NCAA Football News

FSU Football Recruiting: Meet the Seminoles' 2016 Class

Before national signing day, Florida State had a strong class.

After national signing day, it had an amazing class.

Head coach Jimbo Fisher landed four of his eight Top 100 recruits on the last day of the cycle, including one he flipped from rival Florida. Behind that, he also added a pair of Top 170 recruits.

Even the losses of 4-star athlete Jamel Cook and 3-star athlete Clifford Chattman, to USC and Texas A&M, respectively, couldn't offset a banner Wednesday for the Noles.

Let's meet the class that has Tallahassee buzzing.

 

Full List of Players 

 

Signing Day Breakdown

 

Key Offensive Playmaker

He's not the highest-rated offensive signing (more on that to come), but California quarterback Malik Henry, by virtue of his position and his talent, is the key offensive playmaker in this class.

Before him, FSU's future staked a lot on Deondre Francois' development. Francois, a redshirt freshman, is supposed to be the future at quarterback—either this year or once Sean Maguire graduates—but if any sort of injury, suspension or developmental failure happened, the Noles would have been screwed under center.

Now they have this to fall back on:

Henry and Francois were both Top 70 prospects, which makes them potential cornerstones. They're also linked by IMG Academy, where Francois played two years ago and Henry transferred to from California to replace him. But then, four weeks after arriving at IMG this summer, Henry left under debated circumstances and returned to play his senior year in the Golden State.

Henry is enrolled for spring ball, so he and Francois will spend the next seven months pushing Maguire to start. If Maguire wins and keeps the job all year, Henry and Francois would wage a fun QB battle next offseason. Or one could unseat Maguire this summer.

Either way, the Noles appear set.

 

Key Defensive Playmaker

Looking for someone to step in and play as a freshman?

Levonta Taylor is the safest bet.

Even with roadblocks at cornerback, Taylor's too good to waste on the sideline. He's the No. 7 overall prospect and No. 1 cornerback in the 2016 class. Florida State has signed similar players under Fisher, and those players—with the exception of Tarvarus McFadden, whose story is stilling being written—have all turned into megastars:

Karlos Williams now plays at running back, so maybe it's cheating to include him. But perhaps that's actually fitting, since Taylor also has the skills to play offense. That's one of many things that has endeared him to Noles great Deion Sanders.

"I expect him to walk in there Day 1 and learn the game and to be able to play and contribute," Sanders said of Taylor at the Under Armour All-America Game, per 247Sports' Kevin Flaherty. "He has the attitude. He has the swagger. He has the work ethic."

It takes one great Nole to know one.

 

Best Offensive Line Class in the Country

Thanks in large part to national signing day, Florida State closed with the nation's best offensive line class.

The alpha is offensive tackle Landon Dickerson, a 5-star on 247Sports' site rankings who barely missed that distinction in the composite. But despite that, even the composite scale—the one that ranks him lower—rates him higher than any lineman Fisher has signed at FSU.

Behind that there's Baveon Johnson, the No. 1 center in the class. He's the highest-rated center in the country since 2008 (Michael Brewster, Ohio State).

Then, for depth, there are two 6'7" tackle prospects, Jauan Williams and Josh Ball, who rank inside the national Top 200; a third tackle prospect, Mike Arnold, who ranks No. 1 among prep schoolers; and a guard prospect, Andrew Boselli, whose father is an NFL Hall of Fame candidate.

And that's to say nothing of their other talents, per Safid Deen of Noles Sport:

"It's a tremendous haul," Fisher said of his offensive linemen, per Tomahawk Nation's Bud Elliott. "We've been putting a lot of guys in the NFL, and we run a pro system."

By Elliott's count, the Noles will enter fall camp with 19 scholarship linemen. That would be a record under Fisher.

 

2011 Redux?

Depth is the key to this signing class.

Twelve Top 250 recruits join the six already mentioned above. In total, that makes 18. Seven percent of the Top 250 is coming to Tallahassee.

As a result, this class ranks second among Fisher's seven at Florida State. Only the 2011 class graded higher:

That 2011 class was special. It's one of the best of the Internet recruiting era. The big names it produced include:

  • QB Jake Coker
  • RB Karlos Williams
  • RB Devonta Freeman
  • WR Kelvin Benjamin
  • WR Rashad Greene
  • TE Nick O'Leary
  • OT Bobby Hart
  • OG Josue Matias
  • DE Tank Carradine
  • DT Timmy Jernigan
  • LB Terrance Smith

Many of those players formed the spine of Florida State's national championship team. They helped the Noles win 29 straight games. Even though Jameis Winston, the face of those great Florida State teams, arrived one year later, the Elevens got the ball rolling.

This new class has similar positional depth. The blue chips are spread like butter across the depth chart. This is how the class looks if you only include Top 250 recruits:

  • QB Malik Henry
  • RB Amir Rasul
  • WR Keith Gavin
  • TE Naseir Upshur
  • OT Landon Dickerson
  • OT Jauan Williams
  • OT Josh Ball
  • OC Baveon Johnson
  • DE Brian Burns
  • DE Janarius Robinson
  • DT Shavar Manual
  • DT Cedric Wood
  • LB Dontavious Jackson
  • LB Josh Brown
  • LB Keion Joyner
  • CB Levonta Taylor
  • CB Carlos Becker
  • CB Kyle Meyers

That's almost an entire starting lineup!

 

Note: Unless otherwise cited, all recruiting info refers to 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter @BLeigh35

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DeForest Buckner Offers Impact Skill Set, Versatility in 2016 NFL Draft

Every year, the NFL draft offers teams the chance to find impact players who can help change the course of the franchise. Loading up on these special individuals creates opportunities for themselves and teammates because of their unique traits.

One of the best prospects in the 2016 NFL draft class is Oregon defensive lineman DeForest Buckner. The 6’7”, 300-pound mammoth was a dominant and versatile playmaker along the Ducks' defensive front the last two seasons. His transition to the NFL will be one of the easier ones from this class.

Recent draft classes have provided several early defensive line contributors: Leonard Williams in 2015, Aaron Donald in 2014, Ezekiel Ansah in 2013 and many more. The film that Buckner has produced over the last two seasons points to him being a bona fide top-10 pick like the aforementioned group.

Before making bold proclamations about Buckner, we need to look at his achievements and background. The enormous Honolulu, Hawaii, native was a 4-star prospect who was recruited by a dozen of the best schools in the nation. He was part of a class that also featured 2015 first-round pick Arik Armstead, 2013 first-round pick Kyle Long and other prospects like Byron Marshall and Bralon Addison.

As good as some of those players were for the Ducks, Buckner has a better resume and film to back it.

The 2015 Pac-12 Conference Defensive Player of the Year had a senior season as big as his frame. Buckner ranked second on the team with 83 tackles and was first with 17 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks. It was his fourth consecutive season where his production improved.

Buckner was also first-team All-America and All-Pac-12. He capped off the season with the Morris Trophy award.

This happened despite the team around him struggling to replicate the success it had in previous seasons. Buckner had to do more on his own since the talent around him lessened. His response couldn’t have been better in this situation.

While it’s easy to look at Buckner’s frame and worry about whether that’s the only reason he’s winning, his tape shows a dangerous and versatile player. Playing at Oregon allowed Buckner to be exposed to playing 5-technique in a 3-4 front and 3-technique in a 4-3 front.

Former Oregon defensive coordinator Don Pellum preferred to rush three on a majority of passing plays. This pigeonholed Buckner because he rarely had help as a pass-rusher. But it did allow him to show off his elite run-defending talent.

Being large and having great length is highly advantageous if it’s used correctly. At 6’7”, Buckner plays high because he really doesn’t have a choice; anatomically, he can’t play much lower. Buckner compensates with his Hulk-like upper body strength.

It is difficult to move Buckner off his spot when he lines up as a 3-4 end. His consistency creating space between him and his blocker is difficult to stop because of his extension and sheer strength. Even when he’s not creating force with his lower body he’s able to shed a block and play the ball.

The play above highlights what is constantly littered throughout Buckner’s film. What makes Buckner different than most 3-4 ends isn’t just the physicality of his play style; that’s to be expected from the position. It’s what Buckner does after he gets free from the block. He finishes the play with a tackle for loss in space.

Humans at his size shouldn’t move as well as he does. Yet Oregon often limited Buckner to stay true to its scheme. If it had unleashed him by getting him more single blocks, he’d have surely been even more productive.

Whether Buckner is asked to be a pass-rusher or run defender in a 3-4 front, he’s a low-risk, high-reward player. As a weak-side defender, he will often be playing a finesse left tackle as opposed to a power right tackle. While some NFL teams are getting away from that archetype, many still subscribe to the “strong side must be the run side” roster-building strategy.

This leaves left tackles being athletic but lacking lead in their pants. That’s excellent for Buckner, who has an upward swooping motion with his attack due to his length. Again, this isn’t a negative, but more of a function of his frame. He has a trump card similar to how Calais Campbell of the Arizona Cardinals has learned to win.

When Buckner was given outside protection that forced offenses to leave their left tackle on an island, he flashed better pass-rushing skills than when it was a three-man rush. He was able to formulate and execute a plan of attack more effectively because he could rely on his athleticism more. Below, he swims past Michigan State left tackle Jack Conklin en route to a quarterback hurry.

It’s important to see flashes like this from Buckner since he was rarely in these situations.

Make no mistake about it, he is an elite run defender already at this point in his development. His strength at the point of attack and ability to shed blocks when the ball-carrier nears is parallel to 2015 star Leonard Williams, who also had an uncanny ability to sniff out where plays were heading.

But it’s Buckner's pass rushing that will separate him from being a Pro Bowl star and not just a gap-eater.

Fortunately for 4-3 defenses that need help, Buckner can step into their base defense and provide plenty of support. Versatility is a major positive for Buckner since he might be a better 4-3 3-technique than he is a 3-4 end.

Being at 3-technique allows Buckner to face a guard, who has less length than a tackle. This creates the opportunity for Buckner to be a speed- or pass-rusher without having to deal with the extra space. In a phone booth, Buckner is an absolute nightmare to guard.

We didn’t see Buckner slide inside too often, but he was vicious when unleashed. His ability to bull rush is one of his biggest positives and projects well to the next level. He consistently shows quick but powerful hands that land inside the chest of the blocker.

Once he gets his hands in place, he can manipulate where the blocker will be tossed with his extension. When combined with his quickness, he can completely disrupt how an offense operates.

