NCAA Football News

Jim Harbaugh Is Building a Recruiting Machine at Michigan

Recent moves made by the Michigan Wolverines athletic department make it clear that Jim Harbaugh is upgrading his recruiting infrastructure hoping to shift the balance of power in the Big Ten East Division.

While Harbaugh was crisscrossing the nation on the Michigan private jet to complete his first recruiting class, his recruiting support staff was being transformed in Ann Arbor.

Harbaugh acknowledged his strategy of continuous improvement on national signing day:

"We'll make some improvements in all areas of our organization," Harbaugh said. "I look at it that way and always be striving to get a percent better, a mile an hour faster, better today than we were yesterday, better tomorrow than we were today in all areas in everything that we do. We'll take a look at how we're doing it, start with why and attack, even a .01 percent improvement if we can find it."

The most visible addition is the hiring of Chris Partridge as recruiting coordinator.

Harbaugh has already assembled a coaching staff with nationwide ties and both collegiate and professional experience. He now adds Partridge to the mix to serve as liaison to high school coaches. He brings experience as a high school coach who has won two state titles while developing a number of college football recruits.

"[He] coached current Michigan players Jabrill Peppers and Juwann Bushell-Beatty at Paramus Catholic in New Jersey," Harbaugh mentioned. "His job is an increasingly popular position on college football staffs. Among their many other duties, similar folks at other schools develop camps, recruiting events and high school relationships to help their coaches identify and connect with future prospects."

If Harbaugh had any doubts about his staff relating to high school coaches, Partridge’s hire should erase that concern.

It also doesn't hurt that he has ties with a future top recruit, Rashan Gary.

While Harbaugh is expanding both the reach and depth of his staff, two recent Michigan recruiting targets learned how quickly circumstances can change once they sign their letters of intent.

Mike Weber, a 4-star running back, was a longtime Michigan commitment before switching to Ohio State. After signing with Ohio State, he found out that the coach who recruited him was leaving for the NFL.

Roquan Smith, a 4-star linebacker, had a similar situation develop as rumors broke that UCLA’s defensive coordinator was leaving for the NFL, per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Michael Carvell. But unlike Weber, Smith hadn't signed his paperwork yet, so he has a chance re-evaluate his decision.

Recruiting is the lifeblood of any program, and players have huge restrictions on changing schools while coaches are free to leave without penalty. Players have the upper hand during recruitment, but the balance of power shifts quickly to the coaching staff after national signing day.

 

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

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Texas Football: Charlie Strong's Recruiting Is Proof He Belongs at Texas

Through his core values and persistent approach, Charlie Strong has set the foundation for Texas' future and proven he belongs as the Longhorns' head coach.

The Horns came out of national signing day with the nation's No. 11 class, which was tops in the Big 12. Led by 5-star linebacker Malik Jefferson, the 29 signees include 10 of the country's Top247 players along with some lesser-known talents with plenty of upside.

It's not quite the dream finish Strong had almost pulled off with Kyler Murray, Daylon Mack, Soso Jamabo and DaMarkus Lodge. But the Horns filled every need, per SB Nation's Wescott Eberts, and did so in spite of a dreadful finish to the 2014 season.

The credit for the recruiting resurgence goes to Strong, and his unusual list of demands that drew so much public criticism.

Less than three months after booting that ninth player, Strong rode those same core values to the commitment of Jefferson, the state's top player. As Jefferson told WFAA's David McNabb, it was Strong's firm hand that made the difference in his recruitment.

"Charlie Strong is a guy of discipline," Jefferson said. "He has the same core values as my father. The same core values of my (Poteet) coaches. He's a pretty good fit for what the guy is and what he is about and I love and respect him for that."

Once Jefferson bought in, the Longhorns had the face of their program for the foreseeable future. In turn, they unleashed him on everyone they could get to campus, as Strong said on Wednesday:

I made the statement earlier in December, I said that anytime you're in a recruiting process, there's got to be a player, there's got to be a marquee player – that was Malik Jefferson for us. When he got on board, it got us started. With him getting the program jumpstarted, he was able to sell the program. There were recruits that were kind of sitting on the fence, and then when they saw Malik jump on board, some of them jumped on board. Then the ones that were not trying to make a decision on where they wanted to go, he was able to sell the program.

From there, the rest of the class took form with 12 more recruits following the elite linebacker's lead, including top cornerback Holton Hill.

But beyond the values around which he has molded his approach, Strong has recruited right down to the wire. As explained by Eberts, Texas' head coach has been relentless in his pursuit of his prized recruits, yielding results unheard of under Mack Brown.

Chris Warren, Ryan Newsome and PJ Locke join 2014 signees Poona Ford and Chris Nelson as recruits Strong has pulled on signing day. Under Brown, only defensive end Shiro Davis waited until the bitter end to make an official pledge to Texas.

A few days before, Strong was working to secure commits from John Burt, Hill, Kris Boyd and Kai Locksley. All three ended up signing, with Burt, Hill and Boyd ready to contribute immediately, while Locksley adds quarterback depth.

Even the failed attempt to land the likes of Murray, Mack, Jamabo and Lodge should excite Longhorn fans. The Horns had no business getting the state's best quarterback and receiver on campus, and they were in serious contention with all four until the end according to 247Sports' Bobby Burton.

So, along with the ratings, rankings and sheer number of commits, let's look at the hustle stats for Strong and his staff. 

Of the 29 signees, eight were flipped from other programs, nine come from another state, six committed within the final week of the cycle and one recommitted. Just as important is that only Jamile Johnson left the class in the week leading up to signing day.

Down 10 starters, including each of its All-Big 12 performers, Texas will be in rebuilding mode next season. The Longhorns are going to be young, and they just won't have the experience necessary to win a conference title.

That said, this team will play hard for its head coach, just like it did in 2014. 

