NCAA Football News

Ohio State Football Recruiting: Looking Ahead to 2017 Class

Ohio State's 2017 recruiting class could be the best collection of talent Urban Meyer has ever assembled, and with the success Meyer has had on the recruiting trail during his career, that would be a historic accomplishment.

His 2006 recruiting class had 5-star studs Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin and 4-star Brandon Spikes, who led the Florida Gators to two BCS National Championships in 2006 and 2008. The Buckeyes' 2013 recruiting class was headlined by 4-stars Joey BosaEzekiel Elliott and J.T. Barrett, who carried the Buckeyes to a national title in 2014.

Ohio State's 2017 recruiting class is already off to a fast start, and it has the potential to not only finish at No. 1 on national signing day next February, but also help the Buckeyes win a championship down the road.


The Early Pledges

The 2017 recruiting cycle didn't officially start until last Wednesday, when the 2016 class was signed and finalized on national signing day. But Meyer and Ohio State have been recruiting '17 prospects for more than two years, and they've already laid a solid foundation for their next class.

The first commit came from quarterback Danny Clark back in December 2013. He's been instrumental as an early recruiter for the Buckeyes, who already have two 5-stars in the fold, which equals their total from the last two years. 

Those 5-stars—offensive tackle Josh Myers and cornerback Shaun Wade—pace a 10-member Ohio State class that already has five top-80 players and currently ranks No. 1 nationally. 


The Top Targets

The Buckeyes aren't done with 5-star talent.

After nabbing the 10th- and 12th-ranked wide receivers from the class of 2016 in Austin Mack and Binjimen Victor, respectively, Ohio State is leading the way in the recruitment of 5-stars Donovan Peoples-Jones and Trevon Grimes, whom 247Sports rates as the top two pass-catchers in the country.

Ohio State is also in the thick of things for 5-star safety Jeffrey Okudah, 5-star defensive end Joshua Kaindoh and high 4-stars Lamont Wade (cornerback), Micah Clark (offensive tackle) and Darnell Ewell (defensive tackle).

Even if Meyer and the Buckeyes landed just half of the top targets listed above, their grip on the No. 1 recruiting class would almost assuredly become too tight for any other team (read: Alabama) to overcome.


The In-State Talent

Ohio State has taken a more national approach to recruiting with Meyer at the helm, but he's still made it a priority to secure Ohio's top talent.

In his first five recruiting classes, Meyer has managed to secure commitments from 25 of the state's top 50 players. He already has verbal pledges from five of the top 10 players in Ohio for 2017—Myers, Marcus Williamson, Todd Sibley, Brendon White and Jerron Cage.

On top of that, the Buckeyes are favored to land four of the other top five undecided Ohio prospects—4-stars Jaylen Harris, Lynn Bowden, JaVonte Richardson and Danny Davis—that comprise the top 10. 

Due to scholarship restrictions, however, it's hard to imagine Ohio State being able to sign all nine. The Buckeyes will only graduate six seniors at the end of the 2016 season, so the class Meyer signs in 2017 won't be a large one. 

Even still, it's clear that the Buckeyes have built a strong fence around the state of Ohio. 


All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.

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

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Tennessee Football Recruiting: Looking Ahead to 2017 Class

Despite a rocky start to the the 2017 recruiting cycle on Rocky Top, it would be unwise to bet against Tennessee head coach Butch Jones building yet another stellar group.

After all, only Alabama, Ohio State and Florida State have signed more 4- and 5-star players than the Volunteers in the past three years.

Yes, this year's national signing day just came and went last week, but scouting and selling your university to players never stops. Coaching staffs all over the country have already turned their attention to the prospects in next year's class, and it's no different at Tennessee.

The Vols should be able to sign a full class of 25 in 2017 after having to be judicious with numbers this year. That's a good thing, too.

It may just wind up being the best in-state crop of prospects ever in Tennessee, as there appear to be more than 20 players who will wind up playing high-level Football Bowl Subdivision football. 

"We've been hearing about the 2017 class in Tennessee for a few years now, with people saying it could be the best in the state's history, and it appears to be living up to the hype so far," GoVols247 recruiting analyst Ryan Callahan told B/R. "There are several elite prospects and a number of others who are likely to be SEC-level players. And other names are still emerging, as they do every year.

"It's as impressive of a class as I've ever seen in Tennessee."

So who are some of the top players to watch? What are some of the early storylines that look like they'll materialize over the course of the next year? Where are the areas of need for the Vols moving forward?

Way too early to be looking at lists and top targets? Well, sure it is. But where's the fun in waiting? Let's take a glance at what to expect from the Vols in the 2017 recruiting cycle.


About that rough beginning…

Early commitments are great when you can get the players to hang on, but Tennessee hasn't had any luck with that so far in its 2017 recruiting efforts.

