NCAA Football News

2016 Early-Enrollee Recruits Who Will Make Biggest Impact

College football coaches and fans put plenty of focus on national signing day success. However, concrete evidence of a quality recruiting class isn't truly uncovered until years down the road when young athletes have been allotted time to mature on and off the field.

That's why it's pivotal for every program to land at least a few prospects capable of contributing immediately as true freshmen. This initial climb up the depth chart is aided immensely when high school seniors are able to graduate early and enroll on campus in January.

Players across America are making that leap this week, beginning work in the classroom, living alongside new teammates and preparing for spring practice. It's a significant transition that tests the mental and physical fortitude of talented teens.

We took a look across the national landscape, pinpointing eight early enrollees who will be counted on to contribute. Not every top-rated recruit will encounter opportunities to compete early, so our focus here is on those who appear to have a particularly clear path to instant playing time.   

Begin Slideshow

Clemson vs. Alabama: Latest Predictions Ahead of National Title Game

The undefeated Clemson Tigers are the next team in line to enter the lion's den against the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide on Monday night in the 2016 College Football Playoff title game.

The Tigers—like their head coach, Dabo Swinney—fear nothing.

They've ran the gauntlet all season long in the ACC against teams such as the Florida State Seminoles, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and a North Carolina Tar Heels team that had won 11 straight games prior to its meeting with the Tigers.

They held the hottest team in the country at the time—the Oklahoma Sooners—scoreless in the second half of the Orange Bowl on New Year's Eve without All-American defensive end Shaq Lawson.

Despite the knee sprain in the first quarter of the Orange Bowl, Lawson is expected to play on Monday night, per the Associated Press (via USA Today).

College football's top-ranked team has "brought [its] own guts" all season, and it's ready for the challenge of facing the sport's gold standard and its architect.

“If you guys remembered, on signing day, I said we're going to win a national championship,” Clemson cornerback Mackensie Alexander said, per Sam Khan Jr. of ESPN.com. “I really believed it. ... I said we would be here and we would win it all. We're here and it's time to win it all.”

Alexander was one of the stern voices during media day in Glendale, Arizona, and he took on Swinney's confident and energetic personality when the media asked about Alabama being the favorite in Monday's game.

“You guys really don't believe that,” Alexander said. “You guys are looking at the brand and the big A and what they've done in the past. It's not about that. It's about right now. You guys are looking at the brand too much. That's all. You guys know we've got a better team.”

To a degree, Alexander has a point and a legitimate one at that.

There's an issue, though.

Alexander could be in a limited role at best on Monday night, per CollegeFootball 24/7.

There's also another issue for the Tigers. 

They're playing college football's version of the Roman Empire.

For the fourth time in the last seven seasons, Alabama is playing for a national championship. The previous three trips to the title game were all convincing victories.

It's the same story in a different year for the Crimson Tide.

The more the contenders change, the more dominant Alabama has become.

Under head coach Nick Saban, Alabama has lost just 18 games since 2007.

In the three previous title games that Alabama has played in under Saban, the Crimson Tide defense has only given up 35 total points, including in a shutout in the 2012 title game against LSU.

Yeah, that's the game in which LSU's offense didn't cross midfield until there were eight minutes left in the contest.

However, to Alexander's credit (and confidence), his point has some validity. Plus, have the Tide played a team as talented as this year's Clemson bunch? Outside of Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl last season, not many (if any) can match Clemson's speed and overall talent.

Of course, we've asked this question many times before, and it usually ends with a Saban defense leaving the opponent's offense looking like the fallen in the movie 300.

Alabama gave up 258 yards per game this season, the second-best average in the country.

Clemson gave up 296 yards this season, the seventh-least amount.

Only 16 teams gave up fewer than Alabama's 184.2 passing yards per game this season.

Just four teams gave up fewer passing yards per contest than Clemson's 166.9 passing yards this season.

In Matt Miller's current Top 300 NFL draft board on Bleacher Report, Alabama has four prospects inside his top 50 players, while Clemson has three.

 

Breakdown

When Clemson has the ball

If Clemson is going to keep the Tide from their fourth title in the last seven years, it has to be able to crack the code of the Alabama run defense.

