NCAA Football News

Eric Cuffee to Texas: Longhorns Land 4-Star DB Prospect

Class of 2016 4-star defensive back recruit Eric Cuffee announced on ESPNU's Recruiting Nation on Thursday night that he will be attending the University of Texas, which ESPN.com's Max Olson confirmed. 

KCEN's Jessica Morrey shows Cuffee just moments after announcing his decision:

Playing both cornerback and safety at Waco High School in Texas, Cuffee is the 28th-ranked corner in the nation, per 247Sports' composite rankings.   

At 5'11 ½", 188 pounds, Cuffee won't be the largest defensive back to be patrolling the secondary at Texas, but he makes up for it with some quick feet that will allow him to stay with a lot of receivers.

He's physical and is able to throw his weight around well, whether it comes to tackling or stunting a receiver on the line of scrimmage.    

Like many recruits, he will need to continue to develop his play recognition. While those quick feet are great for covering receivers, they'll be even better when he's able to break toward the backfield on running plays. 

According to 247Sports, Cuffee is the first defensive back Texas has acquired out of the class of 2016. 

Cuffee is joining a Texas team that in 2015 was tied for 73rd in the nation when it came to pass defense. The Longhorns allowed over 250 passing yards in five of their 12 games last season and recorded 13 interceptions, which tied for 42nd nationally. 

He will have an opportunity to learn under some of the team's best, including Dylan Haines, who led the Longhorns with five interceptions last season. 

Texas also returns Holton Hill, who was second on the team with three interceptions in his freshman year. 

Having those two around for Cuffee to work under could be vital for the defensive back to develop into a force in the Big 12 for Texas.

For a Longhorns team that hasn't experienced a winning season during Charlie Strong's first two seasons, building a contender is crucial for the head coach to keep his job in the future. Hopefully for Strong, getting Cuffee is the first step in the right direction. 

 

Stats courtesy of NCAA.com.

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Ric Flair to Attend Jim Harbaugh's Michigan National Signing Day Party

Michigan's national signing day party is about to be a Rolex wearin', diamond ring wearin', kiss stealin', wheelin' dealin', limousine ridin', jet flyin' affair.

The university announced Thursday that WWE legend Ric Flair will be a guest of head coach Jim Harbaugh for a celebrity-filled party on Feb. 3. Flair, who has a relationship with Harbaugh dating back to the coach's days with the San Francisco 49ers, will be part of Michigan's "Signing of the Stars" private event.

As noted by Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com, those not in attendance can watch at home from the Players' Tribune website. Flair will be joined by NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski, Michigan legends Desmond Howard and Denard Robinson and former coaches Mike Shanahan and Lou Holtz, among others. 

The party is a culmination of Harbaugh's, shall we say, brash recruiting tactics. He's planned a slumber party at a recruit's house and sat through a high school class with another. While the second-year coach has also drawn some criticism for his recruiting tactics, this Flair news falls way more on the silly/endearing side.

Harbaugh has been open with his love for professional wrestling and specifically Flair. He told the Stoney and Bill show (h/t Ashley Scoby of CBS Detroit) that he'd like to referee a match between Flair and Hulk Hogan and openly campaigned for The Big House to host WrestleMania.

“Why not the Big House?” Harbaugh said. “Why not? 140,000—I bet we could get in there for WrestleMania. They’re trying to break the attendance record at Jerry Jones’ stadium in Dallas. (There’s) a great Canadian presence in wrestling. Why not Michigan and the Big House?”

Flair is one of the most beloved performers in wrestling history. And even if recruits don't care about WWE Hall of Fame plaques, dude can talk his behind off. The 66-year-old Flair is one of the best promos the sport has ever seen and has proved he still has the goods while helping out his daughter Charlotte in a recent feud with Becky Lynch. His presence will surely make Michigan's national signing day memorable.    

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Ric Flair to Join Celebrity Cast for Michigan's 'Signing of the Stars' Event

Just call Michigan Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh the stylin', profilin', satellite-campin', sleepover-havin', tree-climbin', Ric Flair-invitin' son of a gun. 

Michigan announced Thursday afternoon that professional wrestling legend Ric Flair will be part of the Wolverines' "Signing of the Stars" national signing day event next Wednesday, Feb. 3. 

The Wolverines' official Twitter account first posted about the news, complete with a proper GIF of the Nature Boy himself:

According to the program's website, Flair will be one of at least a dozen celebrity guests at the event, which will be held on campus from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The announced celebrities so far are:

  • Ric Flair
  • Lou Holtz (former college football coach and analyst)
  • Mike Shanahan (former NFL coach)
  • Desmond Howard (former Heisman winner and Michigan football player)
  • Denard Robinson (NFL running back and former Michigan football player)
  • Todd McShay (football analyst)
  • Jon Jansen (analyst and former Michigan football player)
  • Jack Kennedy (musician and former Michigan football player)
  • Brad Keselowski (NASCAR driver)
  • Derek Holland (MLB pitcher)
  • Jessica Szohr (actress)
  • Josh Gracin (musician)

Flair and Harbaugh go back to the latter's time as coach of the San Francisco 49ers, when the wrestling icon gave a pep talk to the team prior to their NFC Wild Card Game against the Green Bay Packers in Jan. 2014.

The two have gone back and forth on Twitter since Harbaugh became the coach of his alma mater. Flair congratulated Harbaugh on Michigan's rout of Florida in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl on New Year's Day:

A few days before that exchange, per Jordan Heck of Sporting News, Harbaugh told a Detroit radio show that he wanted Michigan Stadium to host a future edition of WWE's WrestleMania event.

Heck also noted Harbaugh agreed to a suggestion from one of the show's producers, which was for him to referee a match between Flair, his favorite wrestler, and Hulk Hogan.

Now Michigan is calling on Harbaugh's wrestling hero/Twitter pal to cap off what has been a wild recruiting cycle for the Wolverines.

Michigan is currently at No. 5 in 247Sports' Composite Team Rankings for the class of 2016, and the Wolverines are in the running for No. 1 overall player Rashan Gary and several other blue-chip targets.

Unfortunately for those of us who would love to see a 16-time world heavyweight champion at a college football signing day party in-person, the "Signing of the Stars" is invite only.

However, the event will be streamed on The Players' Tribune, which was founded by former MLB superstar Derek Jeter, who signed a letter of intent to play baseball at Michigan before his draft selection in 1992 by the New York Yankees.

 

Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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

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Every Top 25 College Football Team's Current Top Committed 2016 Recruit

National signing day 2016 is less than a week away, and there are still a number of blue-chip recruits that haven't made their commitments yet. But while programs across college football try to land some splash players in the 11th hour, there are many more who have already made their intentions known. 

In the following slides for the final Associated Press Top 25 are the top commits for each class based on 247Sports Composite rankings. In addition, we tell you what the following prospects bring to their team—assuming they don't flip between now and signing day—and where they could land on the depth chart. 

Early enrollees and junior college transfers are noted when applicable. 

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Justin Wilcox Hired as Wisconsin Defensive Coordinator: Latest Details, Reaction

The University of Wisconsin announced on Thursday that it has hired Justin Wilcox as its defensive coordinator. 

Wilcox's defensive coordinator tour continues, as it is his fifth school in the past 10 years that he's held the position at.      