After getting off to a torrid start with verbal pledges from 3-star strong-side defensive end Jordon Riley, 5-star quarterback Hunter Johnson and 4-star receiver Tee Higgins, all three have decommitted.

The latest of those came from Higgins, the electrifying 6'5" wide receiver from nearby Oak Ridge, Tennessee, who decided to take a step back and re-evaluate his college choices, since he wants to play football and basketball at the next level. Tennessee is going to give him the opportunity to do that, but he wants to be sure.

Higgins—a massive in-state target the Vols simply can't afford to lose out on—tweeted that Tennessee will still be in heavy consideration for his signature.

There's a long way to go before next year's class is in place, but things are lining up for Tennessee to have a potentially huge, talent-rich class. However, the breaks haven't fallen the Vols' way, at least in the early going.

Most Vols fans probably weren't pulling for hated rival Alabama in the national championship game, but it's the other team that's giving UT fits right now. Clemson may wind up being a major detriment to the Vols' 2017 recruiting efforts.

Johnson flipped from Tennessee to the Tigers already. Higgins, Knoxville Catholic High School receiver Amari Rodgers (Tee Martin's son) and key linebacker target Justin Foster are giving them a lot of attention, too. Meanwhile, offensive tackle target Blake Vinson pledged to Dabo Swinney last week.

So the two orange teams are going head-to-head early, and Swinney is winning right now. The Tigers are hot on the recruiting trail currently, but a lot can change.

Not only did the three decommitments occur, but two of the top players in the state seem wide open with others ahead of UT. JaCoby Stevens committed to LSU early but has since backed off that pledge and has the Vols in his top group. Maleik Gray talks a lot about Florida State and USC, but he seems open to Tennessee, too.

Those kids are national prospects, and Jones will really have to show his recruiting chops to get them in orange. Just how receptive will they be? Hopefully for Tennessee, they'll listen more than 2016 receiver Dillon Mitchell, who had his heart set on Oregon.

Gray told's Austin Price last week that he has the Vols on his mind.

"I've spoken with JaCoby [Stevens], Princeton [Fant] and Gentry Bonds about the chance to stay in-state and player together," Gray said. "They were for it so it's definitely something we could all end up doing."

That would be big news for Tennessee if all of those guys decided to stay home.

Jones and crew won't have to log as many miles this year to pull in a top-ranked class, but they will definitely have to put in plenty of extra work. The Vols are batting with the big boys in recruiting now, and they came away with a few late home runs in the 2016 cycle.

But next year's class will be pivotal, and they've got plenty of time to rally from a bummer beginning.


Biggest needs are clear

Perhaps the most under-appreciated aspect of the 2017 class is the fact that the Vols could address all the gaps on their roster address with impact players and eliminate them altogether.

Each year, Jones' classes have not only elevated the athleticism and talent on the roster, they've also made the Vols deeper and deeper. At times throughout this year's class, the players already on a healthy UT team allowed Jones to get into taking the best players available, regardless of position.

When teams can do that, you're able to take highly ranked difference-makers without fear of falling behind from a numbers standpoint. 

Up to this point, this Tennessee coaching staff has been making up for the lingering deficiencies the last coaching regime left in its wake. Soon, that will no longer be the case.

With their needs dwindling, the Vols should be ready to begin redshirting a lot of young players, which leads to a seasoned roster of well-prepared players on the depth chart. They have the opportunity to shore up some desperation spots this year and finally be caught up after this season. 

They can be pickier, too. 

Bob Welton, UT's director of player personnel, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press' Patrick Brown following the conclusion of the 2016 class that the Vols were able to do that this year, too.

The great thing we have now, what Coach [Jones] has done here, is our culture's set. ... There's a culture here. Before, with these other recruiting classes, we had to kind of bring kids in to create that culture. Well, these kids now have to fit the culture. That's a lot more fun to go out to recruit kids in which the character part plays a big role, because they've got to be able to fit what we're doing now.

So before we talk about some of the players for you to keep an eye on as you begin to build your list of "wants" for Tennessee, you have to know the team's biggest needs.

Without question, three areas stick out while another one will be important, too. The Vols must sign at least two quality running backs and three good defensive tackles. If they don't do that, the class won't be considered a success.

On top of that, defensive end needs addressing, too, since Corey Vereen and LaTroy Lewis are out of eligibility following the 2016 season and stud junior-to-be Derek Barnett is almost certainly heading to the NFL early. 

Those are the three biggest needs Jones needs to set his sights on.

Getting another couple of offensive tackles would be big, too, though it would fall fourth on the list of UT's priorities. 

If the Vols can recruit elite players to those areas, it would fill nine or 10 spots in the class, and it would mean the program would be on firm footing to establish sustained success over the next several seasons.


Who are some top targets to remember?

Everybody's list is going to vary, but several players are already emerging as viable, necessary targets for Tennessee's 2017 class.

