NCAA Football News

Why Proposed Freshman Ineligibility Rule Would Be Worse for Notre Dame

The Big Ten wants freshmen to stay on the sideline.

Just months after the Big Ten won back a large bit of respect on the field with Ohio State's national championship, conference commissioner Jim Delany's "year of readiness" proposal is creating shockwaves across the college sports world. 

Calling on "a diverse group of thought leaders" in a released statement, the conference is exploring the idea of forcing freshmen from competition in basketball and football with the hopes of stressing the importance of academics.

"We're trying to figure out a way to communicate the idea that education comes before athletics," Delany told the Big Ten Network's Dave Revsine.

Here's a novel idea, Jim:

Just do it. 

It doesn't take a group of thought leaders to figure out that Delany's proposal is pretty much the empire striking back.

After lawsuits by Ed O'Bannon and others and calls for unionization coming from Northwestern football players within his own conference, Delany's radical proposal would have all sorts of unintended consequences if it somehow gained consensus across collegiate athletics. 

And it would be very bad for Notre Dame. 

No, the Irish wouldn't miss out on the one-and-done athletes who have always been allergic to Notre Dame basketball coach Mike Brey.

And while Brian Kelly's ability to recruit among the elite in the country would be somewhat nullified, the on-field impact of forcing standouts like Jaylon Smith and Nyles Morgan to sit a season would be far less painful than bottom-feeding Big Ten coaches promising early playing time, just like Jim Harbaugh is likely doing in Ann Arbor. 

Rather, forcing freshmen off the field or court would take away one of the very best calling cards Notre Dame has: the ability to actually provide an exceptional experience as both a student and an athlete. 

Notre Dame isn't the only university doing it. Stanford is. So is Duke. So are some of Delany's own schools, with Northwestern the standard-bearer for the conference. 

So while Delany's proposal might serve as a counter to the legal maneuvering that's threatening to radically alter collegiate sports as we know it (viewed by most as an entirely good thing), it's also the essence of a "lower the bar" mentality that would all but concede failure and acknowledge schools' inability to self-police in the NCAA's two major revenue-driving sports.

(Delany's making Gary Andersen's run from Wisconsin over admissions standards look heroic.)

From a strictly academic standpoint, that's what's so maddening about Delany's proposal. Instead of putting faith in student-athletes that they can work their way through a university in four years while also playing football or basketball, Delany's essentially throwing up his arms in defeat. 

That Presidential Physical Fitness Test too hard in grade school? The Delany approach removes pull-ups and lets you win an Arnold Schwarzenegger-signed certificate if you can crack a 10-minute mile. 

Talk about a tone-deaf message from one of the power brokers within an organization that's spent years bragging about student-athletes' ability to go pro in something other than sports.

If Delany is looking for a way to make this work, he could fill his gas tank and take the 90-minute drive to South Bend. I'm guessing athletic director Jack Swarbrick could spare a few minutes.

No doubt, Irish fans like to crow about their school's achievements both on and off the court. And Notre Dame isn't the only school to show that balancing academics and athletics is a war worth fighting.

But while most laughed about the Irish's lopsided defeat to Alabama in the BCS title game after their undefeated 2012 regular season, not nearly enough people applauded Notre Dame's even rarer victory that season. 

Notre Dame closed the regular season ranked No. 1 in the BCS poll and No. 1 in the NCAA's Graduation Success Rate. There's proof you can do it right there, Jim.   

Of course, there's no reason to take what Delany's selling at face value. After all, this proposal is coming from the very people who have been protecting the hypocrisy of amateurism for decades all while watching the conference rake in millions. 

Whether they've done it on the record or off of it (just ask Gordon Gee about the Big Ten Network, conference expansion, etc.), Delany's comments reek of a larger motive.

"We don't want to be perceived and don't want to be a minor leagues for the NBA and NFL," Delany said.

Then don't be. But leave the kids alone already. 

You can care about the college in college athletics while also separating yourself from being a breeding ground or feeder system. And the NCAA hasn't even had a chance to see if its current solution—passed in 2012 and being put into effect in 2016—will work. 

Forgot about that one? Well, it's essentially the kind of common-sense proposal that does everything Delany says he wants to do but doesn't punish elite athletes forced by the NFL and NBA to spend time in college. 

"We want to give young people a fair chance to meet the new standards by taking core academic courses early in their high school education," NCAA Board Chair Judy Genshaft, president at South Florida, said way back in April of 2012. "The presidents have every confidence that future student-athletes will do the work necessary to be academically successful in college."

Maybe Delany is worried he doesn't have until 2016 to beat back the courts and the lawsuits breathing down the NCAA's neck. Or maybe—and let's give the guy some credit here—he actually does think that making a radical change like this could help improve graduation rates in basketball and football. 

But so would some self-discipline. 

So forcing freshmen off the field or court because it worked from the late 1800s until 1971 is bad math. You know what else didn't exist back then either? Mega-million-dollar TV deals or coaches making $5 million a season.

If you're looking for a correlation, take dead aim at that one—the one created by Delany and his cronies. 

High school athletes have never been more prepared for the rigors of their sport than they are today, with year-round training and coaching just part of the work prospective student-athletes commit themselves to in their pursuit of a free education and the chance to play sports professionally. 

While Notre Dame's academic issues the past two offseasons have shined an unkind light on the football program, it's also the product of holding student-athletes to the same standard as students who don't play sports.   

Take note, Jim. 