Most recently, Wilcox was at USC for two years before being fired in December of 2015 after the Trojans' loss to Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game. Before his stint in Southern California, Wilcox led the defenses of Washington, Tennessee and Boise State. 

Wilcox will be replacing Dave Aranda, who left Wisconsin for the defensive coordinator job at LSU at the conclusion of the 2015 season. 

Badgers head coach Paul Chryst spoke of his decision to bring on Wilcox, whose USC defense was ranked 65th in the nation last season, allowing a little over 400 total yards per game:

During my many conversations with numerous football people that I trusted, one name kept surfacing, Justin Wilcox. I am very happy that we were able to get a quality coach like Justin to join our staff. I think he's a great fit for Wisconsin and this program is a great fit for him. His addition makes us better. He has tremendous experience at some big-time schools and has coached some really good players. He does a great job putting his players in the best situations so they can be successful.

Joining Wisconsin is quite a reward for Wilcox. The Badgers' defense was ranked second in the nation last season, allowing just 268.5 total yards per game. That's a big step up compared to his USC defense. 

Wisconsin's defense helped them finish the season 10-3, including a win in the Holiday Bowl. Allowing just 20 offensive touchdowns last season, the prospect of taking over this kind of defense is just one of the things that excites Wilcox:

It is humbling to be able to work at a place with the personality and character that Wisconsin has. The biggest draws to the program were the opportunity to work for Coach Chryst and with the rest of the staff, as well as the student-athletes that Wisconsin has in the program. Everything about the culture and tradition of the program, from recruiting, to style of play, to development of players, was appealing to me. This is a special opportunity and I am excited to get started.

Wilcox and his defense will have an opportunity to endear themselves to their fans and head coach during the first week of the 2016 season when they take on LSU and its defense led by none other than Aranda. 

If they can take down a strong SEC team while limiting its big offensive stars like running back Leonard Fournette in Week 1, it could lay the groundwork for something special for Wilcox and Wisconsin in 2016.  

Stats courtesy of NCAA.com

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College Football Programs That Produced the Most 2016 NFL Pro Bowl Players

As college football fans focus on the stars of tomorrow in the final weekend of this year's recruiting cycle, some of the game's stars of the past will be lining up in Hawaiian paradise for the 2016 Pro Bowl.

While some may argue against the existence of the laid-back showcase each year, the event is an honor for many players who grind through 16-plus weeks of a season.

And even if you don't prefer the NFL game, the Pro Bowl can be a good way to catch up on the best of the best from your favorite school. Plus, it will be one of the last live football-like substances easily available on your various screens for quite a while.

Which college teams are the best represented in this year's record-size, fantasy-drafted Pro Bowl roster? Here are the 13 schools that have at least three alumni who were either first choices or late replacements.

Many of these names will be obvious for their many years of producing large numbers of NFL prospects. But there are a few less prestigious programs that may surprise you with their number of top pro players.

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Alabama's Reggie Ragland Is Having the Last Laugh

It was the morning after the CFP National Championship when, on very little sleep, Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban had to attend a press conference to accept the trophies for winning the national championship game and answer questions about what’s next for the program and his players. 

That’s when he made the comment about linebacker Reggie Ragland and the NFL draft that has already proven to be quite literally right on the money.

"Reggie Ragland last year had a second-round grade,” the head coach said. “I'm sure he'll be a top-15 pick this year. If you want to do the math on that, that's like a $12-to-14 million dollar decision."

It’s obviously been a great year for Ragland, who ignored the naysayers who claimed he should leave the Crimson Tide early and accomplished everything he hoped and more in 2015.

He led Alabama to its fourth national championship in seven years as it became the first program to repeat in the SEC since 1998-99. The league’s defensive player of the year even won the “Alabama Media Good Guy Award” from the Crimson Tide’s beat writers.

“I get to keep this, right?” Ragland said after seeing the plaque.

This week, it only took him a day to establish himself as the best linebacker at the Senior Bowl, even though he’s playing out of position at outside linebacker after lining up on the interior for most of his Crimson Tide career.

Actually, make that two days, as Ragland was so anxious to get to work and show his versatility that he showed up in Mobile on Sunday when a lot of players didn’t arrive until Monday. Those are the kinds of things that are getting noticed and helping his draft stock rise.

"I'm a Reggie Ragland fan,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock told Chase Goodbread of NFL.com. “He's going to step in on Day 1 and run somebody's defense. He's a top-20 pick all day long. He's 260 pounds, so the question is, can he play on third down, can he play the passing game? I think he can. Just because of his leadership skills, his toughness, I think he's going to be a three-down linebacker and a top-20 pick."

Similarly, NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah rates Ragland as the No. 10 prospect in the draft, and ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. says he has "tremendous intangibles."

About the only thing Ragland didn’t do this past season was win one of the major national awards, although with the benefit of hindsight one has to wonder what some of those organizations were thinking.

Have you heard anything about Tyler Matakevich this week? He’s at the Senior Bowl too, practicing for the North team, and SI.com's Chris Burke doesn't even have him listed as the best player at his position.

Matakevich is the kind of player fans of blue-collar football can’t help but like. The most decorated athlete in Temple Owls history, he’s the school's all-time leading tackler with 493 and plays with a passion coaches wish everyone had. 

He and his team were a great story in 2015. Temple went 10-4, matching the program record for wins. It beat the Penn State Nittany Lions for the first time since 1941, played the Notre Dame Fighting Irish tough and knocked off the No. 21 Memphis Tigers.

He won both the Chuck Bednarik Award and the Bronko Nagurski Award for defensive player of the year, but didn’t land the Dick Butkus Award for the top linebacker, which instead went to Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith.

But then you take a second look.

Matakevich helped lead his team to the top of the AAC East, a six-team division with no ranked teams, all of which ended the season with a loss. Temple lost to a good Houston Cougars team in the American Athletic Championship Game, 24-13, and then to the Toledo Rockets in the Boca Raton Bowl, 32-17.

Incidentally, it was the first career win for new Toledo head coach Jason Candle, who was promoted from offensive coordinator after Matt Campbell left for the Iowa State Cyclones. Former Alabama quarterback Phillip Ely closed his college career by completing 20 of 28 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns for the Rockets.

If you watched those games, the weaknesses part of Matakevich’s draft evaluation on NFL.com will not be surprising:

Play strength is very average. Can be engulfed by linemen on the second level and might not have the frame to carry more functional mass. Struggles to hold his spot in the grass against a good lead block. Gets in a hurry to flow downhill and runs himself into bad angles on the ball when the play spills outside. Needs to do a more consistent job of breaking down in space before attempting to tackle. Shifty runners turn him into an arm tackler. Had 32 missed tackles over the last three seasons. Gets caught up in trash near the line of scrimmage and can’t get free quickly. Play speed is average.

Smith was considered a much better pro prospect, even after blowing out his knee in the Fiesta Bowl. He’d been drawing comparisons to linebacker Derrick Johnson of the Kansas City Chiefs and, along with Matakevich, was a popular All-American selection.

But only Ragland, the leader and captain of what many called the best defense in college football, was a unanimous All-American choice at linebacker.