Sometimes, the versatility tag is applied to players in an attempt to characterize the player lining up at multiple positions. While that can be accurate, true versatility only applies when an individual can be successful at multiple spots. Simply aligning in different positions is worthless if production isn’t coming at each spot.

Buckner certainly has the versatility to excel in whichever scheme he’s drafted for. He’s a good athlete in short spaces and seems to catch blockers off guard with his quick feet. His rapid weight transfer on plays like the one below just isn’t normal for men his size.

Most of what Buckner does is positive, but he has some areas to improve as he enters the NFL.

His matchup with Ohio State left tackle Taylor Decker was the best opportunity to see two great prospects go head-to-head. Decker was the best blocker Buckner faced, albeit it was in his junior season.

Decker got the best of Buckner on the limited snaps they saw each other. Buckner’s inability to use speed moves to the outside shoulder of the tackle was on display when he tried.

Even on a play where Buckner originally failed with his attack, he did end up forcing Decker to reset his feet several times with his power toward the play’s completion. This adjustment was smart and showed the ability to counter despite losing the snap overall.

A second key matchup between the two came on a modified speed-dart play to Buckner’s side. Decker takes a strong zone step to the right and catches Buckner drifting inside, which puts pressure on the weak-side linebacker behind Buckner to make the right read. He doesn’t, instead floating to the pitch man.

Regardless of what else went wrong for Oregon on the play, Buckner was caught off-balance when he recognized the play developing. His shoulders were no longer aligned with the line of scrimmage since his base had been compromised.

The only major knock on Buckner is his ability to handle double-teams. At times, his legs will get skinny when he tries to anchor. He doesn’t have the functional strength to simply reset with his lower body yet, and that issue is compounded when his shoulders aren’t square when he embraces contact.

NFL offenses may target Buckner with this early in his career, but it’s not like handling double-teams is easy for anyone. If execution is solid around the double-team or if Buckner can even stand his own ground decently, then a defensive unit can certainly survive that weakness.

Projecting Buckner to the NFL, he is a versatile and well-rounded defensive lineman. His size and raw power are tremendous positives and will instantly allow him to start in either a 3-4 or 4-3 defense. He can be impactful as a run-stuffer or pass-rusher.

Although Buckner is not a twitched-up athlete who regularly wins off the snap or shows flexibility, he is an above-average athlete on film. When we put the total package of length, power and quickness together, Buckner has enough upside to be a good long-term starter.

Comparisons for Buckner can be difficult because of his size. Calais Campbell is the most similar physically and is likely the high-end side of his ability. The low-end comparison is San Diego’s Corey Liuget, who is also a solid player.

Not everything Buckner does is elite or especially noteworthy when isolated. He is high-functioning in a team role and showed flashes of excellence when he was given the chance to create on his own. His lack of certain physical traits like suddenness and flexibility somewhat limits his upside, but his floor is high and his ceiling still considerably good.

In the 2016 class, Buckner should be a top-10 pick. He’s a safe prospect with his ability to play at a high level as a rookie. Buckner plays with brutality and a high motor at a premium position. His unique skills and versatility shouldn’t be taken for granted.

 

All stats used are from Sports-Reference.com.

Ian Wharton is an NFL Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Football Recruiting: Meet the Trojans' 2016 Class

A huge surge of commitments on national signing day helped propel USC to another strong recruiting class, finishing in the top 10 for the third year in a row.

The Trojans ended up eighth in the country in 247Sports' composite rankings thanks to adding seven players on Wednesday, three of whom had previously been committed to other schools. This allowed the class to rise from 20th in less than 24 hours, getting a final boost late in the day when 5-star cornerback Jack Jones continued the program's pipeline from Long Beach Poly High School.

All told, USC added 20 players—19 from high school—including seven who had signed in December and are already enrolled in school. The signings addressed immediate needs and should help provide depth in other areas, making for an impressive first class for Clay Helton.

"As a head coach, I cannot tell you how proud I am of the staff for how they finished and how they closed," Helton said, per Lindsey Thiry of the Los Angeles Times.

Follow along for a more detailed look at the next wave of future USC standouts.

 

The surprises

USC's class got a major boost thanks to a trio of players whom recruiting experts didn't think it had a good shot at, mostly because those players were already committed elsewhere.

It started early on Wednesday when Jamel Cook flipped from Florida State, giving USC two players from the Miami area along with receiver Keyshawn Young. The 6'4", 190-pound Cook, who played safety and cornerback in high school, is the cousin of FSU running back Dalvin Cook.

Hawaiian running back Vavae Malepeai backed out on a pledge to Oregon, and later, Long Beach City College defensive tackle Joshua Fatu opted not to sign with Boise State. Malepeai, who is 5'11" and 195 pounds, is the state career record holder in rushing yards (4,549) and touchdowns (71).

Another shock came when E.J. Price, an offensive tackle from Georgia who seemed like a lock to stay close to home, picked a USC hat instead of one for Georgia or Auburn.

The 6'6", 311-pound Price is one of two players from the Peach State in USC's 2016 class along with receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe. He's the brother of tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe, who sat out last season after transferring from Florida.

 

Early enrollees

Seven of USC's signees will be able to participate in spring practice after enrolling for this semester, including the class' highest-rated player. Oluwole Betiku, the No. 2 player from California, committed to the Trojans on Christmas after previously being set to go to UCLA.

The 6'3”, 240-pound defensive end is originally from Nigeria, moving first to Maryland in 2013 and then coming to California along with mentor and former NFL star Lavar Arrington. Depending on how he develops, he could end up working on the edge or moving to linebacker with the Trojans.

Four other early enrollees were 4-star prospects, including two of the six receivers USC brought in. Imatorbhebhe and Michael Pittman, who are 6'2" and 6'4", respectively, can help the Trojans prepare for the inevitable departure of JuJu Smith-Schuster to the NFL draft after the 2016 season.

 

Sleeper of the class

Connor Murphy was among the players who Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh tried to recruit via a “sleepover,” but it wasn't enough to sway the 4-star Phoenix prospect from signing with USC. He could end up being the jewel of the 2016 class if he's able to keep growing into his 6'7", 250-pound body.

"[He] has all of the tools to be a big-time player," Scout.com's Jason Jewell wrote. "Still developing and raw physically, but the future is bright as he continues to grow."

Murphy has the versatility to get used at multiple spots on the defensive line or get moved to offense in the future.

 

Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP

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Florida Football Recruiting: Meet the Gators' 2016 Class

The Florida Gators look to be in great shape moving forward following Jim McElwain’s first full recruiting class as head coach. 

Florida used a successful 10-4 2015 campaign to help reel in the 13th-ranked recruiting class in the nation, according to 247Sports. The Gators’ class sat in the top 10 heading into 2016 national signing day, but it fell a bit due to surges from other programs and the flip of 4-star defensive tackle Shavar Manuel to in-state rival Florida State. 

Nonetheless, this incoming group will be instrumental in establishing a foundation for McElwain’s program. 

Offense appeared to be a focus for Florida, as 14 of its 25 2016 signees will start their careers on that side of the ball. In addition, five of those 14 are 4-star prospects. This is good news, since the Gators struggled mightily to move the ball in 2015, averaging only 17 points in their last eight games. 

Let us now take a closer look at Florida’s 2016 signing class.

 

Early Enrollees 

A major advantage for Florida’s class is that nearly half of it is already on campus and working out with the team. 

A total of 12 players signed early with the Gators in January, including many of their top pieces in 4-star quarterback Feleipe Franks, 4-star safety Chauncey Gardner and 4-star running back Mark Thompson, a bruising junior college rusher. 

Thompson fills a glaring need for the Gators, who lose leading rusher Kelvin Taylor to the NFL. The team lacks any proven experience at running back, and the 6'2", 230-pound Thompson, who rushed for 1,298 yards and 18 touchdowns at Dodge City Community College last season, will instantly give Florida a powerful, short-yardage rusher who can pick up critical first downs at the end of games. Expect him to lead the team in rushing scores next season. 

Having 12 players on campus early is a tremendous boost for Florida’s roster, as noted by Mark Wheeler of InsideTheGators.com: 

These players will be more acclimated to the collegiate game and the offensive or defensive playbook than their classmates when the 2016 kicks off, increasing the chances of them making an early impact. Great job by McElwain and his staff to get this many kids on campus in January.

 

Florida Looking to Revive Its Passing Attack 

After Will Grier was suspended after six games and subsequently left the Florida program, the 2015 Gators were pitiful moving the ball through the air.

Florida dropped its last three games as Treon Harris, Grier’s replacement, completed 44 percent of his throws for only 445 yards, one touchdown and two picks. The lack of an aerial attack severely hindered the offense, which was forced to rely on Taylor and the ground game. 

McElwain made a concerted effort to add difference-makers in the passing game, and it appears to have paid off, at least on paper. 

Franks is the nation’s fifth-rated pro-style passer. He has phenomenal arm strength and enough mobility in the pocket to find receivers down the field. Take a look at his film and see for yourself. 

Joining Franks is a five-man receiving class, which is headlined by Tyrie Cleveland, the second-ranked receiver in the nation. The longtime Houston commit flipped to the Gators on signing day, which garnered some praise from Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman: 

Cleveland is an electric athlete who will benefit greatly from Franks’ throwing ability in a year or two. Fellow 4-stars Josh Hammond and Freddie Swain join him, giving Florida a deep and talented pass-catching group. 

Given McElwain’s past success in developing NFL quarterbacks Garrett Grayson at Colorado State and AJ McCarron at Alabama, Franks should become a star in Gainesville. Combine that with the bevy of receiving weapons, and you should expect the Gators to produce one of the SEC’s top passing offenses by 2018.

 

Impact Players on Defense 

As is typical of most Florida recruiting classes, the defensive side of the ball will be receiving some big-time playmakers. 

It starts with Gardner. By looking at his tape, it is obvious he brings tremendous speed and versatility to Florida’s defensive backfield. According to Andy Hutchins of SB Nation’s Alligator Army, this should allow Gardner to see the field right away for the Gators: 

The talkative defensive back has the skills to play both nickel back and safety, and Florida has openings available at both positions. Gardner may be destined for an outside corner role eventually, but with Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson set at those positions in 2016, the Cocoa [High School] product's shortest route to the field is probably a jog to the safety spot.

Gardner should be able to excel for Florida and follow in the steps of 2015 All-American Vernon Hargreaves and Tabor as elite Gators defensive backs.

On the defensive line, defensive end Antonneous Clayton will come in as nationally the highest-ranked player in Florida’s 2016 class at No. 26 overall. The accolades are for good reason, as Clayton is arguably the best pass-rushing prospect in America.