So let's give that a try before taking away opportunities for young athletes who spent the first 18 years of their lives working to be ready for college—some just as diligently in the classroom as on the field of play. 

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Dan Mullen, Mississippi State Agree on New Contract: Latest Details and Reaction

Mississippi State Bulldogs head football coach Dan Mullen was rewarded for a strong 2014 campaign with a new contract on Thursday.

Bob Carskadon of HailState.com initially reported the details on Mullen's new deal:

University director of athletics Scott Stricklin spoke about the decision to keep Mullen around for the long haul, per HailState.com:

Dan has done a phenomenal job in leading our football team the past six years, and we're happy to be in a position to reward his efforts while making sure he'll be able to continue building a championship program for Mississippi State. [...] Under Dan's guidance, Bulldog football has achieved a level of consistent success unparalleled in our history, during which time we've been ranked No. 1 in the nation and appeared in elite bowl games. We're proud Dan is our coach.

Mullen also reflected on what transpired in 2014 and what he's aspiring to down the road:

It's a privilege to represent our university, our program and our fans here at Mississippi State. I appreciate Scott Stricklin and our administration who have given us the tools and resources to be successful and develop Bulldog football into a national brand over the last six years.



We spent five weeks ranked No. 1 last season for the first time, but we have only scratched this surface on what we can accomplish here. We have created a winning culture both on and off the field and built a program that has sustained success in the nation’s toughest conference. I've always said we are going to win a championship here, and I firmly believe that.

The Bulldogs ranked first at the dawn of the new College Football Playoff rankings, only to lose that status on the road against rival SEC powerhouse Alabama. Despite defeats in the last two games, Mullen led Mississippi State to marked improvement with a 10-3 record in his sixth year at the helm.

Speaking of the mighty Crimson Tide, AL.com's Matt Scalici brings up an interesting point about Mullen's contract:

Chris Low of ESPN.com offered more context on the financial implications:

Bulldogs dual-threat quarterback Dak Prescott is returning in 2015, so with Mullen's future secure, the players can be guaranteed continuity as they seek to keep the team in the national championship chase.

With Prescott in the fold, Mississippi State ought to put up plenty of points.

The trick to sustaining success will be to play physical defense and endure the pounding that takes place in the SEC. With such top-flight competition across the board, every week of the conference slate offers a potential pitfall.

This last year proved that the Bulldogs are learning to navigate the SEC gauntlet better. Mullen is a big reason for that, as his improved recruiting classes in recent years have landed more blue-chip talent in Starkville.

Proof of Mullen's commendable coaching job is in the results on the gridiron. Mississippi State was patient with Mullen, and he rewarded the school with a breakout 2014 campaign. Now Mullen is being rewarded right back—and rightly so.

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Pete Carroll's Honorary USC Degree Is Excellent Tribute from School

USC decided to honor former head coach Pete Carroll with an honorary degree from the school. It's a well-earned honor for Carroll, who led the Trojans to one of their most successful periods in school history.

The school announced the news on its official Twitter account:

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports has more:

He will also be inducted into the school's athletic hall of fame, according to The Associated Press via ESPN.

Carroll certainly had plenty of success during his tenure at USC from 2001-09. Along with winning a national championship and two Associated Press titles, he finished his college coaching career with a 97-19 record (though due to NCAA sanctions, his record technically is 83-19), a 7-2 bowl record and seven Pac-12 titles, three of which were co-championships. 

Carroll has since gone on to the Seattle Seahawks, where he's won a Super Bowl and taken the team to the last two, but his legacy really began during his time with the Trojans. While the school has struggled to reach the heights Carroll led it to in the years since his departure, his period of dominance will long live on in the school's history.

He had three Heisman Trophy winners (Carson Palmer in 2002, Matt Leinart in 2004 and Reggie Bush in 2005, though Bush's Heisman has been vacated due to NCAA violations). He changed the culture at the school, bringing a fun, upbeat vibe to practices that often included celebrities such as Snoop Dogg and Will Ferrell dropping by, among others. At a time when Los Angeles was without a professional football team, he made USC games the hottest ticket in town.

Carroll isn't just being honored for his time as a coach but also for the good he did in the community. That shouldn't be overlooked. But ultimately, Carroll will be remembered as a football coach—one who made USC a national power and restored its place as an iconic football institution. 

The school's recognition of his relevance and impact during his time at USC is well-deserved.

 

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High School Coaches Standing Up to the Giants of College Football

When big money and power meet grassroots, it isn't necessarily as one-sided a fight as you might think. During the college football recruiting season, we saw some coaches reneging on their promises to high school kids and others leaving their schools for other jobs roughly 30 seconds after kids signed binding commitments to play for them.      

We saw high school coaches getting all uppity about it on behalf of their kids. But what can your neighborhood high school coach do about it when your kids are screwed over by Urban Meyer, Jim Mora, Bobby Petrino?

Actually, plenty. And what we saw this recruiting season was high school coaches deciding to hit back. Grassroots packs a punch.

"As a coach, you have to have relationships that will detour those types of things from happening (to high school players) at your school," said Thomas Wilcher, coach at Cass Tech in Detroit. "If it happens, you have to take a stand, because if you do not, it will happen. It will happen.

"And if it doesn't happen at my school, it will happen at other schools. When the other schools, the whole city (gets together), that's when it can hurt colleges. When we have our organizational meetings, you speak up and say, 'Don't deal with this school.' It becomes a black hat against a university."

In at least two very public cases, coaches took this approach, threatening big-name coaches that they might not be welcome next year in recruiting kids at their school. But the power comes when these coaches spread that threat to nearby schools, an entire city.

Running back Matt Colburn of Dutch Fork High near Columbia, South Carolina, accepted Louisville coach Bobby Petrino's scholarship offer in June and cut off all other college recruiters. Then, on the week of National Signing Day, Petrino had an assistant call Colburn and tell him there would be no scholarship now, but that he could enroll in January of 2016.

Colburn's high school coach, Tom Knotts, said at the time that Petrino "won't be able to recruit my school anymore and I imagine there will be some other coaches that will say the same thing."

But what good does it do keeping college coaches away from future recruits? Doesn't that just reduce the number of opportunities for kids?

"It doesn't take away opportunities for players, it gives players a better opportunity," Wilcher said. "You want them to go somewhere where they have your interest at heart. It's not the interest of a football player, but the interest of a child.

"Football is just a road we walk down that leads us to opportunities. I just want college coaches to understand this is a child first, a student first. So you cannot allow those types of relationships to fester in your area, fester in your school, fester in your league."

We always hear about today's athletes feeling entitled. But what about the coaches and power structure of the sports themselves?

Wilcher took issue with Ohio State's treatment of his highly regarded running back, Mike Weber, who was choosing between Michigan and Ohio State. Webe signed to play for the Buckeyes, only to find out the next day that Ohio State running backs coach Stan Drayton was leaving to be an assistant for the Chicago Bears. Drayton had been involved in recruiting Weber but never said he might be leaving.

Wilcher spoke publicly. According to the Detroit News, he told WMGC 105.1-FM in Detroit, "I think Urban Meyer will have to step his game up; we're going to have to talk. He has come to my school and got the No. 1 athlete two years in a row.

"You cannot come over here, come up north, and walk out of here with you pockets full and not give us respect."

This is just another example of how the rules are not set up to help the kids, but rather the power schools. Weber had signed his letter and could not get out of it.

And how was it resolved? Meyer felt it important enough to call Wilcher and talk it out: "We talked about relationships, we talked about responsibilities, we talked about expectations," Wilcher said. He was satisfied and said he now believes that Meyer does have kids' best interest at heart.

There is a weird dynamic between high school coaches and big-time superstar college coaches. Both sides are holding the other's golden ticket.

"It's like a marriage almost," Wilcher said. "Both people have to get along with one another to survive. It should be a win-win."

At UNLV, new coach Tony Sanchez is going from one side of that relationship to the other. He was a longtime high school coach.

"I've been on the other side of the table my whole career," he said. "(College) teams throw out crazy offers and some are sincere and some are not. Would I do what Coach Petrino did? No, I wouldn't. We've got to be men of our word."

If he's not, he'll learn about the bottom-up power of grassroots. Soon, the message will get to coaches behaving badly.

 

Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report.

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How Urban Meyer's Recruiting Philosophy Has Changed Since Florida

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A lot of coaches won't say it, but Urban Meyer will: Recruiting rankings matter.

"There is a correlation between how teams do where your team is ranked, recruiting class is ranked," the Ohio State head coach said on last year's national signing day. "So actually we do pay attention to that."

So it's not a coincidence that when each signing day rolls around, Meyer's class usually sits near the top. It's also not a coincidence that the three-time national champion head coach is one of the best in the history of his profession, boasting a .845 winning percentage—top among active Division-I head coaches.

But that doesn't mean that over time, Meyer's recruiting philosophy hasn't evolved.

While Meyer may get ultra competitive at the end of each recruiting cycle—and he admittedly does—he's found himself adapting to what his team needs, rather than just chasing 5-stars. That was made evident in the Buckeyes' 2015 class, which ranked seventh in the country but lacked in an abundance of star power.

"He’s looking for guys that fit a certain profile, and he’s going to build his team around those guys," ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said during a Thursday appearance on The Herd with Colin Cowherd. "That’s clearly what he’s doing.”

Only that's not always the approach Meyer has taken.

As Gruden explained, Meyer initially found success at Florida with that philosophy, capturing two national championships with players who fit his schemes to a T. But as Meyer chased success in every way possible, he abandoned fit in favor of flare.

The Gators pulled in the nation's top-ranked class in 2010. A year later, after a disappointing 8-5 season, Meyer had left coaching.

“I think what happened at Florida, he won the national titles, and then he wanted to be the No. 1 recruiting coach in the league," Gruden theorized. "Probably signed some players that didn’t fit the Urban Meyer profile."

Through four recruiting cycles, that hasn't been the case in Columbus—although it's worth noting Meyer's first four classes at Ohio State have ranked fifth, second, third and seventh, respectively. Yes, Meyer is still attracting the top talent in the country to his campus, but he's doing it with more of a balance than even he did in Gainesville, as evidenced by the makeup of last season's team.

The stars of the Buckeyes' national championship squad were hardly similar, ranging from All-American defensive end Joey Bosa, to former 3-star prospect Darron Lee to championship game MVP running back Ezekiel Elliott, who Meyer plucked out of St. Louis—not a traditional piece of the OSU recruiting pipeline.

Even OSU's ever-changing quarterback carousel illustrated Meyer's ability to adapt, as the Buckeyes won big with both the highly touted J.T. Barrett and former afterthought Cardale Jones, who was recruited to Columbus before Meyer arrived.

“What he did at Ohio State, losing a Heisman Trophy candidate [Braxton Miller] and then doing what he did with two different quarterbacks that were backups. Amazing to me," Gruden said. “Greatest coaching job of all time."

