NCAA Football News

Nick Saban Has Built Alabama as the Clear 'Linebacker U' of College Football

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It began with an impromptu press conference hastily called in 2009. 

Linebacker Rolando McClain didn’t suspect anything major when he received a phone call the Monday following the SEC Championship Game telling him to be at the football building the next morning; he was scheduled for a meeting with head coach Nick Saban followed by an interview session with media.

However, his suspicions were slightly aroused when being told to dress up, which was different because when players are on camera they almost always wear something Crimson Tide–related.

“I was thinking, ‘Why do I need to wear slacks and a collared shirt?’” McClain said. “We don’t do media like that.”

He was still completely surprised when Dick Butkus walked into Saban’s office carrying his namesake trophy that annually goes to the nation’s best linebacker.

“I had no idea,” McClain said. “I’m really at a loss for words. I didn’t expect it.”

“He was really surprised,” Saban said. “It was a lot of fun.” 

Ever since then Crimson Tide reporters have been on high alert in early December as the program has repeatedly had players in the running for the award. The only years Alabama hasn’t had a finalist were 2010 and 2014.

When C.J. Mosley won in 2013, Butkus surprised him at the team banquet, and a strong argument could be made that Reggie Ragland was deserving this past season.

“Anytime you’re a competitor, I always want to win everything,” said Ragland, who used his close second-place finish to Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith as motivation for the playoffs. “A good guy won it. I can’t be mad. I’ll take it with a grain of salt and keep moving forward.”

Nevertheless, Alabama has become the standard when it comes to linebackers, which was only reinforced last week when it landed two 5-star recruits at the position, Ben Davis and Lyndell Wilson.

According to the 247Sports composite rankings, they were the fifth and sixth 5-star linebackers to sign with Alabama under Saban, joining Nico Johnson (2009), Trey DePriest (2011), Reuben Foster (2013) and Rashaan Evans (2014).

Meanwhile, in five of the last seven seasons Alabama has had a consensus/unanimous All-American at linebacker, which easily tops the nation. During that time period only Georgia, Notre Dame and Michigan State have had two, and for the Spartans it was Greg Jones named twice.

On the flip side of that, since the 2010 NFL draft there have been 19 linebackers selected in the first round, led by Alabama with three (McClain, Mosley and Dont’a Hightower, while Courtney Upshaw just missed). Ragland appears poised to be the fourth.

Consequently, it’s time Alabama claim the "Linebacker U" designation.

For years Penn State was known for that under head coach Joe Paterno, and rightfully so. Beginning with Dennis Onkotz, a two-time All-American in 1968-69, the Nittany Lions had the reputation for regularly having outstanding players at the position. 

Others included Jack Ham, John Skorupan, Greg Buttle, Shane Conlan, LaVar Arrington, Brandon Short and Paul Posluszny, who were all consensus All-Americans.

Nevertheless, Penn State’s only had the third-most consensus All-Americans at linebacker since 1965, when the NCAA got rid of its rules requiring the use of the one-platoon system which forced players to play on offense and defense.

The most recent player to join that club was Dan Connor in 2007, when he finished his career as Penn State’s all-time leading tackler with 419.

Yes, that’s the same year Saban landed in Tuscaloosa, and when McClain began his collegiate career. One of the holdovers from Mike Shula’s recruiting efforts, the in-state product started eight of 13 games as a freshman, finishing with 75 tackles, two interceptions and a sack.

That year, safety Rashad Johnson led the team with 94 tackles, while tied for second with 80 were defensive lineman Wallace Gilberry and linebacker Darren Mustin, a transfer from Middle Tennessee State. (Note: Johnson, a former walk-on at running back, now plays for the Arizona Cardinals. Gilberry plays with the Cincinnati Bengals). It's the last time Alabama failed to notch at least 10 wins.

Meanwhile, Alabama’s history includes Derrick Thomas, Cornelius Bennett, Lee Roy Jordan and Woodrow Lowe, who will stand up against any four linebackers in history.