Nevertheless, the Chuck Bednarik Award, which is voted on by the Maxwell Football Club out of Philadelphia, chose the hometown candidate—and perhaps didn't want a sweep of its major awards after Alabama running back Derrick Henry won its namesake honor—and the Butkus went to the player who had previously won its high school award, as Smith joined former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o as the only players to do so.

Yet Ragland still got what he desired most out of his senior season, both on and off the field.

“[I wanted to] be a student of the game even more,” Ragland explained during his Senior Bowl press conference. “Doing all the things as a kid growing up, you think about going to the college football awards, being a finalist for the Butkus, Bednarik and Nagurski, but if it weren’t for my teammates pushing me and my coaches pushing me to be that leader on the field, I wouldn’t be where I’m at now. They knew I was frustrated from not playing and knew once I got my opportunity, I was going to run with it.”

In a couple of months, he’ll be running and laughing all the way to the bank.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

 

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Ohio State WR Braxton Miller Puts the Moves on DBs at Senior Bowl Practice

There's no doubt Ohio State Buckeyes receiver Braxton Miller has some wicked moves in his repertoire, and now that he's looking to showcase his skills for NFL scouts, it's time for him to put his best moves on display.

And that's bad news for defensive backs at the Senior Bowl.

On Thursday, the quarterback-turned-wideout showed he is more than capable of beating some of the best defensive backs in college football. You'd never be able to tell he's been playing the position less than a year based on these clips.

While the Vine above shows Miller doing a defensive back dirty, he also beat Northern Iowa's Deiondre' Hall for a touchdown at one point.

Warning: Video contains NSFW language.

Miller's moves have certainly made a good impression on Texas A&M receiver Christian Kirk:

No matter how many times he's seen his teammate do stuff like this, Ohio State safety Vonn Bell is always a fan:

After seeing all of this, no wonder the Washington Post's Master Tesfatsion wrote that Miller's NFL draft stock is rising.

[Vine]

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Maty Mauk Dismissed from Missouri Football Program: Latest Comments, Reaction

Missouri head football coach Barry Odom announced Thursday that quarterback Maty Mauk has been dismissed from the program.  

David Morrison of the Columbia Daily Tribune passed along the news, which comes after the signal-caller had been suspended three times since September.

Cassandra Vinograd of NBC News, citing school officials, reported the latest suspension came after a video surfaced that allegedly showed Mauk "snorting a line of white powder." He was punished twice during the season, with the second program-imposed ban ending his campaign.

Mauk provided a statement on his dismissal:

Tod Palmer of the Kansas City Star provided a full statement from Odom about the decision. He noted the video in question is believed to have come from "a long time ago," but the quarterback still continued to violate team rules as of late despite meeting with the new coach in December:

I met with Maty Mauk this morning and informed him of my decision to permanently dismiss him from the football program. When I met with Maty back in December, I wanted to give him an opportunity for a fresh start, but I also made it very clear what our expectations would be moving forward. After gathering information and speaking with a number of individuals this week, it is clear Maty has failed to live up to those expectations by violating team rules in recent weeks.

As for the video appearing on social media this week, it is concerning, but we believe it is from a long time ago. However, Maty's failure to live up to expectations in recent weeks was the reason for this decision.

We believe it is in his best interest to focus on his personal life and his academic career at this time. We remain committed to helping him work through the challenges and earn his degree. Our hope is that he will grow from this and we wish him the very best in his future endeavors.

No further information about the violations was immediately released.

Mauk ended up appearing in just four games this season due to the off-field issues. He tallied six touchdowns and four interceptions in those contests.

The 22-year-old Ohio native had showcased potential over the previous two years with the Tigers. He combined to toss 36 touchdowns in 24 games between the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

ESPN Stats and Info further highlighted his impact:

Mauk struggled to stay out of the negative spotlight, though. It left Missouri with little choice but to dismiss him from the program after the third suspension, especially with Odom taking over and trying to set a new tone for the future.

Freshman Drew Lock struggled in place of Mauk throughout the 2015 campaign. That means there will probably be an open quarterback competition featuring Lock, Marvin Zanders and potentially incoming recruits beginning in spring ball to fill the void.

 

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Schools to Watch After 4-Star Jordan Elliott Decommits from Michigan

The Jordan Elliott recruiting story gets more and more bizarre.

Last January, Elliott committed to Baylor. The Houston defensive tackle prospect decommitted in April. In May, Elliott decided to stay home and commit to Houston. He decommitted from the Cougars in September.

On Nov. 28, the 4-star athlete committed to Michigan following an official visit. On Wednesday, he reportedly decommitted from the Wolverines, according to EJ Holland of 247Sports.com. Calls and direct messages to Elliott were not returned Wednesday.

If you're counting, that's three schools committed to and three schools decommitted from in a year for Elliott.

Regardless, the story remains the same: Elliott is a Top 15 player at a very competitive position in the 2016 class. He was a U.S. Army All-American who made a lot of noise with his defensive presence in San Antonio earlier this month. More importantly, he's still very much a wanted target come national signing day.

So now the big question: Where to?

A few schools come to mind as Wednesday's signing day approaches. Two teams to watch represent the Big 12 and the Pac-12.

For now, it's no secret that Texas is a favorite to land Elliott. And while it's no guarantee the Longhorns will land him, you can bet that head coach Charlie Strong, defensive line coach Brick Haley and the rest of the coaching staff are going all-in to get the 6'3 ½", 306-pound tackle to sign. Texas currently only has one defensive tackle committed in 3-star Gerald Wilbon.

Texas only has 14 players committed but is hoping to have a monster conclusion by adding several 4-star targets around the state of Texas, including safety Brandon Jones, linebackers Jeffrey McCulloch and Dontavious Jackson and cornerback Eric Cuffee, who is expected to announce his decision Thursday evening. Elliott, like the others, is a wanted target in the Forty Acres.

Arguably the wild card of Elliott's recruiting is USC. The Trojans were supposed to be his first official visit back in September, but he canceled due to scheduling conflicts. Former Trojans defensive line coach Chris Wilson recruited Elliott to USC, but the Trojans let Wilson go in December. USC's defensive line now is led by coach Kenechi Udeze and defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.

USC only has 13 commits, and it's still looking for its first defensive tackle pledge of the 2016 cycle. A solid tackle such as Elliott to complement 5-star defensive end Oluwole Betiku could make for tons of problems for Pac-12 offenses. It should also be noted that Elliott has told Bleacher Report on multiple occasions that he's been a longtime USC fan.

Texas and USC are the exclusive teams to watch in the Elliott sweepstakes, but it's never a bad idea to look at the teams he committed to, prior to Michigan. Baylor has two defensive tackles committed in 4-star Bravvion Roy and 3-star early enrollee Jeremy Faulk. Houston is stacked at the position with three pledges, including 5-star stud Ed Oliver.

The next six days will be interesting, but you can bet that teams will be working hard to land Elliott, a player who can help a program at the next level.

 

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

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Playing for a Fallen Friend, 4-Star OT Tramonda Moore Nearing a Decision

Staying humble and appreciating everything earned. For Oklahoma City offensive lineman Tramonda Moore, his priorities are very simple yet immensely important.

