NCAA Football News

Michigan Football: Projecting Jim Harbaugh's Offensive Starters

Jim Harbaugh is wrapping up his first recruiting class with a whirlwind series of home visits across the country. He is hoping to convince a few undecided players to commit to Michigan and flip some commitments from other programs.

Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press reports that:

Harbaugh has spent the contact period since Jan. 15 all over the country, occasionally in multiple states, not to mention multiple schools, in the same day. The class could now reach 16 prospects by Wednesday's National Signing Day.

After national signing day Harbaugh will know which players he’ll have on his roster for his first season at Michigan.

Here is a projection of how his first recruiting class will impact his offensive starters for next season.


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

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@PCallihan

All season statistics from mgoblue.com, the official University of Michigan athletic department website.

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College Football: Top 5 Coaches on the Hot Seat in 2015

College football is a tough sport when it comes to coaches who are attempting to work their way off the hot seat. Once your seat starts to warm up, you generally stay there until you have a breakthrough season or find yourself looking for a new job.

The upcoming season is no different, and quite a few names will be coaching for their jobs. In a day and age where college football programs seem to demand immediate success from new head coaches, the turnover rate can be high. 

This reason alone is why we believe Willie Taggart of the South Florida Bulls and Darrell Hazell of the Purdue Boilermakers may be searching for jobs after the 2015 season.

Now, as we get into the top five coaches who find themselves painfully in need of a successful campaign this coming season, the following items factored into the rankings:

  • Failure to take a program to the next level over multiple years.
  • Below-average records on a consistent basis (factoring in the university standards as well).
  • Inability to get over the hump in terms of conference record.
  • Coaches who were on the hot seat in 2014 and did little to improve their standing heading into 2015.

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Will Ohio State's 2015 Recruiting Class Surge or Falter on National Signing Day?

On the heels of a run through the first-ever College Football Playoff, head coach Urban Meyer and Ohio State are hoping to close out their 2015 recruiting class with a bang.

There's a chance, though, that the Buckeyes could sputter by losing a few key commitments before national signing day on Wednesday. And right now, it's too early to tell which way the scale will tip.

The Buckeyes could get a huge boost with last-minute commitments from some of the top remaining prospects who are still uncommitted. 

Most noteworthy among that group is Porter Gustin, a 4-star standout and the No. 41 prospect overall. The outside linebacker/weak-side defensive end hybrid has offers from programs such as LSU, Florida State, Notre Dame and Oregon, but the recruiting experts have USC as the heavy favorite to land his services. 

Ohio State, however, is making a late rally. 

Meyer made his way out to Utah to visit with Gustin this week, and the 6'5", 245-pound athlete is returning the favor by making an official visit to Columbus this weekend. If the trip goes well, Ohio State could seal one one of the biggest recruiting surprises of the year by stealing him away from USC.

Another player the Buckeyes are pushing for is 4-star wide receiver K.J. Hill

A 6'0", 188-pound pass-catcher out of North Little Rock, Arkansas, Hill was long considered a lean to play for Bret Bielema and the home-state Razorbacks. But Meyer and the coaching staff have given Hill a lot of attention down the stretch, and that could pay off. The Buckeyes hosted him last weekend while the team celebrated its national title in Ohio Stadium, and Meyer checked in with him in Arkansas on Thursday. 

Some, like Bleacher Report's Tyler Donohue, feel that Hill's commitment to the Buckeyes is imminent.

The Buckeyes have an outside shot of landing other highly rated prospects. Players such as 5-star defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr., 4-star offensive tackle Isaiah Prince and 3-star offensive tackle Venzell Boulware (who's currently committed to Tennessee) are all on Ohio State's board.

Perhaps the most important recruits on signing day will be a pair that is already on board with the Buckeyes.

Two of Ohio State's top pledges—4-star quarterback Torrance Gibson and 4-star running back Mike Weber—have been feeling a lot of heat from other programs. Both are rated as top-100 prospects (Gibson 75th, Weber 78th), and both have the ability to leave a crushing blow to Ohio State's class if they were to defer.

Gibson has gone on a spree of visits over the last few weeks in an effort to make sure he's "100 percent" sure that Ohio State is the right place for him, per his first-person column for USA Today High School Sports. After visiting Auburn and LSU over the last two weeks, the dual-threat signal-caller plans to visit Miami this weekend before making a final decision on signing day. 

Ohio State did get the chance to make one last impression with him on Thursday as Meyer stopped in for a visit. The Buckeyes are hoping they can hold on to one of their top prospects and, possibly, their next great quarterback.

Similar pressure is being put on Weber by Ohio State's chief rival. After Michigan hired Jim Harbaugh as head coach, the Wolverines have re-engaged the stud running back, making him a top priority in their struggling class. New running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley has been in to see Weber personally two times this month, pushing the Detroit native to stay in-state.

Meyer is hoping he can get Gibson and Weber to stick with their commitments, something he failed to do with 4-star cornerback Carlton Davis. The Miami, Florida native committed to Ohio State in August, but he decommitted on Thursday with plans to consider offers from Auburn and Miami. 

Will Ohio State be able to end the recruiting season the way it did on the field—with an unexpected series of pledges from players such as Gustin and Hill? Or will the Buckeyes stumble down the stretch and lose key members to other schools?

Meyer won't get those answers until national signing day, but in the meantime, he'll be doing everything he can to close things out on a high note.

