NCAA Football News

Alabama Football: Grading Crimson Tide's Offseason Staff Changes

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Barring any last-minute changes, Alabama’s staff turnover for this offseason is complete.

It was fairly painless and, outside of a nervous week or two waiting on Lane Kiffin, not as apocalyptic as some thought after Alabama was bounced from the College Football Playoff in a convincing Sugar Bowl loss to Ohio State.

So what do these hires bring to the table? Will they work out in the long term? Let’s grade each staff hire and break them down.

 

Tosh Lupoi: Outside Linebackers

Of all of Alabama’s staff moves, this one seemed to be the most obvious.

Lupoi has proven himself to be an ace recruiter who has experience coaching the position.

He was only technically an “intern” at Alabama because Washington was paying him $300,000 this year as part of a settlement involving NCAA infractions that Lupoi was cleared of. That freed him up to work for Alabama at no charge.

"He's got to be the most qualified recruiting intern in the history of recruiting interns," Brandon Huffman, director of recruiting at Scout.com, told AL.com’s John Talty.

According to Talty, Lupoi played a role in the recruitment of 2015 commitments like quarterback Blake Barnett and Keaton Anderson. He gives Saban another West Coast presence, along with Lane Kiffin.

Lupoi was named Rivals’ Recruiter of the Year in 2010 and was a force during his time at Cal and Washington. Incidentally, he played a big role in swaying wide receiver Keenan Allen away from Alabama in 2010.

On the field, Lupoi helped develop some successful defenses at Cal, mentoring eventual first-rounders Cameron Jordan and Tyson Alualu.

Lupoi hits every mark in what Saban looks for in a position coach.

Grade: A

 

Mel Tucker: Defensive Backs

It was easy for Alabama’s fanbase to have a knee-jerk reaction to Tucker’s hiring and immediately dismiss it. After all, Tucker’s defenses with the Bears were ranked No. 30 in the NFL in both of his years as defensive coordinator.

But a deeper look at Tucker shows that there is potential for success at the college level.

In 2002, he was defensive backs coach on a defense that was second nationally in points allowed, as the Buckeyes won a national championship. Otherwise, during his four years there, Ohio State’s pass defense was never higher than No. 33 nationally.

Individually, he had success mentoring defensive backs. Notably, Chris Gamble turned into a first-round NFL draft pick, while players like Dustin Fox and Donnie Nickey were also selected.

He’s also worked with Saban as a defensive backs coach for one year at LSU and two years as a graduate assistant at Michigan State.

He faces a tall task, rebuilding a defensive backfield that gave up more passing yards than any defense in Saban’s time at Alabama. Defensive backs like Geno Smith and Hootie Jones have to take the next step in their development for the Crimson Tide to be successful.

This also means that Kirby Smart will move back to coaching inside linebackers after a yearlong stint in the secondary.

Grade: C+

 

Jody Wright: Director of Player Personnel

Like Tucker, Wright is a hire that won’t immediately have fans jumping out of their seats. That’s mostly because Wright has never really been in the spotlight to be a guy that people would know off the top of their head.

But Wright has deep ties to Alabama and should be able to navigate the challenges that come with running a recruiting effort the size of the Crimson Tide’s.

He spent the last two years as recruiting coordinator at Jacksonville State and then the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).

Before that, he was a graduate assistant and offensive analyst for Saban at Alabama. Before that, he was a graduate assistant and then director of football operations at Mississippi State.

Wright will “be responsible for the organization of all recruiting efforts,” per a UA release. “Wright will also work with compliance regarding initial eligibility and assist with coaching clinics, camps and other on-campus events.”

It’s a tall task at Alabama, where Saban micromanages everything to a tee for a program that recruits nationwide. But Wright has a track record of doing just that. He shouldn’t be intimidated by a big stage like that.

Saban got a guy he is familiar with and has plenty of experience running recruiting operations.

Grade: B

 

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

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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Holton Hill to Texas: Longhorns Land 4-Star CB Prospect

Holton Hill has committed to play college football at Texas. The talented cornerback, who was recruited by many of the nation's top programs, should make an impact on the Longhorns' defense before too long.

Hill announced his decision on Twitter on Jan. 30:

Hill is a 4-star prospect who ranks just inside the top 100 nationally for the Class of 2015, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. He also rates very highly among players at his position and other players from the state of Texas.

In fact, Mike Roach of Horn Sports noted back in November he felt the Lamar High School star was the top corner in the state:

The most intriguing thing about Hill is his size. In an era where teams are looking for corners who are bigger, stronger and willing to play more physical on the outside, he fits the mold at 6'2''. And he should continue to fill out his frame in the coming years.

Along with the ideal height, he's also displayed a good feel for the position with effortless movement and good instincts when the ball is thrown his direction.

What Hill doesn't have is elite speed. That's where the questions come in as he gets prepared to make the jump to the collegiate level. All of his other skills must make up for the fact he might not be as quick as some of the wideouts he matches up against on Saturdays.

One guarantee is that he's enjoyed the process that's got him to this point. He explained to VYPE that it's something he's thought about for a long time.

"This is a dream come true," Hill said. "When I was back in Little League, I saw myself playing college football, getting all the offers and maybe getting to the NFL. I love to watch and pick up stuff from guys like Patrick Peterson, Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman and put it into my game."

Those are certainly some good defensive backs to learn from.

Ultimately, Hill isn't a lock to become a star at the next level, but there's enough upside to consider this a very good signing. As long as he continues to make further progress with his technique, especially against quicker receivers, the future is bright.

It may take a couple seasons before he works himself into a prominent role. Once it happens, however, there's a strong chance he'll never look back.



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Kris Boyd to Texas: Longhorns Land 4-Star CB Prospect

Kris Boyd enjoyed a steady rise to become one of the most coveted cornerback recruits in the nation. Now he's made the decision to continue his football career with Texas.

Boyd announced the news himself on Twitter.

Fellow 4-star defensive back Holton Hill also announced his commitment to Texas on Friday.

Boyd is a 4-star prospect who ranks No. 98 overall for the Class of 2015, based on 247Sports' composite rankings. He's rated as the 11th-best cornerback recruit in the nation and the 14th-best player out of Texas.

The Gilmer High School product also has experience on the offensive side of the ball, mostly as a running back. Despite that versatility, he's excelled as a corner, and the defensive backfield is where he projects at the collegiate level.

His stock rose following his junior campaign of high school. With that came increased attention and offers from top programs around the country. Jason Higdon of Scout talked with him about being pursued by big-name schools.

"It's an honor and I am blessed to have this chance," Boyd said. "I have this once in a lifetime opportunity and I'm just taking advantage of it."

He's a corner with good speed and strong ball skills who thrives when playing a physical brand of football. His tackling ability also ranks right up there with any other corner in the class, suggesting he'll also be an asset in run support.

Mike Roach of HornSports sees him as the complete package:

Boyd still needs to refine his technique, which should come with experience, coaching and making a full-time transition to defense. The skill set is in place; now he just needs to build off it to reach his sky-high potential.

At the outset, his tackling ability could make him an asset on special teams while receiving limited snaps on defense. If his progress continues as expected, he should be ready to make a serious defensive impact by the end of his second season at the latest.

He represents a fine addition to the 2015 class.

 

All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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10 Committed 2015 College Football Recruits Who Will Be Future SEC Stars

Whether it's right away or a few seasons from now, some of the SEC's top incoming recruits have "future star" written all over them.

The conference that routinely dominates the recruiting game has another bumper crop of talent coming to campuses this spring and summer, with five schools currently among the top 10 classes in 247Sports' composite rankings and nine in the top 20. Many of those schools figure to land some of the best uncommitted players on national signing day on Feb. 5 as well.

Just looking at the ones already pledged or signed to SEC schools, though, there's enough star power to put together a darn good all-star team. Some stand out more than others and already have the look of players who will go down among the best in conference history.

Scroll through to see our pick for 10 players who are currently committed to SEC schools and are most likely to end up being future stars.

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Jerrod Heard Is Guaranteed to Be Texas' Starting QB by Week 1

The Texas Longhorns have the same question heading into the 2015 season as they've had for the past four years: Who's going to be the starting quarterback?

