NCAA Football News

Most Important College Football Recruiting Visits 3 Weeks Away from Signing Day

The dead period is finished for college football's 2016 recruiting cycle, which suddenly has less than three weeks left. Resumed contact between prospects and coaching staffs results in a slew of final official visits as high school seniors and their families attempt to find an ideal fit.

Many of America's premier players are on the move this weekend, exploring campuses they could ultimately call home later this year. Here's a look a several standouts expected to arrive at universities across the college football landscape.

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Early List of Hot-Seat Head Coaches for 2016 College Football Season

The 2016 football season technically begins next September. Coaching is a year-long job, however, and some of college football's biggest names will be working for their job. What happens in January and February could very well affect what happens in October and November. 

In the following slides are the coaches who absolutely must have a good '16 or they risk being let go. Whether they're simply not winning enough or not showing enough progress in certain areas (i.e. offense or defense), the following coaches are, at minimum, entering their third year at their current job. 

With the '16 calendar year just getting started, it's time to look ahead at the college football coaches on the hot seat. 

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Ohio State Football: 2016 Will Be the Year of the Redshirt Freshman for Buckeyes

Ohio State's 2015 recruiting class was deep, talented and heralded as one of the best in the country, but of the 25 players who signed last February, only four saw the field for the Buckeyes last season.

That means Ohio State has 21 redshirt freshmen on the roster heading into 2016, and with the mass exodus of talent heading to the NFL, those players have a huge opportunity to shine next fall.

It starts up front defensively, where the Buckeyes have to replace three starters with the departures of superstar defensive end Joey Bosa and defensive tackles Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt.

Former 4-star standout Jashon Cornell has an opportunity to crack the two-deep rotation as Sam Hubbard's backup at defensive end, and Robert Landers should factor into the heavy rotation at defensive tackle.

On the second level, Urban Meyer will need to find two new backers to flank middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan, in addition to bolstering his depth in the unit. Justin Hilliard, Ohio State's lone 5-star recruit in 2015, and Nick Conner, who shined as an early enrollee before suffering a season-ending knee injury, will have the opportunity to crack the two deep.

The Buckeyes will have to replace both safeties and cornerback Eli Apple on the back end. It'll be tough for cornerback Eric Glover-Williams to start opposite Gareon Conley, but he could be a key backup and even earn time as the nickelback.

But it's the offensive side of the ball where the biggest opportunity lies. 

Ohio State is tasked with finding eight new starters to build around quarterback J.T. Barrett, including an entirely new wide receiver corps and the pivotal running back slot vacated by Ezekiel Elliott.

On the perimeter, Buckeyes fans should be excited about K.J. Hill and Torrance Gibson, two players who nearly had their redshirts burned in 2015.

Hill was a former 4-star whom Meyer stole from Bret Bielema and Arkansas at the last minute. He proved himself early in fall camp by having the black stripe removed from his helmet—a symbolic gesture that signified his official welcome to the team. The Buckeyes didn't want to waste a year, however, and they redshirted him thanks to the depth Ohio State had at wide receiver in '15.

Gibson came to Ohio State as a 4-star dual-threat quarterback, but the depth behind center was even more crowded than it was at receiver, so Gibson made the move to the perimeter during fall camp. 

"Just helping the team out," Gibson said of the move, according to Ari Wasserman of the Plain Dealer. "That's basically what I'm doing. Because if I sat on the bench, I would be selfish to sit on the bench for the whole year. ... Anything but the bench." 

But a lingering knee injury and off-the-field problems kept him from game action in '15. Despite that setback, the future is bright for the rangy playmaker, as Meyer sees him as a "quarterback-slash," which is essentially a hybrid position that will allow Gibson to rotate from the perimeter to a situational Wildcat quarterback.

The guy with the biggest opportunity, though, is running back Mike Weber.

