We want some offensive tackles. If you say what's the number one need going into 2017, it's offensive tackles is what we need. That's the most deficient area on our front."

Although Johnson is listed as a guard on 247Sports, he has the size and the ability to play offensive tackle at the next level.

According to Keith Niebuhr of 247Sports, Auburn could be considered the new No. 1 school for Johnson, who visited the Plains last weekend and said the Tigers "were his No. 2" behind Alabama.

Johnson was high school teammates with 2016 4-star defensive tackle Antwuan Jackson, who enrolled early with the Tigers. He also met new Auburn offensive line coach Herb Hand, formerly of Penn State.

"One, they have one of my players," Johnson said, per Niebuhr. "My coaches like the school and have a great connection. So I’m really liking Auburn night now."

A team outside the SEC that could become a major factor in this 2017 offensive lineman's recruitment is none other than Michigan.

Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh visited Johnson on Jan. 25 and offered him a scholarship, giving him 15 total offers from FBS programs. 

"I'm definitely interested in Michigan," Johnson said, per Steve Lorenz of 247Sports. "I find them to be a very great school and a very great football program. ... Coach Harbaugh is the one who offered me, and I already know he is a great coach that knows how to produce and win games."

Like Auburn, Michigan also has a former Cedar Grove teammate of Johnson's set to join its roster—2016 3-star inside linebacker signee Elysee Mbem-Bosse.

 

Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Justin Ferguson is a college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

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5-Star Tide Signee Ben Davis 'Shooting For' Father's Alabama Tackles Record

Ben Davis was diligent on the recruiting trail but ultimately found no alternative worth passing on a legacy opportunity at Alabama.

"I went with my heart," the nation's No. 1 overall linebacker recruit told Bleacher Report.

Davis committed to the Crimson Tide on national signing day, following his father's footsteps to Tuscaloosa. He declared those intentions Wednesday morning during a ceremony at Gordo High School in Alabama:

Davis, a 6'3", 240-pound prospect, considered several universities during an expansive recruitment process, displaying perhaps more reciprocated interest elsewhere than many anticipated. His dad, Wayne Davis, is Alabama's all-time tackles leader, recording 327 during a career that spanned 1983 through 1986.

That personal tie with the program provides extra incentive to pile up big plays in Tuscaloosa.

"He's got a great record there, but I'll be shooting for it. I'm gonna try to bust it," Davis said. "I won't be thinking about it. I'm just going to ball out, work hard, and if it happens, it happens. It'd be pretty cool. I'm gonna try to break it."

Davis racked up 119 tackles and seven touchdown receptions in 2015, according to Joey Chandler of the Tuscaloosa News, earning MVP honors at the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic. He was also a finalist for the Butkus Award, which is annually handed out to America's premier high school linebacker.

Despite official visits to Auburn, Georgia, LSU and Notre Dame, national recruiting analysts pegged Davis as a 100 percent Crimson Tide lock in his 247Sports Crystal Ball. The decision wasn't nearly that simple, according to Nick Saban's newest blue-chip defender.

"I was really sweating it between Alabama and Auburn," Davis said. "I had such a great visit to Auburn last weekend, but I just woke up and went with my heart."

He didn't finalize a choice until the morning of national signing day, notifying defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and assistant Bo Davis prior to sharing his intentions with a national television audience. He spoke with Saban afterward.

"He's ready to get me down to Tuscaloosa and coach me," Davis said. "It seems like he's already ready for next season. Very business-like, which is what I like. He knows what it takes to win, and I'm ready to be part of the process."

Rated No. 10 among all 2016 recruits in composite rankings, he was considered one of the most coveted uncommitted athletes entering national signing day. Hours after his announcement, fellow in-state 5-star linebacker and Butkus Award finalist Lyndell "Mack" Wilson also signed with the Crimson Tide over Georgia.

Davis and Wilson are close friends and often discussed the possibility of pairing up throughout this process. That plan came to fruition, providing Alabama with a 10-star linebacker duo that helped propel the program to a sixth straight No. 1 recruiting class in composite rankings.

"We talked about it a lot during the past year. We work together in a special way, and we're really like brothers," Davis said. "Our families have bonded, and it kind of feels like family. He and I can help continue a great linebacker tradition at Alabama."

Based on conversations with the Crimson Tide coaching staff, Davis expects to begin his collegiate career at inside linebacker. He will enroll at the university in June.

"Our class can help create another dynasty. But we've got to come in, work hard and strive to be great. It's all about getting better every day and pushing for a national championship," he said.

Coaching staffs across the country invested significant effort in an attempt to sever Davis' ties with the school his father attended. After years of surveying his options, the lauded linebacker officially feels right at home with Alabama.