There are a number of reasons why Texas is eyeballs-deep in a rebuilding project, but that question tells you most of what you need to know. It could also tell you next year is redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard's best shot at earning that job over junior and incumbent starter Tyrone Swoopes.

Second-year head coach Charlie Strong struggled to win six games in 2014 largely because of offensive woes. The Longhorns could be in a position to finish with an even worse record next season since their best players, many of whom were on the defensive side, are now gone.

Ideally for Strong, though, Texas will show some improvement on offense. In theory, that shouldn't be too difficult, as the Horns were downright dreadful at times last year. Texas finished ninth in the Big 12 in total offense and points per game, and it finished dead last in passing yards per game.

With a year to learn without the pressures of playing and athleticism to spare, Heard is in a great spot to take control of the offense by Week 1 against Notre Dame. Here are the other factors that play into that:

 

No Kyler Murray (or Zach Gentry)

Barring a late push and signing-day surprise, there won't be a true freshman in a position to compete for, let alone win, the starting job. (3-star quarterback Matthew Merrick is on track to grayshirt—meaning he won't play in 2015—according to Max Olson of ESPN.com. Whether that changes remains to be seen.)

One option Texas can cross off its list is 5-star quarterback prospect Kyler Murray. According to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports, Murray quickly became the center of the most heated recruiting battle in the country. The longtime Texas A&M verbal commit recently visited Texas, sparking panic in College Station, brief optimism in Austin and Twitter feuds between recruiting beat guys.

In the end, though, Murray stuck with his commitment to A&M.

Murray's decision is a tough blow for Texas in light of 4-star quarterback Zach Gentry's flip from the Longhorns to Michigan. As B/R recruiting guru Damon Sayles notes, Florida State commit Kai Locksley is the last hope Texas has of landing a big-name quarterback prospect:

If Locksley wants to compete for immediate playing time, entering a 2015 class with no quarterbacks would make sense. Locksley loves Florida State, but he took an official visit to Texas and had a great experience. And when 4-star receiver John Burt, Locksley's good friend, recommitted to Texas on Monday, he made it known that he wanted Locksley as a teammate.

Still, even if Locksley were to commit to Texas, he wouldn't arrive until the summer and would have a lot of ground to cover. If there was a 2015 prospect with the best chance to start on Day 1, it was Murray.  

 

Competition

A potentially quarterback-less 2015 class leaves Texas with two realistic options: Heard and Swoopes. 

With Swoopes, who passed for 2,409 yards, 13 touchdowns and 11 picks last year, progress has been two steps forward, two steps back. Just when it looks like he's turned a corner, like it did during a three-game stretch in November, Swoopes throws four picks in a season-ending game against TCU. 

The lasting impression of Swoopes was a 57-yard passing performance in an overall abysmal showing in the Texas Bowl against Arkansas. 

To be fair to Swoopes, he was thrown into a tough situation. His redshirt was burned midway through his freshman season against TCU, but Texas' previous coaching staff never did much with him after that. Then, he was asked to become the full-time starter early last year once David Ash went out with what would be a career-ending concussion.

The reality is, Swoopes hasn't had great development. Part of that problem could be on him, but he's been incorrectly utilized and then had to learn a new system on the fly. That kind of stuff can hurt a quarterback. Plus, Swoopes never proved that he has the edge heading into spring ball.

 

Offensive Philosophy

At least one of the reasons why Gentry decommitted from Texas was that the coaching staff planned to changed its offensive philosophy.

"You know what, they’re changing the offense at Texas, and I wasn't totally comfortable with that," Gentry told James Yodice of the Albuquerque Journal

The reported move to the spread offense cost the Horns a verbal pledge. However, it caters to what Heard is more familiar with from his days at Denton Guyer High School—and to what high school quarterbacks around the state of Texas are comfortable with, too.

Texas is making a commitment to running an offense that in-state high school skill players love and understand. Texas A&M, Baylor, Oklahoma State and now TCU have all experienced the fruits of what a spread offense can do for a program.

In the long run, Strong hopes this move will pay dividends on the recruiting trail. For 2015, it means Heard and his skill set have the best chance to see the field.

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.com. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.

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The Beginning of the End of National Signing Day

Continue to be absorbed, avoiding work and life responsibilities at all costs. Fake sick harder than you have ever faked sick before, maybe even tossing in a fever to match that “really bad cough” you developed in a matter of 12 hours. No one will ever know.

Do everything possible to embrace the absurdity and delight of national signing day, coming your way Wednesday, February 4. But do so knowing that this day—Christmas for the degenerate fan and message board enthusiast—won’t be this intoxicating much longer.

Please don’t view this as a melancholy forecast. It’s not. In fact, the reason national signing day will soon lose its luster is because of how far it’s come. Mr. Recruiting is trading in his spacious two-bedroom condo for a house with a three-car garage. They even left the treadmill.

National signing day hasn’t peaked; it’s simply evolved. And it’s poised to follow this upward rise even more, although it will do so at a different pace and on different terms.

It’s part business and part protocol, and soon, a mere 24 hours will no longer suffice.

 

Welcome to the Era of Early Enrollees

After securing yet another No. 1 recruiting class, Alabama head coach Nick Saban provided a bit of recruiting wisdom when he was asked about another suspense-less national signing day.

“The recruiting calendar has accelerated itself,” Saban said, offering up a cryptic ingredient of Alabama’s secret recruiting recipe.

What’s most notable about the statement is actually the timing. Saban made that remark while appearing on ESPN back in 2012. Those are your AOL and pager years when it comes to college football’s rapid progression, although the sentiments are most certainly still applicable. They’ve simply expanded.

More teams have caught on. More players have, too. The accelerated calendar no longer applies to a select few; it now involves schools in all conferences and players on all coasts. No longer a ritual reserved for a select few, this has become common practice.

Over the past two years, Alabama has welcomed 15 players to campus in January. Hop on the highway and take the scenic drive to Knoxville, Tennessee, and you’ll find a similar state of affairs. Butch Jones had 13 early enrollees in 2014 and added 10 more this year. Florida State has welcomed 13 players on campus early over this two-year span. Ohio State welcomed 11.

Arriving early doesn’t make or break a player’s potential playing career, although it does come with perks.

By arriving in January, recruits are able to benefit from extra time with the strength coach, the playbook and, of course, spring practice. It doesn’t guarantee that they will start as true freshmen, but coaches have more time to evaluate (and develop) their games.

If a player can swing it, it’s hard to find any real disadvantage. Because of this, some of the nation’s best players are choosing to forgo the drama of national signing day and take this route. Forget about waiting for a letter of intent; many elite players will spend that morning with their strength coach.

Pushing this trend forward will be a means to make this marriage official earlier than ever before.

 

An Early Signing Period (of Some Kind) Is Imminent

It’s not a matter of if, but when. And then, when the when finally gets here, it will be about the when once more.

An early national signing day is coming. This much we know. When it becomes official is still up in the air, as is the date of this pre-signing day that appears to be gaining steam.

ESPN reported in early January that the Conference Commissioners Association—a group formed to explore this very topic—was leaning toward a mid-December signing period that would coincide with the junior college transfer date.

Director of National Letter of Intent, Susan Peal, explained why mid-December would be ideal while speaking with ESPN.com.

I'm not saying that's the only option out there, but it is the most favorable. The reason I'm saying that period is the most favorable is that coaches like their recruiting calendar. They like all the work that has been done so far by every subcommittee to get the recruiting calendar to where it is today, and they don't want to mess with that. A December date would have the most minimal impact to that recruiting calendar, so that's why that has been the one date that has come out.

This is not an NCAA matter. It’s essentially up to the conferences to decide what best suits them. The ACC has publicly campaigned for an August national signing day, while other conferences have chimed in, piggybacking off its thoughts.

The timing and details are still to be worked out, but an early signing period is brewing. In fact, it could come as early as this year, impacting the next recruiting class.

Essentially, an early signing period would allow early enrollees—or other players simply looking to put a halt to the recruiting process—a means to do so. It would also give head and assistant coaches a way to perhaps lessen the grind of the final few weeks before the traditional signing period.

