NCAA Football News

Ranking the 10 Best College Football Recruiting Classes of the Past Decade

With national signing day a week away on Feb. 3, college football programs everywhere are scrambling to put finishing touches on their respective classes. With a little bit of luck, some of those classes will go on to accomplish great things in the next four years. 

With that in mind, we've looked back at the past 10 years to re-rank (with the benefit of hindsight) the top recruiting classes dating back to 2006. Specifically, we focused on classes that went through a four-year cycle, meaning classes from 2013 on had to be excluded while they write their own legacies. This way, seniors will have an opportunity to finish out careers. 

Team accomplishments (e.g., conference and national championships) were taken into consideration, as were individual player accolades. NFL careers weren't considered, and draft selection had some, but minimal, influence. 

Where did we get the rankings right? Where did we get them wrong? Sound off in the comment section below. 

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Buying and Selling 2016 Hype for Bowl Season's Breakout Stars

Bowl season exists in its own space in the college football universe. It's where the wild and the weird come out to play, with plenty of surprise performances becoming the norm.

Sometimes, players who break out in the postseason can carry that momentum on to the next season. Ohio State Buckeyes running Ezekiel Elliott and Georgia Bulldogs safety Dominick Sanders were prime examples in 2015, as they took the next step after huge bowl game performances to end 2014.

In the 2015 postseason, we saw the player Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee dubbed "Alabama's unicorn" have a MVP performance out of nowhere in the national championship game. Elsewhere, several playmakers such as the Louisville Cardinals' future star quarterback put up dizzying stat lines after spending parts of the season lower on the depth chart.

As we look ahead to next season, let's buy or sell the 2016 stock for 10 breakout players from the most recent slate of bowl games. Keep in mind that these players are the lesser-known ones who had monster days, not the established stars such as Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson or LSU Tigers running back Leonard Fournette.

Which breakout players do you think will improve on their big bowl performances this fall, and which ones do you think just peaked in the postseason? Give us your thoughts in the comments below.

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Michigan's 2016 Class Is Already the Big Ten's Most Impressive

For the past two weeks, the construction of Michigan's 2016 class has dominated the headlines of the college football world.

And quite frankly, it's been for the wrong reasons.

On Monday, 3-star defensive end Rashad Weaver became the fifth player to decommit from the Wolverines class in the past two weeks and the fourth to do so in the last seven days. Like 4-star offensive tackle Erik Swenson, Weaver's decommitment came publicly and with accusations that head coach Jim Harbaugh no longer had room for him in his upcoming class.

"After being committed for about [seven] months. And receiving little to no contact from staff. I was informed by coach Harbaugh that there is a 50/50 chance that he would or would not have room for me [on national signing day]," Weaver, a native of Cooper City, Florida, posted in a tweet. "So I was basically a plan B. And I know within myself I am not a plan B player."

Harbaugh's practices have drawn criticism from many and even earned an apparent—and since deleted—subtweet from Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio.

But lost in the discussion of whether pulling offers just weeks before national signing day is ethical or not is the fact that if Harbaugh is indeed guilty of what's been accused of, he's doing so to make room for more highly touted players.

With 24 players currently committed, the Wolverines lay claim to the nation's third-ranked class, trailing only LSU and Ohio State with a week to go until national signing day.

With the nation's No. 1 prospect, 5-star defensive tackle Rashan Gary, considered a Michigan lean, according to 247Sports' Crystal Ball projections, it's conceivable the Wolverines could wind up with the nation's top-ranked class for 2016.

But even if Michigan's class remains ranked behind the Buckeyes, there's a compelling case to be made that it's already the most impressive in the Big Ten.

Between landing his long-term answer at quarterback, winning key battles against rivals on the recruiting trail and, yes, replenishing his roster with superior talent, the Wolverines 2016 class is already everything the maize and blue faithful could have asked for in Harbaugh's first full recruiting cycle in Ann Arbor.

"It’s an amazing time right now, this recruiting process in January," Harbaugh told TMZ.com following an appearance at the State of the Union address earlier this month. "It’s great to be part of this month leading up to the signing day and the celebration of signing a scholarship."

While the chase for Gary, who is also being recruited heavily by Alabama, will attract the most attention in the next week, the pillar of Harbaugh's haul comes in the form of 4-star quarterback Brandon Peters. Already enrolled in Ann Arbor after having been committed to the Wolverines since last April, the Avon, Indiana, native could prove to be next in Harbaugh's already established legacy of developing highly touted signal-callers.

"He compared me to Andrew Luck," Peters told Bleacher Report's Tyler Donohue about Harbaugh following his commitment. "It's a similar situation to what he had at Stanford, with Luck being the first quarterback recruit he brought in [with a full cycle]. He thinks I'm a really good fit for him at Michigan like Luck was for him there."

With Peters serving as his first commitment for 2016, Harbaugh was just getting started, adding highly touted players such as 4-star offensive tackle Ben Bredeson and 4-star athlete Ahmir Mitchell to his class.

But the crown jewel of the Wolverines' 2016 cycle comes in the form of 4-star running back Kareem Walker, who had been committed to rival Ohio State since last January, before flipping his commitment in December and enrolling early in Ann Arbor.

Securing the services of Walker, a native of Wayne, New Jersey, with just one season at Michigan under his belt, Harbaugh proved that he's already capable of going head-to-head with Urban Meyer on the recruiting trail. Landing Gary would show the same when it comes to Nick Saban, solidifying Harbaugh's status as one of college football's elite recruiters just 13 months into his time on the job at his alma mater.

And even if Harbaugh doesn't secure a commitment from the 6'5", 293-pounder, maybe he belongs in that conversation anyways, given the makeup of his current class.

While the Wolverines' recent decommitments may have been controversial, there's no debating that Harbaugh has made the most of the newfound space. In recent weeks, Michigan has landed commitments from 4-star cornerback David Long, 4-star wideout Dylan Crawford, 3-star inside linebacker Elysee Mbem-Bosse, 3-star defensive end Josh Uche, 3-star guard Stephen Spanellis and 3-star defensive tackle Michael Dwumfour.

In addition to Gary, Harbaugh remains in the hunt for 4-star athlete Jordan Fuller and 4-star cornerback Lavert Hill leading up to national signing day.

As for his tactic of clearing space in his class, it's worth noting that Harbaugh is unable to publicly speak about unsigned prospects. In a tweet, however, he indicated that there's more to the stories than what's been made public—in a fashion in which only he's capable of.

How Harbaugh will explain himself come national signing day remains to be seen. But by then, it's a safe bet that "they" will be impressed with his 2016 class, regardless of how it came about. 

 

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

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Are 5-Star Linebackers Ben Davis and Mack Wilson Package Deal to Alabama?

Alabama finds itself in unfamiliar territory, rated No. 7 nationally in 247Sports composite class rankings less than two weeks away from national signing day. Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban has claimed five consecutive top-ranked recruiting classes in Tuscaloosa, but at this stage, odds seem to be against him extending that streak to six straight No. 1 hauls. 

That outlook could drastically change if Alabama is able to secure premier in-state prospects Ben Davis and Lyndell "Mack" Wilson, though. The 5-star linebackers, considered two of America's most prized uncommitted defensive recruits, both include the Crimson Tide on their short lists of collegiate options. 

Davis, No. 1 among inside linebackers and No. 10 overall in 2016 composite rankings, spent his Gordo High School career a short drive away from campus. His father, Wayne Davis, is Alabama's all-time career tackles leader.

"I have a strong relationship with Alabama because of my dad and growing up pretty close to campus, but there's a long way to go in this process, and it's about finding where I feel most comfortable," he told Bleacher Report in April.

Now, nine months later, Davis is still sorting through possibilities. Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and Notre Dame seem to be the last teams standing in this pursuit, while past interest in Ole Miss, Michigan, USC and Florida State fell behind along the way.

"I need to feel in my gut which school is the best fit," Davis told Bleacher Report. "Just be real with myself about which is truly the best opportunity."

Less than 10 days shy of national signing day, the school out in front is the one most analysts expected since the start of Davis' recruitment.

Alabama, claiming 100 percent of experts' predictions in 247Sports' crystal ball, is a stride ahead of other contenders with the finish line in sight following his latest—and official—visit to Tuscaloosa.

"That's what it ultimately came down to, my visit," Davis told Drew Champlin of AL.com. "It was real good meeting some more of the guys...but seeing another side of it, it's always the athletic side but I got to see the academics and get some questions answered. It was real informative."