The 5'9", 215-pound bulldozer was tearing it up in fall camp before a minor knee surgery set him back. With Elliott's ability to carry the load, the Buckeyes didn't need to burn Weber's redshirt, but he's primed to take over and potentially lead the Buckeyes' rushing attack in the fall.

Weber is thankful for the redshirt, though, because it gave him the opportunity to learn from one of the best running backs in school history, per Wasserman for Cleveland.com:

I started off really good. I kind of caught on to the college speed of the game really quick and was basically running the ball really good. The injury slowed me down a little bit. It kind of set me back this whole year and maybe pushed me toward a redshirt.

But if I had to do it again, I'd be a redshirt because I learned from Zeke and the guys in front of me. I just sat back and watched those guys. I am just going to let it all loose next year. 

Weber's primed to take charge in the backfield, and he should lead the way for a group of talented redshirt freshmen in 2016.

 

All recruiting information via 247Sports.

David Regimbal is the Ohio State football lead writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

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Which SEC Team Will Have the Most Intriguing QB Battle This Offseason?

For the third straight season, the SEC will have some of the most intriguing quarterback battles in the country.

Alabama will be looking for its third starting quarterback in three years, Texas A&M added former Oklahoma Sooner Trevor Knight to battle Jake Hubenak, Florida has a four-man race that includes two FBS transfers and Georgia has veterans Greyson Lambert and Brice Ramsey in-house to battle with 5-star early enrollee Jacob Eason.

On top of those obvious battles, Arkansas and Mississippi State have to replace veteran stars, South Carolina and Missouri are searching for answers and LSU desperately needs Brandon Harris to take the next step.

Which one is the most intriguing? 

None of the above, because Auburn's four-man battle tops them all.

Head coach Gus Malzahn tried to find more balance with Nick Marshall in 2014, but that plan backfired with losses to Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama. 

Jeremy Johnson was supposed to be the cure that ailed Malzahn, but the junior tanked early, was benched in favor of pro-style passer Sean White and the Tiger offense struggled mightily all year in the passing game (173.7 yards per game).

Johnson is a pro-style passer who does have the ability to run, despite that attribute not being used as much as it should have been in 2015. White is a pure pro-style passer, but he doesn't have the wheels. The duo will be joined this January by true dual-threat quarterback John Franklin III out of East Mississippi Community College. He served as Florida State's scout team version of Marshall prior to the BCS National Championship Game two years ago. The last member to join the battle will be true freshman early enrollee Woody Barrett, who also is a dual-threat from Orlando, Florida.

Four contenders. Four different sets of skills. Four different sets of weaknesses.

Sign me up.

 

Jeremy Johnson

Johnson obviously has the experience. No, it didn't go according to plan in 2015 when he threw 10 touchdowns and seven picks, got flustered far too often and was benched in favor of White. But Johnson did spend virtually a full offseason as the starter in practice with Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, which is still good experience compared to the other contenders.

On top of that, he closed the season strong, providing a late spark for an ineffective White in Auburn's 31-10 win over Memphis in the Birmingham Bowl.

But the lows for Johnson were more like craters, and Malzahn can't have that in a critical year for himself and his program.

 

Sean White

White looked solid as a passer in a pinch for Johnson last year when he threw for 1,164 yards, and a little more prep time this offseason should help him be a bit more consistent. But he had leg and shoulder injuries down the stretch, and he isn't nearly the running threat of either dual-threat contender or Johnson, for that matter.

 

John Franklin III

Franklin, a 6'2", 180-pounder, has the familiarity with the offense that Malzahn should run thanks to his time serving as Florida State's scout team version of Marshall prior to the 2014 title game, but he's still extremely raw and will have to prove that's the direction the offense needs to go in a crowded battle. What's more, he wasn't the full-time starter at East Mississippi last year and never was in Tallahassee, so it's been a while since he's had the keys to the offense all to himself.

