NCAA Football

Tosh Lupoi Hire Is Huge for Alabama Football Recruiting

In addition to trying to close out the 2015 recruiting cycle, Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban is also active in trying to fill a pair of vacancies on his coaching staff.

According to Thayer Evans of Sports Illustrated, Saban has taken quick action in filling one of those roles, appointing former Washington assistant Tosh Lupoi as the Tide's new outside linebackers coach.

Lupoi replaces Lance Thompson, who left the Tide for a similar post at Auburn.

While the Tide already have the nation’s No. 1 class, the hire of Lupoi may represent Saban’s biggest win in this recruiting cycle.

This hire is big for a few reasons.

For starters, Lupoi is already familiar with the terrain in Tuscaloosa, and he is familiar with what Saban is looking for in a coach and in a recruiter.

He arrived at Alabama last February and was given a role described by Saban as an intern in the recruiting department, per Andrew Gribble of AL.com.

"He's going to be an intern, and he's got a lot of good experience both coaching and recruiting," Saban told Gribble. "He didn't get a job this year, didn't have any issues relative to the way we checked him out with the NCAA, which we do with everybody that we hire."

While he was out of coaching last year, he spent the previous six seasons as a defensive assistant in the Pac-12.

He was the defensive line coach at California—where he played in the early 2000s as a standout defensive lineman—from 2008 to 2011.

His tenure on the sidelines in Berkeley was highlighted by the Bears' top-25 national ranking in total defense in 2010 and 2011. He also tutored the likes of first-round draft choices such as Tyson Alualu and Cameron Jordan.

He moved on to Washington in 2012 and spent two seasons with the Huskies before agreeing to a mutual separation in the wake of allegations of improper recruiting tactics, per Adam Jude of The Seattle Times.

Despite that incident, in which the NCAA closed the case without penalizing him or the university, Lupoi’s tenure as a Pac-12 assistant earned him a reputation as one of the nation’s top recruiters.

Lupoi was named Recruiter of the Year by Rivals in 2010, per Adam Gorney of Rivals. Included in his haul that year was athlete Keenan Allen, who chose the Bears over Alabama.

As Evans notes, Lupoi has extensive connections with players and coaches on the West Coast—a place where the Tide have increased their activity and presence in recent years.

His presence was felt immediately in Tuscaloosa, as one SEC staffer remarked to Evans that Lupoi has already “been a big asset for [them].”

At only 33 years old, he will add more youth and energy to Saban’s staff.

Given his history of recruiting at a high level and developing talent on the field, Lupoi represents another quality hire for Saban and another big win for the Tide’s recruiting efforts.

 

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

 

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Senior Bowl 2015: Score and Twitter Reaction for College All-Star Game

Saturday's 2015 Senior Bowl was filled with standout performances from running backs and did nothing to dismiss the notion that this year's NFL draft is thin on viable franchise quarterbacks.

The North team defeated the South 34-13 at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama, as the top ball-carriers stole the show.

Nebraska standout Ameer Abdullah showed off an impressive all-around game, exploding for 62 yards on five carries along with four receptions for 40 yards before halftime.

SiriusXM NFL Radio noticed Abdullah's explosiveness and also mentioned that he won the game's MVP award:

NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah wasn't ready to rank Abdullah higher than a Day 2 NFL draft pick, though:

Another Big Ten star in Minnesota's David Cobb imposed his will, rushing for 69 yards and scoring on a four-yard jaunt to put the North ahead 20-10 near the end of the third quarter.

That was only a two-play, 11-yard drive, sandwiched between two interceptions from South QB Bryan Bennett in as many attempts.

Turron Davenport of The Baltimore Times lauded the efforts Miami of Ohio cornerback Quinten Rollins made to snag the second pick off Bennett, a former Oregon backup QB who transferred to Southeastern Louisiana:

Miami Athletics tweeted footage of Rollins' sensational interception:

Charles Davis of NFL.com liked what he saw from Auburn standout Cameron Artis-Payne on the South side, the key cog in the Tigers' run-heavy attack in 2014:

Another less dynamic but underrated all-purpose back emerged in Northern Iowa's David Johnson, who scored the South's only touchdown on a 19-yard scamper in the first quarter to open the scoring.

ESPN Insider Chris Sprow and Josh Norris of Rotoworld gave Johnson strong reviews:

For more focus on the other side of the ball, Iowa defensive tackle Carl Davis stood out with his outstanding motor, pursuit and athleticism.

After underwhelming a bit in 2014, Davis has boosted his stock in a big way. Joe Everett of DraftScouts.com was impressed with how Davis' practice-field work carried over to live-game action:

Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net fed the notion that Davis lit it up in practice even prior to the game:

Among the big-name quarterbacks on the field, Bryce Petty of Baylor was the most prominent one who got the longest look.

The Bears star expressed plenty of faith in his own abilities on Wednesday, per Newsday's Kimberley A. Martin:

I feel like I'm No. 1. I really do. That's not a cocky thing, it's not an arrogant thing. It's just me being confident in what I do and understanding that I have a learning curve [to adjust to]. 

But at the same time, I'm really like a little kid in a candy store. I love the idea of playing chess instead of checkers, which is what we've been playing in college. So beating you with my mind and my arm is an aspect that I haven't had the opportunity to do, so I'd love it.

Although there were some encouraging signs, concerns about whether Petty's spread-style game will translate to the NFL gridiron won't go away after Saturday.

