NCAA Football News

SEC Football: Each Team's Most Loaded Position Group for 2015

In an ideal world, every SEC team would prefer to have the same amount of balance and depth at every position, both offensively and defensively. It doesn't happen that way, though, thanks to injuries, graduation, early NFL departures and recruiting.

Instead, what more often happens is that teams end up looking OK in most areas but really good in a few others. Not surprisingly, those loaded positions tend to determine how those teams will fare.

Taking a look at the SEC rosters as they sit now, including the expected arrivals of recruits who are set to sign on Wednesday, we've identified a position group that each school can be proud of. It might not be the team's best unit, but it is the one with the least depth-related questions.

Begin Slideshow

Courtney Lark to TCU: Horned Frogs Land 4-Star WR Prospect

TCU's ascent to national relevance in 2014 is continuing to pay dividends. Courtney Lark, a 4-star receiver out of Bellaire (Texas) High School, committed to the Horned Frogs on Saturday, spurning offers from Baylor and Nebraska among others.

Gerry Hamilton of ESPN reported the news:

TCU was a bit of an upset choice given expert predictions. 247Sports' crystal ball gave Lark a 62 percent chance of committing to Baylor, with Oklahoma coming in second place at 25 percent. None of the predictions listed went TCU's direction.

Lark is considered the No. 78 recruit in the nation and 11th-best receiver in the Class of 2016, according to 247Sports composite rankings. Listed at 6'1" and 170 pounds, Lark has excellent hands and has become an increasingly solid big-play threat. He made 58 receptions for 1,138 yards and 16 touchdowns as a junior.

While he'll need to bulk up to withstand Big 12 punishment, Lark is yet another coup in what's becoming a landmark class for Gary Patterson. Lark's signing moves the Horned Frogs up to No. 7 on 247Sports' Class of 2016 rankings, fifth-highest among schools with seven or fewer recruits. Patterson has inked four 4-star recruits already, double the number from his 2015 group.

With a 12-1 season in the books, a number of players returning and reinforcements like Lark on the way, the future in Fort Worth is sure looking bright.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tennessee Football: 4 Commits Who Will Start a Game in 2015 for the Vols

The Tennessee Volunteers are on pace to welcome another top-five recruiting class Wednesday, when their non-early enrollees sign letters of intent to spend their college careers in Knoxville.

If head coach Butch Jones' impressive 2014 class was the foundation for restoring Rocky Top to its former glory, the 2015 class is the mortar that holds that foundation together.

One of the perks of being a highly rated recruit in last year's class was the sheer number of opportunities to see the field right away. In fact, players like Jalen Hurd, Von Pearson, Jashon Robertson, Derek Barnett and Ethan Wolf have all locked down starting spots heading into 2015.

However, that doesn't mean the class of 2015 will be relegated to merely providing depth next season. As good as the 2014 class is, there are still some holes in Tennessee's roster that can immediately be filled by this year's new crop of signees.

Here are four current commits or enrollees who have great chances of landing atop the depth chart in the 2015 season.

Begin Slideshow

Is Ole Miss 2015 Recruiting Class in Danger of Last-Minute Collapse?

Ole Miss managed to assemble another impressive recruiting class during the 2015 cycle, but the Rebels suddenly appear at risk of watching things unravel as national signing day nears.

Head coach Hugh Freeze, hosting a collection of prospects during the final weekend of official visits, received some disheartening news Friday evening. Leo Lewis, the nation's No. 1 inside linebacker, decommitted from Ole Miss during the first day of his stay at LSU:

The 4-star prospect, listed 63rd overall in 247Sports' composite rankings, will presumably end up with an SEC rival—signing with either the Tigers or Mississippi State.

The loss of Lewis, long considered a paramount in-state prospect, puts a damper on the program's final push toward signing day.

His departure from the Rebels' class could potentially be the first domino to fall in a series of negative developments. 

"Priority No. 1 was keeping its top 100 commits committed," wrote Riley Bevins of The Clarion-Ledger. "Priority No. 1 won't be accomplished, at least not completely."

