As much optimism as there is surrounding Notre Dame football with a new season on the way, there’s plenty of uncertainty, too.
Along with new coordinators, there’s young talent, and there’s a high level of excitement for the 2014 campaign. But what will be the biggest challenges that Irish head coach Brian Kelly must face this season?
These hurdles could be repeated flaws from recent years or large question marks specific to this year’s team.
In judging the magnitude of both forms of challenges, we’ll consider their importance in guiding Notre Dame to a successful 2014 season.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats courtesy of CollegeFootballStats.com and all quotes were obtained firsthand.
Virginia sensation Josh Sweat remains one of the country's most compelling uncommitted members of the 2015 class. The scope of this dynamic defender's recruitment extends throughout college football, with more than two dozen scholarship offers in the mix.
The 5-star prospect is still exploring his options, and a pair of SEC programs will have an opportunity to gain ground next month. Sweat plans to visit Tennessee and Georgia in June, according to Scout.com reporter Michael Clark:
The two-day span in Knoxville and Athens provides two contenders with a chance to leave Sweat setting up plans for a return trip to campus. With no imminent decision date, both the Bulldogs and Volunteers will attempt to line up official visits this fall.
Each team can set itself up for future success with Sweat by laying down a strong foundation in June. The challenge for both coaching staffs is to establish a legitimate rapport with a player and family who've already spent more than a year hearing sales pitches from countless head coaches, coordinators and assistants.
"When I take a visit I want to make sure I am feeling them, like the coaches, I want to understand what they are talking about and all of that," Sweat told 247Sports reporter Evan Watkins in December.
Florida State also aims to gain separation atop Sweat's leaderboard this summer. The Seminoles are set to host him on July 18, according to 247Sports reporter Ryan Bartow (subscription required).
Sweat is rated No. 1 nationally among weak-side defensive ends in 247Sports' composite rankings, listed at No. 13 overall in the 2015 class.
The 6'5", 237-pound standout at Oscar Smith High School (Chesapeake), held an expansive array of offers prior to a dominant junior campaign. Tennessee and Florida State were among multiple teams (Ole Miss, Virginia Tech, Temple and North Carolina included) that reached out during Sweat's sophomore year.
Georgia joined the race in early December, in the aftermath of his monstrous 2013 season that featured 94 tackles, including 31 for loss. He tallied 22 sacks, playing alongside 5-star defensive tackle Andrew Brown (2014 Virginia signee) and landed on the MaxPreps Junior All-American Team.
His pile of offers continued to grow through the winter and into spring. South Carolina, UCLA, Michigan State, Texas A&M, LSU, USC and Oregon are each involved in this pursuit.
Sweat would instantly strengthen the defensive front for whichever team ultimately lands him. He's a college-ready prospect who should command consideration for early playing anywhere, regardless of a program's positional needs.
Florida State has found plenty of talent for its defensive secondary during this recruiting cycle. Top-ranked safety Derwin James joins fellow in-state commits Tyrek Cole and Calvin Brewton, who each carry 4-star ratings.
The reigning national champions remain in search of explosive edge players who can disrupt the backfield on a regular basis. Sweat would certainly fit the bill for a class that ranks 10th nationally in 247Sports' composite team rankings.
Georgia holds pledges from a duo of 4-star in-state defensive ends (Natrez Patrick and Chauncey Rivers), but neither prospect is an automatic plug-and-play prospect like Sweat. The Bulldogs' class currently rates eighth among SEC members and 14h overall.
Offense remains the strength of Tennessee's latest recruiting haul, though it does include 4-star Georgia defensive end Andrew Butcher. The need for a disruptive pass-rusher remains paramount in a class that rates seventh among conference foes and ninth overall.
With multiple high-profile visits reportedly looming, expect coaching staffs to treat Sweat as a primary priority. The pressure is on each team to deliver a clear vision of its future and explain why he fits perfectly within those plans.
Sweat has already decided to spend one of his official visits at Virginia Tech, per 247Sports reporter Evan Watkins. For other programs, the scramble is well underway to get Sweat on campus as signing day approaches.
Recruit information via 247Sports unless otherwise noted.
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The Jabrill Peppers hype has reached a fever pitch in Ann Arbor, but Michigan will need big performances from these former top recruits to compete for the Big Ten title.
Big opportunities exist on offense, where offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier is rolling out a new scheme which fans hope will lead to a Big Ten championship.
Here are nine former top recruits who will finally make good on their promise in 2014.
All season statistics from MGoBlue.com, official University of Michigan athletic department web site.
The Big Ten pays Jim Delany nearly $2 million a year for his work as conference commissioner, and he's worth every penny.
Under Delany's stewardship since 1989, the Big Ten has been and continues to be the richest conference in college athletics. Even though it has not won a national championship in football since 2002, the Big Ten still rakes in more cash than any other conference, including the SEC.
According to tax returns made available to USA Today, the Big Ten brought in $318.6 million in revenue for fiscal 2013. Nearly $298 million of that was distributed to its 12 members, with each school receiving between $23-$26 million (except Nebraska, which won't receive full shares until 2017-18).
