NCAA Football News
While Tennessee's resurgent success on the field and all the hype leading into the 2016 season haven't resonated yet on the recruiting trail, the Volunteers already have lured a slew of top talent onto campus for junior days.
Before long, you have to think coach Butch Jones will add to the two 3-star prospects (Georgia linebacker Mo Burnham and Mississippi tight end Chase Rogers) who've already pulled the trigger with commitments in the '17 class.
UT is on the list of many of the nation's top prospects, and while national runner-up Clemson has proved to be a nemesis on the recruiting trail so far, the Vols have to win some battles with top talent within state boundaries in a banner year for talent close to home.
The Vols are already behind on several top targets, including Knoxville receiver Amari Rodgers and Memphis running back Cordarrian Richardson, who've both committed to Dabo Swinney's Tigers. Also, California offensive lineman and UT legacy Kanan Ray pledged to UCLA.
If Ray and Rodgers follow through with these commitments, it'll mark the first time in Jones' tenure he's lost a legacy commitment the Vols have really coveted.
Despite the struggling start, the recruiting board for every team right now is massive. While it's difficult to sort through and assign rankings to the top players, it's becoming obvious who some of the Vols' top targets will be.
But narrowing it to a top five is a tough exercise. Without talking directly to Jones (who can't commit on unsigned prospects) this list is going to be subjective. For instance, this one doesn't even include Maleik Gray or JaCoby Stevens, who are without question important to UT's '17 class.
In his first two full classes, Jones proved he could start strong and space out commits. Just last month, he showed with the '16 haul that he can close strong.
What will Tennessee's 2017 class look like when all is said and done? That's anybody's guess. But let's take a look at the Vols' top five early targets based on need, geography and sheer playmaking ability of the prospects.
College football coaching staffs constantly search the country for high school prospects who could eventually make an impact on their respective rosters. This quest for talent requires programs to place emphasis on scouting several regions, but every team must be able to identify an area it can return to for key pickups on a perennial basis.
Whether it's a specific school district, overall region or an entire state, these established "pipelines" can consistently provide pieces that upgrade a game plan. We shined a spotlight on pipelines that have been particularly kind to the 25 programs featured in the final 2015 coaches poll.
When national signing day is in the books for the 2017 recruiting cycle, the Ohio State Buckeyes could have as many as six 5-star recruits in the fold.
The Buckeyes currently have a stranglehold on the nation's No. 1 recruiting class, leading the country with two 5-star and nine 4-star prospects for their '17 class. But with the high-level targets still left on the board, Ohio State's grasp on the top spot could be unbreakable when it's all said and done.
With the class filling up quickly, Urban Meyer and Co. will need to be selective with their remaining scholarships. These five players are pivotal not only because of their high ranking and ratings, but because they'll fill positions of need, keep chief rivals from getting stronger and open up huge pipelines to talent-rich high schools across the country.
The LSU Tigers announced Thursday that backup quarterback Anthony Jennings will transfer from the program.
Jennings was the team's 2014 starter but was supplanted last year by Brandon Harris. He will remain with the school until he graduates this summer, though will transfer to another football program to finish his college career, per LSU's release.
Graduating from LSU would make him eligible to be a graduate transfer, and he could play immediately this fall with whatever new school he signs with.
“This is an opportunity for Anthony to put himself in a position to help another team have success,” LSU head coach Les Miles said in a statement. "We wish him nothing but good fortune in the future and we appreciate all that he did while he was part of our program.”
LSU is now down to three scholarship quarterbacks—Harris, Danny Etling and Justin McMillan. Lindsey Scott, a 3-star dual threat-quarterback, will arrive this June.
If he's granted a graduate-transfer waiver, Jennings will become the latest to use the NCAA exception—one largely utilized by other upperclassmen quarterbacks who have lost their starting jobs and are seeking new opportunities.
Russell Wilson is the most prominent example, having left NC State for Wisconsin in 2011 after Sean Glennon was promoted to starting quarterback.
Georgia’s Greyson Lambert (transferred from Virginia) and Florida State’s Everett Golson (transferred from Notre Dame) are other examples of quarterbacks who have found new starting gigs after leaving Division I schools. Both were No. 1 on the depth chart by the start of last season.
Jennings’ next stop isn’t clear, but he should draw interest from, at the very least, some of the lower-tier Power Five schools.
He went 9-4 with 1,792 passing yards, 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions over two years as a starter, adding another 310 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Those numbers are respectable, but what might be concerning is LSU didn’t have faith in Jennings to keep him the starter in 2015.
They instead turned to Harris, who anchored the SEC’s third-worst passing offense in what was the Tigers’ Achilles' heel late in the season.
Jennings would fit nicely in another system that affords him a strong run game to complement his dual-threat ability. He’s not the strongest passer, but he could thrive with other talented pieces around him.
Recruiting rankings provided by 247Sports' composite rankings.
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — If there’s one thing that was indisputable about the University of Alabama’s most recent national championship season, it’s the Crimson Tide played a worthy schedule.
Alabama faced nine opponents that were ranked at the time they played, which was a record for the most ever by a national champion.