Alabama gave up 962 total rushing yards this season. That's 74 rushing yards allowed a game.

Also, this is the same defense that held LSU running back Leonard Fournette to 31 yards on 19 carries.

It's quite good.

Here's what LSU didn't have: Heisman Trophy finalist Deshaun Watson.

Watson will be the best quarterback the Tide have faced all season long, and with his dual-threat playmaking ability in and out of the pocket, the Tigers can make life much harder for the Tide defense than some teams have.

On top of Watson's dynamic play under center, Wayne Gallman was the most underrated running back in the entire country this season with 1,482 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Throughout the Tigers' undefeated run to Glendale, Watson has been the coolest head in the stadium. For Clemson to have a chance, Watson has to keep that cool demeanor on the biggest stage of the season.

The one thing that's been able to crack Alabama's armor in recent years is a quarterback who can move the sticks and light up the scoreboard with his arm and his legs.

Film study with Saban probably wasn't fun after Alabama's meetings with Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel and Trevor Knight in the last few years.

Watson might be the best of the bunch, and he'll have to be for the Tigers.

 

When Alabama has the ball

Clemson's defense—led by Alexander and Lawson—is one of the best units in the country.

Deshaun Watson was outstanding all season long, but the Tigers wouldn't be in this position without their defense. (Watch the very end of the Notre Dame game once more.)

But, the Clemson defense has yet to face a weapon like Alabama possesses.

Running back Derrick Henry is college football's version of the Blue Marvel.

Henry was this year's Heisman Trophy winner and became the only player in SEC history to rush for 2,000-plus yards in a season.

He's a tank in terms of his workload and his pure power and strength at 6'3" and 242 pounds.

Clemson ranks inside the top 25 teams in terms of rushing defense, but it's yet to face a bruiser and a force like Henry.

If Lawson and the talented front of Clemson can't get off the line of scrimmage on Monday, Henry might cap off the best season in SEC history for a running back with one more dominant performance.

 

Prediction

Clemson is one of the few teams in the country that can keep up with Alabama's talent and overall excellence.

It's an exclusive list, but the Tigers can beat the Tide.

Will they?

According to the 11 college football experts at Sports Illustrated, 10 of them don't think the Tigers can get the job done:

In the quintet of NFL.com experts who picked the outcome of Monday's title game, all five had Alabama coming out on top:

There's a slim chance Clemson can beat Alabama, and most predictions have the Tide rolling through the Tigers.

But embracing the underdog role has been something Clemson has done all season long.

The Tigers will upset the Tide in a thriller, and it will be thanks to the play of Deshaun Watson.

If Watson plays like the 2010 version of Cam Newton, the Tigers won't have a Heisman Trophy, but they'll have a national championship trophy on their flight back home to South Carolina.

Clemson upsets Alabama, 30-27

 

Michael Whitlow is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. You can read the rest of Michael's work here or you can follow him on Twitter: @MAWhitlow.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Chad Kelly to Return to Ole Miss for Senior Season: Latest Comments, Reaction

The Ole Miss Rebels will have at least one of their star NFL draft-eligible players return, as junior quarterback Chad Kelly announced he'll be back in 2016, according to the Buffalo News

Kelly, the nephew of Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Kelly, returned on the belief the Rebels can contend in the SEC next season:

After serious discussion with my family and Coach [Hugh] Freeze, I wanted my friends and fans to know that I’ll be staying at Ole Miss for my senior year. I look forward to completing my degree and graduating from Ole Miss. We’ve lost a lot of starters, but we’re still deep in talent, and I’m excited to get back to work with Coach Freeze, Coach Werner and the rest of the team.

Kelly led Ole Miss to its first 10-win season since 2003, which included its first Sugar Bowl victory in 46 years and a Week 3 win over No. 2 Alabama.

Kelly led the SEC with 4,042 passing yards and 31 touchdowns in just his first season in the nation’s toughest conference. 

Behind his offensive leadership, the Rebels nearly reached the SEC title game before a miraculous 4th-and-25 conversion cost them in a 53-52 overtime defeat to Arkansas that handed them their second conference loss and conceded the division to Alabama.

