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Dak Prescott Named 2016 Senior Bowl MVP: Latest Comments and Reaction

Mississippi State Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott was named the MVP of the Senior Bowl after completing 7 of 10 passes for 61 yards and a touchdown in Saturday's game.

The official Senior Bowl account tweeted this after the game ended:

CBS Sports has the senior quarterback as the sixth best signal-caller in the upcoming draft class and has him projected to be taken between the third and fourth round. 

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Senior Bowl 2016: Score and Twitter Reaction for College All-Star Game

The South All-Stars came out on top, 27-16, over the North All-Stars on Saturday at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, and several players seemingly boosted their draft stock in the process.

Chief among them was Mississippi State and South quarterback Dak Prescott, who completed seven of 10 passes for 61 yards and one touchdown to go along with 13 rushing yards on three carries en route to being named Most Outstanding Player, according to the Senior Bowl on Twitter:

North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz was among the most talked-about prospects in Mobile throughout the week, and he was the main focus of the first quarter as the North's starting signal-caller.

While Wentz didn't orchestrate any scoring drives, he completed six of his 10 attempts for 50 yards and rushed three times for two yards.

It wasn't a transcendent performance by any means, but according to NFL Network's Charles Davis, the fast-rising quarterback made quite a positive impression during his time at the Senior Bowl:

The South got on the board first with four minutes remaining in the opening quarter by virtue of a 25-yard touchdown run from TCU running back Aaron Green.

Green enjoyed a fantastic, under-the-radar season with 1,272 rushing yards and 12 total touchdowns for the Horned Frogs, and Davis is among those who have taken notice:

The South All-Stars tacked three more points onto their score near the end of the first quarter when Duke's Ross Martin drilled a 48-yard field goal.

The North finally got on the board with under three minutes remaining in the half by virtue of a seven-minute drive orchestrated by Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan.

UCLA's Ka'imi Fairbairn converted a 36-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 10-3, but moving the ball down the field wasn't necessarily easy for the North due to Eastern Kentucky pass-rusher Noah Spence's dominance on the drive for the South.

Spence was a disruptive force who managed to sack Hogan on the drive in impressive fashion, per Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

According to Peter Schrager of Fox Sports, his performance didn't come as much of a surprise considering how good he looked throughout the week during practice:

Per Davis, Spence received some high praise as one of the main attractions at the Senior Bowl:

If Spence was the most impressive defensive player, Prescott may have opened up the most eyes on the offensive side of the ball.

He took the reins under center for the South in the second quarter, and he didn't disappoint, as he was the only quarterback in the game to throw a touchdown until the very last play of the day.

The 2014 All-SEC selection conducted a 10-play drive in just two minutes and 34 seconds, culminating in a five-yard touchdown pass to Southeast Missouri State wide receiver Paul McRoberts to put the South on top 17-3 with 22 seconds remaining in the half.

David Helman of DallasCowboys.com praised Prescott for his ability to move the football down the field quickly and efficiently under the pressure of the clock:

As for McRoberts, the small-school wideout came to Mobile amid little fanfare, but he performed well in the Senior Bowl with three grabs for 24 yards and caught the eye of Bleacher Report's Matt Miller:

Unlike McRoberts, Ohio State quarterback-turned-wide receiver Braxton Miller was one pass-catcher who drew a crowd all week along.

His stat line in the Senior Bowl was pedestrian, as he caught two passes for eight yards, rushed once for five yards, returned one kick for 31 yards and returned a punt for two yards, but he was so good in practice that Dane Brugler of CBS Sports could see him cracking the first round in April's draft:

The North entered the third quarter facing a two-touchdown deficit, which prompted it to turn to USC's Cody Kessler at quarterback.

With Wentz receiving much of the attention in terms of quarterbacks, Kessler seized the opportunity to make NFL talent evaluators notice him.

Although he completed just four of his 10 passing attempts for 45 yards, he put on a gutsy display with a one-yard touchdown run with less than two minutes left in the third quarter to pull the North within 10 points of the lead.

During the game, NFL draft analyst Mike Mayock compared Kessler to a Cincinnati Bengals signal-caller who started to establish himself as one of the best in the league in 2015:

Kessler's showing was somewhat of a surprise from the perspective of South Florida Sun-Sentinel writer Omar Kelly since he didn't light it up during the practices leading up to the Senior Bowl:

The South team's third-quarter passer managed to stand out as well despite not putting any points on the board. Arkansas' Brandon Allen moved the ball down the field effectively, connecting on seven of 10 passes for 106 yards.

In fact, Steve Sullivan of KATV felt as though Allen showed more than any other quarterback in the game on the heels of a 30-touchdown season:

One of Allen's favorite targets in the third quarter was Kansas State fullback and tight end Glenn Gronkowski, who is the younger brother of New England Patriots superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski. The aptly nicknamed "Baby Gronk" finished with three receptions for 47 yards and showed the potential to be an effective H-back at the next level.

The South All-Stars managed to put a bow on the game with just over six minutes left in the contest when Alabama's Kenyan Drake rushed for a one-yard touchdown to make the score 27-10.

Drake didn't make many of the explosive plays he became known for with the Crimson Tide, but as Alex Byington of the Decatur Daily pointed out, he contributed in multiple areas:

Although the game was out of reach at that point, the North didn't pack it in with Louisiana Tech quarterback Jeff Driskel under center. The former Florida signal-caller managed to turn in the best statistical day of any quarterback, with eight completions on nine attempts for 108 yards and one touchdown.

The score came on the final play of the game in the form of what was essentially a 29-yard Hail Mary to Michigan State wide receiver Aaron Burbridge.

According to NFL.com's Chase Goodbread, Driskel really showed off his arm on the play and ended the contest on a high note:

As is always the case, the Senior Bowl was an excellent showcase for experienced prospects who don't always receive the same level of hype that many of the underclassmen do.

A number of those who took part in Saturday's game made a strong case to be considered in the first round of the draft, with Wentz and Spence especially standing out in that regard. There is still a long and arduous draft process to come, including the combine, pro days and interviews with interested teams. Game action usually rules the day when it comes to evaluating players, though, and all 32 franchises were given plenty to look at and consider with regard to the Senior Bowl.


Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.  

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Tanner Lee to Nebraska: Latest Transfer Details, Comments and Reaction

Former Tulane quarterback Tanner Lee announced via his Twitter account Saturday that he has transfered to the University of Nebraska. 

Here is his announcement:

After two years at Tulane, the QB was granted his release by the school on Jan. 7. 

Lee does have some connections to Nebraska. Per Sam McKewon of Omaha.com, he worked with Nebraska's wide receivers coach Keith Williams, who coached at Tulane. 

Per 247Sports.com, Lee was the 75th-rated quarterback in the country coming out of the class of 2013. 

During his time at Tulane, Lee passed for 3,601 yards and had 23 touchdowns and 21 interceptions in 19 career games. In both of those seasons, Tulane went 3-9, struggling in the American Athletic Conference. 

His decision to leave Tulane was likely impacted by the school hiring Willie Fritz as the team's new head coach after the firing of Curtis Johnson. Formerly at Georgia Southern University, Fritz ran an option-style offense that led the nation in rushing last season. 

Lee, who is more of a pro-style passer that likes to stay in the pocket, would have had a difficult time in that offense. 

He has a powerful arm, though, and is capable of throwing the deep ball over plenty of defenses in the NCAA, as Fear the Wave shows:

At Nebraska, Lee will have more of an opportunity to show off his arm under head coach Mike Riley. Last season, Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. attempted 402 passes and threw for over 3,000 yards. 

Returning for his senior season, Armstrong will finish up his collegiate career while Lee sits out 2016 due to transfer rules. 

He is bound to have some competition in order to win the starting job, of course. At the moment, according to Nebraska's roster from last year, A.J. Bush and Zack Darlington will be juniors by the time Lee's ready to play. 