Despite his admitted preference to finish atop the recruiting rankings, Meyer insisted there's a balance he's always trying to strike. While he generally trusts recruiting services, he trusts himself more—perhaps even more so now than he did at Florida.

"It's not saying we take a kid who is a 5-star over a 3-star, if we believe in the 3-star. That's not it at all," Meyer said. "You've got to coach and develop them and get them here."

With the Buckeyes' 2016 class already shaping up to be one that could be the best in the country, Meyer will attempt to continue to get the best of both worlds—a talented crop of players who fit right in with both his scheme and culture. But make no mistake, he's still keeping tabs on the competition. And as always, he wants to be the best.

"I hear people say it's not important. I disagree," Meyer said. "As long as you're keeping score, we're going to try to win."

 

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

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8 Embarrassingly Soft 2015 College Football Schedules

The College Football Playoff selection committee made it clear last year that strength of schedule was an important factor in determining whether a team was worthy of one of those coveted semifinal bids. The same thing goes for non-power conference teams hoping to land a major bowl bid—just winning a lot isn't as important as doing so against a tough schedule.

There's nothing to suggest this will change for 2015, which isn't a good sign for some schools who appear to have replaced "strength" with "weakness" to describe their upcoming schedules.

Based on the 2014 records of teams on this fall's slate, we've found eight teams who are set to play schedules so soft they may very well need to run the table just to remain in the playoff of "Group of Five conference" bid hunt. There's no margin for error, not when the future opponents collectively are as weak as these schools have on tap for this fall.

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New LSU Recruiting Sanctions Won't Stop Les Miles from Bringing in Top Talent

Isolated incidents.

A recruit will never admit it, but there are few times when an isolated incident gets in the way of what a recruit wants. And when it comes to what a recruit wants, LSU often times has everything.

Put LSU's latest isolated incident in a category where it shouldn't affect how it does in recruiting the 2016 class. Or the 2017 class, for that matter.

2016 and 2017 athletes are still asked to do their research after news broke on Thursday that LSU will deal with recruiting sanctions this year. According to The Advocate, LSU is restricted from signing early enrollee prospects to financial aid agreements for the next two years. Additionally, the program will lose 10 percent of its recruiting evaluation days in 2015.

The penalties stem from a violation involving a recruit—3-star offensive tackle Matt Womack, according to The Advocate—signing a financial aid agreement with the intentions of coming to LSU as a January enrollee. The recruit, however, chose not to attend LSU, which ultimately made some of LSU's unlimited contact illegal.

The result: LSU will lose 21 of its 210 evaluation days in 2015—17 spring and four fall days. That means the Tigers coaching staff will be restricted from off-campus recruiting activity, such as making visits to a high school campus to watch a spring workout.

Exactly what does it mean for future prospects?

In a word: Nothing.

LSU is an established program that relies on results past and present. Like it or not, head coach Les Miles and his staff could lose half of its evaluation days and still come with recruiting wins. Reason being, the athletes love what LSU has to offer.

They love the tradition. They love "Death Valley." They love the coaching staff. Repeat: They love the coaching staff. There's Miles. And Cam Cameron. And Frank Wilson. And Kevin Steele. And Ed Orgeron. And Corey Raymond.

Recruits like these guys. And not just because the coaching staff has built a solid resume of producing NFL talent—almost always the ultimate goal for a competitive college athlete.

Recruiting wins will continue to be high for the Tigers, particularly with athletes in the state of Louisiana. It helps that the talent level is very high this year. One thing that LSU does well is recruit its in-state talent.

Louisiana has 18 4-star 2016 commits in the 247Sports composite top 100 rankings. Louisiana also has six 2017 commits in those rankings, including the class' top-ranked player, linebacker/running back Dylan Moses.

Of LSU's seven 2016 commits, four are from the Pelican State. Five of the seven are 4-star players. A sixth commit is 5-star cornerback Saivion Smith, the latest athlete to give Miles his verbal commitment.

The Tigers have built a healthy reputation of being an annual contender. Recruits see the results on television each Saturday. They check out the facilities and the campus environment on junior days, unofficial visits and, ultimately, official visits.

The evaluation days that will be lost for the LSU coaches are just that—for coaches. Most players will make their verbal commitment decisions by what they see surrounding the LSU environment, not by how they're seen in their own environment.

Consider the sanction a slap on the wrist of sorts. Don't expect it to hurt LSU's recruiting class in the long run.

 

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

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SEC Early Enrollees with Best Shot to Win Starting Job in Spring Practice

A recent trend in recruiting has begun with a handful of top recruits choosing to forgo the final semester of their senior year of high school in favor of enrolling early at the colleges of their choice. 

For example, 11 of the 35 recruits who earned a 5-star rating in the 2015 cycle are already on campus at their respective programs. 

The SEC has its share of stud recruits capable of coming in and making an immediate impact during the upcoming spring practices. 

Which SEC early enrollees have a shot to land starting jobs by the end of the spring?

 

*Players listed in alphabetical order.

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Pre-Spring Practice Record Predictions for Top 25 College Football Teams

For most of us, the freezing void of winter might as well have no end. But for college football teams, spring is in bloom.

Stanford, Michigan and numerous other schools have already opened offseason camp, and the rest of the country will follow their lead by early March. Spring football is almost upon us, which means we're almost one tentpole closer to the season.