So long as that holds true, Strong's work on the recruiting trail proves he and his core values belong at Texas.

Unless otherwise noted, all stats and information courtesy of TexasSports.com and 247Sports.com.

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Meet DeAngelo Gibbs: College Football Recruiting's Next Big Thing

“You’ve got to be kidding me!”

Alabama Crimson Tide defensive coordinator Kirby Smart uttered and then repeated that phrase to Peachtree Ridge (Georgia) High School head coach Mark Fleetwood upon seeing then-rising sophomore DeAngelo Gibbs in action for the first time at a Lions practice during the spring.

Smart heard the whispers about a young, dynamic athlete who had set the metro Atlanta recruiting circuit on fire since the end of the 2013 season. Still, what he saw left him lost for words.

“Golly, that No. 8, he looks like one of ours right now,” Fleetwood recalls hearing Smart expound on Gibbs. “Look how he comes off the ball.”

According to Fleetwood, that story is one of several versions of the same conversation that played out when college coaches descended on this campus just north of Atlanta last spring.

Such praise isn’t supposed to be heaped on players with little more than one year of experience playing high school football. Then again, Gibbs isn’t your typical 16-year-old football player.

Last year, the 6’2”, 200-pound athlete stunned onlookers in attendance at the Atlanta NFTC in March by winning the camp’s MVP award for the defensive backs segment over notable attendees such as 2015 5-star corner Kevin Toliver.

Considering that he wasn’t invited to the camp until the day before the event, and only after days of his family lobbying with the camp’s organizers, his performance spoke louder than words ever could.

“The same guy that wasn’t going to let him in the camp was the same guy who fought for him to get MVP,” said Derrick Tatum, who trains DeAngelo at Atlanta’s Elite Talent Football Academy.

It didn’t take long for colleges to begin taking notice. His father, Deon, estimates that “14 or 15 schools” have offered his son. Fleetwood notes that “almost the entire SEC” checked on him in the spring. Included in his group of suitors are powers such as Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Georgia and South Carolina.

However, Gibbs’ journey to being the next can’t-miss recruit isn’t just about his athletic prowess.

Long before he ever surfaced on the recruiting radar, Gibbs has been trained for these moments on and off the field. He carries a 3.7 GPA and plans to graduate high school early. He’s heavily involved in his church’s youth programs, which Deon credits for keeping his son grounded and humble amid his growing celebrity. 

Genetics were kind to DeAngelo as well. His family lineage is littered with athletic excellence.

Two of his uncles, Jake Reed and Dale Carter, starred in the NFL for more than a decade. His mother, Karen—who now works as an assistant principal in the metro Atlanta area—competed in four sports in college and is a member of the Miles College (Alabama) Hall of Fame. His older sisters, Destinie and Lydia, are currently playing college basketball at USC and Truett-McConnell College, respectively.

While it’s only a matter of time until he becomes a 5-star recruit, it’s the years of learning from a 5-star support system that have DeAngelo Gibbs on the fast track to success on the field and in life.

“I tell DeAngelo all the time, ‘we’re built for this! The bloodline is real.’”  Jake Reed

Destinie Gibbs remembers receiving her first letter from a college program when she was in 10th grade. More so than the joy of receiving her first offer, her fondest memory from that experience was the comical reaction from her baby brother.

“He was like, ‘why am I not getting any letters…I work so hard,’” Destinie says while laughing. “I was like, ‘DeAngelo, you’re in the fifth grade!’ I told him to calm down and that his time was coming. He’s always been very competitive.”

Back then, DeAngelo was a bustling young athlete excelling in baseball, basketball and football. However, he began to slowly gravitate more toward the gridiron.

Around five years ago, DeAngelo’s parents started an annual tradition by sending him to Dallas for the summer to stay with his uncle Jake, who spent the majority of his 12-year NFL career with the Vikings as part of a dynamic receiving trio with Cris Carter and Randy Moss.

“As he got older and started coming down here (Dallas) every summer and he started working with me, you could see the football side of him come out more,” Reed said. “We didn’t do basketball because I’m a football guy and we’re a football family. You could start to see his talent come out more when he was with us.”

Jake—who still refers to DeAngelo as “Papa,” a name which he gave him when he was very young—would take him and his son, J.R., through a series of daily workouts led by trainers and former NFL players Omar Stoutmire, George Adams and Clay Mack. These workouts also featured some of the top prep players in Texas, such as Adams’ son—current LSU safety and former 5-star recruit Jamal Adams—and J.R., who enrolled at Tulsa last month.

DeAngelo spent his early years in football playing skill positions such as quarterback, running back and receiver.

Reed worked diligently with his nephew on the finer points of playing receiver. In fact, Reed recalls Baylor offering DeAngelo a scholarship as a receiver just months prior to his freshman year. But as DeAngelo returned home to Georgia and began to gain weight and mass, he worked with Tatum on learning the nuances of playing corner.

The rigorous training schedule helped him learn the work ethic and techniques necessary to maximize his enormous potential.

“He’s training with guys who can and do push him,” Reed said. “He’s able to see how hard he has to train to be elite. He works like a dog because he knows he has to get better. A lot of kids don’t have that outlet.”

Destinie credits the family environment that DeAngelo has grown up in as a critical factor in allowing him to develop as a student-athlete. Eric Lee, who is the pastor of Springfield Baptist Church in Conyers, Georgia, where the Gibbs family have been members for more than a decade, agrees.

“The community that surrounds him and the family that surrounds him, those factors gave him such a great head start to where he is today,” Lee said. “And as his father typically says, it’s taken a village of people to continue to allow him to cultivate and maximize his God-given talent.”

“We don’t raise dumb jocks in our family. That’s just not what we are trying to do. With a 3.7 GPA, he hasn’t been given that. That’s something that he’s worked for and something his mom has been very involved in.” — Jake Reed

Given Karen’s background as an educator, the Gibbs family has always placed more emphasis on the student aspect of being a student-athlete with DeAngelo.