In terms of its impact on national signing day, this would likely be a knockout blow. It wouldn’t kill the February tradition altogether—there would still be plenty of prospects that exhaust the visits, phone calls and meetings in order to gather as much information as possible—but it would change the way an already accelerated recruiting calendar is viewed.

 

The Coverage Has Simply Gotten Too Good

Take away the latest trends and the legislation poised to alter recruiting for good, and you’d still be left with a business that has mastered its craft.

Look at 247Sports.com, for example. This is no longer just a niche website reserved for a handful of ravenous fanbases or conferences: 247Sports, much like the other recruiting outlets, staffs recruiters for various regions—sometimes grouping them to one specific team—and they focus exclusively on college football recruiting year-round.

Not long ago, this very notion would have been preposterous. There simply wasn’t a market. But as recruiting’s popularity has soared year after year, more websites have decided to stake a claim in this business. There are ads to sell, teams to cover and news to break as it pertains to recruiting 365 days out of the year.

“It will always be a kind of fresh start for college football fans, but I definitely think that it's on the decline,” 247Sports’ director of scouting Barton Simmons said on national signing day. “The oversaturation of coverage year round, the increase in visibility of high school prospects and the continued acceleration of the recruiting calendar all have made signing day a little bit of an afterthought. I think some people are tired of recruiting by national signing day. There was a time when signing day was the one day of the year they'd care.”

Everything has improved. Access to the players has increased. Film is easier to find and of much higher quality. The scouting is more sophisticated. The intelligence is more accurate.

Playing a role in this information evolution, of course, is social media. It’s sitting in the sidecar. Without it, the news doesn’t funnel through as quickly as it does. Not only that, but players are now partaking in the exercise—driving this medium—creating further interest simply by keeping the masses current.

That's precisely what the nation's top dual-threat quarterback, Kyler Murray, did as he contemplated offers from other places.

Following my heart... #GigEm

— Kyler Murray (@TheKylerMurray) January 30, 2015

And when an individual player doesn’t post his current leaders to Twitter, someone will likely grab the scoop and post them for him. It's an endless cycle.

As a result, there are far fewer surprises on a day that once revolved around suspense. It doesn’t mean that the occasional flip or unexpected commitment will vanish, but that these delicious moments will soon be more of a rarity. So much is working for recruiting, but it's working in favor of the year-round process rather than its culmination.    

National signing day’s demise is a product of its growth. It’s outgrown its digs, which is precisely why it will find a new home soon enough, one with more space, nicer tiling and perhaps even an eight-person hot tub. Now, doesn’t that sound nice?

Chin up, avid football fan. There will still be a day to fake sick in its new form. Heck, you might even have two.

 

All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand.

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How Kyler Murray's Decision to Stick with Texas A&M Impacts Other Recruits

With one late-night tweet, Texas 5-star quarterback Kyler Murray did his part in silencing the college football recruiting world.

Murray, the nation's top-rated dual-threat quarterback, announced that he is sticking with his commitment to Texas A&M after taking a visit to Texas last week. The tweet, which happened mere minutes before midnight in Texas, gave Aggies fans life, crushed the dreams of overly optimistic Longhorns fans and, more importantly, set the record straight as national signing day rapidly approaches.

And now that Murray's future is set, what's next? Or who's next?

Murray's decision has a direct (or indirect, depending on the player) effect on a few players still making final decisions before Feb. 4. Those considering Texas A&M have to be happy that Murray will sign with the Aggies. But there are other options for several of the Aggies' top targets.

Murray went 42-0 as a high school quarterback. He won three consecutive state championships at Texas high school football's highest level. Is he enough of a reason for some to choose the Aggies on signing day? And for other recruits, what does his decision mean in an effort to help Texas with other targets?

Here are five athletes who may be impacted by Murray's decision in one way or another.

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Why Florida State Can Return to College Football Playoff Without Jameis Winston

For all the questions Florida State faces in 2015—and there are many—the Seminoles benefit from a fairly favorable schedule. Or, as favorable as it can be. 

If there's anything that will help Florida State get back to the College Football Playoff, it's that. 

On Thursday, the ACC released all 14 schedules for next season. The defending ACC champs will have a tough stretch in the month of October extending into the first week of November. In that span, Florida State will face rival Miami, Louisville, Georgia Tech and Clemson, with the latter two games coming on the road. 

That's when we'll find out just how good (or bad) the Noles really are. 

Therein lies the uncertainty with Florida State. Quarterback Jameis Winston is off to the NFL, but this team loses so much more than him. Among those who must be replaced are: Tight end Nick O'Leary, receiver Rashad Greene, defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, cornerback P.J. Williams and most of the offensive line. 

With the way head coach Jimbo Fisher has been (and is) recruiting, talent shouldn't be the problem next year. "They’ve done a spectacular job of putting together really good classes," Chris Nee, recruiting analyst for 247Sports, told Corey Clark of the Tallahassee Democrat. "They do a really good job of going after needs. They narrow their focus and they don’t settle. They truly go after the best."

Experience could be an issue, however—at least at first. 

In Week 1, Florida State will basically look like a different team than the ones from the past two years. With new-look teams, especially with a new quarterback, you're never sure what you're going to get out of them. 

But the silver lining is that the Seminoles will have a month to figure themselves out. The toughest game between Week 1 and Week 6 is a road game at Boston College on a short week. The Eagles have traditionally played Florida State tough; last year, the Seminoles needed a game-winning field goal against BC. 

However, Florida State doesn't have to face Clemson, its primary competition for the ACC Atlantic Division title, right away. It doesn't have to travel to Georgia Tech in September. 

Those are two huge breaks. Sean Maguire, or whoever will start at quarterback, will have some starting experience barring injuries. The offensive line, under the direction of position coach Rick Trickett, will have come together. The defense should have leaders emerging.

In short, new starters won't be thrown to the fire too early. 

The midseason stretch will make or break Florida State's season and playoff hopes, but fans should be happy it's not an early-season stretch, as Paul Myerberg of USA Today tweets:  

Scheduling in general, but specifically conference scheduling, is a puzzle that's either 100 pieces or 1,000. Sometimes, the draw is unfavorable. Alabama's schedule in 2010 was filled with opponents who faced the Tide immediately following a bye week. (Whether bye weeks help or hurt a team is up for debate, but the scheduling fact remains.) 

Other times, especially with conference divisions, a team gets a favorable slate. Consider the 2007 Kansas Jayhawks, which went 11-1 in the regular season and eventually won the Orange Bowl over Virginia Tech. Kansas, then of the Big 12 North Division, didn't have to play Oklahoma or Texas from the Big 12 South that year. 

Florida State's schedule isn't soft by any means, but there's no game against partial ACC member Notre Dame, and Florida is by far the toughest nonconference opponent. The point being, if Florida State can navigate through its midseason stretch, it sets up for double-digit wins. Without knowing who else will be in the playoff running 10 months from now, that's a good place to start. 

The development at quarterback and offensive line, as well as defensive improvement, will be the major concerns for this team next season. They could eventually be reasons that the Seminoles don't make the playoffs again. 

If those questions are answered, and if the answers are good, then the schedule will be the reason Florida State does make the playoffs. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Big Ten Football: Most Intriguing Conference Games in 2015

The Big Ten is back. It's back! Or at least it's on its way to being back. Regardless, there is more excitement surrounding the conference than there has been in close to a decade.

Ohio State is fresh off a national championship. Michigan State finished in the Top Five for the second consecutive season. Michigan just hired Jim Harbaugh, Wisconsin beat Auburn in the Outback Bowl and Penn State is creeping back toward powerhouse status.

More excitement around the conference means more intriguing games. Most of that has to do with on-field concerns—better quality of play, bigger national implications, etc.—but some also deals with off-field matters, such as personal vendettas and rivalries.

Here are eight Big Ten games we can't wait to see next season.

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Will SEC Quarterbacks Return to Prominence in 2015?

Ah, the good ol' days. When Johnny Manziel, Aaron Murray, Zach Mettenberger, AJ McCarron, James Franklin, Tyler Bray and Connor Shaw were just a few of the hot-shot quarterbacks lighting up SEC scoreboards and stat sheets on a weekly basis.

Where have all the SEC quarterbacks gone?

The 2014 season was a down year for signal-callers in the conference.

