NCAA Football

Nick Saban Still Dominating in-State Recruiting While Adding National Prospects

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Shawn Jennings is a bit of an aberration on the University of Alabama football team, and it’s not because he doesn’t really have a position yet.

Jennings has an older brother on the roster, Anfernee, a defensive end who redshirted last season. Just like they used to play together at Dadeville High School they’ll now do the same for the Crimson Tide.

"It's something you dream about since playing in the yard when you were kids,” he said “To grow up to play college ball together is just a dream come true."

Nevertheless, among Alabama’s eight early enrollees from the recruiting class of 2016, Jennings and wide receiver T.J. Simmons are the only in-state products. The rest hail from California, Georgia, New York and Texas.

Having such a diverse group geographically is something that head coach Nick Saban has had to sort of balance as the Crimson Tide became a national power again. Alabama will recruit anyone who might help the team regardless of where he might be from (like Australian defensive lineman Jesse Williams a few years ago) but has also managed to land nearly every top in-state prospect as well.

Overall, Alabama considers anything within a five-hour drive of Tuscaloosa to be in its prime recruiting territory, which basically means Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and the panhandle of Florida.

As a result, last year’s national championship team could have been divided pretty equally into three groups based on where everyone was from: in-state, the five-hour radius and everyone else.

"We weren't worried about perspective,” Saban said. “We like getting good players who can go out on the field and play good. Perception doesn't win any games for us around here, but good players do.”

Saban made that comment when talking about linebackers Ben Davis and Lyndell Wilson, both 5-star products, according to the 247Sports composite rankings, who had the added bonus of being from in-state.

“We thought they were outstanding players,” he added.

With them in tow, the makeup of this latest signing class follows suit. The 25 total players hailed from 12 different states and Washington, D.C. Seven were from Alabama. Another six were from the five-hour radius, including three from Mississippi where Saban hadn’t been having much luck recently. 

“Because of the quality of programs that they have in their own state, it’s been a little more difficult lately to get guys to leave their own state,” Saban said after signing cornerback Nigel Knott, defensive tackle Raekwon Davis and tackle Scott Lashley, all considered 4-star prospects.

“Bo Davis did a really good job recruiting them,” he added about the Crimson Tide’s defensive line coach, who has Mississippi as part of his recruiting territory.

Meanwhile, Alabama has managed to keep its vice grip on its own state, which has to remain at the heart of its recruiting efforts.

Since 2008, there have been 19 players in the state of Alabama listed as a 5-star recruit by 247Sports. Of them, Saban signed 15. Of the 72 4-star players, 38 landed with the Crimson Tide.

In comparison, rival Auburn successfully recruited two of the 5-star players and 20 of the 4-star talents (and the discrepancy is even greater with 247’s own evaluations that contributed to the composite rankings that average ratings from numerous recruiting sites). During that time span, it’s had two head coaching changes, but also won a national championship.

Here’s a quick year-by-year look at the in-state recruiting:

2008: Saban’s first full recruiting class included 15 of the state’s top 21 prospects, including the top three of Julio Jones, Tyler Love and B.J. Scott, who were all considered 5-star prospects (Jones became a star, Love never started and Scott transferred). It also landed Tuscaloosa-area products John Michael Boswell and Brad Smelley.

The top two in-state players that Alabama didn’t get were No. 5 and 6, safety Dee Finley (from Auburn High School) and defensive lineman William Green, who both signed with Florida.

2009: Alabama signed the top eight in-state prospects including 5-star players Dre Kirkpatrick, Nico Johnson and D.J. Fluker. The top-rated player to leave the state was No. 13, linebacker D.T. Shackelford to Ole Miss.

2010: Alabama signed the state's only 5-star player, cornerback Dee Milliner, and the next two top prospects, linebacker C.J. Mosley and safety Jarrick Williams. Auburn was able to snare defensive end LaDarius Owens, while the top prospect to bolt from the state was Mobile-area wide receiver Solomon Patton to Florida.

2011: It was considered down year for in-state talent, and Alabama focused more on players from beyond the state border. It still signed No. 1 Marvin Shinn, No. 3 Brent Calloway and No. 6 Danny Woodson, but none of them made much of a mark at the Capstone. One player who did was No. 10 Christion Jones.

2012: The biggest in-state departure during the Saban era was quarterback Jameis Winston, who instead went to Florida State and won both a Heisman Trophy and national championship. Going with him was the second-highest rated prospect, wide receiver Chris Casher.

Alabama did pretty well, though, landing four of the next five in-state prospects including T.J. Yeldon, Reggie Ragland and Ryan Anderson.

2013: Alabama had a clean sweep of the top five prospects including 5-star talents Reuben Foster and O.J. Howard.

Only one player rated in the top 10 left the state, No. 6 Austin Golson to Ole Miss. Auburn’s top in-state prospect was quarterback Jeremy Johnson, ranked seventh.

2014: The state had four 5-star prospects with Alabama getting the first two, cornerback Marlon Humphrey (a legacy) and linebacker Rashaan Evans, who like Foster attended Auburn High School.

The Auburn Tigers landed running back Roc Thomas and linebacker Tre’ Williams. 

2015: Alabama signed the lone 5-star recruit, defensive lineman Da’Ron Payne, and four of the top six players.

Outside of the top 10 players, Louisville and Mississippi State hit the state hard and signed six of the next eight prospects.

2016: Alabama added four of the top six players including the only two 5-star players, Davis and Wilson. Auburn’s top get was defensive end Marlon Davidson out of the Montgomery area. His brother Ken Carter is on the Auburn staff and Gus Malzahn said the coaches considered him the top recruit in the state.

Time will tell if he’s correct, but in the meantime the versatile Jennings is getting used to Tuscaloosa and will likely take his initial snaps at safety this spring.

Although he wasn’t rated as a top prospect, 19th in the state and No. 599 nationally, he’s been surprised at how close everyone is on the team and Jennings is eager to show that he belongs.  

"I don't care where I play. I just want to play," he said.


Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting ratings are from 247Sports.

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

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Auburn Football Recruiting: Looking Ahead to 2017 Class

Recruiting never stops, especially at a powerhouse program such as Auburn.

In order to get a streak of top-10 classes like the one Gus Malzahn and his staff has, coaches must get started early on recruiting the stars of tomorrow far in advance.

Case in point: In the first few minutes of his signing day press conference last Wednesday—a day when the entire college football world was focused solely on the class of 2016—Malzahn mentioned he had talked to dozens of 2017 recruits that day.

