NCAA Football News
The Florida Gators aren't settling for a single 2016 quarterback commit with less than four months remaining until national signing day.
Head coach Jim McElwain is implementing a cross-country quest to land another passer, further illustrated by his program's bye-week plans. The first-year Florida leader and assistants are attempting to capitalize on extra time by visiting key quarterback recruits.
Gators offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier is expected to visit 4-star Maryland commit Dwayne Haskins, while McElwain himself will travel to see in-state standout and LSU pledge Feleipe Franks, per Luke Stampini of 247Sports.
Both prospects earned Elite 11 honors this summer. Neither player has publicly wavered on his commitment, but that hasn't prevented Florida from moving forward with its pursuit.
Kyle Trask, a 3-star passer from Manvel High School in Texas, pledged to the Gators in July immediately after receiving an offer. Though he possesses prototypical size (6'5 ½", 211 lbs), his rating of 90th overall among pro-style quarterbacks in 2016 composite rankings won't exactly fill the Florida fanbase with confidence.
He caught the staff's attention while competing at Florida’s Friday Night Lights camp in late July, earning his first Power Five conference offer. Houston Baptist, Lamar and McNeese State were Trask's only other collegiate opportunities at the time, according to 247Sports.
The plan all along, it appears, has been to pair two passers in this Gators class.
Florida was a finalist for Haskins prior to his Maryland commitment in May. The Terrapins' pivotal in-state pickup told Bleacher Report the Gators and Rutgers were two other teams that entered the equation as he approached a decision.
Maryland dismissed head coach Randy Edsall earlier this month, creating room for doubt in the Terps' ability to carry Haskins' commitment to signing day. However, he's repeatedly used social media to reinforce his intentions and actually pinned the post of that May pledge to the top of his Twitter page.
Nonetheless, Nussmeier remains interested. He initially began recruiting Haskins as a member of Michigan's staff, maintaining that relationship after relocating to Gainesville.
Franks, a 6'5", 220-pound Sunshine State product from Wakulla High School, committed to LSU shortly after his sophomore year. Though he's been steadfast with that loyalty, a recent Florida State visit signals Franks is at least willing to explore alternative options.
Franks and Haskins are rated fifth and sixth, respectively, among pro-style quarterbacks in composite rankings, so Florida would certainly be willing to find a spot for either prospect should they both decide a commitment flip is in their best interest.
Though this duo may top the list, Franks and Haskins are hardly alone as potential Gators targets at the position.
Louisville pledge Tylin Oden traveled to campus earlier this season. The Cardinals currently carry two quarterback commits in this cycle, so increased interest from Florida could push the Tennessee product to reconsider his situation.
“Coach Nussmeier said that he was excited that I was there and to enjoy myself,” Oden told Andrew Spivey of GatorCountry.com. “[McElwain] told me to watch the offense and I thought the offense was good and it would prepare me well for the NFL. I think I would fit really well into the offense.”
Though Florida hasn't formally extended a scholarship offer, don't be surprised if the Gators turn toward Oden down the road.
“They want to get to know me more and I think once we get that relationship established then I think they will offer me a scholarship," he told Spivey.
Auburn commit Ervin "Woody" Barrett is another athlete who may warrant an offer if Florida's search for a second quarterback continues deep into this cycle. The Orlando area standout is rated fourth nationally among dual-threat quarterbacks in composite rankings, displaying superior rushing abilities compared to other Gators targets.
Barrett, a Tigers pledge since June, spent time at The Swamp just a few weeks ago. He was in the bleachers when Florida defeated SEC rival Ole Miss, and this seems to be an open-ended situation that may depend on McElwain.
“Auburn is No. 1, and if, if I had a second choice, the Florida Gators I would take into consideration," Barrett told Stampini. "They said they will hit me up, so we will see what happens.”
For now, it looks like Franks and Haskins are No. 1 and 1A on Florida's quarterback board, while prospects like Oden, Barrett and perhaps Clemson pledge Zerrick Cooper could factor into fallback plans as things progress.
Florida failed to sign a player at the position last signing day, falling short in late attempts to flip Deondre Francois (Florida State) and Lamar Jackson (Louisville). McElwain certainly has more tangible proof of offensive proficiency to sell these days, as the Gators attack has jumped from 106th to 49th nationally in passing yards per game this fall.
Redshirt freshman Will Grier (10 touchdowns and three interceptions through six games) was a budding star prior to his suspension. Sophomore Treon Harris has improved his completion percentage by 12 points since last season while tossing four touchdowns and no picks.
