NCAA Football

J.T. Barrett's Surprise Early Resurgence Jumpstarts Crazy OSU QB Competition

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The main event of the most talked-about quarterback competition in college football history won't start until the summer.

But if Ohio State's Thursday practice was any indication, spring practice should make for a heck of an undercard.

Ever since the injuries to Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett paved the way for Cardale Jones to lead the Buckeyes to the national championship in January, the general thinking in Columbus was that their unprecedented quarterback battle wouldn't take place until fall camp.

That's when all three signal-callers would presumably be healthy, as opposed to the spring, when only Jones would be at full strength.

That thinking, however, underestimated Barrett.

While Miller stood off on the sideline, still recovering from the torn labrum in his throwing shoulder that ended his 2014 season before it started in August, the battle between Jones and Barrett already appeared to be underway.

The two routinely topped each other by the throw, alternating pass attempts in the seven-on-seven drills that filled the better part of the first hour of Ohio State's fourth spring practice of 2015.

Watching Barrett in those drills, you wouldn't have even been able to tell he's still recovering from the fractured ankle that brought an end to his Big Ten Quarterback of the Year and College Football Performance Awards National Freshman of the Year-winning season in the Buckeyes' regular-season finale last November.

"That's J.T.," Ohio State left tackle Taylor Decker said after practice. "He's going to do everything he has to as far as rehab and stuff like that to get where he needs to be. That's not surprising at all to me."

Barrett's still not at full strength yet—he's only four months removed from an injury that typically takes around six months to fully recover from—but there he was, dropping back and moving side to side before pinpointing throws with the same accuracy that helped him break the Big Ten's single-season touchdown record in 2014.

Earlier this week, head coach Urban Meyer revealed the Wichita Falls, Texas native was ahead of schedule, jumpstarting a competition that wasn't supposed to start until August.

“He’s doing more than I thought,” Meyer admitted.

Barrett may have surprised Meyer, but the Ohio State head coach may be alone in that regard inside the Buckeyes' locker room.

After leading Ohio State to an 11-1 record in Miller's absence—including a gutsy double-overtime win over Penn State with a sprained MCL—Barrett earned a reputation as one of the toughest players on the Ohio State roster, an undisputed leader despite his status as an underclassman.

Barrett's leadership was again on full display on Thursday as he routinely interacted with not only the Buckeyes' wide receivers, but the other quarterbacks.

The respect for Barrett within the Ohio State program is apparent, and his speedy recovery only helping his cause.

"Nothing surprises me with J.T.," Buckeyes offensive coordinator Ed Warinner said. "He's a hard worker, does everything you could possibly do mentally and physically. He's come along pretty good and it's fun to have him out there."

But as good as the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year has looked since returning to the practice field, he's far from re-cemented himself as Ohio State's starter from the fall.

In fact, Barrett still likely trails Jones as the front-runner to do just that considering Jones is fully healthy and taking the majority of the reps with the Buckeyes' first team in 11-on-11 drills. He also appears to have maintained the momentum he had previously built while winning three consecutive postseason games to end Ohio State's season.

"He's always been a confident guy himself, he's got a ton of personality," Decker said. "But you can see that he knows that he's got that ability. He knows that he can make those plays. Even though he's always had the ability, he's just got a lot of confidence right now. Even the other day when we were having a not as good practice, I think he was 9-for-10 [throwing the ball] on third downs."

For as good as Barrett looked during the hour of practice that was open to the media, Jones looked just as good, showing off both increased accuracy and his NFL-caliber arm.

After witnessing just an hour of practice, it's easy to see why Meyer said earlier this week that the thought of benching at least one of his qualified quarterbacks is already "eating" at him.

And what about Miller?

While Jones and Barrett shined on the field, the two-time Big Ten MVP stood off to the side after briefly running and stretching at the start of practice.

Earlier this week, Meyer revealed that he and his staff had pulled Miller back from activity in order to ensure he fully recovers from an injury that can take as long as a year to get back to full strength from.

According to ESPN.com's Austin Ward, Miller may have committed an NCAA violation earlier this week when he publicly endorsed supplement company AdvoCare in an Instagram photo. That could only complicate his situation, although most around the program believe it will ultimately be a non-issue.

Still, Barrett's sudden reemergence doesn't bode well for Miller's chances of reclaiming his starting spot, as he'll now have not only one, but two quarterbacks to catch up to should his shoulder recover in time for fall camp.

While it wasn't supposed to start until the summer, the Buckeyes' highly anticipated quarterback competition is already underway. It may not take its full form until the fall, but if Thursday was any indication, it will certainly live up to the hype.

"It's going to be a crazy battle at that position," Decker said. "Who knows who's going to end up winning that spot?"

Having watched Thursday's practice, it's impossible to tell at this point.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Previewing Ohio State's Surprisingly Huge Recruiting Weekend

Ohio State is set for a huge weekend, as a number of the nation's highest-rated recruits—including No. 1 overall prospect Rashan Gary—will make their way to Columbus, Ohio, to visit the Buckeyes.

It will be a pivotal stretch for head coach Urban Meyer, who's looking to dethrone Nick Saban and Alabama as the king of the college football recruiting world. 

With seven commitments already in the fold for 2016, Ohio State currently boasts the nation's No. 6 recruiting class. But one glance at this week's visitor list shows that Meyer is aiming much higher. 

Here's a rundown of Ohio State's marquee recruiting weekend.

 

Winning over the Best 

The top-ranked prospect from each of the last six recruiting classes (Trent ThompsonLeonard FournetteRobert NkemdicheDorial Green-BeckhamJadeveon Clowney and Ronald Powell) have landed in the SEC, but that's a trend Meyer is hoping to stop this year.

That's why this weekend is so important.

Gary, the No. 1-ranked player for the class of 2016, will be in town to take in the sights on Saturday. Predictably, his offer list is stacked with the premier programs around the country, including Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Notre Dame and USC.  