Gray, Stevens, Bonds, Higgins, Rodgers, Foster and Fant have already been mentioned. Every single one of those guys is pivotal, and they'll all be heavily pursued until the Vols can get them to Knoxville or until they elect to sign with other teams.

That's a start to the elite names that will be topping the list on the Vols' war room whiteboard.

But there are plenty more.

Since running back is a pivotal position in this class, perhaps one of the top three or four overall targets has to be Montgomery Bell Academy runner Ty Chandler. The 5'11", 190-pound athlete is an elite runner right in UT's backyard from a school the Vols have successfully recruited from in recent years.

Yes, he's an Ole Miss legacy, and it's difficult to rule out coach Hugh Freeze these days when it comes to recruiting. But Jones has enjoyed his share of success winning battles against Freeze in the past two years—most notably in landing the signing day commitments of Drew Richmond and Jonathan Kongbo over the past two years.

Chandler is a dynamic 4-star running back who may just be Tennessee's top target at the position. But he's far from the only one.

Tennessee is home to two more legit runners in Cordarrian "Big Baby" Richardson and Vols legacy Chase Hayden. The latter could wind up playing a lot of different positions at UT, and considering that his father is former Vols runner Aaron Hayden, it would be unwise to bet against the Vols luring him to Knoxville.

Alabama commit Cam Akers and Trey Sermon of Marietta, Georgia, among others, may wind up being viable targets as well.

Four other major Vols targets who need to be mentioned are 5-star Loganville, Georgia, athlete Deangelo Gibbs, electrifying dual-threat quarterback N'Kosi Perry, Pennsylvania 5-star cornerback Lamont Wade and Jackson, Tennessee, offensive tackle Trey Smith.

Gibbs will be one of the most highly recruited prospects in the entire nation, and Tennessee winning the Nigel Warrior sweepstakes could pay huge dividends for the Vols in his recruitment. The 6'2", 207-pound defensive back/linebacker is Warrior's first cousin as well as the nephew of former UT legend Dale Carter (Warrior's dad).

When Warrior visited Knoxville officially on the final weekend before national signing day, Gibbs was with him on an unofficial visit. That's huge for the Vols, as Gibbs is one of the most freakish athletes in the class.

With Johnson flipping to Clemson, the Vols need a quarterback, and Perry is a dynamic athlete who is arguably at the top of UT's list right now. He was committed to Miami for a while but backed off that this week, according to 247Sports' David Lake. UT could be a major player there.

Smith loves Tennessee and Alabama, and the Vols have really done a good job recruiting the Jackson area under Jones, so getting a player of Smith's ilk at a spot like offensive tackle that teams must address every year would be huge.

Finally, with the defensive line being such a major need, who are some of the players who will emerge there? That will be a long list that will change countless times between now and next February, but a few guys the Vols are in on early could wind up being important commits.

In-state target Rutger Reitmaier is a player the Vols like a lot from Nashville who could get the class off to a nice start at the position. They've shown him a lot of early attention, and it would be big for UT if he could reciprocate that love with a quick commitment.

The Virginia trio of Eric CrosbyJordan Williams and Elijah Conliffe are vital to Tennessee's class, and Riley is another one who could re-commit at some point. That list will swell, and the Vols will wind up being in on a lot of high-profile players with playing time to sell.

If that seems like a lot of early names to digest, it's because boards are just now beginning to fill out, and the Vols are in the early stages of shaping how they want things to shake out next year.

It's going to be a big cycle for Jones in terms of keeping Tennessee's program heading in the right direction. Getting a few guys to pledge early and getting the peer recruiting going would go a long way in making the 2017 class one of Jones' best yet.


All quotes and information gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information gathered from 247Sports, unless otherwise noted.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee lead writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

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Early Power Ranking of Best Week 1 Games for 2016 College Football Season

If you're bummed about the end of college football season, especially after national signing day, remember there's a light at the end of the tunnel.

It might be seven months away, but when Week 1 of next season arrives, it will feature the best slate of opening games in recent memory. And even that might be selling it short.

"The best day in college football history is coming," wrote USA Today's Dan Wolken two years ago. Kevin Kelley of FBS Schedules wrote more of the same. The matchups are so compelling they've been hyped since 2014.

So, without further ado, let's break them open. Here are 10 games whose teams and stories make us giddy for fall to arrive.

Sound off below and let us know where you disagree!

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Ranking the 10 Longest-Tenured Coaches in College Football

2015 was a year of change in college football coaching circles. Twenty-eight FBS head coaching positions changed hands, with the final move coming just days before national signing day when Southern Miss’ Jeff Monken left for an assistant coaching position with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

College football head coaching has never been known for its longevity or stability, and this offseason’s coaching carousel was especially harsh. Of the top 10 longest-serving coaches with a single institution, six either retired, were fired or changed jobs (or both). That made for a significant shakeup among coaches deemed to be the most stable. 