With the help of hard work and humility, Moore not only has become a 4-star prospect and someone with 15 reported offers, but he also has worked to become the top-ranked player in Oklahoma in the 2016 class.

With less than a week away from national signing day, Moore is looking to transition from John Marshall High School and finalize his college plans. In-state schools Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are potential landing spots, as is reigning national champion Alabama. Oregon, Arizona State and UCLA are on the outside looking in.

But as Moore, a very wanted athlete at 6'6" and 330 pounds, inches closer to signing a national letter of intent, he finds more motivation to succeed for a fallen friend and John Marshall teammate—one he calls his "little brother."

On April 17, C.J. Davis died in an automobile accident. Known around his peers as "Cleato," Davis was a 16-year-old sophomore and a right tackle for John Marshall. More than 1,000 people attended Davis' funeral, according to the Oklahoman.

"I do all this for my little brother," Moore said. "It's hard work all the time."

Moore dedicated his senior season to Davis and even changed his jersey number from 55 to 54—Davis' number. At the U.S. Army All-American Bowl earlier this month in San Antonio, an event Moore defined as "amazing," he proudly ran out of the Alamodome tunnel during pregame introductions wearing 54.

Ask Moore, and he'll tell you that every play made was for Davis. And as he prepares for the next level, it won't take much for Moore to stay motivated.

"I'm pushing myself for Cleato," Moore said. "And I'm trying to wear his number in college, too."

Moore is the nation's No. 11 offensive tackle and No. 108 overall player in the 2016 class. He is versatile enough to play either tackle or guard at the next level. Moore was a consistent topic of discussion while at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, recording pancakes in practice and keeping the jerseys of his quarterbacks—Ole Miss enrollee Shea Patterson, Michigan enrollee Brandon Peters and Stanford-bound K.J. Costello—clean.

Where Moore chooses to play college ball is still a big question. He is trending to sign with Oklahoma on Wednesday, but he's said on multiple occasions that he's keeping all of his options open. That includes the schools that may be considered long shots.

"Really, it's just about the coaches," Moore said of choosing a school. "Every school, academically, you want to do well. Every school has pretty much the same thing. I'm just trying to go and find what's best for my future and what will help me on the field and help get me to the league."

Wherever Moore ends up, know that he will play each game as if he'll retire afterward.

It's what Cleato would have wanted.

"This is all for him," Moore said. "That's my little brother."

 

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

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Power Ranking College Football's 25 Fastest Players

Speed is becoming the name of the game in college football.

Wide-open offenses such as the ones at Baylor and Oregon are world-famous for being factories of lightning-fast players. Even the pro-style teams known for their powerful "man ball" styles like Alabama and Stanford are loading up on track-star talent at skill positions and all across their defensive backfields.

But who holds a legitimate claim to being the fastest in college football heading into the 2016 season? The most common way to measure speeds in football—times in 40-yard dashes—are notoriously unreliable thanks to various conditions and timing mechanisms.

A more accurate measure of speed is the fully automatic time system used in official track and field records from reliable sites such as the Track & Field Results Reporting System, Track & Field News and DyeStat. Many players who are considered some of the fastest in college football either run track collegiately or ran in high school.

In this countdown, I relied on recent, verified and mostly wind-legal times from the above sites in the 100 meters, which is the most common event among these speedsters. (More recent times held a greater weight than old high school ones when the numbers were close.) However, some track stars with elite numbers in other events, such as hurdles and relays, were eligible for special consideration.

Now, to be completely clear, this track-time method is the best objective way to pick the fastest players in college football. Some who didn't make the Top 25 could be faster than those inside the Top 25, but there's no real way to determine that without relying on opinion instead of the hard data. 

Notice a player with a verified 100-meter time that I left out? Want to suggest a player for the honorable mention category? Let me know in the comments below.

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Braxton Miller's Senior Bowl Showing Another Recruiting Tool for Ohio State

With a Super Bowl-high five players to set to play in the NFL's championship game, Ohio State has unsurprisingly used its heavy representation in the professional ranks as just another sales pitch on the recruiting trail.

One look at Urban Meyer's Twitter account shows a head coach who's clearly proud of his team's presence in the Super Bowl and isn't shy about letting any of his 369,000 followers know it.

But with two weeks sandwiched between the NFL's conference championships and the biggest game of the season, the Buckeyes have found another way to sell their program's ability to put players in the pros.

And it happens to come in the form of a player who just finished one of Columbus' most storied football careers despite finding his football future in doubt merely a year ago.

If you've been following coverage of the Senior Bowl from Mobile, Alabama, it's been hard to miss Braxton Miller's name in the past week. On several occasions, draft analysts and media members in attendance have taken to Twitter to rave about the progress of the former Ohio State wideout, who will play for the North team in Saturday's All-Star Game:

The fact that Miller is even in a position to be drafted—let alone potentially in the first two rounds of the draft—could be considered a success in and of itself, considering where the Huber Heights, Ohio, native's football fate stood just a year ago.

After a torn labrum in fall camp forced a second offseason shoulder surgery and brought his 2014 season to an end before it had even started, Miller's career as a quarterback—the position he had played at Ohio State for the first three years of his college career—appeared very much in doubt.

What's more, Miller was returning to a roster that already possessed quarterbacks J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones, who had just co-piloted the Buckeyes to the first College Football Playoff National Championship.

Rumors of an offseason transfer for the 2015 season persisted, but there was no guarantee that Miller's shoulder would ever be healthy enough to play quarterback again.

As fall camp approached, the 6'2", 215-pounder had accepted that reality and announced to SI.com's Pete Thamel that he would be making the move not to another school but to a new position in the Ohio State offense as a wide receiver.

"This is the smarter thing for right now," Miller told Thamel of his transition.

It also may have been the smarter thing for the long term as well, as the former dual-threat quarterback also seemed to possess the most pro potential as a pass-catcher rather than a pass-thrower.

Miller's efficiency with his arm (career 59.4 completion percentage) had always been a question mark, while his ability with his legs and in the open field (3,315 career rushing yards and 33 career rushing touchdowns) had never been in doubt.

But outside of the Buckeyes' season-opening win over Virginia Tech, which saw Miller star in his new role as a wide receiver and Wildcat quarterback, the transition to his new position proved easier said than done.

Inconsistent play from a rotation of Jones and Barrett in the starting lineup didn't help, but by season's end, Miller had caught just 26 balls for 341 yards and three touchdowns, adding 260 yards and a score on the ground.

Perhaps more tellingly, Miller attempted—and completed—just one pass, which was more of a push than anything else, signaling that his future in football was indeed at wide receiver and nowhere else.

"Quarterback is in the past," Miller stated during media availability at the Senior Bowl, per WalterFootball.com. "I learned a lot playing quarterback."

While criticisms that Meyer and his staff misused Miller last season are fair, his breakout showing in Mobile is proof of a player who was prepared to star at wideout in 2015 but got lost in the shuffle due to extenuating circumstances.

Having not played wide receiver since his freshman season of high school prior to 2015, the two-time Big Ten MVP has starred as an outside wideout this week after primarily playing in the slot this past season.

Miller has superb ability as an athlete—he claims his goal for the NFL Scouting Combine is to run a 4.28-second 40-yard dash—but the type of progress he's shown this past week doesn't happen without the preparation of Meyer and his staff.