As of right now, Ohio State's chances of landing the 6'4", 290-pound defensive tackle (who can run a reported 4.74 40-yard dash) are slim. According to 247Sports' Crystal Ball Predictions, the Buckeyes only have a 4 percent chance of earning his verbal pledge. 

That could change with a good visit, though. 

The Buckeyes certainly have plenty to sell. After winning the first-ever College Football Playoff, a trip to the trophy room would leave a lasting impression.

But beyond that, the Buckeyes have a huge need at defensive tackle after missing out on their top three targets—Christian Wilkins, Neville Gallimore and Terry Beckner Jr.—in 2015. And when you combine that with the loss of Michael Bennett and the pending departures of Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt, the Buckeyes can offer Gary an opportunity to make an impact immediately.

If Meyer can't sell Gary on that this weekend, it will be hard to make up the ground he needs to cover in order to land the Paramus, New Jersey, standout. 

 

More New Jersey Standouts

When defensive line coach Larry Johnson left Penn State to take the same position on Ohio State's staff, it was only a matter of time before the Buckeyes invaded talent-rich states such as New Jersey on the recruiting front.

Johnson, who spent 18 years recruiting the Northeast for the Nittany Lions, brought his invaluable connections with him to Ohio State, and Meyer is reaping the benefits. 

The Buckeyes are already making a strong push in The Garden State. Their top 2016 commitment—5-star running back Kareem Walker—hails from De Paul Catholic High School in Wayne, New Jersey.

In addition to Gary, the Buckeyes will host a trio of talented Jersey prospects. 

Two talented wideouts in Ahmir Mitchell and Brad Hawkins will get the red-carpet treatment from wide receivers coach Zach Smith. Mitchell, rated the country's sixth-best athlete, and Hawkins, the 34th-ranked receiver, hold offers from the Buckeyes.

Mitchell is the key. According to 247Sports' Crystal Ball, the Buckeyes are in a battle with home-state Rutgers, which holds a 67-33 percent edge. Pulling the dynamic 6'2", 190-pound athlete away from home will be a challenge, but Meyer has a golden opportunity to impress Mitchell this weekend. 

And then there's Ron Johnson, the talented and highly coveted 4-star defensive end.

The Buckeyes already have commitments from a pair of outstanding pass-rushers in Terrell Hall and Jonathon Cooper, and they expect to land 5-star defensive end Nick Bosa in the coming months. Whether Johnson would like to join such a crowded group remains to be seen, but it may be a moot point anyway, as he's a heavy lean to Penn State. 

 

Ohio State's Next Great Quarterback?

Much was made of Ohio State's crowded quarterback room when 2015 signal-callers Torrance Gibson and Joe Burrow—both of whom were 4-star prospects—signed on as Buckeyes in February.

Ohio State isn't worried about having too many good options, though, because it's going after a pair of elite 2016 quarterbacks. 

Jarrett Guarantano, a New Jersey pro-style quarterback who's considering Tennessee and Rutgers alongside Ohio State, is one. The other is Tristen Wallace, a 4-star standout who's rated as the third-best dual-threat quarterback in the country.

The latter will be on campus for a visit this weekend. 

Walllace is making the trip north from DeSoto, Texas, with his parents and teammate Kadarrian Nixon, a 2017 wide receiver target who's also drawing interest from Ohio State. Both play for DeSoto High School, Dontre Wilson's alma mater, and Nixon offered some positive insight to Bill Kurelic of 247Sports.

If Ohio State offers me [a scholarship] I would commit,” Nixon said, via Kurelic. “Ohio State produces athletes. They know what to do with guys. They knew what to do with Dontre.”

The 5'8", 170-pound wideout also offered his thoughts on Wallace.

“He doesn’t say [too much about committing],” Nixon said. “But he might commit.”

Will that happen if the Buckeyes wow Wallace and his parents this weekend?

 

Representing the Buckeye State

A recruiting event at Ohio State wouldn't be complete without some homegrown talent.

Demario McCall (running back) and Luke Farrell (tight end), both 4-star prospects, will be on campus this weekend—and both are unanimous picks to eventually land with the Buckeyes, according to 247Sports' Crystal Ball Predictions. 

Will either pull the trigger this weekend?

Neither has a set announcement date right now, but according to Jeremy Birmingham of Eleven Warriors, McCall is one of the most likely candidates to announce his Ohio State commitment sooner rather than later.

Despite already having George Hill and Kareem Walker in the fold for 2016, Ohio State has never slowed down in their recruitment, and there doesn't seem to be any reason to suspect that's going to change.

...

The Buckeyes were hoping McCall would be in the class by now, but they're not going to push him since they realize their current power position.

Farrell's decision isn't expected anytime soon, but the Buckeyes are sitting pretty in pole position for their top tight end target. 

 

All recruiting rankings and information via 247Sports.

David Regimbal is the Ohio State football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

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Urban Meyer Not Pleased with OSU's Sloppy Practice; Resting Starters for Season

Is there trouble in paradise? The Ohio State Buckeyes are in the early stages of spring practice, and head coach Urban Meyer is not exactly happy with how his players are performing so far. 

Bleacher Report's Adam Lefkoe was joined by Bleacher Report Big 10 Lead Writer Ben Axelrod to discuss what is happening in Columbus. 

How will Ohio State fare in 2015? Check out the video and let us know!

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Sumo Wrestling and Sukiyaki: Inside Princeton's Life-Altering Trip to Japan

Princeton football head coach Bob Surace likes to email his players—a lot. When you're dealing with roughly 100 18-to-22-year-olds, it's the most efficient way to reach them with important information.

Last summer, Surace sent out an email like he normally does. But on this specific occasion, he purposely buried the important stuff. 

"So he emails us one time last year around fall camp," said junior cornerback Anthony Gaffney, an All-Ivy League Honorable Mention. "And then at the bottom, like it was nothing, he writes, 'Oh yeah, by the way, we're going to Japan over spring break.'"

His players thought it was a joke. 

"Initially, I didn't think it was true," said Tigers defensive back Alex Ford. "To bring 89 guys across the Pacific? I didn't think that was going to happen." 