It had an impressive neutral-site win in the season opener against Wisconsin. With Florida reaching the SEC Championship Game, Alabama had to play the top three teams in the East Division, and it knocked off the teams ranked No. 1 and 3 in the College Football Playoff.
Alabama also played in the sport’s toughest division, with every team ranked in the Associated Press poll at some point during the 2015 season and all seven finishing above .500 for the second straight year. Both of those things had never occurred before in college football.
This fall, it will have another challenging schedule, featuring many of the usual suspects and some new ones.
Success in college football means different things to different teams. Some won't be satisfied unless they take home a championship, while others just want to see improvement of some kind.
But a good baseline for success across all conferences year in and year out is the vaunted 10-win mark. By reaching double-digit wins in a season, a program has secured its spot as one of the best in the country—no matter what bowl it reaches or what its strength of schedule is.
Last year, 29 teams won 10 games, ranging from the College Football Playoff and "New Year's Six" qualifiers to the best of the best in the "Group of Five" conferences. How many will get there in the 2016 season?
College football is wildly unpredictable by nature. Massive upsets and major injuries happen. Teams fall well below expectations. There are only a few "sure things" out there.
But here are 10 college football teams that should be considered locks to win 10 games in 2016, provided they stay healthy and play up to their potential. These selections were based on recent performance, number of returning starters (according to Phil Steele) and the teams they must face in my composite preseason Top 25.
Of course, more than just these 10 teams will win at least 10 games this fall. But these are the 10 safest bets on the board heading into the 2016 season. Give us your own in the comments below.
Recruiting is all about presentation. You're selling impressionable, young athletes on an experience, convincing them the one you offer is better than what they can find anywhere else. The sport in question is only a small piece of the package and might as well not even be included in the pitch.
In that respect, great recruiters could probably convince prospects to come to their schools no matter what sport they played (or what sport the coach was from), right? That got us wondering which coaches from the college football ranks would be savvy enough to haul in top-tier talent for their men's basketball programs.
There are quite a few that could pull this off, but we've put together a list of football coaches who could be a level above the rest when it comes to selling their schools to basketball players just as well. Check out our picks, and give us your thoughts in the comments section.
In other words, it's just another typical week in the Big Ten.
It also happens to be time for my weekly Big Ten Q&A, where you ask the questions, and I provide the answers. As always, you can send your Big Ten-related questions to me on Twitter @BenAxelrod each week for your chance to appear in the mailbag.
This week, we'll tackle the conference's new starting signal-callers, the Fighting Illini's new head coach, the Big Ten's most important position change and the wonderful world of professional wrestling.
Let's get started.
Quarterbacks in the Big Ten have always fascinated me, particularly as the league's offenses have evolved into more modern styles. Some programs have managed to keep up with the times, others have even taken it a step further and then there are still some head coaches who prefer to play it safe with a game manager.
This season, the makeup of the league's signal-callers will be even more interesting, as there won't be many new ones, but four of the five the QBs who will be starting for the first time will do so at prominent programs.
Presumed conference title contenders Michigan State, Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin will each be breaking in new starters this season, which will throw a twist into divisional races that will see Ohio State and Iowa each return their starting quarterbacks.
In terms of new starters, the player I find most intriguing is Wisconsin's Bart Houston, who completed 22 of his 33 pass attempts for 232 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions while subbing in for an injured Joel Stave during the Badgers' 24-13 win over Illinois last season. Houston was so impressive that calls came for him to be named Wisconsin's new starter midseason, but Stave ultimately resumed his role in the Badgers lineup.
After Houston, I'm intrigued by Michigan's John O'Korn, presuming he takes the spot in the Wolverines lineup that Jake Rudock vacated. Of the quarterback competitions in the Big Ten this offseason, Michigan State's is perhaps the most intriguing, with Tyler O'Connor, Damion Terry and Messiah deWeaver battling it out to replace Connor Cook.
And then there's Penn State, which finds itself without a blue-chip prospect ready to step in for Christian Hackenberg. It could, however, be argued that either Trace McSorley or Tommy Stevens may ultimately be a better fit in head coach James Franklin's system than Hackenberg was in the past two years.
So to answer your question, my ranking of new Big Ten starting quarterbacks looks like this:
- Bart Houston, Wisconsin
- John O'Korn, Michigan
- Michigan State's new starter
- Penn State's new starter
- Indiana's Zander Diamont
But it's the Nittany Lions I have the most concern about—for reasons that extend beyond the actual quarterbacks themselves.
When I first wrote about Illinois' stunning hiring of Lovie Smith earlier this week, I was convinced the former Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach would make the Fighting Illini instant contenders in the Big Ten West based on a surprising amount of talent—including star wideout Mike Dudek—returning in Champaign and Smith's pedigree.
But the more I think about Smith's hiring at Illinois, the more I view this as a move that could revolutionize Fighting Illini football for years to come.
I mean, think about it: This is an NFL-caliber head coach already putting together an NFL-caliber staff in what is inarguably the weaker of the Big Ten's two divisions. Who knows what will become of Iowa after quarterback C.J. Beathard and cornerback Desmond King graduate, and even at 10-3, Wisconsin was steady but unspectacular in its first year under head coach Paul Chryst.