McElwain tweeted his excitement for Clayton's arrival:

By looking at his above measurables, it is no wonder this kid is such a force on the edge. He possesses dynamic quickness while using his long arms and 6’3” frame to fend off opposing linemen on his way to the quarterback. 

He will line up opposite of CeCe Jefferson, a 5-star in 2015, to form arguably the SEC’s best young duo of pass-rushers. Look for Clayton to start out as a third-down specialist before earning a full-time role toward the end of this upcoming season.

 

Sleeper 

Each program is looking for a diamond in the rough to join its most heralded recruits as major parts of the team’s future. 

There are plenty of worthy candidates to become that sleeper in Florida’s class. McArthur Burnett is a 3-star athlete capable of contributing in all aspects of the game, while 3-star running back Lamical Perine possesses a nice blend of speed and power out of the backfield. 

Yet Florida’s offensive line situation and the rare physical attributes make 3-star offensive tackle Stone Forsythe the pick here. 

Forsythe is a specimen at nearly 6’8” and 325 pounds. He has ideal size for an offensive tackle and a long reach to keep opposing pass-rushers from getting inside position on him. Take a look at his game film to get some additional perspective on his abilities. 

Possessing the power to block downhill while being able to get out in space to throw blocks makes Forsythe a special prospect with phenomenal potential. 

McElwain sees the same promise in Forsythe. 

“First and foremost, when you think about the size and then you couple that with the athleticism,” McElwain said, per InsideTheGators.com’s Landon Watnick. “[Forsythe] will fit in there.” 

Florida has some depth up front, which will allow Forsythe to redshirt in 2016 and develop his raw ability into a more polished game. When he does, he could be scary. Look for him to become a potential All-SEC performer by his junior season.

All recruiting rankings are courtesy of 247Sports.

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Texas Football Recruiting: Meet the Longhorns' 2016 Class

Another dramatic college football national signing day gave Texas Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong his second-straight top-tier recruiting class at UT. Now it's time for him to get this 2016 class on the same path as last year's group.

With 10 commits within the final 24 hours of the process, Strong and the Longhorns became the story of signing day. In that span alone, the Horns marched from No. 33 all the way into the top-10 before getting bumped back to No. 11.

Considering where this class started, the fans, players and coaches ought to be just fine with the Big 12's top class.

The madness started on Tuesday afternoon when running back Kyle Porter made the surprising decision to commit. From there, it was win after win for Strong's program. The day was highlighted by a flip from LSU commit Erick Fowler (4-star outside linebacker), the addition of four defensive tackles and the huge pledge from No. 1 safety Brandon Jones.

Of course, this is just the beginning with Strong. His last class, a 27-man haul that ranked 10th in the country, ended up featuring six regular starters and 21 contributors.

That's what makes this 2016 group so exciting. Not only is there plenty of talent for Strong to develop, but the class fills pressing needs at quarterback and safety as well as in trenches.

Winning the state wasn't so bad either.

 

Longhorns Back to Winning Texas

Aside from landing some top-notch recruits, Texas' biggest achievement with this 2016 class was proving it's once again a force to be reckoned with when it comes to the state's best players.

It's no secret that the state of Texas has some of the best football talent in the country, and it's a well that every national power wants to tap. Just this cycle, eight different programs have grabbed at least one of the state's top-10 talents. Five of the programs are from outside the state.

That being said, this is the second-straight year that the Longhorns have landed the best class in the state. Led by Jones, the Horns have 11 of the state's top-50 recruits, which is four more than any other program. Six of those players didn't decide until the final day of the cycle.

Whereas Texas won the 2015 cycle thanks to the recruitment of linebacker Malik Jefferson, as noted by SB Nation's Wescott Eberts, the Longhorns had to fight for all of these guys. The Horns especially scored big head-to-head wins over Texas A&M with Jones, 4-star outside linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch, 4-star offensive tackle Jean Delance and 4-star cornerback Eric Cuffee.

Much of this has to do with the December drama in College Station, Texas. The Aggies lost former 5-star quarterbacks Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray in very public fashion, then had to give the dreaded vote of confidence to head coach Kevin Sumlin. That stroke of bad luck gave 5-7 Texas the edge it needed to close strong.

However, the Aggies' misfortune doesn't take away from what Strong, his staff and his players did to bring this class together. It was a total effort, and that's why the Horns once again have some of the best players the state has to offer.

 

Who Will Make an Early Impact?

As previously mentioned, the Longhorns put their last class right to work in 2015. Even if the hope is that the 2016 class doesn't have to get thrown into the fire, there's talent at Texas that belongs on the field.

Jones, McCulloch and Fowler, Texas' top-3 defensive recruits are no-brainers for early action. Jones can play either free safety position, thanks to his 4.3 speed (per Inside Texas' Justin Wells) and uncommon physicality, and should provide instant depth at the very least. Meanwhile, "The Shark" and Fowler are already terrific pass-rushers—players Strong can always find a use for.

The question is whether a freshman can provide help at defensive tackle. Defensive tackles Poona Ford and Paul Boyette have no obvious backups, meaning Texas' five commits at the position will get all they can handle.

Jordan Elliott and Chris Daniels are the top candidates, but tackle is a really tough position for freshmen. Some JUCO help would be welcome here.

Moving to the offensive side of the ball, wide receiver Collin Johnson deserves fans' full attention. The early enrollee comes in as at 6'6"and 200 pounds. He catches and blocks like a grown man. Physically, he's miles ahead of every other receiver on the roster.

As with the defensive side of the ball, freshmen will factor into the O-line rotation. Three-star commit Zach Shackelford has already made a move to center, and he looks like he's making a move for the job as an early enrollee. Jean Delance is too athletic to count out at right tackle.

 

Dark Horse of the Class: OL Denzel Okafor

Charlie Strong called 3-star defensive end Andrew Fitzgerald the "dark horse of the class" in Wednesday's press conference, but the cat's already out of the bag on him. Fitzgerald dominated the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, which justifiably made him the No. 205 prospect in the nation.

Leaving him out only makes this slightly easier, but 4-star offensive guard Denzel Okafor gets the nod.

All three of Texas' 3-star linemen have good potential. Shackelford is legitimately making a play for a starting job, and Tope Imade is a dancing bear at 6'4" and 327 pounds. These guys aren't just throw-ins.

Okafor is interesting, though. At 6'4", 295 pounds, he has enough length to swing out to tackle, and his mobility makes him an ideal fit for O-line coach/running game coordinator Matt Mattox's scheme.

Much like senior guard Kent Perkins, Okfaor can help Texas anywhere it needs him, and Inside Texas' Eric Nahlin loves his fundamental skill set. It may not be this year, but Okafor will be an impact player up front.

As a bonus, fans are going to be shocked by Porter, the late running back commit. Maybe it's because his recruitment was so low-key, but he has the power, quickness, vision and receiving skills to be special.

The Longhorns basically stole one of the best backs in the nation.

 

Most Important Offensive Recruit: QB Shane Buechele

Until the Longhorns find a quarterback, every one of them who the program recruits will be the most important member of the class.

This time around, the microscope is on 4-star quarterbackShane Buechele. However, the state's top quarterback comes in with one important distinction—he's already a polished passer.

Whereas Tyrone Swoopes, Jerrod Heard, Kai Locksley and even Matthew Merrick were recruited as raw passers, Buechele's got that part of his game down. As Inside Texas' Ian Boyd notes in his breakdown, he gets the ball out quickly, accurately and on time, no matter where he's asked to throw it. He's also a decent athlete to boot.

The issue for the early enrollee will be getting to where he can physically and mentally handle the college game. Buechele's not a big prospect by any means, and there's a reason quarterbacks usually spend a year holding a clipboard.

Ideally, an incumbent will be able to hold the job for a year or two while Buechele gets his bearings. After that, he will put up some huge numbers in offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert's offense.

 

Most Important Defensive Recruit: S Brandon Jones

Texas' five defensive tackles form the most important group of signees on the roster. But if you're singling out one player on the defensive side of the ball, 4-star commit Brandon Jones is in a class by himself.

As previously mentioned, Jones brings everything you could ask for from a safety. He's incredibly fast, knows how to punish ball-carriers and has a nose for getting his hands on the football. Jones can play either safety spot, and it wouldn't be surprising at all to see him man the nickelback position at some point.

Before long, he's going to be one of the leaders in a secondary that's already packed with elite talent.

 

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

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Tennessee Football Recruiting: Meet the Volunteers' 2016 Class

Right about the time Thompson-Boling Arena was erupting as Tennessee's victorious Volunteers basketball team was upsetting Kentucky on Tuesday night, super-athlete Tyler Byrd settled in on Periscope to drop another dose of Big Orange excitement onto UT fans.

The 5'11", 194-pound cornerback flipped from Tennessee to Miami, following his close friend and longtime running back commitment Carlin Fils-aime to Knoxville.

Twitter erupted with elated Vols fans and writers trying to balance the biggest win of the year on the hardwood with an elite commitment on national signing day eve.

It was a sign of big things to come over the next 18 hours. 

Coach Butch Jones added Nigel Warrior, Latrell Williams and a 6'5", 264-pound cherry on top when Jonathan Kongbo pledged to Tennessee early Wednesday afternoon.

That's the kind of feel-good stretch that wasn't lost on anybody, including one of the basketball Vols who helped start the good vibrations, Armani Moore, then soaked up signing day as a UT football fan:

Indeed, it was a great couple of days to be a Tennessee Vol.

Jones' final class of 21 prospects ranked 14th nationally by the 247Sports Composite. It filled huge needs at defensive back, wide receiver and offensive tackle. The Vols rebuilt their stable of speed and landed their quarterback of the future as well as a potential dynamic running back.

They got immediate-impact help with four JUCO signees, and while falling a bit short on the defensive line, two of those (Kongbo and Alexis Johnson) should immediately settle into the rotation.

Let's take a closer look at the class.

 

New coaches make recruiting ripples

Prior to the recruiting homestretch, Jones did a little luring of his own to the coaching staff that wound up paving the path for the grand finale on the trail.

While defensive coordinator Bob Shoop's prowess will be felt right away on the field, it was former Miami interim coach Larry Scott's hiring as the new tight ends coach that wound up being a home run. 

The veteran coach immediately injected a dose of orange into a South Florida region that is prospect-rich and also had been devoid of any Tennessee buzz in recent years. Scott helped UT get a foot back in the door on Byrd and Williams, two players he'd had some involvement with while coaching the Hurricanes.

