NCAA Football News

Jim Harbaugh Infiltrates Urban Meyer's Recruiting Pipeline with Latest Hire

Two weeks ago, former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said that in order for Jim Harbaugh to be successful at Michigan, he's going to have to successfully recruit the state of Ohio.

Apparently Harbaugh was listening.

The new Wolverines head coach sent shockwaves through the Ohio high school coaching community on Friday when he announced he had hired Rick Finotti as his director of football operations. The former head coach at St. Edward's in Lakewood, Ohio, Finotti led the Eagles to a 62-15 record and two state championships—including one in 2014—in his six seasons at the Ohio powerhouse just west of Cleveland.

The director of football operations isn't traditionally a recruiting position in a football program, but that shouldn't stop Finotti's hiring from increasing Michigan's presence in the Buckeye State.

"He gets you a foot in the door. You’re not looking for a guy necessarily that’s going to deliver kids for you on a silver platter," Rivals.com recruiting analyst Marc Givler told Bleacher Report. "You’re kind of looking for a guy where, ‘OK, this guy has coaching connections in Northeast Ohio, a lot of friends in the coaching community in Northeast Ohio, and when we go in that door, we have a familiar face, a mutual friend, a mutual contact now that can kind of help bridge that gap."

Givler agrees with Tressel's premise that in order for the Wolverines to return to national prominence, they'll need the help of Ohio. From Bo Schembechler to Desmond Howard and Charles Woodson to Harbaugh himself, history is littered with examples of Ohio natives playing key roles in Michigan reaching its highest of heights.

But while Harbaugh was born in Toledo, he spent his college career in Ann Arbor, NFL career across the country and coaching career on the West Coast. Despite his infamous bonding trips to Youngstown during two-game road trips with the 49ers, Harbaugh's ties in Ohio are limited and could be even harder to create with the recent success of Urban Meyer at Ohio State.

The hiring of Finotti could help fix that and will only add to a staff that also includes defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin, who both played and coached at Bowling Green. Finotti's presence should especially help in Northeast Ohio, which typically produces the state's top talents, many of whom have come from his now-former employer.

"He’s always going to be a big name at St. Ed’s for what he’s done there and that program is probably not going to stop producing talent anytime soon," Givler said. "Any connection into that program is going to be valuable.”

Harbaugh's hiring of Finotti is just the latest splash he's made since taking over the Michigan program nearly three months ago and provides additional insight into a recruiting strategy that hasn't been hard to figure out. Upon arriving in Ann Arbor, the former Wolverines quarterback unsuccessfully attempted to lure recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow from Kentucky, before hiring Chris Partridge as his recruiting operations coordinator.

Partridge, like Finotti, comes to Michigan from the high school ranks. At powerhouse Paramus Catholic High School in New Jersey, he coached current Wolverines defensive back and former 5-star prospect Jabrill Peppers, as well as defensive tackle Rashan Gary, the top-rated player in the 2016 class.

"I definitely think there’s some strategy involved there with recruiting," Givler said of the hirings of Partridge and Finotti. “I think he wants to hit the ground running."

Thus far, Harbaugh's recruiting impact at Michigan has been minimal, at least on the surface with the Wolverines only possessing two commitments in their 2016 class, which currently ranks 39th in the country. As for recruiting Ohio, Harbaugh seems to be taking his time there too, with ElevenWarriors.com director of recruiting Jeremy Birmingham telling Bleacher Report, "Harbaugh has not stepped foot in Ohio at a single high school since he’s been hired.

"So I guess whatever in-road he can make, you don’t blame the guy for doing so."

Givler, however, has a theory on Harbaugh's recruiting tactics and slower-than-expected pace, noting that Michigan started its spring practice on Feb. 24, which came at least one week—and in some cases, two or three weeks—before most other schools started their spring sessions.

With a new staff and so many unknowns on the Wolverines roster, Harbaugh is admittedly still in the evaluation phase of his process, with spring recruiting still on the horizon.

"I think that was strategic," Givler said of Michigan's early spring practice start. "I think they just said, ‘We don’t know what we have, we have highly recruited guys that were recruited highly coming out of high school, but were they mis-ranked? Were they mis-evaluated? Do we have talent at this position or that position?’

"I think they’re trying to answer all of those questions and then decide, ‘OK, now we know what we have, the spring evaluation period starts in a few weeks, now that we know what we have, this is how we’re going to attack it.’ It’s been a little slower than most people expected from a recruiting start, but I think there’s a reason for that."