Lee will have an opportunity to acclimate to life in Nebraska during his year off and learn the offense inside and out. If the transfer goes well and he picks things up without a hitch, he could be the main man slinging passes in Lincoln come the fall of 2017. 


Stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com

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Cal Acknowledges Liability in 2014 Death of Football Player Ted Agu

The University of California has acknowledged its negligence in the 2014 death of defensive end Ted Agu. 

According to Kimberly Veklerov of the San Francisco Chronicle, Cal made its admission following testimony in a lawsuit filed by Agu's parents:

The admission comes after testimony in a lawsuit brought by Agu’s parents raised questions about the actions of Cal football personnel in the events that preceded his death. The testimony, given in confidential depositions, also detailed allegations that campus officials did not provide the Alameda County coroner’s office with all police and medical records after Agu died, including some that indicated he had sickle cell trait — a blood abnormality that experts believe can lead to death under extreme exertion.

Agu died Feb. 7, 2014, after collapsing during a training run outside California Memorial Stadium where the Golden Bears play their home games. 

Cal team physician Dr. Casey Batten told Josh Dubow of the Associated Press there didn't appear to be anything wrong with Agu after he was placed on a cart into the stadium: "He was on the back of the cart, he was talking, he was hydrating, he did not exhibit any labored breathing or other signs until he got to the north tunnel."  

In April 2014, per Henry K. Lee of the San Francisco Chronicle, the Alameda County coroner's office announced Agu died from the heart condition known as "hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or excessive thickening of the heart muscle."

Veklerov noted Cal's admission "does not necessarily signal a settlement," with one of Agu's parents' attorneys, Steve Yerrid, saying "there needs to be reform and meaningful change" as a result of his passing and the circumstances surrounding it. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Cal Acknowledges Liability in 2014 Death of Football Player Ted Agu

The University of California has acknowledged its negligence in the 2014 death of defensive end Ted Agu. According to Kimberly Veklerov of the San Francisco Chronicle , Cal ...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Doug Nussmeier Reportedly Will Remain Florida's Offensive Coordinator

According to Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman on Saturday, University of Florida offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier will be staying with the Gators next season. 

Per Feldman, he was the leading candidate for the head coaching vacancy at Southern Mississippi.   

Nussmeier doesn't have a history of staying in one place for long. Since his coaching career started in 2001, he's had nine stops around football, including stints in the Canadian Football League and the NFL as a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator. 

The 45-year-old has been an offensive coordinator since 2008, with stints at Fresno State, Washington, Alabama and Michigan before joining Florida in 2014. 

On a team that's built a reputation for its defense the past couple of years, Nussmeier's offense hasn't exactly seen overwhelming success at Florida.

His unit ranked 111th in the nation in total offense last season. Much of that had to do with the suspension of quarterback Will Grier for performance-enhancing drugs. But the year before, the Gators were ranked 96th, so the drop wasn't exactly dramatic. 

Even so, Southern Mississippi was still high on Nussmeier after the departure of head coach Todd Monken, who took a job as offensive coordinator with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. According to Football Scoop, Nussmeier met with Southern Mississippi on Wednesday, and the meeting went "very well." Sources told the website that he was a strong candidate for the job. 

His return to Florida could provide a weight off of head coach Jim McElwain's shoulders, however. The Gators already have to find a replacement for defensive backs coach Kirk Callahan, who McElwain announced would not be returning to the program on Jan. 15. 

Adding another coaching search to an already hectic time of year could have affected Florida's productivity. With national signing day just around the corner on Feb. 3, some offensive recruits might have thought twice about their decision to commit to Florida hadNussmeier left. 

Now, though, the Gators can rest easy knowing that their plans on the offensive side of the ball can continue as planned.


Stats courtesy of NCAA.com 

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Devery Hamilton Switches Commitment from Michigan to Stanford

Prized offensive tackle recruit Devery Hamilton shocked the University of Michigan on Saturday by switching his commitment to Stanford despite agreeing to play for the Wolverines in June.

According to Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports, Hamilton made the decision during an in-home visit from Cardinal head coach David Shaw on Friday.

Per 247Sports, Hamilton is a 4-star prospect who rates as the No. 22 offensive tackle recruit in the entire nation.   

According to Wiltfong, Hamilton's assistant coach at Gilman High School in Baltimore, Henry Russell, said schooling played a big role in the offensive lineman's decision to flip.

"I think just the academics that Stanford has to offer and his parents having a family friend out there who can help make the distance more doable," Russell said.

Brandon Justice of Go Blue Radio touched on how significant the loss of Hamilton is from Michigan's perspective:

Also, Nick Baumgardner of MLive pointed out that losing commits has turned into a disturbing trend for the Wolverines:

Hamilton is a big, athletic tackle at 6'6" and 290 pounds, according to 247sports, and stealing him away from Michigan is a major coup for a Stanford team that relies heavily on its running game, spearheaded by Christian McCaffrey.

The switch is a somewhat interesting one considering Hamilton opted to go from head coach Jim Harbaugh's current team to the program he led prior to his stint as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.

Shaw convinced Hamilton to make a move completely across the country, which speaks to how respected the Stanford football program has become in recent years.

Harbaugh undoubtedly started that transformation, so in some ways, he played a role in his own demise with regard to Hamilton.

Michigan is still very much a program on the rise, even with Hamilton no longer in the fold, but replacing a player of his caliber this late in the recruiting process will be an extremely tall task for Harbaugh.


Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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Ranking Top New College Football Coordinators for 2016

This winter’s college football coaching carousel is nearly complete, after rolling to a stop and then lurching forward again when Southern Miss coach Todd Monken left to become a wide receivers coach with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Regardless, when the Golden Eagles hire a leader, they'll almost certainly finish hiring for the 2015-16 offseason. Head coaching hires are crucial to a program’s success, but almost as important are the assistants those coaches pick to make their program hum.

Think about it: Where would Clemson be without defensive coordinator Brent Venables or Oklahoma without offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley? Coordinators matter, and becoming one is often the final step before moving on to a head coaching role. Of the 27 FBS jobs filled thus far this offseason, only eight were claimed by coaches with prior head coaching experience. Getting the right hires as your offensive and defensive coordinators is highly important. Here’s a look at the best coordinator hires of this offseason.

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National Signing Day 2016: Top Uncommitted Recruits to Watch

Optimism among college football fans will be at a feverish high on Wednesday, Feb. 3, for national signing day. The top high school players in the nation will put ink to paper confirming the programs they will join as potential stars or saviors.

Several of the best prep prospects will reveal their chosen school on Wednesday, and many of them will be the gems of the lucky university's latest class of talent. 

Here's a look at the top uncommitted prospects to watch on national signing day. Player ratings are based on the 247Sports composite rankings. ESPNMediaZone.com has a list of its signing announcement coverage.


Rashan Gary, DT, Paramus Catholic (Paramus, New Jersey)

Rashan Gary isn't just the best uncommitted player heading into Saturday's signing flurry. He's the best prospect in the nation, period. A rare consensus No. 1, Gary is 293 pounds and clocks in at an absurd 4.74 seconds in the 40-yard dash. He's racked up 27.5 sacks over the past two seasons.

Gary will announce his decision at 1 p.m. ET Wednesday on ESPN2, per ESPN.com's Tom VanHaaren. Though most experts see him bolstering an already terrifying Michigan defense—79 percent of 247Sports' Crystal Ball experts see him becoming a Wolverine—there is a chance another school could steal him away.

Gary is making a weekend visit to Clemson, per TigerNet.com's Tony Crumpton. The Tigers have some enticing selling points, per Bleacher Report's Tyler Donohue:

The Tigers coaching staff, specifically defensive coordinator Brent Venables, have an opportunity to showcase a program that has quickly ascended college football's hierarchy. Clemson is 56-12 since 2011 and returns Heisman Trophy finalist Deshaun Watson at quarterback for at least one more season. 