McElwain is assembling a young, dynamic supporting cast that continues to mature and complement its quarterbacks. Commitments from 4-star high school wide receivers Freddie Swain and Joshua Hammond, along with top-ranked junior college running back Mark Thompson, should help contribute toward future offensive strides.
Florida landed Jake Allen, a top-10 pro-style passer in the 2017 class, this summer. He presents significant promise in coming years, but Florida's main focus is on the present.
Expect that to motivate McElwain and his staff for the remainder of this cycle, leading to another quarterback commit at some point. That player may not have an offer just yet, but the Gators should be willing to cast a wider net if that's what the situation ultimately dictates.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
Though the Michigan football team will be doing a lot of thinking during its bye week, the Wolverines need to fix a few shortcomings, too.
Players must refocus after a crushing last-second loss to rival Michigan State. Granted, if there's any coach who can eliminate something from everyone's memory, it's Jim Harbaugh.
"To be heart broken or devastated would mean the end," Harbaugh said, per MLive's Nick Baumgardner. "That would be the ending. [We're] sad about losing the game, but we're not going to let that sadness stand in the way of us improving."
While the defense and special teams haven't been perfect—and no, that's not a shot at Blake O'Neill, because a mishandled snap probably won't happen again—Michigan's success in tight games is dependent on the offense scoring enough and sealing wins.
And it all starts with the running game, which has encountered some problems during the last few weeks. A portion of the struggles can be attributed to a rise in competition, but Maryland (for most of the game) and MSU limited the Wolverines.
The Spartans in particular gave the offensive line fits, twisting and spiking their way into the backfield and—excluding O'Neill's negative play—holding Michigan to 77 rushing yards on 32 attempts. Yes, MSU boasts one of the best opposing D-lines on the slate, along with Utah and Ohio State, but the Wolverines were thoroughly dominated.
Perhaps what's most frustrating for Michigan, though, is it still played well enough to win because of a strong defensive day and an almost-perfect special teams performance. The Spartans needed a freak play to leave the Big House smiling instead of slumping.
However, if the Wolverines offense could've sealed the game on the ground, Michigan State never would've even had a chance. Michigan needed a single first down to put the outcome on ice.
Running when the other team knows you're running is a Harbaugh staple. Picking up first downs when the other team knows it's what you need is what this Harbaugh-led team is striving to achieve.
But the blame doesn't fall solely on the offensive line. The guy under center needs to make plays when given the opportunity, and Jake Rudock has consistently fallen short of accomplishing that.
It's become a recurring theme: Rudock has a receiver open downfield yet fires an inaccurate pass. He's overthrown Jehu Chesson on multiple occasions, most notably in losses to Utah and Michigan State.
The accompanying media shows the senior quarterback stepping up in the face of pressure (good), locating Chesson (good) and missing the wideout (bad). Had Rudock connected with Chesson, the Wolverines likely would've extended their lead over MSU to nine points with less than six minutes remaining.
Once Rudock figures out that problem, safeties will not be so quick to commit and stop Michigan's running game before it bursts through the second level. For now, though, opposing defenses really don't have to respect deep passes.
In late September, Justin P. Hicks of MLive noted Rudock said game speed is noticeably different than working at practice but didn't want that to be an excuse for a lack of execution:
It's one of those things you'd like to do every time but I understand it's not going to happen every time. We're working on it, we're trying really hard to get it and I think it's a matter of time before it starts clicking. Game speed is a little different from practice but that's no excuse. We need to go out there and connect on those.
Rudock is obviously correct in saying a downfield pass won't be completed every time, but Wolverines fans, coaches and players alike would certainly settle for the first big play at this point.
It's open at least once per game. Rudock just needs to hit his target.
The offense's two most glaring weaknesses are fundamental problems, but excelling at the basics is what makes a Harbaugh team a Harbaugh team. When the Wolverines have accomplished that, they've won—often in dominant fashion.
Michigan's defense will always give the team a chance to win. It's up to the offensive line and Rudock to seal the deal.
Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
With more and more athletes becoming hybrids on the football field—a welcomed trait with many college football recruits—Dontavious Jackson is more of a purist when it comes to his position.
He's a middle linebacker. A "Mike," if you will. And good Mikes are hard to come by.
"A lot of schools are telling me a true Mike is a rarity," Jackson said. "To have the size, speed and strength combined with leadership and intelligence, it's hard to find out there.