Freeze must also face the fact that two more of his top recruits are currently being fawned over at foreign campuses. 

Drew Richmond, a Memphis product rated third nationally among offensive tackles, is spending time at Tennessee:

Fellow 4-star commit Van Jefferson, a Georgia receiver who joined the class just last week, leaped at the chance to visit Michigan following a late offer from the Wolverines:

It isn't uncommon for committed players to explore other collegiate opportunities down the stretch, but when three foundational members of a class are looking elsewhere the situation becomes a bit scary. 

Lewis has already been lost, while situations with Richmond and Jefferson seem tenuous at best.

"Jefferson had to convince his dad, who was against his son going to Ole Miss, to be on board with his decision," Bevins wrote, casting further doubt on the pass-catcher's potential of landing in Oxford.

It's worth noting that Mr. Jefferson spent eight seasons in Michigan serving as an assistant coach with the Detroit Lions. 

Tennessee, meanwhile, has never cooled on Richmond. Not even when he spurned the Volunteers for Ole Miss at his September signing day ceremony. 

He is Butch Jones' top priority at this point and would punctuate a sensational class for the rising SEC East squad.

The Rebels currently hold 17 commitments in a class rated 17th nationally in 247Sports' composite rankings. Big additions could be on the way—notably 5-star Florida defensive end CeCe Jefferson and 4-star Texas wide receiver Damarkus Lodge—but at this juncture it's just as important to hold onto what you already have in a class.

Lewis is out of the equation, and that hurts. If Jefferson and Richmond both join him by jumping off the bandwagon, the sting could become unbearable in Oxford on signing day.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Football: Should the Irish Run More in 2015?

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — From start to finish in its 31-28 victory over LSU in the Music City Bowl, Notre Dame football featured a run-based offense directed by quarterbacks Malik Zaire and Everett Golson.

In total, the Irish rumbled 51 times for 263 yards and three touchdowns, boasting a grueling ground game against the Tigers.

For some Irish fans, it raised a recurring question: Why doesn’t Notre Dame do that—gash teams with a sustained running attack—more often? Irish head coach Brian Kelly was asked after the game if a run-heavy offense can be Notre Dame’s identity moving forward.

“We had to have a game plan for today,” he said. “We know what we have with both quarterbacks. ... We’re going to continue to utilize [Zaire’s] strength. He’s a very good runner of the football.”

The game plan certainly worked against LSU. But should Notre Dame run the ball more in 2015? Let’s start with the data.

Kelly is 34-5 in his five seasons at Notre Dame when the Irish rush for more yards than their opponent.

Before the Florida State game in October, Notre Dame had compiled a streak of 26 consecutive games in which it did not lose when it tallied at least 30 rushing attempts.

Notre Dame is 33-3 since the start of the 2002 season when it gains at least 200 rushing yards.

Compelling evidence? Maybe. But not so fast.

Of course, such rushing statistics can easily be skewed in many cases, as teams that are leading—comfortably or not—may choose to run more and milk the clock.

We’ll analyze the run-pass breakdowns of other elite teams across the country in comparison to that of Notre Dame, bearing in mind that such successful teams could be more likely to run when leading.

Of the Top 10 teams in the final AP poll, nine averaged more rushing attempts per game than Notre Dame, per CFBStats.com. Only Florida State, with Jameis Winston leading the offense, rushed less than the Irish.

Viewed through another prism, Notre Dame had a fairly even run-pass balance in 2014. The Irish ran on 49.64 percent of their plays. Eight of the Top 10 teams in the nation rushed more often than Notre Dame, per TeamRankings.com.

Again, it bears repeating that correlation doesn’t necessarily imply causation here. These teams aren’t necessarily winning because they’re running more.

So sliced another way, we can consider Notre Dame’s propensity to run the ball on first down throughout the season. Running on first down could be indicative of Kelly’s commitment to the ground game on any given Saturday.

Clearly, Kelly was committed to running the ball against the Tigers, opting for the ground on more than 80 percent of the team’s first downs. Notre Dame also remained committed against Navy and piled up 218 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 39 carries. Against North Carolina too, the Irish eclipsed the 200-yard mark with a 216-yard showing to go along with four scores on the ground.