Unlike other schools under his consideration, Clemson's coaches boast cohesiveness that's tough to locate elsewhere. Auburn, USC and Michigan each hired a new defensive coordinator this winter, forcing Gary and his mother to re-acclimate with a fresh presence.

The defensive line in particular has been crucial to Clemson's recent success. Though he plays on the interior, Gary might be keen to join a program that has developed studs like Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd, both of whom project as early picks in this year's NFL draft.

Other schools are of course still keeping tabs on him. 247Sports' Keith Niebuhr reported Gary had a chat with a notable Auburn freshman on Thursday:

Alabama, Ole Miss and Southern California are also still in the mix and have predictions from 247Sports' experts. Wherever Gary decides to go, he will certainly be the prize of that school's draft class and will spark a national conversation about its prospects' future prospects.


Derrick Brown, DT, Lanier (Buford, Georgia)

While Gary is the prize defensive tackle of the 2016 class, Lanier's Derrick Brown isn't very far behind in terms of talent or potential. He's the No. 4 prospect at the position and No. 9 overall. According to a report from Niebuhr, a source said Brown has winnowed his choices down to Alabama, Tennessee and Auburn However, Brown's mother refuted that claim, saying Mississippi State and Georgia are still potential landing spots, per AL.com's Drew Champlin.

"That's not true," Martha Brown said, per Champlin. "I don't know where that comes from, but that's not true. We will start calling universities that he's not interested in and let them know so they can offer a scholarship to someone else."

According to Niebuhr, Brown is set to reveal his decision at 3 p.m. ET Wednesday on ESPN.

It would be quite the coup if Tennessee could land Brown, beating out the allure of playing for a perennial contender in Alabama or the home-state advantage enjoyed by the Bulldogs. The Volunteers have been a mediocre outfit for the better part of the last decade, though they've steadily improved under current coach Butch Jones and finished 9-4 in 2015, their best record since going 10-4 in 2007.

Fox Sports' Michael Wayne Bratton noted that Brown is one of three talented players making a quick final visit to Tennessee on the weekend.

"Three uncommitted 5-star prospects expected to be in Knoxville this weekend include: U.S Army All-Americans defensive tackle Derrick Brown and defensive back Nigel Warrior as well as Under Armour All-American offensive lineman Landon Dickerson," Bratton wrote.

Having other talented players around during the trip might sway Brown, convincing him the Vols are a team indeed trending in the right direction. However, the other schools mentioned have all enjoyed greater success as of late.

The majority of experts (53 percent) are picking Brown to stay close to home and join Georgia, while Alabama certainly could have openings in the middle of the defensive line, with Jarran Reed and A'Shawn Robinson projecting as top NFL prospects for this year's draft.


Ben Davis, ILB, Gordo (Gordo, Alabama)

Alabama is always a hotbed of football talent, and Ben Davis is the best of this year's bunch from the state. He's the No. 1 inside linebacker in the 2016 class and the No. 10 prospect overall.

Naturally, the Crimson Tide are the favorites to land his signature, with 100 percent of 247Sports' Crystal Ball experts expecting him to join coach Nick Saban's dynastic program. Not only are they the home-state powerhouse, but Davis' father, Wayne Davis, played football for Alabama, and it's no secret he's been encouraging his son to play there.

"No matter who it is—Florida, LSU, Georgia—I'm pushing Ben to my alma mater," Wayne said in October, per Champlin. "I've been open with them about that."

Davis is such a special talent that other schools of course haven't given up on winning him over, even late into the process. NBC Sports' Keith Arnold noted Notre Dame made quite the pitch to Davis recently, and a strong recruiting presence was a key part of that:

Credit first-year assistant Autry Denson for making the in-roads with Davis. The blue-chip linebacker told Irish 247's Tom Loy that he views Denson as a brother and that they'll "maintain a friendship for life." That's the type of recruiter Notre Dame needed when they replaced Tony Alford, and Denson did a heckuva job with his young position group, too.

Kelly's sales pitch to Davis is probably more true than even Irish fans want to acknowledge. While Nyles Morgan is the heir apparent to Joe Schmidt in the middle of the Irish defense, to think there isn’t room for a prospect like Davis in a linebacking corps that returns only James Onwualu (10th on the defense in total snaps) to the starting lineup would be under-appreciating Davis' talent.

While Davis is still likely to join Alabama, Crimson Tide fans can't count him among their crop of talent just yet. There is still time for this young man to make a shock decision.


All player stats, measurables and rankings courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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Keith Gavin to Florida State: Seminoles Land 4-Star WR Prospect

Class of 2016 4-star wide receiver prospect Keith Gavin announced he has committed to the Florida State Seminoles on Friday night.

Gavin posted to Twitter a statement along with a photo of himself with members of the Seminoles coaching staff:

Coming out of Wakulla High School in Crawfordville, Florida, Gavin is the 19th-ranked prospect in the state and the 17th-ranked wide receiver in the nation, according to 247Sports' composite ranking

Gavin provides a menacing presence from the wide receiver position. At 6'3", 211 pounds, Gavin is a strong pass-catcher who will impose his will on defenders all around the ACC. 

Even with that kind of size, Gavin exhibits above-average athleticism due to his quick feet. He's able to create space with that kind of agility as well as get by potential tacklers. 

He's received comparisons to professional receivers like the Pittsburgh Steelers' Martavis Bryant, according to Elite Scouting Services.

One drawback that he does have is his speed. He isn't the fastest receiver, and as Scout.com describes it, Gavin "does not have a second gear." 

Still, if he is able to get even stronger and simply outmuscle defenders, speed won't be the most important thing. As long as he continues to provide a strong set of hands and be a big, reliable target, Gavin is going to see plenty of success at the next level with FSU. 

Florida State's passing attack will get a boost in Gavin, who will be looking to help the Seminoles improve on the aerial game's ranking of 38th last season. 

The Seminoles will be returning leading receiver Travis Rudolph, who recorded almost 300 more yards than second-leading receiver Jesus Wilson despite Rudolph having just one more reception.

Adding Gavin could give Florida State a chance to continue to open its passing attack. It will only help its offense, which was anchored by the stellar play of running back Dalvin Cook last season. 

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Jim Harbaugh Comments on Michigan's Recruiting Philosophy

University of Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh broke his silence on the recent happenings of his recruiting class on Friday. 

Harbaugh and his coaching staff have fallen under siege after some recruits found out "that their offers were no longer guaranteed," according to Dan Murphy of ESPN.com. 

Per Murphy, Harbaugh is keeping a close eye on those who verbally committed to Michigan, making sure that their grades, play on the field and character outside of school remain unmarked. 

"We're very much out there," Harbaugh told Murphy. "We don't hide how we operate and what we do. It's a meritocracy with everything we do in our program. It's going to continue to be that."

Basically, if a recruit continues to get good grades in class, play football well and give back to the community, his offer will stay on the table. If grades, performances and/or character drop, then the offer might not be kept.

According to Murphy, two high school seniors over the last two weeks were notified by the Michigan coaching staff that their offers weren't set in stone. 

One recruit, defensive end Rashad Weaver, delved into his experience with Harbaugh and Michigan on his Twitter:

While this might be new to some, Rivals.com's Josh Helmholdt has seen this before from Harbaugh when he was head coach at Stanford from 2007-10, as he told James Hawkins of the Detroit News:

My assumption is this was their plan from the beginning. Take guys early and then figure it all out at the end. Our beat writer who covers Stanford when Harbaugh was hired a year ago had mentioned that this was kind of his M.O. at Stanford. You look at guys and if they're good enough, offer them and we'll figure it out in the end.

In a way, Harbaugh is toying with these young men who are aspiring to play college football. Pulling out their offers at the last minute could be disastrous for their future plans. 

On the other hand, he isn't simply handing out free passes to Michigan. If the recruit doesn't live up to the rules or values set by Harbaugh and his coaching staff, they have a right to take the offer away. 