For comparison, here's FootballScoop's national coaching tenure list entering 2015. Gone now are names such as Frank Beamer, Steve Spurrier, Mark Richt and Gary Pinkel. 

We have a different group among the nation’s 10 longest-tenured head coaches, and we’re going to break them down for you. A note: Bill Snyder has spent 24 seasons as Kansas State’s head coach, but he is not on this list because he “retired” from 2006 to 2008 before replacing his replacement, Ron Prince, as the Wildcats’ head coach.

Just missing this list of ultimate longevity? Air Force’s Troy Calhoun, Alabama’s Nick Saban, Rice’s David Bailiff, Old Dominion’s Bobby Wilder (with time as an FCS head coach included) and Baylor’s Art Briles. Who made the list? Let’s break it down.

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Can Corey Coleman Transition from Baylor's Offense to NFL?

Baylor football head coach Art Briles has built one of the most potent offenses in college football over the past five years. But he hasn't exactly churned out successful NFL prospects.

Over the past five NFL drafts, Baylor has produced just five top-100 draft picks. That number jumps to six with the inclusion of wide receiver Josh Gordon, a second-round pick in the 2012 NFL supplemental draft.

The skill position players in that group have had moderate success at best. Off-field issues aside, Gordon has established himself as an elite receiver. But the others—Robert Griffin III, Kendall Wright and Terrance Williams—have been either been benched or are role players in their respective NFL offenses.

In most cases, it's best to ignore these apparent trends when evaluating the next top prospect from a given school—in this case, Baylor wide receiver Corey Coleman.

Players fail to reach their ceiling at the next level for a wide range of reasons, and to assume those reasons will impact other prospects from the same school is just silly. But Art Briles' offensive scheme creates a unique situation that may tie the NFL failures of his prospects together.

To evaluate Coleman, let's take a look at some of his strengths, weaknesses and role in Baylor's offense impact his chances of succeeding in the NFL.



What constitutes a route in Baylor's offense looks more like something drawn up on a playground than anything you'll find in an NFL playbook.

For example, the route Coleman runs below can loosely be described as a stop-and-go route. However, Coleman's movements appear to indicate he's reacting to the quarterback rather than running a designed route.

Coleman's slow stop-and-side shuffle on the sideline isn't fooling Oklahoma State's cornerback, let alone any NFL scouts. His only hope of creating separation on this play is to simply outrun the cornerback once he restarts his route.

No NFL coach will teach this route because you can never assume your quarterback will have enough time in the pocket to complete the pass. For Coleman to run an effective stop-and-go route, he'll need to be crisp in his stop and explosive as he restarts.

Is Coleman capable of adjusting his routes to meet NFL standards? Probably.

He's clearly an elite athlete with exceptional speed. There's no reason to believe he isn't capable of running this route at an NFL level, but the fact that he hasn't done it raises a sliver of doubt.

Even this stop-and-go route is fairly complex for Baylor's offense.

The overwhelming majority of Coleman's targets came on screens, go routes and curl routes, which are routes he usually ad-libs and runs to find soft spots in zone coverage.

Here's an example of Coleman running a go route against Oklahoma State. While it showcases his speed, there's no shortage of receivers in the NFL capable of making these types of plays.

Baylor's spread offense creates these types of wide-open opportunities for Coleman on a regular basis, which severely limited the need for him to develop the nuanced route-running technique to create separation on his own.

One of the most NFL-ready receivers evaluated in recent years was New York Giants star Odell Beckham Jr., due to the incredible suddenness in his movements. Even at LSU, he could lose defensive backs in a single step due to his start-and-stop ability.

This play demonstrate the remarkable route-running technique Beckham displayed at LSU.

Unfortunately, we've never seen this from Coleman at Baylor. Due to the offense Baylor runs, he is rarely locked in tight coverage like this downfield.

It's important to reiterate that this doesn't mean Coleman can't run routes like Beckham. The raw athleticism is there for him to develop into an effective route-runner in the NFL.

But the fact that he hasn't been asked to run these routes will limit his ability to make an immediate impact at the next level.


Contested Catches

Unrelated to Baylor's offense, Coleman's ability to compete for contested catches is one of the reasons his game should transition well to the NFL.

Smaller receivers often struggle with this aspect of the game, but Coleman has demonstrated a willingness to battle for the ball and take some hits.

This skill was put on full display against Kansas State when he came down with this remarkable touchdown reception:

Battling for contested catches is an important trait for a receiver to display in college because it's difficult to teach.

These types of receptions require a focus and fearlessness that coaches can't instill in a player. Perhaps a player can improve with more reps, but there's never a surefire way to develop this skill in a young receiver.

The fact that Coleman has already displayed this ability should ease coaches' concerns about his ability to transition to the NFL.


Final Projection

So, can Coleman buck the trend and make a smooth transition from Baylor's offense to the NFL?