 

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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Virginia Tech Football: 3 Commits Who Will Start a Game in 2015 for the Hokies

Starting as a true freshman in college football is incredibly difficult. Sometimes, there is this special athlete that takes the nation by storm and forces his way onto the field. For the Virginia Tech Hokies, such players have been rare in recent years.

However, in the past two seasons, cornerback Kendall Fuller and wide receiver Isaiah Ford became first-year starters. 

Fuller made All-American teams in both of his first two years on campus while Ford led the Hokies with 56 receptions and 709 receiving yards in 2014. 

Does any such player exist in 2015? Here are three incoming true freshmen that could start for Virginia Tech in 2015. 

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UCLA Football: 3 Commits Who Will Start a Game for the Bruins in 2015

For the first time in the Jim Mora era, it appears as if the UCLA football program will be able to build depth and redshirt the majority of its upcoming recruiting class. 

A lack of depth across the roster in the previous three years necessitated the implementation of inexperienced players at most spots within the starting lineup. With the majority of those players now upperclassmen, the team can theoretically afford to become a bit more selective within its decision to play true freshmen. 

With that said, there are three newcomers with the distinct possibility of starting games in 2015. Two of these new additions will be true freshmen, while a third comes to Westwood from the junior college ranks. 

This piece focuses on three new Bruins ready to make an impact early. The selection of these players largely stems from both a talent standpoint, as well as need on the current roster. 

 

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SEC Football: Most Intriguing Conference Games in 2015

It's been more than three months since the SEC released its full conference slate for the 2015 season, but at the time it was far too early to start looking ahead to the next year's games while the current season was still playing out.

Not anymore. It's the offseason, time for plenty of advance analysis, as well as planning, in case anyone is interested in putting together an SEC road trip next fall.

With 12 teams making bowls in 2014, including all seven from the West Division, 41 of the 56 matchups will involve foes that had winning records. Only one game, when Kentucky visits Vanderbilt on Nov. 14, will pit teams with losing records.

Which games stand out more than others? Check out our list of the 12 most intriguing SEC conference games in 2015.

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Why USC Will Have Strongest Finish to 2015 National Signing Day

National signing day is less than one week away, and USC is among a small handful of programs hoping to dominate the final stretch leading into the day that the nation’s top prospects make their commitments official.

Currently, USC has 20 commitments and a class currently rated No. 3 in the country.

But Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian is far from being done with the 2015 class.

With four targets remaining who are rated among the nation’s top 50 prospects overall still left on the board, USC has a chance to make a serious run at the top overall class.

But can Sarkisian and his staff finish strong?

If last year is any indicator, Trojans supporters will be a happy bunch next Wednesday. The Trojans landed studs such as receiver JuJu Smith, corner Adoree' Jackson and offensive lineman Damien Mama at the final hour—which helped them earn a place among the nation’s top 10 classes for 2014.

This year, Sarkisian and his staff began their push a little earlier.

January has produced pledges from highly touted prospects such as 5-star linebacker Osa Masina, 4-star running back Ronald Jones II, 4-star safety Marvel Tell and 4-star corner Ykili Ross.

The biggest remaining fish on the board is the nation’s top corner—5-star in-state standout Iman “Biggie” Marshall.

Schools such as Florida State, LSU, Michigan, Notre Dame and Oregon are among the programs trying to lure him away from California, but as his Crystal Ball page indicates, the Trojans are still the heavy favorite.

A pair of studs out of Serra High School in Gardena, California—a school that has been kind to the Trojans in recent history—in 5-star defensive tackle Rasheem Green and 4-star linebacker John Houston are high on Sarkisian’s wish list as well.

According to Ryan Bartow of 247Sports, Green enjoyed himself during his official visit to USC on the weekend of Jan. 16.

"Coach Sark told me how much he wants me and pretty much recruited me," Green told Bartow. "He's trying to get me to USC."

Another high-profile defensive standout who is in play for USC is 4-star linebacker Porter Gustin. The Trojans are battling Arizona State, Notre Dame and Ohio State for the right to land the Utah native.

As Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports notes, the vibes are strong that USC will finish with another flurry that includes most, if not all, of its top targets. 

If that scenario unfolds, national signing day will once again have a Cardinal and Gold flavor to it.

 

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

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12 Biggest Recruiting Visits on Final Weekend Before National Signing Day

It all comes down to this.

Years of letters, texts, phone conversations and campus visits conclude this weekend as the 2015 recruiting cycle crawls toward a close. By this time next week, we'll know where the country's next crop of college football stars will continue their careers. 

The fate of this class remains an enigma until national signing day takes center stage Feb. 4, when prospects put pen to paper and seal their collegiate fate. Plenty of players will be on the move in coming days, catching one last glimpse at universities they could eventually call home or return to as rivals.

Here's a look at 12 campus visits that command attention as the clock ticks down toward signing day.

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Projecting Every Pac-12 Team's Quarterback for 2015 Season

The year of the quarterback lived up to the hype as the Pac-12 conference saw records broken, mind-boggling amounts of passing yards and the league's first Heisman Trophy winner in a decade.

The spectacular aerial displays each week were a direct result of experience at the position with guys like Marcus Mariota, Sean Mannion, Brett Hundley, Connor Halliday and others having started many games in previous seasons.

2015 will be unique in that the aforementioned signal-callers along with Arizona State's Taylor Kelly have either exhausted their eligibility or declared early for the NFL draft. With a bevy of new starters entering the fray, the Pac-12 could experience a down year at the position, at least by its own lofty standards.

