NCAA Football

Jim Harbaugh, Media Love Affair Begins with Phenomenal Spring Practice Comments

Move over, Steve Spurrier and Art Briles. You'll have to share the "Most Quotable Coach" title for 2015. 

(Before going any further, apologies are in order to Briles: That joke was made too soon. But alas, it was too tempting to pass up.) 

New Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh's return to college football is fantastic for the sport for two reasons. First, it's generally believed Harbaugh will restore Michigan to the powerhouse it once was. As it turns out, though, Harbaugh also provides local and national media scribes alike with amazing sound bites. 

Harbaugh's unique social media presence has been well-documented. Now, college football media members are catching on to the fact that Harbaugh is good for a solid quote or two—or 10. 

With Michigan's spring practice starting on Wednesday, Harbaugh answered some questions from Steve Kornacki on MGoBlue.com

Q. Tomorrow’s the first day of practice. You’re going to have a whistle around your neck and a team to coach here for the first time at the place where you played. What are your thoughts and emotions?

A. It’s like Thanksgiving. It’s like New Year’s Day. It’s like a family reunion. And having it all rolled into one. Most people think of January 1st as the start of a new year. To people who espouse to Catholicism and Christianity, they might correlate that with the birth of Christ. Us in football, the start of spring practice and the first day of summer training camp are what you look at as the New Year with fireworks going off, it’s your birthday. It’s being born back into football, it’s a happening.

Q. So it’s the birth of a new team?

A. Yeah, it’s like coming out of the mother’s womb. You’re in a nice, warm, cozy environment — safe. And now you are out into the chaos and bright lights. It’s a happening. It’s all those things rolled into one.

Okay. Right on. 

This isn't the first time Harbaugh has said something that raised an eyebrow or two. On national signing day, Harbaugh essentially summed up his first class by saying "That's kind of the way the pickle squirted this year," per Fox Sports. 

Whether Harbaugh's analogies are, shall we say, off the wall doesn't matter. He's anti-coachspeak, and that's all media members really want. So naturally, they're eating up everything Harbaugh says. 

All of this attention is great for Harbaugh and Michigan, who have been on fire ever since getting free publicity from former Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston.  

Here's where things get interesting, though. Expressing one's personality and opinions as a sports figure can be a dangerous wire to tightrope. Guys like Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch get crushed in flaming-hot takes for not saying anything.

Yet there are a lot of fans and media alike who want athletes to express themselves—as long as it's what they want to hear. 

It's a Catch-22. 

Of course, Harbaugh's quotes aren't in the same category as political or social stances, but he has shown a willingness to open up and be himself. That's awesome, and the love affair from media members is in full swing because of it. 

But it also means there could be times when he rubs someone the wrong way. It may even be a warranted criticism. The bottom line, though, is that Harbaugh is one of the most interesting people in college football—and he talks. 

So just listen. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Breaking Down 4-Star CB Donte Vaughn's Top 4 Schools

Donte Vaughn is a player Tennessee would love to keep in-state. While it appears the 4-star cornerback will ultimately wear an SEC uniform, Volunteers fans are worried that he may go elsewhere.

Although the 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions has Tennessee as a slight favorite (60 percent) over Ole Miss (40), the recruiting process is still in the infancy stages for Vaughn, who on Tuesday announced his current top four to David Johnson of 247Sports. Tennessee, Ole Miss, LSU and Auburn made the cut.

Tennessee, Auburn and Ole Miss have been at the top of his list since July of last year. Those three and LSU, which he recently visited for junior day, all have their positives—and all four could use a cornerback of Vaughn's caliber.

Vaughn, a 6'3," 190-pound cornerback, reached double-digit offers with the offer Saturday from LSU (Missouri's offer the same day gave him 11 total). He picked up the offer before he made it to Baton Rouge for junior day.

"That's big. That's a pretty big one," Vaughn told Justin Rowland of Rivals.com regarding the LSU offer. "I'm excited about it."