Even during his summer trips to Big D, and despite a training schedule with two, and sometimes three, workouts a day, Reed noted that his sister made a list of books for her son to read and then write subsequent reports on.

“Just as hard as he’s working on his athletic skills, he’s doing classwork all summer long,” Reed said. “She pushes education first. He just doesn’t have school off in the summertime. Not in that house.”

DeAngelo learned the importance of academics in the recruiting process after watching Destinie go through it.

“We always try to make sure that he understands that in order for him to be the best player he can be, or the player he aspires to be, you have to be the best scholar you can be,” Destinie said. “Because without those grades, Nick Saban doesn’t want you. UGA doesn’t want you, or any other colleges, because you can’t even get into their school.”

Fleetwood notes that DeAngelo has asked for and received his blessing on occasion to arrive late at football practice in order to put extra time in the classroom. It’s something that he encourages because of the attention and focus that his star pupil displays with regard to his classwork.

“He’s serious about it (academics),” Fleetwood said. “He’s a student-athlete. I believe deep down there’s a correlation between the two. A true competitor wants to compete as much in the math classes as he does on the football field. He’s got that burning desire in him. He doesn’t just want to get by. He wants to do the best he can do. I think a lot of times, that comes from home.”

Lee—who notes that as an eighth-grader, DeAngelo used the Heimlich maneuver to save the life of a classmate who was choking—said that part of what makes him rare is the maturity he displays in everyday life.

“He’s a very unique kid,” Lee said. “His social development is not second to his football development. People want to follow him. I would suggest that is more out of the way he carries himself more so than being a vocal leader. You can see it in how he treats other people. He never makes people feel less special or important than he is.”

“You would think he’s a senior the way he goes about doing things and the way he carries himself. He’s serious. He leaves that locker room door to go to work, and he really goes to work. He is not a guy that takes it for granted. I think that’s a really good thing.” — Mark Fleetwood, head coach, Peachtree Ridge HS

One day.

That’s how long DeAngelo lasted on the ninth-grade team before being moved up to varsity. An injury to the team’s best corner pressed Fleetwood to plug in his talented freshman against defending 6A state champion Norcross.

Gibbs’ assignment was to cover Blue Devils star receiver Chris Herndon, a 6’4”, 230-pound senior who was verbally committed to Miami. Tatum recalls watching film with DeAngelo that week in preparation for the first major test of his playing career.

Figuring they would have a mismatch, Norcross tried to attack Gibbs early in the game. On their first attempt throwing at him, Gibbs picked it off.

“It wasn’t a badly thrown ball either,” Fleetwood said. “It was an out route, an intermediate out route about 14 or 16 yards, and he stepped right in front of it on our sideline and picked it off.”

According to Tatum, Norcross would target Herndon another eight times that evening. He ended with zero receptions, while Gibbs recorded four pass breakups.

“I remember it because it was one of the best games I’ve seen a corner play against a top receiver,” Tatum said.

Two weeks later, Gibbs drew 4-star Missouri commitment Nate Brown—who entered the game having caught 18 touchdowns on the season, including at least one in every game.

Gibbs ended the streak, limiting him to just three receptions.

“After that, I told him he will be the No. 1 cornerback in the country next year,” Tatum said. “Some people laughed at me when they heard that.”

Less than a year after his prep debut, Tatum’s prediction came true. 247Sports named Gibbs as the No. 1 corner prospect and the No. 5 player overall in its initial 2017 class rankings.

He was also one of just three 2017 prospects to earn a coveted invitation to the 2014 Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge, joining Louisiana phenom Dylan Moses and fellow Georgia standout Richard LeCounte. As Mike Farrell of Rivals noted, Gibbs turned in a dominant performance in a showcase featuring the nation's top prep talent.

With the recruiting process set to crank up for Gibbs, it’s just the next step in a journey he’s prepared for his whole life. Hype, social media and the notoriety that comes with being a top recruit are all things his inner circle have preached to him about.

“You want people to take him seriously when he opens his mouth,” Reed said. “We tell him about all of the pitfalls and how to handle himself around people. We’ve talked to him about social media. We want to teach him about these things so that he can see them before they are coming and try to head them off.”

Another thing the Gibbs family has focused on with him is handling the attention from colleges and coaches. Regardless of whether it's Georgia or Georgia State showing interest in him, his approach in dealing with every school will remain the same.

“His mom told me about a story of him speaking with a coach from a smaller school who was talking to some of the other kids on his team, and that coach told him, ‘I know you are probably not going to come to our school, but I appreciate you stopping by and talking to us,’” Reed recalls. “He’s that type of kid. He’s not going to get on his high horse and say a school is too small to visit with or things like that. He’s going to give them that time and respect because they came out to see him.”

Before he took over at Peachtree Ridge, Fleetwood spent 22 years coaching on the college level, with most of them coming under Larry Blakeney at Troy (Alabama) University.

He discovered and recruited the likes of DeMarcus Ware and Osi Umenyiora to the Trojans program. While the pass-rushing duo were lightly regarded as recruits, Fleetwood notices some similarities between them and his new protege.

“I see a young man right here that’s a 10th-grader in high school, and I watched those other guys when they were coming out. He is going to be a lot farther along than those guys when he gets to his senior year if he continues on his current path,” Fleetwood said. “It’s because of his work habits and his maturity and his desire to want to compete and practice well and do the little things.”

While there’s a long time in between now and national signing day for the 2017 class, DeAngelo is well on his way to becoming a household name in recruiting circles.

His sophomore season got off to a fast start. Playing receiver, he caught six passes for 142 yards and a score against Archer—a team that features a trio of defensive backs who possess offers from Power Five schools.