Despite obvious family ties to the program, he's always made it a point to mention his father isn't applying any pressure to follow in his footsteps.

"My dad will support whatever decision I make 110 percent," Davis told Bleacher Report. "He hasn't really pushed me toward one school or another. He just wants to make sure I'm comfortable with the situation wherever I go."

Davis will wrap up his travel itinerary with a final official visit to Auburn this weekend. New Tigers defensive coordinator Kevin Steele previously recruited him on behalf of Alabama and LSU.

It's another example of how college football's coaching carousel can impact recruiting, as Steele and first-year Georgia head coach Kirby Smart invested time targeting both Davis and Wilson during their tenure at Alabama.

Smart, who served as Saban's defensive coordinator during four national championship runs, could ultimately provide the biggest obstacle for Alabama bringing both heralded linebackers to campus this year.

Davis, who was highly impressed during a midseason official visit to Georgia, reacted to the Bulldogs' regime change with immediate approval.

"I think him being at Georgia is a really great thing because he is a great coach and will do a good job wherever he is at," the lauded defender told Bleacher Report. "Me and Coach Smart have a great relationship."

Earlier this month, Davis told Champlin that Georgia and Alabama "are kind of sharing No. 1." However, Alabama has inched ahead following his official visit.

Wilson and Davis have shared several common destinations during their official visit schedules, traveling alongside each other multiple times. The duo got up close and personal with the reigning king of college football last weekend:

"Mack is my dude. ... He's been talking with me about playing together all the time, but we'll see how it goes," Davis told Bleacher Report during his senior season.

At this late stage, Georgia and Alabama appear to be the only schools where Davis and Wilson would unite. Wilson, a Carver High School (Montgomery, Alabama) standout rated No. 2 among outside linebackers and No. 15 overall in 2016 composite rankings, is also focused on Florida.

He will wrap up travel plans with an official visit to Gainesville this weekend. The Gators already gathered two commitments from the Birmingham area, including one from Wilson's teammate Antonio Nelson.

Despite having serious interest in both Florida and Georgia, Wilson may have a hard time telling Saban he's heading out of the state:

Smart again plays a pivotal role here, as he pursued Wilson to Alabama just a few weeks ago. His hiring at Georgia quickly commanded Wilson's attention and set the stage for an official visit earlier this month.

“Me and coach Smart, we have a great relationship,” he told Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald. “That really kind of gave them a huge boost in my recruiting...[he is] like a father figure to me. I feel like I can talk to him about anything.”

Smart is clearly all-in when it comes to his former Tide targets, but his old boss could be difficult to top come signing day. Wilson is projected to sign with Alabama by 82 percent of experts' predictions in his 247Sports crystal ball.

"Coach Saban is fun to be around," Davis told Bleacher Report. "People who don't know him might not expect him to be like that. He's a cool guy to spend time with. But when it's time for business, he's about his business. He's one of the greatest."

Davis and Wilson were finalists for the Butkus Award, which is handed out annually to America's top high school linebacker. If any coaching staff is able to reel both prospects onto the same roster come signing day, it could set that program's defensive tone for years to come. 

If any team can pull off this feat Feb. 3, look for Alabama to make the splash that could help prolong its status as a powerhouse defensive squad.

 

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

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C.J. Beathard Injury: Updates on Iowa QB's Recovery from Sports Hernia Surgery

Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard is on the mend after undergoing surgery to repair a sports hernia.  

Continue for updates.

Report: Beathard Expected to Recover in 6-to-8 Weeks Tuesday, Jan. 26

According to HawkeyeReport.com, the signal-caller went through the procedure last week in Philadelphia, and he is expected to be back in six to eight weeks, in time for spring practice. Chad Leistikow of the Des Moines Register confirmed the report Monday.

Beathard enjoyed a strong junior season for the Hawkeyes in 2015, as he threw for 2,809 yards, 17 touchdowns and five interceptions, while rushing for an additional 237 yards and six scores.

Iowa went 12-2 under Beathard's guidance, and it was just one defensive stop of Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game away from taking part in the College Football Playoff.

Per Rob Howe of HawkeyeNation.com, Beathard's father, Casey Beathard, revealed that the Franklin, Tennessee, native played through groin-area discomfort for much of the 2015 season after suffering an injury against the University of Pittsburgh in Week 3:

He's always been that kind of guy. He's just such a competitor, he never comes out. He won't come out because I think he's afraid he’s going to lose his job. I think at times he was in a lot of pain. ... Iowa's training staff was great all season. And they didn't overlook it by any means. None of us knew. We thought it might be one of those things that would hamper him all season until he gets rest.

Despite undergoing surgery so recently, Casey believes his son will be fully healthy in the near future, according to Howe: "(Dr. William Meyers) said that the next day (after surgery) he wanted him walking a mile. That was good news. He's still getting around a little slow but things already are going well. (Meyers) said if (C.J.) had to play a game in six weeks, he should be ready to play. Luckily he doesn't have to."

Iowa figures to lean heavily on Beathard after a career year in 2015, and the fact that he was able to pull it off at less than 100 percent gives plenty of reason for optimism heading toward the 2016 campaign.

The Hawkeyes should once again be favored in the Big Ten West, and another undefeated regular season ahead of the Big Ten Championship Game is very much within reach.

Offensive struggles ultimately sunk Iowa in the title game as well as the Rose Bowl against Stanford, but a fully healthy Beathard figures to help make the Hawkeyes a far more complete team in 2016.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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After Latest Suspension, It's Time for Missouri to Cut Ties with QB Maty Mauk

When Stephen Garcia was South Carolina's quarterback, he was suspended on five separate occasions by former head coach Steve Spurrier.

Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk is barreling closer to that number.

The rising redshirt senior of the Tigers was suspended indefinitely by first-year head coach Barry Odom after a video surfaced online that reportedly shows Mauk snorting a white substance off of a table.

Odom and athletics director Mack Rhoades commented on the situation late Monday night, according to Dave Matter of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Obviously, an indefinite suspension is the right call while information is gathered. But make no mistake, this should result in Mauk being dismissed from the program.

He was suspended indefinitely on Sept. 29, 2015 for violation of team rules, briefly reinstated on Oct. 25 and then suspended for the remainder of the regular season on Nov. 1, according to Tod Palmer of the Kansas City Star.

Three incidents in less than a five-month period? It's clear that Mauk has problems, and those problems shouldn't become a burden for Odom and the new staff.

Mauk is an "incident guy."

Some run-ins are more serious than others, and the message that former head coach Gary Pinkel tried to get across just isn't registering.

As Jim Weber of LostLetterman.com noted on Twitter, Mauk has bigger problems that need to be addressed:

Plus, for Odom, this is his chance to make a statement on what will be tolerated under his watch at Missouri. The Tigers haven't had many off-the-field incidents this offseason, and the first major disciplinary test for any new head coach is vital in setting the tone for the program.

This is Odom's chance.

Mauk is slated to compete with rising sophomore Drew Lock for the top spot on the Tiger depth chart in 2016. Lock completed 49 percent of his passes (129-for-263) for 1,332 yards, tossed four touchdowns, eight interceptions and finished last in the SEC among qualifying quarterbacks with a passer rating of 90.54.

Despite those struggles, Lock has more upside than Mauk, who has proved over his first three seasons at Missouri that poor decision-making off the field sometimes bleeds onto it. He has completed just 52.7 percent of his passes over three seasons, is a threat to complete passes to the opposition every time he drops back and hasn't lived up to the 4-star hype that followed him to Columbia.

Mauk's upside is clear. He has proved to be clutch at times, tossing nine touchdowns and zero interceptions in the fourth quarter of games in 2014 while also throwing eight touchdowns to just three picks on third downs that same season. But those flashes have been few and far between.

Mauk is more trouble that he's worth, and Odom should let him walk.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of cfbstats.com, 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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Odds Alabama Wins SEC Again, Makes 3rd Straight College Football Playoff

Despite reports to the contrary last September, Alabama's dynasty is alive and well. 

The dynasty overcame the early-season letdown loss against Ole Miss and other rivals that tried to knock the Tide out of the title picture down the stretch. Then it showed it was back to full strength in a beatdown of the Big Ten champion in a game that tripped it up in the previous season.