Based on his speed and all-around athleticism, the answer is definitely yes. But because of his role in Baylor's offense, there's more doubt than there would be if he had experience in a more pro-style system.

Most of the receivers who have made an immediate impact in recent years—Beckham and Amari Cooper are the best examples—have done so due to their remarkably refined route-running skills.

The ability to create separation, even in quick routes and against more athletic defensive backs, is what takes a talented receiver and turns him into an elite receiver. Beckham and Cooper demonstrated those skills from the minute they set foot on an NFL practice field. 

Coleman is far behind those two, and most others, in terms of his development.

So while Coleman's long-term future is more of a projection than a sure thing, he does show traits that should lead to some moments of success.

Receivers who excel in one area can still make an immediate impact. For example, Kelvin Benjamin was perhaps the most fundamentally erratic prospect I've scouted at the receiver position. But due to his 6'5", 240-pound frame and impressive leaping ability at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, the Carolina Panthers found an immediate role for him in their offense. 

Coleman wins with much different traits than Benjamin, but the example still applies. With his speed and ability to compete for contested catches, he should immediately find a role as a deep threat. 

Whether or not he develops into a more well-rounded receiver will be up to him and his willingness to master the technique of creating separation with his footwork rather than simply with his pure speed.

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Thomas Tyner Announces Medical Retirement: Latest Details and Reaction

The Oregon Ducks announced running back Thomas Tyner will retire from football due to medical reasons. The 21-year-old missed the 2015 season after undergoing shoulder surgery in August and will finish his career with 1,284 rushing yards and 15 total touchdowns in 23 games at Oregon. Andrew Greif of the Oregonian noted he was a former 5-star recruit.

According to Tyson Alger of the Oregonian, Ducks head coach Mark Helfrich said Tyner's future was still up in the air Wednesday.

"I think it just totally depends," Helfrich said. "Guys that are injured I never want to put a cap on that. If a guy is out for the year or done for his career, we'll talk about that."

However, it became clear when Helfrich spoke on the unfortunate situation Friday, per Rob Moseley of

“We thank Thomas and wish him well,” Helfrich said. “We will continue to support his efforts to graduate from the University of Oregon.”

Tyner tweeted a message thanking his supporters after the announcement:

The 5'11", 215-pound back showed promise during his freshman season, rushing for 711 yards and nine touchdowns. The next year, he gained 511 yards, including 62 in a 2015 national championship game loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Tyner suffered a shoulder injury in the middle of that season when he took a hit from Washington Huskies linebacker Shaq Thompson. Tyner's father said his son is now dealing with two bad shoulders, per Greif.

It's a tough situation for the Aloha, Oregon, native, but the Ducks must move on. Sophomore Royce Freeman broke the school rushing record with 1,836 yards in Tyner's absence and should remain the starter in 2016. 

The Ducks will be strong in the run game, as a trio of backs, freshmen Taj Griffin and Tony Brooks-James and sophomore Kani Benoit, combined for 1,222 yards on the ground while backing up Freeman last season, per Moseley.

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Every Power 5 College Football Team's Top 2016 Recruit

A college football team's recruiting class is judged by the sum of its parts, but there's no denying the player at the top tends to draw the most initial interest.

These are the prospects each Power Five team wanted more than anyone else—the ones who serve as the face of their class and thus head into 2016 with the most notoriety.

Not all of the top recruits will end up contributing this first season, but for the time being, they're drawing the most attention. We've evaluated the top signee—based on their 247Sports composite ranking—for each Power Five conference team (as well as BYU and Notre Dame) and assessed their chances of being a part of the plan for this fall.

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SEC Teams Most Likely to Start True Freshmen in 2016

Anyone who wonders what kind of impact a freshman can have on a team only needs to look at the University of Alabama football program last season.

While many would think the Crimson Tide might probably be the least likely team for a freshman to contribute about half of the 2015 recruiting class, they did with wide receiver Calvin Ridley joining Amari Cooper as the only first-year players in program history to have 1,000-yard seasons.

“Well, he didn’t go into the year replacing a guy like Amari; that’s not our expectation for him,” head coach Nick Saban said. “He was playing, rotating with Robert Foster and ArDarius Stewart and [Richard] Mullaney. Those four guys were sort of playing a lot. Robert Foster got hurt, and that gave Calvin a lot more opportunity to play.

“But I can’t really say that I am surprised. When we recruited him, we thought he was an outstanding talent.”

Ridley and redshirt freshman cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who caught the onside kick against Clemson in the national championship game, ended up named to the Football Writers Association of America's Freshman All-America Team.

They were two of eight Southeastern Conference selections—the most of any league. The others were Arkansas linebacker Dre Greenlaw, LSU offensive lineman Will Clapp, Missouri defensive end Walter Brady and defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr., with Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk named an all-purpose player and Florida’s Antonio Callaway at punt returner. 