Petty did complete nine of 13 passes for a game-high 123 yards, yet he missed badly on a seam throw that was high and behind the intended target and intercepted by TCU cornerback Kevin White.

Rob Rang of CBSSports.com analyzed Petty's game after the ill-fated throw:

The South's big notable was Blake Sims of Alabama, who completed four of 11 pass attempts for 50 yards but also showed athleticism with 23 yards on three rushing attempts.

Oregon State's Sean Mannion, who threw the only TD pass of the game to Notre Dame tight end Ben Koyack in the second quarter, ended up 9-of-14 passing for 71 yards.

Shane Carden of East Carolina has an unconventional throwing motion that impacts his ability to get the ball out on time, so his collegiate numbers should be taken with a grain of salt.

Optimum Scouting's Alex Brown tweeted his take on Carden:

Helping the North's victorious efforts was LSU offensive lineman La'el Collins. Norris believes the big man is nimble enough to be a franchise left tackle, while Draft TV's Shane P. Hallam likes Collins' ability to play guard in the pros:

Collins came from a pro-style offense under coordinator Cam Cameron at LSU, with experience at both guard and tackle. He did nothing to harm his stock in Mobile and could be the highest selection of the entire lot of talented prospects.

Omar Kelly of the Sun Sentinel highlighted a lesser-known strong blocker on the North side in offensive guard Ali Marpet from Hobart College:

Yale Football was pleased when its prized fullback/tailback Tyler Varga found pay dirt twice in the fourth to help bust the game open:

The hard, hungry running on display from multiple running backs in this game offered a good showcase for the offensive linemen involved. It also showed some of the depth NFL teams can pick up later in the draft in the backfield.

Running backs have been devalued in the modern NFL because of the grueling wear and tear players at the position endure, along with the rules that favor teams with prolific passing offenses.

It's still a remote possibility that a ball-carrier will hear his name called on Day 1 of the draft, but plenty should yield outstanding value in the second, third and fourth rounds.

Among the QBs, Petty appears to be the most promising of the bunch, if only for his collegiate production and demonstrated confidence. What will be interesting to see is how he and other signal-callers bounce back after a week in Mobile in which no one distinguishes himself.

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Coastal Carolina Reveals Plans for Teal-Colored Football Field

The Coastal Carolina Chanticleers are going to be making a bold statement with their football field.

For the 2015 season, the Chanticleers are planning on having a teal-colored football field at Brooks Stadium. The team revealed a rendering of the field on Twitter:

The Boise State Broncos started the trend with a blue field, but Coastal Carolina is taking it to a whole new level with the teal. Fans might not enjoy the new look, but they probably won't mind as long as the team keeps winning games.

[Twitter, h/t Yahoo Sports]

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Sammie Coates Injury: Updates on Auburn Star's Groin and Return

Auburn wide receiver Sammie Coates was ruled out for the second half of the 2015 Senior Bowl on Saturday due to a groin injury.

Bill Vilona of the Pensacola News Journal provided the details on the Auburn playmaker's injury:

Coates recorded one reception for 13 yards and got just one foot down in the end zone of Saturday's All-Star game. While he did show flashes of brilliance, scouts will remain mystified by the fact that Coates isn't more consistent.

The Sun Sentinel's Omar Kelly weighed in on Coates during the Senior Bowl:

Health issues have been to blame for some of the inconsistent production Coates experienced at Auburn, though. A knee injury hampered Coates to start 2014, and he also had a knee ailment that forced him to redshirt as a freshman.

Despite those past medical red flags, Coates is still considered one of the top wide receiver prospects to enter the 2015 NFL draft, which is what triggered his invitation to Mobile. He averaged well over 20 yards per catch in each of the past two seasons.

With Coates' combination of speed, size and room to improve, it will tough for NFL teams to pass him up in the first round of the draft. His ceiling could cause a lot of front offices to regret not taking a flier on him.

That makes Kelly's comparison to Carolina Panthers receiver Kelvin Benjamin even more relevant. Coates must impress in his pre-draft interviews and demonstrate better hands in his workouts to move up draft boards.

The hope is that Coates' groin doesn't impact his ability to perform at his best in private workouts or at the NFL Scouting Combine.

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Leonard Fournette's Brother Lanard Commits to LSU

One year after bringing Leonard Fournette to Baton Rouge, LSU has reportedly secured his brother Lanard to play for the football team. 

According to Ross Dellenger of The Advocate, Fournette accepted a scholarship offer from the Tigers:

Per Mike Scarborough of TigerBait.com, Leonard took to Instagram to congratulate his little brother on joining the LSU fraternity:

According to 247Sports.com, Fournette is a three-star player and the 94th-ranked athlete in the 2015 recruiting class. Using the site's Crystal Ball prediction system, LSU was the overwhelming favorite garnering 100 percent of the votes from everyone polled. 

LSU head coach Les Miles is putting together another strong recruiting class in 2015. Per 247Sports.com rankings, the Tigers currently sit 10th in the country with 17 total commits. That doesn't include the bevy of talent they will likely pick up on National Signing Day on February 4. 

Even though the younger Fournette won't enter LSU with the same hype as his brother, there's nothing like a little competition among family members to push both of them to get better. Considering how good Leonard was in his freshman year with 1,034 yards and touchdowns, that's a scary thought for SEC defenses. 