"Today was a really good day," Malzahn said. "They got me on the phone with close to 50 guys coming up and I think that’s a great thing. I'm excited to recruit those guys, and I know our coaches are, too."

Now that everyone's focus has started to shift toward the 2017 cycle, let's take a look at who Auburn currently has committed and who its biggest blue-chip targets are for the next several months. 


The current commitments

Compared to the likes of Ohio State, Alabama and Miami, Auburn is off to a slow start in the 2017 cycle with just three commitments so far.

But the Tigers didn't have a huge number of commitments for most of the 2016 cycle, and they still finished with yet another top-10 class. Gus Malzahn and his staff aren't new at this.

Auburn's trio of 2017 pledges are high quality, though, beginning with 5-star offensive tackle Calvin Ashley. The Orlando, Florida, native is the nation's No. 4 overall recruit and the No. 2 offensive tackle, making him one of the biggest early pledges Auburn has had in quite some time.

Ashley committed to Auburn all the way back in May of last year during "Big Cat Weekend," and he's made a pair of additional unofficial visits to the Plains since then—including last November's Iron Bowl.

In-state schools Florida and Florida State are still chasing after Ashley, who participated in The Opening last summer, but he remains "100 percent committed" to the Tigers.

"I’m 100 percent," Ashley said last month, per Hank South of 247Sports. "(Auburn) has really nice coaches; it’s a nice place to be, nice facilities … I love it. They’ll have a pretty good season next year. I mean this year there were just ups and downs, but next year it’ll be a pretty good season."

Auburn picked up a pair of offensive tackles in the 2016 class to help replace the losses of Shon Coleman and Avery Young to the NFL. The Tigers have great depth at the position for the future, but Ashley looks like he could play early and often at Auburn.

Four-star athlete Alaric Williams is Auburn's other blue-chip commitment for the 2017 class at this moment. The in-state product committed to the Tigers last July and is still receiving plenty of attention from Notre Dame, Alabama and Georgia.

Auburn is recruiting Williams to play running back, a position the Tigers will need reinforcements at starting with the 2017 season. Jovon Robinson's eligibility expires after 2016, and Auburn will have Roc Thomas, Kerryon Johnson and Malik Miller left on campus.

Williams looks like the ideal fit to join the other Alabama running backs at Auburn, but he also has the ability to play wide receiver or defensive back down the road. According to Keith Niebuhr of 247Sports, Williams could be an early enrollee in 2017.

Three-star Georgia safety Carlito Gonzalez rounds out the current commitment crop, as he pledged to the Tigers last August.

While Gonzalez remains committed to the Tigers, South Carolina is a team to watch in his recruitment. Gonzalez was recruited by Will Muschamp and Travaris Robinson at Auburn—and both of them moved onto better positions with the Gamecocks.

The Tigers would love to keep Gonzalez, as both Rudy Ford and Josh Holsey are both entering their final seasons at Auburn.


Staying in-state

In Malzahn's first two full recruiting cycles, Auburn did a great job of not letting the bulk of the high school talent in Alabama sign with the Crimson Tide. The Tigers were able to snag a few Mr. Football award-winners and close the gap between the number of state blue-chippers heading to Tuscaloosa and Auburn.

Auburn didn't have as much success in-state in 2016 as it did in 2014 and 2015, but it managed to land two consensus 4-stars in defensive end Marlon Davidson and cornerback John Broussard.

The 2017 class currently has twice as many blue-chip recruits from the state of Alabama as the 2016 class did, with 14 players boasting 4-star ratings. The Tigers have already gotten off to a good start for several of them, setting up some big-time rivalry battles over the next few months.

Four-star outside linebacker Markail Benton is the state's No. 1 player, and Auburn has a number of factors working well in its recruitment of him.

Linebacker is a position of great need for 2017, and Benton hails from Central High School in Phenix City—which is 30 miles away from Auburn's campus. Benton, who has visited Auburn three times since last summer, was teammates in high school with Broussard.

All 12 of the Crystal Ball Predictions on 247Sports for Benton have him signing with the Tigers in this cycle, but Alabama will always be a contender for a top prospect such as this one.

Other top targets from the state of Alabama include Austin Troxell, a 4-star offensive tackle from Madison Academy in North Alabama. The successful program has produced recent Auburn backs Kerryon Johnson and Malik Miller, so the Tigers could pick up Troxell as well for their uptempo offense.

Troxell has visited Alabama more often than Auburn, but the Tigers were the first ones to offer him a scholarship. According to his 247Sports profile of interests, this one looks like it will be a classic Auburn-Alabama matchup on the recruiting trail.

Auburn might have a better chance for 4-star defensive end Ryan Johnson. As Niebuhr noted earlier this month, Johnson grew up an Auburn fan, and he's located right in Auburn assistant Dameyune Craig's recruiting wheelhouse of Mobile.

Johnson is listed as a 6'4", 240-pound strong-side defensive end, but he has room to grow into a future force at the defensive tackle position. While he's keeping his options open, Auburn should be a top contender for Johnson.

"I talked to Coach (Kevin Steele), Coach (Dameyune Craig) and Coach (Rodney Garner)," Johnson said, per Niebuhr. "They’re definitely showing a lot of interest in me. They definitely want us to come up here and compete."

Other in-state names to watch include 4-star quarterback Jake Bentley, who is right down the road from Auburn at Opelika. Bentley had an incredible junior season quarterbacking the Bulldogs, and he's the son of former Auburn assistant Bobby Bentley—who is also now at South Carolina.

Bentley has good mobility, but he's still a pro-style quarterback. It will be interesting to see if the Tigers continue to pursue him in this cycle after signing two dual-threats in 2016. 

Four-star wide receiver Nico Collins and four-star offensive tackle Kendall Randolph are both widely expected to sign with Alabama, but the Tigers will still track them in this cycle.


To the battleground states and beyond

Auburn went into its traditional pipeline of Georgia in the 2016 cycle and came out a big winner, netting three of the state's top 10 recruits.

Georgia will continue to be a high priority for Auburn in this upcoming class, with many of the Tigers' top targets hailing from the Peach State.

Five-star cornerback Deangelo Gibbs is the biggest one of those, as he's ranked as the nation's No. 9 overall recruit and No. 2 cornerback. Gibbs is from Grayson High School in Loganville, Georgia—the same school that produced Ole Miss star and former No. 1 overall recruit Robert Nkemdiche.

As Bleacher Report's Sanjay Kirpalani detailed last year, Gibbs has been one of the class of 2017's can't-miss recruits for quite some time. He won the defensive back MVP award at a Nike camp in Atlanta when he was a high school sophomore, beating out a number of eventual 5-stars from the 2015 and 2016 cycles.