Contrast that with the SEC, which is the second-richest conference despite being far more accomplished on the football field. In fiscal 2013 the SEC made $314.5 million, with its 14 member schools each receiving around $21 million (and a bit less for newcomers Texas A&M and Missouri).
So how did Delany get his conference schools more money than anybody else? And how did he do so despite a 1-2 record in BCS championship games and a losing record (13-15) in BCS bowl games during the 16-year run of the BCS?
The simple answer is television. Delany figured out how to leverage the large viewership of his popular conference to bring in money.
The 12 Big Ten schools occupy 10 of the 35 largest media markets in the United States (according to the 2013-14 Nielsen Media Research)—as compared to six for the SEC, which includes the marginal SEC markets of Houston and St. Louis. All Big Ten schools except Iowa and Nebraska dominate at least one, sometimes several of these top-ranked markets.
Delany's decision to launch the Big Ten Network in 2007 also turned out to be a stroke of genius, even if he was second-guessed at the time—especially after the BTN failed to corral all the cable providers in its first year. The BTN has grown to be a model for all other conferences, with the Pac-12 following suit two years ago and the SEC due to begin its own in August.
That's why while Delany's decision to add Maryland and Rutgers was met with widespread derision—especially given those schools' complete lack of athletic prowess in recent years—it might turn out to be another shrewd maneuver.
With Maryland and Rutgers in the fold (beginning this fall), the Big Ten adds three more top media markets (No. 1 New York, No. 8 Washington, D.C. and No. 27 Baltimore) into its already formidable lineup. This will force television providers in these markets to add BTN into the basic tier while allowing the conference to establish a firm presence on the densely populated eastern seaboard.
Delany is already looking ahead. After alternating the Big Ten basketball tournament between Chicago and Indianapolis, the 2017 tournament will be played at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. Don't be surprised if the Big Ten's football title game shows up at either FedEx Field in Maryland or MetLife Stadium in New Jersey sometime soon.
“Moving into the eastern corridor, that’s the new Big Ten,” Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez told CBSChicago's Chris Emma. “We all have to accept it, and our fans have to accept it. We want to welcome our two new members in Rutgers and Maryland, and we want a presence in the East. We want to take advantage of us expanding into the East.”
That's why as much as Maryland and Rutgers are the butt of jokes in college football, fans only laugh at Delany and his vision at their own peril. He and the Big Ten are laughing all the way to the bank.
Follow on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru
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A consistent power in the national recruiting scene, the Georgia Bulldogs are no strangers to witnessing the collegiate success of former high school stars. Stars during the Mark Richt era like Matthew Stafford, Knowshon Moreno, A.J. Green, Alec Ogletree and Aaron Murray were all highly coveted recruits when they signed with the Dawgs.
But on a roster regularly inundated with talent, some stars take longer to break out in Athens, Georgia.
Here are five former blue-chippers (listed by recruiting class, oldest to newest) who will finally shine for the Bulldogs in 2014.
Advice about how to win football games—sound or potentially otherwise—comes from a variety of sources. During last week's NFL draft, for example, Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam told ESPN's Sal Paolantonio about a homeless man convincing him to draft quarterback Johnny Manziel.
Washington State head coach Mike Leach is a similar type of eccentric, and he is similarly prone to taking advice from anyone.
According to Chris Vannini of Coaching Search, he appeared on Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly this weekend and explained how often (and with whom) he sometimes talks about football:
I’m one of those guys that, football-wise, I’m thinking about it all the time. I might ask the janitor or whoever’s just in the hall. They might throw something out like, "Your linemen are playing real high." All of a sudden, I’ll get conscious of it. Once in a while, they’re right. Once in a while, it drags my attention to something that needs to be addressed. As a coach, you’re always too close to it and may not see everything.
You get some nonsense, there’s no question. But the nonsense, you have to sift through it quickly. Once in a while, a fresh set of eyes will see something where, in the back of my mind, I’m going, "I’m sitting here watching it every day. How did I not see that?"
Leach has always been a little bit different than other coaches.
He has a documented fascination with pirates, he blithely ignores the running game for weeks at a time and he just co-authored a book—Geronimo: Leadership Strategies of an American Warrior—about an Apache tribe leader from the late 1800s.
For some reason, all of those things make this new bit of information make sense. He would be the type of guy who asks a janitor for football advice, hoping, with time and enough shots in the dark, that he stumbles upon the football version of Will Hunting, the overlooked savant with the answer to how one might stop Oregon's offense.
Aside from his off-field idiosyncrasies, Leach is famous for his on-field obsession with the passing game. He made the Air Raid offense a national threat in his previous job as head coach at Texas Tech, and within two years of taking over at Washington State, he had the Cougars leading the nation with 58.2 pass attempts per game.
He also had them back in the postseason for the first time since 2003.
Perhaps those janitors are smarter than we give them credit for.
Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT
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Just 18 short months ago, Georgia has posted back-to-back SEC East titles and was on the brink of winning the SEC Championship Game and securing a spot in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game versus Notre Dame.
One year later, the Bulldogs are coming off an injury-riddled 8-5 season that served as the swan song for record-setting quarterback Aaron Murray and another reminder that Georgia's talented, yet under-achieving defense needs help.