LSU likes to call itself "DBU" (Defensive Backs University), and the environment could fit a tall, rangy player like Vaughn, who is being recruited to LSU by defensive line coach Ed Orgeron. Playing on the opposite side of 5-star Saivion Smith, the nation's top-ranked cornerback who committed to the Tigers on Monday, also could be a strong selling point.

Auburn feels it has a legitimate shot in the race, and picking up a commit like Vaughn would be huge. The Tigers already have 4-star athlete Stephen Davis Jr. committed as a safety, and together, the two could be the backbone of the secondary of the future for head coach Gus Malzahn.

Vaughn is quite familiar with Ole Miss, as he's taken a few unofficial visits to Oxford. He's built solid relationships with defensive backs coach Jason Jones and tight ends coach Maurice Harris, his primary recruiter, and he's enjoyed the game atmospheres.

Ole Miss has a strong class in the making with two 5-star and five 4-star pledges. What the Rebels don't have, however, is a committed defensive back.

LSU, Auburn and Ole Miss are great options, but Tennessee can sell him on a couple of things. First, it's closest to home, and the Volunteers are looking to add another in-state pledge to join 4-star offensive tackle Ryan Johnson and 3-star athlete Dorian Banks in the class.

North Carolina 4-star cornerback Marquill Osborne also is committed, and Vaughn's pledge would give the Volunteers two solid athletes who are talented enough to find legitimate playing time early in their careers.

Although Vaughn has a top four, he told Johnson that he's interested in potential visits to Ohio State, Michigan, North Carolina and Florida in the coming months. Look for Vaughn to take his time with his decision. Wherever he ends up, look for him to be a contributor early.

 

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

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5 SEC Head Coaches Who Are Underpaid

It wasn't too long ago—1995, to be exact—when former Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden became college football's first million-dollar head coach. 

Now 72 of the 121 head coaches at FBS public schools break the million-dollar mark annually, according to the USA Today coaching salary database, with others at private schools likely joining them. Every SEC head coach broke the $2 million mark in 2014 other than Vanderbilt's Derek Mason, whose salary wasn't reported.

Which coaches are great investments?

Our picks for the SEC's five most underpaid head coaches based on salary, wins and revenue are in this slideshow.

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10 Spring Football Exhibition Games We Wish We Could See in 2015

Let’s be honest: Spring football games are less than inspiring.

For college football coaches across the nation, their first job for next season is evaluating their returning players and any spring enrollees and seeing how the pieces fit together before true freshmen arrive for summer workouts.

Entertainment and real football? That’s secondary.

So while fans are excited—and understandably so—about spring football, remember that spring football games are too often defined by uneven play, unusual pre-set rules and divided rosters that often create action which is hard to watch.

This is largely because players are playing in combinations that haven’t been used all spring.

Oh, and did we mention that most of these games are televised, which only feeds into coaches’ paranoia over Week 1 opponents?

Changing this is simple: Let teams play spring exhibitions against fellow FBS programs. Teams could play home-and-home series against opponents they don’t normally face, sharing revenues down the middle. Everybody wins.

How could we make the most of it? Provide attractive matchups that fans really want to see. Here are 10 matchups we’d like to see this spring.

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Georgia Football: Chris Conley's Breakout Performance at Combine Was No Surprise

Former Georgia Bulldog wide receiver Chris Conley had himself quite a day at the NFL combine on Saturday. The four-year contributor was among the event's best performers in the 40-yard dash, vertical jump and broad jump, and held his own in every event.

His athleticism surprised a lot of folks—apparently.

ESPN's Brett Edgerton called Conley a "combine sensation." 

Mike Mayock of NFL Network admitted to not knowing much about Conley but recognized that the young NFL hopeful was "putting on a show," according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Frank Schwab of Yahoo! said Conley spent the weekend "wrecking the field in just about every test" at the combine.