All four are in the College Football Hall of Fame, which is one more linebacker than Penn State has had enshrined. 

As for Butkus—who played before 1965 and was listed as a unanimous All-American at center in 1963 and a consensus selection in 1964, but was voted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a linebacker—no one would be surprised if he keeps making return trips to Tuscaloosa.

Foster will attract a lot of offseason hype along with sack artists Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson, but down the road there’s Davis, Evans, Wilson, Christian Miller, Shaun Dion Hamilton …

 

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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Predictions for the College Careers of the 2016 5-Star Recruits

Being a 5-star college football prospect doesn't guarantee they will have a successful career, though that's the expectation at the outset. Recruiting services don't arbitrarily hand out such lofty ratings, instead they're the result of detailed evaluations of those players' skills and meant to project what they're capable of at the college level.

The rest is up to the player, as well as the program they end up with, to turn promise into performance.

The 2016 recruiting class had 25 players that 247Sports' composite formula deemed were worthy of a 5-star rating, and 24 of those players have signed with FBS programs. Wide receiver Demetris Robinson, rated No. 14 overall and No. 1 at his position, remains undecided about his future.

For the other 24, we're going to take a stab at what lies ahead in their college careers. Check out our predictions for how every 2016 5-star recruit will fare over the next three to five years.

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No. 1 2017 Recruit Dylan Moses Reveals Top Schools, Hopes for Michigan Offer

Dylan Moses, the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2017, says he has a leader—the powerhouse program that just finished No. 1 in the 2015 season and No. 1 in the 2016 recruiting cycle.

According to Derek Tyson of ESPN.com, Alabama is the top school out of a list of six for Moses, an outside linebacker currently at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

Moses told Tyson his other top schools are Texas, Georgia, Florida, UCLA and USC, but the defending national champion is ahead of the rest right now:

Alabama is still my leader because they are more structured. They have very good discipline over there so they get their kids doing what they have to do. I like their strength program, coach [Scott] Cochran, coach [Nick] Saban. It’s just a really great coaching staff over there and I just really feel comfortable there.

The linebacker, who transferred to IMG Academy from University Lab in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, currently has 31 scholarship offers.

According to Tyson, Moses wants one of his next offers to come from Jim Harbaugh and Michigan, who will spend part of their spring practices this year at IMG: "That would be cool. I’ve never really seen Michigan up close like that before and I’ve never visited the school either. It’s just a great opportunity and you know, hopefully I can get an offer from them, because I don’t have one yet."

Last week, Michigan signed the No. 1 recruit for the 2016 class in defensive tackle Rashan Gary. Moses is currently ranked as the nation's top 2017 prospect by 247Sports and ESPN.

Moses is ranked No. 2 overall by Scout and No. 4 by Rivals, so he has a shot at joining Gary as a consensus No. 1 prospect.

According to 247Sports, Moses compiled a jaw-dropping 433.5 tackles in his last three seasons at University Lab. He stands at 6'2", weighs 220 pounds and ran a 40-yard dash in 4.57 seconds at The Opening last year.

The outside linebacker held scholarship offers from several powerhouses, including LSU, Alabama, Ole Miss and Florida State, before the start of his freshman year of high school.

But for the second straight time, Moses has left off his hometown team—LSU—from his list of top schools.

The Tigers once held a commitment from Moses, who received national attention in the summer of 2013 when he was on the cover of ESPN The Magazine as a heavily recruited eighth grader.

Moses decommitted from LSU last August. He told Andrew Lopez of NOLA.com last month that he left the Tigers out of his top schools because of their coaching situation—head coach Les Miles' hot-seat saga at the end of last season and defensive coordinator Kevin Steele's departure to SEC West rival Auburn.

However, Moses told Tyson he would take an unofficial visit to LSU, along with Florida and Florida State, during spring practices. 