"My dad was very excited. It means a lot to be able to do this," Davis said. "I get to play the game that I love and continue a legacy at Alabama."

Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake.

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Why Alabama Had the Best Recruiting Class on National Signing Day

On January 11, the University of Alabama declared itself as the national champion in a 45-40 victory over Clemson in the College Football Playoff.

Less than a month later, the Crimson Tide were at it again. This time, on national signing day.

This past Wednesday, high school seniors and junior college transfers committed their futures to a university to play football at the collegiate level. Since 2011, Alabama has not had a recruiting class rank lower than fourth and has had the top recruiting class in the nation for the second time in the past three years, according to Scout.com

The Crimson Tide closed Wednesday by signing 5-star linebacker Ben Davis, 5-star linebacker Mack Wilson and 4-star cornerbacks Jared Mayden and Shyheim Carter on national signing day to vault themselves to the top of the table.

Alabama was able to land seven top-100 players including three 5-star recruits, 16 4-star recruits and six 3-star recruits for a total of 25 signees.

Although it did finish No. 1 at the end of signing day, going into Wednesday, however, Alabama wasn’t the top-ranked class.

Or in the top five, for that matter.

Head coach Nick Saban’s team barely cracked the top 10, holding onto the No. 9 spot, according to ESPN, before Wednesday’s turnaround. Even though ESPN has Florida State as its No. 1-ranked recruiting class, Alabama signed more impact players who could one day carry on the tradition of winning national championships:

 

SIGNEES

Ben Davis LB, 5-star

Lyndell Wilson LB, 5-star

B.J. Emmons RB, 4-star

Nigel Knott CB, 4-star

Shyheim Carter CB, 4-star

Raekwon Davis DT, 4-star

Scott Lashley T, 4-star

Kendell Jones DT, 4-star

Trevon Diggs ATH, 4-star

Jared Mayden CB, 4-star

Quinnen Williams DT, 4-star

Deonte Brown G, 4-star

Terrell Hall DL, 4-star

Aaron Robinson CB, 3-star

Joshua Jacobs RB, 3-star

Jamar King DE, 3-star

Irvin Smith, TE, 3-star

 

EARLY ENROLLEES

Jonah Williams T, 5-star

Charles Baldwin T, 4-star

Jalen Hurts QB, 4-star

Chris Owens G, 4-star

Miller Forristall TE, 3-star

T.J. Simmons WR, 3-star

Shawn Jennings ATH, 3-star

Christian Bell, DE, 3-star (2015 grayshirt).

Getting Wilson's signature was one of Alabama's best commits in this class, and it didn't hurt that he had one of the best commitment videos either. 

Michigan signed the nation's top player and No. 1 defensive tackle Rashan Gary even with Alabama in the hunt for his signature, but the Crimson Tide were able to reinforce their defensive line with the likes of 4-star defensive end Terrell Hall, who will give Saban and his defense a solid backup behind Jonathan Allen. 

Coming off a national championship, the Crimson Tide didn't need much to show that they'll be around for the foreseeable future, and it just goes to show how Saban and his coaching staff continue to dominate on the field and off of it. 

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Tee Higgins Decommits from Tennessee: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

Less than five months after committing to the University of Tennessee, football and basketball star Tee Higgins has decided to reopen his recruiting. 

Higgins made the announcement Thursday on his official Twitter account, adding that he's not ruling Tennessee out:

Higgins originally committed to Tennessee in August, explaining the process to Mike Blackerby of the Knoxville News Sentinel: “I talked to Coach Jones and told him I’ve got some news. It (UT) is right in my backyard and my family can come watch me play. I was just ready to commit.”

It was a boon for Vols head coach Butch Jones, as Higgins is a 4-star prospect, the seventh-ranked wide receiver and the No. 39 overall prospect in the 2017 class, according to 247Sports' composite rankings.

Higgins is also the third-ranked player in the state of Tennessee, so keeping one of the best talents in-state could only help Jones. While Higgins isn't taking the Volunteers off his board entirely, this is a nervous time for the program. 

Making matters even more tense in Tennessee is that Higgins attended Clemson's junior day last weekend, per Cory Fravel of 247Sports.

The defending ACC champion Tigers are ranked second on 247Sports' Crystal Ball predictions for Higgins, garnering 31 percent of the vote. Those results have not yet been updated to reflect his decision, but it certainly appears as if Clemson is making noise. 

Richard Daugherty of 1340 WKGN in Knoxville noted that there is a precedent for Jones to entice players back who have decommitted during the recruiting process:

Considering that Higgins has one full year before national signing day, he is under no pressure to make a decision right now. 