But was Conley's stellar performance really that unexpected?

In a word, no.

Conley's spot in one of the nation's most prolific offenses has been retroactively marginalized by the Bulldogs' emphasis on run/pass balance and a host of talented pass-catching targets. But Conley stood out at Georgia. And, he was a crucial component to the unit's success.

No Bulldog accounted for more receiving yards than Conley over the past four seasons, and his time in Athens overlapped with Marlon Brown, Orson Charles, Tavarres King, Arthur Lynch and Rantavious Wooten (all of whom got NFL looks).

Conley wasn't merely a part of Georgia's explosive passing attack. For the past few years, he was a staple of it.

And the manner in which Conley contributed made his big performance under the combine's bright lights even less surprising. Conley was at his best when Georgia was most in need of a highlight.

The big-play receiver registered 29 career catches on third or fourth down. All but two of those receptions resulted in either a first down or a touchdown. Even more impressive: He averaged more than 18 yards per catch on those 27 late-down conversions.

First downs and touchdowns were a regularity for Conley. In each of his four seasons, he created first downs or touchdowns at a higher rate than the prolific Georgia passing offense as a whole.

Conley made a name for himself as a strong, speedy, reliable wide receiver—even while breaking in a new quarterback as a senior. In fact, Conley's lone season without the SEC's all-time leading passer, Aaron Murray, was also his best. As a senior, he set career marks with 657 receiving yards and eight touchdowns despite hauling in just 36 receptions.

And Conley concluded his collegiate career with jaw-dropping efficiency. Each of his final 15 receptions resulted in either first-down yardage or points for the Bulldogs.

That doesn't happen by accident.

Conley left college with a proven history of destroying talented defenses with the same grace he demonstrated at the combine.

As a sophomore, he burned Nebraska (the fourth-best passing defense in the country) for 136 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

In 2013, Conley hauled in five passes for 112 yards and a touchdown against a highly rated LSU game. In that same contest, Tigers standout and NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Odell Beckham Jr. caught six passes for 118 yards and no touchdowns.

He torched Arkansas for 128 yards in the absence of star running back Todd Gurley as a senior and later ran past a vaunted Louisville pass defense for 80 yards and a score on just four catches.

Contrary to overriding sentiment, Conley has been showing explosive athleticism for four years.

Sure, the 4.35 time in the 40-yard dash was surprising, and setting a record on the vertical jump is never the expectation. But the "out of nowhere" narrative is a false one.

Chris Conley was a superbly productive player at Georgia. He was structured, disciplined and talented. The outside world may just now be seeing this, but Bulldog fans have known for years.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. All stats relating to first downs and touchdowns compiled from ESPN.com game recaps. All other stats courtesy of sports-reference.com/cfb.

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Georgia Football: Realistic Expectations for Mark Richt in 2015

The 2015 signing class is set and spring practice is right around the corner. This only means the regular season is not far away, and the Georgia Bulldogs will come into the season with the expectation to win—and win big.

With a young and talented group returning, head coach Mark Richt knows his team is capable of doing some big things in 2015.

But can the Bulldogs really take the next step? Can Richt finally get the monkey off his back and get his first national title?

Here are some realistic expectations for Richt in 2015.

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Michael Felder's Top 5 QB Killers in the 2016 Class

The 2016 class is loaded with pass-rushers who will make opposing quarterbacks nervous. These are the guys you don't want to line up against.

Watch as Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder lists his favorite defensive linemen from the 2016 class.

Who is the best defensive lineman in the 2016 class?

Watch the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Will 5-Star RB Kareem Walker Become the Face of Ohio State's 2016 Class?

It was halftime of Ohio State's demolition of Oregon in the College Football Playoff National Championship when Kareem Walker—a 5-star standout and 2016's No. 1 running back—announced his surprising commitment to Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes.

Now, with Ohio State's recruiting efforts taking shape, it appears that Walker is emerging as the leader of the Buckeyes' 2016 class.

