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Osa Masina Commits to USC: 5-Star Will Be Major Playmaker

Osa Masina is headed to USC, kicking off what could be an incredible closing stretch toward national signing day for the Trojans:

The 5-star linebacker announced his commitment Friday during a ceremony at Brighton High School near Salt Lake City, Utah. He selected USC over fellow finalists UCLA and Arizona State, schools which instantly become rivals in the Pac-12 Conference.

Masina, a versatile 6'3.5", 230-pound defender, spent an official visit with the Trojans in late November. The U.S. Army All-American appeared to be a USC lean as his decision date approached.

"My experience with USC and its coaching staff has definitely been positive," he told Bleacher Report after an All-American Bowl practice.

His offers sheet features more than 20 programs, including Notre Dame, Stanford and Oregon. Still, the Trojans secured 58 percent of expert predictions in 247Sports' Crystal Ball.

USC coaches traveled to Utah for a late check-in earlier this week, sealing the deal during their visit:

Masina, rated third nationally among outside linebackers in 247Sports' composite rankings, is a pivotal pickup for the Trojans. He is the first uncommitted player on USC's wish list to announce his decision, giving the program its first of what could be considered a "Final Five."

Steve Sarkisian and company are primarily focused on securing four more top-flight pledges by national signing day. The targeted group also includes 5-star cornerback Iman Marshall, 5-star defensive tackle Rasheem Green, 4-star linebacker John Houston and 4-star linebacker/defensive end Porter Gustin.

With Masina officially on board, it's fair for Trojans fans to fantasize about a possible star-studded flurry of commitments.

"The most important thing I took from my official visit to USC was how I felt around the players, recruits and coaching staff," he told Scott Schrader of 247Sports. "I also will have an opportunity for some early playing time, and that is something else that was important to me."

A USC roster once ravaged by scholarship restrictions is beginning to again fill up with elite playmakers.

Put Masina in the mix as an edge defender who could contribute immediately in pass-rush settings and has enough size to patrol the perimeter with authority.

Bleacher Report recruiting analyst Sanjay Kirpalani broke down his skill set during B/R's CFB Recruiting 200 series.

Masina flashes great instincts and the ability to diagnose run plays. He also has some pass-rushing skills as an edge-rusher and he’s adept at blitzing from a variety of angles. He’s got the versatility to play either inside or outside. If he can prove to be effective in coverage, he will likely end up playing on the outside.

Masina compiled career highs in 2014 with 97 tackles and 10 sacks, per MaxPreps. His athleticism shined on both sides of the ball at Brighton, where he rushed for 2,239 yards and 33 touchdowns as an upperclassman.

There's still a lot more work in store for USC to realize its dream scenario on signing day, but a commitment from Masina signifies a strong start toward the ultimate goal.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Osa Masina Commits to USC: 5-Star Will Be Major Playmaker

Osa Masina is headed to USC, kicking off what could be an incredible closing stretch toward national signing day for the Trojans: The 5-star linebacker announced his commitment ...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Realistic Expectations for Jim Harbaugh in First Season at Michigan

Jim Harbaugh has been a miracle worker at just about every stop as a head coach. The accomplishments on his resume have been well-documented. He took a lowly Stanford program that won just one game the season before his arrival and molded the Cardinal into a Pac-12 powerhouse. 

With the San Francisco 49ers, he took a team that went 6-10 in 2010 and led them to three straight NFC championship games, including a Super Bowl appearance in 2013. 

So it's natural to think Harbaugh will reach into the pockets of his khakis, pull out some magical football fairy dust, and like that, the Wolverines will be relevant again. As great a coach as Harbaugh is, things aren't always that convenient. 

Microwave results, like the ones experienced by former Michigan coach Brady Hoke, can be dangerous anyway. Hoke won 11 games in his first season (2011) with Rich Rodriguez's players, leading the Wolverine nation to believe their long national nightmare was over. In reality, it was only getting worse. Michigan won fewer games each season until Hoke was fired after going 5-7 in 2014. 

Suffice to say, the state of Michigan football is in, well, less-than-ideal shape. Hoke recruited well in his four years in Ann Arbor, finishing with top-10 classes in 2012 and '13, per 247Sports.com composite rankings. However, development of those players has been practically non-existent. Wide receiver Devin Funchess, a member of Hoke's 2012 class, is the lone exception. 

That means Harbaugh has a lot of work to do and even a mastermind like him might not be able to get everything accomplished overnight. So here's what fans should realistically expect from Harbaugh in Year 1: 

 

Recruit, Recruit Some More and Then Recruit Like Hell

Take a stab at how many verbal commits Michigan has for the 2015 class.

Give up? It's six as of Friday, Jan. 23, as per 247Sports.com. National signing day is in less than two weeks on Feb. 4. 

Of course, signing day is the start of when recruits that aren't early-enrollees can ink their letter of intent, not the end, so it's not like Harbaugh is on a hard deadline. Still, six verbal commits this late in the season is so appalling that it's almost offensive. You can thank the uncertainty swirling around the program for months on end for that. 

Harbaugh is working heavily in two areas. Some top uncommitted guys like tight end Chris Clark remain for the taking. Harbaugh is also looking to flip verbal commits like cornerback Will Lockett, who has been with UCLA since August. 

Additionally, Texas quarterback commit Zach Gentry is set to visit Michigan, according to Steve Lorenz of 247Sports.com. Quarterback is an area of need for the Wolverines as the best available option is soon-to-be junior Shane Morris, and Morris has had limited playing time in his two years. 

Whatever Michigan's 2015 class ends up looking like, it may not necessarily define Harbaugh's tenure with the Wolverines. Right now, Harbaugh needs bodies on his roster to replace the usual offseason attrition. That doesn't mean the '15 class isn't important, but by the time signing day rolls around, Harbaugh will have been on the job for a little over a month. 

It's difficult to assemble a star-studded class in that span given all the other responsibilities Harbaugh has, like putting together a coaching staff. How Harbaugh and his staff recruit beyond February will be the more accurate assessment of how they'll do going forward. 

 

Develop the Offensive Line

It's true that quarterback play is a concern for Michigan. Given that Harbaugh is a former quarterback himself and groomed guys like Andrew Luck and Colin Kaepernick, the direction that position goes will be closely watched. 

However, if whoever plays quarterback doesn't have any protection, then it doesn't really matter who's playing. 

Offensive line play has been bad over the past couple of years with Michigan finishing among the worst teams in the Big Ten in sacks allowed and total offense. However, adding to the absurdity of it all, offensive lineman Taylor Lewan was a first-round selection in 2014.  

Luck was a rare recruit for Stanford, but the Cardinal were still a heavily run-first team with him under center. In 2009 and '10, the two years in which Luck and Harbaugh played and coached together, the Cardinal averaged about 41 run attempts per game vs. about 26.5 passing attempts per game.