That legwork wound up helping produce two flips. 

Jones didn't mince words when discussing Scott's impact—and the fallout—on Wednesday, according to Volquest's Paul Fortenberry and GoVols247's Wes Rucker:

If Scott's prowess was felt this early with basically just a month on Rocky Top under his belt, imagine how much the Vols can benefit from him recruiting the region moving forward.

Shoop, meanwhile, wasn't discussed as a primary recruiter much, but it's clear prospects felt comfortable with him. Focusing on defense down the stretch, the Vols landed Warrior, Kongbo and Byrd after Shoop's hiring.

Immediately following his hire, a then-uncommitted Kongbo tweeted his approval:

He recommitted and signed with UT on Wednesday, and it's hard to imagine the nation's top-rated JUCO player would have done so over the likes of Florida State, Alabama, USC and Ole Miss had he not been comfortable with the coordinator.

So, Jones' hires were big hits with prospects.

 

NFL bloodlines run deep in Vols class of '16

The sons and nephews of former Tennessee football players have been very good to Jones and the rebuilding of UT's football program the past few years.

Now, it's time to see if NFL legacies pay the same dividends.

Jones secured signing papers from four prospects in this year's recruiting class who had family members play in the NFL. Two of them are the sons of former All-Pros.

The group, of course, is led by Warrior. Every Vols fans knows by now that his father is UT legend Dale Carter, who also starred with the Kansas City Chiefs.

His high school teammate will also join him in Knoxville. Baylen Buchanan committed to Tennessee on New Year's Day and held strong even after an offer from Ohio State. His father is former Atlanta Falcons great "Big Play" Ray Buchanan, as confirmed by a photo in Tennessee's confirmation tweet:

Brandon Johnson is the son of former Miami Hurricanes All-American and Florida Marlins All-Star catcher Charles Johnson, but he's also the nephew of Chad "Ocho Cinco" Johnson. Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano's father, James, played briefly for the San Diego Chargers after his career at Rutgers.

 

Biggest immediate impact

With so many positions dripping with talent from Jones' past couple of classes, the Vols don't really need a lot of quick fixes on the roster. The 2016 edition of UT should be ready to compete for championships almost as it is.

But there were a couple of needs that had to be addressed, and the Vols did it.

Warrior, Byrd and Alexis Johnson all could carve roles right away along with tight end Austin Pope and the other JUCO players. But Kongbo should provide the biggest impact.

The defensive lineman from the Republic of Congo via British Columbia, Wyoming and Arizona is big, athletic and versatile. He can line up on the edge opposite Derek Barnett and help Tennessee fill the void Curt Maggitt vacated. The Yuma Sun's Grady Garrett provided a video of Kongbo discussing his decision to select Tennessee:

Sure, Corey Vereen, Kyle Phillips and LaTroy Lewis all have the ability to start at end, and the additions of Darrell Taylor and Andrew Butcher will be big, too. But Kongbo is a special talent. It's also not out of the question with his body size and with three years remaining that he could play some in a 3-technique, too.

Whether Kongbo plays inside or out, one thing's for certain: He'll play. A lot. 

Johnson will, too, just based out of sheer need. But Kongbo is going to be part of the defensive line rotation because he's simply too spectacular a player to keep on the sideline.

Kongbo was such a huge part of Tennessee's class that it became a team effort luring him to Knoxville rather than Oxford, Mississippi, down the stretch. Derek Barnett called him early in the day.

Then, Todd Kelly Jr. tweeted that he'd contacted him. Running back Alvin Kamara even got on Periscope with him during the national signing day festivities being videoed in Knoxville before Kongbo had made up his mind. Barton Simmons of 247Sports pointed out the "entire defense" recruited Kongbo:

The nation's top programs wanted him, and there's a reason for that.

Rivals.com national analyst Mike Farrell noted in the moments after he committed to the Vols over Ole Miss and the nation's top-ranked player Rashan Gary pledged to Michigan that those two teams got the players of the day:

That's high praise. "King Kongbo" has a cool nickname, but he's got the game to back up the moniker. The Vols hope he causes as much destruction as his namesake.

 

Star of the class

There are several guys who can carry the banner as Tennessee's bell cow of the class. Given the long-term potential of players such as Guarantano and Warrior, as well as Kongbo, Marquill Osborne and Marquez Callaway, there's a lot of talent in this year's stable.

But Byrd is a next-level playmaker.

When placed on the field with the best prospects in the country at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, he showed out. 

Players like him just stick out like a swollen thumb on film. He may not have the best 40 time, but when the pads go on and he gets in the game, he has another gear. The explosion he shows, his hip fluidity and his coverage skills make him elite. 

With a little polish, he's got the ability to be a shutdown cornerback and a first-round NFL draft selection. He's long and lanky, yet effortlessly and aggressively goes after passes. 

As exceptional as Warrior can be, Byrd just looks like a slightly better player on film, and he was playing against great competition while at Naples (Florida) High School, too.

Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman interviewed an anonymous Power Five assistant for a story on prospects who could play right away back when Byrd was committed to Miami, and the assistant opined of Byrd: "He's just a baller. Watch him in the Army All-American Game. He blocks a kick and returns it. Then, he picks off a pass. He's a great competitor."

Byrd steps into a secondary just brimming with talent, so it's possible his biggest help in 2016 will be on special teams. But he's the kind of player who, with a little coaching, won't be able to keep on the sideline.

Whether it's next year or not, Byrd's ceiling to shine is higher than anybody else's in Tennessee's class.

 

Sleeper of the class

Again, a few different players fit this bill in a class that isn't as top-loaded as Jones' past couple of national signing days have boasted.

Offensive tackle Marcus Tatum initially comes to mind, but just because he's a 3-star doesn't mean he's a sleeper. Virtually the entire SEC offered the undersized lineman with a big frame and high upside. He ultimately chose UT over Florida, Alabama, Miami, Auburn and others.

But in the truest sense of the word, a definite sleeper who could shine is Pope.

The 6'4", 219-pound tight end is the nation's 655th-ranked player and 35th-ranked tight end, according to 247Sports' composite rankings.

When he camped at Tennessee and earned an offer, Pope was right on the cusp of breaking out. But, at the time, the attention he was beginning to draw hadn't materialized in offers. Still, once the hometown Vols offered the Christian Academy of Knoxville standout, it didn't take him long to accept.

He told GoVols247's Wes Rucker why recently:

As far as regretting anything? No, I don't. A lot of guys like to get 30 offers and all this other crap, and they give out their top-15 list and their top-10 list. I don't find that realistic, you know? Right before I committed to Tennessee, Miami was gonna offer me. TCU got in the mix. Michigan State in the mix. USC was gonna offer me. Georgia was gonna offer me.

The only other realistic place I could have seen myself playing was Georgia. That was the other place I thought I could play at. But I haven't had any regrets about any of it. Getting all those offers, that's just to build yourself up, and I know who I am and where I belong. And that's why I decided to commit to Tennessee.

Pope comes from a small private school that also provided the Vols with receiver Josh Smith and offensive tackle Brett Kendrick. The newest addition hopes to crack the rotation like his former two teammates.

He has the ability to, maybe as soon as 2016. 

The Vols are looking for a tight end to back up Ethan Wolf following Alex Ellis graduating. While there are some candidates already on the roster such as Jakob Johnson, Neiko Creamer and perhaps even jumbo receiver Jason Croom, Pope will get a shot.

He already has the attention of his position coach, according to Scout.com's Cory Gunkel:

Pope is a little bit undersized and could use a year in the weight room, but it won't be long before he's on the field. He's too talented not to be.

 

All quotes and information gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information gathered from 247Sports, unless otherwise noted.

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

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LSU Football Recruiting: Meet the Tigers' 2016 Class

Just two months ago, the LSU Tigers wanted to fire head coach Les Miles. Now, on national signing day, Miles is sitting pretty thanks to a class ranked No. 3 overall, according to 247Sports.

The Tigers signed 24 players for the class of 2016 and focused heavily on the defensive side of the ball, specifically the defensive line. After receiving little from their front-seven signees the last two years, Miles and the Tigers made it a priority to load up in 2016. It also helped the state of Louisiana was loaded with big-time talent up front. 

Of the 24 players signed, six were defensive linemen. Rashard Lawrence, a 6'3", 305-pound defensive tackle from Monroe, Louisiana, is the headliner. 

Miles, speaking about his class, felt filling needs was more important than what recruiting services had the Tigers ranked, according to Jim Kleinpeter of the Times-Picayune

"Whether it was No. 1 or No. 3—when I left the room it was No. 1—the key piece is that you answer needs, get the guys you need to fill the holes you need," Miles said. "You do so with great players."

And the Tigers signed several great players—on both sides of the football. LSU signed 10 players who were ranked in the top 10 of their respective position nationally. 

With a terrific class on board and the return of offensive standouts Leonard Fournette, Brandon Harris, Travin Dural and Malachi Dupre, the Tigers are poised to make a run at the national championship in 2016. 

Now, let's take a look at the LSU Tigers' 2016 recruiting class.

 

The Tigers Own Louisiana

It's not exactly a surprise to see LSU dominate the recruiting scene inside the state of Louisiana. In fact, it's expected. Unfortunately, in recent seasons, schools like Alabama have came into the state and plucked some elite talent. Remember Landon Collins?

That didn't happen in 2016.

The Pelican State was loaded with top-flight talent in this recruiting cycle, and the Tigers took full advantage, signing nine of the state's top 10 players and 14 of the top 18. Each of those 14 players was at least a 4-star recruit.

Lawrence, 5-star cornerback Kristian Fulton and linebacker Michael Divinity were the top three players in the state and all could play big roles in next fall. Miles effusively praised Divinity today in his signing day press conference, per Kleinpeter:

Again, Michael Divinity, a 6'2", [218-pound outside linebacker], from Marrero, Louisiana, John Ehret High School; very violent and very fast, very capable, really going to be a guy that fits into this Okie defense and the opportunity for him to stand up and play very significant football as a true freshman.

Several other in-state players have a chance to be special, too. Offensive tackle Willie Allen—the No. 10 player in the state—has a bright future and has the size and athleticism to come in and help immediately. Miles recognizes Allen's ability, according to James Moran of the Tiger Rag:

 

Top Offensive Playmaker

Allen is certainly in the mix as he could win the starting right tackle job with a strong summer. 

However, LSU's top offensive playmaker from this class will be wide receiver Stephen Sullivan

An early enrollee, Sullivan has outrageous size (6'5", 230 lbs) and could figure prominently in the mix as LSU's No. 3 wide receiver in 2016.