Once that time comes for Harbaugh to hit the trail hard, he certainly seems well equipped with the likes of Partridge and Finotti aiding his efforts. Givler also noted Finotti is a great football mind who could help with X's and O's, game-planning and building a winning culture and could eventually transition into a role as a position coach on Harbaugh's staff down the line.

But regardless of what Finotti's job title winds up, his connection to the Buckeye State can't be overlooked. Both Tressel and history have suggested as much, as any success found by the new Michigan regime will come with an inevitable ingredient.

"Michigan has to have success in Ohio," Givler said. "Whether hiring Finotti is going to be the key to that or not, they need to make moves to make sure they have success in Ohio. I can’t point to a time in their history where they’ve been nationally elite and didn’t have good Ohio players on their team."

 

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

25 College Basketball Stars We Wish Played Football

March Madness is upon us, which means for the next few weeks college basketball takes over the sports world. This is a wondrous experience for hoops fans, but if you're not big on the game and prefer your college athletes playing football, it might get a little annoying hearing nonstop talk about brackets, buzzer-beaters and Cinderellas.

Unless, that is, you find a way to make it interesting, like envisioning whether certain college basketball stars could hack it on the gridiron.

Over the years a handful of athletes have managed to play both football and basketball in college, and do it successfully, such as Tony Gonzalez at California and Charlie Ward at Florida State. Plenty more starred in both at the high school level but then had to make a choice, and it wouldn't be surprising to hear that some wished they could still double up.

We've picked 25 current college basketball standouts who would probably make pretty darn good football players, too. Check it out and then let us know if we missed any in the comments section.

Begin Slideshow

Top Performers from the Opening Regional Dallas

Nike's The Opening recently swung through the city of Dallas, Texas, as some of the best high school football players in the country showed off their skills.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder and College Football Recruiting Analyst Damon Sayles were out in full effect at the regional, highlighting the top performers from the weekend.

Who shined the brightest out in Dallas? Check out the video and let us know!   

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

High Schooler Breaks 1-Handed Catch Record Formerly Held by Odell Beckham Jr.

To be a great tight end, you need a distinct set of skills. One must be able to block, run and catch. 

Kaden Smith, the No. 2-ranked tight end in the country, per 247Sports' composite rankings, has it all. Bleacher Report teamed up with the talented tight end as he broke the world record for most one-handed catches in one minute. 

Check out the video above to see some serious athleticism. 

Special thanks to Coach David Weaver and Marcus High School Athletics.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Football Recruiting Offers of the Week

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — After a busy week in which the Irish staff dished out double-digit offers, Notre Dame football was quieter this past week, instead focusing on lining up visitors for the upcoming junior day.

Still, the Irish extended an offer at the all-important quarterback position, and other recruiting happenings rose to the surface.

Each week, we’ll be keeping tabs on the new scholarship offers the Notre Dame coaches send out, tracking the recruiting process as the Irish focus their attention toward the classes of 2016, 2017 and maybe even 2018.

 

Hunter Johnson

Irish head coach Brian Kelly has emphasized the importance of recruiting the state of Indiana. In targeting the quarterback position in the class of 2017, Kelly and the Irish staff were able to stay in state and offer Brownsburg, Indiana, native Hunter Johnson.

Johnson is the No. 1 pro-style quarterback and No. 9 overall prospect in the Top 247 and landed his Irish offer while visiting South Bend on Sunday, according to 247Sports’ Steve Wiltfong.

“We got to the school, and the first thing we were going to do was tour the stadium, and they brought me and my family into the locker room area, and they had a thing written that Coach Kelly had sent out because he wasn’t there today,” Johnson told Wiltfong.

Per Wiltfong, Johnson and new Irish offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford had previously spoken multiple times, but Sunday marked their first time meeting in person.

“The offense they run is similar to what we run at our high school,” Johnson told Wiltfong. “I think Coach Sanford and I get along really well. I think we’re similar people. I think I could play for him and Coach Kelly, and I think it would be a good situation.”

Earlier in the weekend, Johnson took an unofficial visit to Northwestern. The 6'2 ½", 197-pounder also has spring visits scheduled for North Carolina, North Carolina State, Penn State and Tennessee, as well as a return trip to Northwestern. Other offers for the signal-caller include Iowa, Minnesota, Indiana, Cincinnati, North Carolina and Northwestern.

 

Updates

In addition to Johnson’s scholarship offer, Notre Dame’s staff stayed busy lining up visits for the coming weeks and months.

Class of 2016 linebacker Lokeni Toailoa announced his top seven schools Saturday, and Notre Dame made the cut.