Gibbs is a freakish athlete with incredibly polished skills as a defensive back, and he's picked up 33 scholarship offers so far. Georgia and Tennessee are said to be the early leaders for him, but he visited Auburn last November and is one of the Tigers' biggest priorities on defense.

Auburn is widely expected so sign 4-star athlete Tray Bishop from Dawson, Georgia. The high school quarterback will most likely play either receiver or safety at the next level, and he's visited Auburn three times in the past year.

The Tigers could snag 4-star defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon like they did with Derrick Brown and several other highly rated linemen from Georgia. The nation's No. 6 defensive tackle has garnered plenty of attention from Auburn as well as Georgia, Ohio State, Florida and Florida State.

Auburn continued to flex its newfound muscles in the state of Florida by signing several natives in the last cycle and picking up a commitment from Ashley. 

Four-star inside linebacker Will Ignont could technically be classified as an Alabama recruit, but he transferred from Buckhorn High School to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. Ignont is expected to become a Tiger, and Auburn would love to pick up a blue-chip from IMG for future recruiting purposes.

Other 4-star targets from Florida include running backs Colin Wilson and Devan Barrett. Auburn will have to battle the in-state Gators for these prized rushers, who could add to the great depth the Tigers love to have in the backfield.

Perhaps the biggest recruit to watch outside of the pipeline states of Alabama, Florida and Georgia has to be 4-star dual-threat quarterback Lowell Narcisse—a Louisiana native who was formerly committed to Auburn.

Narcisse committed to Auburn last July but opened his recruitment back up in January, telling Shea Dixon of 247Sports that he "rushed" his decision.

"I still plan to communicate and nurture a relationship with [Auburn]," Narcisse told Dixon. "But at this time I will open my recruitment back up. My main goal now is to continue to get my health better and be a leader and role model to my team."

Narcisse came in at No. 7 for quarterbacks in Bleacher Report's Future 100 for the class of 2017, and it's easy to see why Auburn is still pushing for him after his decommitment. He's the ideal Malzahn quarterback:

He's easily the smoothest runner on this list, which makes him an ideal fit to land in a collegiate offensive scheme that emphasizes designed rushing attempts from its quarterback, His agility is often utilized on roll-out plays that take him beyond the pocket, and he displays solid touch (17/20) that creates space for receivers to extend. Elongated passing mechanics (12/15) can be polished to add even more precision and power to passes.

Auburn doesn't have a gaping hole at quarterback for 2017, but it will lose Jeremy Johnson after this season. If the Tigers want to have strong depth there for the future, Narcisse is the way to go.


All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. 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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2016 Early Enrollees Expected to Make a Splash in Spring Practice

For some incoming freshmen, college football season starts now.

Those who enrolled early have already (in most cases) joined the program and are undergoing winter workouts. Workouts will turn to spring practice in March and April, giving fresh-out-of-high school players a chance to compete for starting jobs.

Some of those players will make stronger cases than others. That's what this list hopes to target. It's not just the highest-ranked early enrollees such as Ole Miss quarterback Shea Patterson; it's the highest-ranked early enrollees expected to compete to start immediately.

That, after all, is the splash most of these teams are hoping for.

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SEC Reportedly Looks to Block Michigan from Holding Spring Practice in Florida

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said Tuesday the conference has petitioned the NCAA to block Michigan from holding spring practices in Florida.  

“Our primary reaction [is] that, in the face of the time-demand conversations, we've got one program taking what has been 'free time' away,” Sankey said, per Dennis Dodd of “Let's draw a line and say, ‘That's not appropriate.'"

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh announced last week he plans for the Wolverines to practice at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, from Feb. 27 to March 6. 

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Who Are the Most Valuable Offensive Coordinators in College Football?

Peyton Manning’s (likely) final rodeo and ride off into the sunset during Super Bowl 50 received most of the attention on Sunday following the Denver Broncos' 24-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers, but there was one storyline that proved to be key to the final outcome of the game: that of victorious defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.

The longtime coach capped off a weekend in which he was named NFL Assistant of the Year by putting together one of the most impressive defensive performances of any Super Bowl and was finally able to savor the sweet, sweet moment of holding up the Lombardi Trophy.

While players like Von Miller and T.J. Ward were the ones who made the plays when they counted against the Panthers, it was Phillips’ game plan that might have been the most impressive effort of Denver’s run to a title.

That got us to thinking: With Phillips playing such a key role for a Super Bowl winner, who in college football might be considered the most valuable defensive coordinator? Likewise, who takes the honors on the offensive side of the ball?

With most hires already in the books and offseasons getting ready to take the next step with spring football, it seems like the perfect time to scan the landscape and see who has a Phillips-like impact on their teams as quality coordinators. You can find the defensive list here, while the most valuable offensive coordinators are discussed below.


Lane Kiffin, Alabama

Is Kiffin the most polarizing offensive coordinator in the country? Absolutely, there’s little doubt about that.

Still, there are few better when it comes serving as a coordinator, and it speaks volumes that Nick Saban entrusts that side of the ball to the still-young coach.

Kiffin’s reputation may have been initially built off the backs of Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush, but some of his best work has been done lately in the SEC. At Alabama, he’s developed two different first-time starting quarterbacks into quality players and churned out a Heisman Trophy winner at running back, Derrick Henry.

Just as impressive has been his overall ability to bring the Tide into the modern game with his installation of uptempo spread-offense concepts.

The persona Kiffin developed at Tennessee has colored much of how he’s viewed in the college football world, but when you look past that, you see a top-notch OC who has proved to be an equally good recruiter.


Bill Legg, Marshall

Legg doesn’t receive the attention that some of his other Power Five peers do but nevertheless has produced some of the most prolific offenses in the country during his time at Marshall, and even before that.

His best work was done in bringing along quarterback Rakeem Cato and wideout Tommy Shuler a few seasons ago and turning the two into one of the most productive duos in NCAA history.

Legg has led the Thundering Herd to top marks in a number of top offensive categories, both nationally and in Conference USA, during his tenure. Before that, he was co-coordinator on several successful Purdue squads that were some of the best teams in Boilermakers history this side of Drew Brees.

The West Virginia native (and former Mountaineer) has spent the bulk of his career in his home state and along the Eastern Seaboard but has been mentioned for bigger jobs over the years thanks to a quality resume.


Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie, TCU

There may be no hotter names for athletic directors or other head coaches in need of a new offensive coordinator than the dynamic duo in charge of Gary Patterson’s offense. Each has been mentioned quite a bit this offseason for other jobs, but both have chosen to stay in Fort Worth to try to bring a Big 12 title to TCU.