Alabama's dynasty outlasted a tremendous challenge from Clemson—an instant classic that put another championship ring on its finger. Then it braved the chilling winds in Tuscaloosa this past Saturday, when it celebrated its fourth national championship in seven years. 

The Alabama football dynasty survived all that just in the past few months. It doesn't look like it's going to die anytime soon.

When college football returns later this fall and the Crimson Tide kick off against USC in the Cowboys Classic, Alabama will once again be a strong favorite to win the SEC and a College Football Playoff berth for the third straight season.

Alabama opened in Las Vegas with the best odds of any team to win the national championship in 2016 at 7-1, according to sports book Bovada (via Kevin Trahan of SB Nation).

LSU is the second-best SEC team at 14-1, with Ole Miss and Tennessee following at 22-1.

Click on virtually any "way-too-early" Top 25 for the 2016 season from a college football outlet, and the Tide are locked into the top few spots. Bleacher Report's own rankings from Ben Kercheval have Alabama at No. 1, while most others have the defending champs at No. 2 behind Clemson.

Alabama's odds to pull off the three-peat in the SEC are so great yet again because of what it's bringing back for 2016 and its conference schedule, which appears to be a little more favorable than the one from last season.

With team sack leader Jonathan Allen staying in school, Alabama will return 11 starters from the College Football Playoff Championship Game for 2016. 

According to Phil Steele, that's exactly the same amount of starters Alabama returned prior to the 2015 season. Before the 2014 season, that number was 12.

Major roster turnover is unavoidable for any powerhouse program that produces NFL talent, but the Crimson Tide are the best in the country at handling it.

The constant flow of No. 1 overall recruiting classes—one that will taper off a little bit this offseason, but not by much—replenishes the expertly constructed greenhouse that is Alabama football. Elite teams literally grow in Tuscaloosa.

And exactly where Alabama is returning these experienced starters from a national championship team is important. 

Allen was the Tide's most productive defensive lineman from a stats perspective, thanks to the extra attention placed on A'Shawn Robinson. He'll be the leader for a position group that returns three players who rotated in enough to record double-digit tackles—Dalvin Tomlinson, Da'Shawn Hand and Daron Payne.

Reuben Foster was the team's second-leading tackler, and he'll be a key figure for a linebacking corps that might even return more experience than the line. Eddie Jackson, Marlon Humphrey and Minkah Fitzpatrick will be back from a much-improved secondary. 

Offensively, a new starting quarterback and running backs will be another big adjustment, but Alabama has dealt with that on previous championship teams under Nick Saban. 

Whoever takes control under center will be able to rely on three returning offensive linemen and the team's top three returning receivers, including Heisman dark horse Calvin Ridley. Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough won't be completely inexperienced, either, when they line up at running back.

"[Alabama] has college football's greatest coach and arguably top play-caller on the sidelines," Kercheval wrote last week. "Yes, the quarterback battle will get plenty of attention over the next several months, but it won't decide the Tide's fate in 2016."

Alabama won't be flawless in 2016, and there will be some issues to address in the offseason.

But everyone the Tide will face on the road to Atlanta and beyond have just as many question marks—if not more.

Take a look at Alabama's 2016 SEC schedule compared to 2015, using Bleacher Report's projected 2016 poll and 2015 final poll:

Granted, no teams "received votes" in Kercheval's super-early Top 25 for 2016, but take a look at the teams that did at the end of 2015.

Alabama is trading a 2015 road game at Georgia, one that it won handily, for an easier matchup at home in 2016 against Kentucky in cross-divisional play. That's already a big improvement in the scheduling department.

Arkansas had another late-season surge in 2015, but the Razorbacks are going to have to find replacements at quarterback, running back and along the offensive line for 2016. Alabama could have a sizable advantage in the trenches with the experience it rotated on the defensive front last season.

Mississippi State will have to reload after losing star Dak Prescott and several key defensive players. Auburn has major question marks at quarterback, receiver and offensive tackle and will be breaking in yet another new defensive coordinator. Alabama gets both at home this year.

That leaves the road matchups against Ole Miss, Tennessee and LSU as the matchups featuring opponents that should be firmly in most preseason Top 25 lists. 

Ole Miss is the only one of those three teams that could be in more of a reloading mode for 2016. The fearless Chad Kelly will be a tremendous boost for the Rebels' uptempo offense, but graduation and the NFL took a good amount of key starters away from Oxford this offseason.

This is a better situation for Alabama to come in and get its revenge over a team that has beaten the Tide each of the last two seasons. One major key will be for Alabama's new backfield to stay calm in its first true road game as starters and take care of the football.

That experience in a hostile environment will carry over well for the matchup against Tennessee. The Volunteers return a lot of talent from a team that improved by two wins last season and has closed the scoring gap with the Tide in their last two meetings.

This might be a tougher matchup for the Tide than LSU. Alabama will be coming off a road game instead of a bye week, and Tennessee can point to experience at nearly every position. Joshua Dobbs, who led the Vols to a close loss in Tuscaloosa last year, is arguably the SEC's best quarterback for 2016.

Alabama will be able to lean on its experience factor in huge games. But if the Tide slip up, a loss in October is not fatal to playoff hopes—they would still control their own destiny in the West and have a shot at getting revenge in the all-important SEC title game. 

By the time LSU rolls around, Alabama will be coming off a much-needed bye week. The Tigers look loaded for a 2016 run, but the key will be the improvement of quarterback Brandon Harris.

Last season, Alabama dominated LSU because it stopped what was deemed unstoppable in Leonard Fournette and forced Harris to beat the defense.

No matter how much talent the Tigers return at the skill positions, Harris will have to play much better against a Tide defense that should be playing its best ball by that point in November.

Winning in Death Valley is never easy, but Alabama has won three of its four trips there under Saban and has five straight overall victories in the series. 

A lot can change between now and the opening kickoff of the season for Alabama and its roster.

But right now, the Tide are in a familiar spot—coming off a championship of some kind and returning just enough experience in order to be the No. 1 contender in the SEC.

It's hard to go against those odds.

 

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

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The Failed College Football Recruitment of LeBron James

When Urban Meyer inks what currently stands as the country's second-ranked class on national signing day, he'll add to one of the most—if not the most—impressive recruiting resumes in college football history.

From Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin to Cam Newton and Joe Haden to Ezekiel Elliott and Joey Bosa, there may not be a coach in the history of the sport outside of Nick Saban responsible for attracting more talent to his programs than Meyer has been during his 14 years as a head coach. If recruiting is the lifeblood of a program, then Meyer's teams have been some of the most well nourished in the sport.

Yet despite having a track record on the recruiting trail that rivals his impressive on-field win-loss record, Meyer wasn't ultimately able to land what may have been the most talented target he ever laid eyes on. It wasn't another team the now-Ohio State head coach lost a two-time All-Ohio wide receiver named LeBron James to more than 15 years ago, but, rather, the NBA.

Two NBA championships, four MVP awards, two Olympic gold medals, 12 All-Star Game selections and an already storied, yet still growing 13-year career later and it is tough to disagree with James' decision. But before he was The King of the hardwood, James was just a kid from Akron, Ohio, who also happened to be one of the top prospects in the country—in two different sports.

How close was he to furthering his career on the gridiron? Truth be told, it never really seemed to be in the cards. But that didn't stop the top coaches in the country—including Meyer—from trying, in what turned out to be the failed college football recruitment of LeBron James.

 

Run-and-Shoot

The first time Jay Brophy heard the name LeBron James, the eventual No. 1 overall pick of the 2003 NBA draft was a mere peewee football player.

A graduate of Akron's Buchtel High School, Brophy, a former Miami Hurricanes captain, was a fixture in the Rubber City's youth sports community following his four-year NFL career in the mid-1980s. So when Brophy, who grew up with James' mother, Gloria, heard that there was a peewee football player capable of quarterbacking an advanced offense like the run-and-shoot, it naturally piqued his interest.

"He could understand it and he could run it," Brophy told Bleacher Report. "His peewee coach told me, 'This kid can play quarterback, he can play it all. That’s why we ran the run-and-shoot.' He just had a good feel for that."

As James, who spent a portion of his childhood living with his peewee football coach, "Big" Frankie Walker, grew, word began to get out across Akron about the talented two-sport prodigy. With a son the same age as James, Brophy first witnessed him play basketball when he was in junior high, where expectations had already begun to accompany his play.

And much like he did upon entering the NBA at 18 years old, James exceeded them back then as well.