However, most of his work came in one half of football, as he left the game with a knee injury in the third quarter that sidelined him for the remainder of the season. Still, it was yet another glimpse of the talent that people around Gibbs feel is destined to lead him to big things in the future.

“He’s one of those kids that works hard and enjoys life,” Reed said. “I think he’s going to be a great asset to any university. He’s got the grades, he’s going to work hard in the classroom and he’s going to be a leader on your football team, and he’s going to make the team better.”

“He’s just that type of talent that any skill position on the field, he can play it. He’s just that talented. That’s the joy of working with a kid like that. When you get a kid like that, you can put him anywhere.” — Jake Reed

The scary part about the exploits of DeAngelo Gibbs is that he’s still only scratching the surface of his immense potential.

Regardless of what the future holds, DeAngelo and his family have a plan for it.

Thanks to a support system littered with experience and wisdom surrounding him, he’s been aptly prepared for the pitfalls and spoils that come with the increased attention.

If his past is any indicator, Gibbs is primed to take the recruiting world by storm.

“He’s a true student-athlete,” Fleetwood said. “To watch his work ethic, he comes here every day thinking he needs to get better. It’s a really neat thing to see a young man as talented as he is with that type of attitude. He has the desire to want to be great and to be recognized for doing things the right way.”

  

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

 

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Can Ohio State, Urban Meyer Continue Raid of Michigan's Top Recruiting Pipeline?

Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes have made a habit of beating Michigan.

The Buckeyes have dominated on the field, coming out with victories in 12 of their last 14 meetings with the Wolverines. On the recruiting trail, Ohio State has signed the higher-rated class in each of the last eight years.

And over the course of the last two recruiting cycles, the Buckeyes have found a new way of besting their chief rivals—by invading their backyard and raiding their top in-state recruiting pipeline. 

Detroit's Cass Technical High School—which is to Michigan what Glenville High School is to Ohio State—routinely produces some of the state's top football prospects. For years, those recruits were sending their letters of intent 42 miles west to Ann Arbor, pledging to play for the home-state Wolverines.

But that hasn't been the case since Meyer got involved.

It started in January of 2013, when Cass Tech's top prospect—4-star cornerback Damon Webb—spurned Michigan in favor of Ohio State. It was a surprising move, as most expected the ball-hawking defensive back to wind up at Michigan, but Webb told Miles Joseph of Eleven Warriors that the Wolverines were never at the forefront.

"Michigan was never my leader," Webb said, via Joseph. "I think people thought they were because I live near the school and a lot of my Cass teammates have gone to Michigan."

At that point, those assumptions were fair. It would have been easier for Webb's family to make it to games with The Big House less than an hour's drive away. And the familiarity Michigan offered—six of Webb's former high school teammates were suiting up for the Wolverines—would have made his transition to college much easier.

On top of that comes the pressure Cass Tech blue-chippers feel from their friends and the surrounding community to stay home and play for the team they cheered for growing up. Those ties to the Wolverines run deep in Detroit-area high schools, and that's especially true at Cass Tech. Just ask the head coach of the football team—Thomas Wilcher—who was a running back at Michigan from 1982 to 1986.

But the Buckeyes found a way to overcome those obstacles to land Webb, in part because their program was trending up while Michigan was struggling with Hoke at the helm.

"The chance to win championships," Webb said of why he chose Ohio State, via Joseph. "I think the Buckeyes are going to start winning national championships."

That thought turned to reality for Ohio State in 2014. And while the Buckeyes were marching toward their eighth national title, Meyer was continuing his assault on Michigan's biggest in-state resource. 

Webb's commitment opened the door for Ohio State to gain a July commitment from 3-star defensive end Joshua Alabi, Cass Tech's second-best prep prospect for 2015. Five months later, the Buckeyes snagged 4-star running back and Cass standout Michael Weber, who had decommitted from the Wolverines after Brady Hoke's termination. 

Scout recruiting analyst Allen Trieu told David Briggs of The Toledo Blade that Ohio State's assault on Michigan's bloodline was both practical and personal.

"[The Buckeyes] realize that's not only a place that they can get good talent, but they're also taking it to their top rival," Trieu said, via Briggs.

But now that Jim Harbaugh has taken over at Michigan, will Ohio State be able continue its Cass Tech success?

That run almost came to a halt on Wednesday when Harbaugh nearly flipped Weber back to the Wolverines. The bulldozing ball-carrier was on the receiving end of Michigan's most intense recruiting pitch, but the last-minute signing of running back Karan Higdon soiled those efforts.

Meyer knows that Harbaugh's presence will make things more difficult.

"We felt it," Meyer said of Harbaugh's recruiting impact, according to Austin Ward of ESPN.com. "They contacted all of our players. They really went after Mike Weber and Josh Alabi."

The Cass Tech studs.

How long will it take Harbaugh to loosen Ohio State's hold over his top in-state pipeline? According to 247Sports' Crystal Ball predictions, the Buckeyes are favored to land 4-star lineman Michael Onwenu and 4-star wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones—Cass Tech's top prospects in 2016 and 2017. 

Stealing those recruits away from Michigan is something Meyer would relish, something he made very clear after Weber reaffirmed his commitment to Ohio State over the Wolverines on national signing day.

“We do keep score against our rivals in everything we do," Meyer said, according to Ben Axelrod of Bleacher Report.

And if Harbaugh can't change the momentum, that score will continue to swing drastically in Ohio State's favor.

 

All recruiting rankings and information via 247Sports.

David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

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Nebraska Football Class: Super 6 of Cornhuskers' 2015 Class

While it sounds far more like the name of a B-list superhero team, the “Super Six” is the cliche for laying out the best six recruits in a team’s class. Nebraska’s 2015 class signed 20 players, ending up No. 31 nationally and No. 4 in the Big Ten, according to 247Sports.