Redshirt senior Hutson Mason will step in for Murray in 2014 and find a wealth of talent to work with on the offense. Meanwhile, new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt was lured away from Florida State after Todd Grantham bolted for Louisville and found eight returning starters on defense, including the first- and-third leading tacklers in the SEC—Ramik Wilson (133) and Amarlo Herrera (112).
What will 2014 look like between the hedges? Georgia head coach Mark Richt went one-on-one with B/R to discuss the season.
Bleacher Report: You mentioned in your press conference after your spring game that quarterback Hutson Mason, who went 18-of-27 for 241 yards and a touchdown, actually looked better in the other scrimmages. Just how good can he be?
Mark Richt: Well, surrounded by outstanding teammates, I think he can be very good. He made a comment to somebody in the media that I was really impressed with. They were talking about following Murray and all the records he broke and all of that. Mason said, 'You know, I can't really break any records, but the one thing I can do is win a championship.'
He wasn't saying anything bad about Murray, he was just saying that his goal isn't to break records, it's to win a championship. I think that's his mindset. He has nothing else going through his mind other than doing what he can do to help the team win. That's pretty impressive.
B/R: In the spring game, he looked very much like Aaron Murray, especially on the back-shoulder fade. How much did Murray rub off on him?
MR: We train our quarterbacks to put the ball where our receiver has the best chance of winning. You have to gauge that by what you see, and if you see our guys two yards past the guy, obviously you try to lay it out. If our guy's inside, we're going to throw it inside. If our guy is on the outside and the DB has him cut off, we're going to throw the back-shoulder ball. We're constantly coaching and teaching that.
He has a really good feel for it as well. He's seen a lot of it with the games with Murray, but we've been doing it as a group for a long time.
B/R: How much will that veteran group of wide receivers help Mason, and what do you expect from Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley coming off of injuries?
MR: He has a veteran receiving corps and those guys really understand the system. They're good route-runners. They're strong ball-catchers. Mason's going to have some running backs who are just...tremendous. The O-line will do a very good job. And then, we believe that our defense and special teams are playing better than a year ago, so he's going to be surrounded by a lot of really good players I think he'll do a good job of handling that responsibility of getting the ball to the right guys in the right place.
B/R: You mentioned the running backs. No Heisman campaign for Todd Gurley this year, which is the way you've approached star players for a few years. Is he the best running back you've had at Georgia?
MR: You know, there's been some good ones. I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings. This guy, Gurley, he's a very special talent. If he's in great condition and he stays healthy, I just can't help but think he'll have a tremendous amount of production and be a very strong candidate for the Heisman Trophy.
B/R: One of the guys you have coming in is true freshman Nick Chubb. I'm not sure if you saw the pictures of him from last week at the state of Georgia track championship, but he looks like a man right now. What are the chances of Chubb and fellow freshman Sony Michel playing this year?
MR: Oh yeah, I think there's a good chance. Anybody who can go out there and be productive for us, we want to get them in the game and find a way to help us win. We can't wait to see what they can do and give them the opportunity. I saw the picture of Chubb running and I tell you, he looks like a track guy. Giant...I'm not really sure what he looked like...but it was impressive.
B/R: Obviously your defense has been hit or miss these last few years, but now Jeremy Pruitt is stepping in. What were some of the things he did this spring that really changed, and what pieces of that puzzle are left to put together this fall?
MR: I won't talk so much about change as much as how he goes about his business. He's a very good teacher, and all of our defensive coaches—we have four new ones including Jeremy—they've all coached high school ball, and they've all coached on a national championship collegiate football team as well. They're very good teachers of fundamental football, and that's a big part of what's important to us as a defense. The hustle is very important as well, as well as trying to be very sound schematically.
The big thing is fundamentals and really playing hard.
B/R: Your linebackers may be the best in the country with the leading tackler and third-leading tackler in the SEC coming back. How has Pruitt's arrival impacted what they do, and what do you expect from your guys this year?
MR: Well, quite frankly, I'm not all that concerned if our guys lead the league in tackling, because that means they're playing a lot of defensive plays. If we move back in the pack, that probably means some good things for our defense in terms of getting off the field.
I think those guys will come back with a lot of experience. Leonard Floyd obviously made an impact as a freshman for us. Jordan Jenkins, on the other side of him, a lot of times, has had his moments. Our linebacking corps in general, inside and out, we have a pretty good batch of guys who will hopefully lead us to a really stout D.
B/R: Shaq Wiggins transferred after spring, and you recently moved defensive back Brenden Langley to wide receiver. What's the story behind that move?
MR: He's very fast and athletic. We felt like he might be able to make a bigger impact for us at wide receiver than at defensive back.
B/R: Is it safe to assume that, since some pieces are moving around to other positions and schools, that some of the pieces of the secondary are falling into place?
MR: Yeah, I think so, but we don't have anybody who's nailed down a spot in the defensive backfield right now, quite frankly. We're going to see what these new arrivals can do. We have four defensive backs coming in who we feel can compete right away and give us a chance to get better.