"I knew about him, but I don’t think anybody really knew him until you got a chance to watch and be around him," Brophy said. "Believe me, I set the bar high for him. He just blew me away.

"It was pretty much like he is as a basketball player. You could tell he was a student of the game. He was dominant."

Having gained notoriety on the AAU circuit before his high school career had even begun, James' path to the NBA took a detour from Buchtel, where he was expected to attend, to Akron's St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, where Brophy was serving as an assistant football coach. At 6'2", 185 pounds and seemingly growing by the day, James was already on the radar of NBA scouts, but that wouldn't stop him from living out his dream of playing football on Friday nights.

 

"The Next Michael Jordan"

Word of James' future being in basketball may have been well known in Ohio, but that information apparently hadn't yet made it to South Bend. It was there that an up-and-coming wide receivers coach on Bob Davie's Notre Dame staff targeted St. Vincent-St. Mary's emerging star wide receiver in the midst of a sophomore season that saw him record 42 receptions for 820 yards and seven touchdowns.

But when Urban Meyer arrived in Akron to make his pitch on behalf of the Fighting Irish, he was met with an unfamiliar response: laughter.

"Thank you very much, I'll consider it," Meyer recalled of James' response when the coach spoke to a group of reporters at Big Ten media days in 2012. "And his coach started laughing."

"I didn't know what he was laughing at, so we went down and sat in a room and he said, 'Do you know who that is?' and I said, 'No' and he said, 'LeBron James' and I said, 'Who's LeBron James?' and he said, 'He'll be the next Michael Jordan.' And I go, 'Come on.'"

Meyer wasn't alone in failing to sell his school to the then-6'7", 230-pound James, who earned first-team All-Ohio Division IV honors for the second straight year after catching 61 balls for 1,245 yards and 16 touchdowns during his junior season.

"I remember the visit. It was pretty cool," James responded, when Meyer's tale was relayed to him by Bleacher Report. "They were one of the programs in the country that were recruiting me to play wide receiver."

According to Brophy, the other schools recruiting James included a who's who of traditional college football powers: Ohio State, Alabama and Miami (Florida).

Taking over as St. Vincent-St. Mary's head coach for the final season of James' football career in 2001—a broken wrist kept him on the sideline as a senior in 2002—the former NFL linebacker figured he'd make sure his star player was certain about his future.

"I went over to him and he was in the library and I said, 'LeBron, hey, let me ask you, are you really interested in playing college football? I've got a ton of schools asking about you playing that have called me.' He said, 'Well coach, I'm 99 percent sure I'm probably going to the NBA. But I wouldn’t rule it out.'

"He started laughing and he said, 'No coach, I'm kidding. I'm gonna play basketball.' I said, 'All right, I just wanted to know.'

"Until the coaches got wise to how great he was and realized that he was definitely going to play basketball, they all wanted him. It was all the major schools."

With his future already decided, James still managed to make the most of what was left in his football career. Such was the case at the end of the first half of a playoff game in James' junior year, when the Irish found themselves on the goal line with time winding down. Faced with needing to either grab a quick touchdown or call a timeout, Brophy called for an alley-oop-like lob to his team's top target.

But when the defense took the field knowing what was coming and planned accordingly, James did on the football field what he does so well on the hardwood: He improvised.

"They went to defend him by overloading the fade. We went, 'Ah, shoot, they know what we want to do,'" Brophy recalled. "Well, LeBron had checked off with [quarterback and LeBron's childhood friend] Willie [McGee] in the backfield. He kind of made a motion and they read each other. He ran a slant and caught the ball with one hand for a touchdown right before the half. I just laughed.

"Just seeing that route stuck out to me, 'cause he said, 'I got it coach, I got it.' And sure enough, he had it all right."

 

What Could Have Been 

While James moved forward with his basketball career and never looked back, there was a time that Brophy thought that a return to the gridiron was in play.

"A lot of us, we always wondered," Brophy said. "Early in his career, I thought, 'If this guy wins his championships early, he might be the type of guy who would try to play both and just give it a shot to see what it was like.'"

It didn't quite work out that way, with James not winning an NBA title until the ninth season of his career. A Michael Jordan-like try at a second sport was unlikely anyway, outside of an appearance in a 2009 State Farm commercial.

But unlike Jordan's often-mocked minor league baseball career, many believe that James had the potential to be an all-timer had he stuck with football. Just like in basketball, James' blend of athleticism, speed and size would have been unprecedented and could have made him one of the more un-guardable wideouts in football history.

"I always said he'd be a cross between Harold Carmichael, who was the tallest receiver at the time and played for the Philadelphia Eagles at 6'8", but he had the fluidity of a Randy Moss," said Brophy. "He glided. Like you see in basketball, the way he glides down the court, it was the same way he ran on the football field.

"He probably ran a 4.5 40 [yard dash], no problem...I knew if he wanted to, especially with the rules nowadays in football with not being able to put your hands on receivers and not taking shots over the middle and not being able to target people, he's the kind of guy that could come out and play it. There's no doubt in my mind."

Having coached his fair share of first-round talents throughout his career, Meyer concurred.

"A first-round draft pick, a Hall of Famer," Meyer said of James' gridiron potential. "Obviously, he's a winner." 

 

Always a Buckeye

While Meyer ultimately wasn't able to land James, the two managed to maintain a relationship as their respective careers followed separate paths.

For Meyer, it was a two-year stint at Bowling Green—where, according to Brophy, he again checked in on James—followed by stops at Utah and Florida before landing at Ohio State in 2012. James, meanwhile, spent seven seasons playing down the road from his hometown for the Cleveland Cavaliers before infamously bolting to spend four seasons in Miami.

While much of Ohio turned on James following his free agency departure, Meyer never wavered. And when the Buckeyes took on Wisconsin in a primetime game just prior to the start of the 2013-14 NBA season, there was James, fresh off his second championship with the Heat, standing on the Ohio State sideline.

"He means a lot in recruiting," Meyer said of James. "You can't measure the positive feeling of him standing on the sideline for an Ohio State game."

Re-signing with the Cavaliers in 2014, James found himself with the opportunity to do just that more often, although through his two seasons back in Cleveland, he's attended just one game at Ohio Stadium. But when the Buckeyes found themselves playing in the national championship game in Arlington, Texas, in January of last year, James found a way to be there, eventually celebrating the win with Ohio State's players on the field.

Afterwards, the most famous honorary Buckeye recorded a video for UNINTERRUPTED, describing what the national title meant to his home state.

"This is for everyone in Ohio, man, because we're always counted out," an emotional James said. "Being from Ohio, in support of you guys, I love you. It's unbelievable."

James may have never played football past his junior season of high school, but his name remains connected with the sport, whether it be his fandom of the Buckeyes and Dallas Cowboys or the legendary stories of the raw potential he showed on that St. Vincent-St. Mary field.

What would have happened had James stuck it out on the gridiron? We'll never know. But there are plenty of fans and college coaches alike who sure would have loved to find out.

 

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. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Football Q&A: Does Kirby Smart or Jim McElwain Have the Brighter Future?

In college football, there is no offseason. 

This time of year is loaded with storylines that stem from the way teams closed the previous season, recruiting's home stretch and the preparation for spring football, which is just around the corner.

To help you get through the offseason, the weekly SEC Q&A here at Bleacher Report answers some of the hot topics around the SEC, including the expectation level for first-year Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, the status of Tennessee's quarterback position and more.

They both will have plenty of success as college football coaches, and Florida head coach Jim McElwain already tasted it with the 10-win season and SEC East title in 2015. 

Not to downplay what McElwain did in Year 1, but I'm going to go with first-year Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, despite the fact that it's sight unseen since he's never been a head coach before.

The reason is simple: I don't trust Florida's offense yet. 

McElwain seemed to have things cooking early in 2015, but when quarterback Will Grier got suspended, the wheels came flying off quickly. He will enter the 2016 season with a four-headed quarterback battle that includes returning starter Treon Harris, Alabama/Oregon State transfer Luke Del Rio, Purdue transfer Austin Appleby and true freshman Feleipe Franks. 

The Gators don't need Peyton Manning's clone back there taking snaps to be successful, because McElwain made a career making sure his quarterback is in the right spots for success. But those guys don't exactly inspire confidence either.

Smart, on the other hand, has a track record of defensive success, a loaded roster on that side of the ball, a seemingly never-ending pipeline of top-tier running back talent and the quarterback of the future in true freshman early enrollee Jacob Eason. One look at Eason's tape, and you'll see just how perfect he is for an offense that wants to stretch the field deep off play action.