"I want to provide that for a team."
Jackson, a 4-star talent from Houston, is the nation's No. 5 inside linebacker. At 6'2" and 248 pounds, he has the size. As someone who's run a 4.6-second 40-yard dash, he has the speed to man the inside. As someone who bench-presses 330 pounds and squats 600, he also has the strength.
Combine that with a high football IQ and the will to get better each day, and Jackson is one of those athletes who easily attract the best college coaches. His offer list, featuring 57 reported offers, serves as proof.
Jackson announced a top 12 over the summer, and he's taken official visits to UCLA and Florida State this month. A Michigan visit was set back in November, but Jackson said trip No. 3 could be destined for another school.
From a recruiting standpoint, he most likely will make his announcement on national signing day. The process for him is slow motion, just the way he likes it. In fact, Jackson said official visit announcements via social media—which is popular among most recruits—will probably not be a thing for him as he continues researching schools in an effort to trim his list.
"I think I'm just going to lay low with it all," Jackson said. "I may post a couple of pics while I'm [at schools], and that's when people will know. I'm not going to really broadcast anything. I'm just ready to sit down and make a decision."
Jackson said he has a few schools in mind for his final two spots, assuming he still takes the Michigan visit next month. Alabama, Florida and Ole Miss are among the contenders. Jackson added that both the UCLA and Florida State visits were excellent and set the bar for the next three.
Jackson said his visits most likely will all be out of state, but that doesn't mean an in-state team is out of the running. Texas and Texas A&M have been battling for him, as have Baylor, TCU and Texas Tech. He said that he is considering taking a couple of unofficial visits during the season and one or two after the season, depending on his schedule.
"I'm not worried about distance," Jackson said of playing out of state. "I really just want to know how I feel about each coaching staff. I want to be where I fit in best, as far as scheme and depth goes.
"I mean, that could mean a school in state. Staying in state is not out of the topic at all."
For Jackson, playing middle linebacker in the best situation possible is key. He's been watching how teams use their Mikes and if athletes are playing out of position to fill a void. He's noticed with a lot of teams that some linebackers are inserted at the Mike spot because they "have no one else," he said.
"Basically, I can come in and be mature enough to do it early," Jackson said of the position. "My goal is to provide for a team to where it can lead to early playing time and, hopefully, a starting job early.
"A lot of times, teams have Mikes who aren't really Mikes. They're either Wills [weak-side], Sams [strong-side] or Jacks [hybrid linebacker/defensive end]. I'm a Mike, and I think I can be a good Mike for someone."
To say Jackson has a nose for the football is an understatement. In three varsity seasons, he has recorded more than 300 tackles. He finished his junior year with 165 tackles, six sacks and one interception. He had 107 tackles as a sophomore.
Jackson is a college-ready athlete who is excited about the opportunity of playing a position he's studied for years. Now it's all about finding a home to further hone his craft.
"I just want to make sure I get everything scheduled first," he said. "I don't want to lead any school on. I'm just going to take my time and make the right decision."
Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
Clemson is unbeaten on the season at 6-0 but only 1-3 against the spread over its last four games, seemingly favored by a few points too many too often. The Tigers will go off as favorites on the road when they meet Miami for an ACC interdivisional bout Saturday afternoon at Sun Life Stadium.
Point spread: Tigers opened as 3.5-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)
College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 24.5-20.3 Tigers
Why the Clemson Tigers can cover the spread
Clemson now owns a nine-game winning streak after beating Boston College last week 34-17. The Tigers spotted the Eagles the first score of the game, rolled to a 34-10 fourth-quarter lead but eschewed the cover as 18-point favorites when they gave up a meaningless BC touchdown with a minute and a half to go. On the night, Clemson outgained the Eagles 532-246, as quarterback DeShaun Watson threw for 420 yards and three touchdowns and ran for one more, while the defense held Boston College to just 87 yards through the air.
One month ago, the Tigers won at Louisville 20-17 but missed on the cover as five-point road favorites; just after that they beat Notre Dame 24-22 but missed on the cover at -3. So three of Clemson's ATS defeats have come by a total of four points.
Why the Miami Hurricanes can cover the spread
After losing consecutive road games at Cincinnati and at Florida State, the Hurricanes returned home last week and beat Virginia Tech 30-20. Miami took a 7-0 lead three minutes into the game and never trailed, later clinching the win and the cover as a field-goal favorite on a short Brad Kaaya touchdown pass with just under three minutes to go.