With that in mind, here’s a look at the SEC teams most likely starting some true freshmen in 2016:

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College Football Teams That Recruited the Best at Each Position

By looking at 247Sports' team rankings, we know which teams added the most talent by volume this recruiting cycle.

We don't know, necessarily, where they added it.

To fix that, we've graded which team signed the most talent at each position. There are spots where even Alabama, which just won its sixth straight recruiting national title, failed to sign whomever it wanted.

The grades made heavy use of 247Sports' composite ratings, which aggregate four separate recruiting services. From there we compared the quality and quantity of players at each position in each class.

Sound off below and let us know what you think!

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Pac-12 Teams Most Likely to Start True Freshmen in 2016

National signing day is over, and the elation over completing a school’s recruiting class is still echoing around campuses across the Pac-12.

All told, it was a fairly impressive effort from several of the conference’s football programs. Both USC and UCLA finished strong to capture top-15 recruiting classes nationally, and others such as Arizona State, Oregon and Washington faired well in the rankings with top-40 classes despite not having a ton of scholarships to offer this February.

While coaches have barely had time to catch their breath from being out on the recruiting trail, work is no doubt underway to prepare for 2016. With that in mind, let's turn our attention to Pac-12 teams most likely to start their recently signed players as true freshmen or transfers this season.

While every squad will likely see a newcomer wind up as a starter because of either injuries or talent level, here are a few who are already factoring in their new signees. 

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Most Underrated 2016 College Football Recruiting Classes

The big winners of national signing day earlier this week were obvious.

Defending national champion Alabama closed extremely hard to put together another consensus No. 1 class. Texas skyrocketed up the rankings with a big Wednesday haul. Michigan nabbed the nation's top player on a day that featured a one-of-a-kind recruiting event with plenty of celebrities.

Other recruiting powerhouses such as Florida State, LSU, Ohio State, Georgia and Auburn finished once again with top-10 classes. Florida, Tennessee, Notre Dame and Penn State occupied coveted spots in the overall top 20. 

But what about those programs that didn't get much of the spotlight on signing day? Which ones can feel like they signed a haul that was much better than the rankings indicated? 

Here are 10 programs that finished outside the top 20 of 247Sports' composite team rankings with truly underrated recruiting classes, based on the percentage of blue-chip recruits they signed and the needs they filled. True success on the recruiting trail doesn't always come down to who gets the best numbers.

Which 2016 recruiting class outside the top 20 do you believe is the most underrated? Tell us in the comments below.

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Pat Haden to Retire as USC Athletic Director: Latest Comments and Reaction

The University of Southern California announced Friday that athletic director Pat Haden is going to retire from the position effective June 30. 

USC president C. L. Max Nikias passed along the news in a letter to the school community. He also stated Haden agreed to a one-year deal to lead the renovation of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Nikias went on to explain the process school officials are planning to replace Haden:

Going forward, I will be working closely with Nick Brill, principal and co-founder of the Brill Neumann executive search firm, to identify USC's next athletic director. His firm brings valuable experience working with USC, and me directly, on previous executive searches, including senior vice president positions. The process will be national in scope, with all proceedings held in the strictest confidence, for the benefit of USC Athletics and all qualified candidates.

Nathan Fenno of the Los Angeles Times provided further background about the search:

Bleacher Report's Bryan Fischer included the names of some potential candidates:

Haden, who played quarterback for the Trojans in the 1970s, returned to the program to serve as athletic director starting in 2010.

His retirement announcement comes after a tumultuous stretch for the football program, which included the firing of Steve Sarkisian in October. The former head coach filed a wrongful-termination lawsuit in December for letting him go while he sought alcohol-rehabilitation treatment, per ESPN.

Research by Paul Pringle and Nathan Fenno of the Los Angeles Times after Sarkisian's departure showed Haden was filling more than a dozen roles aside from his work with USC. He downplayed the issue, however.

"You can't work any more at this job than I do," Haden said. But that didn't stop the criticism directed at the 63-year-old.

In late October, he stepped down from the College Football Playoff selection committee and stated his doctors wanted him to take on less travel burden, as the CFP's official site noted.

Despite the mixed feedback late in Haden's tenure, Nikias applauded his overall efforts with the school's athletic department over the past handful of years, as Greg Beacham of the Associated Press highlighted:

By retiring from the role of athletic director but agreeing to help with the stadium renovations, Haden gets to remain close to the football program without the same level of burden. And USC can begin to move in a new direction once the new AD is hired.

The announcement didn't include a timetable for how long that search is going to last.


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Big 12 Teams Most Likely to Start True Freshmen in 2016

With national signing day over, the rosters for 2016 are about 99 percent set. Now comes the true offseason when two-deeps are formed, crumpled up, thrown in the trash and then drawn back up. (And then the process is repeated again. Probably a few times.)