Gosh, I tell you, I'll bet we don't know who's starting in the defensive backfield until maybe a week prior to the first game would be my guess. It will probably be pretty deep into camp.
B/R: You have the strictest substance abuse policy in the SEC, and your AD Greg McGarity told me a few months ago that he wants a uniform policy within the conference, but that it likely won't happen. Because of that, sometimes your program gets branded as a little lax on discipline. Does that bother you?
MR: We're comfortable with our policies here at Georgia. You know, we want our guys to know there's accountability when it comes to that. We want our guys to be healthy and we want our guys to do right. We're going to hold them accountable. Sometimes, in doing so, if you use playing time as a way to discipline, then it becomes a very public thing. Because of that, you may take a [perception] hit.
The bottom line is that we love our guys and we want them to do right. We're willing to discipline them with the thing that means the most to them, and that's their playing time.
B/R: We're entering a new era this year with the four-team College Football Playoff. Is there anything that you're overly excited about regarding this new format, or anything that you're apprehensive about?
MR: I'm excited about it. I think it's going to bring a tremendous amount of excitement. With it being a four-team playoff, I don't think it will disrupt much of what's going on with the bowl system. There's a lot of good in the bowl system. I'd be concerned about going too deep in terms of number of teams in a playoff, but right now, four is tremendous and I think it will be highly successful.
B/R: Clearly your charity work is something that means a lot to you and you devote a lot of your time to. What does your future look like from a philanthropic standpoint and how busy does your offseason calendar get?
MR: Well, coaching is a mission. Coaching is a way to influence young people in a positive way. It helps people grow into becoming good husbands and fathers and leaders. It's a tremendous honor and opportunity, and I think we have a responsibility as coaches to make a difference in the lives of these guys. I can't really think of a better thing to do with my time with that.
We're not going anywhere this year, but we've been to Honduras on a few occasions and done some mission work there. One offseason I did a USO-type tour. Myself and a few other coaches went to Southeast Asia to visit troops and just let them know that we love them, appreciate them and we believe, as coaches, that they're the true heroes and not so much the athletes of our sport. They get the hero designation sometimes for doing something great on the field of play, but nothing like what our troops do for our country.
* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand, and all stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com.
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Where former USC running back Ty Isaac lands has yet to be determined, but he certainly has options.
The former 4-star recruit left the Trojans after one season to move closer to his hometown of Joliet, Illinois, because of a family issue. Speaking to Mike Helfgot of the Chicago Tribune, Isaac said his mother's phone has been "blowing up" with messages from schools interested in him.
With only Notre Dame all but officially out of the mix—the Irish are on USC's nonconference schedule every year—Isaac said he's looking at nearby Big Ten schools.
"I wouldn’t say I have a top three, but I’m looking at Big Ten schools that are close to where I live," Isaac told Helfgot.
Isaac, who rushed for 236 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman, is waiting to hear back on a waiver that would grant him instant eligibility for the 2014 season. Regardless of whether he plays this year, which Big Ten schools could use Isaac the most? Below are some possibilities:
Of all the problems Illinois has, running back actually isn't one of them. Josh Ferguson returns after leading the team with 779 yards and seven touchdowns. Ferguson started slow, but he averaged well over five yards per carry in the final four games of the season. He's also a dangerous pass-catcher out of the backfield.
Still, the Illini need weapons beyond Ferguson. Whether Isaac plays this year or next, he would be an upgrade for the backfield. Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit is one of the more underappreciated minds in the game. With Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt at quarterback, Illinois could put together some nice pieces on offense.
Sophomore Derrick Green will slide into the feature-back role this season after picking up 270 yards and a pair of touchdowns as a freshman. Who complements him or otherwise completes a one-two punch in the Wolverines' backfield remains to be seen, though De'Veon Smith would probably assume that title.
Per Helfgot, Michigan was in the mix for Isaac when he was coming out of high school, so heading to Ann Arbor could be a realistic option. Even if it's not as the feature back right away.
Beyond Treyvon Green, Northwestern doesn't have a lot of size or experience at running back, and Green is going to be a senior this year.
The Wildcats did sign a few running backs this past recruiting class, including 4-star athlete Justin Jackson. Still, Isaac would be a powerful back who would be a great change-of-pace in Northwestern's spread offense.
Melvin Gordon, the Big Ten's second-highest returning rusher, will be Wisconsin's No. 1 running back again this season.
Beyond that? Wisconsin could use some reinforcements. Corey Clement did some damage as a freshman with 547 yards and seven touchdowns. He looks like he will be the next between-the-tackles bruiser for the program. The Badgers also signed a couple of running backs for the 2014 class.
But there's plenty of room for Isaac to make an impact.
Others: Iowa, Indiana, Michigan State.
So, which team needs Isaac the most? From a sheer talent standpoint, it's hard to argue against Illinois. Put simply, this offense is in search of playmakers. Isaac would be a huge addition to that side of the ball. And with inexperienced wide receivers, look for Illinois to rely on its run game this season.
The Illini have the luxury of four starters coming back along the offensive line. If Lunt secures the starting job at quarterback, Isaac would add more intrigue to the Illini's offense—if he's able to play right away.