For the next three or four years, Eason is going to be the guy holding down the fort in Athens. I have much more faith in Eason than I do the group vying for the job in Gainesville. 

In college football, three or four years is an eternity these days and can make or break the long-term future of any college coach—even new ones. 

Give me Smart as the guy with more success than McElwain long term, although I do think that both will be in division title contention every year, barring catastrophic injury.

 

Without a doubt, it will be LSU running back Leonard Fournette.

That's not to say that Georgia running back Nick Chubb isn't a bona fide stud. He is. But moving forward, I don't know if he's going to be used the same way in 2016 that he was over his first two seasons. Sure, he can give you 30 carries a game, and Smart and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney know that. But do they really want him doing that fresh off a brutal knee injury knowing that other talented running backs, including Sony Michel, are on the roster?

Nope.

Chubb will still get a sizable workload, routinely top the century mark on the ground and be a star, but LSU star running back Leonard Fournette will be the star.

Also a junior, Fournette has to be the superstar for an LSU team that struggles to stretch the field consistently through the air and is forced to be a workhorse for the ultra-physical Tigers. He led the nation in rushing yards per game in 2015 with 162.75, and with the same offensive philosophy and quarterback in place in 2016, the third act of the Fournette trilogy should be more of the same.

Of course, for either to be the face of the SEC, it would help if their teams contend for their respective division titles. Georgia has much more of a chance for that thanks to a much easier division and changes made on the offensive side of the ball. But that doesn't mean LSU won't hang around for a while. 

 

The 2013 recruiting class at Ole Miss was loaded with superstars, including defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche, offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and defensive back Tony Conner. That class, which vaulted the Rebels into national recruiting prominence, ranked eighth in the final 247Sports composite rankings.

With apologies to that star-studded class, the 2016 edition—which is currently ranked fourth in the 247Sports composite—is going to be even better.

Shea Patterson, a 5-star pro-style passer who's the top-ranked pro-style passer in the country, is already enrolled in class. As is Benito Jones, a 5-star defensive tackle who can make an immediate impact along a defensive line that is still loaded with stars sans Nkemdiche. 

DeKaylin Metcalf and Tre Nixon are 4-star wide receiver commits, both of whom add depth to a wide receiving corps that still includes Quincy Adeboyejo, Damore'ea Stringfellow, Demarkus Lodge and Van Jefferson, as well as tight end Evan Engram.

Greg Little is a monster tackle who should be able to slide right end to protect quarterback Chad Kelly's blind side, a lot like Tunsil did for former quarterback Bo Wallace when Tunsil came to Oxford.

Ole Miss' class isn't just highly ranked; its best players are players who can step in for those departed stars. At the very worst, they'll provide quality depth for head coach Hugh Freeze. After all, top-flight recruiting classes have become the norm in Oxford, and that will keep them in contention in the SEC West.

 

I understand why the theory that Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs struggles as a passer exists. After all, a 59.6 completion percentage, an average of 176.2 yards per game and a passer rating of 127.01 in 2015 didn't exactly knock the socks off of the pundits.

I'm not so sure it's a Dobbs problem as much as it is a wide receiver problem, though.

It was clear that head coach Butch Jones didn't trust his passing game early in the season in losses to Oklahoma, Florida and Arkansas, but I think it was more due to the lack of development of wide receivers like Marquez North, Josh Malone, Von Pearson and others that held the Vols back.

North and Pearson are gone, but Malone is back, along with Josh Smith, Preston Williams, Jauan Jennings and others. Those guys need to stay healthy and learn how to get off the ball better. If they do, Dobbs will be just fine. 

That's the real problem on Rocky Top, not Dobbs.

So no, Dobbs won't be benched if the passing game struggles. He's a dynamic runner, knows how to make that multidimensional rushing attack work and is well-versed on the speed of the game. Jones simply can't take those attributes out of the equation in the wide-open SEC East, because he can likely win it even if the passing game doesn't progress.

I don't think it's a Dobbs problem, though. I think it's much more of a wide receiver problem.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of cfbstats.com, 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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

B/R CFB Recruiting 200: Top 10 Athletes

After thorough study using specific scoring criteria, Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analysts Damon SaylesSanjay Kirpalani andTyler Donohue have graded the top 200 players in the 247Sports composite rankings and provided in-depth analysis on each young athlete. Bleacher Report will run a position-by-position breakdown series of the best college football recruits in the class of 2016. Here we present the Top Athletes.

 

Versatility is a skill that more and more college coaches are actively searching for in the recruiting process.

In each cycle, there are a few rare talents who have the potential to be effective in college at multiple positions, with some who could play on either side of the ball.

The latest installment of Bleacher Report’s CFB 200 series will focus on athletes and project them at the position we believe they will play on the college level. We'll also score them on their ability to develop when they focus on one spot full time. Players are listed according to their 247Sports composite rating.

How does the 2016 group of athletes measure up, and where will these standouts line up in college?

 

All analysis provided by B/R National Recruiting Analyst Sanjay Kirpalani. All quotes and scouting observations were obtained firsthand.

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Maty Mauk Indefinitely Suspended by Missouri: Latest Details, Comments, Reaction

Missouri Tigers quarterback Maty Mauk was indefinitely suspended Monday, according to Dave Matter of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Matter passed along a statement from athletic director Mack Rhoades and head football coach Barry Odom:

Dillon Cheverere of Total Frat Move shared an NSFW video allegedly showing Mauk snorting a white substance and yelling afterward.

This is far from the first time the quarterback has made headlines for issues off the field.

Missouri suspended him after just four games last year for a violation of team rules. At the time, the team suspended him only for Tigers' game against South Carolina on Oct. 3 and expected to re-evaluate his status, but he never played another down for the Tigers in 2015.

Then-head coach Gary Pinkel commented on Mauk's standing after the original suspension, per Greg Ostendorf of ESPN.com:

Maty's going through some personal things, and that's difficult in regards to that. But what we do, and I think our players have great respect for it, is I protect the integrity of the program. We're going to be who we are, and we're going to do the right thing. We're not going to manipulate things. We have rules we abide by. Everybody lives by the same rules. And I think overall, that's helped us build our football program.

During its bye week, the team reinstated him Oct. 27 after four games, and Pinkel did not comment on the signal-caller's status during the absence. However, on Nov. 1, Missouri suspended Mauk again for the remainder of the campaign for disciplinary reasons.

The Tigers finished 5-7 on the season after starting 3-1 with Mauk under center and didn't play in a bowl game. Mauk posted 654 passing yards and six touchdown throws in those four games following an impressive 2014 campaign with 2,648 passing yards and 27 total touchdowns.

Matter noted that new head coach Odom reinstated Mauk in December to rejoin the team and "said he expected Mauk to compete with Drew Lock for the starting quarterback job when spring practices begin."

Matter also passed along a quote from Odom on what he expected from Mauk following the reinstatement:

He's on our team now, and just like every other player he's going to have very strict guidelines on what they can and can't do. The quarterback position is different than any position on the team and different than any position in sports. Those guys are going to be held very, very accountable for everything they do. They're a representative of me and our football program and university.

It's easy to speculate that the starting job would belong to Lock following another suspension for Mauk and pending the outcome of the school's look into the video.

Lock threw for 1,332 yards and only four touchdowns, compared to eight interceptions, last season, but he was a freshman who jumped into a difficult and unexpected situation.

That experience will serve him well as he prepares for the 2016 season, and an entire spring practice taking reps with the first team will allow him to develop familiarity with his receivers.

As for Mauk, football will take a backseat while Missouri gathers information on the video.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Every College Football Power 5 Team's Worst Offseason Nightmare

College football's offseason is meant for reviewing, recharging and preparing. It's unfortunately also when teams end up having to react to bad news.

With eight months between the end of one season and the beginning of the next, there's just too much idle time where things can go wrong. Injuries, off-the-field incidents and other unhappy news pop up—things that could threaten to derail any hope of success in the following season.

We've identified a possible scenario for every team in the five power conferences (as well as BYU and Notre Dame) that would lead to offseason nightmares. Check them out, and hope these never come to fruition.

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Ranking Alabama's 16 National Championship Teams

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — When it comes to historical significance, University of Alabama coach Nick Saban isn’t slowing down and trying to put the 2015-16 team’s accomplishments into perspective, at least not yet.