With high school football and summer camps creating a year-round sport, incoming freshmen are more prepared than ever to play, and in some cases start, right away. In the following slides are the teams most likely to start key 2016 signees next season. 

The reality is every Big 12 program will play some freshmen—and it's hardly alone in that, too—so where's the fun in projecting that? Rather, we're taking a look at teams that are most likely to start multiple first-year players, whom we identify as well, from Week 1 based on talent and depth-chart needs. 

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Pat Narduzzi Comments on James Conner's Battle with Hodgkin Lymphoma

Pittsburgh Panthers running back James Conner was one of the shining stars in college football when he won the 2014 ACC Player of the Year, but his world drastically changed in 2015 when he announced he was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma. Pittsburgh received promising news Friday, and its coach reportedly expects the running back to return in 2016. 

Jared Shanker of ESPN confirmed Pat Narduzzi believes Conner will take the field in 2016 and passed along this quote from the coach:

Conner was one of the best running backs in the country in 2014 and tallied 1,765 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns. He started the 2015 season in a promising way with 77 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the season opener against Youngstown State, but he injured his MCL and missed the rest of the campaign.

He announced he had Hodgkin lymphoma in December and was optimistic about the future at the time in a press release (via Matt Fortuna of "I will play football again. I will be at Heinz Field again. I have the best coaches and teammates in the country. I thank God I chose Pitt because now I also have the best doctors in the country, and together we will win. I know this city has my back."

Narduzzi also pledged the support of the football team, via Fortuna:

Know this: James Conner will not face this challenge alone. We are all going to be right beside him every step of the way. And the day that he is declared cancer free, we will all celebrate like we do after one of his patented touchdown runs. James has never backed down from an opponent, and we all know this is a battle he will win.

Jerry DiPaola of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review noted in January Conner “reacted well” to the majority of the chemotherapy treatments and was already back in the Pittsburgh weight room at times.

Andrea Adelson of provided another update and said Conner wouldn’t participate in spring practice but “is targeting a September return.”

The Panthers play Penn State, Oklahoma State and North Carolina in September, so it would be a major boost if they added a game-changing running back to the mix during a daunting portion of their schedule.

If Conner does return, it will be another success story in football for a player dealing with this disease. Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in 2014, and all he did was make the Pro Bowl this season as an enforcer on the back end of the defense.

The Panthers do have some pieces to fill in for Conner until he is back.

Qadree Ollison played admirably in Conner’s absence in 2015 and topped the 1,000-yard mark with 1,121 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns in his freshman season. It is only natural to expect further development with a year of experience under his belt at the collegiate level, and he will certainly be ready to tote the rock until Conner is back (and share the backfield when that happens).

Darrin Hall was another freshman back for the Panthers last season who tallied 257 rushing yards and two touchdowns and adds important depth to the backfield.

Pittsburgh improved from 6-7 in 2014 to 8-5 in Narduzzi’s first season and reached the Military Bowl. The team could be even stronger and continue that ascension in 2016, especially if Conner joins an already talented running back group.  

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Big Ten Teams Most Likely to Start True Freshmen in 2016

National signing day is in the books for 2016, and the Big Ten has added a new crop of talent to its core for the coming years.

Overall, it was an impressive day for the conference, with two top-five classes and five top-25 finishes in the 247Sports' national rankings.

Some players will wait longer to develop, while other true freshmen will make an instant impact in the 2016 season. Much of that will be based on the specific needs of each team and the ability of its true freshmen to contribute immediately.

When it comes to the Big Ten, 2016 should be an interesting year, as several of the league's high-profile teams may need to count on true freshmen at one point or another. With that in mind, let's take a look at the Big Ten teams that are most likely to start their recently signed players in 2016.

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2017 4-Star OG Netori Johnson Tweets Decommitment from Alabama

Just two days after closing with yet another No. 1 recruiting class, Alabama's 2017 class is already shifting with a decommitment from 4-star offensive guard Netori Johnson.

On Friday, Johnson tweeted a message stating he was opening up his recruitment again, although Alabama would continue to be one of his top schools:

The 4-star offensive guard from Cedar Grove High School in Ellenwood, Georgia, had been committed to Alabama since receiving an offer from the Crimson Tide at a camp last June.

Johnson, a 6'5" and 330-pound junior, is currently rated as the nation's No. 5 offensive guard and No. 121 overall recruit. He was Alabama's fifth-highest-rated commitment for the 2017 class, which is currently ranked No. 2 behind Ohio State.

The news of Johnson's decommitment from the Crimson Tide is a good sign for SEC rivals Auburn and Georgia, who are said to be among his new leaders.

Half of Johnson's four "crystal ball" predictions at 247Sports have him staying in state with the Bulldogs this time next year. 

New Georgia coach Kirby Smart told reporters Wednesday that the offensive line would be a high priority for the Bulldogs in the 2017 class after missing out on several key targets in this past cycle.