According to Wiltfong, Toailoa is scheduled to announce his commitment March 21. The No. 1 inside linebacker and No. 57 overall prospect in the class received an offer from the Irish in early May but has not visited campus.

Class of 2016 offensive lineman Liam Eichenberg, the No. 11 offensive tackle and No. 82 overall player, has had an April 10 visit to Notre Dame lined up. He’s also expected to visit Ohio State the following week before announcing a decision.

Spring practice begins Wednesday for Notre Dame, and the Irish will host a bevy of recruits just a few days later for a junior day. Wiltfong and Loy provide the full list of expected attendees, which currently sits around 30 strong.

Notable names include class of 2016 running back Tony Jones Jr., class of 2016 yet-to-be-offered cornerback Julian Love, class of 2017 defensive end and local standout Corey Malone-Hatcher and class of 2016 cornerback Damar Hamlin, to name a few.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting stats and information courtesy of 247Sports.com, and all quotes obtained firsthand. Star ratings reflect 247Sports composite rankings.

Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ranking the Top 25 Colleges with the Best Football and Basketball Team Combos

With Selection Sunday past us, sports fans in America are thrilled about the NCAA tournament. We’re making our upset selections, predicting our Sweet 16 and trying to figure out if anyone can take down Kentucky and John Calipari.

At the same time, spring football is ramping up across the nation. While we watch March Madness unfold this weekend, it brings up an important question: Which teams have the best combination of men’s basketball and football programs? It isn’t the easiest combination, when you think about it. Here’s a look at which programs pull off the dual-sport dance best.

Begin Slideshow

Marlon Character Names Top 5: Breaking Down 4-Star DB's Favorites

Atlanta defensive back Marlon Character isn't quite ready to announce his collegiate commitment, but the 4-star prospect is focused on five favorites.

Character named Ole Miss, Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia and Virginia Tech his "top five" during a conversation with Jake Rowe of 247Sports. He also shared his intentions to use official visits at each university.

Despite identifying each member of the group as a desirable destination, he admitted that it's an even playing field at this point.

"I haven't put them in order yet," Character told Rowe. "They switch every day."

The 6'0", 170-pound Grady High School junior is rated ninth nationally among safeties in 247Sports' composite rankings, though several scouts see him projecting at cornerback in college. His skills quickly caught attention from marquee college programs, resulting in a scholarship list that also includes Auburn, Arkansas and Ohio State.

Character recently provided a glimpse of what it's like to be on the receiving end of so much FBS interest, spotlighting piles of recruiting mail on Twitter:

Here's a closer look at the five programs that stand out to Character.

 

Georgia

Considering Character's status as a top-tier Georgia recruit, it's no surprise to see the Bulldogs firmly in contention for his services. Coach Mark Richt secured 11 in-state defenders in his 2015 class, including safeties Kirby Choates and Rashad Roundtree

Character's proximity to the program and rapport with Richt's staff could ultimately give Georgia an edge. The Bulldogs currently lead in his 247Sports Crystal Ball with 71 percent of expert commitment predictions.

"I have a great relationship with all the coaches," he told Rowe. "It's just that every time I talk to Georgia it is always good news and that they want to get me up there."

Richt has assembled a top-10 class early in the 2016 cycle, headlined by No. 1 quarterback prospect Jacob Eason, but just two of the team's seven commitments have come from defensive recruits.

 

Alabama

Head coach Nick Saban perennially proves that he can pluck premier talent from anywhere in America, evidenced by 2015 signatures from 5-star New Jersey cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick and 5-star California dual-threat quarterback Blake Barnett. That haul also included elite safety talent from Florida (Ronnie Harrison) and Texas (Deionte Thompson), with a 4-star at the position enrolling early from each state.

Character would encounter an incredible level of competition for playing time in the Crimson Tide secondary, where top newcomers played sparingly throughout last season. After landing four 5-star defensive backs over the past two cycles, Saban also holds a longtime commitment from 5-star Louisiana cornerback Shyheim Carter in his 2016 class.

Alabama extended an offer to Character early in his junior season. However, it appears the Tide may be falling behind in this pursuit due to a lack of personal contact.

"I haven't been talking to Alabama much lately because my recruiting coach for them, coach (Lance) Thompson left for Auburn," he told Rowe.

 

Ole Miss

The Rebels are off to a tremendous start on the 2016 recruiting trail, carrying 10 commitments in a class that rates third nationally in 247Sports' composite rankings. The team's "Landshark" mentality on defense attracts plenty of attention from key prospects, and you can count Character in the mix.