Not one quarterback had a quarterback rating over 160.00, after four topped that mark in 2013 and two—McCarron and Murray—topped 170.00 in 2012. Alabama quarterback Blake Sims threw 28 touchdown passes in 2014, marking the first season since 2005 that no quarterback in the conference threw 30 or more touchdown passes in a single season.

Was the 2014 season a minor glitch in the system, or the start of a trend?

Without a doubt, it was a glitch.

The combination of gunslinging quarterbacks making too many mistakes (Bo Wallace and Maty Mauk), dual-threat quarterbacks who were more runners than passers (Nick Marshall), programs staying ultra-conservative (Arkansas) and midseason quarterback changes (Texas A&M and Florida) made 2014 the perfect storm of quarterback futility.

The experience gained in 2014, combined with fresh faces to provide a boost, will lead to the return of the quarterback in the SEC in 2015.

Texas A&M quarterback Kyle Allen has everything it takes to become a superstar.

A pro-style quarterback by name only, Allen has the arm strength and accuracy to be a star, with the legs to at least pose a threat on the ground. He took over from Kenny Hill midseason, and after getting first-string snaps in a camp-like setting for the first time in his career during bowl practice, he lit up West Virginia in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl with four passing touchdowns.

And spare me the Kyler Murray hype. He's the quarterback of the future at Texas A&M, while Allen is the quarterback of the "present."

As John Hayes of the SEC Network and The Paul Finebaum Show points out, Allen is a big reason why A&M could be vastly improved in 2015.

Much like Allen, Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs stepped into a starting role in the middle of the season. Dobbs established himself as a true dual threat, throwing for 1,206 yards and nine touchdowns, adding 469 yards and eight more scores on the ground.

He has a full offseason as the unquestioned starter to take the next step with an offensive line that returns four starters and a list of offensive skill players that reads more like Homer's Odyssey than a standard depth chart.

Auburn will undoubtedly become more pass-happy with Jeremy Johnson taking the snaps. He showed what he is capable of when he threw for 243 yards and two touchdowns in the first half of Auburn's 2014 season-opener against Arkansas and will get star wide receiver D'haquille "Duke" Williams back, along with several other veterans such as Ricardo Louis, Melvin Ray and Marcus Davis.

Is head coach Gus Malzahn married to the zone-read scheme he was successful with over the last two seasons? It's always going to be part of his offense, but he also produced a 5,000-yard passer (Paul Smith, 2007) and a 4,000-yard passer (David Johnson, 2008) when he was the offensive coordinator at Tulsa. 

The sequel to Alabama's quarterback battle includes many of the same players Sims beat out last year, but offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin proved that he could produce a dynamic quarterback on the fly last year. He certainly has the ability and weapons on that roster to repeat the feat.

Even Arkansas could get into a passing mood.

Brandon Allen threw 20 touchdowns last season in an ultra-conservative offense, and that offense will remain conservative with four offensive linemen and running backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins returning.

But new offensive coordinator Dan Enos produced four 3,000-yard passers in five seasons as Central Michigan's head coach, and the Hogs return top receiver Keon Hatcher and tight end Hunter Henry. The Hogs aren't going to air it out, but Enos will swing the pendulum ever so slightly toward a more balanced attack, which should make a huge difference.

Will there still be quarterback struggles? In places, of course.

It's hard to trust LSU's quarterbacks and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's ability to adjust to them, Florida is rebuilding and looking for a spark, and I have six fewer passing attempts than South Carolina's most experienced passer (Connor Mitch has six career pass attempts).

From a conference perspective, though, 2014 was the exception, not the rule.

There are plenty of talented quarterbacks in the SEC, and whether last year was their learning year or one in which quarterbacks were still biding their time, 2015 should be one in which many explode onto the college football season.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

25 Best Heisman Trophy Winners of All Time

We have yet to reach February yet, but speculation has already begun about the 2015 Heisman Trophy.  College football’s most prestigious award attracts attention year-round, and this year is no different. A big performance in a bowl game alone can make a player a preseason Heisman candidate, and Heisman lists emerged immediately after Ohio State wrapped up the 2014 season with a College Football Playoff title game win over Ohio State.

TCU’s Trevone Boykin is among the key frontrunners for the 2015 award,  per SI.com's Zac Ellis, but whoever wins the stiff-arm trophy will join a list that includes many of college football’s top luminaries from its storied history. We thought it was a perfect time to take a look at the top 25 Heisman winners of all time. They were judged on their statistics, impact on the game and the ease with which they won their Heisman Trophy vote. You might disagree on the choices, but like the yearly Heisman vote itself, these decisions are designed for debate.

Stats for this article were obtained from the Heisman Trophy's official website, Heisman.com.

 

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Texas Legacy Recruits Look to Follow in Father's Footsteps

Johnnie Johnson, an elite athlete from La Grange, Texas, journeyed to Austin and started his legacy as a Texas Longhorn 39 years ago. Now his two sons, Texas verbal commitments Kirk and Collin Johnson, have the opportunity to extend the family name.

Like father like son is a common saying in today's society. But not many sons have the chance to grow up telling the stories of their father's legendary football past. Even fewer have the opportunity to follow in their father's footsteps and continue the legacy.

Johnnie had more than 100 scholarship offers in four sports: football, baseball, basketball and track and field. But he followed his heart and decided to play football for the University of Texas. This small-town athlete turned into one of the most well-known football players in Longhorns history.

If you are a college football fan, you have probably heard the name Johnnie Johnson more than a few times. The former Texas defensive back was a unanimous All-American during his time playing for the Longhorns and was named the nation's best defensive back by the New York Downtown Athletic Club—in other words, he won the Thorpe award before the Thorpe was in existence.

He was a first-round draft pick by the Los Angeles Rams, had a decade-long playing career in the National Football League and is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

There are a handful of stories about how a son has followed in his father's footsteps to play the game he loves.

Case in point: The Mannings. Father Archie Manning was a quarterback at the highest level and his two sons, Peyton and Eli, are currently in the same boat.

But when was the last time you heard of two sons planning to attend the same university as their father and all three are elite football players at different positions? 

 

Meet the Johnsons

The Valley Christian High School prospects are Rivals250 athletes in their respective recruiting classes. The eldest, Kirk Johnson, is a 6'0", 200-pound running back and will sign his national letter of intent to the Longhorns on Feb. 4. Kirk's younger brother, wide receiver Collin Johnson, is 6'5", 205-pounds and was the first verbal commitment of the Longhorns' 2016 recruiting class.  

The two have spent many years of their young lives playing the game they love. But their father knew at an early age his boys had special talents.

"When both were in Pop Warner I knew they would have a future," Johnnie said. "I'm not just saying this as their dad, I'm saying it as someone who has witnessed and played against some of the world's greatest athletes and at one time was one of the world's best athletes. I feel blessed watching them grow up."

Growing up with a father who has spent time in the spotlight is not something every athlete can understand. But it is second nature for the Johnsons. In fact, knowing what their father accomplished has served as inspiration for them to be the best they can be.

"It was motivation. I have always looked up to him. He’s a phenomenal player but he’s an even better father," Collin said. "He has always led me in the right direction but never forced anything on me. He always wants me to figure things out on my own and never put any pressure on my brother or me when we were making our college decision."

 

Following in Their Father's Footsteps

Many times college football programs will offer siblings because one is a better athlete but will not attend a university unless his brother is by his side.

That is simply not the case for the Johnson boys.

College offers came pouring in for Kirk and Collin. The duo had offers from 18 combined schools. USC was one of the other schools that was truly in the hunt for Kirk and Collin's commitment.

But one offer stood above the rest, and the chance to continue the Johnson legacy at Texas was far too exciting to turn down.

"It was a huge impact on my decision," Collin said. "He came from a small town with 11 brothers and sisters and didn’t have anything. Then he had the opportunity to go to the University of Texas and now has taken care of us really well. It makes me want to do everything I can to be the best football player I can be at Texas and also the best man."

Kirk and Collin recently took in the University of Texas campus. Kirk was on his official visit while Collin was taking in an unofficial. Collin referred to his unofficial visit as "unforgettable." Kirk said USC was the only school that really battled with Texas, but in the end he wanted to play at the same school as his father.

"My dad wanted me to make my own decision," Kirk said. "I thought it would be really cool to go play in the stadium where my dad played and to be able to play alongside my brother. We’re trying to get my sister (Camille Johnson, who is an elite basketball and track and field athlete) to go there as well. But I thought it was a big deal to play for the school where my dad started his legacy."

Johnnie has been through the recruiting process firsthand. He understands how important it is for his sons to make their own decision. The fact both of his sons chose the school he attended was just icing on the cake for the Hall of Famer.

"I always told them they were going to have their choice of where they want to go and I was going to support them 100 percent on where they decided to go," Johnnie said. "My wife and I know how important it is to be their decision. We were going to support it wherever they went. But am I excited that they chose the University of Texas? I am, but I am very pleased that it was their choice."

 

Representing the Family Name

Collin and Kirk are very respectful and well-spoken young men. They tend to fit the exact mold of what head coach Charlie Strong expects of his players at Texas.

Johnnie has raised his boys with the same core values Strong has instilled in his team: honesty, treat women with respect, no weapons, no drugs and no stealing. The father has told his sons the importance of living their lives with these core values, especially when they are in the spotlight at Texas and have a responsibility of representing the family name.

"They know they have a responsibility. The core values that Charlie Strong teaches is something my wife and I teach in the household. Without those core values, you’re challenged because going to a school like Texas, everything you say and everything you do is under a microscope. And the fact that they are Johnnie Johnson’s sons even elevates that," Johnnie said.

"When Kirk Johnson signs, the entire country is going to say, 'He’s Johnnie Johnson’s son and is following the Johnnie Johnson legacy.' That’s a responsibility that everyone is going to be aware of. It’s like that at every school, but it’s very elevated when it’s Kirk Johnson of the Texas Longhorns or Collin Johnson of the Texas Longhorns. I’ve tried to prepare them for being in the public eye. Like most elite high school players, they are well known but they have grown up with that being in our household."

Living up to the standards of what Johnnie Johnson did at Texas could result in an immense amount of pressure. But the father does not expect his sons to become a clone of him; he just wants them to be the best individual they can be. 

Collin said, "My dad always tells me, 'Son, don’t ever feel like you have to be me. Just go out there and be yourself. God set this up perfectly. We are all our own person so you be the best you that you can be.'"

 

The Strong Factor

Kirk and Collin had the opportunity to play football at a variety of major programs across the country. Part of their decision to go to Texas was to follow in their father's footsteps, but a big factor was the opportunity to play for Coach Strong.

Strong has been under the microscope since he arrived in Austin in 2014. During his first year on the job, he was criticized for not being the best public speaker, discussed as possibly being too tough on his players and followed it up with a losing season.

But Strong has gained a lot of momentum on the recruiting trail, and his disciplined message he has sent to his team is something that excites many parents.

The Johnson boys will be thousands of miles away from their family in San Jose, California when they come to play football at Texas. That type of distance is not something many parents would enjoy, but Johnnie feels comfort in knowing his sons will have a father figure in Strong.

"The values that Charlie Strong teaches are the same values that we as parents strive to teach in our household," Johnnie said. "They are the exact same ones that the Johnson’s have in our household. It gives me comfort to know my boys have chosen a program where they know they’re walking into those core values."

"It gives me comfort as a parent to know that my boys are in good hands. Charlie is preparing young men for life and that’s the most important thing to me as a parent. I played pro football for 10 years and it was some of the best years of my life. But when I was done playing I was in my early thirties and still had my life ahead of me. If there’s anything I can teach my boys it’s to be humble and confident and make sure they always practice those core values."

 

Starting a New Legacy

Even though Kirk and Collin will be attending the same school as their father, they have the opportunity to make a name for themselves as individuals. They will always be the sons of a former Longhorn great—which is a big deal in the state of Texas—but the fact the duo play completely different positions than their father will help them create their own legacy.

"When you look at the Mannings, Archie played quarterback, Peyton plays quarterback and Eli plays quarterback. In our case, I played defensive back, Kirk plays running back and Collin plays wide receiver. So they have the opportunity to start their own legacy since they are playing entirely different positions than I did."

The brothers are very talented, yet very different athletes. But the one thing they have in common is their desire to be the best on and off the football field.

"It was special because when you think of legacy, not always do you see a case where they all carry their own weight," Johnnie said. "Texas didn’t offer those kids because of their dad. They offered because they are elite players. What I find very interesting and what I’m most pleased about is all three of us are elite, but all three play different positions.

Kirk is the type of running back Strong needs for the future. He's an all-purpose back that is very disciplined, has the ability to run with power and speed and has great vision on the field. But one of his strongest and sometimes overlooked talents is his ability to block. With the departure of Malcolm Brown, Kirk could be the exact answer the Longhorns need.

Johnnie feels his elder son is one of the best running backs he has seen. 

"Kirk runs the ball like he is angry at the world," Johnnie said. "In my opinion, Kirk doesn’t get the credit that he deserves but he’s one of the best running backs I have ever seen. From the time he was in Pop Warner to what he did in high school being 6'0", 200 pounds, he’s the complete package."

Collin has a much different skill set than Kirk. His height works as a big advantage for him but his skills are some of the best at his young age. He is a very big, physical and athletic receiver. He has great hands and rarely catches the ball with his body. He has a fantastic ability to make a big play over the middle if teams leave him in one-on-one coverage.

And similar to Kirk, one of his best attributes is his blocking ability.

When it comes to his younger son, Johnnie feels even he would have a hard time covering him when he was at his prime.

"How many wide receivers do you see who block like they’re mad at the world? There are sometimes where Collin has gotten flags thrown against him because they aren’t expecting to see someone block like him in high school," Johnnie said. "Covering Collin would be a challenge for anyone, including myself when I was at my prime. Collin just may be the most skillful, complete receiver that I have seen at his age in quite a while."

It's obvious these brothers are very talented athletes but Johnnie has made it a point to instill humbleness in his boys and expects them to create their own legacy when they arrive in Austin. 

"I always taught them to be humble but confident. My expectation for them to go to college was not to become another Johnnie Johnson. It’s for them to become Kirk Johnson and Collin Johnson," Johnnie said. "But what I ask of them is every snap they play, play it like it’s the last snap of their life. That will give them an opportunity to be successful and to carry on the Johnson legacy."

 

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. All quotes were obtained firsthand.

Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Georgia Football: Best-, Worst-Case Scenarios for Bulldogs' National Signing Day

With national signing day just a few short days away, it's time to begin taking stock of the Georgia Bulldogs' 2015 recruiting class.  Though there are still decisions to be made, it's not too early to begin analyzing what might happen for the Bulldogs between now and Feb. 4.

Here's a closer look at who's already enrolled in Athens and the best- and worst-case scenarios for the Georgia Bulldogs on national signing day.

 

Already Enrolled

Regardless of changes of heart and delays with that pesky fax machine, Georgia has a solid foundation already laid with seven early enrollees.

Ledbetter and Patrick, two Top 100 prospects according to the 247Sports composite, will bolster a defensive front that should be strong heading into the 2015 season, and Barnett could be the sleeper of the pack.  

Amaechi may be a relative unknown due to his time in junior college, but Georgia isn't adding a junior to its roster to sit him on the bench.  Lack of depth at inside linebacker should guarantee playing time for the 3-star prospect.

Further, Wilson and Abram, both listed as safeties, should be able to add depth—if nothing else—to a secondary that lost Damian Swann to graduation and a slew of players before and during the 2014 season.

Harris may not make an impact in 2015 with sophomore sensation Jeb Blazevich and fifth-year senior Jay Rome still available at the tight end position.  But not having an immediate need for the nation's fifth-best tight end prospect is a nice problem to have.