 

A Historic Meeting

On March 21st, there was a real, live college football game being played between two opposing sides. Halfway around the world, while the United States slept, Princeton University defeated the Kwansei Gakuin University Fighters in the Legacy Bowl 36-7. 

It was a spring game for Princeton, with 350 alumni, mostly located in Tokyo, and about 15 parents in attendance. The Tigers spent three of their 12 designated practices preparing for it. Ultimately, though, it was only part of a bigger picture. 

What mattered was the adventure of experiencing another city in another country—Osaka, Japan, 13 time zones away, from March 14 to 22—another culture, different food and a different way of life. With few exceptions, one being Surace, this was the first time anyone in the program had been to Japan. 

The history between the two universities actually dates back more than a century when missionaries from Princeton partially founded Kwansei Gakuin. As part of Kwansei Gakuin's 125th anniversary, Princeton was invited back to play the Fighters. The two sides had previously faced each other before in 2001 (a 27-25 Princeton win.) Surace had also made a trip to Japan in 1989 as part of an Ivy League-Japan All-Star game as an offensive lineman. 

Once the trip was cleared with the Ivy League and NCAA last summer, Surace told his team—and then promptly dropped the conversation in the months leading up to takeoff. 

"I told them in the summer that we were taking this trip, but I didn't talk about it during the season other than [telling them] they had to get their passports," said Surace. "I mentioned it briefly during our end-of-the-season meeting.

"And then a week before we left, I told them what we were going to do." 

The team's plane took off from JFK Airport in New York for Tokyo at 6:30 a.m. Saturday morning. Players and coaches were advised not to sleep the night before and get some shuteye on the plane. 

That wasn't always possible. Gaffney said he, along with other teammates, prepared for midterms on the flight. Ford, a 5'10" defensive back hampered with a tight hamstring, was packed into a window seat next to a pair of linemen. In coach. 

That was for 13 hours en route to Tokyo.

The team had to change planes and fly another hour or so Southwest to Osaka. By the time the team landed and arrived at its hotel, the ANA Crowne Plaza in the Osaka borough of Kobe, it would have been creeping toward midnight in New Jersey. 

This wasn't jet lag going from the East Coast of the U.S. to the West Coast. This was turning day into night and night into day. Gaffney said he began adjusting to the time difference a day or two into the trip but hasn't gotten back on schedule since returning to the U.S. 

When asked if he ever adjusted to the time difference in Japan, Surace just laughed.

"I don't think I ever got acclimated," Ford added. "Some nights I would go to bed at 8 p.m., other nights at 11 p.m. But I would always be up at 4 a.m." 

 

Sumo Wrestling: 'It's Like the Old Oklahoma Drill' 

Where else in the world are you going to see former New York Yankees short stop Derek Jeter and model Hannah Davis? A sumo wrestling tournament in Osaka, of course. 

In between practices on Monday, Wednesday and Friday (March 16, 18 and 20), Princeton toured various cities and sites. On Thursday, the 19th, Surace and his players went to the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium for a sumo wrestling tournament. Sitting a few rows—or, box seats—away was Jeter. 

And that might not have been the most interesting thing they saw that night, either. 

"The sumo wrestling, that was my favorite part," said Ford. "These guys, if they were trained to be offensive linemen, they'd be killing it.

"They were grizzly bears. Nimble, athletic grizzly bears."

If you're an aficionado of big-man touchdowns in college football, you'll love sumo wrestling in Japan. It's a sport of giants—300- and 400-pound men—who are far more athletically gifted than they look, using sheer strength to overpower their opponent. It's the ultimate one-on-one matchup, and there are at least a dozen matches every day for two weeks. Whoever has the best record after the round-robin schedule is complete wins. 

As Surace explained, football and wrestling have commonalities that transcend sport and culture.

"It's almost like offense and defensive line play," he said. Indeed, sumo wrestling, like football, is a sport of short bursts of energy.

"They're in a stance, and then there's tremendous contact within about a two-yard space. I don't know if they'd last in a hurry-up, no-huddle offense, but for about three or four seconds, they were amazing athletes.

"It's like the old Oklahoma drill. One guy pushes the other outside the ring or to the ground."

There was also a day trip to the Awaji Earthquake memorial in Kobe and an hour-ride bus trip north to the town of Kyoto, where players shopped and entered a historic Zen temple. 

There, players were greeted by a Zen Master and trained to achieve perfect concentration, as explained by running back DiAndre Atwater in Princeton's official blog:

The Zen Master graciously permitted our entire team to enter the temple, and once all 110 of us were seated barefoot on the Temple floor, he began the lesson. To get into the mode of perfect Zen concentration, we had to cross our legs (which some of us haven't been able to do in 10+ years) and relax our minds. We then had the option of letting the Zen Master strike us 4 times with his wooden paddle, to aid in our quest to perfect concentration. In hindsight, we probably shouldn't have let this man practice his wood chopping techniques on our upper vertebrae, but it was all part of the experience. 

"The wooden stick is meant to help you find your focus," Gaffney said. "The Zen Master would hit you on the shoulders. It doesn't hurt, but it's a good pop." 

 

Sukiyaki, Ramen and McDonald's

Tokyo has a small English-Japanese language barrier. Osaka, on the other hand, is more traditional. A team of 15 or so translators from Kwansei Gakuin helped guide Princeton everywhere they went. 

"They were making sure we got where we needed to go," Surace said. 

But Osaka is still Americanized enough for a McDonald's, according to Atwater: 

The first few days of Princeton Football's journey to Japan have been exciting to say the least. Upon arrival to our hotel, many players were surprisingly eager to get out and explore the city. While the city of Kobe had a lot of culture to offer on the humid Sunday night, some of us preferred to take refuge under the familiar Golden Arches of a local McDonald's.

There was other "American" food for players as well, like pizza and french fries. That may have been a safe haven for some, but not Ford. "I love Japanese food," he said. Taking a trip to Japan is something he'd wanted to do his entire life. He wasn't about to spend his time eating McNuggets or a Big Mac. 