The Hurricanes held the ball on offense for over 32 minutes and won the turnover battle 4-0, and those are usually good ways to win and cover college football games. Kaaya now owns a 10-to-1 touchdown-to-interceptions ratio this season.
Two weeks ago, Miami lost at undefeated Florida State 29-24 but held on for the cover as a seven-point road dog. If it can keep this week's game that close, it'll cover.
This is a tough one to call, but ultimately the talent differential isn't as great as the spread might indicate. Also, while teams ranked in the AP Top 25 this season are 104-15 SU against unranked foes, they're only 56-62 ATS. So home-dog Miami looks like the smart money here.
Clemson is 3-1 ATS in its last four games against Miami.
Miami is 16-3 SU in its last 19 games at home.
Clemson is 1-5 ATS in its last six games in October.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
It was the spring of 2011 and Devontae Booker couldn't get his life going. He didn't have the SAT score to play for a major college football team and couldn't get down to the junior college an hour from his home in a rough part of Sacramento because he didn't have a car. He was out of school, out of football. And after a few months of lying around on his parents' couch, he took a job at FedEx, loading and unloading packages off a conveyor belt.
At the same time, Dennis Erickson's stellar coaching life was reaching its end. He had won two national championships at Miami, been the Pac-12 coach of the year at three schools, coached two NFL teams, dealt with politics and bad owners and scandal and success. And his team at Arizona State wasn't going the right way. He would be fired by the end of the year. And then, a little jaded by his profession, he retired and went fishing.
There was no way to predict their stories would intersect in Salt Lake City. But they did, on the Utah Utes football team. Booker is the star running back on the No. 3 team in the nation and an Academic All-Pac 12 student. Erickson, at 68, is his running backs coach—yes from a big-name head coach to a position coach—not because he needs the job but because he loves it.
"He's like another father figure to me," Booker said.
"I hope so," Erickson said. "That's what I've felt I've always been as a coach, a second father to players. It's more than just about football. It's about life in general."
These are two opposite stories working together so beautifully, with Erickson helping Booker to develop and grow. But also, Booker is helping Erickson to re-connect with the roots of coaching.
Erickson could have stayed retired and "hit golf balls crooked," he said. But he took a job far below the heights he had reached because he remembered what it once felt like.
"When I was growing up, my dad was a high school coach, and I was in the locker rooms all my life," he said. "That's what I love to do. When I started, all I wanted to do was be a high school coach like my dad.
"I had some opportunities and I took them. I had some successes, some not. You become so involved as the head coach at some of these schools that it's all about PR and other things. It's not coaching. You get caught up in other stuff and you get an ego. Now I'm back around to why I really got into coaching. You lose that a little."
Booker, a senior, isn't going to win the Heisman Trophy, but he's the best player on the team that has accomplished the most in the country. He has run for 130.5 yards per game, and Utah is the only undefeated team in the Pac-12. He considered turning pro after last season, but on the advice of Erickson, who went to his NFL sources to see where Booker stood, decided to give Utah one more season.
If anyone has learned patience, it's him. It took Booker four years after graduating from high school in Del Paso Heights, near Sacramento, just to get to a major college.
But let's go back a little. Booker describes Del Paso Heights as a good community, but a dangerous, gang-riddled one. Listen to this description:
"It was actually one of my friends in high school, his older sister," Booker said. "I think it was her birthday and they got her a little car. She was just going out to a high school party. I was a freshman in high school. She was sitting on top of her car and some guys came down to shoot up the party.
"A bullet hit her, killed her. Bullets have no names on them. I actually saw it, but I didn't see who was shooting. I rolled to the ground and started to crawl into the house over a bunch of people. As soon as the guys stopped shooting, [someone said], 'Someone got shot.' I just saw the girl lying on the ground."
This is what Booker grew up in. His dad, Ronnie, who helps veterans file claims for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, said that that shooting happened only a few blocks from their home.
"If there were 100 parties a year, in high school, Devontae might go to three of them," Ronnie said. "And every time, something happened. Shooting, gang stuff. Devontae was never a problem, never one to get in trouble. But I was always telling him, 'You have friends who are out there gang-banging. You cannot be out there.'
" 'Bullets don't have a name. If you see them and they're going to do something, turn and go home.' "
Two of Devontae's gang-banging friends, Ronnie Booker said, were looking out for him, too. They didn't want to interfere with his future in football.