To celebrate this important milestone—and to make it seem like "one tentpole closer" doesn't mean "only six months to go!"—here's a wild stab at records for the Top 25 teams in the country.

The 25 teams compiled came from the way-too-early offseason composite, which polled the rankings of six different outlets, so I had no say over which teams were included. But I did have domain over how each team was judged and predicted.

To evaluate each team, I looked at obvious factors such as past performance, returning players, coaching turnover, schedule, etc. and developed a list of optimisms and skepticisms. For teams I feel are undervalued, I gave two reasons for optimism and one reason for skepticism. For teams I feel are overvalued, I gave one reason for optimism and two reasons for skepticism.

Sound off below and let us know what you think.

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LSU Faces Sanctions After Recruit Doesn't Enroll: Latest Details, Reaction

LSU football has long been among the top recruiting powers in the country, but head coach Les Miles and Co. will be limited by newly revealed sanctions.  

According to Ross Dellenger of The Advocate, LSU is being punished due to a recruit's decision to decommit from the program:

Per Dellenger, LSU has been stripped of the ability to sign early enrollee recruits to financial-aid agreements for two years, and it has also been docked 10 percent of its recruiting evaluation days in 2015.

The punishment stems from a situation that saw a recruit sign a financial-aid agreement with the school before ultimately opting against attending LSU. Although the recruit hasn't been definitively identified, Dellenger reports that Alabama offensive tackle commit Matt Womack is likely the prospect in question.

While Womack's decision was essentially out of LSU's control, the football program will have to pay the price for it since financial-aid agreements provide schools with relaxed recruiting rules, according to Dellenger.

LSU was seemingly attempting to do Womack a service by allowing him to begin his education early, but that move ultimately backfired.

One can only assume that the Tigers are particularly happy with the decision, and it will be interesting to see if public perception of the punishment leads to any rule modifications moving forward.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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Will Texas Take Another 2016 QB After Landing Colt McCoy-Style Stud?

The Texas Longhorns ended the 2015 recruiting cycle with a top-10 class, per 247Sports, adding tons of big-time talent to their budding roster. But what will Charlie Strong and his staff do to top it in 2016?

Bleacher Report's Stephen Nelson was joined by 247Sports' Jeff Howe to discuss what players could be on the Longhorns radar in the 2016 class. 

Who should Texas target? Check out the video and let us know! 

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Which Athletes Will Be on Notice During Texas' Junior Day?

The Texas Longhorns have four commitments in their 2016 class. Pulling four more this weekend at their Saturday junior day is a lofty goal.

Lofty but not impossible.

The Longhorns appear to be regaining the swagger they once had with in-state prospects. Even with a 6-7 record for the 2014 and a blowout loss to Arkansas in the Texas Bowl, Charlie Strong and his coaching staff have managed to win over the respect of 2016's elite.

And it's only Year 2 for Strong.

Saturday's junior day will feature a large number of players in attendance. While it isn't expected for the Longhorns to see a handful of players commit, it is expected to see Texas in the hunt for every player it offers who will be in Austin.

Three of the four Texas commits—4-star wide receiver Reggie Hemphill-Mapps, 3-star linebacker Demarco Boyd and the newest pledge, 4-star quarterback Shane Buechele—are expected to be in attendance (4-star California receiver Collin Johnson confirmed he won't attend). You can bet that they all will be in player-recruiter mode in an effort to make Texas a contender for the No. 1 spot in the 2016 team rankings.

Here are 10 Texas targets, in alphabetical order, either expected to be in attendance or seriously considering making the trip to Austin on Saturday.

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Nebraska Football: Power Ranking Huskers Fans' 2015 Road Trips

Many Nebraska football fans are suffering through winter’s dying throes, either digging out from snowfall or enduring subzero wind chills. So it’s a good time to look at the upcoming 2015 schedule and start dreaming of trips to take this football season.

Nebraska has five road games in 2015. Here are the power rankings for those five road trips, not based on the games themselves, but on how good of trips they will be for Nebraska fans coming from the Cornhusker state.

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On-Field Success Leading to Record $225.9 Million in Revenue for Big 12

Remember when, in the heat of conference realignment, the Big 12 was on the verge of collapse, and everyone hated Texas because of it?

Well...part of that sort of remains true, but...yeah, good times. 

Quite to the contrary, the Big 12 is not only alive but thriving.

Jon Solomon of CBSSports.com reported this week that the Big 12 distributed $225.9 million to its 10 members during the 2013-14 fiscal year ending in June 30, 2014. The annual revenue increased by $10.6 million from the previous year: 

The Big 12 reported its TV contract revenue from 2013-14 increased by 6 percent to $139.7 million. Bowl game revenue was up 4 percent to $42.6 million. NCAA revenue distributed to the conference was up 5 percent to $37.3 million.

The Big 12's average payout to its schools was $19.8 million, up from $18.6 million a year earlier. Every Big 12 school received approximately $21 million last year except for TCU and West Virginia, who don't start collecting a full share until 2015-16. TCU received $14.3 million and West Virginia took in $14.2 million.

How well is the Big 12 doing by comparison? The SEC also projects to pay out $21 million to members, according to numbers obtained by Solomon in January. On top of that, South Carolina athletics director Ray Tanner predicts—conservatively, mind you—that the SEC Network will pay out another $5 million to each member, per John Whittle of 247Sports.

Keep in mind, though, that the Big 12 does not have its own third-tier network like the SEC. Thus, the Big 12's recent numbers do not reflect any additional revenue from that level. 