The elder of the two, Meacham has found success at just about every stop. He’s served as an OC or co-coordinator at six schools and was part of several other record-setting offenses at Oklahoma State (where he was also a player). A veteran receiving coach when not calling plays, he’s tutored a number of standouts from Brandon Pettigrew to Josh Doctson.

As a former Texas Tech quarterback, few know the Air Raid offense as well as Cumbie does, considering he led the nation in passing and total offense when he was the signal-caller for the Red Raiders and has carried that over into an impressive coaching career in just a short time frame. He also has experience coaching receivers but has really stood out with his work turning Trevone Boykin into a star quarterback.


Ivin Jasper, Navy

Most college football fans may not have heard Jasper’s name until this past offseason, when rumors surfaced that he could take over for Ken Niumatalolo at Navy, but the former Hawaii player has been a big part of the Midshipmen’s success over the past few years.

Amazingly, he’s going on his 16th year at the Naval Academy and is getting close to a decade as the steady hand and offensive coordinator behind the team’s triple-option attack.

Unlike other coaches on this list, Jasper has to deal with a number of restrictions on the players he can recruit and how much time he can spend with them. Still, that hasn’t hampered Navy’s productivity, as just recently quarterback Keenan Reynolds set numerous NCAA records as the trigger of the offense and the team surged to a national ranking in the polls.

In 2015, the Midshipmen also topped the nine-win plateau for the fourth time in the eight seasons Jasper has been running the offense.


Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma

Riley capped off a remarkable 2015 season by becoming the youngest ever to win the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant. Just 32, he was tapped by Bob Stoops to turn around the Oklahoma offense and did just that in leading the team to the College Football Playoff and making quarterback Baker Mayfield a household name.

As part of their run to the Big 12 title, the Sooners averaged 45 points a game on the season and were borderline unstoppable following a loss to Texas early in the season.

While he’s known for installing the Mike Leach blend of the Air Raid attack in Norman, Riley also showed how well he could adapt to his personnel by making OU much more of a power run team behind Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. In addition, Mayfield became one of the best quarterbacks in the country, and wide receiver Sterling Shepard closed out his record-setting career as a borderline unstoppable player late in the season.

Also highly regarded as a quality recruiter with a keen eye for talent, Riley is a longtime veteran coach in the Big 12, despite his age, and drew plenty of recognition for his work as East Carolina’s offensive coordinator.


Mike Sanford, Notre Dame

Brian Kelly has his hands all over the Notre Dame offense, given his background, but few are doubting how big of a role Sanford plays in developing the team’s quarterbacks and preparing the team’s game plans.

The son of a coach, Sanford has found success at just about every stop and has the distinction of coaching in five straight BCS/CFP bowls in the past five seasons as part of the staff at Stanford, Boise State and Notre Dame.

Prior to coming to South Bend, the former Broncos quarterback helped his alma mater place in the top 25 of most major offensive categories, as the team earned the first Group of Five bid to a major College Football Playoff bowl.

In addition to tutoring Grant Hedrick to a career year, Sanford also directed tailback Jay Ajayi to numerous school and conference records back in 2014. Prior to that, he helped turn Stepfan Taylor into one of the best backs in Stanford history and was chiefly responsible for bringing along Kevin Hogan as Andrew Luck’s replacement in 2013.

Sanford’s greatest work may have been this past year with the Irish, however, as he helped the team manage and maneuver around some major injuries but still wind up within sniffing distance of a spot in the final four. He was a big reason why quarterback Malik Zaire was drawing national praise prior to his injury and a big part of backup DeShone Kizer's turning into a budding superstar.

As a result, it probably won’t be too long before Sanford gets tapped to be a head coach somewhere, just like his father.


Dana Dimel, Kansas State

The Kansas State graduate has been a big part of the offensive success Bill Snyder has had in Manhattan, as evidenced by the fact that Dimel is on his third stint with the team as a coach.

Year after year, the Wildcats have one of the most diverse offenses in the Big 12 despite a lack of top-end recruits, and every season the team has found a way to be competitive against just about everybody. Under Dimel just recently, K-State has set a number of school records and won the Big 12 title, while quarterback Collin Klein was a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2012.

Dimel had a solid record as head coach at Wyoming (and a disastrous one at Houston) but has proved to be a top-flight coordinator thanks to his work with the Wildcats. Few are able to do more with less, and the respect he has from his peers in the conference and nationally runs very high.


Tee Martin, USC

Martin was only recently promoted to become USC’s offensive coordinator, but he’s had a hand in just about everything the Trojans have done offensively since arriving on the West Coast in 2012.

A former national championship-winning quarterback at Tennessee, he has tutored several wide receivers to national prominence, including Randall Cobb, Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor.

Martin’s work as a recruiter is probably the biggest reason why he earns a place on this list, however. He’s been named National or Pac-12 Recruiter of the Year by all four major recruiting services at some point and topped 247Sports’ recruiter rankings in 2016 for his work in USC’s strong close on national signing day.

In addition to helping land several top players in the Trojans’ backyard, Martin also has been responsible for some of the program’s biggest wins on the national recruiting trail as well.

When you consider how much turmoil has gone on at USC since Martin arrived, it’s pretty notable to see that he’s one of the calm, steady hands that has kept the school relevant year after year on the national stage. That’s saying quite a bit.


Bryan Fischer is a national college football columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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Kyle Allen Comments on Johnny Manziel, Culture at Texas A&M

Kyle Allen opened up Tuesday regarding his transfer from Texas A&M to Houston in an interview with's Dennis Dodd.  

Allen argued the atmosphere around the program isn't conducive to success, citing Johnny Manziel's rise to prominence as creating systemic issues:

I think the culture was a big part of it, and I think that stems from Johnny's era there—the way that they let Johnny and [others] act there. They [could] do that and still win games because they had Johnny … and five offensive linemen playing in the NFL right now.

A lot of people were riding off that, "I can do whatever the hell I want and win on Saturday."

On paper, Allen should've thrived in College Station. He was the No. 1 pro-style quarterback in the 2014 recruiting class, per 247Sports' composite rankings. Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin was also successful in developing both Manziel and former Cougars quarterback Case Keenum in his first head-coaching job.

Instead, Allen struggled somewhat, throwing for 3,532 yards, 33 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in his two years at A&M. The Aggies also posted an 8-5 record in each of those seasons.

He doesn't specifically criticize Sumlin, but he paints the picture of a head coach unable to get the most out of his players.