It was imperative for Harbaugh, though, to make sure these prospects knew this was the way things are run at Michigan. 

He will not be able to comment on particular recruits due to NCAA rules, but according to Murphy, when he was asked whether or not he had communicated these ideals to his recruits, Harbaugh simply said "yes." 

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Kyle Whittingham, Utah Agree to New Contract: Latest Details and Reaction

Utah Utes head football coach Kyle Whittingham has signed a two-year extension at $3.3 million per season to remain with the team through 2020, per Barrett Sallee of Bleacher Report.

Whittingham has led Utah since 2005, compiling a 94-46 record with a 9-1 record in bowl games, which include the 2005 Fiesta Bowl as co-head coach with his predecessor Urban Meyer. Under Whittingham's leadership, the Utes claimed the 2009 Sugar Bowl after upsetting the No. 4 Alabama Crimson Tide, 31-17.

Kyle Goon of the the Salt Lake Tribune put the terms of Whittingham's contract into a financial perspective:

Utah released a statement (via Mark Green of Fox 13 Now) with comments from Whittingham:

“I am grateful for the support and commitment shown by [Utah Director of Athletics] Chris Hill and President Pershing with this contract extension,” he stated. “It gives further stability to our football program and what we are trying to accomplish. We are excited about the future here at Utah and the recruiting class we will sign next Wednesday.”

The head coach has been successful at Utah, but he it's not like he took over a downtrodden team. In the previous two years Meyer wen 22-2. However, Whittingham deserves credit for keeping the program afloat. His nine bowl appearances in 11 years are unprecedented for a school that had played in only 11 bowls prior to his arrival, despite forming a team in 1892.

After a 6-0 start in 2015, Utah was ranked No. 3 in the AP Top 25 poll and had 16 first-place votes. However, three losses in five games dropped it out of the elite-team discussion, but the season ended well with a 10-2 record and 35-28 victory over rival BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Questions about next season lie ahead for Whittingham and the Utes. They return six of their eight defensive linemen from last year, which had what was considered one of the best defensive lines in the nation, per Matthew Piper of the Salt Lake Tribune. However, they lose 79 percent of their rushing yards, 62 percent of their receiving yards and all of their passing yards for 2015.

If Whittingham can win 10 games again, there is no doubt he will have earned his new contract.

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Which Power 5 Conference Will Be the Most Difficult to Win in 2016?

Winning a conference title is the gateway to the college football playoffs, though it's not a guarantee since only four spots are available for five power leagues. It takes more than just being a conference champion, it requires overcoming tough competition that makes for a great resume.

But not too tough, or else a conference champion might have too many blemishes to earn a playoff bid. Just ask Stanford, which went 8-1 in the ultra-deep Pac-12 Conference, but because that gave it two losses, it was the odd team out of the hunt for a national championship.

As we start looking toward the 2016 season, it's important to remember that performance in league play will ultimately trump what teams do in nonconference games. The big early matchups that highlight the first few weeks of September should make for great action, but the winners or losers won't have sealed their fate yet because the more-important conference slate is still to come.

And that's where the overall difficulty of the conference comes into play.

USA Today's Jeff Sagarin rated every FBS conference or division at the end of the 2015 season, and it was no surprise the power leagues held the top nine spots. A look at the order they finished, though, also shows which ones were stronger than the rest.

How will these conferences stack up in 2016? There are several factors that will helps us determine which league will be the toughest to win next season.


Schedule Makeup

The Big Ten makes the move to a nine-game conference schedule in 2016, which will mean every team plays three crossover games instead of two. Because of this, many of the matchups between top teams from the East and West divisions that didn't happen last year will be on the docket.

For instance, in order for Iowa to defend its West title, it will not only have to outlast Northwestern and Wisconsin (both of which come to Iowa City), it must also outlast Penn State and Michigan from the East. Last season the Hawkeyes' crossover games were against Indiana and Rutgers. Consequently, East contenders Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State each play at least two of the West's 10-win teams.

"This is the template that everybody thinks is best going forward from a variety of perspectives," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney said last summer (h/t Paul Myerberg of USA Today).

This doesn't put the Big Ten on par with the Pac-12 in terms of schedule difficulty, but it gets it closer. The Pac-12, because it has only 12 schools, plays four crossover games as part of the nine-game league slate, and thus the number of quality teams from either side that winds up dodging each other is minimal.

Additionally, an agreement made when the league expanded in 2011 ensures all four California schools face off each season, locking up two of their crossover matchups every year.

The ACC and SEC remain entrenched with an eight-game league schedule, allowing for only two crossover games per season, and each also has pre-determined crossover series between “traditional rivals” such as Auburn and Georgia in the SEC and Florida State and Miami (Florida) in the ACC.

And then there's the Big 12, which with its 10-team lineup is able to play a true round robin. That would change if the conference opts to expand, though the approval to have a league title game without having 12 teams (or two divisions) is likely to quell interest in that route.

The Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12's use of nine-game schedules does provide a minor advantage for half its teams, though, with some getting to play an extra home game, while others end up with five road games in conference play.


League Balance

The SEC's West Division retained its crown as college football's most difficult division, sending all seven teams to bowl games for the second year in a row and seeing six of them win. That included victories in the Cotton and Sugar Bowls, as well as Alabama's national championship.

After running through the gauntlet during the regular season, those bowl games probably felt like exhibitions for the West's teams. The same went for Alabama in the SEC title game, as the East Division was woefully weak in comparison to the West.

That could be the case again in 2016, especially with three schools (Georgia, Missouri and South Carolina) hiring first-time head coaches and all of whom come in with defensive backgrounds. Tennessee was the only East team to finish in the SEC's top half in total offense last season, making for a considerably lopsided league that led to a mismatch between Florida and Alabama for the title.

Unless the Vols or someone else dominates the East and holds its own in crossover games, it will have little shot to win the conference championship game.

The three other power leagues that are split into divisions were far more even in 2015, though the Pac-12 North and ACC Coastal tipped the scales a bit last year after previously being the second-class sides. The Coastal's rise should continue in 2016, thanks to the addition of well-regarded coaches Mark Richt (Miami), Bronco Mendenhall (Virginia) and Justine Fuente (Virginia Tech) to an already-strong list.

The Big Ten might be the most balanced league overall, though, with an equal number of contending teams, bottom feeders and those hoping to be the former instead of the latter.

The Big 12 is removed from this argument because of its one-division format, as well as its lack of a conference title game.


Returning Talent

What's coming back and what needs to be replaced is a much bigger factor for individual teams and their chance to win their leagues than for the conference as a whole. Every star player could end up needing to be replaced and that wouldn't make a league easier or harder to win, though the amount of starters and standouts that one team brings back over another might lessen the number or legitimate contenders.

For argument's sake, though, let's look at the number of top-tier players that each power conference is in line to have back for 2016. In terms of players who made at least one of the most notable All-American teams, the SEC has the most returning star talent with seven 2015 All-Americans. The Big Ten is second, with five, while the ACC and Big 12 return three apiece. In December, USA Today's Dan Wolken asked which conference was the best based on coaches:

Bringing up the rear is the Pac-12, which has just two All-Americans set to return in 2016. Stanford's Christian McCaffrey ended up making different teams as either a running back or all-purpose player, so you could technically credit the Pac-12 with three.

Ultimately, the overall strength of a league and its difficulty is going to be determined more by the new stars and starters and how their respective teams maximize their talents.



The more conference games a team has to play, the harder it's going to be to win that league. Along with the quality of the opponents it'll face, these are the two key factors in determining overall conference strength and difficulty.

And those are the two reasons the Big 12 will be the hardest to come out on top of in 2016.

It has taken eight wins to claim the Big 12 title each year since the league dropped down to 10 teams in 2011, when it also increased from eight to nine conference games. No team has gone unbeaten since the switch, and twice an 8-1 record was only good enough for a share of first place.