Revenue numbers for each of the Power 5 conferences should go up every year; the fact that the Big 12's numbers have risen is only news in that it's not bad news. 

What is interesting, however, is that the Big 12 has done as well as it has financially with a few drawbacks. First, the conference doesn't have 12 members, and thus no revenue-producing conference championship game. 

Commissioner Bob Bowlsby has no public plans to expand the conference, and hasn't for some time. "There are just so many other elements to consider when you're talking about expansion, and I just don't think there's anybody in our league that is contemplating expansion as a way to enhance our opportunity to get into the postseason in football," Bowlsby said in December, according to Sam Khan Jr. of ESPN.com

However, the Big 12 missed out on the first College Football Playoff while crowning Baylor and TCU as co-champions, despite pushing "One True Champion" as a league motto. 

Along those lines, Baylor and TCU—the latter of which was a new member in 2012—are projected to be the top two teams in the Big 12 in 2015. After that, there could be a significant drop-off. 

The Bears have won at least a share of the conference title over the past two seasons, while the Horned Frogs could very well be a preseason No. 1 team, according to some publications. In other words, the top of the Big 12 has been nationally relevant lately even with little to no help from blue-blood programs Oklahoma and Texas. 

Once the Sooners and Longhorns turn a corner, the perception of the Big 12 will be that much better. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. 

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Criticism of Alabama Draft Picks in NFL Is Hugely Overblown

The video is almost too good to believe.

Trent Richardson, then a freshman, took a routine handoff from Greg McElroy against Arkansas in the middle of the second quarter. The Razorbacks defense swarmed in the backfield, but Richardson used his raw power and strength to break at least five tackles in the backfield before galloping 52 yards for an electric touchdown run.

Thus began the legend of Trent Richardson. Two years later, when he came out for the draft, he seemed as close to a sure thing as there was at running back. He was big (5'9", 228 lbs), fast and quick.

But three seasons after he was taken with the No. 3 overall pick in 2012, he hasn’t made much of an impact with two different teams. He’s the poster child for criticisms that Alabama players are overrated in the NFL.

They’re too tired or don’t benefit from the precise Nick Saban coaching, the argument goes.

But those arguments don’t take the entire picture into account, and they’re too hyperfocused on a small sample of failings instead of the big picture, which is that a lot of former Alabama players are thriving in the NFL. It’s a tired argument that can hopefully be put to rest sooner rather than later.

"I mean, who does it better? I'm a little bit confused," Saban recently told USA Today Sports’ Nate Davis. "I don't know if it's just the expectation that these guys are all supposed to be something unique. "I'm kind of proud of what our players have been able to accomplish when they leave here."

To answer Saban’s question, few do it better than Alabama.

According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, Alabama has 47 players on an active NFL roster. That puts the Crimson Tide at No. 5 behind only football powerhouses Miami, Florida State, LSU and USC.

That includes players who came from the so-called dark years of Alabama football, when it was on probation in the early 2000s and struggling through mediocrity. Only in the last few years have the Crimson Tide caught up.

Per Davis, since 2009, the year Saban won his first championship at Alabama and Richardson made that famous run, the Crimson Tide have had 41 players drafted, tying them for top honors with LSU.

At the moment, no one is putting players into the NFL better than Alabama. And there’s no indication that will change anytime soon.

It had eight players drafted last season, including two in the first round. CBSSports.com currently lists 10 Alabama players with a grade of 7-FA or higher.

The Crimson Tide just pulled in their fifth straight No. 1 recruiting class, per 247Sports. The talent is going to continue to churn through Tuscaloosa.

And, sure, while there have been a fair share of players who haven’t panned out in the NFL, it hasn’t been widespread in the least. For every Trent Richardson there are more players having success. Alabama players are thriving at the next level.

Just this year, former linebacker C.J. Mosley won NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and was selected to the Pro Bowl in his first year. Eddie Lacy continued his strong career after winning Offensive Rookie of the Year last season.

Dont’a Hightower capped a standout year in New England by making the defensive play of the Super Bowl—before Malcolm Butler one-upped him one play later—tackling Marshawn Lynch on the 1-yard line to set up Butler's game-winning interception.

Julio Jones is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. Dre Kirkpatrick has faced criticism as one of Alabama’s draft busts but finished a big year with two interceptions of Peyton Manning. The list goes on and on.

Alabama players also deal with higher expectations than most. The Crimson Tide are one of the most high-profile teams in college football, competing for championships seemingly every year.

It happens in recruiting. Some recruiting experts admit they’ll rate a player a little higher if Alabama offers or starts pursuing him. Alabama has the track record of winning and developing top talent, so it makes sense that if it is pursuing a kid, he’s probably pretty good.

It’s a similar effect in the NFL. Mel Kiper Jr. has said that the mid- to low-round picks probably get a “half-a-round bump up” just because of the school they went to. That in turn puts more pressure on them to succeed and under an even more intense microscope for people to point out their failures if they don't work out.

It’s easy to focus on the Richardsons, Mark Barrons or, say, Dee Milliners of the world who don’t pan out. But that’s a fact of life in the NFL.

A look at the big picture shows that Alabama is doing just fine sending players to the next level.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes and reporting were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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The One School Which Would Benefit Most from Freshman Ineligibility

Whether it's fair or not, the recently discussed and polarizing idea of making freshmen ineligible at the college level has been linked to the Big Ten.

And while its coaches have been cautious to comment, it's not hard to see where most of them stand on the subject.