 

Best-Case Scenario

At this juncture, the best-case scenario for the Bulldogs will come to fruition if Georgia accomplishes the following on national signing day:

  1. Keep the Stars:Trent Thompson (the nation's top overall prospect), Terry Godwin (5-star athlete), D'Andre Walker (4-star defensive end), Rashad Roundtree (4-star safety), Darius Slayton (4-star wide receiver) and Chauncey Rivers (4-star Defensive end) are ranked within the Top 150 of the 247Sports composite.  Next Wednesday, they need to all be Bulldogs.
  2. Fill Offensive Voids: Slayton and Jayson Stanley (also a 4-star wide receiver) must join the ranks.  Ideally, Michael Chigbu (a 3-star receiver) stays firm with his commitment and Chris Carson (a 3-star JUCO running back) stays with the Dawgs as well.
  3. Finish the Drill: A handful of supremely talented defensive players remain on the board for Georgia.  The Bulldogs would welcome outside linebacker Roquan Smith (No. 47 in the 247Sports composite), defensive end Arden Key (No. 82 in the 247Sports composite) and defensive back Rico McGraw (No. 144 in the 247Sports composite).

The first priority on this list is the most likely.  Thompson and most of that crew have been committed firmly for some time.  In his latest projection of Georgia's signing class, recruiting analyst Jake Rowe of Dawgs247 projects all of those stars will stay loyal to Georgia.

Despite recent decommitments from Van Jefferson and Shaquery Wilson (who may have been a defensive back in the end), Georgia seems poised to finish strong in quality (though not quantity) on the offensive side of the ball.  These receivers have a tremendous opportunity to contribute right away, and don't be surprised to see Carson getting carries in an already crowded backfield.

Finishing the drill remains the biggest obstacle—and opportunity—for this recruiting class.  Smith to Georgia makes sense, and he's liked the Bulldogs for a long time.  Key is more of a long shot, and landing McGraw, who committed to Georgia before decommitting to Alabama and ultimately decommitting away from the Crimson Tide, would be a coup.

If this scenario comes to pass on national signing day, Athens will be home to 11 of the nation's Top 150 players on the 247Sports composite.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

It should be noted that the best-case scenario defined above is reasonable.  Of the conditions outlined, only the signing of Key, who seems to favor LSU, Auburn and South Carolina, is a true stretch.  

Unfortunately for the Dawgs, this worst-case scenario is also well within the realm of possibility.

For starters, it's completely possible that Georgia whiffs on every major uncommitted name.  

As the staff at BamaOnLine has reported, McGraw has decommitted from Alabama, but he has not committed back to Georgia.  Though he favored Georgia some time ago, he may not return to the Bulldogs.

The amount of attention Smith has received from Michigan and the momentum accompanying the Wolverines and new coach Jim Harbaugh could send him north, and he's visiting UCLA this weekend.  He is hardly a lock for Georgia.

Even more alarming is the flight risk of Godwin, one of Georgia's top commitments.  Though Godwin told Michael Carvell of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he's still firmly committed to Georgia, he seems to be leaving room for a change of heart.  "Right now, I'm still committed to UGA, so who knows?" he offered.

And Godwin heard high praise from Alabama head coach Nick Saban during an official visit last week. He told Carvell, "Coach Saban told me that if I came there, I would have an impact on offense and special teams."

If Georgia misses out on Godwin, Smith, Key and McGraw, the excitement surrounding this once-scorching-hot recruiting class could flame out on national signing day.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

4-Star ATH Kerryon Johnson Should Choose Safety over Running Back at Auburn

Kerryon Johnson is an iron man in every sense of the word.

The 6'0", 200-pound athlete from Madison Academy in Madison, Alabama, outside of Huntsville won "Mr. Football" in the state after leading his team to a state title as both a running back and as a safety.

In 2014, he rushed for 1,659 yards and 25 touchdowns, had 22 catches for 598 yards and eight touchdowns, had 71 tackles, five forced fumbles and six interceptions—three of which were returned for touchdowns—according to Paul Beaudry of AL.com.

If you asked him to, he'd probably be able to hit 15-of-18 from three-point range, hit for the cycle and shoot a 68 at Pebble Beach.

He's just that talented.

Johnson, a 4-star prospect according to 247Sports, now has a decision to make once he arrives at Auburn—where he's been committed since last April. Offense or defense?

He wants to play running back, but when he got to Orlando late in December to play in the Under Armour All-American Game, he was listed as a safety. Despite success against the best high schools have to offer, his heart is still at running back.

"I know I'm still a running back," he told John Talty of AL.com earlier this month. "There are things I do there that are just natural for me to do. I know that'd be the happier route for me, personally, because that's what I love to do and want to do."

He'll undoubtedly get a look at running back once he arrives on The Plains, but defense is where he can make his mark earlier on and have more longevity.

 

Immediate Impact

Johnson is a talented running back and will certainly succeed in head coach Gus Malzahn's offense, but maybe not right away. 

Junior college transfer Jovon Robinson and rising sophomore "Roc" Thomas are the two favorites to become the feature back in 2015.

Robinson rushed for 2,387 yards and 34 touchdowns in 2013 for Georgia Military College, and at 5'11", 227 pounds, has the body size and burst to be an every-down back in the SEC. Thomas saw spot duty as a freshman, gaining 214 yards and scoring twice. They'll also be supplemented by wide receiver Ricardo Louis, who became a force on the edge on jet sweeps midway through the 2014 season.

"It is clear why folks want [Johnson] on offense. The dude is a weapon," said B/R National College Football Video Analyst Michael Felder. "He has good speed, nice stutter, can create big plays and go between running back and wide receiver. However, on defense, Johnson can truly be a big impact player. Not just another 8-12 touch per game weapon, but an every-play safety who can patrol the back end."

On defense, everybody has a clean slate.

New defensive coordinator Will Muschamp was brought in to fix an Auburn defense that hasn't finished in the top half of the SEC in total defense since 2007—which, perhaps not coincidentally, was Muschamp's final season during his first go-round as Auburn's defensive coordinator.

A big problem last season was the secondary, particularly its susceptibility to giving up big plays. Auburn gave up 68 plays of 20 or more yards last season—the worst mark in the SEC. It does return all four players on its two-deep at safety, including starters Johnathan Ford and Joshua Holsey, but with a new scheme and a new coordinator, starting roles are hardly guaranteed.

Johnson is more likely to find his way to the field in 2015 as a safety, and he has the skills to do it.

 

Longevity

It's no secret that running backs are expendable.

There hasn't been a running back drafted in the first round in either of the last two NFL drafts. Bishop Sankey—the first one taken last year—was selected 54th overall, and the most likely candidate to end that streak this year, Georgia running back Todd Gurley, is coming off of ACL surgery.

The average career of running backs is shorter than any other position in the NFL, according to Chase Goodbread of NFL.com. Johnson should heed the advice of former LSU defensive back and high school running back Patrick Peterson, now of the Arizona Cardinals.

"The life span of an NFL running back is very short," Peterson told USA Today's Kent Somers in 2013. "It was clear from Day 1, I was playing defense."

Sure, playing running back may be preferable for Johnson now. But isn't playing football preferable, long-term?

Recruits often call signing with programs "business decisions." For Johnson, the program isn't the only order of business. His position choice will have much more of an impact on his bottom line as a professional, and he should start preparing for that career as soon as he steps foot on The Plains.

After all, isn't that what college is for?

 

Coaching and Natural Ability

Muschamp has helped several defensive backs make their way to the NFL, including Earl Thomas at Texas and Matt Elam at Florida.

It's lofty to place Johnson in the same discussion with those players, but he has the foundation to build off of and the opportunity to get to that point under Muschamp's guidance.

"I think he has the speed to be a true free safety type, but as he grows into that frame, he can be versatile enough to play deep and down in the box," said Felder. "That's the type of help Auburn needs on defense. He's the kind of back-end player that can help give Muschamp and his front seven the cover they need to go hunt quarterbacks."

A freak athlete who has great closing speed, incredible change of direction and the hands of a receiver, Johnson as everything needed to become a superstar safety. 

Deciding between safety and running back at Auburn, though, is truly a "rich man's problem." No matter where he ends up, Johnson is going to be a star.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

CFB Recruiting 200: Top 7 Inside Linebackers

After thorough study using specific scoring criteria, Bleacher Report recruiting analysts Sanjay Kirpalani and Tyler Donohue have graded the top 200 players in the 247Sports' composite rankings and provided in-depth analysis. As national signing day draws near, Bleacher Report provides a position-by-position breakdown of the best college football recruits. Here we present the Top Inside Linebackers.