Finally, we’ll try to somewhat control the numbers here for winning and losing by large margins. For each game in 2014, we’ll compare Notre Dame’s percentage of rushing plays in the first half with that ratio for the entire game. In theory, the game plan is more likely to still be intact in the first half and the run-pass breakdown is less likely to be skewed by the score of the game.

A look at the numbers shows Notre Dame never really relied on the run against USC. And even though the Trojans put up a quick 35 points before the Irish really settled in, it’s worth noting that Notre Dame dialed up just two runs in its first 10 plays while the game remained scoreless. The Irish also went into games against Syracuse, Stanford and North Carolina with more of a pass-happy approach.

No statistic is perfect here when analyzing the rushing game, and it’s difficult to determine cause and effect with choices that have so many variables.

The shape of Notre Dame’s offense in 2015 is still to be determined. Once the quarterback position is settled, Kelly could have a better idea of his plan. Zaire certainly appeared more comfortable running the zone read in his extended work against USC and LSU, and running backs Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant will be talented juniors.

It worked against LSU. Can it work for a full season?

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

National Signing Day 2015: Top Uncommitted Recruits to Watch

As Ohio State held up the national championship trophy following the inaugural College Football Playoff, it was little wonder how it reached that mountain top—the recruiting of coach Urban Meyer

Meyer’s 2013 class alone included critical championship contributors such as Ezekiel Elliott, Joey Bosa, J.T. Barrett, Vonn Bell, Jalin Marshall, Eli Apple, Dontre Wilson and Darron Lee, among others.

Meyer and the rest of the coaches across the country understand that effective recruiting is the lifeblood of college football and the only way to build a roster capable of winning national titles. The groundwork for future championships will be built on national signing day on Wednesday, Feb. 4.

While many of the nation’s top players have already pledged their talents to various schools, there are still some uncommitted “free agents”—if you will—whom fans should keep their eyes on. Here are a few.

 

Terry Beckner Jr., DT, East St. Louis, IL

Defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr. checks in as a 5-star recruit on 247Sports’ composite rankings and is considering the likes of Missouri, Ohio State, Auburn and Florida State.

Beckner may be 6’4” and 293 pounds, but he has incredible athleticism for a defensive tackle that jumps out right away when watching him play.

TJ Gaynor of Sporting News passed along his own glowing evaluation of that athleticism and playmaking ability:

One play. That's all it took. Watching Beckner Jr. sniff out a slow screen, deflect the ball out of mid-air to himself, then glide effortlessly to paydirt before delivering a nasty forearm shiver to the opposing QB all in one motion was all it took for this evaluator to see how special this powerhouse one-gap penetrator may become at the next level. This young man has been blessed with rare athletic gifts for a player of his size.

The scary thing about Beckner is the power behind that athleticism and speed. When he gets running downhill, he is nearly impossible to block and can stuff the running game up the middle with powerful hits.

Many defensive tackles are effective simply by occupying two blockers at once to open up the defensive ends on the pass rush, but Beckner is the rare talent who can occupy those two blockers and then break through them in one motion.

That type of raw skill translates well to the next level, and he already has the size to slide in to a defensive line rotation right away.

Missouri is the more local school among those interested and is the crystal ball leader in the clubhouse on his 247Sports profile. However, don’t underestimate the ability of Meyer to close on the recruiting trail or Auburn to swoop in as an SEC option that has won a national title within the past five years. 

The mere thought of Beckner and Bosa on the defensive line for the Buckeyes next year should be rather worrisome for the rest of the Big Ten.

 

Byron Cowart, DE, Seffner, FL

Byron Cowart is a 5-star defensive end on 247Sports’ composite rankings and is listed at 6’4” and 250 pounds. Florida, Alabama, Florida State, Auburn and Maryland are all among the schools interested in landing Cowart, but he appears to have narrowed the list to two schools, via Derek Tyson of ESPN.