The drive to build up his heroics and usurp the conference heavyweights under the guidance of Freeze played a major factor in his return:

As a Kelly, I’ve been fortunate to grow up with a tight knit family. Coach Freeze and everyone here at Ole Miss have become a part of my family. We have the best students, the best staff, and just as importantly, the best fans in the country. Our goal this year is to win the SEC West and to compete for a National Championship.

However, Kelly and Co. must do so without three projected first-round picks, as Robert Nkemdiche, Laremy Tunsil and Laquon Treadwell have all declared.

While those aspirations seem lofty, the Rebels do have the nation’s No. 7 incoming recruiting class, per 247Sports, which should provide immediate depth—albeit depth that's young and inexperienced.

Kelly initially enrolled at Clemson in 2012 and was thought to be the heir to Tajh Boyd. But he was dismissed for "conduct detrimental to the program" after two seasons. He signed with East Mississippi Community College in 2014, then enrolled at Ole Miss last year.

His off-the-field antics didn’t spill over in Oxford, though, and he appears more focused on football. If Kelly can find other reliable weapons on offense, the Rebels could be in store for another great year.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Mackensie Alexander Injury: Updates on Clemson DB's Hamstring and Return

Clemson announced starting cornerback Mackensie Alexander will be a game-time decision for the national championship Monday night due to a hamstring injury, according to ESPN's Joe Schad

Continue for updates.

Clemson Staff to Evaluate Alexander During Pregame Warm-ups Monday, Jan. 11

Marty Smith of ESPN reported the Tigers medical personnel will have a better picture of Alexander's health in the moments leading up to the team's clash with the Alabama Crimson Tide.   

This could be a significant blow for the Clemson defense. The redshirt sophomore is one of the best cornerbacks in college football. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller argued Alexander is the best man-to-man coverage defender in this year's NFL draft class.

If the Crimson Tide's Cotton Bowl win over Michigan State on New Year's Eve is any indicator, they'll rely quite a bit on the passing game. Jake Coker threw for 286 yards and two touchdowns against the Spartans. Those two TDs went to wideout Calvin Ridley, against whom Alexander would've lined up.

To college football writer Matt Hinton, Alexander is an irreplaceable member of the Clemson secondary:

Alexander isn't the only Tigers star carrying an injury into Monday night either. CBS Sports' Jon Solomon reported Tigers defensive end Shaq Lawson is likely to play in the national title game, but he'll be dealing with the lingering effects of a sprained MCL.

Even if Alexander is healthy enough to play, he won't be 100 percent, barring a medical miracle, leaving Clemson vulnerable through the air. Adrian Baker could be asked to lineup alongside Cordrea Tankersley in order to help slow the Alabama offense if Alexander is limited or out.

His injury alone would dent the Tigers' chances of beating the Crimson Tide. Couple that with Lawson's injured knee, and Clemson will start Monday's game at a significant disadvantage.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama vs. Clemson: Odds and 2016 College Football Championship Prediction

After months of debating the best college football team in the country, the Alabama Crimson Tide and Clemson Tigers will now get a chance to prove themselves on the field in the College Football Championship.

Each team has a legitimate argument as the top squad coming into the game. The Tigers are the only undefeated team left in college football with impressive wins over Stanford, Notre Dame and most recently Oklahoma. Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide do have a loss, but it came back in September. Since then they have been dominant against quality SEC opponents as well as Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl.

The good news is it doesn't matter what these teams did to this point, only which can win Monday night. Here is a look at what you need to know heading into the highly anticipated battle with a prediction for who will take home the trophy.

 

When: Monday, Jan. 11

Time: 8:30 p.m. ET

Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona

TV: ESPN

Live Stream:Watch ESPN

Odds (via Odds Shark):

  • Spread: Alabama -6.5
  • Over/Under: 50.5

 

Why Alabama Will Win

The Crimson Tide have the best player in college football on offense, as evident with Derrick Henry taking home the Heisman Trophy last month. The running back leads the country with 2,061 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns and should add to these totals even against a solid Clemson defense.

This is him destroying All-American defensive end Shilique Calhoun his last time out:

Henry didn't put up huge numbers against Michigan State because in reality he wasn't needed all that much, although he still had 75 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Before that, he totaled 90 carries for 460 rushing yards in the two previous games.