So who is Nebraska’s Super Six out of the 2015 class? Here’s the view (along with a bonus sleeper) from one smart and particularly handsome analyst.

 

No. 6: Dedrick Young (ATH/LB, 3-star, .8609 composite)

Given Nebraska’s desperate need to build depth at linebacker, it’s almost impossible to fill out a Super Six without including one. Young looks to be the most promising of Nebraska’s three linebackers in the 2015 class (four if you count Adrienne Talan). He’s also an early-enrollee, meaning Young will get to participate in spring practice. Don’t be surprised to see him competing for playing time as a true freshman in 2015.

 

No. 5: Matt Snyder (TE, 3-star, .8523 composite)

Under Bo Pelini, the tight end position was maddeningly under-utilized. While being blessed with a number of offensive threats at the position (Mike McNeil, Kyler Reed and Cethan Carter), Nebraska’s offense never found a way to really utilize the kind of matchup problems a pass-catching tight end can cause.

So to see Nebraska land another threat in Snyder, to compliment what will hopefully be an expanded role for Carter going forward, is a promising sign of things to come.

 

Nos. 4: Carlos Davis (DE, 3-star, .8891 composite) and Khalil Davis (DT, 3-star, .8730 composite)

Yeah, I know it’s cheating (and kind of trite) to list them both in one spot. But honestly, they’re both incredibly talented. Both will be playing on the defensive line, and landing the twins was very much a package deal for Nebraska.

So while they may not see the field at the same time (given the depth issues, Carlos has a better shot at freshman playing time), listing them both at the same time feels about right.

 

No. 3: Daishon Neal (DE, 3-star, .8588 composite)

While raw, Neil looks to have the potential to be a dominant defensive end. Enough potential to draw interest from a number of big-time programs around the country, particularly a late push by Michigan once Jim Harbaugh arrived, as Neal explained on 1620 The Zone (h/t Corn Nation's Brian Towle).

Given the position of need he is filling, the potential he is showing and the ability of Nebraska to protect a home-state kid (Neal is a graduate of Omaha Central) from being poached by a conference rival, Neal’s signature is a big deal.

 

No. 2: Eric Lee (CB, 4-star, .9414 composite)

Cornerback is one of the most difficult positions on defense to play, combining the need for speed, aggression, ball skills and the knowledge to read both an offensive play and the receiver being covered. Lee possesses all those skills and has the potential to make an immediate impact for the Blackshirts.

While not getting the top overall nod, Lee’s retention in the class after the coaching change was one of new head coach Mike Riley’s biggest successes in his young tenure at Nebraska.

 

No. 1: Jalin Barnett (OG, 4-star, .9207 composite)

You could make a pretty good argument that Lee is a better overall player than Barnett, or at the very least a better NFL prospect. But during his national signing day press conference, Riley repeatedly referred to his offensive linemen as “gold,” per Huskers.com.

And for good reason, given the importance of the offensive line to everything a football team is trying to do. Barnett looks to be the best of the bunch, even at a position of depth for Nebraska at the moment. While he may not make the field in 2015, Barnett’s potential still makes him the top pick of the class.

 

Sleeper: Lavan Alston (WR, 3-star, .8832 composite)

I have somewhat of the same propensity as Al Davis, the late owner of the Oakland Raiders, in that I think you can never have too much speed on the field. (I also like white jumpsuits and little chains to hold my glasses, but that’s another story for another day.)

One thing that will improve a running game immensely is a wide receiver who is a threat to stretch the field. When Kenny Bell was injured last year, Nebraska’s ability to take the top off opposing defenses was limited, and the running game suffered as a result.

Alston is the kind of deep-threat receiver who can make a difference not only in the plays he makes, but in the way he forces defenses to adapt to his presence on the field. Don’t be surprised to see him in the mix this season.

 

All rankings from 247Sports.

For a different look at Nebraska football, check out The Double Extra Point.

You can also use the Twitter machine to follow @DblExtraPoint.

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Ranking College Football Conferences Based on 2015 Playoff Potential

There may not be unanimous agreement on the level of success the College Football Playoff had in Year 1, but it's safe to say that the formula worked and the best team in the country took home the trophy.

One thing we shouldn't do, however, is assume that the 2015 season will play out in similar fashion with regard to the committee, because college football can look completely different year to year. We have a good idea of what criteria are valued, but with new teams at the top and different games to judge, the route to the Final Four won't look the same.

What we have here is a twist on power ranking the college football conferences. While the Power Five will be ranked, the depth of each conference won't matter as much because the subject is how likely each conference is to be represented in the playoff. Even if you think the SEC is the deepest conference, the teams that finish 11th and 12th cannot make the playoff, so it doesn't matter how good they are.

The Group of Five conferences are not taken into consideration because from what we've seen out of the selection committee, it almost seems impossible that a team from that level will make it into the Final Four. The schedules just aren't tough enough unless a conference happens to have an all-time great year led by a dominating team that wins several out-of-conference matchups against top competition.

Outside of BYU, Notre Dame and potentially Boise State, teams that don't belong to a Power Five conference have little to no shot of making the playoff in the current format.

Here are the conferences rankings for 2015 based on playoff potential.

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Illinois Assistant Mike Bellamy Suspended 1 Game for Improperly Helping Recruit

Illinois Fighting Illini receivers coach Mike Bellamy has been suspended one game for a violation of NCAA rules related to helping a student-athlete receive an associate's degree.

Bellamy will serve his suspension during Illinois' season-opening game against Kent State, per an Associated Press report (h/t Fox Sports).

''It was disappointing to learn the NCAA chose to classify this as a violation,'' Fighting Illini head coach Tim Beckman said.