Michigan's Jim Harbaugh declined comment when asked about it this week, while a request to Ohio State for Urban Meyer's thoughts was deferred until the start of the Buckeyes' spring practice—nearly two weeks away.

As coaches remain on the recruiting trail, it's doubtful freshman ineligibility is something they'd want to link themselves to, with many prospects wanting to hear that they'll play right away.

But while even discussing freshmen ineligibility has been a PR disaster thus far, that doesn't mean its implementation wouldn't help some Big Ten schools.

In fact, no school in the country could benefit more from a rule requiring freshmen to sit out their first years on campus than Michigan State. With Ohio State at the top of the college football mountain and Michigan on the rise, freshman ineligibility could be just what the Spartans need to maintain a level playing field.

As Meyer continues to attract the nation's top players to Columbus, Penn State maintains momentum on the recruiting trail and Harbaugh re-acclimates himself to the college game, Michigan State's key to keeping pace is one of the best player development programs in the country.

Yes, the Spartans have been recruiting better after positing a combined 24-3 record over the course of the past two seasons, but those results wouldn't have ever come to fruition if not for head coach Mark Dantonio's exceptional ability to get the most out of his players.

Take for example quarterback Connor Cook, a former 3-star prospect who was barely recruited coming out of Cuyahoga Falls (Ohio) Walsh Jesuit.

After redshirting in 2011, Cook led Michigan State to a comeback victory in 2012's Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl before winning Rose Bowl MVP in 2013 and leading a comeback win over Baylor in the Cotton Bowl the following year.

Had Cook opted to enter the upcoming NFL draft, he could have been picked in the first round. Instead, he decided to return to school for his senior season and is already being projected as a potential No. 1 overall pick in 2016.

"He's the kind of guy, with his size and his arm, he can make all the throws. He can beat you from the pocket very effectively," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said of Cook on a January conference call. "He has a chance to be the first or second quarterback off the board next year."

Not bad for a player who had just one scholarship offer—Michigan State—coming out of high school.

Cook won't be the only player in East Lansing this fall who's benefitted from Dantonio's player development program, as defensive end Shilique Calhoun joined the Spartans signal-caller in redshirting in 2011.

Since then, Calhoun has twice been named a first-team All-Big Ten selection and a second-team All-American, and Kiper suggests he will also likely be a first-round selection a year from now.

"With all the junior defensive linemen that came out [in 2015], if he plays consistently, improves his pass rush technique, if he works on all those things and brings it all together, he could be a top 15 pick next year,” Kiper said. “He could go from being a late one, early two to a top 15 [pick] by coming back.”

Calhoun, like Cook, was a 3-star prospect coming out of high school and the 66th-ranked strong-side DE in the class of 2011.

Neither Cook nor Calhoun, however, have anything on the development of junior offensive tackle Jack Conklin, who went from walk-on to All-American and projected 2016 first-round pick.

"It's good fortune," Dantonio said last season when asked of Conklin's development, via The Detroit Free Press' Joe Rexrode.

Perhaps. But Michigan State's ability to develop under-the-radar talents is far from a coincidence.

From Conklin to Cook, to Calhoun, to Darqueze Dennard, to Le'Veon Bell, the Spartans have made a habit of getting the most from their players. Implementing freshman ineligibility would allow them to continue to do just that, ensuring that every player on their roster goes through a season of development before taking the field.

Already, Michigan State has found itself relying on multiple true freshmen more than it has in the past, with both defensive back Montae Nicholson and defensive lineman Malik McDowell seeing significant reps a season ago.

As Dantonio's recruiting efforts improved, that was bound to happen and could ultimately work in his favor.

However, freshman ineligibility would allow the Spartans to enjoy the best of both worlds: The country's top players developing in one of the nation's best programs.

 

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

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College Football's 10 Burning Offseason Recruiting Questions

A long road lies between now and next national signing day. It's an unpredictable path that could ultimately determine the success of prospects and college programs for years to come. 

Every recruiting cycle features unforeseen twists and turns, reshaping our expectations along the way. This latest pursuit of top talent presents plenty of compelling storylines as the clock steadily ticks toward crucial decisions.

Here's a look at 10 key questions we'll be monitoring in the months ahead.

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Randy Moss' Son Thaddeus Picks Up Michigan Offer, Expect More Teams to Follow

The recruiting process for 3-star tight end/defensive end Thaddeus Moss has been a slow trickle, but it's one that continues to go in a positive direction. On Wednesday, Moss picked up an offer that could help push his recruitment to another level.

Moss, the son of NFL wide receiver great Randy Moss, tweeted that he received an offer from the Michigan Wolverines. He confirmed that tight ends coach Jay Harbaugh extended the offer with Bleacher Report but declined further comment.

At 6'4" and 240 pounds, Moss can play defensive end at the next level, but he's ranked the nation's No. 24 tight end. Physically, he's a bulkier version of his father, and while he has some similarities, he's more of a different athlete overall.

Per 247Sports, Moss has additional offers from North Carolina State, Duke, Boston College, Wake Forest, Vanderbilt, UMass and Charlotte. For those who enjoy the legacy stories, Moss also has an offer from his father's alma mater, Marshall.

The offers could skyrocket in the upcoming months as more schools watch his highlights and see him in action during the spring. Moss in December told Michael Clark of Scout.com that Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina and West Virginia were showing interest.

On film, Moss makes for an impressive flex tight end. He can line up as an H-back, but his strengths are lining up wide and posing a problem for smaller defensive backs. Like his father, he likes making the catch at its highest point.