When in Osaka, right?

"The ramen was insane," he said. "I can't eat Cup of Noodles again." 

Players dined on everything, everywhere: sushi, ramen and tofu, which, as Ford explained, "was a purplish-gray block in a bowl of murky water. I pushed that to the side." Hibachi restaurants were a popular choice, but Ford's favorite was Sukiyaki, a type of stew in which thinly sliced beef (or other meats) and vegetables are cooked in a Japanese hot pot filled with broth. 

The way it's set up, you basically get to cook your own meal. 

Each position group from Kwansei Gakuin took its respective Princeton counterparts out on the town. Quarterbacks went with quarterbacks, linemen went with linemen and so on. Following the sumo tournament, the defensive backs from Princeton went out with the defensive backs from Kwansei Gakuin to a restaurant off of the Sannomiya Subway Station in Kobe. 

"It's a very lively area, there's a lot going on. The restaurant we went to, you sat on cushions on the ground," Ford said. "It was a great bonding experience, especially since the coaches weren't around." 

You wouldn't think about it initially, but the difference in food between the United States and Japan is a big deal for football players. Their diets during the year are closely monitored, but in Osaka, portions are smaller and food is less filling. A snack room had to be set up so players could fill in that extra gap in their stomachs day and night. 

"I know I lost at least a few pounds," Ford said. 

 

Competition Is the Same in Every Language

Lest we forget, there was a football game to be played. That's what Princeton was technically over there to do. The Tigers' goal was to beat Japan's version of the Alabama Crimson Tide. 

Located in Nishinomiya, part of the greater Osaka area about an hour's plan ride southwest of Tokyo, Kwansei Gakuin has developed one of Japan's best college football programs. In December, the Fighters secured their fourth consecutive collegiate football championship when they defeated Tokyo’s Nihon University Phoenix 55-10. 

American football is growing in Japan. Kwansei Gakuin's championship game against Nihon University was played in front of a crowd of 32,000, per Hiroshi Ikezawa the Japan Times. The country has a national team plus a variety of leagues. In January, Kwansei Gakuin played the X-League champion and semi-pro team Fujitsu Frontiers in the Rice Bowl, losing 33-24

The Legacy Bowl was never that close. 

"We were a lot bigger, more physical than them," Gaffney said. "But they're top of the line over there. They're very disciplined." 

And, so, there was respect. When the players of Kwansei Gakuin and Princeton came together during the week, they talked about everything: music, movies, girls and, yes, football. "You know, typical stuff," Gaffney said.

At least one player from Kwansei Gakuin spoke enough English to translate. At the end of the day, though, these are college boys with similar interests. And they're all football players. 

"No matter the language barrier, the offensive linemen were with the offensive linemen. The quarterbacks were with the quarterbacks," Surace said. "They had a blast together."

Competition binds athletes because it's the same across every language and culture. These are players who have sweat together, hurt together, won together and lost together. They'd look across the table and instantly know that person went through the same experiences themselves. 

"They had arm wrestling contests," Surace said. "And then afterward they would be laughing and hugging each other." 

"Even after the game, after they lost, there was a great community," Ford added. 

In a way, Princeton players were celebrities and were treated as such. "Obviously, we stood out," Gaffney said. "People were looking at us, taking pictures." 

Ultimately, Princeton felt it was more starstruck by Japan than the other way around. By all accounts, the people were welcoming, the country was clean and the culture was eye-opening. 

"I wanted to put our guys in an experience where they didn't know what was going to happen. Opening your eyes and seeing there's this other world out there, how beautiful it is," Surace explained. "Not one guy complained." 

Surace has been to Japan twice, as a player and a coach. Hundreds of Princeton alums have made their home over there. His hope, he says, is that his players were inspired so that one day they'll be courageous enough to expand their own horizons beyond the borders of the U.S. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a Lead Writer for college football. All quotes obtained firsthand unless cited otherwise. 

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10 Craziest Student Sections in College Football

Winning on the road in college sports is harder than winning on the road in professional sports. For the most part, crowds are louder, more invested and more impactful.

But among those loud, invested, impactful crowds, certain student bodies project as the best in college football. They're the loudest, most invested, most impactful of the bunch. 

Appointing the 10 craziest student sections in college football is a difficult task—one that is by nature subjective. I haven't been to every stadium. I haven't seen them all firsthand. This is my well-researched, semi-well-informed opinion, not a mathematical study.

My main criteria boiled down to two questions: How often do you bring your A-game? And how good is your A-game when you bring it? I also looked at 2014 attendance, per Jon Solomon of CBSSports.com, and accounted for recent performance. These are the 10 craziest student sections in college football at this moment.

What have they done for me lately?

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How Nick Saban Is Alabama's Secret Weapon in Basketball Coaching Search

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Nick Saban hasn’t exactly felt the effects of a struggling men’s basketball program across the street at Coleman Coliseum.

Since Saban got to Tuscaloosa in 2007, Alabama made the NCAA tournament just once, getting bounced in the first round. Meanwhile the football team won three national championships and became the premier program in the country during that span.

Alabama is a football school first, second and third. That's never going to change.

Still, Saban sees the importance of being more than just that.

“I don't want Alabama to be just a football school,” Saban said. “I want to be good at football, we have high expectations for what we want to accomplish. But I really want us to be good in everything.”

As Alabama searches for a new basketball coach, Nick Saban is going to be its secret weapon. Saban has had good basketball relationships in the past, and there is a precedent of him being willing to help out with other sports, whether it’s a motivational speech to the team or sending high-profile recruits to visit with the iconic coach for a couple of minutes.

CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish wrote that as Alabama makes a run at Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall, “it's possible football coach Nick Saban could eventually be involved in what would amount to a high-profile recruitment.”

As he should.

“I think when you're good in everything, in this day and age, there's a lot of attention whether it's women's softball, tennis, our gymnastics program here, our golf program men and women's, basketball, baseball,” Saban said. “I want to be good in everything and I've tried to be supportive in every way to help them to recruit and to support their programs.”