The Cotton Bowl also featured a breakout of sorts for quarterback Jake Coker, who went 25-of-30 for 286 passing yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. If you do put all your energy on stopping the run, Coker, Calvin Ridley and O.J. Howard can beat you in the passing game.

Add this offensive attack to an elite defense that ranks No. 3 in points allowed per game, and it will be difficult for anyone to beat. The front seven will slow down Wayne Gallman and put pressure on quarterback DeShaun Watson to do it all himself. As good as he is, this might be too much for anyone to handle.

Alabama can keep Clemson's offense in check and will score enough points to secure a win.

 

Why Clemson Will Win

Michigan State had the defensive line and linebackers to slow down Alabama's run game, holding Henry to just 3.8 yards per carry. The problem is the Spartans didn't have the secondary to keep Alabama from passing over the stacked box up front.

Clemson doesn't have this problem with an elite cornerback in MacKensie Alexander and safety Jayron Kearse leading one of the best defensive backfields in college football. The Tigers can afford to leave these players in one-on-one situations and focus on shutting down the run.

With defensive end Shaq Lawson expecting to play despite a knee injury, the defense should be able to hold up against a strong Alabama offensive line.

On the other side of the ball, the Tide have played well but have not faced anyone quite like Watson at quarterback this season. Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart compared him to a few top SEC talents from past years, per Alex Scarborough of ESPN:

The scary thing is all of these players have beaten head coach Nick Saban's teams in the past, showing a trend with the team's struggles with mobile quarterbacks. This is a new set of players on the field, but they haven't proven the ability to shut down a playmaker of this ability.

Watson can put the team on his back and lead the Tigers offensively while the defense does just enough to pull off the upset.

 

Prediction

Clearly both teams have a good chance of winning this game, but the difference will be big men down low. The national championship will be won and lost in the trenches, which heavily favors Alabama.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney gave high praise for the Tide's defensive line, per Dan Hope of the Independent Mail:

Not only does the group have multiple players ticketed for the NFL like A'Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed, the team also is deep enough to rotate close to a dozen players without much drop-off. The defensive front can stop the run with either Gallman or Watson as well as put pressure on the quarterback when he tries to throw the ball.

Watson is the best offensive player Alabama has faced this year, but he still won't put up huge numbers against this terrifying front.

Offensively, the Tide also have the advantage thanks to an offensive line led by center Ryan Kelly. He will help clear enough space for Henry to allow the nation's rushing leader to pile on more yards and get into the end zone as he has in every other game this year. 

Clemson has the talent on both sides of the ball to keep it close (and cover the spread), but Alabama should escape with another national title in a low-scoring battle.

Predicted score: Alabama 24, Clemson 20

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for year-round sports analysis. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Championship 2016: Twitter Hype, Pick for Clemson vs. Alabama

Good luck avoiding the hype for the 2016 College Football National Championship.

Akin to a train steamrolling down the tracks, the impending Monday showdown between the Clemson Tigers and Alabama Crimson Tide drowns out everything else, even including NFL playoffs understandably highlighted by products of the programs such as AJ McCarron (Alabama) and Martavis Bryant (Clemson).

The current crop of talent from the powerhouses makes for one intriguing matchup, with the higher-seeded Tigers functioning as the willing underdog against head coach Nick Saban's monstrosity of NFL-ready talent.

As Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde illustrated, the tape paints quite the even picture:

How could it not look even? Clemson rolled through the schedule to an undefeated season and has a shot at making history by hitting 15-0. The run included wins against three top-10 teams, including a laugher against then-No. 4 Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff semifinal.

The Tigers are led by Deshaun Watson, a dual-threat quarterback who completed 68.2 percent of his passes with 31 touchdowns while adding another 12 scores on the ground, tied for team high with lead back Wayne Gallman.

Watson's one of the few players who can force the Crimson Tide out of their comfort zone defensively. Saban seemed to respect this wrinkle of the title game, according to Dan Hope of OrangeandWhite.com:

Saban also happened to have a Heisman Trophy contender on his roster, though, and running back Derrick Henry wound up winning the award.