Maybe he’ll do some of that later.

“I think that sometimes success can put a distorted perspective on things for you to some degree,” he said. “I look back to 1998 when we were 4-5 at Michigan State and we were going to Ohio State to play the No. 1 team in the country, if somebody would have told me then that this would have happened, I would have said, I think you're crazy.

“But you remember those times, and you remember all the lessons that you learned in terms of developing a process that works for young people to have a chance to be successful, a team dynamic that gives you a chance to be successful, and right now as long as I'm going to continue to do this, I'm going to keep things in perspective and look forward and not backward.”

It may be a long time before Saban takes a step back as the coach has shown no signs of slowing down. For example, when ESPN interviewed him on the flight back from Phoenix, the coach was going over game film of the 45-40 title victory against Clemson when most people on the plane were sleeping.

Since then, he’s been recruiting almost non-stop, although did take time to enjoy the Crimson Tide’s championship celebration that included a parade over the weekend.

Nevertheless, while he’s zeroed in on what’s next and adding to what might already be the strongest coaching legacy in college football history, the 2015-16 team’s place can already be evaluated.

It wasn’t the most successful team or the most polished, but Saban called it the most special team to him due to its resiliency and determination.

Here’s a look, in order, at the 16 national championships Alabama claims, based on record, accomplishments, place in history and statistical prowess respective to its era of college football:

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Notre Dame Football: 5 Biggest Offseason Goals for the Irish

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Classes are underway on campus, and spring ball isn’t far away for Notre Dame football.

Coming off a 10-win season and a trip to the Fiesta Bowl, the Irish must replace their top running back, wide receiver, offensive linemen, defensive lineman and linebackers. So what offseason goals should be on Notre Dame’s agenda looking toward 2016?

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Jaden Hunter Commits to Georgia: Bulldogs Land Legacy Recruit for 2017

A former Georgia player, new head coach Kirby Smart understands the importance of tradition within the Bulldogs program. That's why one of his first goals when getting hired at his alma mater was to convince legacy recruit Jaden Hunter that Georgia was where he belonged.

On Monday, Smart's efforts were rewarded.

Hunter, a 4-star outside linebacker prospect from the 2017 recruiting class, announced his commitment to Georgia via a video produced in conjunction with Rivals.com. He picked the Bulldogs over Alabama, Clemson, Florida State and LSU.

The son of former Georgia wide receiver Brice Hunter, Jaden Hunter is rated as the eighth-best outside linebacker and No. 135 overall player in the 2017 recruiting class. He's 6'3”, 218 pounds and will be wrapping up his prep career in the fall at Atlanta's Westlake High School.

Hunter and Smart—who played on the same Georgia team in 1995—have had a longstanding relationship, according to Jeff Sentell of DawgNation.

Smart was Hunter's lead recruiter while he was defensive coordinator at Alabama, and Sentell wrote that when Smart got the Georgia job, he sent Hunter a text message that read, “Come home, son.”

Brice Hunter is second in Georgia history with 182 career receptions and ranks fifth with 2,373 receiving yards. He was a seventh-round pick of the Miami Dolphins in 1996, spending parts of two seasons in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was shot to death in Chicago in 2004, at age 29, following a dispute with a neighbor.

This marks the third commitment Georgia has for 2017, including 4-star linebacker Breon Dixon and 5-star athlete Richard LeCounte III, who is the top-rated player at his position in the 2017 class.

Georgia recently lost a 2017 pledge, as 4-star receiver Devonta Smith decommitted on Jan. 14.

Hunter figures to be in the mix for playing time in the middle of Georgia's defense in 2017, when it will likely be replacing at least two starters at linebacker, including junior-to-be Lorenzo Carter.

 

Unless otherwise noted, recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

B/R Recruiting Notebook: 4-Star WR on Commitment: 'It Felt Like Home'

Nine days.

In a matter of nine days, college football recruits will participate in national signing day, finalizing their college futures with a signature on a letter of intent. One 4-star athlete solidified his plans on Monday, committing to play in the SEC.

Before national signing day, college coaches will get one more week of official visits to sell their programs to big-name targets.

Here are the latest updates, along with some athletes to watch as we inch closer to Feb. 3.

 

Ole Miss lands 4-star WR Tre Nixon

Fresh off an official visit to Ole Miss, Melbourne, Florida, 4-star wide receiver Tre Nixon decided to end his process Monday afternoon, verbally committing to the Rebels via Twitter. Nixon committed to Ole Miss over offers from Georgia, Auburn and other programs.

"As soon as I walked on campus, it felt like home," Nixon said. "I can't express how comfortable I felt around all the coaches and players, and that's what did it for me...family."

The news wasn't what Auburn fans wanted to hear, as he was expected to take his final official visit there this weekend. Nixon told Bleacher Report that he will no longer take that visit.

Nixon said he valued the fanbase in Oxford and the program's offense. He also liked the direction of the quarterback play, which is expected to be led by 5-star Shea Patterson.

Nixon ultimately said his decision came down to three things: "Comfort level, offensive scheme and a wide receiver coach who can develop me."

 

Can LSU seal the deal for in-staters Fulton, Carter?

When it comes to in-state recruiting, few are as good as keeping their top-tier talent as LSU. The Tigers have two big names they're hoping to land by national signing day, cornerbacks Kristian Fulton and Shyheim Carter.

The task, however, won't be easy.

Fulton, a 5-star prospect and the nation's No. 2 cornerback, took an official visit to Arkansas over the weekend and has a scheduled official visit this weekend to Florida. A ball hawk who had 11 interceptions this past season at Archbishop Rummel, Fulton told 247Sports.com's Cole Eddy that he enjoyed the trip and felt comfortable in Fayetteville.

Carter, a 4-star prospect and the No. 9 cornerback, reportedly visited Alabama over the weekend and has a scheduled official visit to Ole Miss this weekend. Carter, who was used on both sides of the ball at Kentwood High School, was once committed to Alabama and, according to 247Sports.com's Barton Simmons, could be back as a member of the Crimson Tide 2016 class.

LSU currently has the top-ranked recruiting class of this cycle. Landing one of these two athletes would be huge in keeping that top spot.

 

Michigan pledge's goal: commit, then leave the country

Los Angeles 4-star cornerback David Long Jr.committed to Michigan on Thursday. The next day, the nation's No. 8 cornerback boarded a plane for Italy.

Consider it a gift to himself of sorts. Long, who will use the next few days to explore Florence, Rome and Venice, said the trip—made with a few classmates—serves as the ultimate refresher in what has been a hectic recruiting process.

"This gives me a new focus," Long said of the trip. "I told myself after I committed that there will be a new focus and a new goal. I'm definitely excited about the next the chapter of my life, but recruiting has been nonstop. Whether it's been at camps or at a game, I've been getting hammered. It's definitely a blessing and a curse."

Long ended his process by adding depth to a Michigan class in the running for being the nation's top-ranked recruiting class of the 2016 cycle. The Wolverines currently are sitting at No. 3 behind LSU and Ohio State, but with nine days left until national signing day, Michigan has a few elite-level targets to keep an eye on.

As for Long, his sole focus is on enjoying Italy for the rest of the week. It's a chance for him to fully unwind and put recruiting to the side.

"I'm just grateful for it all," he said. "I'm happy for all of the opportunities, but I'm glad that it's all over."

 

Sleeper alert: Lacrosse commit can play football, too

Darien, Connecticut's Mark Evanchick will play lacrosse at the University of Pennsylvania next year. The Quakers' football coaching staff, however, may want to give him a second look for their football program during the fall season.

As a 6'0", 238-pound defensive end, Evanchick was the Gatorade Connecticut Football Player of the Year after recording 89 tackles and 23.5 sacks on the season. He finished his high school career with a Connecticut state record 66.5 sacks, according to the Stamford Advocate.

Evanchick's speed and power made him a player to watch throughout his college career. He's a three-time All-State player who broke an 18-year-old career sack record once held by the Arizona Cardinals' Dwight Freeney. In fact, the feat was so big, Freeney congratulated Evanchick with a video played by the NFL Network.

 

Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports.com's composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Power Ranking the 10 Greatest College Football QBs of All Time

Being the single most important position on the football field, the quarterback receives a massive amount of attention from coaches, opponents and spectators alike. 

And because they're so crucial to many of the best teams and greatest moments in college football, quarterbacks are the subjects of the most hotly contested debates among passionate fans—who is the best of all time?