 

 

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Lane Kiffin's Return Is Biggest Commitment Nick Saban Will Get in 2015

While Nick Saban and his staff are out on the road luring the latest batch of 5-star recruits for the 2015 class and beyond, Saban got a commitment Saturday from someone who was well out of high school.

Saban’s biggest commitment of 2015 won’t be a quarterback, running back or defensive lineman. He does not play football and will only be on the field when he’s feeling especially emotive.

Alabama announced Saturday that offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will return for a second season in Tuscaloosa, nearly a week after Adam Schefter of ESPN reported that Kiffin was a front-runner for the San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator job.

Kiffin’s return is massive for an Alabama offense that is only returning two starters from a unit that a year ago set records for total offense and had several individual players break school marks.

It ensures that Alabama will have scheme continuity as it prepares to break in a new quarterback. And it means that Saban will get to keep his offensive wizard around for at least another year, so he can focus on a defense that has a lot to fix.

“We’re very pleased and happy that Lane is going to be staying here at the University of Alabama with us,” Saban said in a UA release. “He’s done a fabulous job and is one of the finest offensive coaches in the country. He is going to have plenty of opportunities in the future and we want to continue to help him develop as a coach so when he leaves here, he’ll be in a very good situation. Our offense was extremely productive last season and we look forward to building on some of the good things we did on that side of the ball with this year’s team.”

Kiffin’s decision likely means one (or both) of two things: He never got offered the 49ers job, or he is going to get a pay raise.

ESPN and the San Jose Mercury News both reported on the interest between San Francisco and Kiffin. The job would have been closer to Kiffin’s home on the West Coast and would have been a chance for him to go back to the NFL. It seemed like a perfect move for him.

But it’s unclear how far that process got, whether Kiffin interviewed or whether he got an offer.

In 2014, Kiffin made $680,000 coaching at Alabama, and his current contract says that he will get paid that much next year too. But it’s hard to see a raise not being in the bright coordinator’s future.

It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Kiffin could approach the seven-figure mark, especially considering defensive coordinator Kirby Smart’s $1.355 million annual pay. Last year, the highest-paid offensive coordinator was LSU’s Cam Cameron, who pulled in $1.3 million, per USA Today's coaching salary database.

He certainly proved he was worth that kind of money last season.

Kiffin inherited a first-year starting quarterback who was a converted athlete, one surrounded by a wealth of skill-position talent, and turned it into one of the top offenses in the country and the best in school history.

Alabama’s 6,783 yards were the most ever for a Crimson Tide offense. Blake Sims broke the single-season passing yards mark, and Amari Cooper shattered nearly every career and season record in 2014.

Kiffin brought a no-huddle attack that was able to win some high-scoring affairs, most notably a 55-44 win in the Iron Bowl.

Kiffin said the following in UA’s release:

I made a comment at the Sugar Bowl that I would be back this fall at Alabama and that is definitely the plan. This time of year, there are lots of things out there regarding other coaching opportunities, but I want to reaffirm my commitment to the University of Alabama, Coach Saban, and our team. I’m excited about what our offensive staff was able to accomplish last year, but I also think there are a lot of things we can do a better job of in terms of putting our players in the best situation to have success.

After being here for a year, I can see why this is such a special place in terms of the history, tradition, and how much football means to everyone at Alabama. I also have learned so much in the time I’ve spent with Coach Saban and really have a better understanding of what makes him the great coach that he is. I think the more time I can spend learning from him, the better coach I will be in the future.

With Kiffin’s return, Saban and Alabama can breathe easier when thinking about the personnel overhaul happening on offense, nowhere more critical than under center.

However Saban convinced Kiffin to stick around, it was the biggest pledge he will get this year.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes and information—including contract information and salary numbers—were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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SEC Football: Each Team's Weakest Position Group for 2015

Every team has a weakness, even in the SEC.

Despite consistently having more than half of its schools among the top 20 or 30 in recruiting each year, as well as leading the way annually in players who get drafted into the NFL, each SEC team still has a positional area of concern heading into the 2015 season. Either because of attrition, injuries or lack of performance, each team is missing something at a certain spot on the field.

The key will be finding a way to make these weaknesses better between now and the start of next season or figuring out how to prevent them from becoming too troublesome.

Check out which position group each SEC team will be spending the most time addressing during the 2015 offseason.

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Lane Kiffin Returning to Alabama in 2015: Latest Details and Reaction

Coming off one of the most prolific seasons in program history, Alabama has announced that offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will return to the program next season. 

The news was tweeted out by Alabama Football's official Twitter:

Kiffin took over the position last year, coaching the Crimson Tide offense to score 36.9 points per game that included seven games with at least 40 points. Under his watch, star wide receiver Amari Cooper set an SEC record with 124 receptions in 2014. 

There had been some speculation that Kiffin was in the running to be offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers, per ESPN's Adam Schefter:

Alabama head coach Nick Saban told Duane Rankin of The Montgomery Advertiser that he hoped Kiffin would remain with the program:

"Lane did a fantastic job for us, and we're hopeful he's going to be with us and continue to do that, and I'm sure that most of our players feel the same way," Saban said. 

Saban got his wish, as Kiffin will be guiding the offense for the 2015 season. He will have a tough task ahead of him, as Cooper, running back T.J. Yeldon and quarterback Blake Sims won't be around. 