"Everyone wasn't in a straight line. Everyone was going this way, this way, this way," Allen said. "We had a ton of talent there. I think that, once you get all the right coaches there and get the vision right, you can do a lot of things."

Joe Buettner of the Dallas Morning News posited the arrival of graduate transfer Trevor Knight might help in part solve the problem:

Sumlin has seemingly attracted the requisite recruits necessary to turn A&M into a perennial SEC contender. According to 247Sports' team composite ranking, his recruiting classes finished No. 11 nationally in 2015, No. 5 in 2014, No. 9 in 2013 and No. 16 in 2012.

The last two years have put Sumlin under the microscope, though, after the Aggies failed to build on the success of the Manziel era. The departure of offensive coordinator Jake Spavital will only put more pressure on Sumlin, too, since he'll have one less person on whom to deflect blame should things go wrong.

Whether serious issues exist behind the scenes or not, the head coach heads into the 2016 season on the hot seat, and Allen's comments will do little to help matters. If Texas A&M finishes with eight or nine wins next year, it's possible Sumlin could be out of a job.

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CFB Players Who Could Be Beaten Out by Freshmen for Starting Jobs in 2016

For every star football recruit who is able to crack the starting lineup in his first collegiate season, there are usually older players who weren't able to stay in front.

Sometimes a true freshman starter immediately steps into a situation where there is a hole on the depth chart thanks to a departed player. These recruits know when they sign they could fill a role left by a graduate or NFL-bound playmaker.

However, some new freshmen are able to beat out players who held starting jobs in previous seasons. Because of the nature of constant competition that a lot of coaches like to bring to spring and fall practices, blue-chip recruits have been able to snag playing time over established veterans.

Here are several returning starters in college football who could—that's a key word, considering these are early projections—lose their coveted jobs to true freshmen in 2016. Whether it's because of a change in coaching staff or scheme, or the outstanding potential of the newcomer, these players will face big-time position battles this offseason.

Tell us who else you think could be on their way out of a starting job in 2016 thanks to an incoming recruit in the comments below.

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Most Indispensable Assistant Coaches in College Football for 2016

Have you ever noticed that, after national signing day, a quick surge of assistant coaching hirings are made? Head coaches get all the credit (and blame), but a great staff of assistant coaches goes a long way as well. And it can be a cut-throat business trying to put it together. 

In reality, no coach is every truly irreplaceable—they come and go all the time—but there are many who are critical to a program's success. These are college football's indispensable assistant coaches. In the follow slides are assistants who excel in at least one of the following areas: recruiting, on-field results (i.e. stats) and longevity/loyalty (in other words, if they've been with the same coach for years). 

By rule, we're eliminating assistant coaches entering their first full year with their new program since their value with that particular team has yet to be determined. For example: LSU's new defensive coordinator, Dave Aranda, isn't eligible because he just switched jobs. However, given what Wisconsin accomplished defensively over the past few years, Aranda would seem like a natural choice. 

So check out our list of the most indispensable coaches. Have one of your own? Make your case in the comment section below. 

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What Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin Must Do to Save His Job in 2016

If you see Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin squirming a little bit while sitting down this offseason, don't be alarmed.

He's just trying to look and remain calm while sitting on the hottest seat in the country.

Sumlin's Aggies have fallen off the SEC radar after he and former quarterback Johnny Manziel burst onto the scene in 2012—the program's first season in the conference. 

Since winning the Cotton Bowl after that season, they've regressed to a point where they're rarely thought of in the SEC West race and have become noted for inconsistent defense and an ongoing quarterback carousel rather than contending.

The culture of the program was even brought into question by former quarterback Kyle Allen in an interview with's Dennis Dodd. Allen and fellow 5-star quarterback Kyler Murray both transferred from the program in December.

As ESPN's Chris Low noted on Sports Talk With Bo, a statewide syndicated radio show in Arkansas, Sumlin can't continue along this trajectory.

Low: If Kevin Sumlin has another year similar to the last two years, it’s going to be tough for him to survive. Climate of the SEC West.

— Bo Mattingly (@SportsTalkwBo) January 6, 2016

Sumlin has to contend in 2016, and that likely means at least having a shot at the SEC West title when the calendar flips to November.

Does he need to win it? 

Of course not.

He just needs to have a legitimate chance in November, and Sumlin should be fine.

Administrators and most fans know that while teams have to be talented and well-coached to win titles, they have to have a little bit of luck, too—which is wildly unpredictable.

It's not like the SEC West is littered with certainty, though.

Alabama has earned the benefit of the doubt in the face of massive roster turnover, but every other team in the division either has massive roster holes to address this offseason or philosophies that need to change in order to be taken seriously. 

The thing about this team is that aside from the surprising departures of Allen and Murray, Texas A&M actually has some things going for it that could land it in contention.

Former offensive coordinator Jake Spavital's departure was addition by subtraction, no matter who the replacement was. As I noted during the season, Spavital has overseen three of the four most notable midseason quarterback regressions over the last four seasons and clearly was a problem in College Station.

Not only did Sumlin do the right thing by showing Spavital the door, but he hired Noel Mazzone away from UCLA to replace him. Mazzone teaches a physical offense that is predicated on establishing the run while incorporating many of the same spread elements that have become synonymous with Sumlin and Texas A&M. 

He's the perfect coordinator to maintain Texas A&M's offensive identity while making the appropriate tweaks to deal with the day-to-day grind of SEC football.

No quarterback? No problem. 

All Sumlin did was sign Oklahoma graduate transfer Trevor Knight to contend with Jake Hubenak, who topped the 300-yard mark in the loss to Louisville in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. 

No, Knight didn't look great against TCU as an injury replacement for Baker Mayfield in 2015 and nearly allowed the Horned Frogs to win a game they had no business being in at halftime. But he is a two-time captain of the Sooners (even when he wasn't the starter), enjoyed success at the top of the college football food chain when he toppled Alabama in the 2014 Allstate Sugar Bowl and was the best graduate transfer quarterback on the market.

"You see how certain guys just ooze leadership, and he's all about that," Sumlin said on national signing day, according to the school: 

Takes care of his business. Tremendous team guy. Tremendous leadership guy. First thing that strikes me is we got back here and his conversation level is a lot different than an 18-year-old. His ability to rally guys when we are gone and the coaches can't be there … He's already had guys out throwing and catching.

Simply put, Sumlin made the best of a bad situation in the face of massive pressure.

That matters, even though it goes largely unnoticed by the public.

Lost in the shuffle of the quarterback exodus and intra-state rival Texas' dominant national signing day was the fact that Sumlin gets two more big-time transfers in 2016 after they sat out 2015.