The Pac-12 has had an 8-1 division champ every season since expanding, but it has also had one with at least two or three losses each time as well. The Big Ten has had several unbeaten division champs since reaching 12 teams, and again at 14, but the increase to nine games will make it harder to emerge unscathed.

It's not enough to make the Big Ten tougher than the Big 12, though, because without a true round robin, there are still chances to dodge tough opponents.

The size of  the ACC and SEC should make them among the tougher to win, but only playing eight games holds more weight than anything else.

The Big 12 may eventually join the rest of the power conferences and add schools, host a title game or both. If and when that happens, it might make the league less daunting to get through, but for the time being, its uniqueness helps make it the most difficult conference to win for the 2016 season.


Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Re-Ranking Top College Football Recruiting Classes from 2012

As we head into the final hectic weekend before national signing day, all of the nation's top programs are competing for the chance to sign one of the best classes of the entire 2016 cycle.

Fans will be focused on their schools getting into the recruiting rankings' coveted top spots, where consensus blue-chip prospects make up a bulk of the signing day hauls.

But highly rated classes don't always turn out to be highly successful ones on the field. So now with four seasons of action under their belts and the vast majority of the players either now at the next level or on their way to the draft, let's take a look back at the 2012 recruiting cycle and re-rank the Top 10 classes.

These re-rankings are based on the on-field success of a class—overall win-loss record in four seasons, conference championships, national title contention, individual awards and accomplishments and impact on the NFL draft. It's a similar system to the one Bleacher Report colleague Ben Kercheval used in his Top 10 classes of the past decade from earlier this week.

In hindsight, who do you think had the best 2012 class? Let us know in the comments below.

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Early Predictions for SEC Football's 2016 Stat Leaders

A linebacker will not lead the Southeastern Conference in tackles, a cornerback won’t top the league in pickoffs and the newly established single-season rushing record might not last long.

There are still more than 200 days until the start of the 2016 college football season, and a lot of players will need time to adjust to the numerous new coaches and coordinators, but the SEC already has some clear front-runners when it comes to who will eventually lead the league in its individual statistical categories.

Granted, a few of them will be obvious, but if nothing these are the established players everyone else will try to top.



Running back is one of those positions where an incoming player can make an immediate impact, but the SEC is already solid at that position.

The SEC’s leading returning rusher from 2014 was Georgia’s Nick Chubb, who was one of only two running backs to average more than 100 yards per game.

Of the SEC’s top 15 rushers in 2014, quarterbacks included, nine returned the following season. Only five were in the top 15 again, with Chubb and Jonathan Williams of Arkansas both suffering season-ending injuries. 

Alabama ball-carrier Derrick Henry was the league’s first 2,000-yard rusher, and LSU’s Leonard Fournette almost certainly would have joined him had the Tigers’ season opener not been cancelled due to inclement weather.

Even though he’ll have two new offensive tackles blocking for him in 2016, look for LSU to do whatever is necessary to make sure that Fournette tops Henry’s 2,061 yards next season.

“Just in the back of my mind, just knowing what we have, no doubt we—to me we have the most athletes of any college, and just come out next year firing,” Fournette said during his postgame press conference at the Texas Bowl, where had had 212 rushing yards and five total touchdowns against Texas Tech. 



The NCAA uses efficiency rating to determine its passing champion, and the top SEC quarterback over the last two years will surprise a lot of fans: Alabama’s Blake Sims in 2014 and Arkansas’ Brandon Allen this past season.

Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly will be the top returning player, and second on that list is Georgia's Greyson Lambert, who had much better numbers in nonconference play but will be in a quarterback competition under new head coach Kirby Smart.

The player who may improve the most is Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs, but that’s easier said than done. Although Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott clearly improved as a passer this past season, his rating was essentially the same (151.7 in 2014, 151.0 in 2015).

The SEC’s reputation for not having top quarterbacks will likely continue for at least another year as some of the new quarterbacks develop. Kelly is the player to beat, though, and he’ll have to lead an offense that has to replace nearly every other starter.



No one came close to matching Amari Cooper’s numbers from 2014 (8.86 catches per game, 123.4 yards), but Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk and Alabama’s Calvin Ridley both posted very strong numbers during their respective first seasons. Florida’s Antonio Callaway also lead the league in yards per catch (19.4).

Mississippi State’s Fred Ross will return as the SEC’s reigning receptions-per-game king, yet won’t have Prescott or receiving partner De’Runnya Wilson, who stretched the field. He’ll also go from being one of the smallest receivers on the Bulldogs roster to the biggest, which will likely mean different assignments.

The only returning player to be listed in the top 15 in receptions in both 2014 and 2015 was Texas A&M’s Josh Reynolds, even through he had eight fewer touchdowns this past season. He and Kirk will likely be the league’s top tandem again in 2016, with the former the favorite to lead the SEC statistically.



There are two names in particular to keep an eye on in 2016. Both are already established among the SEC’s league leaders, yet neither will play linebacker.

Texas A&M safety Armani Watts was second with 9.7 tackles per game and will have a whole year under his belt in coordinator John Chavis’ scheme.

Meanwhile, right behind him in 2015 was South Carolina’s Skai Moore with 9.3. He’s been the Gamecocks' leading tackler the last three seasons while playing linebacker, but new head coach Will Muschamp will increase his responsibilities and use him some at safety.

“When we’re in our regular package, he may be able to play some safety and be able to increase his role as far as playing in space,” Muschamp told the State's Josh Kendall. “He’s got a pretty wide skill set.” 

With South Carolina’s offense expected to be poor, Moore could end up making a lot of tackles next season.



This is the easiest prediction to make, as Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett was first in the SEC this past season (12.5) after finishing second the year before (11.5).

His biggest competition figures to come from Alabama, which led the nation in sacks in 2015. Defensive lineman Jonathan Allen notched 12, but he won’t have Jarran Reed and A’Shawn Robinson drawing double-teams any more. The real player to watch is Tim Williams, who had 10.5 sacks as a specialist and hopes to land a full-time role as an outside linebacker.

Ole Miss defensive end Marquis Haynes tallied 17.5 sacks during his first two seasons while playing alongside Robert Nkemdiche. Like everyone else, though, he’ll be hard-pressed to top Garrett, an elite athlete who could head to the NFL as a top pick in the 2017 draft with another strong season.


Pickoffs are extremely difficult to forecast because offenses will not challenge top defensive backs, especially once they know a player is adept at creating turnovers.

A perfect example is Auburn’s Jonathan Jones. In 2014, he had six interceptions and tied for the league lead with 18 passes broken up. This past season, though, he made just one interception and broke up 13 passes.

Nevertheless, the player to watch is Alabama strong safety Eddie Jackson, who this past year made the move from cornerback. He made six interceptions in 2015, which tied Georgia’s Dominick Sanders for the league lead, and returned two for touchdowns.

Opponents won’t be able to shy away from Jackson, though, because the rest of the Crimson Tide secondary should be a strength next season; Alabama used three freshmen at times in 2015—Marlon Humphrey (redshirt), Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison—and they are only going to get better.

Clemson went after them during the national championship game, but Harrison knocked away a pass in the end zone and Humphrey received the key onside kick. The defensive MVP, though, was Jackson. 

"I just wanted to come out there and help my team win a national championship," Jackson said. "That was the only thing on my mind. Like MVP wasn't on my mind at all to be honest. Just like Coach Saban says, dominate your box and do your job, so that's what I came out focused on."

Alabama led the league with 19 interceptions, four more than any other team (Ole Miss, 15), and is a solid bet to so again in 2016.


Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Brian Kelly's Contract Extension a Major Win for Notre Dame

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish may not have achieved their goal of getting to the College Football Playoff for the 2015 season, but they already have their biggest win for 2016. And that's keeping head coach Brian Kelly around for another six years. 