Other Positions 

Inside linebacker is a position that has undergone a face-lift in terms of responsibilities and its value to a defense. 

Players at that spot still have to be physical forces against the run. However, they have to be athletic enough to drop into coverage on passing downs in order to be on the field for three downs. 

There are no 5-star prospects among this group, but there are still a handful of inside linebackers in the 2015 class who have the potential to be elite talents at the next level—headlined by 4-star Mississippi commit Leo Lewis.

Bleacher Report broke down the 2015 inside linebacker class, scoring recruits on important traits such as tackling (35 points), pass-rushing (15 points), run defense (30 points) and pass coverage (20 points). The cumulative figures from those traits resulted in our overall grade of each prospect. 

How does the 2015 crop of inside linebackers measure up?

*All analysis from Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Sanjay Kirpalani. All rankings courtesy of 247Sports Composite Rankings.

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National Signing Day 2015: Latest Rumors and Predictions for Notable Recruits

The time between now and national signing day on Feb. 4 may feel like just a handful of hours, but that's an eternity in the world of college football.

While a great deal of the nationally renowned recruits have already made a decision and are holding firm commitments to their schools, everything is up in the air for others. Whether it's last-minute coaching changes, concerns about playing time or just the right school swooping in late, players change their minds late in the recruiting cycle year after year. 2015 is no different.

Some schools have their recruiting classes all but locked up, while others are piecing it together last second in the hopes of salvaging something special. With that in mind, let's try to figure out where some of the most notable players are going to wind up.

 

Byron Cowart, DE

Long destined for an anticipated signing day announcement, top defensive end Byron Cowart is going to make a big-time program awfully disappointed come Wednesday.

Rumors swirled about whether the third-ranked player in the entire class—who has Auburn and Florida hot on his tail—would make a final-weekend visit anywhere, but he shot those down himself, showing he's going to stay put and make his decision at home:

With that out there, it seemingly comes down to Florida and Auburn for his services.

And it should be telling where Cowart made his final visit. He made official visits to both Auburn and Gainesville, but the one to Florida came last. With every opportunity to visit Auburn, Alabama, Florida State or anywhere else, he's staying put after seeing Jim McElwain last.

On top of that, Cowart looks and feels like a much better fit to what Florida is building, Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee believes:

With Dante Fowler Jr. gone, Florida needs a big body who's well-rounded to be that force from the jump, and Cowart certainly fits the bill.

He'll get playing time as a true freshman at either place, but he won't have the pressure of being the guy who's being counted on to fix a problem from the jump, like he would at Auburn. He'll have time to acclimate, adjust to what it means to play college football and still be a contributor for a team that's become known for its stifling defense.

The recruiting cycle has taken a weird turn on Cowart, who was once being recruited to Florida by Will Muschamp. Now, he's being recruited away from Florida by Muschamp, the new defensive coordinator at Auburn. 

But the fact that he's still being pulled to the Gators more than anywhere else speaks volumes to the relationships he's built in Gainesville. Those go deeper than the coaching staff, which he also seems to have taken a liking to. 

Cowart would be one of the stars on Auburn's defense right off the bat, but he could be the guy in his home state of Florida and the crown jewel of the Gators' draft class.

Prediction: Cowart signs with Florida

 

Drew Richmond, OT

Two powerhouse programs are putting the full-court press on top offensive tackle Drew Richmond as the Ole Miss Rebels cling onto his seemingly fleeting commitment. 

The nation's third-ranked offensive tackle (No. 54 overall) has been committed to Ole Miss since September. But his two visits this weekend to Alabama and Tennessee, as he told Riley Blevins of The Clarion-Ledger, come at a worrisome time for the Rebels. 

Alabama seems like the favorite any time it comes in for a late swoop, but the saga took another twist entering the weekend. Bama Online reported Richmond has canceled his visit to Tuscaloosa, which leaves Butch Jones and Tennessee to make a late impression on the in-state Memphis star.

The Vols already have the seventh-ranked recruiting class nationally, but Richmond would be one of the crown jewels of the class. More importantly, he would immediately be one of the best offensive linemen on a team that struggled mightily up front in 2014. Bleacher Report's Brad Shepard pondered how big it would be:

Richmond would almost assuredly play right away at Tennessee, but he has a similar opportunity at Ole Miss. What's more, he absolutely gushed about head coach Hugh Freeze and his last visit to Oxford upon reporting his future visits to Blevins: "He's like family," he said. "I'm very close with him. … It was also good to spend time with some of the guys."

Tennessee will put the hard sell on Richmond, but that won't be enough to pry him away from a coach he calls "family" and future teammates he calls "the guys." The home-state pull is a strong one, but much less so when you're talking Memphis to Knoxville—and in that regard, Ole Miss is actually closer geographically.

Prediction: Richmond signs with Ole Miss

 

Daylon Mack, DT

We're seeing a late wave of elite athletes being enticed by the Texas Longhorns in their effort to rebuild a proud program, and Daylon Mack might be the most important of them.

Of course, that might be disagreed upon by those closely following the circus surrounding 5-star quarterback Kyler Murray and his teeter-tottering between Texas A&M and Texas. But Mack—an elite 5-star defensive tackle—proves to be crucial to Charlie Strong's defensive blueprint.

The longtime Aggie commit chose to decommit in December, and his future has been trending more and more toward Austin ever since. He took a visit to Texas on the weekend of Jan. 24, and he was scheduled to visit TCU on the final weekend before the following was reported by ESPN's Gerry Hamilton:

It's rare to see a player decommit from a school around a month before signing day only to reaffirm his commitment there. With a number of top recruits starting to sway toward the Longhorns down the stretch, Mack looks to be joining them after the latest developments in the recruiting cycle.

Prediction: Mack signs with Texas

 

Recruiting information and rankings via 247Sports composite and courtesy of 247Sports.com unless otherwise noted.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Nebraska Football: The 5 Greatest Super Bowl Performances by Cornhuskers

Nebraska football fans, along with basically the rest of the planet, will be tuning in on Sunday to watch Super Bowl XLIX between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks. While neither team boasts a Nebraska player on its active roster (the Seahawks have no Nebraska players, while the Patriots have Alfonzo Dennard on injured reserve and Eric Martin on the practice squad), the Cornhuskers have a proud history of players in the Super Bowl.

Prior to this year’s contest, Nebraska ranked seventh overall in terms of colleges represented in the Super Bowl with 95 players (as compiled by Bleacher Report’s own Amy Daughters). But which of those players has done the most on the biggest stage in the NFL? When combining performances and appearances, here are the five best Cornhuskers in the Super Bowl.

 

All statistics courtesy of NFL.com.

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Texas Football: Blueprint to Perfect National Signing Day for the Longhorns

Kyler Murray has reaffirmed his pledge to Texas A&M, taking the air out of what was shaping up to be a monumental signing day for the Texas Longhorns.

That said, there's still plenty of talent that Charlie Strong can use to polish off his first full recruiting class.

Since Malik Jefferson committed on December 19th, the recruiting trail has been more like a runway for the Longhorns. Seven of their 24 commits have joined the class since the pledge of the 5-star linebacker, vaulting the Horns to No. 12 in the national rankings.

Losing Murray hurts in a lot of ways, costing the Horns some much-needed competition at quarterback, and all but removing receiver Damarkus Lodge from the equation. 

Now Texas has to ride the momentum it has generated with Jefferson to seal the deal with two top cornerbacks and Daylon Mack to round out its defensive needs. On offense, it will be about Soso Jamabo and Kai Locksley.

 

Seal the Deal with Boyd, Hill

Holton Hill and Kris Boyd, the second- and third-ranked cornerbacks in Texas, will announce their decisions on Friday. Pulling off the perfect finish to this class starts with them.

It sounds like all or nothing with these two, and Texas should feel good about that. Both players have long been considered favorites to don the burnt orange, and their Crystal Ball predictions have trended up even in the wake of a visit to Texas A&M.

If it pans out, the commitment of these two players would be among the most important in the class. Duke Thomas is the only returning starter at the position, and he's hardly been a shutdown corner over his career.