If Isaac has to sit a year to satisfy NCAA transfer rules, he could be in a position to be Illinois' workhorse. Whether he would opt to do that for one season before departing for the NFL, or for another three, remains to be seen.
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One of the top linebackers in the 2015 class has come off the board, as Darrin Kirkland Jr. has committed to Michigan.
Kirkland announced the decision on Twitter on Sunday:
According to his 247Sports profile, Kirkland is a 4-star inside linebacker that measures in at 6'2", 228 pounds. He's ranked by the site's composite rankings as the No. 5 inside linebacker in the country, the No. 2 prospect in the state of Indiana and the No. 194 prospect in the entire country.
He was a force for Lawrence Central in 2013, finishing with 110 tackles and eight sacks. According to his 247Sports profile, he was named an Indiana Football Coaches Association Top50 All-State Selection, to the Indianapolis Super Team, the First Team MIC All-Conference and was an All-Marion County selection.
Not a bad collection of hardware. Here he is at an award dinner, as tweeted by his head coach at Lawrence:
Strength certainly shouldn't be a weakness for Kirkland. He tweeted out his bench press routine in early March and, well, it was impressive:
The one thing that really pops on tape when watching Kirkland is the burst he shows once he makes his read and identifies the play. He is very quick for a young man his size. He also does well to scrape off blocks and chase down plays horizontally or quickly fill in the interior gaps.
Kirkland is athletic enough to drop into coverage without being a liability, and he's quite proficient at rushing the passer. He often came off the edge for Park Tudor in 2012 (he transferred to Lawrence Central this past season) and used his burst and leverage to get after the quarterback.
Here's his tape from his sophomore season.
Kirkland looks like a player that could be very productive at the college level. He'll need to continue to grow as an inside linebacker, but he also has the skill set to be utilized as an outside linebacker if called upon to do so.
As he continues to grow into his frame, he should only improve on the field too. His natural athleticism and ability to play more than one linebacker position should bode well for him as he continues his football career.
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In college football, there is no free agency. There are no trades between schools that drastically change rosters from year to year or even week to week.
Instead, the college game offers an evolution of sorts—a constant transition of high school athletes becoming ex-college football players and, hopefully, college graduates.
Each year at every school across the country, players move on, leaving room for new players to grow and blossom on the field.
Recruiting is essentially the stockpiling of talent as insurance against this natural evolution.
While Allen Robinson and DaQuan Jones have moved on to the NFL, Penn State has been preparing each year by recruiting new athletes who will eventually fill those voids.
Their time is now.
Which former high school standouts will shine in blue and white this fall?
Let's take a look at five former blue-chip recruits who are primed for a breakout season in 2014.
All star ratings and position rankings are courtesy of 247Sports Composite ratings.
All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.
As we enter the summer, college football recruiting is about to heat up more than ever. Kids are taking more visits, trimming their lists and some are even committing this early in the process.
Right now, the Florida Gators have seven early commitments, putting them in decent company. However, those recruits are really nothing compared to the truckload of uncommitted talent that’s out there just waiting to find the right school.
Florida will have its say with several quality players before it’s all said and done.
So, let’s take a look at the committed recruits and the possible players who may commit later on and see how Florida stacks up at each position at this very moment.
Despite a very rough 2013 season for the Arkansas Razorbacks in head coach Bret Bielema's first year, the Hogs did very well in the 2014 NFL draft.
Overall, Arkansas had four players drafted in the seven rounds, which included kicker Zach Hocker, fullback Kiero Small, defensive end Chris Smith and center Travis Swanson. Considering the Hogs didn't win a single game in SEC play and finished 3-9, having four players taken in the draft was a win for the program.
However, as awesome as it is for these guys who got to hear their names called, it leaves Bielema and his staff with the task of replacing these starters without seeing a big drop-off in production.
Here, we'll go over who will replace each of the former Razorbacks now in the NFL.
In the SEC, it’s never too early to think about next year.
Winning championships is nice and all, but the true objective is to step into dynasty territory. To do that requires excellence not only on the field during the fall, but also throughout the year on the recruiting trail.
The push for even heralded 5-star prospects to commit—and stick with their commitments—earlier means waiting until January is often far too late.
Landing a big commitment early can potentially pay tremendous dividends for the remainder of the recruiting class as well.
When the prospect carries enough clout and is solid enough in his pledge, he can become an extra recruiter—with no real regulations.
Today we take a look at each team in the SEC and determine who the “dream” prospect to land might be.
To do so, we weigh a number of considerations, including in-state rank, positional need, competition for the prospect and overall splash.
Four-star quarterback Travis Waller attended Oakland's Elite 11 and Nike Football Training Camp this weekend, and in addition to shining on the field, Waller received some exciting news on Saturday morning.
The Alabama Crimson Tide extended him an offer, and it's one he's pretty thrilled about.
“Oh it’s definitely a big offer; a powerhouse team like Alabama is really big," Waller said before Sunday's NFTC event. "[They run] a pro style offense, so that’s a plus for me. A lot of their quarterbacks tend to go to the NFL, and the NFL likes pro style offenses, so they’re definitely high on my list.”
