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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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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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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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.
Most fans familiar with recruiting recognize the Big Three talent producing states of California, Florida and Texas.
More importantly, colleges across the country place importance on their recruiting efforts in those states.
That trio will remain a focus for college coaches in 2016, as 60 of the nation’s top 200 players overall in the 2016 class—including 12 5-star prospects—hail from those states.
But what other states join them as the territories with the most college-ready group of rising seniors?
Find out as we break down the five states that are producing the best players in the 2016 cycle.
There was little time to weigh options for T.J. Simmons. He knew what he wanted.
Get the offer from Alabama, appreciate the offer, accept the offer.
It only took a few hours for the 3-star wide receiver from Pinson, Alabama, to give his verbal commitment to Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide early Thursday afternoon. Simmons became the fourth player to commit to Alabama and the first receiver to pledge, per 247Sports.
At 6'2" and 180 pounds, Simmons has good size, good hands and, as a 3-star player, may be considered an underrated target by some. He had additional offers from Mississippi State, Cincinnati, Southern Miss and Arkansas State, among others.
Alabama saw a lot of potential in Simmons during the 2014 season, and Simmons is in a great situation where he can silence a ton of critics who only see his star rating. He is only the 11th 3-star player to commit to the Crimson Tide since 2014, per 247Sports. The Crimson Tide have had 54 players commit since 2014—13 of those being 5-star athletes and 30 being 4-star athletes.
According to Drew Champlin of AL.com, Simmons was an all-state receiver who nearly recorded 1,000 yards on only 43 catches, averaging better than 22 yards a catch. He scored 20 all-purpose touchdowns in helping Clay-Chalkville High School win a state championship.
In short, Simmons isn't a marginal talent.
Simmons was a big-play receiver as a junior, and much is expected of him in his senior year. Alabama is hoping he can be just as big of a weapon when he arrives in Tuscaloosa in 2016. Champlin said Simmons made several trips to Alabama for games last season. Pinson is roughly an hour drive away from Tuscaloosa.
Simmons, additionally, is Alabama's first in-state commit of the 2016 class, which could be an advantage for him. He will be called upon to be a player-recruiter, which is important in a state with several elite players still uncommitted.
The level of competition at receiver is always high, as Saban, offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and receivers coach Billy Napier do a great job of putting the best talent on the field. Simmons will be called upon to deliver his A game during every practice and every game.
Simmons hopes to follow the footsteps of Amari Cooper, DeAndrew White and the other receivers to wear crimson and white. In the meanwhile, look for Simmons to get better all-around as a receiver and target a few other players with Alabama offers. Among the in-state talents available are 5-star defensive end Marlon Davidson and 5-star linebackers Lyndell Wilson and Ben Davis.
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama football players have become somewhat of a staple in New York in the Nick Saban era.
Amari Cooper became the fourth Crimson Tide player in the last six years to be named a Heisman Trophy finalist when he finished third to Melvin Gordon and Marcus Mariota in 2014. AJ McCarron was a finalist in 2013, Trent Richardson in 2011 and Mark Ingram won the award in 2009.
It’s funny, in a way, since for so long, not having players in the conversation for the Heisman was almost a point of pride for the program and its fans. "We win as a team," they said. "Not as individuals."
Ingram was the first Alabama player to win the award after a 73-year drought. Before Ingram, only one player—David Palmer in 1993—had even finished in the top three in voting.
The times have certainly changed.
So looking ahead to 2015, what are the chances Alabama players have for perhaps the most prestigious individual award in all of sports?
They're looking pretty slim right now.
If you ask Vegas, the bookies would disagree. But they often have different priorities than strictly determining probabilistic outcomes—like getting people to take their bets, which fans are happy to do for a running back at Alabama.
In Bodog's early Heisman odds (h/t Odds Shark), running back Derrick Henry was tied with Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine for the ninth-best odds to win the 2015 trophy at 14-1.
He'll probably at least be in the running, right? Not so fast.
First, it’s become increasingly difficult for running backs to win the award. Ingram was actually the last back to do so, and before him, a running back hadn’t won the award since Reggie Bush in 2005—though the award was vacated. Nine years, eight quarterbacks.
Second, while it may seem counterintuitive, it’s hard for one single running back to stand out at Alabama, even though the Crimson Tide still run one of the more back-friendly offenses in college football.
The Crimson Tide have featured a running back by committee of late. Since 2008, Alabama has had at least two running backs go over 600 yards in a single season. Last year, Henry and T.J. Yeldon each nearly hit 1,000. In 2012, both Yeldon and Eddie Lacy eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark.
It’s looking like that will be the case again this year.
Henry should be the No. 1 back, to be sure, but it’s hard to see him having too much of a featured role. In his two years on campus, he’s hit the 20-carry mark just twice in a game—both this year.
The same applies to Yeldon, who had two games in the 20s but otherwise was in the teens or single digits.
For comparison, when Ingram won the trophy in 2009, he had seven such games over a 14-game year. Richardson had seven over 13 games in 2011.
Henry likely won’t be getting that kind of a workload this year with Drake behind him and several talented freshmen nipping at their heels.
So where could Alabama turn to next for a Heisman contender? It would likely have to be at the two positions where the Crimson Tide had their most recent finalists.
At quarterback, nobody knows what will happen right now.
Last year, Jake Coker made Bovada's Heisman odds (h/t USA Today) without having played a down of football at Alabama after transferring from Florida State.
But after an underwhelming 2014, even as a backup, those brakes have been sufficiently pumped to the point where it’s not even a slam dunk that Coker will be the starter next season.
Perhaps Alec Morris, Cooper Bateman, David Cornwell or Blake Barnett will grab the reins and light up the box score on their way to New York. Three of the last five Heisman winners were first-year starters at their school.