However, given the job that Kiffin did to help Sims develop as a first-year starting quarterback in the SEC, there's no doubt that he will relish the opportunity to take on a new challenge. Saban is the best recruiter in the country, so it's not like Alabama's offensive cupboard will be bare. 

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Ohio State Celebration 2015: Twitter Reaction, Photos, Videos and More

Ohio State entered the Big Ten Championship Game on the outside looking in at the first College Football Playoff. The next three games wrote a story Buckeyes fans will tell for a long time. First, they had a chance to celebrate the program's eighth national title with the team on Saturday.

The Buckeyes crushed Wisconsin 59-0 to win the conference title. That was enough to convince the CFP committee to give them a spot in the final four. They proceeded to defeat both Alabama and Oregon while playing the role of underdog to win the championship.

There was no shortage of players who helped make that outcome possible throughout the season. From J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones, who both stepped up at quarterback after Braxton Miller went down, to Ezekiel Elliott, Joey Bosa and countless others, plenty of helmet stickers were handed out.

Let's check out some of the highlights from the championship celebration in Columbus.

Ohio State showed an overhead view of the fans filling up The Horseshoe:

ESPN College Football highlighted all of the trophies they were there to honor:

Athletic director Gene Smith started the festivities by thanking the fans, as Tim May of The Columbus Dispatch pointed out:

Marla Ridenour of the Akron Beacon Journal noted Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman developed a new street sign to commemorate the title:

The Big Ten Network's Ohio State feed provided a shot of the sign:

Next up came the trophy parade. The Buckeyes passed along video of Urban Meyer raising the crystal football to the sky like a scene out of The Lion King:

Jeff Svoboda of the Buckeye Sports Bulletin provided some remarks from Meyer:

Amid questions about what Ohio State will do at quarterback next season, Miller didn't sound like he was going anywhere, as quoted by Ari Wasserman of The Plain Dealer:

Doug Lesmerises of Cleveland.com noted Meyer's new moniker for his quarterback group:

Bleacher Report's Ben Axelrod passed along some fan praise from Jeff Heuerman, which probably holds up:

97.1 The Fan highlighted one player already looking forward to another run:

The jubilation wrapped up with everybody singing Carmen Ohio, as the program spotlighted:

Now, with the championship celebration complete, the college football world keeps spinning. National signing day is right around the corner, and spring ball is only a couple of months away. There are no shortage of teams hoping to knock Ohio State from the mountaintop.

Although there are some questions the Buckeyes need to answer—starting at quarterback—and some holes to fill, they will return as major contenders next fall. Just like during the playoffs, the Meyer-led coaching staff will surely ensure they are prepared to defend the title.

 

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Big Ten Football: Each Team's Weakest Position Group for 2015

Every team has its weakness. Even a Big Ten monolith like Ohio State, which seems so indestructible from the outside, has a thermal exhaust port hiding somewhere.

The key is being able to exploit it.

The following list considers both 2014 performance and 2015 roster composition. Returning players weighed more heavily than incoming players, but incoming players were obviously considered.

Freshmen cannot be discounted after a season in which J.T. Barrett, Ohio State's first-year quarterback, won Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and Mikey Dudek, Illinois' first-year receiver, finished No. 3 in the conference in receiving yards.

Sound off below and let us know where you agree/disagree.

 

Note: All recruiting info refers to the 247Sports composite rankings.

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Senior Bowl 2015 Roster: Full Teams and Prospects to Watch in Showcase

The NFL Scouting Combine may get most of the love in terms of pre-draft evaluations, but the Senior Bowl gives scouts and coaches a chance to see some of the top prospects in the country in actual game action. 

Considering NFL games are played with pads and helmets and not shorts and a stopwatch, performances at the Senior Bowl matter.

Here is a look at the essential information for this year's game, including the full rosters and most intriguing prospects to watch.

 

2015 Senior Bowl

Date: Saturday, January 24, 2015

Time: 4 p.m. ET

Where: Mobile, Alabama

Stadium: Ladd-Peebles Stadium

TV: NFL Network

 

Rosters:

 

Top Prospects to Watch

WR Devin Smith, Ohio State

There may be no player in the country with more momentum than Ohio State wide receiver Devin Smith.

His team won the national championship in dominating fashion over Oregon. He torched Wisconsin for 137 receiving yards and three touchdowns in the Big Ten Championship Game and handled the feared Alabama defense for 87 receiving yards and a touchdown in the Sugar Bowl.

There was a time earlier in the season when he wasn't even an every-down type of player in Ohio State's receiver rotation.

He is arguably the top deep threat in the draft because of his impressive straight-line speed that helped him average 28.2 yards per catch this season and 37.9 yards per touchdown catch in his career. However, this is an opportunity to show that he can run intermediate routes as well.

Smith was also one of Ohio State's top gunners when covering punts, and that type of versatility could help him move up draft boards.

The stats are there—121 career catches for 2,503 yards and 30 touchdowns and a 22-0 record when he hauls in a touchdown pass. Now, he has to prove that there is more to his game than just burning defenders deep.

Smith provided something of a self-assessment, via Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun:

It's been a great week so far. I think I've shown I can compete with the best receivers and showing I can run all the routes. I think that's very imperative for me to show that I can run all the other routes and that I can block and do all the necessary things that a wide receiver has to do.