That's something the Buckeyes already appear to be pitching on the recruiting trail, if the pride they've taken in Miller's Senior Bowl showing on social media is any indication:

Only adding to the intrigue of Miller's big week is that this isn't just some workout warrior emerging during the start of the "silly season" that is the NFL draft process but rather one of the Ohio State program's most prominent players for the better part of the past half-decade.

Miller was one of the Buckeyes' best recruiting tools during his time on campus, having been pictured consistently posing with prospects during their visits to Columbus.

Only from now on, Ohio State will no longer be able to sell Miller's presence to prospects but rather his preparation for the pros.

And who knows? Maybe it won't be long before the Buckeyes are touting a Miller appearance in the Super Bowl to their targets on the recruiting trail.

Based on how he's performed this week, the former face of the Ohio State program seems to be on the right path for a successful career in the NFL.

 

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Which Dark-Horse SEC Running Backs Have Best Chance to Win 2016 Heisman Trophy?

Alabama running back Derrick Henry broke through that glass ceiling in 2015, rushing for 2,219 yards and 28 touchdowns en route to becoming the third running back this century to win the Heisman Trophy.

There will be several SEC running backs looking to catch on to that draft and attain that Heisman glory in 2016.

Of course, superstars like LSU stud Leonard Fournette, Georgia's Nick Chubb and Tennessee's Jalen Hurd will be mentioned prominently in the mix for the most prestigious individual award in American sports. Fournette chimed in tied with Stanford's Christian McCaffrey for second in early Heisman odds, via OddsShark.com, at 5-1, and Chubb—off of that brutal knee injury—is tied for sixth with Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly and Florida State running back Dalvin Cook at 12-1.

But where's the fun in choosing the obvious running backs?

Let's go off the board with some dark-horse running back candidates in the SEC who could make a push for Heisman glory in 2016.

 

Alabama RB Bo Scarbrough

Was Henry frightening in Tuscaloosa? Yep, and his clone is coming at opposing defenses in 2016.

Bo Scarbrough tore his ACL last offseason and had a suspension to deal with early in the 2015 campaign. Those two issues made him a non-factor for the majority of the season. He only gained nine yards through the first nine games of the season but had a breakout game where he rushed 10 times for 69 yards and a score, and added 17 in mop-up work against Michigan State.

That's not a stat line that jumps off the page, I know.

But when you have a Mack truck like Henry rolling in the fourth quarter, you ride him.

Scarbrough, a 6'2", 240-pound rising sophomore, is similar to Henry with his size and speed and is stepping into a situation where he might be counted on to do exactly what Henry did.

In addition to Henry's departure, Alabama loses quarterback Jake Coker, center Ryan Kelly and will usher in a new right tackle. Sure, Scarbrough has to contend with sophomore Damien Harris for No. 1 carries. But a full season of work while healthy in the strength and conditioning program should transform Scarbrough into a monster in 2016. 

He's going to get a chance to win the job. When he does, he won't let it go.

 

Florida RB Jordan Scarlett

It was an up-and-down year for Jordan Scarlett as a freshman for the 2015 Florida Gators. The Fort Lauderdale native had 34 carries for 181 yards and one touchdown behind starter Kelvin Taylor, but was suspended for the Citrus Bowl against Michigan after being cited for misdemeanor marijuana possession.

He'll be a star in 2016.

With Taylor gone and dual-threat quarterback Treon Harris likely taking a back seat to a starting quarterback who's a better fit to head coach Jim McElwain's pro-style system (Luke Del Rio, Austin Appleby or Feleipe Franks), somebody needs to step up and be the workhorse in the Gator offense.

Scarlett can be that guy.

The 5'10", 198-pounder has breakaway speed, is big enough to take the pounding between the tackles and should have a better offensive line than the Gators had last season. 

While McElwain is known for his ability to develop quarterbacks, he turned Alabama castoff Dee Hart into a 1,200-yard rusher in 2014 and helped Kapri Bibbs top the 1,700-yard mark in 2013 while the head coach of the Colorado State Rams.

Scarlett will follow in their footsteps, become a star in 2016 and, if his team can remain in the national conversation into November, could jump into the Heisman conversation.

 

Auburn RB Jovon Robinson

For the first two months of the season, Auburn running Jovon Robinson was like Sasquatch. A mythical creature that you heard about through word of mouth but never really saw in real life.

That changed in November, when he rushed for 402 yards and two touchdowns in four games and finished the season with a 126-yard performance against Memphis in December in the Birmingham Bowl.

With fellow running back Peyton Barber off to the NFL, the path is clear for Robinson to become a bona fide superstar. Head coach Gus Malzahn has produced 13 1,000-yard rushers in 10 seasons as a college head or assistant coach, including Barber last year, and should take some pressure off of Robinson in 2016 with either the addition of a running threat at quarterback or an improved downfield passing attack.

As Allie Davison of Rivals.com noted on Twitter, the better Auburn running back from 2015 might be the one still playing college football in 2016.

The 6'1", 230-pounder is perfect for Malzahn's offense. He's patient, strong between the tackles, deceptively elusive in space and can be a force either in a more traditional offense with a pro-style quarterback or in a multi-dimensional system that utilizes the quarterback as the edge threat.

If Auburn is going to return to glory, it will be because of Robinson's success. Malzahn already sent one running back to New York as a Heisman finalist when Tre Mason made it in 2013, and don't count out Robinson following in his footsteps.

 

Texas A&M RB Keith Ford

Wait, who?

It seems like Keith Ford is the forgotten man at running back in the SEC, but the former Oklahoma running back is eligible at Texas A&M in 2016 after sitting out his transfer year in 2015.

Ford ran for 194 yards and five touchdowns on 34 carries through three games in 2014 but missed the next five games with a foot injury. That opened the door for Samaje Perine to burst onto the scene for the Sooners, which relegated Ford to a backup role.

The 5'11", 215-pound former 5-star prospect from Cypress, Texas, has the speed of a home run hitter, the size to take the pounding in space and is in a situation with new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone where the running game will take more of a precedent in College Station for the first time under head coach Kevin Sumlin.

Mazzone helped Paul Perkins top the 1,300-yard mark twice at UCLA, and Johnathan Franklin rushed for 1,734 yards in Mazzone's first season in Westwood in 2012.

He will split carries with James White early in his career, but the presence of Mazzone coupled with quarterback questions with either Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight or the relatively inexperienced Jake Hubenak should make the running game the focal point for the Aggies in 2016.

 

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 23 Defensive Ends

After thorough study using specific scoring criteria, Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analysts Damon Sayles, Sanjay Kirpalani and Tyler 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 Defensive Ends.

 

Whether they're speed-rushing or playing contained in a zone, defensive ends can make or break a play defensively. College coaches are looking for the playmakers at the position who can not only alter a run play but also get to a quarterback to disrupt pass plays.

The 2016 class has several college-potential prospects who can be playmakers at a Power Five school. Here's our breakdown of America's top-ranked prospects at the position, including scores based on individual assessments of pass rushing, tackling, explosive strength, run defense, hands and overall motor.