While Dural and Dupre have good size, they aren't nearly as big as Sullivan. He could give a struggling offense a red-zone weapon the Tigers lacked last season. That, in turn, makes Harris a better quarterback.

While Sullivan has good speed, he often lulls defensive backs to sleep because of his size. Most defensive backs are surprised at Sullivan's speed, and he goes right by them. He is quicker than his size would indicate and can take a short screen to the house. He gets consistent separation at the line of scrimmage, but it won't be quite as easy in the SEC. 

Not surprisingly, Sullivan has a wide catch radius and is a physical runner after the catch.

Sullivan isn't the strongest route-runner at this point in his development, but he won't need to be. 

 

Top Defensive Playmaker

This could be Fulton or Lawrence. Both players will likely see the field in 2016. There are some veterans ahead of both players, but it shouldn't take long for the talented freshmen to move their way up the depth chart. 

One player with a quicker path to playing time is Divinity.

The super athletic outside 'backer enrolled in January. Both LSU starting outside linebackers from a year ago are no longer on campus, clearing the way for Divinity to make an immediate impact.

This spring will be big for him.

Divinity is fast and plays with tremendous instincts. He can rush the passer or drop into coverage with ease. If he shows a good grasp of new defensive coordinator Dave Aranda's defense, he will start.

The one knock on Divinity is he needs to add some weight. He has a lanky frame and that could get him into trouble as he meets some of the SEC's bigger offensive linemen in the hole.

 

Early Enrollees  

Sullivan, Divinity, cornerback Saivion Smith, running back Devin White and wide receiver Dee Anderson were LSU's five early enrollees. 

Divinity will see the field this fall. Sullivan has a prime opportunity this spring to show coaches he deserves to be in the two-deep at receiver.

Smith is a player to watch. While Fulton gets most of the accolades, Smith is an accomplished cornerback himself. At 6'1", 175 pounds, Smith has good length. He will obviously need to spend some time in the weight room, but he has the opportunity this spring to get a head start on that.

Smith has tremendous physical gifts. He will blossom at LSU with good coaching. One area he must improve is willingness to take on contact. Miles already identifies him as a player who could make an immediate impact, per Kleinpeter:

White could see the field as a handcuff to Fournette. The Tigers do already have some talented backups on campus in Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams. So, despite enrolling early, it may be in White's best interest to take a redshirt in 2016.

Anderson is another intriguing receiver. At 6'5", 205 pounds, he could vie for the same spot Sullivan is aiming for in 2016: a red-zone threat with size.  

 

Sleeper 

Three-star quarterback Lindsey Scott was not LSU's first choice. Or second choice. Or even third choice. However, he could end up being one of the more surprising players in this class.

Fortunately for the Tigers, there's no need to rush Scott. Harris has two years of eligibility remaining and backup Anthony Jennings has one year left. 

Scott led his high school to the state 5A title in December—an impressive feat.

The biggest knock on Scott is his height. At 5'11", 205 pounds, Scott isn't built like a prototypical quarterback. But stop if you've heard this before: Russell Wilson is 5'11", too. 

Miles seemed pleased with the signing of Scott, per Kleinpeter:

We think he'll be a guy that can throw it, run it, and extend plays, and yet really give you a very bright leader on the field. I think many times there's the opportunity given to a bright, athletic, throw and run quarterback, a dual threat. I think that those guys have the opportunity to do things that are pretty special, and so we're going to look at Lindsey Scott and look at that. He looks pretty tall to me.

Scott has a strong arm and is a terrific athlete. Much like most quarterbacks of his stature, the biggest question will be can he throw from the pocket? The answer is yes, although Scott is even more comfortable throwing on the run.

 

All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.

Bryan Manning covers college football for the Bleacher Report and you can follow him on Twitter @bdmanning4

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Alabama May Have the Most Loaded Roster in College Football History

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It's in the midst of a dynasty, perhaps the greatest college football has ever seen, and Nick Saban is already staking his claim as the sport's most successful coach. But the University of Alabama football program hit another new high Wednesday on national signing day. 

It wasn't Saban being able to claim his sixth straight recruiting title, per the 247Sports composite team rankings, although that unprecedented accomplishment is beyond impressive. Rather, with the addition of three more consensus 5-star prospects, plus 14 4-star players, the 2016 team appears to be unparalleled when it comes to talent, at least on paper. 

Heading into spring practices Alabama's roster features 19 players who were considered consensus 5-star recruits, in addition to 49 4-star prospects. Combined, that's just under 80 percent of the entire team.

It also means that of the 34 5-star players whom Saban has landed for Alabama since 2008, a remarkable number magnified by there having been very few busts, more than half are currently on the Crimson Tide.

“Yeah, it’s probably a record,” said college football analyst Phil Steele, who writes the wildly popular season preview magazine that’s become an annual industry staple. “I can’t recall anybody prior to that having that many, and the [previous] three straight classes really helped.”

Highlighting the 2016 class are offensive tackle Jonah Williams and prize in-state linebackers Ben Davis and Lyndell Wilson. Another three players (OT Charles Baldwin, DT Kendell Jones and DE Terrell Hall) were rated 5-star talent by one of the other major recruiting sites.

Even before them, the 2016 team already had at least one 5-star talent with every position group except special teams, where no one gets that designation.

It helps explain why some recruits are drawn to Alabama, and others are not.

Williams, for example, was recruited out of California, but his father went to Georgia, his mother Auburn and there’s a lot of family in Louisiana. He grew up in Atlanta before a job took the family west and wasn’t scared off by the high level of talent that already existed on the reigning national champion’s depth chart.

“I think it probably intimidated some people, it probably discouraged some people away," Williams said. "Anyone who would sign here I already have a little bit of respect for because they’re willing to come to an environment like this, where you’re expected to be the best.

“I think that’s what we live for, it’s what we work for here.”

It all only reinforces that Saban simply does recruiting better than anyone else. Granted, some other services crowned different recruiting champions Wednesday, but no program has ever had this kind of consistency.

"I think this class sort of reflects some of the needs that we have,” said Saban, who still has an open slot and would like to add another offensive playmaker or defensive end. “You don't get everything that you want all the time.”

But he comes the closest, and has compiled what might be the most loaded college football team in terms of talent that anyone has ever seen.

Alabama had a whopping 18 5-star players in 2015, but only two of them have since departed, running back Derrick Henry and defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson. It already had developing 5-star players ready to compete for those spots, and many of its recent major award winners came in as 4-star prospects (including Mark Ingram, Amari Cooper, AJ McCarron, Barrett Jones and C.J. Mosley). 

This kind of thing isn’t supposed to happen, just like a program isn’t supposed to be able to win four national championships in seven years. Numerous changes, including the 85-man scholarship limit which has only been in effect since the 1994 season, were thought to guarantee parity in the sport.

Schools used to be able to offer as many scholarships as they could afford, sometimes just to keep talented players off an opposing team, and rosters with 150 players weren’t considered unusual.

So in addition to athletes being bigger, stronger and faster nowadays, and also specializing in one sport, there’s really no accurate way to measure a team’s talent against history, as the game has changed so much over the years.

The attention recruiting receives has evolved as well. Rivals has been around since 1998, Scout since 2001, while 247Sports and ESPN’s recruiting coverage are just a few years old. Before then, you’re talking about publications like Super Prep Magazine, which was created in 1985 and has since gone out of business. 

Even the 5-star rating system hasn’t been around that long and was developed as a way to give fans something to which they could easily relate, like with a 5-star hotel or restaurant. Approximately 30 players garner that can’t-miss status every year, yet sometimes they still miss the mark, too.

Until very recently, any discussion about a team’s talent level had to focus on accolades after the fact, like all-conference and All-American honors, the NFL draft and even the College Football Hall of Fame. For example, the record for most inductees from a single recruiting class is four: 1921 Notre Dame, 1932 Stanford, 1938 Boston College and 1963 Michigan State.

That why one could ask 10 different experts to name the most talented team to ever play college football and get 10 different answers.

“The 1979 Southern Cal team, I maintain, is still the best team as far as pure talent goes,” Sugar Bowl historian Marty Mule said. “They had two Heisman Trophy winners, Charles White in 1979 and Marcus Allen in 1981, the Lombardi Award winner in Brad Budde, two future Hall of Famers with Ronnie Lott in the secondary and Anthony Munoz on the line, 12 All-Americans, 12 first-round draft choices and 31 athletes who spent at least one season in the NFL.

“I want to see the team that will equal that.”

Steve Richardson, the longstanding executive director of the Football Writers Association of America suggested numerous possibilities like 1966 Notre Dame and Michigan State, 1996 Nebraska and the teams that helped make up some of the sport’s greatest dynasties.

They include Amy and Notre Dame in the 1940s, Oklahoma in the early 1950s and 1970s, and Miami in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

With top athletes who enlisted during World War II able to play football for their school or base, Army went 27-0-1 from 1944-46. The 1944 team alone boasted six consensus All-Americans, which caused head coach Earl Henry “Red” Blaik to once proclaim that the best game he saw his team play was a practice scrimmage.

Meanwhile, Miami holds all the draft records, including most players selected in the first round of a single draft (six in 2004) and the most first-round selections in a span of two (10), three (15) and four years (19), but that was long after its dynasty years.

Those are the kinds of things that Alabama is chasing, despite having numerous disadvantages like a tougher schedule and the NFL draft now lasting just seven rounds.

“As far as there being a complete team I don’t think there’s one that stands out above the rest,” Steele said. “If you gave me a list and said, ‘Make a case for this team, and for this team,’ I could probably make the case for five or six different teams.”

Of course, with recruiting rankings, the key is they only indicate potential, as none of Alabama’s current 5-star players have been named an All-American and only defensive lineman Jonathan Allen and offensive tackle Cam Robinson have been All-SEC. Some aren’t even on campus yet.

Being a top recruit also doesn’t automatically translate to the NFL draft. Last year, Mike Huguenin of NFL.com looked at each Rivals.com 5-star prospect from 2002-11 and found that of the 288 players rated that high, 123 were eventually drafted (42.7 percent), and 45 went in the first round (16 percent).

Keep that in mind when considering the following from the Bleacher Report Insights team: During the past 10 seasons, there have only been three teams with at least seven combined All-Americans and first-round picks in the subsequent draft, and they were all coached by Saban: 2009, 2011 and 2012.

Overall, since 2008, no program has had as many consensus All-Americans (25), NFL draft picks (48) or first-round selections (17) as Alabama. One has to wonder how many future inductees there will someday be in the College Football Hall of Fame.