"I would have to say, just to be honest, Auburn and Florida are my top two schools," Cowart said. "I have to keep it professional—I have to. Who knows, you see coaches and they go into the league, and when it’s time for you to get drafted, you don’t want to have a bad name."

That is great news for the Gators and Tigers.

It is often speed and pure athleticism that jumps out about defensive end prospects, especially at the high school level where faster players can simply blow past slower blockers around the edge. However, Cowart brings incredible power to the table, which helps him bull rush his way to the quarterback and levy a shattering hit when he gets there.

Don’t worry, the speed is there, too, especially for someone his size. That helps him chase ball-carriers down in the open field and make an impact against the running game when he is not pulverizing quarterbacks.

College offenses have been warned.

 

Iman Marshall, CB, Long Beach, CA

Iman Marshall is a 5-star cornerback on 247Sports’ composite rankings and checks in at 6’1” and 190 pounds. USC appears to be the heavy favorite, with Florida State just kind of hovering hoping for a late change of mind.

Ultimately, Marshall is choosing between staying close to home at USC and traveling across the country to play for Florida State. While that drastic of a move from home would be appealing to some college-aged children, Marshall has to decide for himself.

There is very little Marshall cannot do from the cornerback position. He spent much of his high school career playing on a man-to-man island, which is a critical skill at the next level that many corners are incapable of executing.

His athleticism and speed prevent him from getting burned on the fly route, and he has excellent ball skills when the pass is in the air. That could lead to some interceptions right away, especially when he uses his physicality to bracket the wide receiver and get to the pass first. 

Marshall also brings some versatility to the table and can return punts and kicks, which will likely help him see the field right away as a freshman, be it at USC or Florida State.

 

Follow me on Twitter:

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Football: Why the Wolverines Fit 4-Star TE Chris Clark Better Than UCLA

There are a lot of good reasons for Chris Clark to choose Michigan over UCLA—roughly eight of them, actually, according to Wolverines tight end coach Jay Harbaugh.

Jay, the eldest son of Jim Harbaugh, Michigan’s shiny new coach, recently sent a pitch to Clark—the No. 2-ranked tight end of 2015—outlining exactly why the prospect should take his great hands and 6’6”, 247-pound frame to Ann Arbor.

And stat.

Thanks to College Spun’s Matt Lombardi, we have a translation of that message:

1. We have used, know how to use, and will use tight ends…a lot!
2. You can wear #8 here! & 104,909 – 74,340 = 30,569 more people will see it every week if you come to the Big House.
3. We are close to Chicago / Indianapolis / Cleveland / Detroit / Madison / Milwaukee / Green Bay / Buffalo.
4. We will have a QB…A good one!
5. The is the best public school in America –> You don’t survive Avon to go anywhere but the best.
6. We have the most wins…ever.
7. We have the biggest adidas contract in the nation! –> More gear.
8. This is a very special time @ a very special place…That’s how legacies are cemented. We are both going to be a part of that! I promise you we will win & grow together. 

Jay Harbaugh brought up valid points.

Tight ends have been used with great success at Michigan—for decades, really. And if Clark so chooses, he could probably wear the No. 8—it’s up for grabs now that quarterback Russell Bellomy plans to transfer. Keith Heitzman, a tight end, also elects to play elsewhere next fall. 

Job opening. 

Plus Jake Butt just had minor knee surgery.

So yeah, the Wolverines could use a guy like Clark right about now.

Without Clark in the mix, Butt would be the obvious No. 1 choice. The 6’6”, 250-pound junior-to-be has proven worthy of a starting position—he just needs to stay healthy, or as close to it as possible.

But either way, Clark would likely challenge for top reps regardless of Butt’s status—and having two prototypical Big Ten-bruisers is certainly better than having one.

At 6’6” and 260 pounds, A.J. Williams, a senior-to-be, serves as a great blocking tool. He’s not huge on the offensive end, but he’s effective enough to take a run at big reps in 2015.

Khalid Hill tore his ACL in October but should be ready to roll this fall. Despite having just four catches for 37 yards, the 6’2”, 252-pound sophomore-to-be could present a few options next season.