Begin Slideshow

The Secret Home of Blue-Chip Recruits: How Coach Bill Clark Is Resurrecting UAB

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — On a day when Donald Trump's infinite election convoy was shutting down the streets of Birmingham, Bill Clark strolled through the front doors of the Sheraton Hotel without anyone seeming to notice.

Wearing blue jeans, a sport coat and a neighborly Alabama smile, Clark was not outfitted like a football coach. He looked more like a company's go-to salesman—the kind of asset that closes a deal long before shaking a single hand.

In many ways, at least for the time being, this has become his new reality.

On one of the final college football Saturdays of the season, the head coach of UAB football—the program that was told to die, only to spring back to life before most knew it had ever left—looked strangely content with his unorthodox standing.

Clark will not coach his team in an actual game until September 2, 2017—more than 550 days from now—when UAB makes its official return to college football.

In the meantime, the catalyst of this great resurrection has the unthinkable task of selling a program that has to remain idle a bit longer.

It's a weight no coach should have to carry around in living rooms and dinner tables. And yet, despite the obstacles of selling a future, Clark has convinced a collection of former 4- and 5-star talents—elite players who logged hours at some of the nation's most esteemed football powers—to commit to his vision.

UAB, operating with a tremendous anchor, is on the verge of securing one of the greatest recruiting classes in school history.

Instead of simply adding necessary depth with national signing day now less than a week away, Clark has infused his gutted roster with greatness—known names and athletes poised to guide this program's hand up from the grave and into the driving light.

The team with the highest-ranked recruiting class in Conference USA won't play next fall. And the architect behind it—the man anxiously hoping to win a city's heart—doesn't appear the least bit fazed by the lingering shock and now the overwhelming success of it all.

The Presidential Suite at the Sheraton is spacious: 850 square feet high above Birmingham, overlooking a downtown that is in the infant stages of a makeover. In the years to come, this space will overlook the new football facilities UAB has planned.

Clark did not pick to meet in this particular room by chance. It was by design. This setting was handpicked to host one of UAB's most robust recruiting weekends since it was brought back.

With mockups of the facilities propped up on easels throughout the room and a delectable spread laid out, Clark eased onto the leather sofa hours before the players arrived.

Twirling a bottle of water in his hand, he talked about rebuilding this program and the challenges in acquiring this kind of talent. But before he could look forward, he had to revisit old wounds.

"My mother passed away when I was 19, so I don't want to compare it to a death," Clark said, finally letting go of his smile. "But this was close to a death."

On December 2, 2014, UAB President Ray Watts told a room full of players and coaches that their football team was being disbanded. Members of the team walked out with their arms around each other, fighting back tears. Some didn't bother to fight them at all. 

A lack of funding and general financial commitments, coupled with a very cryptic (and somewhat political) situation ultimately doomed UAB football. 

After leading the team to a .500 or better record for the first time in a decade, Clark watched as the program was scrapped for parts. Coaches and players left for other universities.

While some upperclassmen expressed a desire and willingness to sit out two full years for one more chance to play for their coach, Clark told them not to wait. Not with so much still to be determined.

"It was every emotion," Clark said. "I need to be here for these kids. Now I need to go get a job. Where is my next move? But there was still hope. And this is where I wanted to be."

So he waited. And six months after his program was taken away, Watts announced football was coming back.

Not only was UAB football returning, but it was also being rebooted with new facilities that included a football operations building, turf fields and locker rooms.

Clark had his team. More importantly, he had something to sell. The only catch was that this vision and this future would not be realized for more than two years.

Roughly 30 players stayed at UAB—a mix of scholarship athletes and walk-ons Clark refers to as his "culture" group. The rest would have to be brought in from the outside—a task that was daunting on the surface.

UAB needed bodies, above all. To create a competitive environment for spring practice—a period that will still be "the least normal thing we do," according to Clark—they needed commitments to fill in such glaring holes.

"I don't want us to sell our soul to win early, but I want to be able to compete," Clark said. "And we're not going to be able to do that with a bunch of freshmen. We had to go get older."

A list that began in thousands was narrowed to a few hundred players.

Many of these players were junior college players in between football homes. While UAB didn't avoid high schools, thinking about the next, next step, this first class demanded a unique methodology.

"There's a bad connotation with junior college kids. There's a bad connotation on transfers. But we said every guy has a story," Clark said, gesturing with the now empty water bottle. "A lot of these guys were so highly touted that they just didn't know how to handle it. They've got another chance. They have a chance to be the start of it and attend a great university."

The concept made perfect sense.

Resurrect your roster with a developed group that could settle in for the next year. Get them on campus as quickly as possible and acclimate them with the system through spring football. Get them in class, just like any other student-athlete.

But putting this plan in motion required a breakthrough. It had to start somewhere.

Clifton Garrett's phone buzzed.

It was October of last year, shortly after one of the nation's elite linebackers from the 2014 recruiting class—a 5-star talent and the No. 28 prospect overall, according to 247Sports' composite rankings—shocked the recruiting world by committing to UAB.

A head coach at a major university actively recruiting Garrett received word that his target had committed.

"Wow," this coach wrote him in a text message, still shocked by the news. "Are you serious?"

All Garrett could do was smile. Not because this was some sort of a joke, but because this was coming. He understood that few would understand why he was doing what he was. He wasn't the least bit concerned in justifying his decision.

"It's bigger than me and the program," Garrett said shortly after he committed. "It's about the whole city of Birmingham."

The idea that Garrett could have landed at UAB would have been preposterous a few seasons ago. One of the anchors of an LSU recruiting class that included running back Leonard Fournette, the Plainfield, Illinois, product never felt at home with his new team.

The excitement surrounding his recruitment didn't match the reality of campus life. So instead of forcing happiness that simply wasn't there, Garrett left the bright lights of Baton Rouge for Arizona Western—a JUCO that would allow him to play right away.

A concussion derailed these plans for much of the 2015 season. Still, one day after practice, the UAB coaches paid Garrett a visit.

Competing against schools such as Auburn, Florida State, TCU and Louisville, the staff members didn't apply a full-court press. They simply asked that he visit them before telling them no. He obliged.

"I'll be honest," Garrett said. "My mindset was that I could get on a plane and get some nice good food. Go on vacation. But that was probably one of the best vacations I have taken in a long time."

Garrett could sense the pain the city was moving beyond as he toured through Birmingham—a place he had never been before. At the same time, he fell in love with the city and the idea of being something more than a linebacker. He could feel the energy there.

Connecting with his future head coach was the icing on the cake.

Waiting for his airplane at the Birmingham airport, Garrett called Clark shortly before he boarded the plane back to Arizona.

Right there and then, he committed. He couldn't wait any longer.

The man who was supposed to lead Notre Dame to the promised land has spent much of the last year locked away in a dimly lit, cluttered room at the Hotel Roma in Miami Gardens.

Instead of seizing an opportunity in South Bend, Greg Bryant lived in isolation—eating canned food and living out of his suitcase he refused to unpack. He couldn't fathom the idea of calling this place home.

"I'll keep it real," Bryant said in an interview the day before he moved out. "This past year has been the hardest part of my life. Not playing football, going from the luxurious life at Notre Dame and coming back home and living in the hood at Miami while playing JUCO, it's been real tough."