But coming back are more record-breakers, experienced backups and some extremely talented recruits who will do the best to keep the bar raised.

Some projections are obvious and won't cause discussion barring injury, while some programs have the quarterback spot wide open entering spring practice. Let's take a look at the likely starters for each team in 2015.

 

All stats via cfbstats.com. Recruiting info via 247Sports.

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How Ohio State Can Make Big Splash on National Signing Day

The football gods have been good to Ohio State football.

It wasn't long ago when the Buckeyes weren't considered a College Football Playoff-caliber team. After winning the Big 10 championship, Ohio State went on to make the tournament as the No. 4 seed, shock top-seeded Alabama and then dominate No. 2 Oregon to win the national title.

And if that wasn't enough, the Buckeyes are now sitting with 24 commits for the 2015 class. Four of them are early enrollees: defensive end Jashon Cornell, linebacker Nick Conner, cornerback Jamel Dean and offensive tackle Grant Schmidt. Cornell, Conner and Dean are 4-star athletes, while Schmidt is a 3-star player, according to the 247Sports Composite ratings.

If signing day was today, Ohio State would have a 5-star in LB Justin Hilliard and 12 others who are 4-star prospects. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, there's still time to improve on an already-solid class.

And we all must remember: Urban Meyer is one of the best at landing commits in the clutch. Look at Dontre Wilson, once an Oregon commit before switching to Ohio State days before national signing day.

Ohio State's class is ranked No. 7 nationally by 247Sports. The Buckeyes could challenge for top-five status—maybe even top three—with the additions of a couple of athletes.

Nothing is a lock, but Illinois 5-star defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr., Maryland 4-star OT Isaiah Prince and 4-star do-it-all LB Porter Gustin (emphasis on do-it-all, per Rivals analyst Brett Angulo) are three players the Buckeyes are hoping to sway. Landing one of the three would be a huge deal. Landing two would be outstanding.

Landing all three would be Christmas. But again, this is Urban Meyer we're talking about. With last-minute recruiting, he's shown that he can make things happen.

Auburn is a major player for Beckner, and Missouri is a safe pick being closest to home, but Beckner took an official visit to Ohio State last weekend and spent some time with Hilliard and Cornell. Per Jeremy Birmingham of Eleven Warriors, the idea of Beckner choosing the Buckeyes isn't as far-fetched as some may think. Birmingham chatted with Darren Sunkett, the head coach at East St. Louis High School, Beckner's school, about Beckner's thoughts of being a Buckeye.

"Yeah, it's real close," Sunkett said. "[Ohio State] has a lot to offer. [The visit] was a surprise to him; there's nothing like seeing it in person."

Bill Kurelic of 247Sports, however, said an in-home visit isn't planned between Ohio State and Beckner. Kurelic added that assistant coaches Ed Warinner and Larry Johnson visited with Prince on Wednesday. Prince is no longer listed as an Alabama commit and, per 247Sports' Ryan Bartow, plans to officially visit Maryland this weekend.

Gustin may be the one to keep an eye on. He is considered a USC lean, but again, this is Urban Meyer we're talking about. Gustin had an in-home visit with Meyer on Tuesday, and Meyer was at Gustin's basketball game prior to the visit.

For Gustin, the in-home visit was one to remember, according to Rivals analyst Marc Gilver.

"It was pretty awesome," Gustin told Gilver about the in-home visit. "[Meyer] is intense and demanding and has that grinder attitude."

Gustin added that Ohio State is making a late push, and his top three schools are Ohio State, Arizona State and USC. The Trojans are considered the heavy favorite, but Ohio State gets the luxury this weekend of having Gustin's final official visit.

And, we must remember...we're dealing with Urban Meyer. Stay tuned.

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Oregon Football: Will Possible FCS Transfer Live Up to Marcus Mariota's Legacy?

With Marcus Mariota heading to the NFL, there is now a major void at Oregon. Who will come in and play quarterback for the Ducks?

Bleacher Report's Stephen Nelson is joined by The Oregonian's Andrew Greif to discuss candidates to replace Mariota.

Who is the best QB option for Oregon? Check out the video and let us know!      

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How Much Will Scholarship Guarantees Really Change College Football?

Two years from now, the college football coach will look at the 6'6" specimen—his Signing Day gem from Feb. 4, 2015—and mutter, "He's more use as a light-bulb changer than a tight end."     

They teach you in regular school the world is round, and in The School of Coaching they teach you another fundamental: manage your roster. Let that 6'6" light-bulb changer leave and be a football player again at another D-1 school, or maybe a D-2 one. Coaching 101 allowed Phillip Sims, once the nation's No. 1 quarterback recruit, to exit Alabama in 2012 because AJ McCarron was too good. Bryce Brown was the star running back at Tennessee for Lane Kiffin in 2009, stayed one year, and was unhappy and left for Kansas State.

Will 65 autonomous coaches still be able to do that with the new rule that guarantees scholarships inside the five-year eligibility window?

Try and use some common sense here.

Can you see a football player who turned out not to be as skilled as intended sticking his tongue out at Nick Saban or Urban Meyer and saying, "Nah, nah, nah, nah, you can't get rid of me now"?

There will be whiffs in recruiting, and when they show up the sophomore season, Saban, Meyer and a dozen other coaches I can think of will have a remedy.

A gun was put to the head of major college programs—unionization of Northwestern athletes, lawsuits—that forced them to offer multi-year scholarships, but there is fine print, and there are unwritten rules, in this scholarship agreement.