His having more time to think about his best interests, both on the field and in the classroom, will be better for all parties involved. 

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Houston Coaches Parody Scene from Office Space After National Signing Day

Since national signing day is over, the Houston coaching staff no longer needs to keep the ol' fax machine around.

So, some coaches and a member of the Cougars administration went all Office Space on it (Warning: Link contains NSFW language).

Head coach Tom Herman, assistant athletic director Fernando Lovo and director for football sports performance Yancy McKnight brought a bat out to the field and went to town.

That’s how it's done.

[YouTube]

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Big 12 Commissioner Comments on Likelihood of Championship Game in 2016

Despite many calls for the contrary, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said Thursday it is "unlikely" the conference will add a championship game by next season, according to Jake Trotter of ESPN.com.

Bowlsby indicated that any major decisions on the matter would not come for at least a few more months, per George Schroeder of USA Today:

Because it only houses 10 schools, the Big 12 isn’t required to conduct a conference title game. Instead, it relies on regular-season conference standings. Title tiebreakers are determined by head-to-head scheduling and Top 25 rankings under the conference's current round-robin format that pits all 10 teams against each other one time.    

On Jan. 13, the Division I council adopted a proposal that would allow conferences with fewer than 12 members to hold championship games pitting the top two teams in the standings against each other. 

The move was clearly geared to accommodate the Big 12, as it's the lone Power Five conference that doesn’t hold a conference championship game. 

Yet despite the rule change, Bowlsby was noncommittal on if the Big 12 would implement a title game at the end of the regular season, courtesy of Max Olson of ESPN.com: 

I appreciate that what was acted upon today takes into account our unique 10-team, full round-robin scheduling model. However, this vote does not automatically mean the Big 12 will implement a football championship game. 

Our membership will continue to analyze its pros and cons, as we now know the requirements should we decide to go down that path.

Given that Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News noted Bowlsby and the conference bigwigs will be meeting this week to consider items such as a TV network and possible expansion, in addition to a title game, it's not a surprise the commissioner is remaining circumspect on the matter:

The Big 12 hosted a neutral-site title game for its first 15 years of existence, but it was eliminated after Missouri, Texas A&M, Colorado and Nebraska ventured to other conferences, leaving the conference with 10 members and below the requirement for needing a title game. 

Last year’s champion, Oklahoma, reached the College Football Playoff despite not playing in a conference title game like its trio of counterparts—Alabama, Clemson and Michigan State—which all played Top 25 opponents in their respective conference championship games to reach the playoff. 

In fact, Oklahoma was essentially the first playoff team to lock up a spot by winning the Big 12 outright in the final week of the regular season while sitting at No. 3 in the CFP rankings.

But the Sooners’ story contradicted the Big 12’s fate the year prior, when champion TCU tumbled from third to sixth in the final CFP rankings despite winning the conference title in its final regular-season game with a 55-3 shellacking of Iowa State. The CFP committee supplanted the Horned Frogs with eventual champion Ohio State, which won its Big Ten title game, 59-0, over Wisconsin. 

The knocks on TCU were that the committee considered its nonconference schedule a cupcake—the Horned Frogs played unranked Minnesota and Southern Methodist and Samford of the FCS—and that it didn’t have to play an extra game for the Big 12 title the way Ohio State, Alabama and Oregon did to qualify for the 2014 playoff. 

TCU also shared the Big 12 title with Baylor in 2014, a distinction that could’ve been determined outright in a conference title game.

Bowlsby even admitted a year later that he underestimated just how much emphasis the CFP committee would put on what he called a “13th data point,” referring to a 13th game when speaking with Doug Gottlieb of CBS Sports:

“The one piece of it that we really didn’t full understand, I think, was the 13th data point, and just how much weight the committee was going to put on that,” Bowlsby said in December of TCU’s exclusion the year prior. "And of course we still are in a situation where we don’t have that 13th data point.”

Here is a look at Bowlsby’s full interview with Gottlieb, which extensively covers the prospect of the Big 12 adding a title game:

The Big 12 will assuredly continue to contend for a playoff spot, but when it comes to tiebreakers, the Power 5 conferences that do play a championship game will have the upper hand. 

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Early Top 25 College Football Recruiting Classes for 2017

We may still be digesting the developments of an exciting 2016 national signing day, but college coaching staffs can't afford to rest on their laurels. Programs across America are well underway with their recruitment of the 2017 class, and America's high school juniors are now thrust into the spotlight as top targets.

It remains extremely early in the 2017 cycle, but several squads have already made big moves. Here's how we size up the nation's top 25 classes one year away from next signing day, with a nod toward talent value or sheer volume.

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