This wouldn’t be the first time Saban has extended a helping hand, either.

He annually speaks before the postseason to the gymnastics team, which has won six NCAA titles, the most of any non-football program at Alabama. Former coach Sarah Patterson, who won all six, has told stories about how Saban has “never said no” to her when she would ask him to speak to the team or meet with a recruit.

Softball coach Patrick Murphy told AL.com’s Don Kausler Jr. in 2012 that Saban is “2 for 2 with softball recruits.”

"He invites them to sit down in his office,” Murphy told Kausler. “It's a neat thing to see, because he's very at ease. I'm nervous, but he makes everybody else very at-home, and I think the parents really enjoy it."

He even made an appearance with Alabama’s club hockey team this year:

Saban has shown a willingness to extend his influence to other parts of the athletic department.

And basketball is where some of Saban’s best relationships have formed.

Specifically, he called Michigan State coach Tom Izzo “probably one of my best friends.” The two became friends when they both coached in East Lansing, growing nationally competitive programs, and have maintained that relationship to this day.

Case in point: Izzo recently gave Saban some “insider information” that helped Saban get ahead in a family competition.

The Sabans do March Madness brackets every year (go away NCAA, no money changes hands). Initially, Saban had Michigan State going out in the second round to Virginia this year. But when he was talking to Izzo, he changed his mind.

“I talked to Tom and he said, 'If we can beat Georgia, I think we can beat Virginia,’” Saban said. “So I had Virginia beating them, but I picked (Michigan State).”

And Saban was a regular presence in Tuscaloosa for basketball coach Anthony Grant, who was recently let go after a second straight losing season.

"I've tried to be very supportive of all the other coaches here, including the basketball coaches," Saban said. "Had a really good relationship with Anthony Grant, had a tremendous amount of respect for him as a person and as a coach, and really feel like we did everything we could do to help recruit players and support the program as much as we could.

If "Alabama is gonna go big," as one source told Parrish, offering top-tier money to a coach like Marshall to come to a program that has struggled as of late, there’s no reason to believe Saban won’t be involved in at least part of the proceedings.

Parading a potential coach through the successes of various Alabama programs and finishing with Saban, the most successful and recognizable of them all, would be a major recruiting tactic as well as a show of what is possible with the resources of a major athletic department like Alabama.

Saban can make that happen and will be Alabama’s secret weapon as it tries to make a splash with the other revenue sport on campus.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes and reporting were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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How Notre Dame Can Best Use All of Its Playmakers in 2015

New offensive coordinator Mike Sanford is getting his first look at Notre Dame's offense during spring practice, and he's likely coming to grips with a legitimate problem he'll have come the fall: how to get the football to all of the Irish's playmakers. 

Yes, it's the type of champagne problem elite offensive teams deal with year-in and year-out (and yes, this is also the type of column that gets pulled out six months from now, when the Irish offense gets stuck in neutral). 

But it's worth remembering that mistakes are what doomed Brian Kelly's most prolific offense in South Bend. Finishing 101st in the country in turnovers turned a potentially dynamic Irish attack into a slightly-better-than-average outfit, at the bottom of the Top 40 in both yardage and scoring. 

But Sanford takes over an group that looks primed to explode. Only Ben Koyack and Cam McDaniel exit among skill players. 

So in just 15 practices, Sanford not only needs to see what he's working with but formulate a plan to keep quarterbacks Everett Golson and Malik Zaire happy—not to mention satisfying two good running backs and the deepest Irish wide receiving corps in recent memory. 

So many players, so few snaps. Let's take a look at how Sanford used his personnel at Boise State in the hopes of finding a few clues to help decipher what the Irish will look like when they take the field against Texas. 

At Boise State, the Broncos' offense under Sanford averaged 39.7 points a game, good for ninth in the country—a full touchdown better than Notre Dame. The Broncos also put up 494.3 yards per game, 50 more than the Irish did. 

To do it, the first-year offensive coordinator rode running back Jay Ajayi. With 347 carries and 1,823 yards, Ajayi served as the workhorse of the Boise State offense, scoring a ridiculous 32 touchdowns in 2014. 

Piloting that offense, fifth-year quarterback Grant Hedrick was no slouch, either. He completed 70.8 percent of his passes, throwing for 3,696 yards and 23 touchdowns while also scoring eight more as a runner. 

Those numbers match up pretty favorably to Everett Golson's from 2014 (both Hedrick and Golson threw 14 interceptions), though you won't find many people who think Hedrick has a better skill set than Golson. 

While most are focused on Golson vs. Zaire, Sanford is likely hard at work trying to eliminate the mistakes that turned Golson from an early-season Heisman candidate to the guy benched for a first-year participant. 

In Zaire, Sanford might actually have a quarterback better suited to run his offense. The Broncos used the quarterback to run the football consistently, with Hedrick logging 155 rushing attempts. Hedrick had eight games where he had double-digit carries. That's the same as Tarean Folston, Notre Dame's leading rusher. 

We saw the Irish commit to a run-heavy attack, riding Zaire against LSU with 22 rushes for 96 hard-earned yards in the Music City Bowl victory. That type of workload is only sustainable in a bowl game played as a one-game season, though Zaire's a 220-pound battering ram who certainly won't shy away from contact. 

(Zaire took off his red jersey over the weekend to run the ball against Notre Dame's defense.)

Setting aside the quarterback battle, finding footballs for the rest of Notre Dame's weapons will likely be the focus on the offseason. 

Expect the ground game to grow. The primary beneficiaries of that change will be Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant. Both ran for over five yards per carry, with Folston the closest thing to a feature back we've seen under Kelly. 

In a passing game that will emphasize getting vertical, Sanford has never had a weapon like William Fuller. Notre Dame's sophomore sensation went for 1,094 yards in 2014 while tying a school record with 15 receiving touchdowns. 

The depth behind him is the strength of the team. Notre Dame's top four receivers are all back—Chris Brown, Corey Robinson and C.J. Prosise will join Fuller—and six of the top seven, with only tight end Ben Koyack departing. 