But it all starts with recruiting, which Saban attacks as vigorously as an opponent.

“I think they've had five No. 1 recruiting classes out of the last six years, which has got to make him the greatest recruiter in the history of college football,” Steve Spurrier said. “Arguably, they've got the greatest collection of football players ever assembled for a college team. If the recruiting services are correct, and they're pretty much correct.”

The thing is, Spurrier made that comment at SEC media days in 2014. Alabama and Saban have won back-to-back league titles and a national championship since then.

“He's great at recruiting, and he's great at putting a staff together,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney recently said during media day at the National Championship Game. “He hires great coaches. He's got great coordinators, he's got great assistant coaches, great support staff. He understands the importance of that, having that type of infrastructure. So do I. 

“But there's no big secret why they've been so successful. You just check their recruiting.”

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings are from 247Sports.

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

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National Signing Day 2016: Grading Every Top 25 Team's Recruiting Class

College football fans across the country can finally take a moment to catch their breath in the wake of another action-packed national signing day.

The annual event allows America's most talented high school seniors to take center stage and put pen to paper on a national letter of intent to the university of their choice.

The process that preceded Wednesday's developments spanned years, as the recruitment process started for many elite talents during underclassman seasons. Now that the dust is settled, we've taken a broad look at the big picture, placing the spotlight on 247Sports' top 25 recruiting classes in 2016.

The outcome of 2016 recruiting efforts won't ultimately be understood until at least 2020, but speculation about which teams landed the best talent based on high school production and camp performances started well before signing day.

We've assigned grades to these top 25 classes, assessing each group based on how it measured up to early expectations in the cycle and how coaching staffs closed down the stretch.

Begin Slideshow

Michigan Football Recruiting: Meet the Wolverines' 2016 Class

The Michigan Wolverines football program entered national signing day 2016 with a highly rated class, and a few more pledges finalized the team's No. 5 haul.

Rashan Gary—the nation's top-rated prospect—4-star cornerback Lavert Hill and 4-star tight end Devin Asiasi headlined the Wednesday additions to the Wolverines' well-rounded group.

Michigan also avoided any surprise decommitments. Though Dytarious Johnson was not officially announced as a signee, Duane Rankin of the Montgomery Advertiser reported the coaching staff is "sticking with" the 3-star linebacker.

All told, the Wolverines addressed their glaring immediate need, picked up some immediate-impact players and gathered a collection of talents who should contribute within a couple of years.

 

Early Enrollees

Two of Michigan's top offensive additions are considered the future at their position, and they both arrived on campus for the spring semester.

Quarterback Brandon Peters and running back Kareem Walker, a couple of 4-star talents, will participate in spring practice—as well as Ahmir Mitchell, Carlo Kemp, Devin Bush Jr., Kingston Davis and Sean McKeon.

Peters will compete with Wilton Speight, John O'Korn and others for the starting job, while De'Veon Smith and Drake Johnson must attempt to hold off Walker. At worst, Bush will provide depth at a position that dearly needs it, but the 4-star linebacker will probably occupy a significant role.

According to Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press, head coach Jim Harbaugh said all seven players will count toward the 2015 class.

 

Top Offensive Playmaker

The easy choice for this spot is Walker, especially because he's the most likely freshman to contribute next season. However, Michigan saw the importance of an offensive game-breaker last year in Jehu Chesson.

Dylan Crawford is that type of player.

A 6'1", 186-pound wideout, he's a long-strider with respectable speed and above-average route running. Crawford doesn't rely on his body to rein in passes, meaning the nation's No. 19 receiver won't unnecessarily sacrifice his body on a ball above his head.

What dazzles on tape, however, is how Crawford shakes defenders after the catch. While running back-like vision contributes to that prowess, he's also surprisingly tough to bring down considering his stature.

Crawford has enough straight-line speed to make opponents pay, but missing a tackle often leads to a larger problem for defenses.

Amara Darboh and Chesson will lead the Wolverines receiving corps in 2016, which will allow Crawford to add weight and prepare for the increased physicality of the college game. When the seniors head to the NFL, don't be surprised if Crawford steps in right away.

Keep an eye on: Walker, RB; Mitchell, WR; Chris Evans, All-Purpose Back

 

Top Defensive Playmaker

There's a reason Gary was the country's unanimous No. 1 overall recruit: He does everything well.

Gary has a remarkably explosive first step and shows an impressive balance of speed and power. Perhaps his best attribute is the combination of active and strong hands, something that keeps offensive linemen from getting a solid punch on Gary.

An impressive performance at the Under Armour All-America Game backed up the hype. Gary was a constant disruptive force and racked up a team-leading six tackles—including three sacks—per BlogAndTackle.net.

Michigan can use him as a 3-4 defensive end or 4-3 defensive tackle. That versatility will be useful immediately, though we'll discuss that later on.

Gary is initially an ideal complement to the Wolverines' established pieces and can develop into the undisputed star of the defensive line—and potentially the Big Ten.

Keep an eye on: David Long, CB; Hill, CB; Ron Johnson, DE

 

Immediate-Impact Players, Contributors, Redshirt Candidates

Every recruiting class brings the hope of a brighter future, but not every freshman is ready to play. It takes a special talent to earn snaps, let alone start, immediately.

Gary is an obvious choice and will likely contribute as a defensive end because Michigan returns Ryan Glasgow and Chris Wormley. Taco Charlton is a leading candidate to be the "Buck" linebacker, but the other D-end role—where Ron Johnson has the potential to claim a few snaps—is wide open for Gary.

Three-star inside linebacker Elysee Mbem-Bosse could be thrust into the rotation purely out of necessity. The Wolverines must replace their top three tacklers at the position.

Long, Hill and Khaleke Hudson are prime candidates to contribute on special teams and a handful of defensive snaps to be ready for 2017, when Michigan loses most—if not all—of its starters in the secondary.

Ben Bredeson should challenge for snaps, though the 4-star offensive tackle will battle four returning starters for that chance. Asiasi might break into the rotation if he establishes himself as a blocker Harbaugh can trust.

Should that happen, Asiasi may be sealing the edge for Walker, who doesn't expect to sit around and watch in 2016. Per MLive's Nick Baumgardner, Walker said:

Peters is already on campus, so he's not exactly a long shot to succeed Jake Rudock. However, the nation's No. 6 quarterback will probably observe from the sideline as a true freshman. If Peters doesn't fill the vacancy, he might even join fellow 2016 signees and take a redshirt.

Evans, Davis, Brad Hawkins, Eddie McDoomNate Johnson, Nick EubanksStephen Spanellis, Michael DwumfourJosh Metellus, Devin Gil and Nordin are each entering depth-filled positions, so Michigan need not rush them into the lineup.

If Dytarious Johnson qualifies academically, the 6'1", 205-pounder still could use a year to develop physically. The same applies to McDoom, McKeon, Joshua Uche, Metellus and Gil, who will benefit from a year in the weight room.

Overall, the Wolverines signed a terrific mix of immediate-impact talent as well as role-playing and developmental prospects.

 

All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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Biggest Surprises of College Football National Signing Day 2016

With national signing day 2016 officially ending, it's time to take a look at its biggest surprises.

Which schools had the most shocking commitments?

Watch in the video above as Stephen Nelson and Bleacher Report college football analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee discuss the biggest surprises of national signing day 2016. 

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Power Ranking Every Pac-12 Team's 2016 Recruiting Class

On one day each year when the calendar rings up as national signing day, the fax machine becomes the center of the universe for college football fans, players, staff members, coaches and even media members.

Such was the case once again Wednesday as national letters of intent crisscrossed the country and players from the class of 2016 officially signed on the dotted line with their future schools of choice.

While headlines were made around the country and the SEC once again dominated the national conversation, it was in many respects a banner year out west in the Pac-12. Between USC and UCLA’s late surges into the top 15 of the 247Sports’ team rankings and Stanford’s impressive coast-to-coast collection of talent, it was yet another day filled with talented players finding homes in the conference of champions.

That being said, there appeared to be a clear pecking order in the Pac-12 when it came to how each school’s recruiting class shook out. We won’t know for several years how each will truly contribute on a whole, but nevertheless we can still look at the big picture and see how each class stacks up.

With that in mind, here’s a look at the classes in the Pac-12 based on overall talent level, team needs and even upside down the road. 

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National Signing Day 2016: Ranking Top 25 Recruiting Classes

The fax machine: a slightly outdated media device until right around this time of year. But ask any college football coach, and when national signing day rolls around, it's one of the most important pieces of technology on an entire campus.

Fax machines nationwide received overtime work Wednesday, as college commits, as well as uncommitted targets, became college signees with the help of an official signature on a national letter of intent. And while some athletes sent over national letters of intent digitally through PDFs and tablets, many used the old reliable approach of the fax machine to make their college futures official.

Wednesday provided the anticipated fireworks of a typical national signing day, with some athletes making last-minute verbal commitments that had their new coaches jumping for joy—and others feeling the agony of defeat.

The 2016 recruiting cycle has come to a conclusion, and it is now time to evaluate the best of the best. Here are the nation's top 25 classes, according to Bleacher Report. Rankings are based on the player ratings, which stems from 247Sports.com's composite ratings.

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Texas A&M Football Recruiting: Meet the Aggies' 2016 Class

The Texas A&M Aggies wrapped up the 2016 recruiting cycle with the nation's No. 18 class. While the Aggies didn't sign one 5-star recruit, it could end up being Kevin Sumlin's best recruiting class since becoming Texas A&M's head coach back in 2012.

The reason for that is depth and versatility. 

Sumlin's previous classes had star power. Whether it was Kyle Allen, Myles Garrett or Kyler Murray, the Aggies featured a big-time headliner. 

Not this group. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.

The Aggies signed 21 players, including five offensive linemen, three wide receivers, three defensive backs, two running backs, two linebackers, two defensive ends, two athletes, one quarterback and a kicker. 

A&M failed to sign a defensive tackle or tight end for the class of 2016. Fortunately for the Aggies, they have youth and depth at both positions. 

Now, let's take a look at Texas A&M's 2016 recruiting class.

 

Aggies Loaded Up on the Offensive Line

The Aggies have become something of an offensive tackle factory in recent seasons. Luke Joeckel, Jake Matthews and Cedric Ogbuehi were all first-round picks in the NFL draft in each of the last three seasons, respectively. Germain Ifedi hopes to make it four in a row this April.

That meant it was time to restock this position in the class of 2016.