Good coaches adapt to their personnel, but the Wolverines' success on offense will come from developing good run-blockers. 

If there's any silver lining to Michigan's offensive line, it's that it suffered its lumps a year ago as a young unit and returns mostly intact. That chemistry is important for offensive coordinator/O-line coach Tim Drevno to help build over time.

If Michigan needs an example, look no further than Ohio State. The Buckeyes had a new-look O-line to start the season and the results were understandably terrible. By the time the College Football Playoff came and went, though, the Buckeyes were blocking for an average of 289 rushing yards against Alabama and Oregon. 

It doesn't have to start out pretty, but by the end of the '15 season, Michigan has to show noticeable improvement in the trenches. All other successes branch from that. 

 

Get to a Bowl Game

Going to a bowl game by itself won't show that Michigan's improved. The Wolverines were one win away from bowl eligibility in 2014 and one of those losses, to Rutgers, was by two points. The difference between 5-7 and 6-6 or 7-5 can be small. 

Which bowl game Michigan goes to after next season doesn't matter, either. It could be the Heart of Dallas Bowl. What matters is getting six wins and qualifying for a postseason game, because postseason games mean extra practices.

For a first-year coach installing new systems, those practices are beneficial.

"I'm calling it another spring ball," former Utah State coach Gary Andersen, now with Oregon State, told Steve Megargee of Yahoo Sports in 2011. "That's what I told our younger kids in the program." 

Those practices are more opportunities to grow together as a team. Miss out on bowl eligibility and those practices aren't happening until the spring. That's a lot of time away from the practice field. 

Michigan's 2015 schedule has its fair share of difficult games (at Utah, against Michigan State, at Penn State, against Ohio State), but getting bowl eligible isn't a long-shot by any means. Getting those extra practices would provide Harbaugh's group with a head start going into 2016. 

It could take some time for Michigan to establish its identity and become a Big Ten and national player again. Harbaugh has done well enough at other places that he should be awarded that time. 

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Are Academics Really a Problem for Notre Dame Recruiting?

Earlier this week, new Oregon State Beavers head coach Gary Andersen went on the record to discuss his reason for leaving the Wisconsin Badgers.

Admissions. 

Anderson told CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd that a large frustration for him in Madison was the admissions standards for recruits, something he presumably won't have to worry about in Corvallis.

It's been well [documented] there were some kids I couldn't get in school. That was highly frustrating to me. I lost some guys, and I told them I wasn't going to lose them.

I think they did what they were supposed to do [academically] and they still couldn't get in. That was really hard to deal with.

If you think tears are being shed for Andersen in South Bend, think again.

As Brian Kelly and his coaching staff finalize a recruiting class that's looking like another Top 10 group, it's another opportunity to appreciate the way Kelly—and Notre Dame's athletic department at large—has found a way to turn what some coaches (like Andersen) believe to be a negative into one of the great assets the school has on the recruiting trail.

Notre Dame's stringent academic standards have been well discussed for decades: Tony Rice's journey from freshman non-qualifier to national champion quarterback, the T.J. Duckett and David Terrell academic fiascos and the polarizing role of former admissions director Dan Saracino.

And let's not even go into Urban Meyer leaving Notre Dame at the altar.

For every success story you find on the gridiron at Notre Dame, you seem to find just as many surrounding the stars who wanted to play for Notre Dame but couldn't get in.

But Kelly has found a way to make Notre Dame's academic restrictions work for him. And while every recruiting cycle has one or two stories about the one who got away (247 Sports reported that recent decommitment Prentice McKinney's flip to UNC was based on admissions), last signing day, Kelly encapsulated his sales pitch in his opening remarks:

"If they want to come here just to hang their hat to play football and go to the NFL, we passed on some pretty good players, because I don't want guys to come here and not finish their degree," Kelly said. "I want guys to come to Notre Dame, get their degree, help us win a national championship and be the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. That's what I want, if that's what they want."

That sales pitch has continued to work. It's the reason why Jerry Tillery believes he can go to Notre Dame instead of LSU and still accomplish everything he wants to both on and off the field. It's a big reason why linebacker Tevon Coney is also on campus now as an early-enrollee freshman, getting started on his academic and football career a semester early.

Notre Dame's national brand continues to play a huge role in getting into living rooms across the country. But so does the pitch that parents hear, who understand that it isn't merely lip service when a coach sells them on competing with the best both on and off the field.

"I just want to be clear that these are our distinctions, and you're shopping down a different aisle," Kelly said last February when talking about his recruiting pitch. "We're not better than anybody else, but this is what you're going to get if you shop down this aisle. So when we get into this at the end, I pretty much know which way you're going to go."

So with signing day less than two weeks away and Notre Dame once again putting together a universally respected recruiting class, Kelly and the Irish staff have found a way to make a stringent admissions policy work for them, not against them. 

And they didn't even need to leave for Corvallis. 

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Isaiah Prince Commits to Alabama: Nick Saban Stockpiling Top-Notch O-Line Talent

Alabama continues to reel in elite reinforcements for its offensive line. 

Isaiah Prince, a 4-star tackle, provided a surprise by pledging to the Crimson Tide on Friday, per Ryan Bartow of 247Sports. In turn, the 6'6", 272-pound prospect cancelled plans to make official visits to Maryland and Ohio State.

He was scheduled to visit the Buckeyes this weekend, while the Terrapins were considered a favorite to land the in-state standout. Maryland garnered 55 percent of expert predictions in 247Sports' Crystal Ball.

Prince, rated seventh nationally among offensive tackles in 247Sports' composite rankings, earned U.S. Army All-American honors after his senior season at Eleanor Roosevelt High School. He is considered the top overall prospect in Maryland. 

Alabama hosted Prince for an official visit last weekend and put in enough follow-up work to dissuade him from traveling to Columbus. It's quite a feat, considering he welcomed freshly crowned national champion Urban Meyer for an in-person visit just three days ago. 

Prince offers impressive length along the edge and already displays top-tier pass-protection prowess. He has strides to make as run-blocker and must gain substantial power before taking on SEC opponents, meaning he'll more likely to compete for playing time down the line.

Barton Simmons of 247Sports weighed in on Prince's potential.

Isaiah Prince has maybe the best long-term offensive tackle frame in this class. This is not a day-one starter. He needs to add weight, add strength and add polish but his upside based on that length and athleticism is extremely high. Put this kid on the shelf, let him age and in a couple of years he may be one of the best offensive tackles in this class.

Nick Saban has assembled another incredible recruiting class and is less than three weeks away from claiming the top-ranked haul on national signing day for a fifth consecutive year. The group is deep across the board, but is at its best in the trenches. 

Alabama now holds commitments from six offensive linemen, including five 4-star prospects. 

Early enrollees Dallas Warmack and Brandon Kennedy each rank among the nation's top 20 guards. Lester Cotton and Richie Petitbon—listed fourth and fifth, respectively, among players at the position—will join them in Tuscaloosa this summer.