Henry posted 2,061 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns on a 5.7 per-carry average and helped the Crimson Tide best four top-10 teams this year, not to mention simply surviving the SEC. The semifinal? A 38-0 swatting of then-No. 3 Michigan State, otherwise a gnat on Alabama's radar while Henry ran for 75 yards and a pair of scores.

It only makes sense that Henry's the hottest interview around, as CFBPlayoff captured:

Speaking of interviews, though, Clemson has made it quite clear in the week leading up to the game it embraces the underdog role.

Surefire NFL prospect Shaq Lawson was one of a few players to speak up on the position the team finds itself in, according to Sporting News:

Clemson's undefeated with the most potent offense around, so it's not hard to see why the Tigers would have confidence going into the matchup.

In past years, Alabama has struggled with dual-threat quarterbacks, too. Even this year Saban's defense faltered once to such a quarterback, losing 43-37 to then-No. 15 Ole Miss while Rebels quarterback Chad Kelly tossed three scores and ran for another.

For someone such as elite Clemson cornerback Mackensie Alexander, there's one major reason for his team being the underdog, according to Sporting News:

Though a tad biased, SEC Network offered an interesting counter:

When it comes time to make a prediction, one has to take both history and trends into account.

One is Alabama's defense. The unit's borderline unstoppable. Against Michigan State, the nation's best defensive line held the Spartans to 29 rushing yards—on 26 attempts.

Clemson will look to mix it up by getting Watson moving out of the pocket, but he can only do so much damage if he doesn't see the field consistently. Clemson's defense is another trend to know, as the unit has struggled as of late to shutter opposing rushing attacks—obviously bad news against a running back that just won the Heisman.

So long as Alabama puts its athletic linemen and linebackers to use in containing gaps and rushing Watson, the Crimson Tide should be able to control the pace of the game, letting Henry grind out a win and a bit of redemption for a program that entered last postseason unfocused and eventually got upset.

Saban's team personifies focused this time around. Clemson might want the underdog role, but this time Alabama's going to thrive as the favorite. Look for the Crimson Tide to sit on the lead late and keep the dynasty alive.

Prediction: Alabama 35, Clemson 30 

 

Statistics courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bill Snyder Will Return as Kansas State Head Coach: Latest Comments, Reaction

Bill Snyder will return as Kansas State head football coach for the 2016 season, the school announced in a release Monday.

“Following our bowl game against Arkansas, I had a chance to visit with my family, and they collectively wanted me to do what I wanted to do and none were against my decision to return as long as I am having a positive impact on the young people in our program, my health is in order and as long as I am wanted by the University and the wonderful Kansas State fanbase,” Snyder said.

Snyder, 76, led the Wildcats to a 6-7 record in 2015, which concluded with a Liberty Bowl loss to Arkansas.

The veteran coach is in his second stint at Kansas State, having returned to the program following a three-year retirement in 2009. The Wildcats have earned six straight bowl appearances, including a run to the 2012 Fiesta Bowl. While Snyder is 1-5 in those bowl games, Kansas State has managed to stay ranked at the end of the season on three different occasions.

“We are all grateful for the incredible leadership of Coach Snyder, and I was delighted when he affirmed to me that he plans to continue,” athletic director John Currie said. “We look forward to him leading the Wildcats into Palo Alto for our 2016 opener on September 2.”

Snyder, who previously coached at Kansas State from 1989 to his 2005 retirement, has posted a 193-101-1 record overall. The program has finished inside the Top 10 five times under his leadership and won two conference titles. In the three-year break when Snyder was not the coach, Ron Prince went a combined 17-20 and made only one bowl appearance.

Snyder's lengthy career seemed to have a natural stopping point in 2015, though, as he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. With the program righted from the ills of the Prince era, it would have been understandable if Snyder looked at his 6-7 team and decided to walk away for a second time.

It's clear based on Monday's announcement that not even a Hall of Fame plaque can eliminate Snyder's passion.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@jtylerconway) on Twitter

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Football: 5 Reasons Why the Irish Should Be Optimistic About 2016

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Despite a flurry of draft departures, there’s plenty of optimism for Notre Dame Football, heading toward the 2016 season.