Ole Miss enjoyed a breakout campaign last season, which was often spearheaded by its defensive stinginess. Coach Hugh Freeze is attempting to fine-tune his team's offensive attack, so commitments from 5-star quarterback/wide receiver tandem Shea Patterson and DeKaylin Metcalf should make a significant impact.

The Rebels are in need of some retooling on defense too and remain in search of pledges on that side of the ball, though former Alabama defensive tackle commit Benito Jones brings clout to the trenches. Ole Miss still hasn't secured a defensive-back pledge in its 2016 class.

 

South Carolina

Yet another SEC squad in the picture, South Carolina seems to be among the strongest contenders on this list. The Gamecocks hosted Character in late January, and he's seen the program play in person multiple times.

South Carolina currently sits second in Character's 247Sports Crystal Ball outlook, carrying 29 percent of expert commitment predictions.

Coach Steve Spurrier already claimed a pledge from 4-star Peach State athlete Kyle Davis and landed 10 Georgia products last national signing day.

Consider the Gamecocks as Georgia's primary threat at this stage of the pursuit. A personal visit from Spurrier played a key role in securing South Carolina's spot on this list.

"It really did something for me and my opinion of the school," Character told Rowe.

Co-defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward has also spent significant time with Character, serving as a primary recruiter.

 

Virginia Tech

The Hokies are an outlier on this list as the lone non-SEC team. Frank Beamer and his staff have done quite well with 2016 defensive backs, earning pledges from four prospects who figure to play roles in the secondary.

Assistant coach Torrian Gray has been the catalyst in Virginia Tech's recruitment of Character. His effectiveness should keep the Hokies involved throughout this process and could eventually push the team atop this list.

"(Gray) always makes me want to commit right then and there," Character told Rowe.

Look for Virginia Tech to work toward a campus visit in the near future with hopes of locking in a return trip during next season.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Football: Biggest Questions That Must Be Answered This Spring

The biggest questions of the offseason are obvious in the SEC.

Texas A&M and Auburn need to fix their defenses, LSU's quarterback situation has to be rectified and Alabama's pass defense can't continue to give up plays in chunks and maintain its perch atop the SEC.

Those are the 40,000-foot issues surrounding the entire offseason, but what specifically needs to be solved during spring practice?

Our picks, based on gaping holes, personnel and pressure, are in this slideshow.

Begin Slideshow

Davon Durant Suspended by ASU After Arrest for Alleged Domestic Violence

Arizona State has suspended linebacker Davon Durant, a highly touted junior college transfer due to make his debut with the school in 2015, indefinitely after an arrest on allegations of domestic violence.   

AZCentral.com (h/t CBSSports.com's Jerry Hinnen) reported on Durant's suspension, which stems from an alleged incident that occurred on March 7. He is slated to have a preliminary hearing this Wednesday.

According to a report from TMZ.com on Monday, Durant was arrested earlier this month on a felony aggravated assault charge. The TMZ report provided more specific details of the incident:

Cops responded to the scene...where the woman told police she was having an argument with Durant in a black Chevy Tahoe -- when he demanded they she escort him up to her apartment so he could get his stuff (it sounds like they were breaking up).

The woman says she refused to let him inside...and he freaked out -- "hit her one time in the face and then grabbed her around the neck."

Doug Haller of AZCentral.com mentioned the protocol that led to Durant's suspension even with due process still to play out:

The Sun Devils finished 81st in total defense this last season (h/t NCAA.com) and could have used an infusion of talent from someone like Durant to give that side of the ball a spark.

Durant is rated as a 4-star recruit, the No. 6 junior college prospect in the country and the top-rated inside linebacker from the 2015 class by 247Sports' composite rankings. This hype had Durant penciled in for a starting role, but now his future with the program in Tempe is in question.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Adrian Klemm Suspended by UCLA: Latest Details and Comments

UCLA Bruins assistant football coach Adrian Klemm has been suspended by the school for violating NCAA rules.

Kevin Gemmell of ESPN.com tweeted an official statement from UCLA on the matter Monday:

Klemm is near the top of the Bruins staff, serving as the running game coordinator, offensive line coach and associate head coach just below Jim Mora. The program leans on Klemm for a lot of diverse duties, so it will be interesting to see how his absence impacts preparation for the 2015 season.

On the strength of a strong national signing day, UCLA turned in the 12th-best recruiting class in the country, according to 247Sports' rankings. There's no doubt Klemm was instrumental to that momentum, as Rivals.com points out:

UCLA's own profile of Klemm lauds him as one of the best recruiters in college football.  

Having played in the NFL as a part of three Super Bowl champions with the New England Patriots, Klemm brings plenty of clout to the recruiting trail and to the UCLA locker room. Based on how high up on the staff he's been, it seemed only a matter of time before a promotion or a head-coaching gig elsewhere presented itself.