Texas A&M received signatures from four offensive tackles, including 4-star Kellen Diesch. At 6'7", 270 pounds, Diesch has the type of build that could add 30 pounds of muscle with ease and not sacrifice any athleticism. While he isn't as athletic as some of the previous A&M offensive tackles, Diesch has outstanding length. He will need work on keeping his pad level down at the next level.

The Anderson brothers—Austin and Riley—both have good size and the necessary strength to come in and push for playing time as early as 2016. Both are rugged blockers who play with the necessary mean streak and finish their blocks. They could project as guards in the future.

 

Top Offensive Newcomer

For the first time in three years, Sumlin didn't sign an elite quarterback prospect. The past two years saw the additions of Allen and Murray. However, both players decided to transfer within a week from one another back in December.

That left the quarterback position in a perilous position. 

Fortunately for the Aggies, former Oklahoma starter Trevor Knight transferred to Texas A&M and enrolled last month. He could be the team's starting quarterback this season.

Sumlin considers Knight a part of this class and is pleased with his addition, per Suzanne Halliburton of the Statesman.

“He’s a guy as as far as college football goes, he’s a grown man,” Sumlin said. “He’s very, very strong in his faith. You see how certain guys ooze leadership. He’s all about that. He’s filling a void in leadership that we need." 

While the Aggies did sign a quarterback for this class, 3-star Nick Starkel, he could use a year on the sidelines while Knight and the only experienced quarterback left from last year's team, Jake Hubenak, battle it out for the starting job this spring. 

Sumlin likes Starkel, but believes he could use some developmental time, according to Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle:

The Aggies signed a few offensive players who could possibly help them this fall, including wide receiver Quartney Davis and running back Trayveon Williams, but the addition of Knight makes him A&M's top offensive newcomer for 2016. 

 

Top Defensive Newcomer

Defensive end Justin Madubuike, a 6'2 ½", 250-pound defensive end from McKinney, Texas, could make an immediate impact for the Aggies in 2016.

Madubuike is thickly built and possesses a high motor and an explosive first step. While he isn't as gifted as Myles Garrett, Madubuike brings a relentlessness to the position that makes him a handful to block. 

While the Aggies return all of their two-deep at defensive end, Madubuike could help in a specialized pass-rushing role. 

He will need to develop more moves to his repertoire. It will be tougher to beat SEC offensive tackles with just speed and athleticism. With so many upperclassmen in front of him, Madubuike won't need to play every down. He doesn't struggle versus the run, but it will obviously be a bigger challenge at the next level. Fortunately, that won't be an issue in 2016. 

 

Sleeper of the Class

Cornerback Charles Oliver is a bit of an unknown on the national level. The 6'2 ½", 184-pounder from Fairfield, Texas, could be a big-time addition for the Aggies.

Oliver possesses outstanding length. His long arms allow him to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage. In addition to his length, Oliver is fluid in his movements and can flip his hips and run with the receivers. 

Oliver will need to add some strength at the next level, and that shouldn't be a problem. He has a high football IQ and plays with confidence, making him a favorite of defensive coordinator John Chavis. 

With good coaching in college, Oliver will learn to get his pad level lower to take on ball-carriers. He's a willing tackler, but that sometimes gets in him trouble. 

The Aggies graduated two of their top cornerbacks from last season. There's a chance for Oliver to make an immediate impact. Don't be surprised if he seizes that opportunity. 

 

All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.

Bryan Manning covers college football for the Bleacher Report and you can follow him on Twitter @bdmanning4 

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USC National Signing Day 2016: 5 Takeaways from Trojans' Class

Talk about a surprise showing from a football program many thought had fallen significantly behind its inter-city rival. On a day where only the unbelievable can happen, new head coach Clay Helton and USC proved beginner's luck may, in fact, be a thing. 

The Trojans secured a plethora of signees, many of them surprises, as a formerly mediocre class blossomed into a nationally renowned powerhouse. The once downed program, anchored by poor coaching hires and some off-the-field issues with former players, seems to have finally cut ties and pulled away. 

With the unofficial holiday all but over, we examine a few takeaways from USC's incredible finish to the 2015-16 recruiting cycle and try to put it in perspective for the program's future success. 

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Karamo Dioubate to Temple: Owls Land 4-Star DT Prospect

After a lengthy recruiting process, defensive tackle Karamo Dioubate made his collegiate decision on Wednesday by committing to Temple. Rick O'Brien of the Philadelphia Inquirer provided a picture of Dioubate's announcement: 

According to 247Sports, the Philadelphia native is a 4-star prospect and the No. 18 defensive tackle in the 2016 class, and he had no shortage of options when it came to choosing his landing spot.

Although he initially committed to the Penn State Nittany Lions, the Preparatory Charter School standout reopened his recruitment in early January, per Ryan Snyder of Rivals.com.

While the Nittany Lions remained in the mix, O'Brien reported that three strong candidates had emerged:

The top-flight talent decided to go outside the box, however, in favor of staying close to home.

Dioubate is a rare athlete at 6'3" and 279 pounds, which is why it came as no surprise when several high-profile schools attempted to pounce on the opportunity that his decommitment presented.

Prep Charter head coach David Hand explained the interest by pointing toward Dioubate's greatest strength, per O'Brien. "No one has a first step like him," Hand said. "He really explodes off the ball. It's freakish for a guy his size to have that speed."

Dioubate's skill set is special, which is why he figures to have a chance to earn significant playing time as a freshman.

There is no question the talented lineman has the size to go up against older players, and his quickness promises to be a great equalizer when he matches up against bigger guards.

Even if Temple decides to deploy him sparingly or redshirt him in his debut season, Dioubate will likely be a difference-making player in the near future.

He has proved to be capable of rushing the passer and stuffing the run, and if he can bring that do-everything attitude to the collegiate ranks, he'll be a star in short order.

Temple won 10 games in 2015 and ranked 18th in the nation in points allowed, which is a standing that could improve even more with Dioubate in the fold.

The Owls scored a major victory by stealing Dioubate away from several major programs, and doing so could be the first step toward proving that they can truly compete with the big boys in college football.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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2016 NSD the Biggest Sign Yet That Jim Harbaugh's New-Look Michigan Is a Force

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Twenty minutes before "Signing of the Stars" was set to begin, the chatter among those in Michigan's Hill Auditorium ceased as the nearly 3,000 in attendance rose to their feet to catch their first glimpse of a celebrity.

And as professional wrestling legend Ric Flair emerged from behind the stage to sneak a peak at the event's set up, only one sound could be heard across the auditorium.

"Woooooooo!"

It wouldn't be the last time the 16-time world heavyweight champion's catchphrase would be heard on the day.

From Flair to Tom Brady, Derek Jeter and rap duo Migos, there was no shortage of star power to be found in Ann Arbor on this national signing day. The star-studded cast of celebrities, which also included Gossip Girl's Jessica Szohr, former Wolverines linebacker Jake Ryan, NASCAR star Brad Keselowski and professional poker player Phil Hellmuth helped introduce prospects, while ESPN's Todd McShay, Lou Holtz and Mike Shanahan helped break down game film in a live-streaming event presented by the Players' Tribune.

At one point Brady and Jeter—two of the best ever in their respective sports—sat on stage together side by side, professing their love for Ann Arbor, providing quite the recruiting pitch for the Michigan program in the process.

But even with all of the celebrities who found themselves passing through on Wednesday, the biggest star of the day was the man who found himself the most at home in Wednesday's spotlight. That would be Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, whose monumental day was the cause for the Wolverines' unprecedented signing day celebration.

"That was the main objective—to have fun, to celebrate," Harbaugh said following the two-hour show's conclusion. "We'll go back to work at 2:30, but it's good to have some fun."

Make no mistake about it, this was more work than play for Harbaugh, whose first full recruiting cycle at his alma mater ultimately resulted in the nation's fifth-ranked class following the afternoon commitment of 4-star Concord, California, tight end Devin Asiasi. Perhaps the most telling cheer of the day came not from the arrival of Brady or Flair's jabs at rivals Ohio State and Michigan State, but rather the revelation that the nation's No. 1 overall prospect, 5-star defensive tackle Rashan Gary, had committed to the Wolverines.

The importance of adding the nation's top-ranked prospect to what was already a star-studded class can't be overstated. The 6'5", 293-pounder could conceivably be considered a starter from the moment he steps on campus and is the kind of prospect that changes both the way a program and coach are viewed on the recruiting trail.

As news of Gary's decision trickled across the room via word of mouth, fans took it upon themselves to voice their approval. One grown man wearing a No. 16 Michigan jersey and hat seated in the mezzanine level simply stood up with both arms raised and shouted, "Gary!" as loud as he could.

"Backstage they told me we got some very good news," Harbaugh told the crowd, unable to officially comment on Gary without his letter of intent faxed in at the time.

But even had Gary—who now serves as Harbaugh's signature prospect and first 5-star commit since arriving in Ann Arbor—not committed to the Wolverines, this would have been a class worth the pomp and circumstance that Wednesday brought.

After having spent nearly all of the past year front and center in the college football world, this was the culmination of a 13-month long publicity tour for Harbaugh, which was clearly aimed at generating the type of buzz that would lead to such a class. With 29 players, including one 5-star, 14 4-star and 14 3-star prospects, Michigan's 2016 class is its first top-five haul since 2013, when former head coach Brady Hoke signed the nation's No. 4 class.

There were satellite camp tours and sub-tweets, birthday cakes and sleepovers. And when all was said and done, Harbaugh signed the type of class Michigan needed to in order to prove that it belonged back with the big boys of the recruiting world.

"He's not afraid to show his true personality," said prized quarterback and early-enrollee Brandon Peters, who took part in Wednesday's celebration. "He's just showing his love for the game and love for what he's doing. I think that's a great trait to have."

It was that personality that also helped flip running back Kareem Walker from Ohio State, take Florida State legacy and linebacker Devin Bush Jr. out of Seminoles country and convince offensive tackle Ben Bredeson not to stay home in Wisconsin and become the Badgers' next great offensive lineman.

Barring any unforeseen late additions, the Wolverines class will finish right behind the fourth-ranked Buckeyes, but it'd be tough to argue Harbaugh didn't get exactly what he needed out of his 2016 haul.

Michigan loaded up at spots in need of depth including wide receiver (six signees), defensive back (five) and defensive line (five). Most importantly, with 29 players, the Wolverines' 2016 class will play a large part in the team's personnel now matching its pro-style scheme, specifically with the addition of big running backs like Walker and Kingston Davis (6'1", 225), as well as tight ends Asiasi, Sean McKeon and Nick Eubanks.