"Yeah, they'd say, `You're trying to do something. Play football,' " Ronnie Booker said " 'Devontae, we're going over here. There might be trouble. You need to go home ' "
Booker was not highly recruited out of high school. He did get an offer to play for Washington State, but when he didn't get the needed college entrance exam score, the offer was rescinded, Ronnie said. Booker didn't know what to do. He had several friends going to junior college in San Mateo, about a two-hour drive from Sacramento, but he didn't have any way of getting there.
So what did he do? "I was just sitting at home," he said. "Sitting on my mom's couch. I wasn't doing anything."
His dad said that wasn't exactly accurate. He said Devontae was staying in shape, working out, and sitting on the couch with his laptop all day, taking online courses. Then he got the job at FedEx. But why didn't Devontae mention that job?
"Probably because he didn't do it very long," Ronnie Booker said. "It was hard, a lot of work for basically minimum wage."
Think about his path. Now, he's among the top players in the country, two months from earning a college degree in sociology with B-plus average, he and Erickson said, and then heading on to a likely NFL career. (He and girlfriend Destiny also have a 2-year-old son, Deashon).
Booker ended up playing two years at American River junior college near his home, where he got his grades up and earned some attention as a player. That landed him an opportunity at Utah.
Salt Lake is a beautiful, quiet town. And it also is absolutely nothing like Booker had ever seen.
"I remember just sitting there when I first got here," Booker said, "thinking 'Man, there are no helicopters overhead all night.' "
What Booker's dad remembers was Booker calling him several times a day saying that the team isn't accepting him and that he's not comfortable. That was just two weeks into his time there. Ronnie Booker told him to give it two more weeks, and if that didn't work out, come home.
He got comfortable, in part because of his position coach: Erickson.
Ronnie Booker said the one coach Devontae always talks about is "Erickson, Erickson, Erickson." He said Erickson preached patience when Booker arrived and now preaches ownership of what he has earned.
"He's very positive," Devontae Booker said. "He's been through it all and gives good advice when I need it, about anything. He tells a few stories now and then. He's a great coach, a players' coach."
A winning coach.
Erickson quickly climbed in the coaching world. He seemed to have a million jobs. At Miami, he replaced Jimmy Johnson and won national championships in 1989 and 1991. Miami then underwent a harsh NCAA investigation and was placed on probation. Erickson wasn't implicated.
He went to Seattle in the NFL but had four mediocre years and was caught up in an ownership change. Then he went to Oregon State, where the Beavers nearly won the national championship. Then, on to the San Francisco 49ers, where he had to deal with the oddities of the York family ownership, a sour relationship with general manager Terry Donahue and the dismantling of the team to get its salaries in order. He was fired after two bad years. His most recent head-coaching job was Arizona State, where he got off to a big start, then fizzled.
That would have been the normal time to retire for good. But Erickson helped his son, Bryce, coach at a high school in Oregon and then signed on in 2014 at Utah. He also is officially listed as assistant head coach.
Why don't more big-name coaches do that? For the love of coaching, why not just jump in at a lower level?
"Some guys have such a big ego," he said. "I know I called the plays forever ever, and then when I went to the NFL, I didn't have time to do it. At Arizona State, I didn't do it, either. If I had a chance to do it over again, I would.
"You get caught up in all the other stuff and then you get an ego. You start asking, 'Why should have I have to do this?' But that's not what I was in coaching for."
No, he was in coaching for guys like Booker.
Erickson is addicted to the coaching. And after sitting through an NCAA investigation, two weird ownership situations in the NFL and also winning big, he just wanted to have that old, pure feeling back again.
It's rare when you see that. But there's something hopeful about it, too. Former Packers and Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman is now coaching a high school team on Cape Cod.
Erickson said that big college teams, like Utah, have great support systems: tutoring and such. And Booker just grew up and took advantage of it all—became more accountable on the field and off.
He wouldn't take much credit for Booker's transformation, but did say this:
"That's what's rewarding about coaching. The situations with young people, regardless of their background, just helping them be successful. In my first head-coaching job, at Billings Central High School, I got just as much enjoyment out of that as when we were winning the national championship.
"The pressure to win is so unbelievable at some places it kind of ruins the fun. Now, I'm back around to why I really got into coaching."
Booker helped Erickson to find the fun again. Erickson helped Booker to find his way.
Opposite stories going in opposite directions finish with the same happy ending.
Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com