Now, Klemm's future is a bit cloudier amid this ongoing joint investigation. The hope for Bruins fans is that the violations aren't too severe and that Klemm can return to the sideline soon enough.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Would NIT-Like Playoff Tournament Work for College Football?

It's only a matter of time before college football's novel new postseason changes. Because we are a people who want the next thing before we have what we actually have, the days of a four-team playoff are already limited. 

Look at it this way: We're entering year two of the College Football Playoff and already alternatives are being tossed around. 

TCU head coach Gary Patterson suggested implementing a six-team playoff. (B/R colleague Barrett Sallee took a closer look at the feasibility of a six-team tournament.) ACC commissioner John Swofford said months ago that an eight-team playoff would be better for college football—and that was before anyone knew what the first four-team field would look like. 

"In terms of the number of teams, [eight] would probably be ideal," Swofford said, via Shawn Krest of the Herald-Sun

The inevitability of "playoff/bracket creep," in which the playoff naturally expands (because of money), is real. It is also, however, overexaggerated. A 32-team playoff isn't happening. 

The thing is, we may have been looking at it all wrong. What hasn't been discussed in detail is a viable alternative: expanding the playoffs...by creating a separate four-team playoff from the one that already exists. In other words, if the College Football Playoff is the NCAA tournament, then create the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) for college football.

Would it dilute the product already in place? Hardly. The four-team playoff has created compelling storylines and tension throughout the season. That wouldn't go away. The impact of the regular season has been retained in the playoff era and would still be a heated battle for position among the top four. 

A college football NIT only adds to the number of top-end teams playing one another at year's end. 

The demand for college football inventory is at an all-time high, and this would be a quality product. If last season's CFP rankings were used to determine the NIT field, Baylor, TCU, Mississippi State and Michigan State would have made up the field. 

TCU could have played with, and perhaps beaten, anyone last season. Maybe the Frogs could have settled the Baylor debate once and for all. Michigan State had just two losses—to the teams that ended up playing for the national championship. 

Oh, yeah. That's some good stuff. 

Every week during ESPN's playoff rankings show, producers could dedicate one segment to teams "on the bubble." If the season ended today, which four teams would be in and which would be NIT bound? To take it a step further, which four teams would be the "first four out" of the NIT?

It would check off the major boxes. College athletics admins have cited concerns over how an extra three games in an eight-team playoff would stretch players physically and academically. Whether or not those concerns are valid is a debate for another day. 

Either way, those roadblocks are cleared by creating the college football NIT. It's more precious inventory without a single team having to play more than 15 games throughout the season. 

Like the CFP, the television rights to those games would be up for bid. ESPN, Fox, CBS, NBC—any one of the major networks would have a chance to broadcast the games. And just like college basketball, college football's NIT would have on-campus games; only the championship would be bid out to a neutral site. 

If you stumped for on-campus playoff games in the past, you may get your wish yet. 

But that also leads to the one chief question: How would the NIT fit in to the already existing postseason? Power Five conferences have long-term contracts with the six major New Year's Eve/Day bowls. Last season, all four of the would-be NIT-bound teams played in the New Year's Six bowls. Baylor and Michigan State squared off in the Cotton Bowl, Mississippi State played Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl and TCU faced Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl. 

Those bowls can still have conference tie-ins and at-large selections. Nothing would change there. The NIT would be a separate tournament, and the tradition of bowl season would be untouched. This would be a welcome alternative considering that bowl execs and conference commissioners squirmed at the notion of the bowl system going away in the playoff era. 

The NIT would operate on its own island, yet be a part of the new, compelling postseason format that has taken college football to another level. Want to expand the playoffs? Open up another tournament. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The 10 Greatest Freshman Seasons in College Football History

Twenty-fourteen was a strong year for FBS freshmen, chief among them Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett, Georgia running back Nick Chubb, Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett and Virginia safety Quin Blanding. 

But none of those players were truly transcendent.

Especially after 2012 and 2013—years that produced the first two freshman Heisman Trophy winners—the standard for recording an immortal freshman season has shifted. There are two fewer spots on this list, which means two more great freshman fell out of the top 10. (In this case, apologies to Marshall Faulk and Andy Katzenmoyer.)

The biggest factors for creating this list were individual metrics (stats, awards, etc.), but now more than ever, that's not always enough. Team success plays an increasingly vital role, as the best freshmen post huge numbers and elevate their teammates.

Sound off below and let us know what you think.

Begin Slideshow

Pages