Throw Prince into the mix and there is enough premier talent to sustain a strong offensive front for years to come. Remember, freshman All-American Cam Robinson is entrenched at left tackle for at least the next two seasons and already projects as an eventual first-round NFL draft pick.

It's all great news for an impressive group of offensive playmakers that includes 5-star trio Blake Barnett, Calvin Ridley and Damien Harris.

Barnett, ranked second nationally among pro-style quarterbacks, should have plenty of time to operate in the pocket. This sets the stage for downfield targets to Ridley, the country's top-ranked receiver.

And then there's Harris, the nation's No. 1 running back who figures to fight his way into the Crimson Tide rushing rotation as an underclassman. His decision to spurn fellow finalists Ohio State and Kentucky looks even better now, given the size of those who will be clearing space for him in future seasons. 

Offensive linemen are often difficult to project at the collegiate level, considering most arrive on campus in need of significant strength training and revamped technique. Saban's ability to stockpile talent at the position means potential recruiting "misses" won't hurt nearly as much at Alabama as they do at other programs. 

In Tuscaloosa, the term "next man up" often means another high school All-American is getting his shot in the pecking order. You can now add Prince to the list.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Osa Masina to USC: Trojans Land 5-Star LB Prospect

USC added a major playmaker on the defensive side of the ball on Friday. Five-star linebacker Osa Masina announced that he's committing to the Trojans, according to Doug Kimmel of Scout.com:

Plenty of college football fans had been anticipating Masina's decision ever since he revealed his final three schools and commitment date on Twitter:

According to 247Sports' composite rankings, Masina is the third-best outside linebacker 35th-best player overall in the 2015 recruiting class.

In terms of talent, you can't get much better than Masina. 247Sports awarded him at least an eight out of 10 in every skill category, with his "pursuit" and "instincts" each earning him a nine out of 10.

Masina took part in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, playing for the West team. Using the most of the national showcase, he led the team in tackles (6) and recovered a fumble.

Fox Sports' Greg Biggins and Scout's Brandon Huffman both praised Masina's work on the field:

"I’ve been hyped for this day ever since I got the invite last fall," he said after the game, per Amberli Nelson of the Deseret News in Salt Lake City. "When game time came, I was ready."

It's hard to find anything to dislike about Masina's game. He's got every physical tool college teams look for in a skilled outside linebacker. In terms of mental acuity, he's among the best at his position.

247Sports' Justin Hopkins was in attendance for All-American Bowl practices and captured a vine of Masina running into the backfield and stopping the ball-carrier:

Masina has the potential to blossom into one of the best outside linebackers in the country and a first-round draft pick. The sky is the limit on his ceiling.

Considering how polished he already is, Masina could also feature heavily with USC inside of two years, too.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Osa Masina to USC: Trojans Land 5-Star LB Prospect

USC added a major playmaker on the defensive side of the ball on Friday. Five-star linebacker Osa Masina announced that he's committing to the Trojans, according to Doug Kimmel of Scout...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Will Muschamp's Nephew Robert Commits to Auburn, Will Be Walk-on

Auburn added another member to its 2015 recruiting class when 3-star linebacker Robert Muschamp committed to the Tigers, according to Justin Hokanson of AuburnUndercover.

The 6’2”, 225-pounder, who is the nephew of Tigers defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, will be a preferred walk-on at Auburn.

He will also move over to offense and play H-back, per Hokanson.

He chose the Tigers over scholarship offers from Air Force, Army, Central Arkansas and Wofford.

"My whole family, I've been a huge Auburn fan my whole life," Robert Muschamp told Hokanson. "I've always wanted to end up there. I think I would have went there even if he (Will Muschamp) wasn't a part of the program. It's my dream to play there."

According to Field Street Forum, Robert Muschamp—who played both tight end and linebacker at Darlington High School in Rome, Georgia—has good hands and the skill set necessary to be a good blocker at H-back.

His addition will help the Tigers—who lost their top two tight ends to graduation, and have 3-star Jalen Harris also committed—add depth to that position.

As Hokanson notes, Robert Muschamp was comfortable with the environment and position change after visiting with the Tigers coaching staff last summer.

"I've talked with Coach (Scott) Fountain,” Robert Muschamp explained to Hokanson. “I camped there last summer, I've talked to Coach (Tim) Horton, I wasn't sure what position I'd play and then I talked to Coach (Gus) Malzahn and he said the 3-back is where I'm best suited."

Playing on offense means Robert Muschamp—whose older brother Jordan is also a student at Auburn—will have to face his uncle’s defense on a daily basis.

However, he will now get the opportunity to play in the nation's toughest conference and help his dream school push forward in its quest to capture another national title.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Grading Every Power 5 Conference's Quarterback Situation for 2015

The state of an FBS conference is anchored to the state of its quarterbacks. Teams with good quarterbacks win more often than teams with mediocre quarterbacks (duh), so leagues with better quarterbacks have an upper hand.

But grading each conference on the state of its quarterbacks is difficult—especially during the offseason. At this time last year, TCU weighed down the Big 12. Now Trevone Boykin is the best player in the league.

To account for this—or at least to attempt to account for this—we have broken each Power Five conference into four sections. Physical tools were considered, but production was the biggest factor. In cases with QB competitions, the presumed "favorite" was included.

From there we had a clearer picture of each league's QB hierarchy, at which point it was time to give grades. The grades were based on how many players fit into each of the four tiers. All of this is fluid, of course, and can change as soon as spring practice.

But for now, here's how the power conferences rank.

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Does Jake Coker Deserve to Be the Front-Runner for Alabama's Starting QB Spot?

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — As Alabama transitions from the 2014 season to looking ahead to 2015, its impending quarterback competition will undoubtedly be on everyone’s mind.

And with that comes the desire to assign a front-runner for a job. Not necessarily to declare a winner before it’s even started, but people want to know: Who’s the guy to beat?

Last year, that was Jake Coker.

The FSU transfer came in with a strong arm and high praise from anonymous scouts to his former head coach. Coker was going to make the seamless transition, master Lane Kiffin’s offense and lead Alabama to glory.

Of course, it didn’t happen that way.

Blake Sims won the job and started every game for Alabama, leading it to an SEC title and a playoff berth.

Coker wasn’t terrible, a complete bust to be written off forever. But he struggled to grasp the offense and run it smoothly during games, understandable given that he couldn’t get to campus until May, after he had graduated Florida State.

Now, Coker seems to be the man once again. He took every backup snap for Alabama in 2014 and will get a full offseason in the system. As a rising redshirt senior, it’s also his last chance to start for a college program.

Has he done enough to warrant that front-runner consideration? A closer look at his in-game action from 2014 shows that he still has a long way to go before being crowned a starter.