I know I can run all the other routes, the intermediate routes and things like that, it's just a matter of me showing it to these coaches. One area I need to work on is blocking. I think a lot of times a lot of defensive backs are scared of me going deep, so a lot of times when we had a run, I acted like I was running a go route and took them out of the equation. 

The fact that Smith understands what he has to work on should only encourage NFL scouts.

 

QB/CB Nick Marshall, Auburn

Nick Marshall dazzled against SEC defenses this season from the Auburn quarterback position with 2,532 passing yards, 798 rushing yards and 31 total touchdowns. He made a number of plays with his pure athleticism and instincts and often left defenders grasping for air on missed tackles.

He will hope to use some of those athletic traits now in an effort to become a cornerback at the NFL level.

Marshall clearly thinks the position switch is the best route for his NFL dreams, and it is not an altogether unfamiliar spot for him since he played cornerback as a freshman at Georgia. Jacksonville Jaguars coach Gus Bradley seemed to have his eye on Marshall, via John Glennon of The Tennessean:

He's very intriguing because of his size and length and speed. His first (practice), he comes in there and doesn't even know how to align his feet, and then we go to the red zone today and he was making plays in the red zone. So he's a really quick learner, really understands it. He just needs reps. But he is someone you look at and feel like he's got the height, weight and speed you're looking for.

Marshall is such an intriguing prospect at the Senior Bowl because this may be his only in-game opportunity to show to scouts what he can do as a cornerback after playing quarterback for a couple of years at Auburn. 

No pressure.

 

QB Bryce Petty

It may not be fair, but Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty's 3,855 passing yards and 29 touchdown tosses he put up this year come with a grain of salt when it comes to NFL evaluations. 

He has to prove that he wasn't just a product of the Bears' up-tempo system that put him in the shotgun on every snap and rarely forced him to work through any progressions. Events like the Senior Bowl are critical for his chances because he has the opportunity to show NFL scouts that there is more to his game than quick-hitting shotgun throws.

Tom Reed of Northeast Ohio Media Group provided an early evaluation at the Senior Bowl practices:

Petty had a tough first day of practice Tuesday in front of NFL personnel at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Working under center and taking plenty of five- and seven-step drops, he struggled with his accuracy and timing.

It's only one practice and the players he will call teammates Saturday were only assembled on Monday. But as a quarterback who wants to inject his name in the company of Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston – the presumptive first two quarterbacks off the board in the 2015 NFL Draft – he understands his window to impress league decision makers is tight.

Fortunately for Petty, the most important part of this process is arguably the game itself because it gives scouts and coaches the opportunity to see him perform with pads on under pressure. If he turns in a solid performance Saturday, it will help solidify those eye-popping collegiate numbers in the eyes of NFL personnel.

After all, it only takes one team to fall in love with a prospect.

 

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Senior Bowl 2015: Full Team Rosters and Predictions for Top Draft Prospects

Many of the nation's best prospects are in Mobile, Alabama for the 2015 Senior Bowl, and they'll put their talents on display in Saturday's game after a week of working with NFL coaches and in front of scouts.

The early impressions have now been made for these players, with so much access to their week of practicing and countless groundwork prior to that. But prospects can separate themselves from others by showing up when the lights come on.

Prospects have already made their impressions on Bleacher Report's Matt Miller and Matt Bowen, who were on hand to share what they learned on Day 2 of practice:

With a handful of players at each position and everyone guaranteed to see the field, you won't see any eye-popping statistical numbers in the Senior Bowl. But every yard gained by those below will be big in proving that they can make it in the NFL.

The Senior Bowl is finally here, so let's get to know the complete team rosters and look at how some of the most notable players will perform.

Note: Team rosters courtesy of the Senior Bowl official site.

 

Predictions for Top Prospects

Nick Marshall, QB/CB, Auburn (South)

Former Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall isn't high on the list of top NFL prospects in Mobile this weekend but a lot can change in the pre-draft season. And it's already begun changing for Marshall.

The last switch Marshall made, however, may take some getting used to. He was invited to the Senior Bowl as a quarterback after refusing to take an automatic invite as a defensive back. But that has now changed, per SEC Network:

Marshall's ability to play quarterback at the college level was never in question, at least at Auburn, where he led the Tigers to the brink of a national championship with his innate dual-threat capabilities. But despite progressing as a passer in his senior season, he made the switch to give himself the best chance to get drafted and thrive in the NFL.

His performances at corner haven't been perfect in practice, but he had no trouble showcasing his speed and impressive coverage skills, as ESPN's Todd McShay credited him for:

He might get a series or two at quarterback simply because he's one of three on the roster and was invited as such, but these games are draft showcases. And that means Marshall will get plenty of run on the outside, which will come against some of the nation's most prominent wide receivers.

Even in limited play, Marshall will be tested simply due to his inexperience at the position. He may give up one or two plays, but he will make up for them with a couple of batted balls. But simply playing on both sides of the ball will make Marshall's Senior Bowl performance an historic one.

Marshall's predicted stats: 30 passing yards, 35 rushing yards, 2 pass break-ups, 2 tackles

 

David Cobb, RB, Minnesota (North)

The emergence of Minnesota running back David Cobb is the perfect example of the Senior Bowl booming a player's stock.

When the running backs were named for the Senior Bowl, the names that jumped off the page on the North side were Ameer Abdullah and Jeremy Langford. But the third Big Ten back to join them is running away with the storylines.