Keith Ford is a former 5-star running back for Oklahoma who will provide options and depth in the backfield alongside James White. On the other side of the football, former 4-star corner Priest Willis will join a defensive backfield that includes safety Armani Watts, as well as a front seven that includes stud defensive ends Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall, tackle Daylon Mack and linebacker Otaro Alaka. 

"[We were] able to add two really good transfers last year—Priest Williams as a corner who started at UCLA and Keith Ford who was really fine player at Oklahoma," Sumlin said of the newcomers in a press conference on national signing day. "Those guys don't show up on this list, but you add them to this class and you start to see the depth pile up real quick."

Depth is what vaults teams into contention for championships, and Texas A&M actually has that everywhere else other than quarterback.

Sumlin needs to contend to save his job. Even though the last few months have been uncomfortable at best and dicey at worst, he has done a lot to the roster and staff over the last couple of seasons to do just that.


Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of, and recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Thomas Sirk Injury: Updates on Duke QB's Recovery from Achilles Surgery

The Duke Blue Devils are facing major injury questions even before their football season begins, as senior quarterback Thomas Sirk suffered an Achilles injury.     

Continue for updates. 

Sirk to Undergo Surgery Tuesday, Feb. 9

According to Stephen Wiseman of the Herald-Sun, Sirk ruptured his Achilles tendon on Tuesday morning and will have surgery to repair the injury.

Laura Keeley of the News & Observer noted it was Sirk's left Achilles tendon and that there is no timetable for his return. 

This marks the second time in three years Sirk has suffered this injury, as he previously ruptured his right Achilles during a Duke practice in April 2013. He was a redshirt freshman that season and wound up not playing in any games as the team went 10-4 with Anthony Boone under center. 

Sirk played sparingly in garbage time two years ago before taking over as Duke's starting quarterback in 2015.

He was tremendous in 12 games last season, throwing for 2,624 yards, running for 809, recording 24 total touchdowns (16 passing) and leading the program to its first bowl win since 1960 with a 44-41 victory over Indiana in the Pinstripe Bowl. 

With Sirk on the sidelines for the the foreseeable future, Duke head coach David Cutcliffe will likely rely on Parker Boehme, who started one game in 2015 and is entering his fourth season with the program as a redshirt junior. 

Boehme did gain experience last season, but Sirk proved himself to be a valuable dual-threat option in Cutcliffe's offense. Fortunately, the Blue Devils have time to work with all of their backups so they feel 100 percent comfortable running things if Sirk has to miss substantial time during the season, which starts Sept. 3. 

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Ohio State's Biggest Spring Position Battle Isn't for a Starting Spot

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Stop me if you've heard this before, but there's a quarterback controversy brewing in Columbus.

OK, don't stop me—it's not the type of signal-caller battle that those who have followed the Ohio State program have become accustomed to in the past year.

While J.T. Barrett is firmly entrenched as the Buckeyes' starting quarterback after spending the better part of the past 12 months competing with Cardale Jones for that right, Ohio State now finds itself with a shortage of experience on what's been its most talked-about position on the depth chart.

A year ago, the Buckeyes didn't only seem poised to have the best backup quarterback in the country, but the most talented third-stringer as well, before Braxton Miller made his offseason move to wide receiver.

Now? There's Barrett at the front of the line—that's no longer up for debate. But behind the Fiesta Bowl MVP sits nothing but unknown commodities, even for as well as head coach Urban Meyer has recruited since arriving to Columbus.

The battle for Ohio State's backup quarterback job won't only be important for the future, giving the winner the inside track to replacing Barrett as the Buckeyes' starter—something that could occur as soon as 2017—but for the upcoming season as well.

After all, if there's one program that understands the value of a backup quarterback, it's the one that won a national championship just a year ago with its third-string signal-caller.

With two scholarship quarterbacks behind Barrett on campus and a third on his way for the fall, the fight to serve as Ohio State's top understudy will begin as soon as this spring. At the moment, there is no clear-cut favorite to become Barrett's primary backup, but Meyer will have no shortage of options to evaluate this offseason.


Stephen Collier 

If experience is of any sort of importance in the Buckeyes' backup quarterback race, then Stephen Collier would seem to have a slight edge—although not necessarily as big of one as you'd think. Of the three quarterbacks vying for Ohio State's No. 2 signal-caller role, Collier is the only one to have taken an official snap in his college career, with the 6'4", 225-pounder receiving sporadic mop-up duty in 2015.

But while one would think that alone would give Collier an advantage heading into spring practice, Meyer curiously failed to mention the former 3-star prospect while discussing his team's quarterback situation during a signing day appearance on his radio call-in show.

"This is a critical spring for him," Meyer later said at his signing day press conference. "This is the time for him to produce. He works his tail off. To get in the mix you've got to be pretty good."

The reality is that Collier has always been a long shot to be a long-term solution for the Buckeyes at quarterback, an under-recruited player who arrived at Ohio State after Meyer missed on Deshaun Watson, Kyle Allen and Brandon Harris during the 2014 recruiting cycle.

It's likely not a coincidence that the Buckeyes reportedly got back in the Allen sweepstakes this offseason after he announced his intentions to transfer from Texas A&M before ultimately landing at Houston with former OSU offensive coordinator Tom Herman.

A native of Leesburg, Georgia, Collier's ceiling always seemed to be that of former Ohio State signal-caller Kenny Guiton, who turned into a viable backup for Braxton Miller in the final two seasons of his five-year college career.

Ultimately, that's what Collier could find himself as this season: Barrett's backup in title, but a major question mark should significant playing time be needed from the Buckeyes' understudy. Much of where Collier goes from now will be determined this spring, perhaps making him the biggest wild card in this offseason battle.


Joe Burrow

While Collier may have experience—no matter how limited—on his side, it's redshirt freshman Joe Burrow who appears to be Meyer's favorite to secure Ohio State's No. 2 quarterback.

The fifth-year Buckeyes head coach said as much during his signing day call-in show, anointing Burrow as Barrett's backup in the same answer in which he omitted Collier.

"Joe Burrow's really moving," Meyer said.

A former 4-star prospect by way of The Plains, Ohio, Burrow redshirted in 2015 but was impressive enough in practice to steal reps from Collier with the Buckeyes' third team by season's end. Earning Ohio's Mr. Football award in 2014, the 6'3", 208-pounder put up video game-like numbers in his storied high school career, completing 72 percent of his passes for 4,445 yards, 63 touchdowns and two interceptions while adding 642 yards and five scores on the ground in his senior season.