Alabama is Waller's most recent offer, with California, Fresno State, Tennessee and Penn State also offering him in May, among other universities.
The Servite High (Anaheim, California) quarterback got the call from the Crimson Tide around 7 a.m. on Saturday, and though it was an early wake-up call, it was a welcome surprise, he said. Among other things, Waller learned a bit about what Alabama's plan for him would be, should he commit there.
“I think they would redshirt me," he said. "But the year after that I could compete for a starting job.”
And it's not so far-fetched to think Waller could see playing time after just one season in college, as he already is shaping up to be one of the top quarterbacks in his class.
After Friday's Elite 11, Waller earned a coveted gold shirt, and with it, a place in the Elite 11 finals. He showed quick feet and a strong pocket presence and connected with nearly all of his wide receivers. He's incredibly athletic, and though he's still filling out his frame, he proved that he can sling the rock like some of the bigger quarterbacks present.
On Sunday, Waller put on a similar show, but this time his targets were often shrouded in coverage. It didn't seem to phase him, however, and he had one of the strongest showings of all the quarterbacks present.
The dual-threat quarterback also got to show off a little bit of both facets of his game on Sunday, though he isn't too fond of that particular label.
“A lot of people consider me a dual-threat quarterback but I want to be known as a pocket passer that can run if he has to," Waller said. "I don’t really like the term ‘dual-threat’; it makes it seem like you’re just a running quarterback. I want to be known as a passing quarterback.”
Which is another reason why Alabama has such a strong appeal to the 6'3", 190-pound Waller.
While AJ McCarron showed a little bit of mobility throughout his Crimson Tide career, Alabama didn't sink or swim by how well he used his legs. Rather, Bama relied on him to be an accurate, powerful passer, and he delivered.
That said, McCarron took some shots this past offseason when he declared for the NFL draft, as many felt like the talent around him made the difference, not his quarterbacking. Waller doesn't see that as a reason to turn his attention away from the Tide.
"AJ McCarron is a very good quarterback. I believe if I go there and make things happen, the NFL would notice," he said.
Waller plans to visit Alabama in late June or early July.
He doesn't yet have a list of top schools, as he is still waiting on offers from programs such as Oregon and Ohio State. If and when those offers come, Waller will have a better sense of what his future college choices are looking like.
“Me and my mom are talking about it a lot but we will have to see how that plays out,” he said.
Now that Alabama has offered, it's possible that the Ducks and the Buckeyes will start courting him more aggressively, as competing with Alabama for top talent is anything but easy.
There's no timetable yet on when he could make an announcement, so the summer will really start to heat up for Waller.
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Before hectic summer months officially begin for class of 2015 recruits, it's a perfect time to hand out positional grades for the Miami Hurricanes' current haul.
According to 247Sports, head coach Al Golden and his coaching staff have amassed the No. 12 unit in the nation, including the third-best in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Miami's 11-man, offense-heavy group is highlighted by a pair of gifted in-state running backs, and the top defensive pledge is a legacy player.
Level of need, committed talent and how much a positional unit can be upgraded are main factors in deciding a given grade.
The newest commitment as of this writing, 4-star Dwayne Lawson is the lone quarterback in Miami's class. Lawson hails from the same school that produced defensive tackle Earl Moore, Tampa-area Hillsborough High.
As a junior in 2013, Lawson completed 52.5 percent of his passes for 2,120 yards, 22 touchdowns and just six interceptions. The 6'5" gunslinger also added 1,068 yards and nine scores on the ground.
The 'Canes are content with Lawson, but they'll save room for Torrance Gibson—however unlikely it may be to convince the local 5-star to stay home.
Dexter Williams committing to Miami was a bit of a surprise, and his skill set in the backfield is on the verge of elite. With that being said, Williams is being contacted by the likes of Florida, Michigan, Ohio State and Notre Dame, and it won't be easy to keep his pledge.
Jordan Cronkrite was added to the class about a week after Williams, but the 4-star winding up at "The U" is a pretty safe bet. Per David Lake of 247Sports (subscription required), Cronkite is very strong in his commitment to Al Golden and Co.
There's certainly some room to add more players, but the 'Canes are off to a great start at running back.
Wide Receiver and Tight End
One of the earliest commitments, wide receiver Emonee Spence has snagged 80 passes for 815 yards and 10 touchdowns over the last two seasons. Lake (subscription required) notes the 6'2" wideout is focusing on route running and attacking cornerbacks this offseason, trying to become a more aggressive receiver.
Tight end Bowman Archibald gave his pledge to Miami in March, and he is definitely the flier in the class. Archibald's numbers from his junior season (eight receptions, 134 yards, two touchdowns) are far from gaudy.
Miami will lose Clive Walford and Beau Sandland after the 2014 season, however, so adding Archibald addresses the impending depth issue.
In 2014, Miami signed Kc McDermott, Trevor Darling and Nick Linder, easing the necessity on targeting offensive linemen during a skill-position-heavy class. Of course, it didn't stop the 'Canes from adding some more bulk.