Coaches have told me so.

There will be medical retirements of players—"That knee is just kinda messed up, son"—and when that happens, the player will not be a "counter" to the 85-scholarship limit. He will get to keep his scholarship money, and the program will be able to go find a better player.

There will also be banishment to the scout team. Entombed is a good word here. There will be eye-to-eye talks between the player and the most important man on campus, the head football coach, and there will be some convincing to move on to Division II. There will be guys encouraged to take jobs as a student assistant coaches.

There is one last remedy, and it is not sinister at all. It is a player's competitiveness and zeal for the game. Call it the Cardale Jones Rule. The Ohio State quarterback declared on Twitter that players go to college to play football, not go to class. The whiffs in recruiting just might take care of themselves. A player will go where he can play football and leave on his own.

So in the end, there will be roster transitions in Division I football, same as before. Tell me I'm wrong.

There will also still be this: admiration. College football is full coaches who were benchwarmers wouldn't quit. They will coach up the kid who is not fulfilling his destiny and can't be convinced to give it up; the coach will see what he can squeeze out of this kid. Somebody like, oh, Blake Sims might just pop out and save a season.

There is so much money from TV in the game now that schools may end up with 100 players on scholarship, with 15 of them not "counters" on the program's 85 limit. They are players that were persuaded to take a knee with an injury that might be serious, or might not be serious. Some college coaches have told me that there will be more players "medical'd" when it is determined they just don't belong at a high major, skillwise.

Is that OK? Sure it is. The kid keeps his scholarship, the coach reloads, and schools waste more of the money they haul in from TV. Same as always.

Some schools, the more ruthless ones, might just have a hard time with the multi-year scholarship rule. "There may be some schools who are in the habit of dropping players who underperform after a year or two that may look at their signees a little more closely," an SEC coach told me. That's a good thing.

This past January, the vote on guaranteed scholarships did not go down very well. Coaches want players to be hungry. The vote was 50-29-1, which means it barely passed the threshold to become NCAA law. I just don't think the coach has to worry. He will find a way to manage his roster, just like before. You watch.

Many of you probably think it wrong for an athlete to get a multi-year deal when the student who has an academic scholarship has to make good on their grades year-to-year or else lose their academic aid. In Georgia, the Hope Scholarship is maintained with a 'B' average, year-to-year, which in the football equivalent, means you have to make 14 out of 20 field goals, and make all of them inside 30 yards.

The difference between the student academic scholarship and the student athletic scholarship is that the athlete is working a 30-40 hour job for the highest-paid guy on campus (the football coach). The player is tied to football from 2 in the afternoon until 8, or longer, and Saturdays and Sundays, I have been told by players.

His position coach is pushing cutups to the player's team-issued iPad at 7 a.m. The film is of the guy he has to block on Saturday. The coach wants the film studied before practice.

Monday through Friday, the student who is an athlete is engulfed by the hype of the big game. How do you focus in that 24/7 cauldron? In the offseason, he is required—voluntarily—to be on campus for strength and conditioning. Yes, he has access to tutors, but it doesn't make up for all the time he spends in his sport. There is a significant difference between an academic scholarship and an athletic scholarship.

It comes down to this. What is the right thing to do? It is a confusing question for some people. It shouldn't be.

When mistakes are made in recruiting, the player can move to a lower division. If he wants to stay and be a good teammate and work hard, he should be able to stay. There are plenty of head coaches and assistant coaches who will hold that athlete up as an example and say, "Here is a guy who won't quit. He's worth keeping around."

 

Ray Glier covers college football for Bleacher Report.

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Alabama Football: Grading Nick Saban's 2012 Recruiting Class

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It’s a familiar signing day refrain for Alabama coach Nick Saban, one we’ll probably hear again next Wednesday when Saban and the Crimson Tide haul in what should be another No. 1 class.

Recruiting rankings don’t matter, he says, at least on national signing day before anybody plays their first college snap.

“I really do think the most accurate way to be able to rank any recruiting class would be three years down the road,” he said nearly a year ago. “Because I think the challenge for all these young men that got recruited today, wherever they're going, is to be able to stay focused on what they need to do to improve as players and do the things that they need to do to become very effective college football players.”

Three years ago, Alabama’s 2012 class was rated No. 1 and had the highest average rating per player.

So where are they now? Which players panned out and which ones didn’t? Which still have something left to prove? Now that we have Saban’s blessing, let’s re-grade that class.

These grades correspond to expectations. A 3-star who becomes a superstar obviously gets a higher grade than a 5-star who turns into a solid contributor. These aren’t final grades, either. Some players could be due for expanded roles in the future, which could bump them up eventually but haven’t proven it yet.

We’ll take a quick look at each player, sorted by their grade.


All recruiting information comes from 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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Inside the Life of Trent Thompson, the Nation's No. 1 College Football Recruit

Inside Octavia Jones’ Westover High School office lies a piece of football treasure. Although it’s not protected in glass casing just yet, the head coach of this Albany, Georgia, program has already mapped out this next step.

This piece of football treasure is in fact a football, but it’s not just any football. Jones has plenty of those at his disposal, although he won’t bother showing those off. This one is different; it’s actually one of a kind.

Scrawled across this pigskin resting comfortably on his desk are familiar rallying cries that could be qualified as gospel for some. On one side there’s a giant “Roll Tide.” On the other—as if to make the ball perfectly symmetrical and balance out the tremendous metaphoric weight—is an even bigger “War Eagle.”