Moses made several unofficial visits to nearby LSU last season, and he also visited Alabama when the Crimson Tide defeated the Bayou Bengals on November 7.

 

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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Big Ten Football: Early Odds for Each Team to Make the 2016-17 Playoff

The 2015 college football season is in the books and national signing day has came and went, meaning it's officially time to start looking ahead toward the 2016 season.

For the Big Ten, it should be unlike any other in recent memory, with the profile of the conference having only grown with its recent string of success on the field and big-name hirings of head coaches off of it.

Having made the playoff in each of the past two seasons, first with Ohio State and then Michigan State, doing so has not only become the goal, but the expectation in the 14-team league. The reality, however, is that not all teams have a realistic shot at making the College Football Playoff, particularly in the tougher of the Big Ten's two divisions—the East.

But if ever there was a time for optimism in college football, it'd be right now. With that in mind, let's take a look at my odds for each Big Ten team to make the 2016 College Football Playoff.

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Notre Dame Football Recruiting: Looking Ahead to 2017 Class

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame football officially welcomed a steady if not spectacular Class of 2016 last week, and the wheels are already in motion for the Irish's 2017 class.

Notre Dame’s Class of 2016 ranks 15th nationally and filled needs throughout the roster, especially in the secondary.

What can Irish fans expect in 2017?

Off we go.

 

The Commits

The Irish already have five commitments for the 2017 cycle.

Offensive lineman Dillan Gibbons became the class’s first pledge last April. The Clearwater, Florida, product is slotted as the No. 42 offensive tackle and No. 360 prospect overall. Gibbons has visited South Bend three times since his commitment.

Fellow offensive lineman Josh Lugg became the third member of the class in mid-August, as Irish offensive line coach Harry Hiestand and Company continue to land linemen of their choosing at an impressive clip. Lugg is the No. 21 tackle and No. 134 prospect nationally. The Wexford, Pennsylvania, native visited campus twice during the season and again last month for Notre Dame’s junior day.

Tight end Brock Wright gave his verbal commitment to the Irish in late June, joining Gibbons. Wright is currently the top tight end in the country and the No. 26 recruit in the class. Notre Dame didn’t nab a tight end in the class of 2016 and has already lined up a second for the 2017 cycle. Cole Kmet pledged to the Irish in early October. Kmet, who hails from Arlington Heights, Illinois, is the No. 4 player at his position and checks in at No. 194 overall.

Notre Dame’s most recent commitment in the Class of 2017 came in early November, when Georgia defensive end Robert Beal joined the group. Beal is the No. 3 weak-side defensive end in the class and No. 50 overall.

 

Needs

While the 2016 class might lack elite talent at the top, Notre Dame addressed a variety of needs to balance the roster moving forward.

Asked where the points of emphasis will be in 2017, Irish head coach Brian Kelly tabbed the offensive line, which already has commitments from Lugg and Gibbons.

“We’re going to have to fill that back up a little bit more,” Kelly said.

The Irish only landed three offensive linemen in the class of 2016, and Hunter Bivin, Mike McGlinchey, Colin McGovern, John Montelus and Steve Elmer will all be entering their fourth years in the program.

Beyond the offensive line, Kelly said Notre Dame has put itself in a position of balance and can focus on rounding out each unit.

 

Names to Watch

Irish247’s Tom Loy highlighted a batch of names to know for Notre Dame in the 2017 cycle.

Quarterback Avery Davis, running backs Najee Harris and A.J. Dillon and wide receivers Donovan Peoples-Jones, Osiris St. Brown and Tarik Black headline the offensive weapons. Davis, a dual-threat signal-caller from Texas, visited South Bend in November, a month after receiving his offer. Harris is the top back in the nation and has been committed to Alabama since April, while Dillon grabbed an Irish offer last month.