That's a major role for any recruiting class, but it's particularly important at Ohio State. Coming off their national title victory, the Buckeyes are taking aim at Alabama's stronghold atop the recruiting mountain.

To do that, they need someone to step up. Last year, when Ohio State's '15 class got off to a slow start, 5-star linebacker Justin Hilliard changed everything when he committed and became the voice for Meyer on the front line.

Walker, who's rated as the nation's No. 7 prospect overall, looks primed to take the reins in a similar fashion. Last week, he shared on Twitter that he reached out to most of the members in Ohio State's '16 class. 

This development—and, in fact, his commitment to Ohio State—seemed so unlikely a few months ago.

Back in November, Walker told Alex Gleitman of 247Sports that he planned to take his time during the recruiting process and announce his decision on national signing day in February 2016. 

“I’m going to make a decision on national signing day,” Walker said, according to Gleitman. “All of the juniors, Class of 2016, on my team, we made a pact that none of us were going to commit until national signing day, so that’s what I’m going to do.”

What changed during the ensuing two months? Why did Walker pull the trigger and give his verbal pledge so early?

For Walker, there has always been a comfort level with Ohio State. He's been to the campus numerous times and is frequently visited by the Buckeyes' coaching staff.

He had built a strong relationship with former running backs coach Stan Drayton, who recently left Ohio State to take the same position with the Chicago Bears. But the Buckeyes replaced Drayton by hiring Tony Alford from Notre Dame, a coach whom Walker was already familiar and comfortable with.

But above all, Walker sees himself thriving in Ohio State's offense, which has been fueled by standout running backs Carlos Hyde and Ezekiel Elliott over the last three seasons.

“I think I fit their offense well and they like to run the ball,” Walker said, via Gleitman.

As Jeremy Birmingham of Eleven Warriors pointed out, Walker hasn't just touched base with the current members of Ohio State's class. The star running back has also reached out to Nate Craig-Meyers, the nation's No. 1 wide receiver and current Auburn commit, and Jarrett Guarantano, the Buckeyes' top quarterback target.

There are still 11 months to go before national signing day, but Ohio State has already sealed the nation's top running back. Fittingly, if Walker does emerge as the leader of the group, he may help Meyer and the Buckeyes sign the No. 1 recruiting class.

 

All recruiting rankings and information via 247Sports.

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

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CFB Future 100: Top 10 Linebackers in Class of 2016

After thorough study using specific scoring criteria, Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analysts Sanjay Kirpalani, Tyler Donohue and Damon Sayles have graded the top 100 players in the 247Sports composite ratings and provided in-depth analysis. Bleacher Report provides a position-by-position breakdown of the best college football recruits. Today, we present the Top Linebackers.

Other Positions 

 

There's a theme with linebackers in the 2016 class: bigger, stronger, faster.

One look at the top linebacker recruits of 2016, and it's evident that the smaller, bowling ball-shaped linebackers will be taking a back seat to the broad, tall, athletic prospects. The nation's top-ranked outside linebacker, Keion Joyner, is 6'3", 200 pounds and built more like a wide receiver than a linebacker.

It's the athleticism of the new linebacker crop that will make it one to watch, and Bleacher Report will give credit where credit is due via its CFB Future 100 series.

Outside linebackers are scored using the metrics of tackling (25 points), explosive strength (20), run defense (15), pass coverage (15) and football IQ (25). Inside linebackers are scored using the metrics of tackling (35 points), pass rush (15), run defense (30) and pass coverage (20).

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Tennessee Football: Players with the Most to Gain in Spring Practices

When the Tennessee football team heads into spring practice in about a month, several players will have major opportunities to earn their coaches' trust.

Some are mid-term enrollees with the chance to get a leg up on their classmates. Others stand to be the recipient of extended looks thanks to injuries elsewhere at their positions. Then there are some who have been role players throughout their careers with potential to prove they're more.