Or, at the very least, that's the extension Notre Dame and Kelly agreed to, via a Friday announcement on the team's official website. The new deal takes Kelly through 2021. Athletic director Jack Swarbrick said in a statement that Kelly, who took the Irish to the BCS National Championship in 2012-13, embodies everything the school wants in a coach:  

In the classroom, in the community and on the playing field, Brian has built the foundation of a great Notre Dame football program—one that reflects this University's values and its unique relationship to the game of football. I could not be more excited about the future of our football program under Brian's leadership, and I am especially thankful that our student-athletes will continue to have the benefit of that leadership in the years to come.

On the field, Kelly has done just about everything Notre Dame could want short of winning a national title. He's averaged nine wins a year, and the coaching job he did last season was one of the best by anyone in major college football. 

Look at this way: Notre Dame was four points away from finishing the 2015 regular season undefeated with the sixth-hardest strength of schedule according to Sports-Reference.com.

The Irish lost two road games: at Clemson (24-22) and at Stanford (38-36). The loss to the Tigers in monsoon conditions came down to a failed two-point conversion while the Cardinal kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired. Clemson would go on to play for the national title and Stanford would rout Iowa in the Rose Bowl. 

"Close enough" typically isn't good enough at Notre Dame, but the fact is Kelly had the Irish in a position to win every game and did so while dealing with a nearly unheard of number of injuries. In November, Brian Hamilton of Sports Illustrated laid out just how bad it was for the Irish in 2015: 

This year the attrition began early—defensive lineman Jarron Jones (knee) went down in preseason camp, lead tailback Tarean Folston (knee) exited in Week 1 and quarterback Malik Zaire (broken ankle) was lost in Week 2—and it never truly stopped. Against Boston College on Saturday, cornerback KeiVarae Russell suffered a fractured tibia and tailback C.J. Prosise—the senior who leapt from No. 2 to No. 1 after Folston’s injury and then amassed 1,032 yards—sprained his ankle in his first game back after a concussion. Maybe all this catches up to Notre Dame in northern California. It’s stunning enough that the Irish outran it to late November.

Keep in mind this was the short list of injuries. There were more. Many more. More than anyone should want to count. On a good day, Kelly was rolling with a B-squad. 

So, yes, an extension is in order—and it's timely, too. 

Not that Kelly was on the hot seat, but such an announcement provides an invaluable boost in recruiting. When Kelly goes into a recruit's living room or makes a final push before national signing day next week, he can assure a prospect there's no uncertainty surrounding his future. The Irish currently have the No. 9 class nationally according to 247Sports Composite rankings. Regardless of what happens in the next week, no one will question where Kelly stands with Notre Dame. 

Keeping Kelly around for potentially up to 12 years is rare in this day and age of college football, especially at a place with expectations as high as Notre Dame has annually. Zach Barnett of Footballscoop.com noted what this means historically if Kelly sees his contract all the way through to 2021. 

It goes without saying, but in a long lineage of great coaches, being put side-by-side with a guy like Knute Rockne in terms of longevity is huge for Kelly's legacy. 

Winning at Notre Dame now, in 2016, is much different than it was when Rockne coached in South Bend from 1918-30. The landscape of the game has shifted. Notre Dame's partial membership move to the ACC attempted to open up more recruiting access in Southern states.

Notre Dame's high academic standards can actually be a hindrance in recruiting, too. Kelly addressed this topic last June (via Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune) in the wake of an academic probe: 

I think we recognized that all of my football players are at-risk—all of them—really. Honestly, I don’t know that any of our players would get into the school by themselves right now with the academic standards the way they are. Maybe one or two of our players that are on scholarship.

So making sure that with the rigors that we put them in—playing on the road, playing night games, getting home at 4 o’clock in the morning, all of the demands that we place on them relative to the academics and going into an incredibly competitive academic classroom every day—we recognize this is a different group.

And we have to provide all the resources necessary for them to succeed and don’t force them into finding shortcuts.

I think we’ve clearly identified that we need to do better, and we’re not afraid to look at any shortcomings that we do have and fix them, and provide the resources necessary for our guys. Our university has looked at that, and we’re prepared to make sure that happens for our guys.

Notre Dame may have all the resources available to win at a high level, but that doesn't mean doing so is easy. Frankly, trying to win a national championship in South Bend these days is a grind, and Kelly has come close a couple of times. Short of hiring Nick Saban, Urban Meyer or Jim Harbaugh, Notre Dame has the best-equipped coach to not only handle, but thrive within, these circumstances. 

By giving Kelly six more years, Notre Dame is going hands off and letting him continue to build his program the way he wants to build it. After taking the Irish to one national championship and within a few points of a playoff appearance, he's earned that much trust. 

Before these next six years are up, here's betting Kelly has Notre Dame in position again. 


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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The Commitment: 4-Star Damian Alloway Reveals Decision with Hollywood Sign

Four-star running back and all-around beast Damian Alloway has finally decided where he'll play at the next level. Watch the Fontana, California, product reveal the lucky school in the video above.

Personalized song by Ghetty
Music courtesy of Entertainment One Music
Artist: The Game, featuring Drake
Song: "100" Itunes

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Power Ranking College Football's 10 Best Returning Running Backs for 2015

If star running backs made their big return to the forefront of college football in 2014, consider the 2015 season a victory lap for the nation's best rushers.

In 2015, Alabama's Derrick Henry became only the second running back in the past decade to win the Heisman Trophy, and he would go on to lead the Crimson Tide to a College Football Playoff National Championship. The Heisman runner-up was a running back—Stanford's Christian McCaffrey—and so were three others in the top 10 of voting.

The balance of power in college football's collective backfield is shifting toward the running backs, and the 2016 season could be another one dominated by rushing talent. Henry and Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott are off to the NFL, but college football still has a massive number of elite running backs coming back this fall.

Case in point: Narrowing down the returning talent at running back to a list of just 10 names was somewhat challenging. The following top 10 were ultimately selected based on their production from 2015 and their potential for 2016.

Does your top 10 look different? Have some other names you think will push their way into the awards picture in 2016? Tell us in the comments below.

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Inside Jim Harbaugh's Recruiting Surge at Michigan

Jim Harbaugh found himself four points shy of a Super Bowl XLVII victory on Feb. 3, 2013 at the Superdome in New Orleans. Exactly three years from the day his San Francisco 49ers fell to the Baltimore Ravens and older brother John Harbaugh, the 52-year-old has an opportunity to claim college football's recruiting crown. 

National signing day takes center stage Wednesday, Feb. 3, capping off the first full recruiting cycle for Harbaugh at Michigan. The former Wolverines quarterback, who returned to Ann Arbor as head coach in December 2014, has entered the final stages of an immensely impressive and routinely bizarre campaign with America's premier prospects.

When folks look back at this cycle for Harbaugh, they will undoubtedly remember a myriad headline-grabbing high jinks.

The high school class he attended alongside defensive tackle Boss Tagaloa. The tree he climbed during an in-home visit with cornerback David Long. A sleepover at the house of top-ranked kicker Quinn Nordin.

“We stayed up until 1:15, 2 o’clock. When I woke up in the morning, my mom made pancakes and waffles for Coach, and there we were, chowing down breakfast," Nordin told Steve Kaminski of MLive.com.

The kicker was a Penn State commit when Harbaugh arrived at his door that January night. Days shy of signing day, Nordin is no longer pledged to the Nittany Lions, and Michigan is the favorite to land him.

Yes, fans and detractors alike will recall the wacky tactics for years to come, though Harbaugh's out-of-the-box recruiting approach should hardly be a surprise considering his previous efforts at Stanford. But don't let these stunts overshadow the overarching theme of Michigan's 2016 recruiting trail.

Remember the rebound.

"2016 is just the beginning," Georgia linebacker and Wolverines commit Elysee Mbem-Bosse told Bleacher Report.

Harbaugh and his staff currently carry 26 commitments in a recruiting class rated No. 3 nationally in composite rankings. This success makes it easy to forget Michigan failed to secure a single 2016 pledge through the first three full months of a new regime.