Yes, offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, wide receiver Will Fuller, running back C.J. Prosise, cornerback KeiVarae Russell and linebacker Jaylon Smith are off to the NFL. But the Irish, coming off a 10-3 season that culminated with a loss to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1, are bringing back some key pieces on both sides of the ball.

 

Quarterbacks

Notre Dame’s 2016 outlook rightly starts at the quarterback position. Redshirt sophomore DeShone Kizer and redshirt junior Malik Zaire will both be back, as will talented second-year signal-caller Brandon Wimbush.

Beyond that, who knows?

In his first career start, Zaire impressed in the 2014 Music City Bowl win over LSU. The lefty then picked apart Texas in the 2015 season opener. But after Zaire’s Week 2 season-ending ankle injury, Kizer still managed to keep the Irish within four points of an undefeated regular season. As a redshirt freshman, Kizer completed 63 percent of his passes for 2,884 yards and 21 touchdowns. He threw 10 interceptions.

Regardless of how it shakes out, Notre Dame boasts talent, experience and poise at the most important position.

 

Experience at Running Back

C.J. Prosise, their 1,000-yard rusher, is gone. But the Irish still return plenty of talent and experience at running back.

As a true freshman, Josh Adams piled up 835 rushing yards on 117 carries (7.1 yards per attempt) and six touchdowns. The sample size isn’t as robust nor the competition (when Adams started) as consistently stiff as other top running backs, but consider the yards-per-carry averages of elite ball carriers such as Dalvin Cook (7.4), Leonard Fournette (6.5), Derrick Henry (5.7), Christian McCaffrey (6.0) and Ezekiel Elliott (6.3), to name a few.

Senior-to-be Tarean Folston is four months removed from the torn ACL he suffered in the first quarter of the season opener against Texas. If he’s back fully healthy, Folston and Adams could combine to form a dynamic backfield, which will also have Dexter Williams returning for his sophomore season.

 

Talented Second-Year Players

There’s reason to be optimistic about Notre Dame’s rising sophomore class, including those who contributed in 2015 and those who had to sit behind veterans.

Adams and kicker Justin Yoon were two of Notre Dame’s top-producing freshmen in 2015. Yoon drilled 15 of his 17 field goals, including a long of 52 yards against Navy. He shook off misses in the first two weeks against Texas and Virginia and buried his final 12 tries of the season.

Beyond those two, defensive lineman Jerry Tillery, tight end Alize Jones and return man C.J. Sanders contributed in their rookie campaigns. Can they take the next step forward in 2016?

Other names to watch include wide receivers Equanimeous St. Brown and Miles Boykin. Both bring high-end size to the Irish receiving corps, and head coach Brian Kelly said multiple times that St. Brown could have started for some Power Five conference teams in 2015.

Cornerbacks Nick Coleman and Shaun Crawford both flashed in fall camp. However, Crawford—who could’ve contributed as the nickelback in 2015—suffered a torn ACL in August.

 

Returners from Injuries

Make no mistake. Notre Dame loses plenty from its 2015 team—both through graduation and early exits to the NFL.

But the Irish also bring back pieces from season-ending injuries that were completely (or mostly) unavailable in 2015. Zaire, Folston and Crawford would’ve played primary roles this past season. Tight end Durham Smythe and defensive lineman Jarron Jones were starters too. Offensive lineman Alex Bars and safety Drue Tranquill did start at times and were key rotational cogs.

 

Offensive Coaching Continuity

Notre Dame averaged 34.2 points per game, which ranked 34th in the country. At various times during the 2015 regular season, Notre Dame also delivered important late-game drives to pull out victories.

The triumvirate of Kelly, associate head coach Mike Denbrock and offensive coordinator Mike Sanford sure appeared to work well for the Irish, which deftly navigated key early-season injuries.

Notre Dame must replace its two best offensive linemen (Stanley and center Nick Martin) and perhaps have three players in new spots if right tackle Mike McGlinchey were to fill Stanley’s void.

However, offensive line coach Harry Hiestand has preached consistency and cohesiveness among the Irish offensive line, and there’s plenty of reason to believe he can mold another strong unit with McGlinchey, Steve Elmer, Quenton Nelson and Bars, among other offensive linemen.