Flip it over, and you’ll see “Go Tigers!” and “Go Rebs!” claiming ownership to this valuable real estate, although these familiar sequenced words are only a small portion of its worth.

Below these letters and an off-center depiction of the Georgia High School Association logo are the calling cards of some college football giants: Alabama’s Nick Saban, Georgia’s Mark Richt, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, Mississippi’s Hugh Freeze, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and others who have visited Westover, met Jones in his office and proudly signed this ball.

Each did not simply come out of the goodness of his heart. Each came with one definitive purpose in mind: to convince Trent Thompson, the nation’s No. 1 recruit in the class of 2015, according to 247Sports—a gargantuan, disruptive defensive tackle with more than 20 scholarship offers from the nation’s most elite programs—to commit to his program for the next three or four years.

It’s one of many gestures to make a small impression—any impression—and a lasting reminder of the magnificent, extreme and unusual life of a can’t-miss college football recruit.

 

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

There are four giant garbage bags inside the Thompsons’ house, each one filled to the brink. Inside these bags are handwritten letters, brochures and other mailers that they have collected from countless universities over the past few years.

There were so many items that the Thompsons threw out a good portion recently only because they were taking up too much space. They plan to save the rest as keepsakes.

When asked approximately how many letters Trent had received, Bridgette Thompson—Trent’s mother—could only laugh at the prospects of providing a legitimate estimate.

With tremendous talent comes tremendous interest. With tremendous interest come mailings, phone calls, text messages, visits, messages on social media and other means to communicate with the player. If there is an avenue to communicate with a recruit, a coach will find it. There simply aren't many 313-pound human beings capable of moving the way Thompson can.

“In the summertime of my junior year, it picked up,” Thompson recalled on the recruiting process. “I got invited to a lot of camps, a lot of coaches came to visit, and it started getting crazy. This year it got even crazier.”

Imagine being wooed by a celebrity every week. Imagine fielding calls from football idols to the point of boredom.

Being told you are the best at what you do is one thing; being told you are the best at what you do on a daily basis for years, all the while being sold a similar sales pitch each time, can be another. His coach heard very similar pitches, enjoying the process from a far different perspective.

“I think it got tiresome for him at times,” Jones said of his star defensive tackle. “One of the things about Trent is he’s a people pleaser. He likes to make people happy. And when you have that many people who are recruiting you, you’re going to have to tell a lot of people no. There’s only one person you’re going to be able to tell yes. I think that was one of the hardest parts he had to go through.”

“He’s handled it a lot better than I could have handled it at his age,” Jones added. “At no point in time has he ever let this go to his head. He’s been humble throughout the whole experience. I’m really proud of how he’s taken it all in stride.”

 

The Making of a Superstar

It was during Thompson’s sophomore season that his head coach saw a glimpse into the future.

Jones watched Thompson, who was blessed with incredible physical gifts long before he added extra weight—the good weight, the kind of weight that makes college coaches salivate—deliver a play against Cairo High School that will be forever ingrained in his brain.

“He was playing defensive end, and he crashed down inside right as the quarterback was handing the ball off,” Jones said. “Trent ran right through the fullback, and then he tackled the running back and the quarterback at the same time. At that moment, we knew we had something special.”

Other moments followed. Jones spoke of other plays in which Thompson—now a mammoth 313 pounds—grabbed a running back with one arm and brought him to the ground as if he were a teddy bear.

Voyage to YouTube, search for Trent Thompson, and you’ll unearth a treasure trove of spectacular moments. They are endless, each seemingly more physics-defying than the next:

There’s an inexplicable smoothness to his game, one you can’t quite put into the appropriate context. Thompson routinely and violently tosses aside normal-sized high school linemen who were given the unfortunate and impossible task of trying to prevent him from moving forward.

While you gasp out of pure sympathy for the young men playing the role of traffic cones, there’s a beauty in this destruction. It’s football art.

“His first step is unreal for someone his size,” Johnson added. “He gets off the ball so quickly. He can be a bull-rush-type player, but he has the speed to finesse you as well. He has the best of both worlds.”

It wasn’t long before the state of Georgia learned of Thompson. Word quickly spread to the rest of the SEC, and Jones watched the best player he has ever coached become a star in recruiting circles. In short order, the interest and offers began pouring in and recruiting outlets such as 247Sports advanced Thompson up their player rankings.

His play improved, he added more mass to a mass-filled frame, and the buzz grew louder. Over the past two seasons, Thompson totaled a combined 74 tackles for loss, according to MaxPreps. Thompson also flashed his versatility, intercepting two passes in his high school career.

His impact on individual games and matchups—the plays that won’t show up on stat sheets but are celebrated wildly in a coach’s office—were evident on almost every snap. Plug him in the middle of a defense and everyone around him is immediately better.

In 247Sports’ most recent (and final) composite ranking—which is a formula that tabulates its player rankings as well as other popular sites for a particular recruiting class—Thompson finished as the No. 1 player.

“He's lightning quick off the ball both with his feet and hands, two things you look for in an elite prospect at his position,” 247Sports’ national recruiting director JC Shurburtt said of the ranking. “He also has a high drive, meaning he loves football. He steps on the field with something to prove each and every snap.”

 

The Process

It is exhaustive, extreme and not something any player or family can ever truly prepare for. It is a tremendous, overpowering machine that sucks up time and invades privacy. And while Thompson and his mother are happy to see the recruiting cycle turn to someone else, both are incredibly grateful they had a chance to see it through.