In 2013, Bryant was one of the most coveted running backs in the nation—a mix of speed and power that drew wide interest. The Florida product was the 247Sports composite ranking's No. 7 back in the class.

Bryant committed to Notre Dame, and he was instantly expected to be the key cog to Brian Kelly's offense. Only it never happened. His first two years didn't click. Hoping to change that in 2015, Bryant was ruled academically ineligible shortly before the season began.

"I needed a B+ in my summer school class," Bryant said. "But I got a B-."

Instead of waiting, Bryant left Notre Dame and returned home. He enrolled at ASA College in Miami—a JUCO that would allow him the chance to play while he figured out his next move.

An issue with his paperwork at his former stop, however, essentially forced Bryant to sit out the entire year. Instead of finally showing the world what he was capable of, Bryant spent his days in the gym, at class and his sheltered hell.

Then one day he heard from the coaches at UAB. Not long after, he met with the man that would change his life.

With interest from Louisville, Minnesota, Indiana, Auburn and others, Bryant joined Garrett in announcing his commitment.

"I've had a ton of people ask me why UAB," Bryant said. "They really don't know my background and what they're doing for me. Once I went on a visit and met them in person, I knew I was safe. I knew I was in a safe environment. They're basically giving me a second chance."

Instead of being forced to wait until summer to join a program, UAB welcomed Bryant in January. While he understands the weight of his commitment—taking great pride in what the return will mean now and moving forward—there was more to it than that.

A door opened at just the right time. For him, there is no more waiting. The wait came last year when he was all alone.

"It's a whole year of football, but it's better than sitting in a hotel," Bryant said. "I can possibly get my degree heading into the 2017, and that's a dream come true. Somebody like me getting a degree where I come from is unheard of."

Clark settles back into his seat after grabbing a handful of peanuts. His eyes darts to the television as Michigan wraps up a 28-16 win over Penn State.

His peers have spent the past few months enjoying the ecstasy that comes with each victory. All the hours are spent to satisfy these sensations. Due to his situation, Clark has had to find this rush in other places.

"Right now," Clark said, "the commitments are our wins."

Beyond Garrett and Bryant, UAB has attracted the attention of many JUCO stars drawing huge interest elsewhere. Brandon Hill, a massive guard who first committed to Alabama, has signed to be one of the team's future enforcers.

Former Michigan State defensive end Noah Jones is also part of this class. As is Darez Diggs, an athletically blessed cornerback and the younger brother of NFL wideout Stefon Diggs. Fellow cornerback Shaquille Jones, who started out at Georgia, has also signed.

This would be an impressive coup for any team in any season. But for a program still a year away from playing in actual games, this is nothing short of a football phenomenon.

"It's kind of surprising," Clark said when asked about the team's early recruiting success. "But this one breeds the next one. And the next one."

Much of this future is now. Many members of this class are already on campus, acclimating themselves to a new environment, working toward Alabama A&M on September 2, 2017.

This collection of JUCO All-Stars along with a handful of high school signees ready to seal the deal on signing day represent more than just names on the list. They will do more than plug holes. They are the symbol of a spectacular rebirth.

"The guys who are here now are the first credit in the movie they're going to make about this thing," Clark said. "And it's going to be a movie. But we want this to be a happy ending."

The plan for 2016 is to put this influx of talent to use, almost immediately. Clark wants to make this transition year as seamless as possible. 

UAB still won't have a full roster during the spring, although it will practice. The reps will come fast as the roster is developed and further NCAA and conference matters regarding this unprecedented return are sorted out. Even now, they still don't have all the answers.

Moving to the fall, Clark plans to treat each week as a game week. He will establish a normal schedule—one that includes watching weekly game tape of the team's opponents, a scrimmage on Saturdays and even nights before these "games" in the team hotel. 

Every last detail down to the involvement of cheerleaders will be implemented during this yearlong simulation. 

"I hope that August is as close to our routine as possible," Clark said. "I tell these guys that they're not coming in here to be off for a year." 

The doorbell of the Clark's hotel suite rings, interrupting a plan he has gone through countless times in his mind. Perhaps the next great commitment is on the other side of the wall, anxious to pledge allegiance to the man in blue jeans.

The great 5-star whisperer swings open the door. Two employees from the hotel greet the coach, wheeling in more food and drinks with the recruiting weekend set to begin.

These are not the next great players at UAB, although you wouldn't know the difference from Clark's greeting.

"Good seeing you again," Clark says as he uncorks that familiar smile. "How are y'all?"

 

Adam Kramer covers college football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @KegsnEggs

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National Signing Day 2016: Announcement Schedule, Predictions and More

We are a long way from the start of the 2016 college football regular season, but the biggest event of the offseason is upon us with this year's national signing day. 

The day itself has become a spectacle with high school players taking advantage of their time in the spotlight to announce their decision, often in the most ridiculous way possible. While many enjoy watching the creativity and sometimes goofiness of each player, the event is also meaningful as each team tries to bring in the best possible class.

With the future landscape of college football up in the air, you want to make sure to tune in to the full-day event. A full announcement schedule will be revealed later, per ESPN MediaZone, but here is a look at the current information available:

 

National Signing Day Television Schedule

Date: Wednesday, Feb. 3

TV: ESPNU (8 a.m.-1 p.m. ET); ESPN2 (1-5 p.m. ET); ESPNU (5-7 p.m. ET)

Live Stream: WatchESPN 

 

Times courtesy of ESPN MediaZone, MaxPreps, 247Sports and assorted personal announcements.

 

Top Battles to Watch

Rashan Gary, DT

EJ Holland of 247Sports was one of many who came away impressed after the Under Armour All-America Game:

Rashan Gary was named MVP of that all-star showcase and appears likely to make an early impact no matter where he goes. While everyone wants him, the defensive tackle is down to Michigan, USC, Ole Miss, Auburn and Clemson.

Although the superstar hasn't made an announcement, Adam Friedman of Rivals.com explained why Michigan has been the favorite for a long time:

The Wolverines have been the favorite for a long time and for good reason. Gary’s former high school coach Chris Partridge is on the staff as the linebackers coach, he knows dozens of players on the team and in the recruiting class, and Gary and his family feel comfortable on campus and in that environment. The defensive scheme is something Gary really likes and he sees how much of an impact he can have.

USC is definitely a team that can make a late charge, but this seems like Michigan's race to lose.

 

Lyndell "Mack" Wilson, OLB 

It appears to be down to Florida, Alabama and Georgia, with each spot having its draw. The Crimson Tide are obviously difficult to turn down after seeing them win yet another championship this season, especially with Mack Wilson being a lifetime fan of the school.

"Since I was a young’n, I have dreamed about playing for Alabama," the linebacker told Chris Kirschner of SEC Country.

The local player could easily stay home and continue the trend of elite linebackers on this defense. However, the relationship with former Alabama defensive coordinator and current Georgia head coach Kirby Smart could sway his decision. Wilson recently visited Athens and came away impressed. 

"It went great," the linebacker told Derek Tyson of ESPN. "I just had a chance to see it for my first time and I felt like it was a great place and a great football town to play in. I’d give the visit a 10. We had a good time, we just talked football, hung out, ate and chilled. It was great overall."

He still has a chance to take a trip to Florida as well, although despite all of this, it might be difficult to get him to leave the state. Alabama remains the favorite and the best guess for the talented player. 