Coker got his only shots to really win the job in Weeks 2 and 3 against Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss. In both games, he made decent throws and missed on others, but clock and game-management issues ultimately cut down whatever shot he had at overtaking Sims in a starting role.

Sims and Coker split reps in the first half of what would be a game-shortened event against Florida Atlantic. Sims went three drives, Coker went three drives.

Coker’s talents were on full display on a third-quarter completion to ArDarius Stewart. He sat in the pocket, stepped up under pressure and delivered a 40-yard strike to Stewart as he was being hit. The throw dropped in over the cornerback and Stewart came down with the ball in the red zone.

Coker’s critical error, though, came at the end of the first half.

He had driven Alabama to the 12, then scrambled to the 4-yard line with the seconds ticking down. On third down, he couldn’t find anyone open, but rather than throw the ball away, he scrambled around and took a sack, running out the half. Alabama had been in position for an easy field goal but couldn’t attempt one because of Coker’s play.

Against hapless Florida Atlantic, the play didn’t have any impact on the outcome. But those precious possessions and points are invaluable against SEC teams. Nick Saban was livid with Coker, and rightfully so.

The next week, against Southern Miss, Alabama had the ball on the two. Again, Coker ran around too long and took a sack, pushing the offense back to the 13. Adam Griffith delivered on the field goal, but that kind of lost field position in the red zone can’t happen against an SEC team.

Those aren’t physical issues. Coker showed the tools through those first two games. But those game-management skills are what irks Saban.

Coker appeared briefly against Florida, throwing a nice fade for a touchdown, while Sims was hurt and then took over late in a massive blowout of Texas A&M. Otherwise, he was on the sideline, watching as Sims maneuvered Alabama into SEC title contention.

It was curious, though, that it was quarterback Alec Morris, not Coker, who was helping Lane Kiffin signal in plays to the in-game quarterback. It’s unclear whether that’s because of Morris’ understandings of the nuances of the offense or experience on campus. But Coker wasn’t involved with the first-team offense at all from the sideline while it was on the field.

Coker’s next opportunity to really run the offense and get into a rhythm came in Alabama’s penultimate regular-season game against Western Carolina.

He got in the game to start the second half and looked a little calmer and more comfortable running the offense.

On his first drive, he led Alabama to the red zone (and didn’t take a field-position-killing sack). On his next, he went 7-of-7 (minus a deep ball called for pass interference), including a dump-off that Michael Nysewander took 11 yards for a score.

Coker wasn’t as frazzled as he seemed early in the season. He was more in control.

"It was tough coming in trying to get to know everybody and be on that same page," Coker said at the Sugar Bowl, per Duane Rankin of the Montgomery Advertiser. "Learn the playbook and everything, but I feel like I've gotten a lot better since I've gotten here."

That was the theme of Coker’s 2014. He showed off the physical tools that made him a highly touted transfer. But he still hasn’t proven that he can run an offense effectively through an entire game.

At this time last year, Sims hadn’t really either. Like Coker, there were flashes, but it was never proven until he led Alabama to a win over West Virginia to open the 2014 season.

So while Coker should have a decent chance at winning the job, it’s hard to declare him a front-runner just yet.

 

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

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Isaiah Prince to Alabama: Crimson Tide Land 4-Star OT Prospect

One of the most impressive offensive tackle recruits in the nation is officially off the market as Isaiah Prince has committed to Alabama, according to Ryan Bartow of 247 Sports:

Prince is a four-star prospect and the No. 6 player at his position, according to 247Sports. The Greenbelt, Maryland native out of Eleanor Roosevelt High School is also a true physical specimen at 6'6" and 272 pounds.

As seen in this photo courtesy of AllMetSports.com, Prince dwarfs most of his peers on the field:

While Prince's size is undoubtedly among his biggest assets, his skill set doesn't end there. Per Drew Champlin of AL.com, Eleanor Roosevelt High School head coach Tom Green is impressed with Prince's ability to do things that much smaller linemen normally excel at.

"He moves really well," Green said. "He's very flexible. He can bend. For a kid that's a shade under 6'7", he has very quick feet and he bends really well. He's about 275, but he has a frame that he can probably put on 320-330 and still be lean."

Prince can truly do it all, which is why his list of suitors was a long and impressive one. According to Bleacher Report's Tyler Donohue back in August, Prince was considering a number of elite programs:

In addition to Ohio State, Maryland, Florida and Alabama, Auburn also entered the mix later, per 247Sports

While the Buckeyes were probably already intriguing enough to Prince due to their success and the presence of head coach Urban Meyer, they had a bit of extra help as well.

According to Brandon Parker of The Washington Post, OSU offensive tackle commit Matthew Burrell Jr. attempted to sway Prince in Ohio State's direction at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

"I've been recruiting hard, especially Isaiah," Burrell said. "I think Isaiah is a solid lean with Ohio State, in my biased opinion. That's my boy and I wouldn't mind having him on my side, so hopefully we can make that happen."

Prince has all the measurables and accolades one looks for in a big-time tackle, and it will certainly be fun to see him develop over the next four years.

His high school coach believes he can pack 50 or more pounds onto his current frame and still be functional, so it is entirely possible that the current version of Prince is far different from what college football fans will see down the road.

Whatever the case, there is a great deal of excitement surrounding Prince as a collegiate player, and he will have every opportunity to live up to his immense potential.


Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Teams in Dire Need of a Facilities Upgrade

College football isn't always about the plays and the players. Success comes from a variety of factors, including an area that some major programs still lag far behind in: facilities.

From run-down stadiums to inadequate (or nonexistent) practice areas, several schools that want to be known for having big-time football still find themselves with small-scale facilities. Plans are in the works at some places, but what's proposed or under construction still might not be enough.

The college football facility arms race is a never-ending battle, with schools constantly trying to upgrade in an effort to keep up with the competition. Florida is one of the latest to make a major investment, announcing this week that it is spending $15 million to build an indoor practice field—and that the school plans to have it done by September.

Who else needs some major upgrades? Check out our list of college football teams desperate for some facility improvements.

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5-Star Byron Cowart Names Auburn, Florida as Top 2, but Could New Hire Help FSU?

Thursday was an example of just how hectic recruiting can be for players like 5-star defensive end Byron Cowart.

According to ESPN’s Derek Tyson (via Keith Niebuhr of AuburnUndercover), Cowart trimmed his list down to a final two of Auburn and Florida.

"I would have to say, just to be honest, Auburn and Florida are my top two schools," Cowart told Tyson. "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. Right now, truly, it will come down to Auburn and Florida. That’s just being honest."

The team that was eliminated from his list was Florida State, likely due to the fact that defensive ends coach Sal Sunseri left the program for a position with the Oakland Raiders, per Josh Newberg of Noles247.

However, Jimbo Fisher moved quickly to fill the opening on his staff, hiring former Florida defensive ends coach Brad Lawing, according to Bob Ferrante of Noles247.