SB Nation's Wescott Eberts sees both Boyd and Hill as excellent fits for Strong's coverage scheme, meaning both will get a chance to contribute immediately. Otherwise, the Horns will have to roll with 3-star guys like current commit Davante Davis and current Georgia commit Deandre Baker.

Judging by the Twitter behavior of Boyd's brother Demarco, Strong will get his wish with these two.

 

Finally Pluck Daylon Mack

A former Aggie commit, Daylon Mack has been tough to peg as his recruitment has wound down. His eventual decision will depend on what happens around him, but he's as close to being a Longhorn as ever.

Built like a one-story house, Mack is the second-ranked recruit in the state and the fourth-ranked defensive tackle in the nation. As his 6'0", 330-pound frame suggests, he has great playing strength, setting himself apart with surprising quickness and a high motor.

Now Texas, TCU and Texas A&M are battling for his services in the trenches. The Horned Frogs were his declared leaders a month ago, but he has cancelled his visit this weekend on the heels of a visit to Austin.

Even after a visit from the TCU and A&M staffs, Texas' recruitment of Jefferson put the Horns in the lead as the process winds down. Now that Murray has solidified his pledge, it's closer to a coin flip.

The real question here is whether Mack would rather have Jefferson at his back, or Murray turning his stops into points. Per Eberts, the feeling is that he would prefer the former, which would be a great get for Texas.

 

Scoop Up Soso Jamabo (Plus One)

Top running back Soso Jamabo started out as a no-brainer Texas commit, then distanced himself from the program as the Mack Brown era came to an end. Now the Horns are back in it, and need to do whatever it can to secure its feature back of the future.

Powerful, fast and agile with soft hands (and an awesome sense of humor), college coaches are going to have a hard time keeping Jamabo on the sideline. The ball just belongs in his hands, even if that means a transition to receiver should he prove too tall for the backfield.

Texas will do its best to take either Chris Warren or Nick Brossette in addition to Jamabo, but it's obvious the 5-star back holds the highest priority. All three have the talent for an early role, so the Horns can't lose if they get one.

Warren will likely commit regardless, and Jamabo keeps trending Texas' way as well, where Eberts figures he will still land. With Kirk Johnson already in the fold, the addition of either player would give the Horns quite the backfield.

 

Go Get Kai Locksley

Regardless of where they think he fits, the coaches need to roll out the red carpet for Kai Locksley.

Zach Gentry has moved on to Michigan, leaving grayshirt Matthew Merrick as the only quarterback in the class. With only two quarterbacks on scholarship this spring, the Horns have to grab who they can before exploring transfer options.

Add in Texas' need for another receiver with Lodge off the board, and Locksley makes too much sense.

An athlete through and through, the 6'4" prospect has the athleticism to easily flip to receiver (per ESPN), along with some solid upside as a passer. He would require a redshirt before he ever took a snap, but his ability to make the switch makes him too good to pass up.

Because he's almost guaranteed a first look at quarterback, Texas has a great shot at pulling him in with the consolation that he can fill another if it doesn't work out.

 

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

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The 1 LSU Tiger 2015 Commit with Best Shot to Start

LSU head coach Les Miles has never been bashful about playing true freshmen. 

Last year was no different, as the Miles utilized his 2014 class early and often. Names like Leonard Fournette, Malachi Dupre, Davon Godchaux and Jamal Adams made a splash in their debut seasons for LSU. 

Miles is putting together another great crop of talent in 2015. His class currently ranks No. 8 in the 247Sports Composite Team Rankings, which is good for fourth in the SEC. 

There are multiple players from LSU's 2015 class that will be asked to play right away. But the one most likely to start is Kevin Toliver II

 

Why Toliver II

Toliver II is LSU's top-rated prospect Miles has hauled in this recruiting cycle. The 5-star cornerback is one of four defensive back prospects coming to Baton Rouge. The others include 5-star athlete Donte Jackson, 4-star cornerback Xavier Lewis and 4-star JUCO safety Jeremy Cutrer

Toliver will have a head start on the others, as he will participate in spring practice as an early enrollee. His speed and 6'2" frame will have him ready to compete for playing time immediately in the Tigers' immensely talented secondary. 

One starting cornerback slot is locked up by returning starter Tre'Davious White, who performed spectacularly last season. The other side will be up for grabs. Ed Paris and Dwayne Thomas will both get looks there to start the spring. 

Toliver has the tools to beat either Paris or Thomas for the starting role this spring. Even if he doesn't, he can earn a spot somewhere in new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele's "Nickel" and "Dime" packages, which puts five and six defensive backs on the field respectively. 

Special teams coordinator Bradley Dale Peveto will also utilize Toliver as a starter on multiple special teams units. It is not out of the question for him to get some looks as a kick or punt returner as well. 

Toliver is not the only Tiger that will get some looks as a starter. Here are a few other names to keep an eye on next season. 

 

Tyron Johnson

The Tigers will return their top four receivers from last season, but that does not mean 5-star Tyron Johnson cannot work his way into the starting lineup.

Travin Dural led LSU in receptions, yards and touchdowns last season and will likely remain the No. 1 option. But Dupre, a 5-star recruit from the 2014 class, could overtake him next season. He showed flashes of being a deep threat all secondaries should fear.  

It will be tough for Johnson, the No. 1 prospect in Louisiana, to overtake either Dural or Dupre. But he could jump returnees John Diarse and Trey Quinn, who registered a combined 10 starts and 32 receptions in 2014.

Johnson is a technically gifted receiver with great hands and elusiveness. He has more than enough natural ability to jump Diarse and Quinn on the depth chart as a starter at slot receiver. 

 

David Ducre

David Ducre is not the sexiest name of LSU's 2015 class. But of all the incoming freshmen the Tigers will have, Ducre's path to being the starter at fullback is the clearest. 

The Tigers lost senior starter Connor Neighbors this offseason. Melvin Jones, his projected replacement, was dismissed from the team due to academic reasons, per The Advocate's Ross Dellenger

This now leaves the door wide open for Ducre to take the job. He is an early enrollee, which will certainly help his case. 

Ducre is a violent downhill runner who rushed for over 1,300 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior. He will bring the same physicality as lead blocker with his 5'11" 238-pound tree-stump frame.

Ducre's biggest competition will be John David Moore, who is the only LSU returnee with experience at fullback as a primary lead blocker. Running back Darrel Williams also played some fullback last season, but mainly carried the ball when in the game. Moore and Williams will be getting some looks there this spring.

With that said, Ducre is the No. 1 rated fullback prospect in the country for a good reason. He can easily walk away from spring practice with a starting role. 

 

Stats, rankings and additional information provided by cfbstats.comESPN.com and LSUsports.net. Recruiting information provided by 247Sports.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter at @CarterthePower.

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Kyler Murray Reaffirms Texas A&M Commitment After Considering Texas

Kyler Murray, a 5-star quarterback from Allen, Texas, decided once and for all that College Station is the place for him.

Despite committing to the Texas A&M Aggies last May, Murray recently allowed other teams to throw their names in the hat. On Thursday night, 247Sports' Brian Perroni reported that the blue-chip QB will stick with A&M.

Murray then confirmed the news:

According to 247Sports' composite rankings, he's the best dual-threat quarterback in the 2015 recruiting class and 33rd-best player overall.

ESPN.com's Derek Tyson didn't downplay the significance of Murray's decision:

Aggies offensive coordinator Jake Spavital was also thrilled with the news:

Murray's commitment goes beyond Texas A&M. The Texas Longhorns were hot on the Aggies' heels in pursuit of the talented signal-caller. Murray himself only fanned the flames when he posted a photo on Twitter of a Longhorns jersey with his number Jan. 21:

Instead, A&M wins out, dealing a tough blow to Charlie Strong as he attempts to get Texas back into the national title picture. Getting Murray would've been a major moment early in Strong's tenure in Austin.

Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel added that the Longhorns are still woefully lacking at quarterback:

Texas A&M, meanwhile, gets a player perhaps ideal for head coach Kevin Sumlin's system. Murray is a mobile quarterback who can make a variety of throws.

Given Sumlin's past success with Johnny Manziel and Case Keenum, the sky is seemingly the limit for Murray at the college level. The Aggies will be a very dangerous team going forward when he gets under center.

 

Recruit star rankings and information provided by 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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