The NCAA ruled Bellamy committed a violation by helping an unnamed student-athlete complete his associate's degree after the school uncovered he had not done so. A report from Sean Hammond of The Daily Illini indicates Bellamy visited the college and convinced administrators to allow the student-athlete to complete a placement exam in exchange for his missed credits.

The player, who had withdrawn from the university, completed the exam and was awarded his associate's degree. He has since re-enrolled at Illinois, but the university cited a privacy policy in not disclosing the student-athlete's name.

“I want to be very clear that no member of the University of Illinois football staff may be involved with arranging academic credits, questioning or influencing grades or otherwise intervening in the academic affairs of prospective student-athletes," Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas said in a letter to Beckman and Bellamy.

Bellamy, who played five NFL seasons after starring at Illinois as a receiver, has been the team's receivers coach since 2012. He is expected to return to his position for the Fighting Illini's Sept. 12 game against Western Illinois. The NCAA has not said whether it plans any further action.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Early Top 25 College Football Recruiting Classes for 2016

Have you had a chance to come up for air from the madness of national signing day 2015? Good, because it's already time to look ahead at the country's next crop of top prospects.

Every collegiate coaching staff in America will describe the recruiting process as an endless cycle that can drive you crazy or give you joy. The ultimate goal is to assemble a balanced roster—on and off the field—that can create consistent success.

A full year shy of next signing day, here's an early glimpse at how the top 2016 recruiting classes stack up. We ranked them based on current talent level and quality rather than potential and quantity.

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Tennessee Football Recruiting: Meet the Volunteers' 2015 Class

A fourth-ranked recruiting class puts the Tennessee Volunteers on the cusp of having one of the SEC's most talented rosters, but it's the way coach Butch Jones met major needs with star power that makes the 2015 class potentially special.

Jones signed 29 players in a lineman-heavy class that goes hand-in-hand with last year's class full of skill-position players.

Sprinkle in some offensive playmakers and a trio of quarterbacks, and there's plenty of reason for excitement as UT transitions from a team on the brink of bowl eligibility to one that is building to do big things in the future.

"For Tennessee to land in that top-five range, that's all you can really ask for to compete for national titles," 247Sports director of scouting Barton Simmons told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan. "I think that’s the reality of what can become the expectation at Tennessee."

With 13 prospects in the top 10 at their respective positions according to the 247Sports composite rankings, the Vols appear well on their way to making some noise in the SEC, perhaps even becoming a threat in the East as soon as this season.

Let's take a look at the Tennessee Vols 2015 recruiting class.

 

Staying Strong In-State

The stars didn't quite align this year the way they did in 2014 when Jones signed eight of the state's top 10 players, but it was yet another banner year within the boundaries of the Volunteer State.

With the national signing day flip of offensive tackle Drew Richmond—the prospect who Jones said "completed the class" at his press conference, according to GoVols247's Ryan Callahan—the Vols signed the state's top three players.

UT finished with just four of the top 10, but the Vols only actively recruited five of them. Among the top three, every one met a major need.

Richmond has the massive upside to be the franchise left tackle UT has needed for a long time, and he debunked the myth that the Vols were struggling to recruit offensive linemen.

Kyle Phillips earned his fifth star on the 247Sports network with his showing at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl practices and game. He gave the Vols another massive commit on an absolutely loaded defensive line. You can never have too many edge-rushers.

Finally, Murfreesboro dual-threat quarterback Jauan Jennings, who was the first of Tennessee's quarterback trio to commit, provides the Vols with an athletic weapon who can play signal-caller. If he is beaten out at the position by Quinten Dormady or Sheriron Jones, he always has a bright future at several other spots.

It was an all-out battle to win the ultimate signature of Phillips and Richmond—wars that Jones must win to be successful at Tennessee.

He was up to the task of winning those this year, and they should pay major dividends for the Vols in the future.

 

Top Offensive Playmaker

Way back at a summer camp, 4-star JUCO running back Alvin Kamara decided to wrap up his recruitment the second time around, choosing the Vols over Georgia.

All these months later, the electrifying runner who played at Alabama for a year before transferring to Hutchinson Community College is enrolled and on his way to becoming a star.

UT recruiting coordinator Zach Azzanni told Volquest's Paul Fortenberry of Kamara on Thursday: "This is a home run back."

Indeed, the 5'11", 195-pound tailback has all the intangibles to be special.

Not only does he have second-level speed to run away from defenders, but he also is big enough to break tackles. He has elite shiftiness and change-of-direction ability, and he'll immediately step right in and contribute.

"Alabama didn't want to lose Kamara, and based on everything I've heard about his early workouts at Tennessee, I understand why," GoVols247's Wes Rucker told B/R. "He's an extremely talented kid and will provide an immediate spark to the Vols' offense, especially if he's matured as much as it looks like he has since his time in Tuscaloosa."

The Vols are thrilled with rising sophomore Jalen Hurd following his freshman year, and Kamara will take a lot of carries (and pressure) off Hurd's back.

With Tennessee's dearth of depth at the position, Kamara will get the opportunity to shine right away. The best thing about him is that he has three years remaining to play, as well.

He'll be a key piece of Tennessee's resurgence.

 

Top Defensive Playmaker

The biggest jewel—both literally and figuratively—of UT's star-laden class is 6'3", 354-pound defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie.

The nation's second-ranked player at the position is an alpha dog and the son of former Vol and current Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie. Kahlil routinely takes to Twitter to heckle players he punishes and even Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze.

He is big and athletic for his size and possesses power that few high school players do. UT coach John Jancek joked at one of Thursday's recruiting celebrations, according to Volquest's Paul Fortenberry:

"What do they have him at? 320 (pounds)? He's more like 360. He's going to be a load in there. I don't know who will block him. There were a couple of plays I thought charges were going to be brought on him."

The Vols needed a lot of bulk on the defensive interior, and McKenzie provides it. It's hard to envision a scenario where he doesn't come in and start or at least receive a lot of playing time.