It's practically an impossible task, trying to compare and rank legends from different time periods and different offensive systems. There's no perfect formula, and personal opinions of what makes a great quarterback play a huge role.

In this particular top-10 power ranking of the best college football quarterbacks of all time, I broke down plenty of signal-callers considered to be the greatest by a number of factors—career record as a starter, total touchdowns, QB rating, major individual awards and championships won.

I'm looking for the quarterbacks who ultimately made the biggest impact on winning teams in their years as starters. I looked at wins and touchdowns per season, for example, to compare a record-breaking two-year starter from a consistently strong quarterback who started every year for his team.

There's no strict mathematical formula for this top 10, as comparing quarterbacks from different eras can be tough when looking solely at stats. It's my personal opinion of a quarterback's total college resume based on the above factors. There's bound to be a lot of disagreements here.

Of course, some players who didn't make my cut might be no-brainer choices for others. So give us your top 10 college quarterbacks of all time in the comments below.

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Hollywood Moment Caps Silas Nacita's Wild Journey of Homelessness, Ineligibility

The closure he has craved came in Virginia Beach, a place unaccustomed to granting football wishes.

Playing in a game you’ve never heard of, wearing a helmet that was not his, operating on a foot that would not cooperate, Silas Nacita, the young man without a team and once without a roof over his head, saw his arduous journey fulfilled in a single afternoon.

It’s a script almost too good to be true. It’s the kind of story seemingly constructed for Hollywood. It’s a tale—and this is the most important part—with many chapters still to be scribed.

But when Nacita lumbered through the end zone in double overtime at the Dream Bowl—an all-star game geared for collegiate athletes playing at programs you didn’t even know existed—he erased the pain of everything it took to get there.

He broke free of his shackles. He was finally at peace with his life, his failures and with football.

The days and nights he spent homeless, hitchhiking on highways and fast asleep in ditches were forgotten. The persistent ache of having his dream pulled away instantly subsided in the ecstasy of it all. Even his backup plan took a grueling, unexpected twist, although that didn’t matter in the moment.

“God is good,” Nacita told me following his first game in more than 365 days.

This sentiment did not abruptly emerge from triumph. During the darkest hours, Nacita uttered these same words. He never wavered on his faith or his desire to play—even if it was only one more time.

“I’m very pleased with the fact that he continues to go after that dream, whether some feel it’s realistic or not,” Silas’s mother Amonna said, speaking for the first time since her son’s saga began. “Most people would have just given up and pursued something else. But he has persevered. He has turned his life around.”

Nacita’s introduction came when Sports Illustrated's Ken Rodriguez profiled a young man who struggled with home life, who didn’t get along with his mother, who played at Cornell his freshman season before eagerly saying farewell, who waited tables to pay for tuition, who endured homelessness before eventually touching down at Baylor as a walk-on.

Even in a reserve role that rarely allowed him playing time, Nacita quickly became a celebrity as word of his journey spread. The Waco crowd would roar when he would enter a blowout, and he would often deliver something more for them to cheer for.

He even acquired his own nickname: "Salsa Nacho."

In February of 2015, however, Nacita’s football life was derailed. A Baylor official pulled the back aside and told him that he was suspended from the team until further notice for receiving improper benefits.

On March 25, Nacita confirmed to Bleacher Report that he was permanently ineligible following an investigation.

The foundation in his football home began to crumble, although Nacita did not simply lay down. Not long after the news became official, he committed to Southwestern Assemblies of God University, an NAIA program in Waxahachie, Texas.

He spoke of the decision and how his purpose had been reenergized. He thought hard about leaving Baylor—a school he was so deeply entrenched in—although playing football trumped all.

This was an opportunity to move that dream forward, although this plan quickly came undone.

In an email obtained by Bleacher Report, head coach Frank Tristan had to tell Silas—a young man who shared his passion for faith—that he would not be able to play in his program. He did not have the necessary waiver to participate at this level.

“I really apologize for the situation and I am sorry that we led you astray,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, the NAIA was pretty cut-and-dry, thus the appeal process didn’t go our way.”

He had hit the wall. He was ready to succumb to the realization that his dream had passed him by. Instead of drifting whimsically toward his next football adventure, he returned to the place that still felt like home.

Nacita enrolled back in Baylor before last fall, living 15 minutes outside of campus with a family he met at church. This was no longer about football; it was about getting a degree.

He kept his body in shape—working out with the students at the rec center when he could.

His schedule made that difficult. Last semester, he took 19 hours in classes—finishing with four A's and one B. This semester he loaded up once again with an 18-hour class load.

If all goes according to plan, he will have his degree in May.

As the ground beneath his feet started to harden and a new routine was formed, Nacita was approached by a man named Neil Malvone—the executive director of the Dream Bowl and founder of Cutting Edge Sports Management. Malvone also teaches sports management classes at Brooklyn College and Caldwell University.

When speaking to his students in a lecture last October about compliance, Nacita’s situation became the subject of a lengthy class discussion. The story touched Malvone. So much so that he decided to invite the former FCS player to the Dream Bowl as he assembled rosters.

“It was instantaneous,” Malvone said on Nacita’s response. “He was just delighted and grateful for the chance to play football again.”

The Dream Bowl is essentially an FCS showcase—a game still in its infancy but growing quickly. It’s a chance for players from much smaller programs to enjoy a little face time with CFL and NFL scouts before throwing on a suit or applying for a different profession entirely.

Even this opportunity came with an unforeseen snarl for Nacita. With NFL scouts in attendance, eligibility concerns again became an issue.

“Once we determined he was not draft-eligible, I had to make a very difficult call,” Malvone said. “I told Silas that if he wanted to play, none of the scouts could come. He was very quick to reject that, saying it wasn’t fair for everybody else.”

Nacita made the trip to Virginia Beach for the showcase regardless, although he did so as an honorary captain. For two days he was a bystander.

As the Dream Bowl inched closer, the NFL scouts slowly flocked to their next destination. If all scouts left by the time the game began, Nacita would be allowed to play.

“I must have asked the last scout six times what his plans were,” Malzone said. “We had no idea until Sunday afternoon that he would be eligible to play on Monday.”

Finally, a breakthrough.

Without taking a single rep, Nacita prepared for a game—bum foot and all. His most pressing concern wasn’t learning the offense. It was actually somewhat similar to what he ran at Baylor. It was finding a helmet.

The helmet he had been given shortly before the game was plain white with a few Dream Bowl decals. “It was like the helmet you’d see in Remember the Titans,” Nacita joked. When he showed it to his teammates, all they could do was laugh.

Instead, Nacita turned to an unexpected place to protect his brain: Millersville University in Pennsylvania.

Joey Pham, a defensive back from the school, had pulled a hamstring while working out. Since he was unable to play in the actual game, he was more than happy to share his headgear. It fit like a glove.

The rest came naturally. This part was never in doubt.

Having been out of the game for more than a year, Nacita, sporting his Millersville helmet and the shoulder pads he had only recently acquired, was at home as soon as kickoff came.

He was a child thrown into a candy store without a budget from mom. He savored every moment.

Sharing reps with four other running backs, he treasured each carry. When he was assigned to pass protect, he happily threw his body in harm’s way. Having never played a down on kickoff or punt return, Nacita tossed himself on the field with his coach’s blessing, anxious to soak up every moment possible.

“As the game went on, I remembered the feeling,” Nacita said. “It was the most relaxed I have ever been in a game. I have gone through so many different things—so many twists and turns—and I came to the peace that it was just fine if I never played again.”

Jordan Neal, the head coach of the Crusaders, watched film deep into Sunday night when he learned that he had a new addition to his roster. He wanted to get to know his player.

After he was done watching high school and Baylor tape, he read up on Nacita’s history. He wanted to know more. The following day, he put Nacita into the rotation without limitations.

“When we got out to the game, I’ll be honest, I had my doubts,” Neal said. “We had some really outstanding running backs in the game. I never imagined it would have turned out like it did.”

With the two teams tied, the Dream Bowl crept into double overtime. Nacita’s team, the Crusaders, regained the ball after a Patriots turnover with a chance to win.

Having been on the field the last two plays, Nacita was coming off the field for likely the last time. His head coach intervened.

Neal asked Zach Grasis of Worcester Polytechnic Institute if Nacita could take his place. His teammate, fully aware of the circumstances, happily gave up his turn.