"They want to be what Coach Harbaugh’s always been about: a physical football team," said McShay, one of ESPN's top college football analysts. "This is the first major step towards putting the right players with this system."

Or as Harbaugh put it, playing off his own signature catchphrase: "Who could possibly have it better than us?"

The road to signing day wasn't always easy, with criticism stemming from former commits claiming to have been told there was no longer room for them in the Wolverines' class late in the recruiting process. On Wednesday, Harbaugh responded to those accusations, admitting, "There were mistakes made and I take full accountability for them. But I don't apologize."

Wednesday, however, wasn't about criticism, but rather a celebration of a class that signifies college football's all-time winningest program's return to the elite of the recruiting world. There's still work to be done—although Harbaugh's 10-3 debut campaign in Ann Arbor provided a solid start—but Michigan's 2016 class is the type that could one day be viewed as the foundation of a championship team.

Like Flair said in his speech, which quickly launched into a WWE-style promo, "To be the man, you have to beat the man."

But the Nature Boy then added: "And right now, University of Michigan, you are the man."

Watching Wednesday unfold and realizing this was surely just the beginning of Harbaugh's recruiting reign, it was tough to disagree.

From the highlight package voiced by James Earl Jones to start the show to Migos dabbing with former baseball manager Jim Leyland, Harbaugh's first real signing day celebration was truly surreal. And it likely won't be the last of its kind either, whether it be in Ann Arbor or at one of the many schools now trying to keep pace with the Wolverines on the recruiting trail.

 

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

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Power Ranking Every Big 12 Team's 2016 Recruiting Class

A few old powerhouses reclaimed their lost spots atop a conference, a few upstarts fell a few rungs in the rankings, and the never-ending drama of the Big 12 unfolded. Look no further than this list to discover just how much one day—national signing day, that is—can turn this ultra-competitive conference upside down. 

The football continues to be elite, and the recruiting is even better. Take a look down the list to see who rose and who fell as signing day closes out and the Big 12 rearms itself for another brilliant fall extravaganza. 

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Top Uncommitted 2016 Recruits Who Didn't Sign on National Signing Day

For thousands of high school football players, Wednesday was a day to celebrate and breathe a sigh of relief. The national letter of intent has been signed and faxed over (or digitally transmitted) to their school, putting a bow on what could have been years of time spent weighing their future.

The journey isn't over for a handful of the country's top 2016 prospects, who for varying reasons did not participate in national signing day and thus remain uncertain about what lies ahead.

Of the top 500 players listed in 247Sports' database, 18 have yet to sign. Here's a look at some of the more notable prospects who aren't locked in to a school for 2016.

 

WR Demetris Robertson

The top-rated wide receiver in the 2016 class wasn't ready to make his decision Wednesday, leaving a 5-star prospect and one of the most coveted skill-position players in the country on the free-agent market.

"It will probably be another week or so," Robertson's brother and legal guardian, Carlos Robertson, told Andrew Ivins of Blue & Gold Illustrated. "He wants to take more time."

The 5'11¾", 175-pound prospect from Savannah, Georgia, is ranked No. 14 overall. He's visited California, Georgia Tech and Notre Dame and may make more visits, including to previous top choice Stanford. According to Ivins, Robertson has yet to gain admission to Stanford but is hoping a recently taken SAT exam will give him the score to get in.

Anthony Dasher of UGASports.com tweeted that Robertson also plans to visit Georgia, and a decision could come soon after that.

 

DE Auston Robertson

Legal troubles may have impacted the 4-star prospect's decision to reopen his recruitment, as he backed out on a commitment to Michigan State that had been in place since June.

According to Joe Rexrode of the Detroit Free Press, Robertson is facing a misdemeanor battery charge after being arrested Jan. 13 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The 6'5", 260-pound Robertson is set to have a status hearing on Feb. 11.

Ranked No. 101 overall in 2016 and No. 9 at his position, Robertson is the third-highest-ranked player from Indiana.

 

DE Maxs Tupai

The 4-star Utah native did not sign Wednesday because he's not done visiting schools, with Ryan McDonald of Deseret Newsreporting Tupai has a planned trip to UCLA set for this weekend.

Salt Lake Murray High School coach Mike Richmond told McDonald "several schools have indicated they are willing to hold a spot for Tupai." He has already visited Oklahoma and USC, while Utah has also been considered a finalist for his services.

The 6'2", 255-pound Tupai is considered the second-best player in Utah, the No. 22 weak-side defensive end and No. 295 overall player in 2016.

 

WR Grant Holloway

A 3-star Virginia prospect who held 17 football scholarship offers, according to 247Sports, Holloway has opted to focus on track for his college career. He'll run for Florida, per Jon Acree of Gridiron Now, with the possibility of playing football for the Gators in the future.

"The track program is the ultimate reason I chose Florida," said the 6'2", 190-pound Holloway. "They are one of the dominant schools in the sport. And they are giving me a chance to play football."

Luke Stampini of 247Sports wrote that Holloway chose Florida over Georgia, which did not offer him a football scholarship.

 

WR Steffon McKnight

The 3-star San Diego standout told 247Sports' Lars Hanson he wasn't going to sign on Wednesday as he works to clear up some academic issues. Once that happens, he's set to choose between Boise State and Utah.

"McKnight is not pinpointing a certain date or week as to when he will be able to make his decision," Hanson wrote.

The 6'1", 160-pound McKnight could also end up at a junior college. He's rated as the No. 357 overall prospect, the 59th-best wide receiver and the 46th-best player from California.

 

RB Kentrail Moran

According to Josh Helmholdt of Rivals.com, the 3-star prospect from Illinois is still interested in visiting other schools and thus didn't sign on Wednesday.

The 5'10", 192-pound rusher was committed to Illinois but backed out of that pledge in January. He's visited the Fighting Illini and Eastern Michigan, two of the eight schools he has offers from.

Moran is rated No. 371 overall in the 2016 class and is considered the 17th-best running back and No. 12 prospect from Illinois.

 

Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports, unless otherwise noted.

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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National Signing Day: Biggest Surprises on Wednesday

The alluring mixture of surprise commitments, players flipping schools and teams cementing their recruiting classes combine to make national signing day a popular event for college football fans. This year was no exception.

Wednesday brought about a handful of obvious commitments. As expected, No. 1 overall player Rashan Garycommitted to Michigan, while 5-star cornerback Kristian Fultoncommitted to home-state LSU.

But, as usual, there were several surprises that made national signing day notable. Here are the four biggest surprises.

 

4. Brown, Price spurn Georgia

All things considered, this has been a good recruiting class for the Georgia Bulldogs. Georgia currently has the No. 7 recruiting class in the nation, according to 247Sports, and its three 5-star commits are tied with Alabama and Ole Miss for most in the nation. In addition, 5-star wide receiver Demetris Robertson has yet to pick his school, although his open desire to play in Athens has led many people to believe that his commitment to Georgia is imminent. 

But Bulldogs fans were nonetheless disappointed when in-state talents Derrick Brown and E.J. Price each committed elsewhere, despite new Georgia head coach Kirby Smart fervently recruiting them.

Brown, a 5-star defensive tackle from Buford, committed to Auburn after the Tigers ramped up their recruiting efforts down the stretch.

Price, a 4-star offensive tackle from Lawrenceville, committed to USC over Georgia in a heated recruiting chase that also included Auburn.

Georgia still has several defensive linemen in their 2016 class, including 4-star prospects Julian Rochester and Michail Carter. On the offensive line, they have added a trio of 4-star tackles: Ben Cleveland, Chris Barnes and Solomon Kindley.

Even so, Georgia surprisingly missed out on the chance to add two more in-state recruits to its stellar recruiting class.

 

3. Vols land coveted 5-star JUCO target Kongbo, among other big signings

With a total of 21 commitments in hand, Tennessee's 2016 recruiting class looks to be one of its best in recent years.

The most surprising commitment of the day came when 4-star cornerback Tyler Bird flipped to the Vols from Miami, whose fans weren't too happy about the decision. In response, Bird pledged that he would use the insults as motivation:

The cream of the crop for Tennessee's class came in the form of 5-star JUCO defensive end Jonathan Kongbo, who was strongly considering Ole Miss as well.

The Volunteers also received a commitment from 4-star safety and legacy target Nigel Warrior, becoming the No. 14 overall recruiting class in the process.

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones had a recruiting challenge in mind, which he believes the Vols successfully completed with the additions of Bird, Kongbo and Warrior.

"Our challenge was to finish strong," Jones said, via Dustin Dopirak of the Knoxville News Sentinel. "We thought we had a great nucleus in this recruiting class already in tact. If we could add to that, we wanted to do that. ... Those individuals to us are difference-makers."

 

2. 5-star Simmons chooses Mississippi State over favored Ole Miss 

After his final official visit to Oxford back on Jan. 29, the Rebels were considered a strong favorite to land 5-star defensive end Jeffery Simmons, the No. 19 overall player in the country.

Apparently, Simmons felt otherwise.

The top recruit in the state of Mississippi, Simmons gave a much-needed boost to Mississippi State's dismal recruiting class. Landing the Macon native was also a nice consolation prize for the Bulldogs after losing 4-star wide receiver A.J. Brown—a Starkville resident—to the Rebels, especially after Brown took a few jabs at his hometown university afterward, according to the Clarion-Ledger's Michael Bonner (h/t SB Nation's Alex Kirshner).  

According to ESPN.com's Chris Low, the Rebels' coaching staff was simply "stunned" at Simmons' decision:

Much like Georgia's class without Brown and Price, Ole Miss still has an elite recruiting classNo. 6 in the nation—without Simmons and Kongbo. Still, you can bet the Rebels won't be too friendly toward Simmons during next year's Egg Bowl. 

 

1. Longhorns land several key targets, become top-10 recruiting class

Coming off a dismal 5-7 season, Texas head coach Charlie Strong desperately needed a strong recruiting class to revive the ailing Longhorns football program.

After Wednesday's successful recruiting venture, he's one step closer to achieving that ultimate goal.

The Longhorns now have 24 recruits for their 2016 class, including commitments on national signing day from 4-star prospects Jordan Elliott, Erick Fowler and Chris Daniels

As a result, Texas is now the No. 11 overall class, the highest ranking among Big 12 schools. Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman noted how big an achievement this is, given the grim state of Texas' recruiting in previous weeks:

The transition from a losing season to becoming a national championship contender again is neither quick nor easy. But having shocked the college football world with a stellar 2016 recruiting class, the Longhorns are certainly on the right path.

 

All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.

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