UT head coach Butch Jones told Bleacher Report in an exclusive interview last week that injuries to Derek Barnett, Danny O'Brien, Kyle Phillips and Darrin Kirkland Jr. are a blow this spring.

"We have a number of individuals who are out for spring football, so their development is set back," Jones said. "The fortunate thing is we'll have them available and they'll be ready in August, but their development's going to be set back. That's just where we are still in depth.

"Right now, our spring football is going to be one of many, many challenges."

From those setbacks blossoms the right set of circumstances for others to step up. That's exactly the atmosphere Tennessee will try to perpetuate this spring.

Let's take a look at some players who can advance their careers by breaking out this spring.

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Michigan Football: Who Is the Underdog in Wolverines QB Battle?

Listening to Jim Harbaugh’s banter after Michigan’s first practice you might be fooled into believing that he doesn't have a definite time table for ranking his seven quarterbacks.

But with early enrollee Alex Malzone already taking snaps this spring and two more quarterbacks arriving for fall camp (Zach Gentry and transfer John O’Korn) the clock is ticking for quarterbacks recruited by Brady Hoke to prove their worth.

“Every day there will be an evaluation process on every player, in every drill,” said Harbaugh. “That is ongoing, that’s always.”

Harbaugh dodged a question about how many quarterbacks would be too many to coach but Russell Bellomy won’t be the only transfer after competition shakes out.

Shane Morris brings the most baggage but also has the most experience having put in a decent performance during Michigan’s last bowl game. Morris was poised to challenge Devin Gardner last season until a nightmare outing in the Big Ten opener ended his season.

But the underdog is 6’6” Wilton Speight who was an early enrollee last spring. He was held out even as poor quarterback play sunk Michigan’s season and ended Brady Hoke’s tenure in Ann Arbor.

If Speight couldn't get playing time last season after Morris’ concussion and Gardner’s excessive turnovers, it doesn’t bode well for him cracking the lineup under Harbaugh.

But even with Michigan’s next starting quarterback on the horizon, Speight is excited by the opportunity for a fresh start under the new staff.

When questioned about the looming quarterback battle—the position that will surely dictate the success or failure of his first season—Harbaugh projected a sense of detachment.

“Right now we’re throwing the balls out there and letting them compete.”

Harbaugh said that most of his offensive staff would take part in evaluating the quarterbacks throughout the spring. But he will have the final word on who starts next season. Harbaugh has shown a knack for selecting signal callers who fit his offense even when the choice goes against conventional wisdom.

Now it’s just up to one of his seven quarterbacks to make a big impression before his handpicked quarterback recruits show up for fall camp.


Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations obtained firsthand

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@PCallihan

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Miami Football: 5 Under-the-Radar Hurricanes to Watch During Spring Practice

Spring practice represents more than the beginning of on-field preparation for the next season; it allows under-the-radar players to rise from the depths of the roster.

The Miami Hurricanes have a handful of athletes who, while they won't necessarily lift themselves into starting positions, can stake a claim to a notable role.

Previous playing time is the main factor in determining the list, which is organized by position beginning with the offensive side of the ball.

Though younger contributors usually best fit the category of "under-the-radar" players, the Canes have a couple of upperclassmen to keep an eye on, too.

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UCLA Football: 5 Players with the Most to Gain in Spring Practice

Spring practice provides a wonderful opportunity for players on the UCLA football team to potentially rise up and make a name for themselves. 

Jim Mora's team does return the vast majority of its starters from a season ago. As a result, there likely won't be many open starting spots on the roster. However, the team does need to continue to build depth. As is the case with any sport, competition breeds excellence. 

This piece will take a look at five players with the most to gain during the spring practice period. Two of these highlighted athletes are first-year players within the program. Two more are redshirt freshmen looking to catapult up the depth chart. 

Finally, a fifth is an established star on the team. While this individual doesn't necessarily need to gain anything from a playing standpoint, other aspects of his game need to evolve. 