"Coach (Malzahn) told me he needed somebody and he got Cam (Newton), then he needed somebody and got Nick Marshall," Franklin said in December, according to Wesley Sinor of AL.com. "Now he needs somebody so he came and got me. I'm just ready to go to work and earn my spot the right way and get the ball rolling with everything."

 

Woody Barrett

Barrett is the perfect balance of a runner and passer, and could become the quarterback of the future. But he's a true freshman who will make true freshman mistakes, and the staff probably can't afford that.

In addition to the different styles of quarterbacks in the mix, the pressure facing Malzahn adds even more flavor to the already-spicy battle. 

Auburn faces Clemson, Texas A&M and LSU during the month of September, and it's absolutely imperative that Malzahn gets this pick right before the season starts. A repeat performance of last September that saw the Tigers fall to LSU and Mississippi State, and struggle with Jacksonville State, won't sit well on the Plains.

It's not just a matter of finding the right player; it's deciding on the right style. 

Malzahn would be best-served abandoning the goal of proving that his system works with a pro-style passer, embracing the identity of a dynamic offense with a running threat at quarterback and going with either Franklin or Barrett.

The fourth-year head coach of the Tigers will be pulled in many different directions by his quarterbacks over the next nine months, and watching how it plays out will provide plenty of offseason drama.

Get your popcorn ready.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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The X-Factor of Ohio State Buckeyes' Future on Offense

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A year ago, there were no shortage of questions surrounding Torrance Gibson.

What position will he play? Would the 4-star prospect be able to handle the transition from being the star of his high school team to just one of many on his new roster? And would that roster ultimately be Ohio State's?

One year later, many of those same questions still exist.

After ultimately sticking through with his commitment to Ohio State and signing with the Buckeyes over the likes of Auburn, Tennessee, Miami (Fla.) and LSU, Gibson found himself a surprising nonfactor in the debut season of his college career. Beyond redshirting, the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, native found himself a distraction off the field as well, as rumors swirled that the onetime highly coveted player was seeking a midseason transfer.

Away from online message boards, highlights were nonexistent this past year for Gibson, who also dealt with an ankle injury throughout the season. Perhaps the most telling moment of his freshman campaign came when a reporter asked head coach Urban Meyer about the 6'4", 205-pounder, prefacing his question with comments made by Gibson in the Ohio State locker room following the Fiesta Bowl.

"Torrance Gibson?" Meyer asked. "I didn't know you guys got to talk to him. That's great."

Maybe Meyer was confused why reporters would want to talk to a player who didn't play in the Fiesta Bowl, let alone the rest of the 2015 season. Or perhaps he had hoped Gibson wouldn't be allowed to talk to reporters until he had "earned the right" to do so, a tactic he has previously invoked with players whose names had been attached to baggage.

But as Meyer talked out his answer, his tune soon changed. In his mind, Gibson was one of the Buckeyes' success stories of 2015—even if it didn't seem that way on the field.

"Torrance had a 2.7 [grade point average]. He worked his rear end off at a highly competitive university," Meyer said. "Probably September-ish is when he really grew up. I love Torrance Gibson, I love his talent. I love the fact that he did well academically. I think it's a future without—I use this comment sometimes—I don't see a ceiling."

Exactly where on the field that future is at remains to be seen.

After arriving at Ohio State as a U.S. Army All-American selection at quarterback, Gibson found himself as one of six scholarship signal-callers on the Buckeyes roster before Braxton Miller made the transition to wide receiver over the summer. The natural move seemed to be for Gibson to make a position change as well, considering his combination of size and speed made him as natural a fit as a pass-catcher as it did a pass-thrower.

But as the Ohio State staff found itself peppered with questions pertaining to Gibson's position as soon as national signing day, the company line seemed to be that he was sticking at quarterback.

"His future is nowhere but the quarterback position," asserted Buckeyes wide receivers coach Zach Smith, who served as Gibson's primary recruiter.