Lawing was involved in Cowart’s recruitment while he was with the Gators, but can his arrival in Tallahassee help the ‘Noles jump back in the race?

The answer to that question remains to be seen.

Florida has been considered the longtime favorite to eventually land the Armwood High School standout. Lawing was a big part of the Gators push because of the strength of his relationship with Cowart’s mother, according to GatorBait.

"She was so tied in with Coach Lawing, and then she was really hurt when Coach Muschamp got fired, but everything worked out,” Cowart said in the aftermath of Lawing's dismissal by the Gators.

Part of what makes this hire so critical for FSU is Lawing’s lengthy history as a strong recruiter and his resume in developing first-round picks such as Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney in recent years, as noted by Chris Nee of Noles247.

Lawing’s primary focus will likely be to make sure that he can convince Cowart to make his planned official visit to Florida State on the weekend of Jan. 30.

Given Cowart’s history with Lawing and his previous interest in the ‘Noles, FSU will have to feel good about their chances if Cowart makes it to campus next weekend.

It’s also worth noting that both Auburn and Florida were able to stay on Cowart despite going through coaching changes in the last two months. In fact, part of what helped Auburn surge in Cowart’s recruitment was their hire of former Gators head coach Will Muschamp as their defensive coordinator.

Florida State is hoping Lawing can make a similar impact and get them back in the hunt to land the nation’s No. 3 overall prospect.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Preview of the 2015 Recruiting Season for Dummies

Don’t be afraid, friend. Deep, deep breaths. There’s nothing to fear about the game-less chasm that is the college football offseason. There is still much to do, so much to see and so much to discuss.

May I interest you in this hot new craze known as "recruiting"?

Have you heard of this? All the kids love it. In fact, "recruiting" is more widespread than it has ever been; some might say the practice has grown a bit too robust.  

It’s why websites (like this one) will spend the entire year covering what college the nation’s premier high school athletes will attend. It’s why three hats on a table mean far more than just three hats on the table.

It is an eyeball-grabbing machine that has morphed into a year-round business. And yet, because games are played, conferences are won, playoffs are chosen and oddly-shaped trophies are handed out, it can be difficult to stay current on all the latest recruiting happenings.

With national signing day somehow less than two weeks away, this presents a bit of a quandary.

Have no fear; the crash course is here.

Where are the nation’s elite players headed? What team will deliver the nation’s best class? What should you look for on national signing day? What are some of the best names in this class? Will committing with snorting, biting, defecating live animals as props become the only acceptable way to announce a decision? 

Hopefully.

Gather ‘round; let’s assess some of the necessary storylines to follow as recruiting consumes us all.

 

The New No. 1 Is the Same as the Ol’ No. 1

It’s going to take a gargantuan effort to dethrone the Alabama Crimson Tide in the recruiting world, and clearly this dethroning won’t take place this year. The suspense has already departed; Alabama is going to land the nation’s No. 1 class, and it will do so (again) by a considerable margin.

This is nothing new, of course. Nick Saban has a knack for these kinds of Herculean recruiting feats, something he has done ever since he touched down in Tuscaloosa. The 2015 class is no different. It is balanced, versatile, deep and, above all, immensely skilled.

According to 247Sports, Alabama has more 5-star commits (six) and more 4-star commits (15) than any other team in the country. Florida State (four) and Clemson (three) are the only other teams with more than two 5-star players committed.

Alabama has six. Act surprised.

The headliners of this class include Blake Barnett (No. 2 pro-style QB), Calvin Ridley (No. 1 wide receiver), Damien Harris (No. 1 running back), Deionte Thompson (No. 2 safety), Kendall Sheffield (No. 4 cornerback), Minkah Fitzpatrick (No. 5 cornerback) and Daron Payne (No. 7 defensive tackle).

And there are more. In fact, there are a lot more. The players not mentioned above are players other programs would absolutely love to get their hands on. That’s perhaps the highest compliment one can pay to college football’s great, unrelenting recruiting machine.

“Top to bottom, you look at each individual player and you realize that this guy has a chance to be really good,” 247Sports’ national recruiting director JC Shurburtt told Bleacher Report. “That's what separates the Tide from the rest of the classes. It’s the fact that their No. 25 guy is as good as everyone else's No. 10 guy in terms of potential and upside.”

 

The “Look What We Have Here” Class of 2015

It’s not that Clemson hasn’t been recruiting at a high level over the past few years. The Tigers have hauled in top-20 classes in each of the last three offseasons, and last year’s haul might have landed them the best young quarterback in the country.

With that consistency fully considered and appreciated, Dabo Swinney is on the verge of landing a historic class for his program.

The Tigers currently have the No. 3 class in the country, according to 247Sports’ team rankings, checking in behind only Alabama and ACC mate Florida State. Clemson hasn’t just held its recruiting ground after losing offensive coordinator and prized recruiter Chad Morris to SMU; it has thrived down the backstretch of the cycle.

Mitch Hyatt (No. 2 offensive tackle), Deon Cain (No. 3 wide receiver), Garrett Williams (No. 4 tight end) and Christian Wilkins (No. 6 defensive tackle) are the prized commits, although this class will also add some impressive—and needed—depth, especially on defense with so many key pieces departing.

With two of the nation’s top eight offensive linemen and intriguing defensive linemen coming in, the Tigers are beefing up. Deshaun Watson, the quarterback of the present and future, is also getting plenty of help. There is so much to like here.

 

The Year of the Oversized, Mean (In a Good Way) Human Being

Each recruiting class takes on a different shape depending on the position featured prominently near the top of the rankings. The 2014 recruiting cycle was all about the running back, a collaboration of insanely skilled and developed runners that commandeered the position during the regular season.

In 2015, the shape is getting larger—much larger. Welcome to the year of the defensive tackle.

"It's the best defensive tackle class I have personally ever evaluated,” Shurburtt said.

Six of the top 24 players on 247Sports’ rankings are interior defensive linemen, including Trent Thompson, the No. 1 player overall. Thompson, a Georgia commit, figures to contribute to the Bulldogs’ defensive efforts immediately. As does Kahlil McKenzie, a Tennessee commit and a 354-pound tank operating with a jet engine.

Good luck with him, SEC.

McKenzie and Thompson are not alone in their potential. Terry Beckner Jr., Daylon Mack and Rasheem Green—the next three DTs in the class on 247Sports, all of which are 5-stars—remain uncommitted. And there are plenty more, too. The position is deep, large and collectively too fast for its size.

 

Names You Need to Know on National Signing Day

Last year’s national signing day lacked the usual punch. Given the long list of names poised to commit on the actual day this year, however, this likely won’t be the case again.

Some of the elite of the elite will be announcing in short order. Here are a handful that will be difficult to miss. (All rankings below courtesy of 247Sports.)