Peoples-Jones, the No. 1 wideout in the country, is from Detroit and attended Notre Dame’s junior day last month. St. Brown’s older brother, Equanimeous, could be poised for a breakout sophomore season with the Irish, and Osiris garnered an early offer from the school—his third overall—last January. Black collected his offer two weeks ago.

Offensive linemen Trey Smith and Jedrick Wills are targets to join Gibbons and Lugg, while top end Joshua Kaindoh, Corey Malone-Hatcher (from nearby Saint Joseph, Michigan), Haskell Garrett (from Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas), Ohio State pledge Jerron Cage (the younger brother of Irish junior-to-be Daniel Cage) and Dalyn Wade-Perry are on the board along the defensive line.

Pittsburgh linebacker David Adams, linebacker and Baylor commit Baron Browning, Ann Arbor, Michigan, linebacker Antjuan Simmons, Detroit cornerback Ambry Thomas, Detroit safety Jaylen Kelly-Powell, Indiana safety R.J. Potts and athlete Tyrell Ajian are other names to watch.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting stats and information courtesy of 247Sports 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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College Football's Most Important Offers of the Week

With the book now closed on the 2016 class, college football coaches across the nation have turned the page and are refocusing their recruiting efforts on the 2017 class.

One school looking to build on a strong 2016 class is the Tennessee Volunteers. Head coach Butch Jones and the Vols landed the nation’s No. 14 class last week and were active in searching for studs in the 2017 cycle.

One player they have targeted is 3-star quarterback Jack Sears

According to Scout’s Greg Biggins, the Vols offered the rising senior out of California's San Clemente High School.

Sears, who is the nation’s No. 25 pro-style quarterback and the No. 55 prospect overall from the Golden State, has seen his stock rise in recent weeks.

According to Tom Loy of 247Sports, Sears was excited to land his first offer from a SEC program:

I’ve been talking to (graduate assistant) Coach Nick Sheridan for about a month now. I got on the phone with (offensive coordinator) Coach (Mike) DeBord and Coach Sheridan Wednesday morning and we had a great talk. Then they were talking to my head coach and they said that they really liked me and what they saw on film. Then tonight, I called them up and Coach DeBord let me know I had an offer. He said that he wanted me to come up to campus for a visit and see what it’s like at Tennessee and what it feels like to go to school there for a day or two.

As Loy noted, Sears racked up 3,559 yards of total offense and 46 total touchdowns as a junior.

If the Vols can get Sears to make a trip to Knoxville, things could heat up between the two parties.

 

Ohio State Offers In-State DB

On the last weekend before signing day, Ohio State and head coach Urban Meyer hosted a junior day for the 2017 class.

One top target in attendance was 4-star safety Amir Riep—who netted an offer from the Buckeyes following the event.

The 6’0”, 180-pounder also landed offers from DukePenn State and Purdue last week. 

However, the Buckeyes' involvement with the in-state safety could become a major factor with Riep moving forward.

 

Big Ten, Pac-12 Powers Offer Alabama Pledge

Alabama has already jumped out to a fast start in the 2017 cycle, with 4-star offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood one the studs already bound for Tuscaloosa.

Last week, the Crimson Tide pledge landed offers from Michigan and USC

The 6’5”, 297-pounder rates as the nation’s No. 19 offensive tackle and the No. 128 player overall in the 2017 class.

While Leatherwood seems firm in his pledge at this point, his growing list of suitors could make things interesting in his recruitment if he opts to take visits.

 

Miami After Stud OL

Now that new Miami head coach Mark Richt has his first recruiting class under his belt, he and his staff can focus on starting their first full cycle with the Hurricanes in 2017.

Last week, Richt and his staff offered 4-star offensive lineman Marcus Minor

The 6’4”, 283-pounder holds early offers from programs such as Boston College, Duke, Maryland, North Carolina and West Virginia.

Minor is the nation’s No. 26 offensive tackle and the No. 165 player overall in the 2017 class.

 

Best of the Rest

2017

 

2018 

 

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

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