I actually like what head coach Mike Riley's doing in Lincoln—at least from a recruiting standpoint—more than most, but even then, I have a hard time seeing Nebraska building a division dynasty. The reality is the Big Ten West is there for the taking, and all of sudden Illinois has arguably the coach with both the biggest name and the most credibility.
In more than a year of covering the Big Ten, I wrote about Illinois twice—both times relating to former Illini head coach Tim Beckman's unspectacular downfall in Champaign. In the past four days, I've now written about the Fighting Illini three times, which is indicative of the buzz Smith is already building at his new job.
I don't expect Illinois to win the division this year, but I wouldn't be shocked if it's in contention until the very end. Come 2017, however, I expect Lovie's presence to be in full effect with both his recruiting and his player development potentially paving the way to a new powerhouse in the Big Ten West.
Of all the things that have been said and written about Michigan's spring practice this year, Jabrill Peppers' move to linebacker has somehow flown under the radar.
When it comes to position switches in the Big Ten this season, you won't find a more important one than Peppers' move to the front seven—and not just because he's now played close to 10 positions in his college career. In new Wolverines defensive coordinator Don Brown's defense, there isn't a more important position than outside linebacker, as evidenced by the numbers his past outside linebackers have posted in stops at UConn and Boston College.
Don't believe me? Here are the numbers accumulated by the lead outside linebacker in Brown's defense in each of the past five seasons:
Like Peppers, Keyes and Milano were both converted safeties, but neither possessed the type of ability Michigan's 5-star jack-of-all-trades does. Primarily playing safety, the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year managed to post 45 tackles—5.5 of which came for a loss—in his debut campaign.
Under Brown and now at linebacker, those numbers will only amplify if the new Wolverines defensive coordinator's history with the position is any indication. Peppers has always had the talent, and now he might just be in the proper scheme to harness it and turn into one of the most dynamic defenders the Big Ten—and college football—has ever seen.
Ohio State: Brock Lesnar
The Beast Incarnate. The Buckeyes have been on a roll under head coach Urban Meyer, just like Brock Lesnar's been since ending The Undertaker's undefeated streak at WrestleMania two years ago. Neither seems to be slowing down anytime soon.
Michigan: Roman Reigns
Love Jim Harbaugh or hate Jim Harbaugh, Michigan's new head coach draws a reaction, much like WWE's new force-fed golden child. But after spending the better part of the past year in the spotlight, it will be crucial for each to deliver in 2016.
Michigan State: Dean Ambrose
I love you #SpartyNation, but you guys can truly be The Lunatic Fringe sometimes. Still, neither Michigan State nor Dean Ambrose always receives the respect it deserves, as each has arguably been its respective league's top performer for the past three years.
Penn State: Randy Orton
Like Penn State, Randy Orton was a big deal five years ago and an even bigger deal a decade ago. But lately, each of their acts have gotten stale, as both are in need of some sort of reboot to maintain relevance.
Wisconsin: Bray Wyatt
A steady contender you can always add to the mix for a much-needed quality win. Do either Wisconsin or Bray Wyatt have what it takes to be the top dog? That's to be determined.
Iowa: The New Day
The success of both the Hawkeyes and New Day in 2015 left us wondering the same thing: Where did that come from, and can it be sustained? Bonus points on this one, because New Day member Big E (Ettore Ewen) was a defensive lineman at Iowa in the mid-2000s.
Nebraska: Big Show
Need to look strong? Defeating Nebraska or Big Show can still accomplish just that. But the unfortunate reality for both is that the win against either would have looked a lot stronger had it come in 1996.
When in need of freshening things up, a new head coach or a much-needed heel turn can do wonders. But despite both seeming to possess plenty of upside, it remains to be seen what Lovie will accomplish in Champaign and what The Big Guy will get done with his latest turn to the dark side.
We saw a spark from each back in 2014, signaling that both the Golden Gophers and The Swiss Superman had potential as consistent contenders. Coming off a coaching change in Minneapolis and an unfortunately timed shoulder injury for Cesaro, both, however, still have plenty to prove.
While Northwestern made an unexpected push for the Big Ten West title in 2015, Kalisto became the unlikely United States champion with his upset victory over Alberto Del Rio this past winter. And while both will always be fan favorites, neither has the upside of one day becoming a world champion.
Indiana: Tyler Breeze
Tyler Breeze's move set is fun, much like the Hoosiers offense under head coach Kevin Wilson. Neither, however, has led to many wins for either to this point.
Purdue: Zack Ryder
When Zack Ryder's in the ring on Monday Night Raw, it's a safe bet he's about to get beat. And when Purdue takes the field each Saturday—well, you get the picture.
Rutgers and Maryland: The Social Outcasts
Both the Scarlet Knights and Terrapins seem to be having fun with their new head coaches, much like Bo Dallas, Adam Rose, Heath Slater and Curtis Axel have been with their new gimmick. All, however, have limited upside—and I'm not sure they truly make sense in their respective leagues.
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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