“I think Silas had to hold back tears right then on the sideline just for the opportunity,” Neal said.

The game bled closer to the finish and the team readied for a game-winning field-goal attempt as they neared the goal line. If they did not pick up a first down or touchdown on the next play, it would be up to the kicker.

With one play left, Neal called an inside zone. Nacita had one last chance.

There was no hole to wiggle through—just a wall of linemen and human barriers. Instinctively, Nacita spun to create his own space, maintaining his balance and shifting seamlessly into his next direction.

He cut the run inside where he plowed through a line of arm tackles. Nearing the end zone but unaware of how much farther he needed to travel, he leapt into the air and ended the game.

“You’re not rooting for one team or the other,” Malvone said. “But when he crossed the goal line, I threw my hands up in the air. I was a fan just like everybody else. I was just so happy for him. He can walk off into the sunset now.”

Back home, no one knew about this moment. Nacita, unaware that he would actually suit up, kept this quiet from his family. Not even his mother or girlfriend knew.

Only his brother was there to witness the run firsthand. He shared the news with everyone else.

The responses floored Nacita as he was buried with praise. Most had never heard of the game and there was no true box score to share. The touchdown will never be seen by most.

But it didn’t matter. This moment—those nine yards and the hours that came before it—was a rebirth.

In the days that followed, Nacita was greeted with yet another opportunity.

Following his performance, a scout from the CFL reached out, wondering if Nacita would have any interest in participating in a tryout in the next few months. Malzone will help him pay for the costs to make this possible. Nacita, while finishing up his degree, plans to pursue his dream a little longer.

Perhaps this is the end. Perhaps Nacita will never step foot in another regulated football game. Perhaps he will graduate and finally say goodbye to the game.

Or maybe, the end of his journey is not actually the end at all.

“I know there is so much left. I know there is so much more I can give that no one has ever seen,” Nacita told me. “But if this is indeed the end and there is no more, I got the closure that I need.”

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Tre Nixon to Ole Miss: Rebels Land 4-Star WR Prospect

The rich got richer Monday when 4-star wide receiver Tre Nixon officially committed to Ole Miss following a standout career at Viera High School in Melbourne, Florida:  

Prior to committing, Nixon had narrowed his list of possible destinations down to six, per Bleacher Report's Tyler Donohue: Penn State, Florida, Georgia, Ole Miss, Auburn and Texas A&M. 

Ben Garrett of Ole Miss Spirit provided a quote from Nixon's current head coach following the announcement:

Nixon became renowned for his blazing speed as he grew into a coveted prospect. Nixon is ranked 182 overall via 247Sports, along with being the 36th-ranked receiver in his class and the 29th best prospect in Florida. 

According to 247Sports, Nixon ran a 4.38 40-yard dash. 

"I definitely use God-given speed to my advantage," Nixon told Donohue. "I can get on top of defensive backs really quick. I get in and out of my breaks in a hurry. Teams want that vertical threat downfield to take the top off a defense."

However, the speedster reiterated he's far more than a burner on the outside, according to Donohue: "I really pride myself on being able to run all the routes, and that's something I spent a lot of time working on during the offseason. I don't want to just be considered a guy who can only go deep. I want to be able to do everything."

Although Nixon's repertoire still needs some refinement, the fact he can immediately enter college with elite speed should help him see the field faster—whether it's on offense or special teams.  

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How State of Texas Has Become Recruiting Hotbed for SEC Football

He didn't know it at the time, but in 2012, then-Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds boldly predicted something that, nearly four years later, would stand tall as the "Dewey Defeats Truman" of modern-day college football. 

Texas A&M, along with Missouri, was officially leaving the Big 12 that year to join the SEC. Pretending this wouldn't affect the Big 12 or its hub in the state of Texas, Dodds told Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman the SEC's footprint would expand ever so slightly to "a sliver down the East side" of Texas:

Here we are in 2016 and, without a doubt, Dodds severely underestimated what losing Texas A&M would do to the Big 12 in myriad ways. One consequence that has hurt the Big 12 as much as anything is how the conference has fallen behind in recruiting in the state of Texas. 

Namely, the SEC has made itself quite at home in the Lone Star State. There's an argument to be made this is as important (or detrimental, depending on your point of view) as the Big 12's membership dilemma. 

Go back seven years to 2009, and you get a better idea of what the state of Texas meant to the Big 12 regarding talent acquisition. Why '09? On national signing day that year, Oklahoma was recently removed from playing for a BCS championship. Less than one year later, Texas would play for the national title. Though the Sooners and Longhorns came up short against Florida and Alabama, respectively, this was during the era in which the top of the Big 12 was producing big winners on the field and on draft day. 

(In 2010 alone, the Big 12 had five top-10 picks in the NFL draft. Three of the top four came from Oklahoma.)

A glance over the '09 prospect list in Texas shows just how dominant the Big 12 was at keeping homegrown talent in the conference. In all, the Big 12 landed 38 of Texas' top 50 recruits, including 17 of the top 25 prospects. The SEC reeled in seven prospects (five within the top 25), the Pac-12 hauled in two and two more went to programs outside the power conferences. 

In short, the Big 12 claimed 76 percent of the top prospects in Texas. About two out of every three top-25 recruits went to Big 12 programs. 

Now fast-forward to this year with signing day just a couple of weeks away. The landscape of Texas recruiting is dramatically different. With nine top-50 Texas recruits yet to make their commitments (binding or otherwise), the Big 12 can claim 16 players. The SEC, 17. 

Additionally, Texas has just four* verbal commitments among those top 50 players. For reference, Alabama and Ole Miss also have three verbals, while LSU has four. Texas A&M has six. Therein lies the biggest concern regarding the SEC's presence in Texas: It's not just the Aggies doing damage. 

(*It is worth noting, however, that Texas head coach Charlie Strong is a late bloomer in recruiting. This is the complete opposite approach from former Longhorns coach Mack Brown, who generally got kids to commit early. Strong closed hard and fast on the '15 class and could do the same this year.) 

It was always reasonable to assume the SEC would have an increased impact in Texas recruiting because of A&M. That's a matter of simple numbers shifting from one conference to another. The Big 12 claims A&M's recruits in '09; the SEC claims them in '16. 

What people like Dodds probably didn't foresee was other SEC programs getting a bigger chunk of the recruiting pie. Granted, programs like Arkansas and LSU always had some presence in Texas because of geographical proximity, but it would be naive not to notice the wealth has spread. In 2013 following A&M's first full season in the SEC, the Aggies had 13 of the SEC's 17 top-50 Texas recruits. For '16, A&M has six of 17. 

Though the data charted references 247Sports, Dan Wolken of USA Today and Allen Kenney of Blatant Homerism noted similar trends using Scout.com and Rivals.com rankings:

The point being, the Big 12 no longer has a vice grip on its own recruiting territory. Yes, nearly every program in major college football recruits Texas in some capacity, but the newfound diversity is noteworthy. 

How did this happen—beyond the typical conference infiltration, that is?

Winning is the simplest of theories. From 2006-07 to 2012-13, the SEC won seven straight BCS championships. Auburn played for an eighth in 2013-14. Because of this, people viewed the SEC as the strongest conference in major college football, usually by a country mile. As a result, the best conferences tend to attract the best talent. 

Anyone who thinks that perception reign is over is sorely mistaken. Thanks to Alabama's 45-40 win over Clemson in the College Football Playoff National Championship, the SEC's perception is as bolstered as it's ever been, even if the East division was significantly weaker. 

Meanwhile, Clemson routed the Big 12 champion, Oklahoma, in the Orange Bowl. 

Will it take a Big 12 team to win a national championship for the trend to reverse? Does Oklahoma, Texas—or even Baylor or TCU—need to win the whole thing for the Big 12 to take back Texas on the recruiting trail?

It's too early to say. Even if, for example, the Sooners won a title next year, it could take another five years before we know for certain if the Big 12 has fixed its recruiting issue. 

There's also the matter of exactly where blue-chip prospects are coming from—and they're not coming from Texas in the volume you'd think. Per a recent SportSource Analytics heat map, a large concentration of top-tier players came from the southeastern part of the United States: 

Individually speaking, Texas is still a hotbed for talent, but the SEC region is loaded as well. Moving forward, the SEC is beginning to get the best of both worlds, while Big 12 programs are simply trying to win their own territories. 

That's not the right combination for the Big 12. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports unless noted otherwise. 

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