“It’s something new,” Thompson said. “It doesn’t happen every day down here. I got to meet some great coaches, and some of them came to my school. It was great to attend football games and take some of my teammates and my mom.”

His mother, having heard every pitch as it pertains to school and football, is completely satisfied with where they’ve been—and more importantly—where they ended up.

“Go where you think you feel home at,” Bridgette Thompson said. “I stand behind Trent."

Football is giving Thompson an unspeakably positive opportunity—one that could ultimately translate into unspeakable wealth if the plan plays out. It’s not evil by any means, but it can be unrelenting and show its teeth every now and then.

Being the nation’s No. 1 recruit is a label millions of other high school football players would love to wear. But there is an anchor tied to this prestigious crown that Thompson and his mother are excited to be free from in short order.

That’s partly why Thompson decided to commit to Georgia on August 12 of last year. The thought was that an early decision would alleviate some of the inquiries from coaches and programs hoping to secure his commitment.

The reality, however, is that the calls still came. The visits still happened. The mailbox was still full.

“It’s not an easy message to get across,” Thompson said. “They were still coming after me, but I told a lot of them to stop because I wasn’t interested.”

Thompson didn’t rush his decision to Georgia. In many ways, this was a decision that was years in the making. A Georgia native and a fan of the program, the match between player and program was perfect before the Bulldogs ever showed any interest and Thompson flashed his incredible ability on film.

Gradually, these two came together, and the early matchmaking stages only confirmed what both hoped would be an ideal fit.

“From day one, I think he knew where he wanted to go,” Jones said. “His first trip to Georgia was very comfortable. He grew up being a Georgia fan, and he has pride in his state.”

With a clear choice in mind, Thompson and his mother took other visits. They voyaged out of state, acquiring as much knowledge when it came to football and academics, something Bridgette Thompson focused on almost exclusively.

With the knowledge necessary to make a decision, Thompson verbally committed to Georgia as his senior season was only getting started. He picked August 12 not only to hopefully slow down the ungovernable recruiting cycle, but also because it was his grandparents' anniversary.

With a photo of his grandparents on the table and his mother by his side, Thompson emotionally announced that he was committing to Georgia as the university’s fight song boomed over the speakers.

“That day was special,” Bridgette Thompson said. “That was the day of my mom and dad’s anniversary, and they are both deceased. My mom played a big part in Trent’s life. She always told him to never give up on what you want to do, and don’t let nobody tell you that you can’t do it.”

It didn’t stop there. Recruiting never truly does. Until Thompson faxes in his letter of intent and his commitment to Georgia is finally official, there will be a coach who believes he can change the player’s mind.

However, don’t expect any surprises from the Georgia native on national signing day on Wednesday. The suspense is dead. All visits to other campuses have been canceled; Thompson will head to Athens once more before officially ending his recruitment.

The football sitting on his head coach's desk can be be tucked behind glass, although the signatures and rallying cries from those who made the trip will remain. One journey is ending, another will begin soon enough. 

“I’m 100 percent,” Thompson said. “That’s where I wanted to go.”

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida State Football: 2015 National Signing Day Wish List

Florida State is hoping to close the 2015 recruiting cycle strong with several signing-day commitments from some of the nation’s best high school football players.

There are several uncommitted prospects who will be deciding in the coming days about where they'll play collegiate ball. Let's take a look at some of the prospects FSU has on its national signing day wish list.

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College Football Rules That Need to Be Changed

After shooting wildly with the targeting rule, college football hit the mark for the 2014 season by making a change to its controversial penalty calls.

No longer would a player called for targeting—only to have replay officials determine that wasn't the case—still get hit with a 15-yard infraction after his ejection is overturned.

There are still several other rules the game continues to swing and miss on, however. Some are cosmetic, while others would clear up some big differences between the college and pro games.

Until these changes are made, these outdated or inscrutable rules will remain a source of great consternation.

Check out our suggestions for six college football rules that need an upgrade.

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Despite 3 Recent Decommitments, Alabama 2015 Recruiting Class Will Be Just Fine

Even Nick Saban isn’t immune to the twists and turns of the recruitment process as national signing day approaches.

On Thursday, Alabama suffered three decommitments from its top-rated 2015 recruiting class.

The Tide lost 4-star offensive lineman Isaiah Prince, 4-star cornerback Rico McGraw and 3-star cornerback Montrell Custis in a span of hours.

Most teams would panic at the thought of losing three commits in a day.

But most programs aren’t built like Alabama.

For starters, the Tide’s class has 23 commitments and it still ranks ahead of No. 2 Florida State by more than 22 points in the 247Sports team rankings.

Even if they don’t finish with any additions, their current group is still likely to be among the elite classes assembled in this cycle.

It’s awfully impressive batch of recruits, considering that 20 of the Tide’s 23 pledges have a 4-star ranking or higher. Included in that number are six 5-star prospects and eight total players ranked among the nation’s top 100 players overall.

Despite the loss of Prince, the Tide still have five offensive linemen committed—including 4-star standouts Lester Cotton and Richie Petitbon.

While losing two corners is a significant blow, the loss is mitigated by the Tide's acquisition of top corners Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey last year, along with the presence of 5-star corners Kendall Sheffield and Minkah Fitzpatrick, who committed in this cycle.