In retrospect, that lull essentially served as the silence before the storm.

"It was crazy. It felt like really good players were joining our class almost every day for a while there," Indiana quarterback Brandon Peters said.

Peters, a U.S. Army All-American Player of the Year finalist, who enrolled early at Michigan in January, provided Harbaugh with his first verbal pledge from a 2016 recruit. It occurred during an early April gathering in an Ann Arbor restaurant that included Peters' parents and Jack Harbaugh, who spent four decades coaching college football while serving as a mentor to sons John and Jim.

"We were just sitting at dinner, talking about Michigan football, and [Jim Harbaugh] brought up my recruitment. He asked, 'How'd you like to come play for us?' I told him I'd love to," the prized passer recalled.

Of course, the conversation included a little flair.

"He compared me to Andrew Luck," Peters said, referring to Harbaugh's former Stanford pupil and eventual No. 1 NFL draft pick.

From that point, Michigan gradually gained momentum. By the end of spring, Peters was joined by several standouts, including Indianapolis running back Chris Evans, Detroit offensive lineman Michael Onwenu and Florida defensive back Josh Metellus, in an expanding talent haul.

"This class will be the No. 1 recruiting class by national signing day," Metellus said one week shy of the annual event.

The group currently sits ahead of Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida State and Notre Dame in composite class rankings. Those are programs that each participated in at least one national championship game since 2013. 

Michigan didn't come close to knocking on the door as a title contender in the seasons preceding Harbaugh's arrival. While he led San Francisco to three conference championship games between 2011 and 2014, the Wolverines' struggles mounted under former head coach Brady Hoke.

Hoke led Michigan to 11 wins, including a Sugar Bowl victory, during his debut 2011 campaign. His win total dropped to eight in 2012, then seven in 2013, and he failed to survive a 2014 season that saw the Wolverines finish below .500 for the third time since 2008, the first year of Rich Rodriguez's brief tenure in Ann Arbor.

That's three losing seasons in seven years. Michigan hadn't previously suffered one since 1967. The Wolverines slumped to a 24-32 record against Big Ten Conference opponents during this span.

Harbaugh, moving on from a messy situation of his own in San Francisco, returned to a program that looked like damaged goods. University administration, and arguably the Big Ten as a whole, needed him to emerge as the knight on a white charger depicted by Michigan fans across America.

Months shy of his first game as the Wolverines' leader, Harbaugh already commanded attention from elite high school stars. Though they grew up during a rough era for Michigan, many prospects anticipated a fresh start for one of the country's most recognizable college football brands.

"Michigan is going to do great things in a couple years. You may not see it this season, but Michigan will be an up-and-rising program soon," No. 1 overall 2016 recruit Rashan Gary said in April.

Harbaugh managed to serve up immediate evidence of the program's ascension despite working with a roster comprised predominately of Hoke-era holdovers. The Wolverines won 10 games for just the third time since 2004, finishing the season with an emphatic 41-7 victory over Florida in the Citrus Bowl.

“They definitely exceeded expectations. They surprised me," Peters admitted. "I didn’t really know how much talent Michigan had, but it just shows how good of a coach Harbaugh is. He can develop players; he can change their mindset and the way guys think about the game.”

Prospects like Peters are drawn to Harbaugh's perceived ability to prepare college players for a professional career. When you're discussing future aspirations with top-tier recruits, an eventual NFL payday is routinely part of the long-term plan.

"You're going to get coached on an NFL level, and your football IQ will be high, if not the highest, coming out of college," Mbem-Bosse said.

It's not just Harbaugh who is compelling prospects from this standpoint. His group of assistants is loaded with cumulative NFL experience, including former San Francisco 49ers offensive line coach Tim Drevno, former Jacksonville Jaguars offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, former Philadelphia Eagles safeties coach Mike Zordich and former Buffalo Bills running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley.

"Coach Harbaugh and his staff set themselves apart with me by installing a pro-like system," defensive end commit Ron Johnson said.

Added Peters, "You’re learning from the best with that entire staff. Why would you not want to play for Harbaugh?"

Even recruits who escaped Michigan's grasp during this cycle expressed respect for the resumes of the Wolverines' leadership.

"There's a lot to like about a head coach that has had success in the NFL. He got his team to the Super Bowl. That's as big as it gets," said 5-star linebacker Ben Davis, who is likely to land in the SEC.

Of course, his 44-19-1 record against NFL competition also provides a statement.

"Coach Harbaugh's system is a true pro system that gets you prepared for the NFL," top-ranked tight end Isaac Nauta said.

Nauta chose his home state Georgia Bulldogs over Michigan during the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 9, but the Wolverines countered that day by collecting a commitment from 4-star California wide receiver Dylan Crawford. Harbaugh and company continued to gain recruiting steam in the final full month of this cycle, securing a collection of January commitments that included Long (whose tree was scaled by Harbaugh), Florida wide receiver Eddie McDoom and New Jersey defensive tackle Michael Dwumfour.

Dwumfour became the fifth Garden State prospect to pick Michigan, joining DePaul Catholic High School teammate and early Wolverines enrollee Kareem Walker. Both are considered very close friends of Gary, who received his first scholarship offer in eighth grade and won't announce collegiate intentions until signing day.

"[Walker, Gary and I] are like brothers," Dwumfour told Brandon Justice of Maize n Brew. "We spoke about [playing together] when we were young, and Kareem brings it up a lot now. It would be great if we could."

Gary, a 6'5", 293-pound defensive tackle and the consensus No. 1 overall recruit, previously played for Michigan assistant Chris Partridge at Paramus Catholic High School. That relationship helped Harbaugh build a strong bridge between northern New Jersey and Ann Arbor, where the coveted lineman has spent significant time.

“They treat us like family. Coach Partridge knows how my mom is and knows how I am," Gary said following an unofficial summer visit. "He showed us everything we needed to see.”

Along with Dwumfour and Walker, a 4-star running back who ended his 10-month Ohio State commitment in November, the Wolverines landed fellow New Jersey teammates Ron Johnson and Brad Hawkins (Camden High School), and Atlantic City-area athlete Ahmir Mitchell, who is already on campus.

"They call us the Jersey Boys," Johnson said. "Whenever we all took visits to any school, it's something we would talk about. We wondered if there would be a right school for all of us, and we found the perfect one with Michigan."

It wasn't just Partridge who made an impact on the group. Naturally, Harbaugh was a driving force.

“He’s a great recruiter. He’s very hands-on and doesn’t like other people doing things for him. He was with us the entire visit," Mitchell said following a trip to Michigan last March.

Gary, who is also considering Clemson, Auburn, Alabama, Ole Miss and USC, is projected to sign with the Wolverines by 79 percent of experts' predictions in his 247Sports crystal ball.

"The Jersey Boys [are going to] bring that swag to Michigan, and there's gonna be lots of playing time between all of us," Johnson said. "I believe Rashan would top off this class and would add a little to the Jersey swag."

There's also an impressive contingent of Sunshine State products in the class, headlined by a trio of Flanagan High School standouts. Metellus, fellow defensive back Devin Gil and linebacker Devin Bush Jr. are each on board, bringing the Florida pledge total to six players.

"We will come in early and play," Metellus said. 

Though this Michigan class features athletes from 13 different states, the grouping of longtime friends and teammates is a common theme. The Wolverines have landed multiple commitments from three high schools (Camden, New Jersey; DePaul Catholic, New Jersey; Flanagan, Florida) and may manage an identical feat on signing day.

Tight end Devin Asiasi and the aforementioned Tagaloa, teammates at California powerhouse De La Salle High School, took an official visit to Ann Arbor together in January. It wouldn't be a shock if both spurned an array of Pac-12 opportunities in favor of Michigan.

"One person is not going to win a championship, so I want as many dogs on our side as we can get," Johnson said. 