Prosise is already cross-training at running back, with the staff looking for more ways to get the ball in his hands. Seldom-used receiver Torii Hunter Jr. has been impressive this spring and is capable of working both outside and in the slot. 

Boise State ran the football on 57 percent of their offensive snaps last season. The Irish ran it 51 percent of the time. Ajayi took 57 percent of the running touches, with Folston leading Notre Dame's committee-based approach at 36 percent. In simpler terms, Ajayi averaged 24.8 carries per game; Folston was only at 13.5.

Both the Broncos and the Irish had five players catch 28 or more passes. Fuller's 76 catches was tops for Notre Dame, while lightning bug Shane Williams-Rhodes caught 68 for Boise State. Fuller produced 14.4 yards per catch and 15 scores; Rhodes had seven touchdowns but only 8.6 yards per catch.  

Personnel dictates scheme in many offenses. And while Sanford gets to know both Kelly and associate head coach Mike Denbrock—they'll be the three architects behind the Irish offense—he'll also get a better grasp on the deep pool of talent at his disposal heading into the 2015 season.

With variables like the evolving quarterback battle making this algebra all but impossible to solve, finding enough footballs for everybody will be a balancing act that sometimes won't make everybody happy. 

But as Notre Dame looks to make its way into next season's College Football Playoff, those are problems most teams would be happy to have.  

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Odds on Where Stud 2016 Safety Shurod Thompson Lands

Shurod Thompson, a talented 4-star safety, per 247Sports, is uncommitted on where he will play his college ball. With several big-program offers on the table, Thompson has a tough decision ahead of him. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer lays his odds for where he believes Thompson will play at the next level. 

Where will he play? Check out the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas Football: What We Learned from Longhorns' 2015 Pro Day

The group workout phase is over for the Longhorns' 2015 NFL draft hopefuls, who took the field on Tuesday for the program's annual pro day. Overall, there were few surprises.

Malcom Brown, Jordan Hicks, Quandre Diggs and even Malcolm Brown were in pretty good standing since participating in the combine. They each did what they had to and solidified their positions.

John Harris and Jaxon Shipley weren't invited to Indianapolis this season, but they would have fit in with their performances on Tuesday. Texas' leading receivers from last season each showed well, and they should at least end up in a training camp this offseason.

Unfortunately, Cedric Reed has an uphill battle before he can say the same thing about his NFL future.

 

Malcom Brown Locked Into the First Round

Long considered a first-round talent, Malcom Brown looked the part on Tuesday, and it would be a shock to see him fall out of the top 25 picks.

Brown had position coaches from the Detroit Lions, Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals putting him through the wringer on Tuesday. Kris Kocurek of the Lions told HornsDigest's Chip Brown he's been impressed with Brown's consistent effort both on the field and in these workouts:

He worked really hard during the workout, especially as a single guy at his position. Usually in these Pro Days there are a couple guys at his position working with him, so he'll get a little rest.

So for him to push through with three different coaches making demands on him was impressive. You can tell he's a hard worker.

The Lions need a replacement for departed free agent Ndamukong Suh, whom Brown said he tries to emulate on the field.

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller expects Detroit to take Texas' elite tackle at No. 23 overall. That slot makes a lot of sense, though there are several tackle-needy teams that would scoop him up before the turn.

 

Other Combine Participants Hold Their Ground

Jordan Hicks had to prove his combine wasn't a one-off, Quandre Diggs had to show he could make up for his size, and Malcolm Brown needed to check off the speed column. All three met their respective goals, backing up solid combine performances.

One NFL scout told HornsDigest's Brown he didn't see Hicks falling past the third round, and it's easy to see why. He has good size, put up some great film as a healthy senior and has moved well considering he lost two seasons to lower-body injuries.

Miller projects Hicks to go in the third round, and he'd be going higher were the injuries not such a strong deterrent.

Diggs, a probable nickel corner, currently projects in the same neighborhood. He's undersized at 5'9", but as he told 247Sports' Chris Hummer, he's motivated to compensate for that deficiency.

"I think (my motivation) shows in the interviews, and I’m going to prove a lot of people wrong," Diggs said. "That’s been my mentality my entire life. I’m not going to get any taller than 5-foot-9, so I’m just going to go ball."

Diggs has the feet and the mentality to be successful in spite of his stature. His draft slot will depend on fit, but he's bound to win somebody over with his personality and pure football skill.

Last among the combine performers was running back Malcolm Brown, who shocked everyone with some sub-4.5 times in the 40-yard dash. Wescott Eberts of SB Nation believes every scout will add .1 to every time, but even that shows some wheels for a guy who weighs 224 pounds.

All told, these three did exactly what they had to do.

 

Harris, Shipley Enter the Late-Round Discussion

It's somewhat surprising that neither John Harris nor Jaxon Shipley, Texas' leading receivers last season, got a combine invite. They proved their worth on Tuesday.

Of the two, Harris looks the most like an NFL wideout. He's 6'2" with good bulk, and he ran well enough to earn a private workout over the next month. Most importantly, his tape is going to show a player who can get open at every level of the field.

However, it was Shipley who was the most impressive of the two. He turned in some surprising sub-4.4 times, and predictably he ran sharp routes and caught everything that came his way.

The measurables indicate some potential for Shipley out of the slot. His lack of size and history of being constantly nicked up will make him a tough draft, but nobody with his skills will be shut out of training camp.

 

Cedric Reed to Go Undrafted?

It's been a tough year for Cedric Reed, who saw both his production and draft stock fall off a cliff. His best hope is that some excellent junior tape is enough for him to get drafted.

A big, long, physical defensive end, Reed piled up 10 sacks in a breakout 2013 to soar up some early 2015 draft boards.

It's been mostly downhill since, as Reed only mustered 5.5 sacks in 2014, with three coming in one game. A torn meniscus seems partially to blame, and it's now kept him from working out at all in front of scouts with only a month before the draft begins.