 

Derrick Brown, DT

This class might not have many elite offensive skill players, but what it does have is defensive linemen who are almost sure things to contribute at the next level. Georgia native Derrick Brown is one of those players in the impressive class.

While no one is sure about where Brown will end up, we do know he will be playing in the SEC based on his final five:

Georgia was certainly the favorite for much of the recruitment process, but 247Sports' Crystal Ball predictions have started to trend toward Auburn with seven of the last eight picks going to the Tigers. The first pick in this stretch was Wesley Sinor of AL.com, who stated a few weeks ago he expected the big man to make a "surprise" commitment to Auburn.

Tennessee remains in contention, and you can never count out Alabama when it comes to bringing in defensive studs. But Auburn has made up a lot of ground in this recruitment and could end up on top when all is said and done.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for year-round sports analysis.

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Matt Farniok to Nebraska: Cornhuskers Land 4-Star OT Prospect

The Nebraska Cornhuskers bolstered their offensive line Wednesday evening on the recruiting trail with the addition of Matt Farniok, who is rated as a 4-star prospect by 247Sports’ composite rankings.

The 6'4 ¾" and 297-pound offensive tackle shared the news of his commitment on Twitter:  

Farniok is a South Dakota native and the No. 262 overall player in class of 2016, the No. 24 offensive tackle and the No. 1 prospect from his state, per 247Sports' composite rankings. Alex Chippin of TheScore.com noted Farniok took official visits to Michigan State and Iowa in addition to Nebraska and drew scholarship offers from Stanford and Michigan.

Michael Bruntz of 247Sports said Nebraska head coach Mike Riley, offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf and offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh were all present for an in-home visit with their new prospect Wednesday night. 

Riley is not allowed to mention prospects by name, but he seemed to allude to Farniok in his tweet following the news:

Farniok’s mother, Christine, offered a quote to Scout.com’s Derek Young (via Josh Harvey of Scout.com):

Matt is so appreciative of everyone that recruited him and this decision came from lots of thought and sleepless nights. It's such a relief to see him relaxed and smiling again. Bottom line is, he wouldn't have made a bad choice in any of the schools he was down to. I'm so proud of all his hard work to get him to this place and now he deserves to enjoy being a Husker.

As of Wednesday night, 247Sports had Nebraska 28th in its composite rankings for the class of 2016. 247Sports also provided a list of prospects committed to the class, and it included offensive linemen John Raridon, Bryan Brokop and Boe Wilson in addition to Farniok.

It is clear the Cornhuskers have made something of a commitment to the offensive line in this recruiting cycle after mixed results during the 2015 season.

Football Outsiders rated Nebraska’s offensive line last season as 98th in power success rate (“percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown”) and 39th in opportunity rate—“the percentage of carries (when five yards are available) that gain at least five yards, i.e. the percentage of carries in which the line does its job”—so there is room for improvement.

If the Cornhuskers plan on bouncing back from a 6-7 campaign and challenging the likes of Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan and Iowa in the Big Ten, they need to play better along the offensive line. Adding players like Farniok is an ideal place to start.

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Notre Dame Football: Irish's Top Remaining Recruiting Targets for NSD 2016

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — We’re now just one week away from national signing day, and the Notre Dame football coaches are traveling across the country trying to land the final Irish targets.

Currently, Notre Dame’s class of 2016 consists of 22 prospects, including the five early enrollees already on campus and weeks away from the start of their first spring sessions.

Who are the remaining Irish targets?

 

Demetris Robertson

Stud wide receiver Demetris Robertson is the highest-rated target still on Notre Dame’s board.

The 5-star Robertson is the No. 1 wideout in the country and the No. 14 overall prospect. Notre Dame assistants Mike Sanford, Mike Denbrock and Scott Booker are scheduled for an in-home visit with Robertson on Thursday, per Irish247’s Tom Loy.

The Irish are jockeying with Georgia, Alabama and, perhaps increasingly, Georgia Tech, according to Loy.

 

Caleb Kelly

There’s still an array of linebackers on Notre Dame’s board, and 5-star prospect Caleb Kelly highlights the group.

The Fresno, California, native is the No. 3 outside linebacker and No. 25 overall recruit in the nation. Kelly took his official visit to South Bend in mid-December for Notre Dame’s awards banquet weekend.

The Irish staff—with head coach Brian Kelly, associate head coach Denbrock and linebackers coach Mike Elston—had its final in-home visit with Caleb Kelly on Tuesday.

Oklahoma has ranked among Kelly’s leaders, per Loy.

 

Jonathon Jones

Outside linebacker Jonathan Jones is the No. 31 player at his position and No. 449 overall prospect in the class. The Orlando, Florida, native is only considering Notre Dame and Michigan, per 247Sports’ Ryan Bartow.

According to Loy, Notre Dame assistant coaches Autry Denson and Brian VanGorder were expected to visit Jones this week.

 

Nate Johnson

Wide receiver Nate Johnson committed to Michigan in mid-December, but the Irish are still targeting the No. 93 wideout in the nation.

The Thompson’s Station, Tennessee, product took an official visit to Notre Dame over the weekend, six days after the Irish reached out with an offer.

Notre Dame’s current wide receivers in the class include early enrollee Kevin Stepherson, Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool.

 

Other Names to Watch

Beyond that quartet, the Irish are still targeting the likes of linebackers Jeffrey McCulloch and Ben Davis, athlete Jordan Fuller and all-purpose back Damian Alloway, most notably.

 

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

Mike Monaco is the lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco on Twitter.

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Deshaun Watson Claims Next Year May Be His Final Season at Clemson

Enjoy quarterback Deshaun Watson next season, Clemson fans. It may be your last chance.

According to a Wednesday report by the Associated Press (via FoxSports.com), the quarterback, who will be a junior during the 2016 campaign, said “he could leave a season early next year if circumstances are right.”

Watson also stated he has always dreamed of the NFL and that the opportunity to get there is one reason he elected to attend Clemson. The Associated Press noted, “Watson said one of his goals is to have his college degree before he leaves. He is on track to graduate in December.”

CBS Sports rated Watson as the No. 1 quarterback on its list of 2018 prospects, and it is not much of a stretch to assume the Clemson signal-caller would be No. 1 if he does elect to enter the 2017 NFL draft based on his production during his sophomore campaign.   

He threw for 4,104 yards and 35 touchdowns and added 1,105 yards and 12 more touchdowns on the ground as a Heisman Trophy finalist. He also led the Tigers to the national championship game, where they lost a 45-40 heartbreaker to Alabama. The loss was far from his fault, considering he torched the fabled Crimson Tide defense for 405 passing yards, 73 rushing yards and four touchdown passes. 

He made history in the process, per Bleacher Report Insights:

Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com ranked Clemson as the No. 1 team in his “way-too-early Top 25,” largely because Watson is returning under center. What’s more, Odds Shark recently listed Watson as its favorite to win next season’s Heisman Trophy.

Watson has the talent to take home college football’s most prestigious award and lead his Tigers to the national title during the 2016 campaign all while earning his degree. If he does all that, NFL teams will certainly take note.

To hear Watson tell it, that has been the plan all along.

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