Mike Loyko of NEPatriotsDraft.com had no problem crowning Cobb as his best back in Mobile after what he's put on display:

The former Golden Gopher checks most of the boxes for an NFL running back. He possesses the speed to get to the edge or out-run defensive backs, a low pad level to absorb contact and can push the pile with impressive strength and durability.

It's tough for skill position players to emerge in games like this, when they're not only sharing the ball with a number of other similarly talented players but going up against a fresh and star-studded defense every time. But Cobb has been getting it done in practice in Mobile, and he will have no trouble translating that to the field to put a bow on a memorable week.

Cobb's predicted stats: 9 rushes, 45 yards, TD

 

Nate Orchard, DE, Utah (North)

Most of the top pass-rushing prospects in the 2015 class aren't in Mobile, but Utah defensive end Nate Orchard continues to make up for it.

After an incredible 2014 season left Orchard claiming the Ted Hendricks Award given to the top college football defensive end, his stock is peaking entering the draft season. It's not due to the whopping 18.5 sacks he accumulated in 2014 but rather his impressive skill set and versatility.

At 6'4" and 252 pounds, Orchard might struggle to line up with his hand on the ground off the bat, but he should be able to thrive as an edge-rusher—perhaps in a 3-4 outside-linebacker spot. Even if he is undersized, B/R's Miller sees enough strength for him to get by:

Destined for an early-round draft pick, Orchard won't have any problems showcasing his skills even against the top offensive tackles he'll face Saturday. His ability to switch from a physical rusher to a nimble one from one play to the next will have opponents reeling and unable to stop him.

Expect Orchard to take over a couple of plays as he leaves his fingerprints on the Senior Bowl.

Orchard's predicted stats: 3 tackles, sack, tackle for loss

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Notre Dame Football Recruiting: Names to Watch Until National Signing Day

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — With less than two weeks until national signing day, Notre Dame football is looking to close out its class of 2015 with a few more additions.

The Irish currently have 22 commitments, including four early enrollees already in South Bend. The signs still point toward Notre Dame aiming to add another wide receiver, running back and safety to its current crop.

Here are the names to know heading toward national signing day. Naturally, anything can change in the recruiting game, even late in the process, but this is the short list of Irish targets based on reported mutual interest.

 

Equanimeous St. Brown

The No. 20 wide receiver in the country, Equanimeous St. Brown, is a top remaining target for the Irish.

Tabbed as the No. 160 overall player, per 247Sports’ composite rankings, St. Brown has hosted Irish coaches in recent weeks in Anaheim, California, according to Irish247’s Tom Loy. According to Loy, the Under Armour All-American also said Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly will head out west for an in-home visit next week.

Notre Dame has not been linked recently to other class of 2015 wide receivers. St. Brown is scheduled to announce his decision on national signing day.

 

Dexter Williams

Running back Dexter Williams took an official visit to South Bend last weekend and told 247Sports’ Ryan Bartow the Irish are “high on my list” afterward.

Williams drew attention a few days later when former Notre Dame players Louis Nix and Cierre Wood tweeted at Williams welcoming the running back to the Notre Dame family. Williams, though, told Loy he hasn’t committed anywhere yet. According to Loy, Williams will announce his commitment on national signing day and is deciding between Notre Dame, Miami and Louisville.

Notre Dame has been searching all over in recent months for a second running back to pair with class of 2015 commitment Josh Adams. Running back target Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who also took an official visit to campus last weekend, recently announced his final three, which did not include Notre Dame.

 

Justin Reid

Louisiana native and 3-star safety Justin Reid is taking an official visit to Notre Dame this weekend after stopping by Stanford last week.

Notre Dame’s quest for a safety has been well documented, an ongoing search even before class of 2015 safety Prentice McKinney decommitted from Notre Dame on Wednesday.

At 6'0", 193 pounds, Reid checks in as the No. 22 safety and No. 369 overall player in the country. According to 247Sports’ Steve Wiltfong, Reid is expected to visit LSU next weekend. Reid’s brother, Eric, was an All-American safety at LSU and played in the 2014 Pro Bowl after a strong rookie season with the San Francisco 49ers.

 

Frank Buncom IV

Defensive back Frank Buncom IV is pegged as the No. 120 overall player in the nation and took an official visit to Notre Dame in early October.

The San Diego native told Bartow he will announce his college decision Wednesday and said his four finalists are Stanford, Notre Dame, Vanderbilt and California.

Among the defensive back targets mentioned herein, Buncom is ranked the highest.

 

Arrington Farrar

Safety Arrington Farrar was once a Stanford commitment, but his recruitment recently reopened, as noted by Loy.

A 4-star prospect and the No. 15 safety in the class of 2015, Farrar is taking an official visit to Wisconsin this weekend following a trip to North Carolina last weekend. According to Loy, Notre Dame and Penn State are also possibilities for an official visit from the Atlanta product.

 

Nathan Meadors

San Bernardino, California, native Nathan Meadors, a 3-star athlete, took an official visit to Notre Dame last weekend.

Meadors told Loy that “Notre Dame really made up some ground with UCLA and the other schools” after his visit. The safety prospect is also considering Boise State and Oregon, according to Loy.

 

Chris Williamson

Notre Dame is still casting a fairly wide net in its search for another defensive back, and 3-star athlete Chris Williamson is another name to keep in mind.

Ranked as the No. 430 player in his class, Williamson visited North Carolina last weekend. According to Loy, Williamson has been considering Notre Dame, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Virginia Tech, Cal and North Carolina this month.