A 6'9" tackle from Golden's home state of New Jersey, Kevin Feder was the first to announce his collegiate intentions. He will play as a junior at the earliest, so O-line coach Art Kehoe has plenty of time to refine Feder's technique.
Surprisingly enough for a 3-star in South Florida, Leeward Brown is considered one of the better prospects at his position in the talent-rich area. Given his 338-pound stature, Brown projects as a guard at the next level, which Miami will be needing in a couple of years.
Golden reached back into the Northeast and plucked 3-star tackle Hayden Mahoney, who committed during a visit to the campus in late March, from Pennsylvania.
Even if the Hurricanes do not bring in another lineman, given the current depth, the trio would be a respectable haul.
Scott Patchan, whose father played at Miami in the mid-1980s, pledged to Golden on the same day as Williams. In 2013, the 3-star registered 56 tackles (24 for loss, 8.5 sacks) as a defensive end.
At 6'4" and 295 pounds, defensive tackle Ryan Fines has the frame to become a prototypical-sized interior lineman during his college years.
Though Quentez Johnson spent only 10 days before decommitting in early May, the 'Canes are not backing off the defensive tackle. Granted, The U has already dropped to No. 2 on his list, per Ryan Callahan of 247Sports (subscription required).
Like the offensive line, the Miami coaching staff did a great job with the 2014 haul, so more attention can be given elsewhere this year.
Had Raphael Kirby, Alex Figueroa and Jermaine Grace not stepped up this spring, linebacker would be an extreme position of need in 2015. However, consequent to their collective emergence, the Hurricanes will not be forced to reach for linebackers in a thin talent pool.
The first commit for the current class by nearly six months, 3-star athlete Charles Perry is approaching one calendar year as a prospective Hurricane. Last season, Perry tallied 78 tackles, seven sacks and one interception that he returned for a touchdown.
Currently, the Hurricanes do not hold any commitments from prospects who play in the secondary, but there is a collection of skilled defensive backs they are targeting.
Note: All recruit information courtesy of 247Sports. Star ratings reflect 247Sports Composite Rankings.
Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.
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Spring football is now in the rear-view mirror, and fans have set their sights on the opening of fall camp in early August. In the meantime, we have a better idea about which teams and which players will rise to the top come the fall.
When it comes to ranking the 25 best players heading into any given season, it's important to remember that comparing a cornerback to a left tackle is a little like comparing a Ford pickup truck to a tomato; don't read too much into a player ranked at No. 20 and a different player at a different position ranked at No. 19.
When it comes to the best of the best the Big Ten will offer this season, however, we're pretty sure that the 25 players on this list will figure into the equation from Week 1 all the way through the College Football Playoff in January.
Those are just three of the many blue-chip prospects who came to Ohio State with high recruiting rankings and even higher expectations, only to flame out and never produce.
Recruiting busts are common at every level of college football, and the Buckeyes are certainly no exception. Despite loads of potential and all the resources one would need, some players just never put things together at the collegiate level.
Grant started the 2012 season as the starting middle linebacker before losing his job to converted fullback Zach Boren midway through the year. In 2013, he rebounded from that setback and had a solid season, but Urban Meyer was disappointed with the overall linebacker play.
With his senior season nearing, Grant knows he needs to hold off McMillan to keep his starting job, according to Tim May of The Columbus Dispatch: "When a guy comes in like that, that talented, it makes you want to work on your craft more, and do the things you need to do to continue to get better.”
McMillan will certainly play, but Grant's too talented and experienced to take a back seat to a freshman.
During his senior season of high school, Rod Smith was one of the most highly recruited running backs in the country.
Then a 6'3", 220-pound bulldozer, Smith rushed for 6,625 yards and 66 touchdowns during his high school career, making him the No. 3 running back in the country and the No. 44 player overall.
His time in Columbus hasn't been as productive. After redshirting his first year with the Buckeyes and playing sparingly over the last three seasons, Smith has been nothing more than a mop-up duty ball-carrier.
That should change this season. He and Ezekiel Elliott were battling for the starting running back spot this spring, but that was before his school work derailed the competition. Once the fall rolls around, though, he'll be back in Ohio State's running back rotation.
As a 4-star prospect and the No. 3 cornerback in the country, Doran Grant had offers to play at school such as Georgia, Michigan, Notre Dame and USC.
Grant, a graduate of LeBron James' former high school (St. Vincent-St. Mary) in Akron, Ohio, decided to stay close to home and chose the Buckeyes.
His career in Columbus hasn't been disappointing to date. Grant played as a special teamer in all 25 games during his freshman and sophomore seasons, including one start against Alabama-Birmingham in 2012. As a junior last season, he started opposite Bradley Roby at cornerback.
With Roby gone, it will be Grant's unit to lead in 2014. That's a role he's relishing, according to Marcus Hartman of Buckeye Sports: “I have high confidence in my room. I love what we're doing. As a group, we're getting tighter and tighter, and that's what I'm enjoying the most, especially seeing the guys getting better.”
As the lone returning starter in the secondary, the Buckeyes will need Grant to step up his game.
All recruiting information via 247Sports.