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand and all stats courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football's Most Important Offers of the Week

One of the more intriguing recruiting battles down the stretch of the 2015 cycle was the tug of war between rivals Michigan and Ohio State for running back Mike Weber

After initially committing to the Wolverines, Weber eventually landed in Columbus with the Buckeyes on signing day. 

This year, a similar battle could unfold over 4-star running back and current Michigan pledge Chris Evans

Last week, Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer offered the standout from Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis. 

Over the course of his sophomore and junior seasons, Evans—who rates as the nation’s No. 8 all-purpose running back and the No. 328 player overall in the 2016 class—compiled 2,895 yards of total offense and 40 touchdowns.

Evans is a well-rounded athlete who could play a number of positions at the next level. 

Interestingly enough, according to Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports, the Buckeyes are recruiting Evans to play defensive back in Columbus. Wiltfong also noted that Meyer and his staff are hoping to get Evans on campus as soon as this weekend.

However, Evans appears to be firm in his pledge to the Wolverines at this time.

If Evans does make it to Columbus, this recruitment could be one worth monitoring until national signing day rolls around.

 

Clemson Offers Stud 2016 CB

After its undefeated regular season and run to the College Football Playoff title game, Clemson figures to take a ton of momentum into the final weeks before national signing day.

While the Tigers were busy preparing to face Alabama, head coach Dabo Swinney and his staff offered 4-star corner Lavert Hill.

Hill, who recently decommitted from an early pledge to Penn State, has schools such as Michigan, Michigan State, Tennessee and USC among his group of finalists.

However, with an official visit to Clemson scheduled for Jan. 20, the Tigers have a shot at snaring one of the top playmakers from the Midwest late in the cycle.

 

Texas After Stud In-State 2017 DE

Texas head coach Charlie Strong has fared well during his tenure in Austin in landing top in-state recruits on the defensive side of the ball. 

In the 2017 class, one player he and his staff will aggressively pursue is 4-star defensive end K’Lavon Chaisson—who netted an offer from the Longhorns last week, according to Justin Wells of Inside Texas.

The 6’3”, 220-pound pass-rusher holds early offers from programs such as Baylor, Florida, LSU, Ole Miss, Stanford, TCU and Texas A&M. 

Chaisson is the No. 14 weak-side defensive end and the No. 217 player overall in the 2017 class.

 

Four Powers After 2019 RB

Current Florida State star Dalvin Cook had a whirlwind recruiting process that saw him pledge to both Clemson and Florida before landing in Tallahassee.

Considering what he’s been able to do in college, the battle to land him was worth it for FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher.

A similar war could rage for 2019 running back James Cook, who is Dalvin’s younger brother.

Last week, according to Ryan Bartow of 247Sports, the younger Cook picked up offers from Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State and West Virginia.

FSU, LSU and Miami have also offered Cook—who rushed for 709 yards and eight touchdowns as a freshman in helping lead Miami Central High School to a state title.

While the Seminoles may have a leg up with Cook, he figures to have a national offer list before he makes a final decision.

 

Best of the Rest

2016

 

2017

 

2018

 

2019

 

2020

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Virginia Tech Football: The Biggest Offseason Storylines for the Hokies

The 2015 college football season is in the rearview mirror—unless you're a fan of the Clemson Tigers or Alabama Crimson Tide. For a team like the Virginia Tech Hokies, the 2016 season has already begun.

With a new coach in place, Virginia Tech is facing a transition. Former coach Frank Beamer retired after 29 seasons, and a spot in the College Football Hall of Fame awaits.

New head coach Justin Fuente comes to Blacksburg with an impressive resume.

In four years as the head man at Memphis, Fuente compiled a 26-23 record. While that record doesn't necessarily blow you away, consider that the Tigers won a combined nine games in the four years prior to Fuente's arrival.

Fuente took the Tigers to a bowl in his final two seasons there, and Memphis won 10 games for the first time in school history in 2014. 

Now, Fuente takes over a Virginia Tech team that has battled mediocrity over the last four years. 

There's no shortage of storylines surrounding the Hokies this offseason, but let's take a look at the four most significant ones Virginia Tech fans should follow. 

Begin Slideshow

Pages