 

 

 

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UCLA Football: 5 Players with the Most to Gain in Spring Practice

Spring practice provides a wonderful opportunity for players on the UCLA football team to potentially rise up and make a name for themselves. Jim Mora's team does return the vast majority of its starters from a season ago...

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ACC Football: Projecting Every Starting Quarterback for 2015 Season

The ACC featured one of the top quarterbacks in the country over the last two seasons in Jameis Winston, but 2015 is a season where the conference has quite a few question marks.

Obviously, there are a few situations where quarterbacks are locked into their starting jobs, such as Deshaun Watson at Clemson and Justin Thomas at Georgia Tech. That's not the case for every ACC school, though, as there will be some heated competitions for starting jobs across the conference.

To go along with the quarterback competitions, we're also likely to see some new faces under center for teams. A prime example of that will be the Duke Blue Devils, who turn from Anthony Boone to Thomas Sirk.

Overall, the ACC will feature not only strong quarterback play this coming year, but also young players who are looking to take that next big step in their careers. Let's check out the predictions for every starting quarterback in the ACC for the 2015 season.

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20 Best College Football Traditions

We're constantly looking for ways to make college football better, more modern and efficient. Yet when push comes to shove, it's the game's longstanding traditions that keep us coming back.

During this long nightmare that is the offseason, it's the customs and practices that get us through the doldrums. These traditions bring back memories of watching and attending games as a kid, when we first got interested in the sport and decided it was worthy of co-opting all of our Saturdays in the fall.

Even as college football is now played on nearly every day of the week—we're not complaining, by the way—and technological advances make the experience of watching from home nearly as real as being at the game, we still get chills for every old-school chant, (real) animal mascot and fan-fueled practice that has survived the test of time.

Click through for a trip down Memory Lane with the 20 best traditions in college football.

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High School Teams Loaded with Top 2016 College Football Recruits

While most fans know the top college powerhouses on the recruiting trail, there are also a handful of prep programs that have established themselves as factories that produce college talent.

Whether it’s a perennial power such as Serra High School in Gardena, California, or a relative newcomer such as IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, those programs are a few of the rare ones that have multiple 2016 prospects on the same team. 

IMG, in particular, has four prospects who rate among the top 40 of 247Sports' 2016 list of top recruits.

Which other high school teams are loaded with top 2016 college football recruits?

*Schools listed in alphabetical order.

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Oklahoma vs. Texas: Which Team Landed the Better ATH in 2015?

The Red River Rivalry is the setting for our recruiting breakdown. The Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners have been battling for years on the field and the recruiting trail.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down who got the better 3-star athlete in 2015 between Oklahoma's Dalton Wood and Texas' Breckyn Hager.

Who got the better player?

Watch the video and let us know!

 

Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Coaches Whose Jobs Are on the Line in 2015

The hot seat was forgiving last season, although it did claim victims from a pair of college football blue-bloods (Brady Hoke at Michigan and Will Muschamp at Florida).

Still, look at some of the names who were coaching for their lives last year and succeeded. Dana Holgorsen at West Virginia. Paul Johnson at Georgia Tech. Even Dan Mullen at Mississippi State heard whispers about job security two years ago.

The names on this list are in positions similar to those of Hoke, Muschamp, Holgorsen and Johnson (and kinda, sorta Mullen) last season. They have failed to reach their program's expectations, so if they don't right the ship, they'll be given the slip.

Sound off below and let us know what you think.

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2016 College Football Recruits Who Could Change a Program Instantly

Expectations are never easy to meet or exceed for top-tier college football recruits. Plenty of prospects featured in the 2016 recruiting class are poised to arrive on campus with lofty ambitions that set a high standard for fans of their new team.

Not every player is equipped with the poise and skill set to match the hype, but some do carry an ability to elevate the respective college team of their choice. Here's a look at several athletes capable of carrying those squads to another level based on talent and potential landing spot.

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