Per 247Sports' Jeff Howe, Reed seems confident he will still get some private workouts in time to make an impression. Will it be enough after the down year? One can only hope for a player who has been hit with bad luck at the absolute worst time.

 

Texas Really Missed David Ash in 2014

There's one big takeaway from Texas' pro day completely irrelevant to the NFL draft. That would be David Ash, and how much the Horns missed him last season.

With no risk whatsoever of getting hit, Ash came out and let it rip for his former teammates trying to make professional futures for themselves. Seriously, he was dropping rocks in a well.

BYU, TCU and Arkansas were all losses no matter what. But had Ash not been forced to retire due to persistent concussion problems, Texas' other four defeats could have gone another way with throws like these being unleashed.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Georgia Football: Bulldogs Who Could Surprise People This Spring

There is no doubt the Georgia Bulldogs will need to meet high expectations this season. Anything short of the College Football Playoff will be a disappointment.

And in order for the Bulldogs to achieve their goals this upcoming season, the players who are expected to do big things need to be on top of their game. Guys like Nick Chubb, Jordan Jenkins, Malcolm Mitchell and Leonard Floyd are expected to put up big numbers and be leaders.

However, there will be a few players who aren’t expected to do too much, but they have the ability to turn heads and be key players for the Bulldogs this upcoming season.

Here are a few Bulldogs who could surprise people this spring.

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USC's Pat Haden Comments on Release of Documents in McNair vs. NCAA Lawsuit

The University of Southern California issued a statement Wednesday condemning the NCAA Committee on Infractions for its conduct during an investigation into the violation of multiple rules during the mid-2000s. 

After an initial review of this first set of documents unsealed by the court in the McNair v. NCAA lawsuit, it is evident that the content confirms bias against McNair and USC by and on behalf of the NCAA and its Committee on Infractions. We are extremely disappointed and dismayed at the way the NCAA investigated, judged and penalized our university throughout this process. USC hopes that the transparency in this case will ultimately lead to review and changes so that all member institutions receive the fair and impartial treatment they deserve. 

Previously unreleased documents obtained by Nathan Fenno of the Los Angeles Times recently revealed a seeming prejudice against USC during an investigation into impermissible benefits. In particular, the NCAA targeted former running backs coach Todd McNair, painting him as a "a lying, morally bankrupt criminal…and a hypocrite of the highest order," per an email sent by infractions committee member Shep Cooper.

The emails were obtained as part of a lawsuit McNair filed against the NCAA in 2011, claiming defamation of character. A judge said in 2012 that the NCAA was "malicious" in the handling of the case, specifically targeting McNair in an unfair way. 

"These recent documents confirm what we've believed all along, that we were treated unfairly in this investigation and its penalties," USC athletic director Pat Haden said in a statement. "I think these documents are cause for concern about the NCAA's own institutional controls. It should be concerning to all schools that the NCAA didn't appear to follow its own rules."

Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, who was running the USC program at the time of the violations, said college sports' governing body had "venom" for his team.

“I listened to the venom that they had for our program," Carroll said, per Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times. "They didn't understand a thing about what we were all about…They never were here. And they didn't want to hear it."

The USC football program was banned from bowl games for two years, docked 30 scholarships and meted out a number of other penalties. Reggie Bush, whose receipt of impermissible benefits helped trigger the investigation, was also stripped of his Heisman Trophy.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Miami Recruiting Big Board: Top 2016 Targets Al Golden Must Land

The Miami Hurricanes have one of the top recruiting classes in 2016 in 247Sports' rankings. The Canes have done a great job getting out in front of recruiting, and they will look to build on this recruiting success.

Stephen Nelson sits down with the Palm Beach Post's Matt Porter to discuss Miami's dream recruiting class for 2016.

Who are the must-have recruits for Miami next season?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Michael Felder's Top 2016 Recruits with the Best Hands

In order to be a great wide out, you have to possess a certain set of skills, and one of the most important is having good hands. There's something about a wide receiver going up and high-pointing a ball to make a grab.  

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down who he believes has the best hands in the 2016 class.

Who has the best hands in the 2016 class? Check out the video and let us know! 

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

On-the-Field Breakdown of Top Florida State Prospects from the Opening Atlanta

Florida State had an impressive 2014-15 season, losing only one game to Oregon in the first-ever College Football Playoff. The Seminoles are stockpiling recruits and targeting top prospects featured at Nike's The Opening in Atlanta.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee is joined by B/R National Recruiting Analyst Sanjay Kirpalani to discuss what Florida State could look like next season.

What kind of season will Florida State have? Check out the video and let us know!

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Michigan Coach Sends Letter to Girlfriend of 4-Star Tight End Recruit

The Michigan Wolverines are going to great lengths to get 4-star football recruit Naseir Upshur to Ann Arbor.

Michigan tight ends coach Jay Harbaugh took some time to write a note to Upshur's girlfriend in hopes that she will "put in a good word" for the Wolverines.

Hey, it doesn't hurt to try.

A personal gesture like this shows that the coaching staff listens to the player, and it could go a long way in winning over a recruit. 

[Twitter, h/t The Score]

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College Football Freshmen Turning Heads During Spring Practice

Almost every major program has opened spring football camp, although spring break limited reps at most schools with early- or mid-March openings.

Regardless, redshirt and true freshmen have made a quick impact on some of those practice fields and especially at schools that opened camp in late February. It's hard to keep a firsthand eye on everything, but the early reports and highlight clips look great.

We'll update freshman progress with a new list at the end of spring practice once more teams have played extended reps, but for now here are 10 freshmen whose performances have turned heads.

Sound off below, and let us know which players we missed.

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Power Ranking the 10 Best College Football Players Who Played in March Madness

March Madness is such a wide-reaching event that it draws in more than just the diehard college basketball fan. Whether because of bracket pools or school allegiances, the NCAA basketball tournament is one of the most watched sporting events in the country.

It's also something that pretty much every kid who plays hoops growing up dreams of being able to participate in, even those who don't end up having basketball be their primary sport in college.

Over the years, dozens of great college football players have been a part of March Madness, and while for most this was a cameo appearance as a walk-on or last-off-the-bench scrub, it was a bona fide second career option for others.