Williamson is visiting Michigan this weekend.

Additional less-likely names to watch include 5-star cornerback Iman Marshall, 5-star running back Soso Jamabo, 4-star athlete Jordan Cronkrite and 3-star athlete Gary Jennings.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting stats and information courtesy of 247Sports.com and all quotes obtained firsthand. Star ratings reflect 247Sports composite rankings.

 

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

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Odds Auburn Lands 5-Star Terry Beckner Jr. over Missouri, Ohio State, FSU

It is very scary to watch a defensive tackle run the 40-yard dash in 4.8 seconds.

Terry Beckner Jr. is a 5-star DT for a reason. For a guy who stands at 6'4" and weighs 293 pounds, it's almost poetic watching him run like a linebacker—or, in some cases, like a safety. His combination of size, speed, athleticism and explosiveness off the line has made him a wanted man for quite some time.

So, where is the East St. Louis, Illinois, star leaning? 

After a productive visit to Auburn, you have to think the Tigers have moved into a position of being considered strong contenders in the Beckner sweepstakes. Florida State, Missouri and Ohio State are three other major players as we inch closer to national signing day.

If you're an Auburn fan, you have to like your odds—more so now than a couple of weeks ago. In fact, why not have some fun and throw out some percentages for the four teams thought to be in the lead?

 

Odds for Auburn: 3-1

Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports chatted with East St. Louis assistant coach Harith Mitchom following Beckner's visit to Auburn. The visit was a game-changer in Beckner's process.

"If you would've asked me last week, I would've said Mizzou strong and FSU edging in, but after coming back from this Auburn visit, he was more excited than I ever saw after a visit," Mitchom told Wiltfong. "Whatever they did down there really, really caught his eye."

Great news for Auburn, but there are still two official visits left for Beckner. He visits Ohio State this weekend and Missouri next weekend.

 

Odds for Ohio State: 4-1

Earlier in the process, many thought Ohio State was a legitimate leader for Beckner. For whatever reason, the flame fizzled, and the Buckeyes were considered but not necessarily a lock, according to those following his recruiting.

Let's be honest: Championships talk—and they are loud when they talk. The Buckeyes are the first College Football Playoff champion, and there is room for Beckner on that defensive unit.

Don't forget about Urban Meyer. Beckner is in Columbus for an official visit this weekend—and Meyer is one of the best closers in 11th-hour recruiting. See Dontre Wilson and Ezekiel Elliott as examples.

 

Odds for Missouri: 5-1

Missouri is less than two hours away from East St. Louis, so proximity advantages go to the Tigers. And we must give credit where credit is due: Missouri has been a key player in the SEC East. The Tigers definitely would welcome a player of Beckner's caliber, as he could help put Missouri in national conversations.

Here's another big advantage for Missouri: The program has Beckner's last scheduled official visit. Those who know recruiting know that oftentimes, the last visit is the most memorable, and the most memorable visit could be the visit that puts a program over the top.

Missouri once was considered a front-runner. As January continues, other programs have caught the Tigers. But that doesn't mean they can't win in the end.

 

Odds for Florida State: 6-1

Florida State is a team that's been a program to keep an eye on. Beckner visited the campus back in November, and he's always considered the Seminoles a contender.

You've got to give credit to Florida State assistant coach Tim Brewster, who has done an outstanding job recruiting Beckner. The main disadvantage with Florida State is that, from an official visit standpoint, they won't be fresh in Beckner's mind. A positive, however, is that every visit after Florida State will have to be compared to the experience in Tallahassee.

Beckner said during the Under Armour All-America Game that Florida State was still high on his list. Seminoles fans will be paying attention from now until his decision.

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Where Extremely Versatile 2015 DE Jashon Cornell Fits in Ohio State's Defense

The Ohio State Buckeyes keep winning. They won the national championship, and now they're winning on the recruiting trail as well. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder discusses how Jashon Cornell, a 4-star strong side defensive end, as per 247Sports composite rankings, will fit in on this strong defense. 

What kind of impact can Cornell have next season?

Watch the video and let us know!

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UCLA, Jim Mora Pick Up Much Needed Recruiting Win in 4-Star Ryan Newsome

Ryan Newsome has had a fascination with both Texas and UCLA for quite some time. Friday afternoon, the 4-star wide receiver from Aledo, Texas, announced he's taking his talents out West, rather than remaining in the state.

In a bit of a surprise, Newsome became UCLA's 16th overall commit during a ceremony at Aledo High School. He also became UCLA's second receiver pledge, joining California 4-star L.J. Reed.

Perhaps more importantly for those following on the West Coast, UCLA was able to win a key battle for a Texas high school standout with an in-state program. Newsome said the decision wasn't easy during a Thursday chat.

"I think it's whatever the best place for me. It's best place that God will lead me to," he said. "At the end of the day, a lot of people probably won't understand that, but to me, that's what it'll come down to."

The Bruins were in need of a marquee wide-receiver commit, and Newsome can be that type of player. Though he's not the biggest player at 5'8" and 170 pounds, Newsome uses breakaway speed, quickness and elusiveness to be a reliable slot receiver. Newsome's value, however, may be even greater for UCLA's special teams. He was an outstanding punt returner and kickoff returner for Aledo.