Using the past 11 months and three weeks as a sample size of Harbaugh's effectiveness on the recruiting trail, expect fireworks Feb. 3. He continues to leave an underwhelming, and oftentimes embarrassing, era of Michigan football fading in the rearview mirror.

Harbaugh won 10 games in 2015 with an abundance of players hand-picked by another staff. His second Wolverines recruiting class, one that will challenge for the top spot in signing-day rankings and could include America's most coveted prospect, represents the next step in Michigan's sudden surge.

“If the No. 1 player wants to come to Michigan, then we’re going to be on top soon," Peters said. "Something big is coming."


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

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USC Football: Grading Trojans' New Coaching Hires for 2016

Clay Helton wasn't a splash hire for USC, but neither was Pete Carroll when he took over the Trojans program for the 2001 season. All Carroll did was lead USC to one of the great dynasty runs in college football history. 

That's not to say Helton should be compared to Carroll as much as it makes the point that splash hires don't equal the right hires. Rather, what matters for Helton from here on out is the type of staff he puts together. By and large, Helton cleaned house from the Steve Sarkisian era and started over while bringing back a few familiar names to USC's program. 

Now that Helton's first staff is complete, it's time to grade* how he did assistant by assistant. Grades were handed out based on previous experience and results, program fit and any possible recruiting benefits. 

*The only coach not graded was Johnny Nansen, who remains at linebackers.

Below is a table of Helton's staff as it appears on USC's website, along with the number of years that assistant has been with the program: 


John Baxter

John Baxter, the veteran coach of more than 30 years, returns to USC to coach special teams and tight ends after spending 2015 at Michigan. Baxter has developed a reputation as one of the best special teams coordinators in college football, and the results reflect this. From 2010-13, the Trojans blocked 24 kicks and finished at or near the top of the Pac-12 in those categories each year. 

"He is one of the most respected coaches in our profession at any position," Helton said of Baxter in a release (via USC Trojans Ripsit Blog). "His units have been near the top of the collegiate special team efficiency rankings almost every year. Having worked alongside him in the past, I know Coach Baxter as one of the best teachers and skill developers in football today." 

Without a doubt, this is a big hire—even if it's special teams. Those shouldn't be overlooked and Helton didn't. 

Grade: A+


Ronnie Bradford

Ronnie Bradford comes to USC for the first time after coaching Louisiana Tech's defensive backs and special teams for the past three years. His background is mostly with the NFL, having served as a special teams and defensive assistant with the Denver Broncos for six years. 

This past season, Bradford coached safety Xavier Woods to a first-team All-Conference USA selection. Additionally, cornerback Bryson Abraham, who had three pick-sixes, was a second-team choice and Kentrell Brice and Adairius Barnes were honorable mentions. 

The Bulldogs finished fifth in C-USA in 2015 in pass defense by allowing 6.9 yards per pass attempt and second in the conference in '14 in the same category. 

In all, the Bradford hire gets a "solid" grade by Josh Webb of Inside Troy:

Grade: B- 


Neil Callaway

One thing Helton's staff isn't lacking is experience, and Neil Callaway is another example. The Trojans' new O-line coach has numerous stints in the SEC on his resume and most recently coached at Western Kentucky, which has finished in the top 10 nationally in total offense in each of the past two years. Additionally, the Hilltoppers ranked among the top teams in C-USA in sacks allowed. 

This is an important area for the Trojans. Youth and inexperience are no longer excuses up-front and quarterback Cody Kessler, who had a tendency to hold on to the ball too long at times, has moved on. The point here is that pass protection shouldn't be a huge issue. 

Run blocking has already shown signs of improvement, too. Ronald Jones II returns as one of the breakout stars at running back. Despite breaking in a new quarterback, this USC offense should be potent again thanks to the work being done up-front. The pieces are there for Callaway. Now can he deliver?

Grade: A-


Tyson Helton

Tyson Helton, the younger brother of Clay Helton, joins Callaway in moving from Western Kentucky to USC. As the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach with the Hilltoppers, Helton coached veteran signal-caller Brandon Doughty. As a sixth-year senior in '15, Doughty led the Football Bowl Subdivision with 5,055 yards passing, 48 touchdowns and finished second at 9.4 yards per attempt with a passer rating of 176.48. 

For his efforts, the younger Helton was named a finalist for FootballScoop.com's Offensive Coordinator of the Year Award. 

So yeah, Western Kentucky was prolific in the passing attack. That fits right in with what USC wants to (and can) do offensively. Helton's job primarily will be to tutor quarterback Max Browne and a group of other backups looking to emerge as the starter. 

Hiring family members can be tricky, but the resume is there for Helton. On paper, this looks like a thumbs-up hire. 

Grade: B

Tee Martin 

It's interesting to see Tyson Helton named the passing game coordinator while fifth-year assistant Tee Martin was promoted to offensive coordinator despite having little experience calling plays at the college level. Though to be fair, Helton only had two years of OC experience at Western Kentucky. 

Either way, this is easily the most uncertain hire (or in this specific case, promotion) Helton made. Martin is regarded as one of the top recruiters in college football. Last year, he was named the Pac-12 Recruiter of the Year by Rivals.com. However, his coordinator experience is limited to one year at Kentucky. (He was the Wildcats' passing game coordinator in 2011.) 

So why did Coach Helton make the move? At some point, Martin is likely going to be approached by someone to be an OC. By making that promotion himself and allocating duties, Clay Helton keeps Martin as a recruiter and doesn't put every aspect of the offense on him. 

Martin's promotion was going to happen sooner or later, whether at USC or somewhere else. Until he's proved, questions will be asked about his X's and O's acumen.

Grade: C

Clancy Pendergast

Clancy Pendergast was USC's defensive coordinator under former head coach Lane Kiffin for only one year, in 2013, but he did a great job. The Trojans finished second in the Pac-12 against the run and the pass and third in points per game allowed. Additionally, USC was good at getting off the field, ranking second in the conference in third-down conversions and first in red-zone conversions. 

Defense was a issue for USC last year. Though the Trojans weren't egregiously bad in any one category, they were susceptible to passing attacks (bad news in the Pac-12) and couldn't get a lot of pressure from their defensive line.

Those are two areas Pendergast will need to fix right away, but Helton is confident in Pendergast's ability to develop as much as he is in his play-calling abilities: 

Grade: A

Tommie Robinson

Rounding out the tri-coordinator team at USC is Tommie Robinson, who starts his second stint in LA after spending the last two years as the running backs coach at Texas.

The Longhorns didn't do many things right on offense in Charlie Strong's first two years in Austin, but the running backs situation was actually fairly solid. Sophomore D'Onta Foreman and freshmen Chris Warren III were Texas' top two rushers in yards per attempt. The only knock was that quarterback Jerrod Heard got the most carries because of his scrambling ability. 

Robinson will have a talented back to work with (Jones II), so his development over the next two to three years will be a major evaluator in the job Robinson does. 

Grade: C+


Kenechi Udeze 

Like Martin, Kenechi Udeze is being promoted from within. Last year, he served as an assistant strength and conditioning coach before being promoted to defensive line coach on an interim basis for the Holiday Bowl against Wisconsin. Just this week, he was named the full-time D-line coach. 

Promotions like these happen all the time. Great position coaches, coordinators and head coaches don't magically appear out of thin air; they all start somewhere and work their way up. That's what Helton did with Udeze, a former All-American defensive end and first-round draft pick out of USC. 

That being said, Udeze is unproved and is now in charge of a group that faces a lot of turnover from last year. The D-line may have been underwhelming in 2015, but it at least had veteran players. This year's group is talented thanks to young guys like Rasheem Green, but there are a lot of spots to be filled and no clear favorites just yet.

In short, Udeze will have a big challenge right away. The grade here is not based on Udeze being a "bad hire" per se, but rather the question marks surrounding that entire area of the defense. 

Grade: D+ 


Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com

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