Moss has soft hands and a good stride after the catch. He can be a reliable target in red-zone passing situations. These qualities and others have caught the attentions of several college coaches—most recently, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh and his son, Jay.

Defensively, Moss is a player who has a good nose for the football. He likes to make plays in the trenches and disrupts plays with his athleticism. With Jay Harbaugh extending the offer, however, look for Moss to see the majority of his time on the offensive side of the ball.

That is, if he ultimately chooses Michigan. He made an unofficial visit to Duke in November and took part in North Carolina's junior day last month, according to his 247Sports timeline. You can bet that the Harbaughs will do their part in an effort to land him and make him a weapon in the Big Ten.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why LSU OC Cam Cameron Is on the Hot Seat in 2015

When compared to previous years, 2015 is relatively cool in terms of head coaches being on the hot seat.

Sure, there's some frustration with LSU head coach Les Miles in Baton Rouge, and Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason probably can't regress from last season's 2-10 record and expect to keep his job. 

Coordinators, though, could be a different story.

When there's a little bit of frustration, that means coordinators are at risk since, typically, they're the first ones to go when a head coach's seat begins to heat up. For LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, that's bad news.

Entering his third season as LSU's offensive mastermind, Cameron should be coaching for his job in 2015.

Sure, his first season was solid. When you have a gunslinger at quarterback in Zach Mettenberger, stud running back Jeremy Hill and two superstar wide receivers in Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, a coordinator's most important job is to not mess things up. 

Even with that all-star roster, LSU finished seventh in the SEC in total offense (453.3 YPG). 

In 2014, when all of those stars moved on, Cameron was left trying to figure out how to make things click with inexperienced, dual-threat quarterbacks who don't exactly fit the offenses Cameron is accustomed to running. 

True sophomore Anthony Jennings won the job, struggled early and was benched for the Tigers' road game vs. Auburn. True freshman Brandon Harris came in, promptly went 3-of-14 on the Plains, and forced Jennings back into action. Jennings completed less than half of his passes on the season (48.9 percent), which was the worst mark in the SEC among qualifying quarterbacks. 

Cameron told NOLA.com's Ron Higgins that his goal is to focus on the positives.

"In quarterback play, you're continually trying to set aside the things you don't do well and focus on the things you do well without being unbelievably predictable. That's the catch," he said. "You can simplify, which is what you should do, but then comes the ability to be unpredictable. The magic is to be unpredictable but also simple enough so your guys can execute things."

Except that LSU's offense with Jennings and Harris taking the snaps looked like a mirror image of the one run with Mettenberger, despite the fact that Jennings was the changeup running quarterback in 2013 and Harris has the speed and moves to be a difference-maker.

Cameron has to change more than the quarterbacks.

When LSU traveled to College Station on Thanksgiving night to take on Texas A&M, jet sweeps were a bigger part of that offense than at any other time of the year. Those jet sweeps jump-started a Tiger offense, including running back Leonard Fournette, that was in desperate need of a spark.

"It opened up the run for Leonard even more and for me," Jennings said during bowl prep, according to Glenn Guilbeau of Gannett Louisiana. "They can't cover everything perfectly, so the new sweep helped a lot."

LSU needs to build on incorporating the running quarterback—whoever wins the job—as more of a threat in the running game and become multidimensional in the rushing attack. Cameron already knows Fournette is a stud and the jet sweep works, so a more diverse rushing attack is the path of least resistance toward winning football games.

Would that anger established receivers Travin Dural and young players with potential like Malachi Dupre and recent signee Tyron Johnson? Maybe, although several run-based coaches, including Auburn's Gus Malzahn, have proven that there are plenty of passes to go around to top wide receivers even when the play-calling is heavily slanted toward the run.

Cameron was one of five million-dollar coordinators in 2014, when he raked in a cool $1.3 million, according to the USA Today coaching salary database. For that, all LSU got was a bunch of frustration and heartache.

His salary jumps to $1.5 million in this, the final year of his three-year deal.

He better live up to his word and focus on the things his team does well in 2015, because another 8-5 season won't sit well in Baton Rouge, as ESPN's Brett McMurphy pointed out to Arkansas syndicated radio host Bo Mattingly after the 31-28 Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl loss to Notre Dame:

If Miles' job status suddenly becomes shaky, changes must be made.

That would start with coordinators, and Cameron's inability to adjust to his players will be viewed as one of LSU's biggest problems.

With the offense regressing and Cameron's contract expiring, it's time to put up or shut up.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas A&M Football: Realistic Expectations for Aggies' New Coaches

The Texas A&M football team will have a new look on the sideline in 2015, with new coaches at five positions. The Aggies should expect improved play at all five.

Head coach Kevin Sumlin made a big splash this offseason when he hired John Chavis away from LSU to be the Aggies' defensive coordinator. In addition to his coordinating duties, he will also coach the Aggie linebackers.

Mark Hagen previously coached the linebackers but will now coach defensive tackles. Terry Price was the defensive line coach in 2014 but will now concentrate on defensive ends.

In addition to Chavis, Sumlin also brought in new coaches for the offensive line and at wide receiver. Dave Christensen will be the offensive line coach and coordinate the run game. Aaron Moorehead will take over as wide receivers coach after David Beaty chose to take the head coaching job at Kansas.  

There is something to be said for turning a staff over every couple of years and bringing new ideas into the program. These new coaches should offer a fresh approach on offense and defense.

This is a look at realistic expectations for each coach and his position group. 

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