Martez Ivey (No. 1 OT, No. 2 player overall): Ivey looks more like a tight end than an offensive tackle. His 275-pound frame is remarkably lean and muscular and will welcome more weight once a college strength coach gets involved. Florida or Auburn appears to be the likely destination, and both would love to shore up the left tackle position for the next three years.  

Byron Cowart (No. 1 SDE, No. 3 player overall): This is more of a science project than a prospect. Perhaps that will explain how a 250-pound high school defensive end runs right around a 4.6 40-yard dash. Cowart will be a huge, destructive addition to either Auburn, Florida or Florida State, and he’ll be coming to a Saturday near you soon regardless of where he ends up.

Iman Marshall (No. 1 CB, No. 4 player overall): There just aren’t many defensive backs with this kind of physical makeup. Iman Marshall checks in at 6’1” and 190 pounds; he also runs a 4.5 40-yard dash and is the most physical cornerback in the class. USC has been the favorite for a while, although LSU and fast-riser Michigan are still lingering.

CeCe Jefferson (No. 2 SDE, No. 7 player overall): It’s not just a deep class for defensive tackles. The defensive ends are also immensely gifted. CeCe Jefferson, checking in at 275 pounds, will thrive in a variety of different defenses. Florida appears to be the favorite, but Florida State, Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss and LSU are in the mix.

Terry Beckner Jr. (No. 3 DT, No. 13 player overall): He might not be as explosive as Robert Nkemdiche was coming out of high school, but Terry Beckner Jr. delivers the same “I can’t believe he almost weighs 300 pounds” plays time and time again. The Missouri product has the chance to be a special, and he’ll take his talents to Missouri, Ohio State or Florida State.

Daylon Mack (No. 4 DT, No. 14 player overall): The former Texas A&M verbal commit could very well get back together with the Aggies and make it official. Mack is also looking at Texas and TCU. A powerful defensive tackle, he also played some fullback in high school at 330 pounds. He still outran everyone. That’s how you become my favorite player.

 

Storylines to Watch on National Signing Day

How much will Florida rise: The Gators currently have the No. 85 class, according to 247Sports’ team rankings, putting them behind Old Dominion, South Alabama and others they should never, ever be behind. That will change—thanks in large part to some of the names mentioned above—but the team only has eight commits and needs bodies.

What about Michigan: Well, as it stands, the Wolverines have the No. 99 class in the nation, according to 247Sports. They have six commits, one of which is a kicker. Michigan is still in the mix for Chris Clark (the nation’s No. 2 tight end) and Iman Marshall (the nation’s No. 1 corner). No one expected Jim Harbaugh to set the recruiting world on fire (yet), but a solid close would help.

What about Auburn: The Tigers are already in fabulous shape—holding down the No. 11 spot on 247Sports’ team rankings—but they could potentially gobble up all national signing day headlines. Be on alert. “If the Tigers can land the three Florida 5-stars (Martez Ivey, CeCe Jefferson and Byron Cowart), it'll be the biggest signing day storyline in the country,” Shurburtt said. “Even if they get one of the three, it'll be tremendous."

Will we have some flipping: Probably! Drama during last year’s national signing day was kept to a minimum. Don’t expect the same radio silence this year with plenty of gifted players still visiting. Kyler Murray, one of the nation’s premier quarterback prospects and a Texas A&M commit, recently took a quiet—and not-so-quiet—voyage to Texas. If he flips, the state of Texas might combust. Even if he doesn't, there are guaranteed to be a few surprises.

 

Best Names in the Class of 2015

Welcome to the most important part of this piece.

Far too much is made of skill level. What about assessing player greatness based on names and future business card potential?

Pull up a chair, friend, and behold the best names that a deep 2015 class has to offer. When Zach Morris barely makes the board, well, clearly the competition is fierce.

  1. Bull Barge
  2. Albert Funderburke
  3. Gus Cumberlander
  4. Equanimeous St. Brown
  5. Simba Short
  6. Soso Jamabo
  7. Zantravious Shields
  8. Bowman Archibald
  9. Barnabas Baning
  10. Zach Morris

 

Top Five Ways to Announce a Commitment

1. Use a live animal: Sure, it could potentially end in causalities—especially if there’s a large cat or elephant involved—but that doesn’t mean it is a bad idea. OK, maybe it does. But using a wild animal to announce would make for a wildly entertaining commitment. A dog will work, sure, but let's aim for more this year.

2. See No. 1

3. See No. 1

4. See No. 1

5. Get a tattoo? Sure, get a tattoo. Then, see No. 1

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Predicting the SEC's Top 7 Breakout RBs in 2015

The 2014 season was a banner year for breakout running backs in the SEC, as Georgia's Nick Chubb, Auburn's Cameron Artis-Payne, Mississippi State's Josh Robinson, LSU's Leonard Fournette, Tennessee's Jalen Hurd and Alabama's Derrick Henry all became bona fide superstars.

Who's next?

The SEC is loaded with talented running backs just waiting for the chance to shine, and many of them will get that chance in 2015.

Who will be the breakout running backs next season in the conference? Our top seven choices based on opportunity, talent and scheme are in this slideshow.

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6 Underclassmen Who Definitely Would Have Been Picked in the 2015 NFL Draft

This year, "only" 74 underclassmen declared for the NFL draft. While taking the chance to earn, at worst, a solid salary for a year is an understandable risk to make, plenty of others thought twice. Last year, 98 underclassmen declared for the draft. According to Natalie Pierre of AL.com, 36 of those underclassmen went undrafted. 

There's no shame in coming back to school for another year, even if the risk of injury looms. Players can improve their game, and ultimately, it's their decision to make.

Still, several underclassmen could have declared for the draft and been taken. These are underclassmen who decided to stay for another year, as noted by NFL.com. In one case, there's a player who isn't eligible for the '15 draft but undoubtedly would have been selected. 

Not taken into consideration are predictions for how each player will do in the NFL. 

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Texas Football: Breaking Down the Longhorns' Big Recruiting Weekend

The Texas Longhorns are on the final stretch of their 2015 recruiting, and the last portion of it will be very important for the future of the program.

Texas has less than two weeks to convince the recruits who are on the fence to pick the Longhorns for their landing spot.

Recruiting is not an easy task, and recruiting after a losing season is even more difficult. The Longhorns have struggled on the field for the last few years and head coach Charlie Strong has to convince these players to commit to the future of the program despite its past.

But Strong and his assistant coaches have hit the recruiting trails hard since the final game of the 2014 season, and they appear to be in good standing with some of the remaining uncommitted targets.

This weekend will be one of the last chances for coaches to get prospects on campus, and the list of those coming into Austin is long.

One of the most recognizable names that will be on the 40 acres for an official visit is 5-star running back Soso Jamabo. The Plano, Texas, athlete appears to be choosing between Texas and UCLA, and the Longhorns look to be in good position with the running back, according to Jason Suchomel of Orangebloods.com.

But the list of official visitors does not end with Jamabo. 

The Longhorns will also host 4-star quarterback and Florida State verbal commit Kai Locksley this weekend. Locksley has been committed to the Seminoles since October, but Texas has not given up on their attempt to flip the talented dual-threat quarterback.

Anyone who has watched Texas football over the last few years knows that adding depth to the quarterback position is a must for the Longhorns.

Texas only has two scholarship quarterbacks on campus. The Longhorns have a verbal commitment from 4-star quarterback Zach Gentry, but Gentry will take an official visit to Michigan this weekend, according to Orangebloods.com, and the recent 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions are trending in the Wolverines' direction.

It's imperative that the Longhorns sign another quarterback in their 2015 recruiting class, now that Gentry could waver in his commitment to Texas.

Locksley and Jamabo are only two of the recruits who will be in Austin for official visits this weekend. The Longhorns will host 12 players and will have a number of solid verbal commitments present to help recruit the uncommitted players.

One of the ringleaders in the 2015 recruiting class has been 4-star defensive end Charles Omenihu. The Rowlett, Texas, native has been actively recruiting players since he made his commitment to the Longhorns last year and will likely be in the ears of the Texas prospects throughout the weekend.

Strong and his staff need to be on point all weekend to land some of these highly touted recruits. But considering the feedback from future Longhorns following last weekend's visit, one could only expect the staff is fully prepared to make a final push for these talented athletes.

The good news for Texas fans is that Strong and the coaches are getting these kids on campus. What follows could be huge for the future of the program if this weekend finishes in the Longhorns' favor.

 

Star rankings via Rivals.com.

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why Auburn Should Be Favorite to Win SEC in 2015

The syncretism of Gus Malzahn's offense with Will Muschamp's defense is the most fascinating subplot of the offseason, and although their marriage comes with risk, its upside is so great that Auburn should be considered the SEC favorite.

Malzahn is known for his obsession with tempo. "Our goal is to play faster than anybody in college football," he said in July 2013, per Chris Vannini of Coaching Search. "We feel like if you can execute your offense at a fast pace, it's a big advantage."

Muschamp is known for...well, the opposite of tempo. Spencer Hall of SB Nation coined "Big Dumb Will Muschamp Football" as an apt way of describing his Florida teams, which finished third-to-last, third-to-last, dead last and third-to-last in the SEC in yards per game.

There is, however, a redeeming quality to Big Dumb Will Muschamp Football: It's contagious for the other team. Even in 2014, the season that got Muschamp fired, Florida finished No. 5 in the country and led the SEC in yards per play allowed (4.55). We're talking about a guy who made the Sugar Bowl with Jeff Driskel.

There's no limit to what he can do with Malzahn.

 

The Muschamp Effect

Auburn fired defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson on Nov. 30, the morning after losing 55-44 at Alabama. The Crimson Tide averaged 8.84 yards per play in that game. The only times a Nick Saban-coached Alabama team has averaged more yards per play, its opponents were Florida Atlantic (8.86, 2014) and Western Carolina (8.85, 2012).

The Tigers have lost seven games under Malzahn, four times despite scoring 30 points. They ended the season with back-to-back losses of that nature, first against Alabama and next against Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl (34-31).

Dating back to 2001, which includes his stops as defensive coordinator at Texas (2008-10), Auburn (2006-07) and LSU (2001-04), along with his four years at Florida, Muschamp has been in 76 games in which his team scored 30-plus points. His record? 75-1.

The only time he lost, he got Crabtree'd:

Johnson was an old-school coach who got his first FBS coordinator job at Southern Mississippi in 1988. For context, the quarterback of that team was a 19-year-old Brett Favre. College offenses are changing, thanks in some part to the success of Malzahn, and Johnson, despite his bona fides, could never coach his defense to keep up.

It wasn't for a lack of talent, either. The deck of Auburn's defense is stacked. Linebackers Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy have All-SEC potential. So does defensive tackle Montravius Adams. Cornerback Jonathan Jones actually made the All-SEC second team in 2014.

All four return next season, as does former 5-star defensive end Carl Lawson, who missed the 2014 season with a knee injury. Muschamp will mold those front-seven players to fit his defense, a multiple-front scheme that moves between 3-4 and 4-3 alignments.

Other than depth, which Auburn has also developed, the most important thing a defense can have is versatility. That is how you stop uptempo offenses: confuse them into thinking they have a matchup advantage when they don't; teach defenders multiple roles.

Muschamp does that just as well as anybody, which is why his defenses finish near the top of the country. It's also what makes him the perfect tonic for Johnson.

"I just knew that's who I wanted and who we needed,"Malzahn said at Muschamp's introductory press conference.

"Need" might be too light a word.

 

The Offense is In Good Hands

Auburn will lose its starting quarterback (Nick Marshall), a 1,600-yard rusher (Cameron Artis-Payne), its leading receiver (Sammie Coates) and a four-year starter at center (Reese Dismukes). For most teams, that means the offense will take a big step back.

For Auburn: Might this offense be better?

Quarterback Jeremy Johnson has done everything right the past two seasons, including carving up Arkansas in the first half of the 2014 opener, when Marshall was suspended for a marijuana citation. The Tigers went 75 yards in eight plays, 75 yards in six plays and 98 yards in seven plays for touchdowns on their first three possessions.

"We feel like he could start for most teams in college football," Malzahn told reporters after the game. "I think everybody saw that tonight."

Johnson is a more traditional quarterback than Marshall, who has already made the switch to defensive back as he auditions for the NFL. The rising junior is 6'5", 230 pounds and has a live, accurate throwing arm. He isn't immobile, but zone reads will not be as instrumental as they have been to this offense. When he runs them, he will look more like Nick Foles than Michael Vick.

With Johnson, the Tigers will play something closer to a pro-style offense (although they won't lose their tempo), relying on the vertical passing game. It's a change they are comfortable making, however, because they trust their No. 1 receiver.

D'haquille Williams was the No. 1 overall JUCO prospect in the 2014 class, and he lived up to that billing in Year 1. His stats didn't jump off the page (45 catches, 730 yards, five touchdowns), but he looked the part of a future megastar. When NFL scouts compare you with Alshon Jeffery, you're doing something (a lot of things) right.

More to the point, Williams played better with Johnson than he ever played with Marshall, even if it was only for one half. Johnson targeted Williams seven times on seven drives against Arkansas. The result? Seven completions, 138 yards and a touchdown.

Yards per target: 19.7.

At running back, the Tigers have a Fredkin's paradox

Should we lean on this blue-chip prospect…the other blue-chip prospect…or the OTHER blue-chip prospect?

Roc Thomas was the No. 4 back in the 2014 class. The two backs directly behind him were Nick Chubb (Georgia) and Royce Freeman (Oregon). Combined, Chubb and Freeman gained 3,283 total yards as true freshmen. Again: Thomas was ranked ahead of them.