That sentiment, however, had changed less than a week into fall camp when the Sunshine State product began running routes with rest of the OSU receivers. At the time it was explained as a way to get Gibson on the field as a freshman, something that wouldn't have happened at quarterback with the battle between Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett ongoing.

As an injury bug hit the rest of the Buckeyes wideouts, the move made even more sense, and Gibson seemed to be making progress. Availability at Ohio State's fall practices was often limited to the media, but the sizable wideout could be spotted making impressive grabs in the school-released highlight packages.

Gibson's promise was apparent and appeared to be much more than a mere message board myth. But if the goal of his position switch was to merely get him on the field, then it'd be tough to label it as anything but a failure in 2015.

As both Gibson and Meyer alluded to, making the move to college life off the field may have been even more difficult than the transition he was going through on it. As the Buckeyes beat Penn State in mid-October, Gibson was absent from the sideline, the result of academic troubles, according to Meyer.

"You have to earn the right to dress," Meyer said. "He didn't do it last week."

By season's end, Gibson hadn't played a snap, even though injuries continued to plague Ohio State's wide receiver corps. An offseason transfer seemed likely, if not inevitable, but immediately the Fiesta Bowl, he had reaffirmed his commitment to the Buckeyes program.

While the plan may have always been for his move to wideout to be temporary, the reality of Ohio State's depth chart is that his future will likely always be at wideout.

Barrett still has two years of eligibility remaining for the Buckeyes, who also possess redshirt freshman Joey Burrow and redshirt sophomore Stephen Collier on their depth chart entering 2016. Ohio State doesn't have a quarterback currently committed to its 2016 class, but remains in the running for 4-star prospect Dwayne Haskins, with 2017 commit Danny Clark set to arrive on campus in a year.

Still, Gibson hasn't ruled out the possibility of once again taking snaps behind center.

"Maybe a Wildcat quarterback, something like that. You never know," Gibson said. "Keep your eyes open."

Meyer, too, can envision Gibson making the move back to quarterback in the future. After all, the fifth-year Ohio State head coach knows just how valuable a signal-caller with Gibson's ability on the ground can be, given his work with Josh Harris, Alex Smith, Tim Tebow, Miller and Barrett in the past.

"I would love to use him as a quarterback-slash [athlete]," Meyer said. "Because he's that good of an athlete."

In a best-case scenario, Gibson could become the version of Cam Newton Meyer never truly got to coach at Florida, perhaps as soon as 2017 should Barrett opt to turn pro after his junior season. But what's much more likely is for the American Heritage product to see the majority of his playing time come at receiver, with Wildcat snaps keeping opposing defenses off balance.

In order to make that work, however, Gibson is going to have to make progress on the field while maintaining the same off of it. The skill may be natural, but the transition is not yet complete and the opportunity will certainly be there on an Ohio State offense replacing eight starters, including all of its top skill players.

"This spring is going to be big," Meyer said of Gibson's development.

But as high as his ceiling is, Gibson's floor is equally is as low.

Will he be a "what could have been?," as he appeared poised to be at times during his freshman season? The next 12 months will tell the tale. But Gibson insists that 2016 will provide positive answers when it comes to his still unknown future in the Buckeyes offense.

"I'll be ready next year," he said. "I guarantee I'll be ready."

 

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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Michigan Football: Wolverines' Strengths, Weaknesses Heading into 2016 Offseason

Heading into the 2016 offseason, the Michigan Wolverines college football program has clear strengths and weaknesses throughout the team on paper.

The Wolverines will be a popular choice to win the Big Ten because of the returning talent, but they also must address a few problem areas.

Michigan lost starters at quarterback and middle linebacker, which are considered the captains of the offense and defense, respectively. Replacing that leadership is doable but not always easily accomplished.

Nevertheless, the team's collective coaching prowess is reassuring for followers of the Maize and Blue. After all, few staffs in college football boast the NFL background Michigan does.

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