Ian Bunting redshirted as a freshman in 2014, so there’s nothing on which to base him. He entered college at 6’7” and 225 pounds. He’s from Illinois. He could stand to take a few more trips through the chow line.

That’s about it when it comes to Bunting, who raps and brings about a certain level of athleticism that could, maybe one day, prompt a move outside. That would likely be dependent upon weight gain and blocking ability.

Think Devin Funchess.

With the crystal-clear No. 1 in the midst of recovery, Clark would have yet another reason to pick the Wolverines over UCLA. The Bruins are a bit more established, having competed for Pac-12 South titles for three consecutive seasons under Jim Mora, but the Wolverines offer intrigue. 

At this point, their offense is under construction, but it's under good care. 

Jay Harbaugh should have included “My dad, Jim Harbaugh (that’s my dad), is the coach here!!!” just to emphasize the next point: Jim Harbaugh is, indeed, Michigan’s coach. If that doesn’t make a recruit interested, nothing will.

Of course, once Harbaugh—who directed the San Francisco 49ers to Super Bowl XLVII—signed with Michigan, Clark found it in his heart to give it another chance. He dumped the Wolverines after they lost to Ohio State. They were at “rock bottom,” he tweeted Nov. 22.

But that’s all water under the bridge. The Wolverines finished at 5-7, well below expectations, and Clark wasn’t the only one to think twice. However, it’s a new era, and Harbaugh has assembled a staff that rivals any collection in the country.

Tim Drevno left USC to become Harbaugh’s offensive coordinator. They have an 11-year track record together, as Drevno served as Harbaugh’s offensive line coach in San Francisco and tight end coach at Stanford.

Jedd Fisch, formerly of the Jacksonville Jaguars, joined the conglomerate, too.

He’s a passing game specialist.

There could be one slight hitch, though.

Jay Harbaugh has never been a tight end coach. He’s performed film and weight room duties with the Baltimore Ravens, and he was a graduate assistant at Oregon State. He once interned with the Niners, too.

But again, there’s the influence of one Jim Harbaugh that may be too much to deny. Per MLive’s Nick Baumgardner, Clark was “blown away” by a visit from Harbaugh two weeks ago.

"It's crazy, he's really intense, and you really like that," Clark said. "He grew on me a lot. I didn't know what to think at first, I wasn't sure what he'd be like. But once I left, he really, really grew on me.

"He's the best coach I think I've sat down with. I just think he's awesome."

 

Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.

Recruiting info via 247Sports. Unless otherwise noted, quotes and references were obtained firsthand by the writer via press conference, press release or other media availability. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Darrion Daniels to Oklahoma State: Cowboys Land 4-Star DT Prospect

Defensive tackle Darrion Daniels, one of the top 2015 prospects at his position, decided on Friday to take his talents to Oklahoma State for the next phase of his football career.

Steve Wiltfong of 247 Sports noted the announcement, which was made on CBS Sports: 



The 4-star recruit is a product of Bishop Dunne High School in Dallas, possessing the size and quickness to thrive at the NCAA level. The 6'3.5", 290-pounder runs a 4.76 40-yard dash, and is the 20th-ranked player in the country at his position, per 247Sports.

Daniels took to Twitter to address the schools he turned down:

ESPN.com's Damon Sayles thinks highly of Daniels, believing the dynamic defender is deserving of his gaudy rating:

Such rare speed allows Daniels to string out running plays extremely well in addition to overpowering linemen and crashing the pocket from the inside. For someone so big and capable of overpowering his high school competition, Daniels is disciplined in creating leverage with his pad level, which only makes him harder to block.

Oklahoma State ought to be thrilled at the problems Daniels' versatility presents to future opponents.

What helps Daniels' bid to see the field early for the Cowboys is his tremendous energy and motor. If he can showcase sustained stamina make strides to improve his technique and lateral quickness, he can plug into the rotation in the trenches soon enough.

With an increased focus on football and the upside to develop diversity in his arsenal of moves against blockers, it will be fascinating to see how Daniels progresses in the coming years.



Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages