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10 SEC Players Primed to Be the Stars of the Spring

It seems like only yesterday when we were discussing weekly College Football Playoff rankings and preparing for bowl season. Soon, though, a new season will begin.

Spring practice is just around the corner around the SEC and, in the case of Vanderbilt, already underway. With that comes breakout stars, prospects finally reaching their potential and depth charts that begin to take shape.

Which players in the SEC will emerge as the stars of spring practice?

Our picks, based on talent, opportunity and experience, are in this slideshow.

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Brian Kelly Has Learned His Lesson When It Comes to Hiring at Notre Dame

You can forgive Brian Kelly for not wanting to start spring practice in 10 days. Not just because the snow keeps falling on South Bend, but because he just spent one of the slowest months on the football calendar rebuilding his football program. 

While Notre Dame has yet to make any of the moves official (blame a glacially slow HR process put into place after the embarrassing George O'Leary resume fiasco), the Irish will open spring practice—now set for March 18—with a transformed coaching staff. 

Those changes on the coaching staff likely gave Kelly a reminder how the other 99 percent of head coaches live. The first week of February might be a paradise for college football fans, but it's turned into moving day for a slew of assistant coaches. 

Dozens of recruits built relationships with coaches they expected to be working with, only to see them hightail it for another program before the fax machine finished chirping. That attrition even hit Notre Dame, with Tony Alford, Kerry Cooks and Matt LaFleur all departing. 

In Alford and Cooks, two seemingly universal truths played out at Notre Dame. Two assistants passed up for coordinator jobs (Kelly chose Mike Denbrock to run his offense over Alford and brought in Brian VanGorder instead of promoting Cooks) left only a year later. 

Alford joined Urban Meyer at Ohio State, putting Notre Dame's best recruiter in the hands of another Midwestern power. Cooks left to join Bob Stoops, moving closer to his roots in Texas and leaving a big hole in the Irish's recruiting efforts in the Longhorn state. 

In LaFleur, we saw Kelly's familiar formula of rehiring past assistants get overruled by the power of the NFL. After spending six years coaching professionals, LaFleur was quick to jump back, another reminder that coaching—and recruiting—at the college level is a very different beast. 

Making any judgments on Kelly's new staff—especially considering the group hasn't even been announced, let alone coached a practice—is a tad premature. But there's reason to be optimistic.

And proof that Kelly has learned some important lessons. 

 

Lesson One: Get Your Offense Right 

It appears Kelly has taken last year's performance personally. After watching Everett Golson regress throughout the season and the Irish offense perform well below his expectations, he's looked outside his office walls to solve the problem. 

Enter former Boise State offensive coordinator Mike Sanford. Multiple reports, including Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman, have Sanford taking over as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. 

Sanford has no connection to the Kelly coaching tree. He's young, just turning 33, and just finished his first season as a top-tier coordinator, steering Boise State's offense to a Fiesta Bowl victory and 12-win season. 

While Kelly and Sanford share some spread offense DNA, Sanford ran the football 57 percent of the time last year at Boise and came up coaching under David Shaw at Stanford.

With Notre Dame's offensive line expected to be the strength of the offense and Malik Zaire showing himself to be a handful as a runner, incorporating some principles from the Stanford power attack couldn't hurt. 

 

Lesson Two: Sell the Best of Notre Dame

In Todd Lyght and Autry Denson, Kelly has brought in two coaches who can speak very specifically to what Notre Dame can do for student-athletes. While neither has been announced, Lyght has already been on the recruiting trail and has an official Twitter handle set up. 

Multiple media outlets have reported that Denson has joined the staff as the running backs coach. He's Notre Dame's all-time leading rusher and spent four seasons in the NFL.

In Lyght and Denson, both players and recruits can see two former stars who embody the best in Notre Dame. Lyght was a first-round draft pick after being a two-time All-American and national champion in South Bend. He was a Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion during his 12-year career.  

Denson stands atop the record books at a position that's had plenty of impressive players come through the program. While he certainly has less experience than Alford, he'll have a better story to tell recruits in the state of Florida, having lived the Notre Dame success story.

 

Lesson Three: Build Coaching Depth and Make Tough Decisions

An early knock on Kelly's coaching staff was his reliance on coaches he'd worked with at previous stops. While that's certainly the case with defensive line coach Keith Gilmore (also reported by multiple outlets to be heading to South Bend), Kelly's willingness to bring in Sanford, Lyght and Denson seem to pound a few more nails in that coffin. 

Maybe more important was the difficult decision to make hires that shook up the status quo. Giving Sanford the coordinator job meant reassigning long-time lieutenant Mike Denbrock after just one year on the job.

If Gilmore does in fact come to South Bend, Kelly will have brought in one more new coach than positions open. That requires the move of veteran assistant coach Bob Elliott to an off-field role.   

Keeping Elliott on staff while moving him to the administrative side continues a trend that allows Kelly to flex some of Notre Dame's institutional muscles. It's also likely the role for former Kelly offensive coordinator and Buffalo head coach Jeff Quinn. 

Building the staff behind the staff is part of what makes Nick Saban's Alabama machine continue to hum. And Kelly has done a nice job building organizational depth, adding former UCLA star Johnathan Franklin to the student welfare and development earlier this year as well. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Is Alabama's Slow 2016 Recruiting Start a Cause for Concern?

Anytime fans glance at the recruiting rankings and see a team other than Alabama occupying the No. 1 spot, it’s a bit of an unfamiliar feeling.

Never mind that the dust just recently settled on the 2015 class—which marked the Tide’s fifth top-rated class in a row—earlier this month. 

In the early stages of the 2016 cycle, the Tide have gotten out of the gates slowly. 

They earned their most recent pledge on Thursday, when 3-star in-state receiver T.J. Simmons gave Nick Saban and his staff their fourth commitment in a class that currently checks in at No. 16 in the 247Sports 2016 team rankings.

Should the Tide's start to the 2016 class become cause for concern among Alabama faithful?

Absolutely not.

Getting early commitments has become a trend, one that works for a lot of schools around the country.

Miami currently has the nation's No. 1 class with 18 commitments, but it remains to be seen whether the 'Canes can keep their class together over the next 11 months. 

However, Alabama is one of very few programs—perhaps the only one—that can afford to be more selective in its recruiting process.

During the Tide’s Junior Day last month, a bevy of top prospects made their way to Tuscaloosa. From a recruit’s perspective, Saban’s program has all of its bases covered, and in an impressive way.

Four-star receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe described his Junior Day experience to Shane Youngblood of BamaOnLine:

Their facilities are so nice. This place has very little flaws and they have everything for their players. I can’t think of a negative thing you could say about Alabama. If you buy into their program, then your goals are going to be actualized and they will bring out the best in you and that is something that is really important to me.

The Tide appear to be focusing on quality over quantity in their early recruiting efforts for the 2016 cycle.

Two of the Tide’s current commitments—5-star corner Shyheim Carter and 4-star athlete Demetris Robertson—rate among the nation’s top 40 overall prospects in the 2016 cycle.

Additionally, Alabama is in the hunt for several big-name talents and 5-star prospects, such as in-state linebackers Lyndell Wilson and Ben Davis, defensive end Marlon Davidson, defensive tackle Derrick Brown and offensive lineman Willie Allen.

The recruiting process is more of a marathon than a sprint. Given the Tide’s clout with recruits and the group of top-shelf talent interested in heading to Tuscaloosa, expect Alabama’s time outside of the top 5 in the rankings to be short-lived.

 

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

Big Ten Would Be Signing Death Contract If It Makes Freshmen Ineligible

On Sept. 6, 2014, the Big Ten died. On Jan. 1, 2015, nearly four months later, it came back to life in dramatic fashion. Naturally, now that the conference has momentum, the quintessential Big Ten thing to do would be to keel over again from a self-inflicted wound. 

And freshman ineligibility would be the ricin in the tea.  

On Thursday, Aaron Kasinitz and Ellie Silverman of The Diamondback, the University of Maryland's independent student newspaper, reported that the Big Ten wants to lead a "national discussion" about making freshmen football and men’s basketball players ineligible their freshman year. The primary talking point revolved around graduation rates and Academic Progress Rate scores in those respective sports: 

Men’s basketball and football players lag behind other sports in terms of academics, according to data provided in the document. Among the 34 sports listed in the Graduation Success Rate data, football and men’s basketball ranked last in the 2004 to 2007 cohort, according to the document. Among the 38 sports listed in the Academic Progress Rate data from 2009 to 2013, those two sports also ranked last.

The proposal examines “the imbalance observed in those two sports” and cites that football and men’s basketball student-athletes account for less than 19 percent of Division I participants, yet they account for more than 80 percent of academic infraction cases.

First, a couple of key points: Freshman ineligibility, should it ever pass, would have to be done at the Power 5 conference level for the Big Ten to go through with it; the whole "A Year of Readiness" concept is what's being examined at the conference level. That proposal would act as a mandatory redshirt for freshmen, essentially reinstating a previous NCAA rule which was eliminated in 1972. 

There's a reason that rule has been defunct for more than 40 years. 

To understand why the idea is getting resistance from guys like Tom Dienhart of the Big Ten Network—who lives in the conference's own back yard—you have to understand that freshmen are an important part of college football. They have been for some time.

Last season, two big-name running backs—Samaje Perine of Oklahoma and Nick Chubb of Georgia—finished in the top 20 in rushing, according to cfbstats.com. Both were freshmen. One of the more dynamic pass-catchers in the Big Ten, Mike Dudek of Illinois, was a true freshman. 

Even if they're not stars right away, freshmen have their place as key reserves and special teams contributors. As Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood noted, via Chris Vannini of coachingsearch.com, the college football season got longer with the playoff and the 85-man scholarship limit isn't about to be raised any time soon.

Now imagine being, say, a Big Ten coach on the recruiting trail, going into living rooms and telling potential freshmen contributors that they'll have to wait a season before seeing the field. 

It's not just coaches who would be hesitant to get on board. Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee, who played in limited time as a freshman but made a huge impact last year as a redshirt freshman, doesn't see the logic: 

To be clear, the Big Ten is not on an island in this endeavor. Jon Solomon of CBSSports.com reported a week ago that Bob Bowlsby, John Swofford and Larry Scott—the commissioners of the Big 12, ACC and Pac-12, respectively—were among those who were, at the very least, interested in vetting the possibility. 

Still, this is the kind of thing that further pushes the narrative that the Big Ten is determined to live in the past. 

But Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany isn't dumb. In fact, simply saying Delany is smart does him a disservice. He's brilliant. Don't ever let the Big Ten jokes—though there are many—allow you to think otherwise. 

Consider the following: There's an academic redshirt coming in 2016, as determined by the NCAA. That applies to '16 freshmen who meet the NCAA's old academic requirements but not the new ones. Almost for that reason alone, it behooves conferences to wait and see how new academic standards affect eligibility before proceeding with a solution for something there's not a problem with. 

So why is there suddenly pressure to take something that would apply to only part of a freshman class and make it widespread?

Because admins are so concerned over men's college basketball and the one-and-done rule, eliminating freshmen eligibility is on the table. Never mind that only a minuscule number of freshmen percentage-wise declare for the NBA draft after one year. It's the textbook definition of overkill.  

College football is different because athletes have to wait three years before they can declare. Thus, the impact of freshman ineligibility relative to going pro early decreases some. Still, it's being looped into the discussion.

Why are those two sports being cherry picked and not men's lacrosse or women's gymnastics? Don't they all face the same challenges as freshmen student-athletes?

These are deliberate moves, and it's enough to warrant a side-eye glance. As Zach Barnett of Footballscoop.com points out, the timing of this discussion shows admins are still fighting the fight about academic prioritization in the post-Ed O'Bannon antitrust ruling:  

The timing of these discussions is curious at best and disingenuous at worst. The NCAA’s hallowed amateurism model has been under serious attack through lawsuits filed by former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon and antitrust lawyer Jeffrey Kessler. Northwestern football players appealed for the right to unionize less than a year ago. The door has felt the force of the battering ram, and it isn’t going to hold.

The following quote from Maryland President Wallace Loh to the The Diamondback seems to corroborate as much: 

"What I like about the concept of the proposal is it puts right up front the basic issue: Are we basically a quasi-professional activity or primarily an educational activity?" Loh said. "And if you support it, you are basically saying very clearly the No. 1 priority is the education of the students."

In other words, college admins would have you believe that the bubble in which they live is still based in academics, not big-time athletics, and they're willing to come up with some wild ideas to prove it. The last thing NCAA members would ever want to do is admit they created a marketplace that serves as a de facto minor league for pro sports. 

Do that and prepare to pay out to football and men's basketball players. 

Sure, eliminating freshman eligibility is an answer. It's just not the right one because it doesn't serve athletes on a widespread basis nearly as much as it serves college admins. 

What those admins should focus on is not taking away a year of playing time, but adding to the overall number. That's something Mississippi State athletics director Scott Stricklin suggested on his Twitter account:

By doing so, freshmen retain their eligibility, provided they meet the academic standards and move forward with confidence that they have five years to complete their degree. 

For as much chatter as the Big Ten generates about academic integrity, removing freshmen from the field could have significant negative affects on the recruiting trail. That's the bread and butter to building championship teams. 

Is the Big Ten, or anyone else in the Power 5 for that matter, willing to lose out on that? The honest answer is probably no. 

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Randy Shannon Proving to Be Valuable Recruiting Resource for New Florida Regime

Jim McElwain gained more than just a bright defensive strategist when he signed Randy Shannon to the Florida Gators staff earlier this winter.

The former Miami head coach carries significant recruiting clout in the Sunshine State. His roots as a player and coach are firmly entrenched in Florida.

Shannon, a Miami Norland High School graduate, started at linebacker for the Hurricanes during a 1987 national championship run. After a short stint with the Dallas Cowboys, he launched his coaching career in South Florida, serving in various roles with both the Dolphins and the University of Miami.

His 28 victories in four years as the Hurricanes coach weren't enough to provide job security, and he was ultimately replaced by Al Golden following the 2010 season. However, Shannon's accomplishments with the program—particularly as defensive coordinator in the early 2000s and his early tutelage of Ray Lewis—shouldn't be overlooked.

He returned to an assistant role in 2012, serving as linebackers coach at TCU before joining Arkansas.

McElwain pried him away from Fayetteville in late December, landing Shannon as linebackers coach, co-defensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator.

"This is a home run hire for Florida," noted Andy Hutchins of Alligator Army at the time.

It was McElawin's first position coach decision in Gainesville—one that's already paid off for the new Gators regime.

Shannon has helped the team secure nine South Florida commitments since he assumed responsibility for the region, including a pair of 2016 pledges earlier this week.

Linebacker Vosean Joseph and defensive end Eric Mitchell both joined the class Wednesday:

The tandem formerly played together at Norland, Shannon's alma mater, though Mitchell transferred to Miami Central High School. They tripled the Gators' current recruiting haul, which featured just one commitment entering this week.

"Dream school," Mitchell told Ryan Bartow of 247Sports. "Always wanted to go there. I told coach Shannon. He was excited for me. He's gonna talk to my mom tonight about it. He accepted my commit."

Back on home turf, Shannon is clearly in his comfort zone:

Florida is in the process of reinventing its image after a disheartening conclusion to the Will Muschamp era. Visions of success with Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow continue to fade further into the rear-view mirror.

"I grew up a pretty big fan of Florida, but the team isn't where it used to be," coveted Naples High School running back Carlin Fils-Aime told Bleacher Report. "But I can tell they're working hard to build things back up and make it a place where top players want to go. That's from what their coaches have been telling me since the new group took over."

Shannon will be a pivotal part of that process.

Florida finished strong in the 2015 cycle, rising more than 50 spots in 247Sports' composite rankings during an extremely busy last week. The Gators class sat at 21st overall on national signing day, bolstered tremendously by a late surge in South Florida.

The haul included a pair of 4-star talents (running back Jordan Scarlett and athlete Jordan Cronkrite) who had previously committed to Miami. Florida also edged out the Hurricanes for impressive Miami wide receiver Antonio Callaway on signing day.

Even Gators recruiting targets from beyond state borders have noticed Shannon's efforts. His success reflects well on the entire Florida staff.

"This staff is very enthusiastic about recruiting, which I feel has steered them to developing trust with their recruits," 4-star Georgia wide receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe, younger brother of 2015 Florida signee Daniel Imatorbhebhe, told Bleacher Report. "I haven't really had much contact with coach Shannon, but from what I hear he is an excellent coach and an efficient recruiter."

That description is exactly what McElwain was looking for when he made Shannon a top priority while assembling his staff. Through less than two full months, the move is already paying immediate dividends. 

 

Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Could Family Ties to NFL Star Help Texas Longhorns Steal 4-Star Baylor Commit?

When 4-star Baylor Bears running back commit Kameron Martin picked up an offer from the Texas Longhorns on Tuesday, he called it a "dream offer." The nation's No. 2 all-purpose back grew up a UT fan.

Martin's infatuation for Texas isn't new for those who know him. His cousin is former Longhorn and current Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles.

Martin, as someone who plays the same position, is one of Charles' biggest fans. Before Martin was starring at Memorial High School in Port Arthur, Texas, Charles was putting up big numbers at the same school.

So the question stands: Does Martin stay with the school he now loves or does he switch to the school he's always loved?

Martin on Thursday said he's still a strong Baylor commit, but getting that Texas offer made his day.

"That was my childhood favorite school, and growing up watching my cousin play was a blessing," Martin said. "My whole room was burnt orange once upon a time. I still have a Texas flag that Jamaal signed in my room."

Of course now, all of Martin's Texas paraphernalia is gone; he kept the flag, though, as it was a gift from his cousin and is a collector's item. Charles was a freshman on the 2005 Texas team that won a national championship, and he was the Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year that season.

The Texas gear has been replaced with Baylor gear. Martin committed to the Bears on July 15 and is a part of a class that includes 5-star offensive lineman Patrick Hudson and 4-star quarterback Zach Smith.

Baylor took a chance on Martin before any other school, something he said he appreciates.

"Baylor is my bread and butter. I'm committed to Baylor," Martin said. "Texas is my dream school, but Baylor has been there since Day 1. They were my first offer my ninth-grade year. I feel like I can play there and have a great life there."

Baylor has a pledge in Martin who, like his cousin, is a home-run threat every time he touches the ball. A fast, elusive running back, Martin is a versatile athlete who can be used in the backfield, as a slot receiver and as a special teams returner if necessary.

While Martin is committed, he added that every offer he receives is worth considering. Texas, he said, has great tradition and will always be viewed in a positive light.

His recruiting process will be one to watch until next February.

"I talked to Jamaal [on Wednesday], and we had a great conversation," Martin said. "He told me to have fun with the process. I'm only going to do this once in my life. He told me to do what's best for me, and that's what I'm going to do."

 

Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football QBs Most Likely to Transfer Before the Start of Summer

It might not seem like it by looking outside in much of the United States, but spring football is just around the corner. And with spring comes inevitable position battles. Quarterback battles are the most intriguing of all position scrums because, after all, only one man can start at quarterback at one time.

The winner of a quarterback battle gets a chance to prove himself on the field. The loser? A clipboard, a headset and hope. Well, a little bit of hope.

Matt Brown of Sports on Earth broke down the quarterback uncertainty across the nation. We’ll take it a step further.

Which quarterbacks are most likely to transfer before the beginning of the 2015 season? Let’s take a look.

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Ole Miss' Pac-12 Scheduling Will Be Huge Boost for Recruiting

Ole Miss has burst onto the national scene over the last three seasons with three straight bowl games, an upset over No. 1 Alabama in 2014, a top-five ranking and—most importantly—three straight top-20 recruiting classes.

The best is yet to come.

Ole Miss announced a home-and-home series with the California Bears in 2017 (Berkeley) and 2019 (Oxford) late Thursday evening, which will fulfill the SEC requirement for teams to play at least one "power five" conference team in a non-conference matchup every year.

On the surface, playing Cal—which is a mid-level Pac-12 team at best—doesn't exactly move the meter. From a recruiting standpoint, though, it will.

From the moment head coach Hugh Freeze arrived prior to the 2012 season, he has made a concerted effort not only to increase his recruiting efforts in the state but spread out around the southeast and the rest of the country.

In the class of 2013—which really put Ole Miss on the map—Freeze went to Georgia's backyard and signed the nation's top-ranked player, defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, out of Loganville, which is a short drive from UGA's campus.

He also headed to Florida's backyard to sign offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, the nation's third-ranked player, out of Lake City, and raided Big Ten country to lure wide receiver Laquon Treadwell out of Crete, Illinois.

Since that signature class, Freeze has cleaned up around the south, made a mark in Texas and dropped into New York and Illinois to sign players over the last two recruiting cycles.

The game vs. Cal in 2017 will be the furthest west Ole Miss has ever played, and it will be in the center of one of the most fertile recruiting grounds in the country.

B/R national recruiting writer Sanjay Kirpalani wrote earlier in February that California is one of the top five states producing high school prospects in the class of 2016, which is par for the course. The Golden State produced 44, 4- or 5-star players in the class of 2015 and 34 in the class of 2014.

The majority of those players are located in Southern California, which is quite a jaunt from the Bay Area and Berkeley. That doesn't take away the importance, though.

"I think it's a great opportunity for Ole Miss to take their brand nationally with recruits," said Kirpalani. "We've seen them become a presence throughout the southeast and even to places like Illinois with Laquon Treadwell a few years ago. Playing games like these are important in helping them get a foot in the door out on the West Coast."

Ole Miss made a splash on the recruiting trail before Freeze put the program on the national stage by winning consistently. In 2015, his program was close to center stage, as it was ranked in the top four of the inaugural College Football Playoff rankings and spent nine weeks inside the Associated Press Top 10.

It did that with an inconsistent Bo Wallace at quarterback, an offensive line that struggled and a running game that has been unable to find any room between the tackles for two years. 

Powered by three straight top-20 recruiting classes, some high-profile recruits including junior college transfer Chad Kelly and 5-star pro-style commit Shea Patterson, and an increased focus on bigger backs like Akeem Judd and Eric Swinney, Ole Miss is going to be on the map up until the game vs. Cal, which could be the catalyst to developing the national brand of Ole Miss football.

It's a logical next step.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.

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

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CFB Future 100: Top 11 Defensive Tackles in Class of 2016

After thorough study using specific scoring criteria, Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analysts Damon SaylesSanjay Kirpalani and Tyler Donohue have graded the top 100 players in the 247Sports composite rankings and provided in-depth analysis on each young athlete. Bleacher Report will run a position-by-position breakdown series of the best college football recruits in the class of 2016. Here we present the Top Defensive Tackles.  

Other Positions 

The 2016 defensive line class has a tough act to follow in terms of depth; however, with eight interior defensive linemen rated among the nation's top 50 players overall in the 2016 class, this year's cycle may be equally as deep with quality and quantity.

Six players have already attained 5-star status, headlined by the No. 2 player overall in New Jersey native Rashan Gary.

We have evaluated the cream of the crop of interior defensive linemen, scoring them on their abilities in key metrics such as pass rush (15 points), tackling (15 points), strength (25 points), run support (25 points), hands (15 points) and motor (5 points). The cumulative scores from those characteristics resulted in our overall grade of each prospect.

How do the 2016 defensive tackles stack up against one another?

All analysis provided by B/R National Recruiting Analyst Sanjay Kirpalani. All rankings courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings.

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Tennessee's Butch Jones Opens Up on Mike DeBord Hire, Developing QBs and More

With a top-five recruiting class signed, new offensive coordinator Mike DeBord hired and the start of spring practice still a month away, you may think Tennessee head coach Butch Jones is kicked back in his luxurious office relaxing.

"I love this time of year; this is my favorite time of year," he told Bleacher Report in an exclusive interview on Thursday morning. But the reasons have nothing to do with the R&R.

These are the months when the players are living in the weight room, studying in the film room and bending the ear of their coaches. This is when leaders are made and the fat is trimmed from the roster, both literally and figuratively.

It's when Jones believes the identity of the 2015 Vols will be hatched.

"This time of year is really where your football team is born," he said.

Away from the bright lights of the television cameras and the shadows of the media microphones, this year's version of the Vols is already working toward living up to elevated expectations.

Thanks to their first winning season since 2009 and a convincing TaxSlayer Bowl victory over Iowa, they are no longer expected to be the whipping boys of the SEC East.

But they won't sneak up on anybody, either—not as a dark horse to win the division and a team in several way-too-early Top 25 rankings, such those by ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach and Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel.

Tennessee is expected to be back, and Jones firmly feels that weight. It's just no different to him than it's been since the moment he was hired to bring UT back to its place competing for championships.

Through the shield of coachspeak that every leader of a major college football program utilizes from time to time, there are glimpses of Jones' confidence, his belief that the fruits of his culture change are surfacing in the players he coaches.

"We talk about owning the football program, not renting it," Jones said. "We talk about the Power T. I'll be very candid with you: We had too many that didn't love the Power T, so to speak. They loved the power of the 'T'. We talk to our players about, it’s not loving the Power of the T and what Tennessee football can do for you, but it's the investment in that Power T. It's true love and affinity for this great institution."

Jones has it, and he is tasked with making Tennessee great once again. It isn't there yet, but it's getting ever-closer.

He dished on some of the obstacles standing in the way and some potential solutions already in place.

 

Finding the Future Now

Jones knows the expectations. He also knows what challenges await his talented team that is still incredibly young and had to complete a frantic overtime comeback win over South Carolina and squeak out a close win over Vanderbilt, among others, just to become bowl-eligible.

While UT's talent deficiencies no longer exist thanks to recruiting successes, the lack of experienced depth remains.

Key contributors such as Derek Barnett, Danny O'Brien, Jason Croom and possibly Alex Ellis will miss spring drills with injuries. Star newcomers such as defensive end Kyle Phillips and linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. won't be available, either.

"Right now, our spring football is going to be one of many, many challenges," Jones said.

The biggest will be having to prepare two midterm freshman quarterbacks—Quinten Dormady and Jauan Jennings—to get ready in a hurry. Dormady, Jones said, has been cleared to throw from a recent injury, and he expects him to be "full go" come spring.

That's a big deal. With Nathan Peterman's transfer to Pittsburgh, either Dormady, Jennings or fellow freshman Sheriron Jones will be forced into action right away if something were to happen to Joshua Dobbs.

"It's an opportunity, and it's a challenge," Jones said of readying two true freshmen for playing time at the sport's most visible position. "So much goes into playing the quarterback position that you...kind of like to have them develop at their own pace. But unfortunately, that's not where we're at in our program.

"That's another illustration when we talk about competing for championships and national championships that we're not there yet in the overall evolution of our football program."

Dobbs is the bridge from the budding promise of Tennessee's current situation to a stabler future. After his breakout second half of 2014 during which he accounted for 17 touchdowns, 1,793 total yards and led UT to a bowl win, he is the catalyst for this Vols resurgence.

Not only is his health vital to the team, the model student is now playing the role of teacher to the newcomers.

With Jones and DeBord only allowed to do so much to prepare the first-year players during the offseason, their experiences with Dobbs are crucial.

"We've put a lot on the shoulders of Josh Dobbs as well in terms of mentoring the younger players," Jones said. "If there's one great illustration of who you want them to emulate, it would be Josh Dobbs. But the great thing is the two quarterbacks, newcomers, who are here on campus both possess different skill sets, so having them here will be very, very big for us this spring.

"We're relying on Josh a lot, you know, just talking about the expectations of playing quarterback here. Josh has turned into basically another coach on the field. And having Mike DeBord here who's seen what it's supposed to look like. He’s coached the Tom Bradys. He's been a part of those players, so he understands that."

Toss in the presence of UT graduate assistant Nick Sheridan, who has been an offensive coordinator at Western Kentucky and South Florida, and Jones is confident the first-year quarterbacks will be as prepared as they possibly can get.

"The resources we have here to develop quarterbacks, in my opinion, are second to none," Jones said.

That doesn't guarantee success for Dormady or Jennings, but it's a good start. It's simply the reality of the tenuous position UT is currently in behind Dobbs at quarterback.

 

The Cost of Comfort

When former offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian left UT abruptly two weeks before national signing day, the name Mike DeBord probably wasn't one of the first replacements to come to the minds of many Vols fans.

Jones knows that, but he also knows UT returns 10 offensive starters who'd begun to show signs of life within the framework of his offense toward the end of the season.

That's why DeBord—a longtime friend who hired him at Central Michigan—was the first name Jones thought of.

"That’s why I continue to emphasize the right fit for Tennessee," Jones said. "Everything is about timing and, 'How can we enhance the offense? How can we bring in new ideas that understand our offense?' Everything is about our players and their development this offseason and continuing to improve but also our staff.

"We're already reaping the benefits right now of Mike DeBord and the rest of our staff being familiar with each other with Mike having spent a lot of time with them and having worked with them in the past. So, really, the transition has been seamless.

"With Mike DeBord, he has the same offensive philosophies. We've really benefited from the experience he’s gained in the last five years in the National Football League. We've really benefited from him being a year-and-a-half off of football and studying every football program from college to the National Football League. He's a tremendous, tremendous communicator, and our kids have gravitated toward him immediately."

When Jones says they share an offensive philosophy, it isn't lip service. He means it's the same terminology and everything, a scheme that was devised in their time together at CMU.

It's that established familiarity that will help the Vols this spring, Jones said. Whereas a new coach with a new philosophy would have been teaching everybody his methods or trying to learn the language of Jones' system, DeBord already speaks it.

"We've been able to walk in and, really, the terminology has basically stayed the same," Jones said. "That has really helped the overall learning curve. We can go out there and Coach DeBord already knows how to speak the language, and that's critical from a trust standpoint and a communication standpoint as well."

Recently, sophomore running back Jalen Hurd had just come from a meeting in DeBord's office when Jones stopped him for a conversation.

The running back related a feeling that Jones said has permeated the football offices since the assistant's arrival. "You can tell Coach DeBord has worked with big-time players in the way he approaches our current team right now," Hurd told him.

This is Jones' program. He has re-sculpted the culture, cultivated a winning mentality where one didn't exist and has the program, by all accounts, right where it should be in this rebuilding process.

If he's not comfortable with the man calling his offense, what would that say about the state of the program?

"He brings a presence, and he brings a toughness, and he brings a level of confidence," Jones said of DeBord. "So, again, for us to continue to move forward, that familiarity was a big deal for us."

 

All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports composite rankings unless otherwise noted. All stats and roster information gathered from UTSports.com, unless otherwise noted. All quotes gathered firsthand.

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

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Michigan Football: Jim Harbaugh's Media Blitz is All About Recruiting

Jim Harbaugh has proven to be a master media tactician during his brief tenure as Michigan head football coach. He’s been everywhere— sitting courtside next to Michigan basketball coach John Beilein, helping prep NFL quarterback prospects and tweaking archrival Ohio State from his Twitter account.

Harbaugh thrives on attention but these recent interactions aren’t about stroking his ego or stirring up controversy. His first national signing day may be over but now he’s positioning Michigan as a top destination for future recruits.

Harbaugh’s appearance at the recent Michigan versus Michigan State basketball game was ostensibly to support the introduction of his new staff at halftime. But it also ensured plenty of conversation about his recent tutoring of pro football quarterback prospects Jameis Winston and Bryce Petty.

The two players came to Ann Arbor to meet with Harbaugh and prepare for the NFL combine. While they were here he conducted what may be the first post-graduation recruitment in college football history.

Two elite players from top collegiate programs left Ann Arbor gushing about Michigan and Jim Harbaugh on a video posted on mgoblue.com:


Winston: “That was a blessing, to meet a guy like that. It was just an honor to meet him and all of his accomplishments and the type of coach that he is. I wish I could have played for him.”

Petty: “If there's anybody you want to play for, as a player, it's a coach like him. Just a fun, energetic guy, passionate about football. From the second he came over here, he was sizing up Jameis and wanted to see his grip. He's just a quarterback. That's the coolest part about playing the position and being coached by somebody that's been there and done that."

Both quarterbacks also came away impressed with Michigan’s facilities, particularly the indoor football facility, as posted on mogoblue.com:

Winston: “These guys don’t know how blessed they are to have this type of facility. At Florida State, we’re a very prestigious school, we have nice stuff, but we don’t have this. I love Florida State. Go Noles ‘til the day I day, but [Michigan’s] so much more advanced than us.”

Petty: “This is bar none the best I’ve seen. We’ve got great ones in Waco. I loved what we had at Baylor, so it’s cool to see other places. This is definitely by far one of the best I’ve seen.”

Harbaugh’s impact on these two players will pay dividends on the recruiting trail. The chance to work with him for an entire collegiate career will be a powerful draw for top quarterback prospects.

Besides his appearance at the basketball game, Harbaugh has taken to Twitter to share his thoughts on competition and take a veiled shot at Ohio State.

He and Urban Meyer had fought over Michigan high school running back Mike Weber. Weber eventually signed with Ohio State only to learn that one of the coaches instrumental in his decision was leaving for Chicago (NFL). The perceived deception angered Weber and his prep football coach.

Harbaugh’s tweet spun the focus away from that fact that he had lost a coveted instate recruit and made Ohio State’s recruiting tactics the issue.

Harbaugh admitted during a recent podcast that he’s enjoying Twitter so fans can expect continued tweets from him.

Harbaugh is conducting a masterclass in leveraging media appearances but any recruiting benefits are a year away. In a few weeks spring practice begins and Harbaugh will need to prove that he is as adept on the sidelines as he has been during his media blitz.

Positive press is great but no amount of media spin will make up for not beating Michigan State or Ohio State on the football field.



Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations obtained firsthand

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Ohio State Football: The Buckeyes' Top 4 2015 NFL Draft Prospects

Devin Smith, Michael Bennett, Jeff Heuerman and Doran Grant were pivotal to Ohio State's national title run last season, and with the NFL draft nearing, they're set to represent the Buckeyes very well at the next level.

And if they're anything like the last crop of former Buckeyes who moved on to the NFL, they'll be ready to make an immediate impact.

Seven former Ohio State players—linebacker Ryan Shazier, cornerback Bradley Roby, running back Carlos Hyde, receiver Corey Brown and offensive linemen Corey Linsley, Jack Mewhort and Andrew Norwell—started for their respective teams during their rookie seasons.

Whether this year's NFL-bound Buckeyes can make a similar splash remains to be seen, but these four players have the tools to thrive in the league.

 

Devin Smith

Ohio State hasn't had a receiver drafted in the first round since the Miami Dolphins selected Ted Ginn Jr. with the ninth overall pick in the 2007 draft. With a strong combine and a good showing at the Buckeyes' pro day, Devin Smith could end that streak.

As things stand currently, though, he's on the outside looking in.

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller projects Smith as a second-round pick to the Dolphins, who could use a deep threat to replace Mike Wallace. 

There may not be a better deep threat in this year's draft. 

Smith consistently sliced through secondaries throughout his career, using his blazing speed and incredible body control to haul in 30 career touchdown passes. Twelve of those came during his senior season, when he registered 933 receiving yards and a nation's-best 28.2 yards per reception, according to CFBStats.com.

 

Michael Bennett

Bennett's talent and leadership will be nearly impossible to replace at Ohio State, but those qualities will make him a wanted man when the draft rolls around.

A 6'2", 288-pound defensive tackle with the ability to rush the passer and disrupt the run game, Bennett is a special talent who can boost the interior of a defensive line. But his size and skill set is limited to the 3-technique, which makes him scheme-specific to a team that runs a 4-3 defense.

Because of that, Miller projects Bennett as a late second-round pick to the Dallas Cowboys. 

That would be an ideal landing spot for the former Ohio State star. Bennett, who notched a team-high 11 tackles for loss in the Buckeyes' final seven games, could use his devastatingly effective first step and burst to disrupt opposing offensive lines in the NFL. He'll need to find the right situation, though, because he struggles when slotted at nose tackle.

 

Jeff Heuerman

Heuerman was an underutilized tight end during his first two years at Ohio State, but after a solid finish to his junior season, expectations for the talented pass-catcher were high entering his senior campaign. 

"He’s a real weapon, and three years ago he wasn’t," Urban Meyer said of Heuerman, according to Tim May of The Columbus Dispatch

A nagging ankle injury hobbled Heuerman throughout the season, though, limiting his effectiveness as a route-runner. After registering 327 receiving yards and three touchdowns in Ohio State's final six games in 2013, he caught just 17 passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns during his senior season.

That drop in production won't scare NFL teams away. Miller expects Heuerman to be the fourth tight end selected, going late in the third round to the Seattle Seahawks. 

 

Doran Grant

The Buckeyes have sent loads of defensive backs to the NFL over the past decade—highlighted by standouts such as Donte Whitner and Malcolm Jenkins. Grant currently projects as a sixth-round pick, via Miller, but he has the tools to be a solid cornerback in the NFL. 

Serving as Ohio State's top corner last season, he led the charge as the Buckeyes improved from 112th nationally in pass defense to 29th in 2014, according to CFBStats.com. Grant excels in press coverage because he has the strength to bump receivers at the line and the speed to keep pace on deeper routes. 

That skill set was on display in Ohio State's Sugar Bowl matchup against Alabama. Facing the most dangerous receiver in college football, Grant helped the Buckeyes limit Amari Cooper to 71 receiving yards, which was his third-lowest output of the season. 

While Grant is projecting as Miller's lowest-rated pro prospect, it wouldn't be surprising if he went on to have the best NFL career.  

 

All stats via OhioStateBuckeyes.com. All recruiting rankings and information via 247Sports.

David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

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ACC Football: Odds for Each Team to Make 2015-16 College Football Playoff

The College Football Playoff took the sports world by storm. While some fans argued that the playoff would be a bad idea, it took a grand total of one season for that argument to be proven incorrect.

The CFP ended up being one of the most-talked-about sporting events in recent history, and it did something else that was even better. It created major drama.

Not only did the Ohio State Buckeyes sneak into the fourth and final spot over the final week of the season, but they shocked the world by beating the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide.

The Buckeyes were big underdogs against the Crimson Tide, but they pulled off the stunner. Soon after that, they had completed the incredible run by knocking off the No. 2 Oregon Ducks in the championship game. Urban Meyer's best coaching job was complete.

What did we learn from the first CFP? Well, anyone who makes the "dance" has a chance to take the whole thing down. Turn your nose up at the team who's the fourth seed? Not ever again.

In 2014, the ACC was represented by the undefeated Florida State Seminoles, who ended up bowing out to that talented Oregon team in the semifinals. The question now becomes, will someone surpass the Seminoles as the favorites to make the College Football Playoff from the ACC during the 2015-16 season?

Check out the fictional odds for each ACC team to make it to the second running of the College Football Playoff.

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UCLA Football: The Bruins' Top 5 2015 NFL Draft Prospects

Five former UCLA football players have a great shot at fulfilling their respective dreams in becoming members of the National Football League in 2015. 

A couple of the potential draftees are considered two of the most productive players—regardless of position—in UCLA history. Two more were integral members of the team last year, while a fifth shocked many when he declared for the draft after his junior season. 

This piece will speak about the five players in question. A look at where each Bruin could be drafted will also be explored. 

Here are the Bruins' top five prospects heading into the 2015 NFL draft. 

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UCLA Football: The Bruins' Top 5 2015 NFL Draft Prospects

Five former UCLA football players have a great shot at fulfilling their respective dreams in becoming members of the National Football League in 2015...

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Michigan Football: Jim Harbaugh's Toughest Task This Spring

Finding a quarterback is imperative, but before Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh can do that, he must first establish a powerful and effective offensive line.

Without a linchpin set firmly in place, nothing will work. If the line can’t protect, it won’t matter if Wilton Speight, Shane Morris or Alex Malzone is the quarterback. Devin Gardner, the former starter, was sacked 60 times during the past two seasons—26 in 2014 and 34 in 2013, the sixth-most in FBS. 

Those numbers were a cry for help.

Conversely, if there are no lanes in which to run, having Ty Isaac, Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith in the backfield won’t make a shred of difference. In 2014, the Wolverines (5-7, 3-5 Big Ten) rushing offense strung together a meager 162.8 yards per game, ranking No. 8 in the conference, and scored just 17 touchdowns, the third-fewest in the Big Ten.

The team ranked dead last in total offense (333 YPG) and No. 13 of 14 in points per game (20.9).

That said, the need to build up front should be obvious for Harbaugh, who begins spring practice Feb. 24. Michigan’s success in 2015 will largely depend on growth in the trenches.

Due to steady recruiting, Michigan has stockpiles of talent waiting to make an impact on the line. The cornerstones, though, are Mason Cole and Jack Miller—their development could make Harbaugh’s first season as head coach in Ann Arbor a success.

At 6’5” and 292 pounds, Cole possesses the sheer physical size needed to be a standout left tackle. He’s already on pace to have a special career, so it’s perfectly logical to project a massive leap of progression for the former 4-star recruit. 

He started 12 games as a true freshman, a rare feat at Michigan. He was also the program’s first true frosh to start a season opener on the O-line. Considering the Wolverines tradition, that was an incredible accomplishment in itself.

Cole has demonstrated the ability to combat blitzes and clear lanes for backs. He is the future, at least right now.

Often the voice of reason and accountability during 2014, Miller faces the challenge of anchoring the line and the locker room as a senior. There’s a new coach in town, and players of the Miller mold typically assist in paving the way for a smooth transition. He’s been under Rich Rodriguez, Brady Hoke and now Harbaugh—his “been there, done that” mentality should come in handy.

The fact that he’s also one of the Big Ten’s most-improved players doesn't hurt, either.

The 6’4”, 299-pound center has started 16 times—12 times in 2014—and appeared in 22 games. He has experience in spades, relatively speaking, and he’s a respected leader, so it makes perfect sense to designate him as a key factor as the line enters spring workouts.

As the Harbaugh recruiting machine continues to roar, existing players will get left behind and buried deep within the depth chart—that’s just the nature of the business, regardless of school or conference. The best and most-prepared athletes will get reps.

Meanwhile, the 2015 class has three linemen due to arrive this fall, so spring will be critical for the likes of Juwann Bushell-Beatty and Logan Tuley-Tillman, a pair of former 4-star tackles who’ve yet to make a dent.

Bushell-Beatty, a 6’6”, 319-pound redshirt frosh-to-be, was part of Hoke’s lauded 2014 class. Tuley-Tillman, a 6’7”, 290-pounder, was part of the 2013 class but redshirted. He appeared in one game in 2014—Week 1’s 52-14 rout of Appalachian State.

Along with Ben Braden, a 6’6”, 322-pound redshirt junior-to-be, these guys will likely compete for top reps at right tackle.

Kyle Kalis, a 6’5”, 298-pound redshirt junior-to-be, seems to have the right guard position locked down, but the hyphenated ones could make a run at Kalis' starting spot if things don’t pan out versus Braden.

Graham Glasgow, a 6’6”, 311-pound senior-to-be, probably has the left guard spot in hand. But Erik Magnuson, a 6’6”, 294-pound senior-to-be, is right behind him. Of course, there is the slight chance that Harbaugh and offensive coordinator/O-line coach Tim Drevno could try Bushell-Beatty and/or Tuley-Tillman behind Glasgow.  

This is the year to figure out a consistent two-deep offensive line. Hoke and former O-line coach Darrell Funk never really had that, nor did they do an adequate job in attempting to establish such a thing. They paid dearly for that failure.

Harbaugh will too if he doesn’t immediately spearhead efforts to evolve the line from so-so into something.

 

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

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

Recruiting info comes courtesy of 247Sports. Stats and player information were obtained from BigTen.org and MGoBlue.com.

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Georgia Football: The Bulldogs' Top 5 2015 NFL Draft Prospects

Georgia normally does a good job of getting players to the NFL. Some of the top players in the league spent their college careers in Athens, such as Justin Houston, Charles Johnson, Thomas Davis, A.J. Green and Geno Atkins.

This year should be no different because there are some talented Bulldogs who are looking to help NFL teams in need. But who is the best prospect? Who will be the first Bulldogs taken when draft day arrives?

Here’s a look at the Bulldogs’ top five NFL draft prospects.

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Regrading Top 10 2014 College Football Recruiting Classes

We tend to focus on the future while examining college football's recruiting spectrum, but we can learn plenty from past classes. National signing day hauls that once dazzled or underwhelmed are ultimately judged by the impact they make on the program, which requires a few years to discover.

The top 2014 recruiting classes haven't yet revealed their true identities and will be the subject of studies down the line as young players step up (or don't). However, we're ready to provide our take on early returns from that cycle based on how things have developed during the past 12 months.

Here's a look at the top 10 classes of 2014, based on 247Sports' composite rankings and our assessment. We handed out grades—which are bound to change by the end of next season—based on immediate impact and potential.

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James Franklin's Modernization of Penn State Football

Welcome to the 21st century, Penn State.

Social media, satellite camps and relentless recruiting approaches have each been commonplace for big-time college football for the better part of the past decade. But between the employment of a head coach in his 80s and unprecedented sanctions stemming from the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Penn State lagged behind—the departure of Bill O'Brien after just two seasons only seeming to complicate matters.

But as James Franklin addressed the media during national signing day on Feb. 4, the Nittany Lions head coach raved of his 25-man class, praised the efforts of his staff and provided a timeline for how his team's latest haul came together. More importantly, Franklin's press conference seemingly ushered in a new era in approach for Penn State football.

In just one year, Franklin has proved to possess a foresight that hasn't otherwise been seen in the history of Happy Valley. He knows the value of recruiting, and the emphasis he places on it certainly exceeds that of his predecessors.

"We believe that everything in our program is about relationships," Franklin said at his signing day press conference. "And that starts through the recruiting process."

Hired on Jan. 11, 2014, following O'Brien's New Year's Eve decision to head to the Houston Texans, there wasn't enough time for Franklin to turn his first class at Penn State into his own. But with a year to instill his philosophy into his new program, Franklin is finally modernizing Penn State football, which was evident throughout the construction of the Nittany Lions' latest class.

 

Recruit, Recruit, Recruit

At Ohio State, Urban Meyer often calls recruiting the "lifeblood" of his program. At Alabama, Nick Sabanonce bemoaned the amount of time the national championship game kept him away from the recruiting trail. At Oregon, the Ducks have more than 17,000 uniform combinations, all of which are aimed at catching the eyes of potential prospects.

At Penn State, recruiting has always been important and an area where the Nittany Lions have typically had success. But never has it been approached with the intensity of Franklin, who honed his recruiting acumen in the dog-eat-dog world of the SEC in three seasons at Vanderbilt.

"A lot of the things that they are doing, Penn State wasn’t doing before. I think you can say they modernized Penn State’s recruiting plan," PennLive.com and FightOnState.com recruiting analyst Greg Pickel told Bleacher Report. "I don’t think the previous staffs here were really doing the things that Urban Meyer was doing, that Nick Saban was doing, that Chip Kelly was doing when he was at Oregon."

As Pickel explained, those practices extend from the age in which Franklin and his staff are willing to recruit a player, to the amount of effort that they put into his recruitment. Franklin has also shown a willingness to extend the Nittany Lion footprint beyond traditional Penn State borders, which wasn't embraced by previous regimes.

"Penn State really lagged behind in that department when it came to how to host kids for official visits and best practices when it came to what they had to do at junior days," Pickel said. "I don’t think Penn State’s older staff really had a firm grasp on that and James Franklin and his staff really do. There is some SEC twinge to their recruiting plan.

"It’s certainly a lot of the way he operated at Vanderbilt, which is you blanket the areas that are going to be best to you in recruiting, and then you get guys out of satellite areas to recruit. Areas that you may not always land a kid from, but once a kid comes up from that area you want to reach, you certainly want to be familiar with the head coaches."

Of the 25 players who comprise Penn State's 2015 class, only 11 hail from Pennsylvania. There isn't a player who embodies Franklin's willingness to think outside the box more than junior college transfer Paris Palmer, a North Carolina native who could find himself playing right away next season.

“Penn State’s not typically a JUCO school," Pickel noted. "But if you go back to the idea of modernizing, they weren’t a JUCO school, they had a need they had to fill and they did it, even if that’s something Penn State hasn’t really ever done in the past except for a few rare instances.”

Forward thinking like that has already shown up in the Nittany Lions' 2016 class, with Franklin securing a commitment from 4-star cornerback Lavert Hill. Penn State hadn't previously successfully recruited a player from the Detroit area since Anthony Adams in 1998.

As Franklin's time at Happy Valley extends, look for his recruiting hold to only grow.

 

Social Media Star

It wasn't until Franklin came to State College that Penn State football established a social media presence, and boy, did it ever. Posting a picture of his own face morphed with that of an an actual lion's, the Nittany Lions' new head coach announced his arrival in a Twitter post that instantly went viral.

But while Franklin's tweets tend to draw attention to the program—just as they are intended to do—social media also serves another purpose for the Penn State program. Just as they have for other schools around the country, Twitter and Facebook have provided the Nittany Lions with another platform to communicate with prospects, which they weren't previously utilizing.

"When Bill O’Brien got here, we saw them kind of get closer to what the national picture looks like for teams like Ohio State, Alabama, Florida and the who’s who of the college football world, but it wasn’t until Franklin arrived that these guys really started using social media," Pickel said. "Penn State’s old staff had social media profiles but they hardly used them and kids didn’t know where to find them. All these guys now for Penn State, they take full advantage of these platforms to contact juniors."

Offensive line coach Herb Hand has become a social media star in his own right, accumulating more than 23,000 Twitter followers while regularly interacting with fans and media members alike on the platform. And as evidenced by the fast start the Nittany Lions got off to on the recruiting trail last year and the four players Penn State already has committed in its 2016 class, the Internet efforts of Franklin's staff already appear to be paying off.

 

Satellite Camps

It wasn't just Franklin's photoshopped tweet that made waves in 2014, but the news that the Penn State staff was holding satellite recruiting camps away from its own campus. Last June, Franklin and his staff set up shop in the South, taking the message of Penn State football straight to the prospects.

"They did one in Florida and one in Georgia last year, that maybe got the name of Penn State out to kids that can’t afford to go to Penn State for a camp," Pickel said. "So the camp was Penn State without [the prospects] going to a camp."

“If we get one player from this camp,” Franklin said, via Matt Hayes of SportingNews.com. “It’s worth it.”

Penn State didn't ultimately land a player from either Georgia or Florida in its 2015 class, but data shows why it was wise for the Nittany Lions to build their brand in the Southeast. According to a study performed by SaturdayDownSouth.com, Florida and Georgia produced the two highest percentages of 2015 Division-I signees relative to their state populations.

According to HamptonRoads.com, Penn State will team up with Old Dominion to host a recruiting camp in Virginia later this year, although neither school is yet to confirm. The idea of satellite camps isn't just a forward-thinking idea for Penn State, but the college football world in general.

 

Moving Forward

Although Penn State's latest recruiting efforts are a step in the right direction, the Nittany Lions are still in a state of playing catch up. This time last year, Penn State was thought to have the country's top class, but the Nittany Lions' 2015 haul ultimately wound up ranked 14th.

That's not bad—and actually ranks second in the Big Ten—but there still remains work to be done. After all, there's only so much success you can find off the field, without showing sustained success on it.

That was evident in Franklin's battles with Meyer on the recruiting trail, where he held firm in his own backyard but struggled elsewhere. As Pickel explained, the difference between Penn State and Ohio State is that when the Buckeyes miss on a kid, they have plenty of other places to look.

At the moment, the Nittany Lions don't have that luxury.

"James Franklin’s talked about this, maybe not Ohio State specifically, but the idea is that Ohio State can recruit nationally. And while Penn State’s getting closer to being able to do that, they’re not able to yet," Pickel said.

"If Penn State beats out Ohio State for two or three kids in the region or around both schools, that’s beneficial. But at the same time, Ohio State might be able to go to California or Florida or Texas and get a guy similar to that guy Penn State won the battle for. That’s not something Penn State’s able to do in reverse right now.”

With Penn State's bowl ban lifted and scholarship numbers fully restored, it would behoove the Nittany Lions to use their favorable 2015 schedule to continue to enhance their national brand. That's what it's going to take for Penn State to fully catch up with the Ohio State's and Alabama's of the world, as Franklin continues to try to even the playing field.

"Ohio State obviously has lots of tradition similar to Penn State, but in recent years, Ohio State has obviously been far and away the more results-friendly program," Pickel said. "Penn State's certainly in a position to put the wins together to help them recruit nationally, but it takes time."

In his quest to modernize Penn State, Franklin doesn't seem willing to wait.

"We're never satisfied. We always want more. You always want to do better. I love the guys that we got. I love the class that we put together, but we're never going to be satisfied. I told these guys, we're going to go out and recruit a class next year of guys to come in and take their jobs," Franklin said. "That's the mentality.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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5 College Football Teams Who Will Have Brand-New Offenses in 2015

Turnover. It's a drag. But it's part of the endless cycle of college football. Players come and go. 

Sometimes, they simply depart in larger numbers. 

In the following slides are teams that will have to significantly, if not completely, retool their offenses for the 2015 season. Whether it's the departure of a star player (or multiple star players) around which the offense was centered or a complete philosophical change, these five teams have a lot to work on over the next six months. 

Which offenses will look completely new in 2015? Here are five experiencing the effects of heavy turnover. 

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