Incoming recruit Jovon Robinson, the No. 1 overall JUCO player in the country, and freshman Kerryon Johnson, the No. 2 high school back in the country, grade about as well as Thomas, Chubb and Freeman did, too. Those are two more impressive darts thrown at the board.

They and redshirt sophomore Peyton Barber will run behind another good line. The loss of Dismukes, Patrick Miller and Chad Slade will hurt, but Avery Young bypassed the draft, Braden Smith played well in his first start against Wisconsin and Ole Miss transfer Austin Golson, who started 12 games for the Rebels in 2013, will be eligible.

All things told, the Tigers return 59 career starts up front. More than that, they return Malzahn and offensive line coach J.B. Grimes, under whom they finished No. 5 in the country in adjusted line yards (run blocking) last season and No. 2 in 2013, per Football Outsiders.

This running game is a machine that won't stop.

 

Who Should be the Favorites Over Them?

The traditional SEC powers all have problems. So do the SEC upstarts. Auburn is the team with the easiest-to-answer questions:

  • Can Muschamp improve the defense? Probably.
  • Can Grimes rebuild the offensive line? Probably.
  • Can Johnson play this well over a full season? Probably.

None of those answers are definite, but "probably" is good enough for now. The rest of the conference should be so lucky:

  • Who is the quarterback at Alabama? Dunno.
  • Who is the quarterback at Georgia? Dunno.
  • Who is the quarterback at LSU? Braxton Mil…oh. Dunno.

Barrett Sallee of Bleacher Report had Auburn No. 2 in his SEC power rankings, looking up at rival Alabama. But even he thinks it looks like a tossup. "Don't be surprised if the SEC West—and, essentially, the SEC—comes down to the Iron Bowl," he wrote.

That wouldn't surprise me at all…which is why I think Auburn is the pick. The Iron Bowl is at Jordan-Hare next season, and so is the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry (against Georgia). After a season in which the schedule was out to get them, the Tigers catch a bit of a break.

The closest parallel to Auburn is Texas A&M, another team that hired a proven defensive coordinator (John Chavis of LSU) to supplement its high-powered offense. But A&M's defensive problems are more systemic than those of Auburn.

Per the F/+ ratings at Football Outsiders, the Aggies finished last year with the No. 81 defense in college football, behind such juggernauts as UConn and UAB. They finished the previous year No. 86, behind Texas State and Akron. Auburn finished No. 37 and No. 18, respectively.

This defense doesn't have that far to climb to win a championship. If it makes the jump from the Top 40 to the Top 20—from where it was in 2014 to where it was in 2013—that would make Auburn the favorite. If it leaps into the Top 15 or 10, no one is going to beat it.

Either way, this team will be in the picture. Alabama won the conference in 2014, but no team has repeated as SEC champion since 1998. Sixteen years of history say the Tide should not be favored.

That they travel to the Plains says it, too.

 

Note: All recruiting info refers to the 247Sports composite rankings.

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeigh35

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Nebraska Football: Why Mike Riley's First Recruiting Class Is Already a Success

Mike Riley will have been Nebraska's head football coach for only two months when national signing day rolls around. He hasn't let the limited time to recruit stop him, though. Instead, Riley hit the recruiting trail hard and hasn't slowed down since.

That's what a new coach has to do, though. For Riley and his staff, there was no time to waste, so they didn't.

As a result, what can fans expect from the 61-year-old's first class? Will it be a success?

The short answer is yes.

You may be wondering how a class that hasn't been finalized yet can be called a success. It's a valid question, too. For Riley, it has everything to do with how he's handled his short time in charge of Nebraska and his vision for the future.

Of course, some fans will point to the numbers. Nebraska is currently ranked No. 36 on 247Sports' 2015 Recruiting Team Rankings. Don't let the ranking fool you, though. There is plenty of talent hidden in Riley's class.

That's where Riley excels, too. He's known for developing players, as ESPN's NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper noted, per Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald:

He gets the most out of his talent and he's produced NFL players. He develops players. He obviously works well with quarterbacks. He's a heck of a football coach. He's a great guy. I think he'll do a very good job. I've always been a huge Mike Riley supporter.

That's why fans can't take the final overall ranking of the 2015 class and use that to call it a success or not. A more appropriate benchmark is to look at what Riley is doing to improve recruiting at Nebraska and whether or not he's able to generate more interest for the Huskers. That's where the success ultimately lies.

Riley has already made some changes in how the Huskers recruit Nebraska. At the Outland Trophy banquet, he was clear on that.

“Our goal for the future will be to own this state—and obviously that means Omaha,” Riley said, per Rich Kaipust and Jon Nyatawa of the Omaha World-Herald.

That's great news for both Nebraska high school athletes and Nebraska fans. Recruiting talent in-state has been something fans have wanted. Players and their coaches have, too.

“One thing, he told me, was that their No. 1 priority was the state of Nebraska,” Omaha Central coach Jay Ball said, per Kaipust and Nyatawa. “And on the first day available, being back here in Omaha, that says a lot.”

That focus alone can be considered a major success for Riley and his staff.

Another area in which fans can feel good about the next class is in how transparent Riley and his staff have been about it.

An obvious supporter of social media, Riley hasn't shied away from sharing "inside information" with fans. It's nice, too, if not a little shocking.

This alone makes the class feel like a bigger success for Riley. That's not to say that a tweet will make or break this recruiting class, but it doesn't hurt.

Per the Omaha World-Herald's McKewon, director of player personnel Ryan Gunderson recently spoke on the matter:

We want to share what we’re doing. And I think you see that on social media a little bit. We’re not trying to just lock the door and close the blinds. We know that what we’re doing, people are interested in, and it’s fun and it’s exciting.

That openness is also beneficial for future recruiting. Players potentially interested in Nebraska for the 2016 class are getting a firsthand look at how Riley and his staff operate. That transparency could absolutely pay off in the end.

Ultimately, Riley's first class won't be perfect. He hasn't had much time and a portion of the class wasn't recruited by him. However, what Riley is doing is building the foundation for the future.

That's what makes this class a success already, and if Riley is truly able to develop talent like so many say he can, there's little reason to believe this class can't be exactly what the Huskers need. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Nebraska Football: Who Will Be the Huskers' Starting Quarterback in 2015?

Nebraska football fans looking forward to the 2015 season will have one question on their minds over almost all others: Who will be the starting quarterback?

There are five candidates on the roster as we speak. Tommy Armstrong is the incumbent, having started 21 games over the last two years. Waiting in the wings are Johnny Stanton and Ryker Fyfe, who saw limited playing time in 2014, and Zack Darlington and AJ Bush, who redshirted last year.

Of course, it’s a big guessing game at this point as to who will win the job, as we don’t know what type of offense new head coach Mike Riley will be playing. We also don’t know how each of the quarterback prospects will perform this spring or this fall.

But based on what we know now, we can at least make some educated guesses as to where the quarterbacks currently on the roster stand.

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