Newsome said he was "still torn" between Texas and UCLA Thursday afternoon, but added that he would make a decision Thursday night. The idea of playing close to home and playing for a group of coaches with high expectations for one of the state's most storied programs aided in making his decision.

Although Newsome was a big fan of the Texas coaching staff, he said UCLA offered him a chance to not only see playing time early, but also experience a new environment. Newsome said he was recruited by receivers coach Eric Yarber, but his primary recruiting contact was head coach Jim Mora. That was important to Newsome, as well.

"They said I'd have a chance to come in and play early," Newsome said. "They said they would utilize me all over the place, but mainly in the slot, and that I would get a chance to compete right away for a spot. I'll have opportunities to play as a freshman and make an immediate impact.

"That was big in my process. I knew wherever I went, I was coming to play and not to sit. Now I've just got to make sure to do the right things on my part."

Newsome said choosing against Texas was tough, particularly with several of his peers suggesting he play in Austin. But in the end, he said he's confident in his decision, and the Bruins are happy to have him.

"It's a weight lifted off my shoulders, man," Newsome said. "The whole recruiting process, I've seen a lot. I've seen crazy coaching carousels, and I've had a lot of coaches come to my house. To go to [Texas], I know it's going to be best for my future."

 

Damon Sayles is a national recruiting analyst with Bleacher Report. All quotes were retrieved firsthand. You can find Damon on Twitter: @DamonSayles

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UCLA, Jim Mora Pick Up Much Needed Recruiting Win in 4-Star Ryan Newsome

Ryan Newsome has had a fascination with both Texas and UCLA for quite some time. Friday afternoon, the 4-star wide receiver from Aledo , Texas, announced he's taking his talents out West, rather than remaining in the state...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Tristan Payton Decommits from USC: What It Means for Trojans, 4-Star WR

Wide receiver Tristan Payton has opted to reopen his recruitment for the second time in six months:

The 6'0", 182-pound Jacksonville prospect ends a commitment to USC that began in August. He joined the Trojans 2015 class just two weeks after backing off his verbal pledge to Florida. 

Payton, a 4-star recruit, is considering several options. He will spend an official visit at Central Florida this weekend, per Amy Campbell of Scout.com, and traveled to Louisville last month.

A possible return to Gainesville could also be in the cards. Payton's previous commitment to the Gators was given to Will Mushchamp's staff, so an opportunity to compete for Jim McElwain may alter his perception of the program. 

Payton, rated 30th nationally among wide receiver prospects in 247Sports' composite rankings, served as a top target for Florida State quarterback commit De'Andre Johnson at First Coast High School. He caught 97 passes for 1,700 yards and 15 touchdowns as an upperclassman, per MaxPreps.

His talents shined in the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl. Payton earned MVP honors after racking up 101 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

His decommitment leaves USC with a pair of wide receivers in its 2015 class. Top junior college talents De'Quan Hampton and Isaac Whitney will join the Trojans this year. 

Though Steve Sarkisian loses a quality offensive playmaker, Payton's departure gives USC four open spots in this class, per Hank Shaw of ReignOfTroy.com.

That total lines up perfectly to accommodate the program's ideal final push toward national signing day.

USC landed 5-star linebacker Osa Masina earlier Friday and is primed to chase a few more elite talents en route to Feb. 4. The Trojans are focused on 5-star cornerback Iman Marshall, 5-star defensive tackle Rasheem Green, 4-star linebacker John Houston and 4-star linebacker/defensive end Porter Gustin.

Teams are constantly fighting to keep and gain recruits at this time of the year and today's developments at USC serve as a prime example.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Tristan Payton Decommits from USC: What It Means for Trojans, 4-Star WR

Wide receiver Tristan Payton has opted to reopen his recruitment for the second time in six months: The 6'0", 182-pound Jacksonville prospect ends a commitment to USC that began in August...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Ryan Newsome to UCLA: Bruins Land 4-Star WR Prospect

Wide receiver Ryan Newsome, one of the most electrifying prospects in the 2015 class, has decided to attend UCLA.

Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Daily News passed along the news:

Newsome, who had offers from around the nation but ultimately narrowed his decision down to Texas, UCLA and Tennessee, is ranked as the 28th-best wide receiver and No. 32 prospect coming out of the state of Texas, per 247Sports' composite rankings

At 5'8" and 170 pounds, the Aledo High School star doesn't figure to spend much time on the outside, but he can contribute in almost any other way offensively. 

His versatility is evident in his astounding statistical output. Leading Aledo to a state title during his senior year, he tallied 57 rushes for 470 yards and seven touchdowns, as well as 54 receptions for 1,073 yards and 12 more scores. He also tied a national prep record with seven punt returns for touchdowns as a junior, according to 247Sports, and finished with nine total in his career. 

He talked about receiving support from a guy who knows a thing or two about returning kicks, via the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Travis L. Brown:

Deion Sanders said I was the best player in the state. That meant a lot to me, because I was having some trouble with my confidence earlier in the season. My dad talked to him a little bit, and he’s definitely been a great guy to meet throughout my life.

Newsome, who also set a school record in the 100-meter dash, is an unbelievable athlete. He's fast, elusive and among the most dangerous prospects in the class when he is put into any kind of space. 

Jim Mora's job is simple: Get the ball into Newsome's hands. Whether he's creating separation out of the slot, working in the screen game, getting handoffs or returning kicks, he has the playmaking skills to make an immediate impact at the next level. 

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