Also, considering how Saban and his staff have closed in recent years, don’t expect the Tide to be idle down the stretch.

If anything, the extra spots that have opened up make the Tide a bigger factor heading into a national signing day that may have otherwise been quiet.

Two years ago, the Tide pulled stud recruits such as Reuben Foster, A’Shawn Robinson and Alvin Kamara in the days leading up to national signing day.

Last year, linebacker Rashaan Evans chose the Tide over Auburn in a signing-day surprise.

This year, there are still a handful of top prospects still on the radar of Saban and his staff.

Offensively, the Tide are chasing 4-star receivers Daylon Charlot and K.J. Hill, plus 4-star offensive lineman and current Ole Miss commit Drew Richmond.

On the other side of the ball, 5-star defensive end CeCe Jefferson is a target the Tide are aggressively pursuing.

It’s also not out of the question that Saban and his staff have other prospects they are pursuing under the radar.

Regardless of how Alabama closes, they are still in a strong position to land their fifth consecutive top-ranked recruiting class when the dust settles on national signing day.

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a national recruiting analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Odds Charlie Strong and Texas Can Land 5-Stars Kyler Murray and Daylon Mack

The cryptic messages of Malik Jefferson and Du'Vonta Lampkin, two University of Texas commits, shouldn't be ignored.

Or should they?

Both athletes have been active on Twitter, providing random messages about the future of Longhorns football and recruiting.

Last Friday, Jefferson, an early enrollee who has taken on the role of player-recruiter for some of the top remaining uncommitted players, tweeted that he was "going to change some people's minds." Lampkin, a solid commit, tweeted this after 4-star wide receiver John Burt recommitted to the Longhorns on Monday. Lampkin has confidence in Texas landing some of the state's best targets.

Two of those targets are Texas A&M quarterback commit Kyler Murray and former Texas A&M defensive tackle commit Daylon Mack. Both 5-star athletes have Texas A&M and Texas fans on edge as national signing day rapidly approaches. Mack is expected to announce his verbal commitment on Feb. 4 on ESPN.

Murray, while committed to the Aggies, will be watched by all as the idea of flipping to Texas is a possibility, particularly after his midweek visit to Austin last week with 4-star receiver Damarkus Lodge.

Sitting in the background—while working hard to prepare for the 2015 season, nonetheless—is Charlie Strong. The Texas coach will enter his second year, and with 24 commits, he will have some young talent to work with. But it's no secret that somehow landing Murray or Mack—or both—would be huge for his recruiting reputation in the state.

What are the odds of landing either player? Easy math tells us the odds are 50-50. You either sign with Texas or sign elsewhere. But when you break down both players, percentage wise, the what-ifs become much more intriguing.

 

Odds for landing Murray: 30 percent

While the Longhorns could use a quarterback with the extraordinary resume of Murray, there are a few obstacles that will prevent them from winning this battle against Texas A&M.

Murray has been solid with the Aggies since committing in May. His father, Kevin Murray, was a star quarterback for the Aggies in the 1980s. He's good friends with Johnny Manziel. Most importantly, he's been a fan of the program for as long as he can remember.

Murray's never had a reason to waiver, and he's the first to admit he isn't afraid of competition. If Murray ends up in College Station, he will compete for the starting job with Kyle Allen, who started five games for the Aggies and led the team to a Liberty Bowl victory with a five-touchdown performance, one of which came on the run.

When asked in the past, Murray has always been honest about his feelings for other teams. He doesn't hate Texas. Nor does he hate Oregon, Oklahoma or any other team still attempting to flip him. Murray is the kind of quarterback who will weigh his options until he signs his letter of intent.

But when it's all said and done, it'll take a lot for him to sign anywhere other than Texas A&M.

 

Odds for landing Mack: 60 percent

While Murray isn't a lock to flip, Mack could be a player wearing burnt orange by Feb. 4. He took an official visit to Austin over the weekend and canceled an unofficial visit he had planned for TCU this weekend.

TCU, Texas and Texas A&M have been Mack's top three schools for most of the young year. He visited TCU in October and decommitted from Texas A&M in December. Canceling the trip to Fort Worth doesn't leave a good impression for the Horned Frogs, but they still have one last chance to sell TCU to Mack. The Horned Frogs will be in for an in-home visit, per ESPN Insider Gerry Hamilton.

So what if it comes down to Texas and Texas A&M? The Longhorns are hoping the tight relationship between Mack and Jefferson plays a role in Mack's final decision. The two have become good friends throughout this process, and Jefferson was one of the first to greet his buddy during last week's official visit.

Together, the two can make a formidable keystone for the defense of the future for Texas. On the flip, Mack would be an immediate playmaker for Texas A&M's defense. Those who follow the Aggies have visions of Mack lining up with defensive end Myles Garrett, ultimately forming one of the nation's most intimidating combinations.

If Strong has his way, he'll have both Murray and Mack by Feb. 4, and his reputation for landing the big fish will be solid in the state. Both athletes have kept their final answers under the vest, but national signing day is right around the corner.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Quarterback Joe Burrow Is the Key to Ohio State's 2015 Recruiting Class

COLUMBUS, Ohio — About 75 miles southeast of Columbus and nearing the edge of the West Virginia border sits Athens, Ohio. Best known as the home of Ohio University, the city boasts an approximate population of 24,000—consisting mostly of college students.

But for the next four months, Athens will possess more than the Princeton Review's No. 7-ranked party school for 2014, GoodFella's Pizza and Big Mamma's Burritos.