We've identified the 10 best college football players to ever appear in an NCAA tournament game, ranking them based on their gridiron performances while factoring in what they did on the hard court as well.

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Alabama Football: What Position Experiments Is Nick Saban Trying in 2015?

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Some of Alabama’s top performers under Nick Saban were made possible by position changes and experiments.

Cyrus Jones, who started every game for the Crimson Tide at cornerback, came to Alabama as a wide receiver but made the switch to cornerback after one year. Quarterback Blake Sims, who led a record-breaking Alabama offense and set some individual marks along the way, played running back for his first two years on campus.

Last year, a couple of these changes stuck. Dakota Ball moved from defensive line to tight end, appearing in all but two games as a blocker. And Brandon Green slid from tackle to tight end, playing in all but three games and catching a pass in overtime against LSU, one of the game’s critical plays.

So what kind of tinkering is Nick Saban doing during spring practice this year? Do any of these moves have a chance at sticking?

The big ones—literally—are all on the defensive line, where the Crimson Tide’s incredible depth gives coaches some leeway to try some new things out.

Johnny Dwight is going the Ball route, moving from defensive line to tight end. Running passing routes, he looks like, well, a converted lineman, but where he’s most likely to make an impact is as a blocker in obvious run downs.

With Brian Vogler’s departure, Alabama has a void to fill in terms of a blocking tight end. O.J. Howard is going to be the passing threat in that group, but Vogler was a rock in run blocking.

Last year, Ball proved he could be used situationally as a blocker, an experiment that succeeded. Dwight could find himself having similar success next year, and if he can trim down a bit, he could be a versatile player almost like Jalston Fowler was—blocking and catching out of the backfield while playing all over the line.

The other defensive line move is Korren Kirven, who is going to try things out on the offensive line. Kirven has appeared in a handful games the last two years after taking a redshirt in 2012, largely in backup and late-game roles.

He hasn’t been able to make much of an impact on defense, and as Alabama continues to stockpile talent at that position, his chances are looking even slimmer to be a regular contributor over there. He may be able to stick on the offensive line, though, where Alabama has to replace three starters from a year ago.

Alabama’s other notable position change isn’t exactly new but still newsworthy nonetheless. Ronnie Clark, who did a little bit of everything in high school, played safety for his first few months in Tuscaloosa. He made the switch to running back in October but tore his Achilles in a non-contact situation just weeks later.

Clark is apparently healthy again and sticking with the running backs, where a suspension and a transfer have left the Crimson Tide a little thin. He’s going through drills as the fourth running back behind Derrick Henry, Kenyan Drake and Bo Scarbrough.

Speaking of Scarbrough, don’t expect him to be moved around just yet. While he’s a multitalented athlete who could probably play any offensive skill position, Saban is content to have him at running back for the time being.

Again, it’s a place where Alabama needs a little depth.

“We’re playing Bo right now at running back, and the one thing we try to do with young players is not move them around and try to teach them a bunch of different positions,” Saban said. “With Bo, we’re going to try to teach him one thing, and that’s how to play tailback right now. And until we figure out if he can or can’t do that, we’re probably not going to give him multiple roles right now.”

So Saban will stick with older players, like Dwight and Kirven, to move around in the meantime, trying to find the right spot for everyone on the team and maybe finding another successful position change in the process.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes and reporting were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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Watch Freak Athlete Kaden Smith Effortlessly Dunk 16-Pound Shot Put

Kaden Smith is a 4-star tight end, as per 247Sports' composite rankings, who is uncommitted. Smith is an incredible athlete playing tight end, but his ability is in more than just football. 

Watch Smith dunk a 16-pound shot put like it's nothing. 

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Keion Joyner Reveals Top 4: Which Schools Hold Edge in Race for No. 1 OLB?

The race to land 5-star linebacker Keion Joyner is beginning to heat up after the North Carolina product revealed his top four schools, according to Ryan Bartow of 247Sports.

“My top four are Florida State, UNC, Auburn and LSU,” Joyner told Bartow. “I want to announce at the Under Armour All-American Game. I will probably make a decision before that.”

This spring, the Havelock (N.C.) High School product has visits planned to see both Florida State and LSU, in addition to the home-standing Tar Heels.

With his favorites and timeline coming into focus, which school holds the edge for the nation’s top outside linebacker in the 2016 class?

All four schools have their strengths, but a pair of schools could be emerging from the pack with Joyner.

LSU, the Crystal Ball favorite for the 6’3”, 200-pounder, has pitched him on the role he would play in their defensive scheme.

“I like the versatility of where they want to put me on the field,” Joyner said. “I like how the coaches and players are real and how they are honest with me and tell me what they are. I am supposed to be making a visit down there pretty soon.”

Additionally, LSU failed to sign a linebacker in its 2015 class, which makes that position a priority for new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele.

The Tigers were considered the early favorite, but as Sonny Shipp of Geaux247 details, Steele and the new defensive coaches have some work to do in building their relationship with Joyner.

While he mentioned that he likes the coaching staff at LSU, his strongest relationship may be with new Florida State defensive line coach Brad Lawing, who began his coaching career at Havelock.

“Brad Lawing went down there,” Joyner said. “I called him and we have long conversations about where I want to play. He wants to produce players from where he came from.”

The North Carolina product also noted that the Seminoles join the in-state Tar Heels as the schools that are recruiting him the hardest.

Additionally, the Seminoles have a huge need for linebackers in the 2016 cycle. Even though Jimbo Fisher and his staff currently have commitments from four players at that position, they are still pushing for difference-makers at that spot—with Joyner being atop their wish list, as noted by Josh Newberg of Noles247.

Auburn cannot be discounted given the momentum it's built under new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp.

Former Tigers head coach and new North Carolina defensive coordinator Gene Chizik has credentials that would appeal to a player of Joyner’s caliber as well.

However, it appears that Florida State and LSU are the two teams that are trending for one of the nation’s elite defensive prospects.

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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