David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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But despite the buzz surrounding the new blood, returning Tigers will be relied upon to carry the team.
LSU brings in some of the best prep prospects in the country every season. Miles will be looking for a few of his blue-chip recruits from past classes to to take their game to the next level.
Here are few names to keep an eye out for next season.
Generally speaking, Michigan is a good football team with a few expected, and several unexpected, hurdles to clear before it can be viewed as a contender.
Luckily for the Wolverines, they have Devin Gardner, a somewhat experienced quarterback upon which to rely. A fellow senior, Jake Ryan, leads a deep linebacker corps that’s widely considered the strength of Greg Mattison’s defense. The secondary prompts optimism; and new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier has a few good running backs to tinker with on Saturdays.
However—there’s always a “however,” isn’t there?—all is not well in Ann Arbor. Yesterday, winning Big Ten titles and Rose Bowls was the priority and the norm. Today, coach Brady Hoke struggles to hold serve within his own league, let alone compete at a national level.
Hoke's three-going-on-four-year tenure has been marred by gross underachievement, which really stings considering the fact that he's reeled in mega-hyped recruiting classes and further pushed the "this is Michigan" attitude.
Since going 11-2 in 2011, he's compiled 8-5 and 7-6 seasons (1-2 in bowls). Challenges? More like epic journeys. There is more to fix than an offensive line; more than position-specific issues to solve. If anything, preparation and mentality are equally, if not more, important.
Make Nussmeier Feel at Home
He's coming from a national title factory, so it's fair to assume that Nussmeier is used to having things his way. And why shouldn't he? For two years, he was obviously on his job. Tide running backs were dominant, their offensive line stout and quarterback confident.
With any luck, he'll do the same with Michigan. Nussmeier has access to a sophomore pro-styler in Shane Morris, and he has a pair of waiting-to-be-unleashed sophomore running backs in Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith. Plus, there's probably a Justice Hayes or Drake Johnson waiting to pop up as a regular in the backfield, too.
I'm sure he will do a great job at the University of Michigan. He is a bright coach who works hard and brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm to work each and every day. Our production and balance the last two years has been very good and he also brought a lot to the table in terms of coaching the quarterbacks.
AJ (McCarron) had one of the best seasons and careers of any quarterback here, and that says a lot when you look at the history and tradition of that position at Alabama. We wish Doug and his family the best and appreciate all they did to help us be successful with the program at Alabama.
Sure, Saban took the high road and said all of the right things about his former OC. That much was expected. But for Saban to specifically mention McCarron's stardom bodes well for Nussmeier's reputation for developing quarterbacks.
Athletically, McCarron isn't heads and shoulders above Gardner. Unless he's a total bust this fall, Gardner should show steady improvement and ultimately become the player he's meant to be.
In order for a smooth transition to take place, Hoke has to make Nussmeier feel at ease and give him enough control—but not too much—over personnel decisions if there's any hope of real change on offense. From quarterback to running back, tackle to tackle and wideout to wideout, Nussmeier should have a majority vote when it comes to who takes the field.
Finding a happy balance is always the trick, and a cohesive staff is a happy staff.
Manage Jabrill Hype
It's happening. Peppers is really coming to Ann Arbor. Forget all of that Twitter monitoring and all of those sleepless nights and cast aside those bad memories of the decommitment rumors. He's Hoke's, and he's coming to The Big House in just a few months.
However, let him play before giving him the Heisman. But enjoy the ride; he's going to be a great one. Peppers, a consensus 5-star recruit and the No. 3-ranked prospect of 2014 by 247Sports, is of rare ilk. He's a different breed of athlete: part freak athlete, part natural and part entertainer. Put it this way: He's going to make it look real easy.
On one hand, writers and analysts say to remain grounded and view the 6'1", 200-pound Paramus Catholic (N.J.) phenom through a cautious lens. If it's too good to be true, it usually is. But Peppers is different. He's Charles Woodson v. 2.0—and that's coming from the same people who say to keep it cool.
Talk about mixed messages. How does Hoke manage all of this? Peppers isn't even on campus yet. This is going to be a wild, wild period in Wolverines football history.
When focused, Gardner is the guy. He's earned the No. 1 position, and barring a catastrophic meltdown this fall, he'll probably finish his career as the starter. Spending the latter weeks of 2013 on crutches, Gardner's on the rebound from a surgery on his right foot. He's either repaired or worse than before, which seems almost impossible.
In the case of Gardner, intent and passion are never in question. Often times, though, his mentality and ability to compartmentalize come under fire. Bu he's been able to make good on past mistakes. Take a look at how he curbed interceptions a year ago. He was on pace for 200, but turned in just 11 after throwing eight within his first 58 attempts (four games).
Gold stars on an otherwise so-so report card, Gardner threw for 2,960 yards and completed 60 percent of his passes, a career high. Knowing when to roll with Gardner and when to set him aside isn't an exact science, but it's certainly not an undertaking for the faint of heart or indecisive crowd.
Will that be Hoke's call, or will Nussmeier be given executive authority? Seeing how they handle their signal-caller should provide insight into the dynamic that will be Hoke and Nuss.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
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