Playing in Ohio's Division III, questions often arose about the competition he faced, but in his short time on campus, that already appears to be a nonfactor. Arriving alongside fellow QB Torrance Gibson, who has since moved to wideout, questions have always seemed to be attached to Burrow's college career, but for now he seems to have the inside track to becoming the Buckeyes' quarterback of the future.

At the very least, Burrow should be considered the favorite to be Barrett's backup this season, giving him the inside track to becoming his long-term replacement. And should Ohio State's starter go down with an injury in 2016, don't be surprised if Burrow finds himself in the starting lineup as the most viable long-term solution to any quarterback needs.


Dwayne Haskins

Although Meyer has seemingly penciled in Burrow as Barrett's backup, the Buckeyes head coach also noted, "The one walking through the doors in June is really good."

"The one" Meyer was referring to is Dwayne Haskins, a 4-star prospect and the lone quarterback signee in Ohio State's 2016 class. A longtime commit to Maryland, Haskins flipped his pledge to the Buckeyes in January after Tristen Wallace spurned Ohio State to play wide receiver at Oregon.

And although Haskins at one time appeared to be the Buckeyes' Plan B, Meyer hasn't been short on praise for the 6'3", 198-pounder who was recently named MVP of the International Bowl.

"If you go watch his highlight tape, just watch the ball come out of his hand, his arm strength, he's a good 6'3"-plus," Meyer said. "The fundamentals that Dwayne Haskins possesses right now is as good as I've ever seen in a young quarterback."

With Barrett entrenched in the starting lineup, Haskins would ideally redshirt in 2016, just like Barrett, Jones, Collier and Burrow have all done under Meyer. But with the way Meyer has talked about his newest quarterback and the uncertainty behind Barrett on the Buckeyes depth chart, the three-time national championship head coach appears to be considering deviating from his plan and playing Haskins as soon as he deems necessary.

"I anticipate...he will compete for playing time as a true freshman," Meyer said.

Without the added benefit of spring practice, beating out Burrow—or even Collier for that matter—could prove to be a tall task.

But for now, the battle to be the Buckeyes' backup quarterback appears wide-open, and could go a long way in shaping the future of Ohio State football.


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 Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Can LSU Regain the Commitment of No. 1 2017 Recruit Dylan Moses?

As the nation's top-ranked player in the 2017 class, Dylan Moses is a marked individual. Everything he does is weighed on a proverbial scale.

When the outside linebacker recruit committed to LSU as a freshman in September of 2013, it made national news. When he decommitted from LSU in August of last year, the news was treated with high reverence.

And when Moses decided to transfer from University Lab in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, it shook the recruiting world.

Everything Moses does is news, and LSU is hoping to write headlines next year when Moses announces his verbal commitment and signs his national letter of intent. The Tigers are looking to regain his pledge and fight off schools like Alabama, Texas, Georgia, Florida, USC and UCLA, the schools he recently re-confirmed to's Derek Tyson as being his current favorites.

Is there a chance for Moses to one day recommit to LSU? Sure. Will it be tough for LSU? Definitely. But is it impossible? Absolutely not.

The truth is it'll be hard to find any college program on any level publicly saying it doesn't want Moses on its campus by January 2017 (Moses is planning to enroll in college early).

At 6'2" and 220 pounds, Moses is a specimen with and without pads on. He's well put together physically, super-athletic and someone who makes playing the linebacker position look easy.

As an outside linebacker, Moses has excellent field vision and reacts to plays quickly. He's the guy who rarely misses a tackle and, on occasion, makes that jarring hit determined to wow the crowd and suitable to lead the average highlight tape.

And then there's his play at running back. If a college chooses to use him on the offensive side of the ball, Moses is a guy who can be the shifty, elusive back on one play and the bruising, north-south punisher who enjoys contact on another play.

A handful of LSU coaches have been integral in Moses' recruitment. Along with head coach Les Miles, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, defensive backs coach Corey Raymond and linebackers coach Bradley Dale Peveto all have done their part in recruiting Moses.

Although Moses is now at IMG Academy, Baton Rouge is still his home, and the LSU campus is still minutes away from home. His old high school is located on the LSU campus.

It helps that he's a big fan of Miles. He was very open with his opinions when Miles was under fire and being threatened with losing his coaching position.

Moses is still interested in LSU, but the decommitment was an opportunity for him to fully explore his options and make the right decision next February. He has more than 30 reported offers, the latest reportedly coming from North Carolina and Oklahoma. This spring could mean an opportunity to land even more as he prepares for his senior year at IMG.

Moses told Tyson that Alabama is currently his front-runner, primarily because of the Crimson Tide being "more structured." He also has plans to take unofficial visits to Florida and Florida State. Moses also wants to return to Baton Rouge and see one of LSU's spring practices.

That's great news for LSU. It's not out of the race.

It may be far from being a runaway leader, but it's not out of the race.

It's now all about letting Moses' process play out—all while staying aggressive in landing the nation's top-ranked player.


Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter @DamonSayles.

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Haskell Garrett to Ohio State: Buckeyes Land 4-Star DT Prospect

Coveted defensive line recruit Haskell Garrett announced Tuesday that he's going to play college football at Ohio State: 

Garrett is a 4-star prospect who rates as the No. 78 overall prospect in the 2017 class, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. He also checks in as the No. 4 defensive tackle and No. 3 recruit from Nevada among the incoming freshmen.

The Bishop Gorman High School star has displayed an impressive combination of skills wrapped into an athletic frame (6'2'', 280 pounds). He's established himself as a force against the run while also making himself a consistent pass-rushing threat.

It's raised questions about what role he'll fill at the college level. Steve Hare of Scout passed along comments from the versatile tackle back in December about what teams have told him.

"There's a lot that are recruiting me as a defensive tackle or defensive end," Garrett said. "I think most people are recruiting me as a three-technique."

All told, Garrett is a prospect with a lot of potential. His technique still needs quite a bit of polish and the transition to college is going to take some time after he simply overpowered a lot of linemen at the high school level. But the long-term outlook is extremely positive.

Adding him to the equation certainly provides a nice boost to the 2017 class.


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SEC Football Q&A: Early Picks for the 2016 SEC Championship Game

National signing day just wrapped up, and spring practice is just around the corner.

What better way to hold you over until toe meets leather in March than your weekly serving of SEC Q&A, right?

This week, we take a stab at a post-signing day SEC Championship Game prediction, which redshirt freshmen will become stars in 2016, the budding Florida-Arkansas rivalry and Mississippi State's hopes in the post-Dak Prescott era.