McKenzie teaming with fellow commit Shy Tuttle has the potential to return UT to the days of John Henderson and Albert Haynesworth. They're that talented. McKenzie is going to be fun to watch develop and dominate over the next three years.

 

Players Likely Headed for Redshirts

Tennessee isn't quite in the position yet where it will be able to let the newcomers stand over on the sideline and watch.

Most of the players who officially signed on Wednesday will find themselves in at least reserve roles later this year.

But signing two massive classes full of talent in back-to-back seasons should allow for the Vols to let a few of this year's guys marinate during redshirt seasons.

Quinten Dormady appears on film to be the most advanced of the three signal-callers, so if everybody can stay healthy, the Vols would benefit from redshirting two quarterbacks. The guess here is those will be Sheriron Jones and Jauan Jennings, each of whom could use an opportunity to develop.

Along the offensive front, everybody will get a chance to crack a rotation that needs immediate help. Chance Hall is recovering from an Achilles injury, so he's a candidate to get stronger. With UT being deep on the interior, Venzell Boulware and Zach Stewart could redshirt, too.

On defense, Quay Picou is going to be a really good player at Tennessee in the future, but he may not factor into the rotation on the line this year.

Outside linebackers Quart'e Sapp and Austin Smith find themselves at a very deep position, but they're the future for the Vols on the second level. The same goes for cornerbacks Micah Abernathy and Darrell Miller, though at least one of those guys could break out.

Safety depth is a little thin, but if UT can find a fourth dependable player on the back end to go along with Brian Randolph, LaDarrell McNeil and Todd Kelly Jr., Stephen Griffin could stand a year to get better.

Finally, it remains unclear where offensive athletes Vincent Perry and Jocquez Bruce will fit in. Depending on where they're slotted, they may not play right away. But both have the skill sets to contribute on offense or special teams.

 

All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports composite rankings unless otherwise noted. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Football Recruiting 2015: Great Class Should Make Fans Cautiously Optimistic

While the USC Trojans were one of the biggest winners after national signing day, let's not get too ahead of ourselves planning for a national title celebration.

By almost all accounts, USC head coach Steve Sarkisian worked wonders on the recruiting trail. Bleacher Report ranked the Trojans' 2015 class as the second-best in the country, a place the team also occupied on 247Sports' list.

"This is a great day for our program. We signed a quality group of guys that addresses each position group," said Sarkisian, per ESPN.com's Garry Paskwietz. "We had an emphasis on size and speed, and I think you really see the size part on defense. This is a class that's going to win a lot of football games at USC and represent the university well."

Here's a look at some of their most prized additions.

Of course, you don't have to tell Trojan fans that strong recruiting classes aren't a guarantee for success. As B/R's Ben Kercheval noted in his piece Thursday, USC ranked third, 13th, ninth and 12th during Lane Kiffin's three-and-a-half seasons, yet the team finished a rather pedestrian 28-15 under Kiffin's stewardship.

Part of that unfulfilled promise was down to the lingering effects from the NCAA sanctions. Now that those are in the program's past, Sarkisian can begin building up the depth that's been woefully lacking over the last few years.

Kercheval added, however, that Sarkisian proved an adept recruiter at Washington but couldn't get the Huskies over the hump in his five years at the school:

Similarly, Sarkisian flexed his recruiting muscles when he was the head coach at Washington. From 2010-13, the Huskies finished with a top-25 class every single year. The problem, however, was that Washington never won more than eight games in a season under Sarkisian. 

Granted, Sarkisian inherited a terrible program at Washington, which went winless in 2008 and won 12 games in the previous five seasons before his arrival. Plus, the Huskies played in the more top-heavy Pac-12 North.

All the same, Sarkisian has to show that he's different from Kiffin, who landed a lot of big-time recruits but lost even bigger games.

USC didn't exactly pull up any trees in 2014.

First came the road loss to Boston College, one in which the Trojans turned a 17-6 lead into a 30-17 deficit and allowed 452 yards on the ground. A few more lackluster defeats followed, with the coup de grace the 38-20 loss to UCLA.

Realistically, the Trojans weren't preseason national title favorites, but they were ranked 15th and 14th, respectively, in The Associated Press Top 25 and USA Today Coaches' Poll, to begin the year according to ESPN.com. They finished 20th and 21st in the same two polls at the conclusion of the campaign.

Nobody's arguing that Sarkisian should be fired or anything based off one season, but it's not completely unfair to wonder whether he is truly the man who can take USC back to the promised land. We'll only know that for sure after another two or three years.

While Sarkisian helped bring some optimism back to the fanbase, it's clear success won't come overnight.

Grantland's Matt Hinton wrote that USC will first need to top its inner-city rival before eying up the best teams in the country:

But USC still has a little ways to go before the roster is back at full strength, much less until it reaches the point at which it can realistically expect to overtake the likes of Alabama or Ohio State on the field. In the meantime, the Trojans’ real competition remains just across town, where UCLA — owner of a three-game winning streak against USC, all by double digits — orchestrated a late-breaking coup of its own, adding running back Soso Jamabo, cornerback DeChaun Holiday, and tight end Chris Clark to a class that already included the nation’s no. 1 incoming quarterback, Josh Rosen, and five-star defensive end Keisean Lucier-South.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, UCLA was among the biggest risers:

The Bruins aren't going anywhere anytime soon.

All of this is to say that USC's future looks bright but is far from assured.

The Texas Longhorns continually got in great players under Mack Brown but massively underachieved in his final four years. The program is now paying for that stagnation in a big way.

USC fans have every reason to be excited for 2015 and beyond. But they should be willing to endure one or two more years of nine- or 10-win seasons before the team is truly in the national title discussion again.