That's because it also happens to be the home of quarterback Joe Burrow, the key piece to Ohio State's 2015 recruiting class.

A 4-star prospect and Ohio's reigning Mr. Football, Burrow fits the profile of the typical high-profile player who would headline most recruiting classes. But with Torrance Gibson's commitment being far from solid less than a week away from national signing day, Burrow seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle after giving his verbal pledge to Ohio State last May.

That doesn't make Burrow any less important to the Buckeyes' upcoming class, especially given the position he plays.

After all, if Urban Meyer has proven one thing in his coaching career—and especially in this past season—it's that he knows quarterbacks.

"I get a little upset when I hear he's a 'system quarterback.' Damn right he is," Meyer said of his philosophy with signal-callers. "He's not a grab-bag quarterback, I can promise you that. That's why I like the way we do our business."

That's what makes the 6'4", 200-pound Burrow's commitment to Ohio State so important.

While the Buckeyes are more than set at signal-caller for 2015 with the anticipated returns of Cardale Jones (national champion), J.T. Barrett (2014 third-team Associated Press All-American, Big Ten Quarterback of the Year) and Braxton Miller (two-time Big Ten MVP), Ohio State's quarterback situation will be less secure in 2016.

And that's when Burrow's college career will really begin.

As Meyer has proven with his first three quarterback recruits in Columbus, it's his preference to redshirt the position for a season in order to allow the player to learn the nuances of his spread offense. There's no reason to believe Burrow won't follow the same path, given the Buckeyes' crowded quarterback depth chart for the upcoming season.

But in 2016, Miller will have moved on and the 22-year-old Jones will likely have done the same. Barrett will be draft-eligible after the 2015 season, although the safe money's on him returning for what would be his redshirt junior season.

Even if he does, though, there remains a more than decent chance that Burrow would enter 2016 as Barrett's top backup, regardless of where Gibson ultimately decides to spend his college career.

Without any current quarterback commitments in Ohio State's 2016 class, the only other signal-caller on the Buckeyes' roster would be current freshman Stephen Collier, who isn't expected to see significant playing time in 2015 either. 

That will give Burrow a year to make his move on the OSU depth chart, and his skill set sure seems ideal for Meyer's offensive approach.

Leading the Athens Bulldogs to an undefeated regular season and appearance in the Division III state championship game, Burrow put up the type of numbers typically only seen on Sony PlayStation. In 15 games, he completed more than 72 percent of his passes, totaling 4,445 yards, 63 touchdowns and two interceptions through the air.

On top of that, Burrow added 642 yards and five touchdowns on 108 carries, including a long run of 58 yards.

He may not be as dynamic a runner as Miller or even Barrett, but given his size and dual-threat ability, comparisons to former Utah star and Meyer-coached quarterback Alex Smith don't appear far off.

Athens coach Ryan Adams said the following to Rusty Miller of The Associated Press (h/t The Washington Times):

He sees so many pieces of the puzzle that have to be put into place when you're a signal-caller of an offense like this. We've got a lot of different things going on, a lot of different checkdowns and a lot of different reads. He's so far beyond a typical high school quarterback in terms of knowing how to manage the offense.

Of course, there will be a difference between playing against Division III high school competition and the Big Ten—and Burrow knows that.

The son of Ohio University defensive coordinator Jimmy Burrow and brother of former Nebraska players Jamie and Dan Burrow, Joey has spent his life around Division I college football, which is a part of what made his own recruitment so intriguing.

Burrow wasn't always the Buckeyes' first choice at quarterback for 2015, as they initially chased now-Notre Dame commit Brandon Wimbush. Even after Burrow accepted his scholarship on the spot to become Ohio State's third commitment for the 2015 class, fans remained intrigued with the more electrifying Gibson.

Burrow, however, knew he was in it for the long haul—even after Gibson committed to the Buckeyes last November. A 4-star prospect by way of Florida, Gibson has since taken visits to Auburn and LSU and has one planned for Miami (Florida), while Burrow has never wavered in his pledge to Ohio State.

"Once you commit, don't decommit," Burrow told reporters at last June's Elite 11 Camp in Columbus when asked the most important lesson he learned from his family in recruiting. "Make sure you're 100 percent [certain]."

As Burrow's actions have indicated, he certainly is. Which is why regardless of what happens between now and next Wednesday with Gibson, the Buckeyes can feel good about the quarterback—or quarterbacks—that their 2015 class will bring.

And as for back home in Athens? They'll be rooting for Burrow as well.

"When I'm walking around Athens, people start to notice me now," Burrow said. "They're happy for me because most of them like Ohio State too—if not more than the Bobcats."

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com and MaxPreps.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Best College Football Coaching Staffs Heading into 2015 Season

There are many great head coaches in college football. There are many great coordinators too. And there are many great position coaches doing the dirty work beneath them.

But only a few teams in college football balance greatness at all three levels, on both sides of the ball. Most teams have some cracks or, at the very least, some unproven coaches off promotions.

The six coaching staffs that follow are both well rounded and experienced. Staffs like those of Clemson and Michigan State were considered, but after the Tigers lost offensive coordinator Chad Morris and the Spartans lost defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, there were too many unknowns to include them. Both teams promoted co-coordinators from within as replacements.

Recruiting acumen was considered, but not as much as on-field expertise. The best staffs recruit blue-chip talent, but they also maximize it. They turn recruiting stars into wins.

Sound off below and let us know what you think.

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