"When you go to the offensive line, it's not exactly what we want," Smart said, per Edward Aschoff of "We want some offensive tackles. If you say what's the number one need going into 2017, it's offensive tackles is what we need. That's the most deficient area on our front."

Although Johnson is listed as a guard on 247Sports, he has the size and the ability to play offensive tackle at the next level.

According to Keith Niebuhr of 247Sports, Auburn could be considered the new No. 1 school for Johnson, who visited the Plains last weekend and said the Tigers "were his No. 2" behind Alabama.

Johnson was high school teammates with 2016 4-star defensive tackle Antwuan Jackson, who enrolled early with the Tigers. He also met new Auburn offensive line coach Herb Hand, formerly of Penn State.

"One, they have one of my players," Johnson said, per Niebuhr. "My coaches like the school and have a great connection. So I’m really liking Auburn night now."

A team outside the SEC that could become a major factor in this 2017 offensive lineman's recruitment is none other than Michigan.

Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh visited Johnson on Jan. 25 and offered him a scholarship, giving him 15 total offers from FBS programs. 

"I'm definitely interested in Michigan," Johnson said, per Steve Lorenz of 247Sports. "I find them to be a very great school and a very great football program. ... Coach Harbaugh is the one who offered me, and I already know he is a great coach that knows how to produce and win games."

Like Auburn, Michigan also has a former Cedar Grove teammate of Johnson's set to join its roster—2016 3-star inside linebacker signee Elysee Mbem-Bosse.


Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Justin Ferguson is a college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

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5-Star Tide Signee Ben Davis 'Shooting For' Father's Alabama Tackles Record

Ben Davis was diligent on the recruiting trail but ultimately found no alternative worth passing on a legacy opportunity at Alabama.

"I went with my heart," the nation's No. 1 overall linebacker recruit told Bleacher Report.

Davis committed to the Crimson Tide on national signing day, following his father's footsteps to Tuscaloosa. He declared those intentions Wednesday morning during a ceremony at Gordo High School in Alabama:

Davis, a 6'3", 240-pound prospect, considered several universities during an expansive recruitment process, displaying perhaps more reciprocated interest elsewhere than many anticipated. His dad, Wayne Davis, is Alabama's all-time tackles leader, recording 327 during a career that spanned 1983 through 1986.

That personal tie with the program provides extra incentive to pile up big plays in Tuscaloosa.

"He's got a great record there, but I'll be shooting for it. I'm gonna try to bust it," Davis said. "I won't be thinking about it. I'm just going to ball out, work hard, and if it happens, it happens. It'd be pretty cool. I'm gonna try to break it."

Davis racked up 119 tackles and seven touchdown receptions in 2015, according to Joey Chandler of the Tuscaloosa News, earning MVP honors at the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic. He was also a finalist for the Butkus Award, which is annually handed out to America's premier high school linebacker.

Despite official visits to Auburn, Georgia, LSU and Notre Dame, national recruiting analysts pegged Davis as a 100 percent Crimson Tide lock in his 247Sports Crystal Ball. The decision wasn't nearly that simple, according to Nick Saban's newest blue-chip defender.

"I was really sweating it between Alabama and Auburn," Davis said. "I had such a great visit to Auburn last weekend, but I just woke up and went with my heart."

He didn't finalize a choice until the morning of national signing day, notifying defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and assistant Bo Davis prior to sharing his intentions with a national television audience. He spoke with Saban afterward.

"He's ready to get me down to Tuscaloosa and coach me," Davis said. "It seems like he's already ready for next season. Very business-like, which is what I like. He knows what it takes to win, and I'm ready to be part of the process."

Rated No. 10 among all 2016 recruits in composite rankings, he was considered one of the most coveted uncommitted athletes entering national signing day. Hours after his announcement, fellow in-state 5-star linebacker and Butkus Award finalist Lyndell "Mack" Wilson also signed with the Crimson Tide over Georgia.

Davis and Wilson are close friends and often discussed the possibility of pairing up throughout this process. That plan came to fruition, providing Alabama with a 10-star linebacker duo that helped propel the program to a sixth straight No. 1 recruiting class in composite rankings.

"We talked about it a lot during the past year. We work together in a special way, and we're really like brothers," Davis said. "Our families have bonded, and it kind of feels like family. He and I can help continue a great linebacker tradition at Alabama."

Based on conversations with the Crimson Tide coaching staff, Davis expects to begin his collegiate career at inside linebacker. He will enroll at the university in June.

"Our class can help create another dynasty. But we've got to come in, work hard and strive to be great. It's all about getting better every day and pushing for a national championship," he said.

Coaching staffs across the country invested significant effort in an attempt to sever Davis' ties with the school his father attended. After years of surveying his options, the lauded linebacker officially feels right at home with Alabama.

"My dad was very excited. It means a lot to be able to do this," Davis said. "I get to play the game that I love and continue a legacy at Alabama."

Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake.

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