 

Note: Recruit star ratings and overall rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Top 25 College Football Recruits to Watch in 2016

Now that the book has officially closed on the 2015 class, most coaches have already begun their quest in building relationships with top prospects in the 2016 cycle.

A handful of rising seniors have already established themselves as elite prospects before their final seasons on the prep level. 

Some have already committed, while others have piled up offers from top programs around the country. 

The players on this list either offer a ton of potential for growth or have become dominant on the prep level, catching the attention of numerous powerhouses. 

Which recruits should fans around the nation be paying close attention to during the spring and summer?

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The Most Perplexing Commitments of the Class of 2015

The biggest recruits in the country committed to the usual suspect programs: Alabama, USC, et al. But farther down the rankings, some signings left us scratching our heads.

That doesn't just apply to big recruits signing at smaller schools, either. In some cases, even if a player committed to an Alabama or a USC, the context around his commitment was odd. There seemed to be a more logical fit elsewhere. 

This road runs two ways, also. Teams make baffling signings with the same frequency as players. That doesn't mean they made a bad signing, necessarily; it just means they took us aback.

For one reason or another, the following five signings perplexed us. There's a good chance they work out in the end—all of these players and coaches know a lot more about their needs than I do—but from a viewer's perspective, it's hard to understand what happened.

Sound off below with any other signings you found odd.

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National Signing Day 2015: Analyzing Classes with Most Immediate Impact Recruits

Every school offers the same full-ride scholarships come national signing day, but the way the cupboards are stocked varies from program to program.

Take a place like Alabama, for instance. With Nick Saban well into his dynasty building in Tuscaloosa, he has so much 5-star talent dripping from the walls that even the most marquee recruits in his top-ranked classes have to settle for special teams play before working their way into more impacting game action.

While there remain plenty of programs in which it's beyond hard for even top-caliber names to stand out as freshmen, there are others in which those same freshman can be among the most important players on the team from Day 1.

The following list is in light of those programs, as we take a look at three recruiting classes that will boast the most immediate-impact players come 2015. And they happen to be three of the best classes overall, too.

 

Tennessee

The Tennessee Volunteers fielded one of the nation's youngest teams in 2014, but they're getting even younger entering 2015—and noticeably better.

Butch Jones closed another top-caliber recruiting class in style Wednesday, locking down the No. 3 overall class nationally according to 247Sports composite team rankings. But while they added 29 standout players, the best ones they added came in the trenches—where the Vols needed help the most.

There isn't a bigger one—in size or impact—than Kahlil McKenzie, the nation's No. 2 defensive tackle and No. 6 player nationally. Him and Shy Tuttle (No. 9 defensive tackle and already enrolled) could both end up starting by year's end, but it's McKenzie who is wowing the most, per 247Sports' Wes Rucker:

Defensive coordinator John Jancek has only been able to mention the players for less than a day, but has already bestowed high expectations upon McKenzie:

Not to be outdone by the defensive line, the Vols also cleaned up in the offensive trenches as well—although it came last minute. After a final-weekend visit to Knoxville, Tennessee flipped No. 3 offensive tackle Drew Richmond from Ole Miss.

Not many teams had a more glaring weakness than Tennessee in 2014, as it allowed 43 sacks one year after losing five offensive linemen to the NFL. But after nabbing the in-state product from the Rebels at the last second, they could have a Day 1 starter on their hands.

Add those impact players to the arrival of top junior college target Alvin Kamara—a former Alabama running back—to go alongside rising sophomore Jalen Hurd, and you have one of the nation's most improved teams entering 2015.

 

USC

Already bestowed with a star-studded class filled with early impact players, the USC Trojans cleaned up on national signing day to further bolster their insane class.

In his first full recruiting cycle, Steve Sarkisian made splash after splash. A few of them came on Wednesday with the late commitments of No. 1 cornerback Iman Marshall, No. 6 outside linebacker John Houston and No. 5 defensive tackle Rasheem Green, but the class had already been loaded with early impact players before that.

While three 5-star players are yet to arrive in Los Angeles, some of the most important prospects are already on campus. Chuma Edoga is perhaps the most in line for playing time, as the No. 1 offensive guard joins an offensive line that started two freshmen at guard down the stretch of 2014.

Isaac Whitney should be an immediate impact as well. The junior college standout ranked as the No. 5 JUCO wideout in the nation, and like Edoga is already enrolled. They also have the quarterback of the future on campus, as No. 6 pro-style quarterback Ricky Town will be able to learn from Cody Kessler in his final collegiate season.

But when it comes to a class with four 5-stars and 12 4-stars, there are simply too many players who will make an impact from Day 1 to mention.

 

Texas

Head coach Charlie Strong desperately needed to make some splashes in his first full recruiting cycle at Texas, and that's exactly what he did.

The Longhorns finished with the eighth-ranked class per the 247Sports composite team rankings, even after missing on a couple of 5-star talents on national signing day. While they locked down only one 5-star, they have a whopping 17 4-star players—more than any other program—to pick between for early playing time.

Like the best programs are able to do, Texas has gotten its most crucial recruit on campus already. No. 1 outside linebacker Malik Jefferson—a 6'2", 215-pound speedster—is already working out with the team and should be able to use the early exposure to get on the field early and often.

The other key players are yet to join but have already signed. Among them is No. 8 running back Chris Warren, who should crack the rotation immediately after the departure of leading rusher Malcolm Brown. At 6'2" and 240 pounds, he'll have no trouble moving the pile.

The defensive-minded Strong is likely more excited about the early impacts of No. 7 cornerback Holton Hill and No. 11 cornerback Kris Boyd, however. With Jordan Hicks and Quandre Diggs departing over the offseason, both starting spots will be up for grabs and both incoming corners will have a shot at winning one of the jobs.

One thing is certain—with a few more classes like this, Strong won't have any trouble competing in the Big 12 and on the national stage.

 

All recruiting rankings and info courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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