@BarrettSallee sec championship game who's gonna be in it

— Robert Gideon (@gideon_robert) February 8, 2016

For the first time since 2010 when Auburn topped South Carolina, the SEC Championship Game will be a rematch. Plus, for the first time, it will be a rematch of one of the top rivalries in college football.

Alabama and Tennessee meet in Knoxville on the "Third Saturday of November." If I had to guess right now, the Crimson Tide will get the best of the Vols in their first meeting, but Tennessee will have the chance for revenge a month and a half later with a conference title on the line.

Actually, I'm more confident in my pick of Tennessee in the East than I am with Alabama out of the West.

The Vols return a fearsome, multidimensional ground attack that features quarterback Joshua Dobbs, junior running back Jalen Hurd and senior running back Alvin Kamara. They have developed experience and depth up front along the offensive line and defensive line, have one of the best linebackers in the country in Jalen Reeves-Maybin, a loaded secondary that includes senior Cam Sutton, and they upgraded at defensive coordinator from John Jancek to Bob Shoop.

What's more, they get Florida on Rocky Top in a game that decided the division last year. 

Alabama has much more uncertainty on its roster, with the losses of Heisman Trophy-winning running back Derrick Henry, senior starting quarterback Jake Coker, center Ryan Kelly and senior middle linebacker Reggie Ragland.

Yes, Alabama should be fine and has earned the benefit of the doubt. The combination of Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris should be fine at running back, there are plenty of talented quarterbacks like Blake Barnett and David Cornwell for offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin to choose from, the offensive line has built through recruiting over the last few years and my theory that Alabama has a machine that clones middle linebackers hidden somewhere in Tuscaloosa hasn't been refuted yet. 

A little more concerning for Alabama is that early test versus Ole Miss in Oxford. The Tide have lost that game in each of the last two seasons but still managed to make it to Atlanta. If that happens again—and it could considering the loaded Rebel roster and relative uncertainty with the Tide early on—that would leave head coach Nick Saban's crew a small margin for error for the final two-and-a-half months. 

Give me the Tide over the Rebels in a game that will decide the West, Tennessee over Georgia in the game that will decide the East and Alabama toppling Tennessee for its third straight SEC title.

Subject to change, of course.


@BarrettSallee always seems like there's a few RS FR that break out each year. Which ones should we be watching out for next year?

— Saturday @ The Swamp (@SwampSaturdays) February 8, 2016

The first name that pops into my mind is Blake Barnett, the former 5-star prospect from California who enrolled at Alabama last January. 

At 6'5", 200 pounds, Barnett has the arm strength to stretch the field deep, can push the ball sideline to sideline and actually was reclassified as a prospect from a dual-threat to a pro-style quarterback. So, he has the wheels that can make him a force in an offense under Kiffin that has proven to be successful with both styles of quarterbacks over the last two seasons.

"Once he learns everything and gets stronger and all that stuff and does the things he has to do, he's going to be a monster in college football," said former linebacker Reggie Ragland in January, according to Matt Zenitz of

Two Ole Miss guys jump to mind rather quickly, too: running back Eric Swinney and wide receiver Van Jefferson.

Swinney signed with Ole Miss a year ago and was slated to at least contend for some time at running back, but a stress fracture in his leg ended his season before it started, forcing him to sit out. Quarterback Chad Kelly is the leading returning rusher for the Rebels, and they've struggled to run consistently between the tackles for three years. At 5'9", 197 pounds, Swinney is deceptively tough between the tackles, has the edge speed that Ole Miss has become known for and could become a star.

Jefferson should get more playing time after sitting out last season, now that star wide receiver Laquon Treadwell has moved on. At 6'2", 181 pounds, the former 4-star prospect was one of the stars of last year's recruiting class, and he should become more of a factor in an offense that clicks when multiple receivers get in the mix. 

It seems like South Carolina fans have been talking about defensive tackle Dexter Wideman for years, after he flipped from Florida State to South Carolina on national signing day two years ago. He didn't qualify initially, went to prep school in 2014, then redshirted with the Gamecocks in 2015. 

With a new staff comes a fresh start, and the 6'3", 280-pound, ultra-athletic interior lineman is a perfect fit for the defense under head coach Will Muschamp that moves interior lineman around based on down and situation.


@BarrettSallee Who gets the last laugh when they meet on the field next season, Bielema or McElwain?

— ATL Gator (@champton85) February 8, 2016

In case you missed the signing day dust-up between the two, here's a CliffsNotes version:

  • Arkansas target Tyrie Cleveland commits to Florida
  • Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema either compliments Florida's recruiting efforts or suggests impropriety on national television
  • Florida head coach Jim McElwain takes exception
  • Bielema publicly states that it was meant as a compliment and didn't intend harm
  • Everybody's "happy"

Just because Bielema and McElwain have kissed and made up after the hour-long, passive-aggressive war of words, that doesn't mean that it won't be brought up internally when the two meet in Fayetteville, Arkansas, on Nov. 5.

I would lean toward Florida as of today, because the quarterback situation should be resolved at that point, the new defenders should be playing like veterans and the Gator defense is loaded with talented, young players. This year might be a mirror image of last year in Gainesville. The Gators might struggle early due to roster uncertainty but hit their stride down the stretch once everything comes together.

The same path is likely to be taken by Arkansas, which replaces a quarterback, two star running backs, several pieces along the offensive line and superstar tight end Hunter Henry. But what do we know about Bielema-coached teams? They finish strong and should do the same in 2016.

It will be a fun battle in Fayetteville, but Florida's top-end talent should negate any home-field advantage that Arkansas has. 

Plus, whether or not McElwain still takes offense to Bielema's comments in November, he'll certainly use them to his advantage.


@BarrettSallee how well will Mississippi State be this year w/o Dak Prescott?

— Kroeger (@GKroegs) February 8, 2016

Mississippi State will be competitive within the SEC West, but there's a distinction between being competitive in games and actually competing for the division title.

Nick Fitzgerald should take over at quarterback and run basically the same offense that former signal-caller Dak Prescott thrived in over the last two seasons. Getting Fred Brown back at wide receiver is huge for the transition to a new quarterback. The defense still has plenty to work with, including guys like linebacker Richie Brown and defensive back Kivon Coman leading the way. 

The floor of the program has been raised to a point where simply being bowl-eligible isn't good enough anymore, and seven or eight wins should be expected in down seasons. 

Head coach Dan Mullen has earned the benefit of the doubt, and he should be able to fill some roster holes successfully to at least be competitive in virtually every game and spring an "upset" or two.

At this point, though, Mississippi State hanging in games with the so-called "big boys" shouldn't be a surprise.


Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of, and recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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