However, it’s all a little too murky to even say who will be Alabama’s candidate under center this year.
Wide receiver looks like it will take a by-committee approach this year. That stands in sharp contrast to 2014, when Cooper was Alabama’s leading receiver by more than 1,200 yards.
Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin lost his top three pass-catchers and will now rely on a talented pool of unproven players like Chris Black, Robert Foster, Cam Sims, ArDarius Stewart and Raheem Falkins.
Perhaps one of those names will emerge and blow up defenses like Cooper did last year. The likelier scenario, though, is that Kiffin spreads the ball around more than he did last year and no one name sticks out at receiver.
So, overall, it looks like for Alabama to have a finalist, it will have to be an emerging star—someone not on the fans’ radar at the start of the season.
Barring a rash of injuries at running back, forcing one guy to get a load of carries, Alabama fans might have to be content with a Tide-less New York this year.
That’s all well and good. The Heisman isn’t the ultimate goal.
Of course, there’s always the chance for an off-the-wall finalist. If cornerback Cyrus Jones has success returning kicks and punts while grabbing a bunch of interceptions, he could raise some eyebrows. Reggie Ragland looks like he’ll be a tackle machine at inside linebacker and has shown athleticism to make some interceptions.
And, my goodness, have you seen JK Scott punt?
Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes and reporting were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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Championships aren't won in the spring, but that doesn't mean we're any less excited about the prospect of some form of college football coming up on the horizon.
The far-too-long gap between the national championship game in mid-January and the first contests of the 2015 season in September can often feel like a never-ending wasteland, with only a few brief oases of hope for the future. We had national signing day earlier this month, and on Thursday we got the release of the American Athletic Conference schedule for the 2015 season.
But spring football, that's the big one. After nearly two months with hardly a sniff of the gridiron, we get several weeks of practices, workouts, premature depth charts and, finally, informal exhibition games that have no actual bearing on the upcoming season.
In a lot of ways, spring practice doesn't amount to much more than a chance for teams to get some extra work in and prevent complacency from sinking in. But occasionally some big developments happen during this period, both good and bad.
What's in store for 2015 spring football? We have our guesses.
Julian Rochester, a 5-star DT per 247Sports' Composite Rankings, is undecided on where he will play at the collegiate level. The talented defender from Powder Springs, GA has lots of offers on the table.
Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer lists his odds on where Rochester will land.
Where will Rochester play his college ball? Check out the video and let us know!
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Seth Green is a quarterback many programs are high on, and when the 4-star prospect ended his recruiting process with a commitment to Oregon back in October, he was predicted to be the next in line of great Ducks signal-callers.
With a new offer from Texas, however, Green has some Oregon fans wondering if he'll stay committed. Texas fans are wondering the same thing—only they're in favor of a flip before national signing day in February 2016.
Green, the top-ranked player from the state of Minnesota and the nation's No. 4 dual-threat quarterback, has a lot to think about with his recruiting. Before committing to the Ducks, Green made a few unofficial visits and camped at a few schools. He camped at Texas in June and had been high on the Longhorns since.
Oregon in the past has been on the positive end of a player flipping, but Texas is one of the teams that has recently won a recruiting battle against the Ducks. The Longhorns flipped 3-star safety PJ Locke on national signing day. Locke had been committed to Oregon since July 1.
If there's anyone who has shown they can recruit out of state, it's Texas head coach Charlie Strong. He has done well with the state of Florida, and he and quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson landed 4-star Maryland stud Kai Locksley before signing day. They have been busy looking for top-notch talent of the future at the position.
Green told Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports that while Oregon was "still No. 1," a Texas offer "really meant a lot." Green also said that he'd consider looking more into his new offer.
You can believe that Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich and quarterbacks coach Scott Frost won't go down without a fight. Green, at 6'3" and 210 pounds, is a physically impressive athlete who catches the attention of coaches at first glance. He's just as comfortable under center as he is in the shotgun, and he possesses a nice arm. Green also is tough to bring down in running situations.
Oregon is hoping everything that won Green over in October will continue to be that important X-factor throughout his recruiting process. In October, Green told Josh Helmholdt of Rivals.com that Oregon felt like home, and he was a fan of everything in and apart from football there. Green added that he wanted to be a solid player-recruiter for Helfrich and the Ducks coaching staff.
A player like Green can be a game-changer in recruiting for both Oregon and Texas. From an offensive standpoint, wide receivers want to play with a reliable quarterback, and offensive linemen want to block for a leader. Green has the measurables and intangibles to be an impact player at the college level.
But will it be at Oregon? Or can Texas flip Minnesota's top-ranked player?
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With seven months to go before the season, it might seem that no college football team is under immediate pressure.
But that, of course, is false.
Certain teams have tall tasks ahead of them this offseason and need to hit certain benchmarks during spring and fall camp. Their achievements won't count in the win and loss column—at least not directly—but they could alter the direction of the programs.
The teams on this list are walking on thin ice and can't afford a rocky offseason. Because next year is so important, they must answer pressing questions and avoid making the wrong kind of news (i.e., they can't contend for the 2015 Fulmer Cup).
Most of these teams face quarterback controversies, which is not a coincidence. Tutoring a quarterback is one of (a) the most important things a team can do in general and (b) the major things teams get done in the offseason. Now is when development occurs.
Sound off below, and let us know which teams you would add
Georgia will welcome a flood of top recruits to campus this weekend for the program’s first junior day, according to Rusty Mansell of Dawgs247.
Players from at least five states are scheduled to be in attendance, per Mansell.
Which players represent the top five targets that ‘Dawgs fans should be paying close attention to?
*Players listed in alphabetical order