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Alabama vs. Clemson : Latest Comments Ahead of 2016 CFP National Championship

There is no shortage of chatter in advance of the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship, a hotly anticipated contest between the No. 1 Clemson Tigers, looking to complete an undefeated season, and the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide, a perennial football powerhouse under head coach Nick Saban.

Take Clemson cornerback Mackensie Alexander. Never one to mince words, Alexander has talked up a big game in advance of Monday's championship tilt. For starters, he's hardly convinced Alabama should be favored over his undefeated squad.

"We are 14-0, and we were underdogs last week, it's all a brand thing," Alexander said, per AL.com's John Talty. "Everyone cares about the brand, the Alabama brand. I understand it's a lot of fans, and they've done it for a long time, but this is a new year, and it's our time."

Alexander's also more than ready to take on Alabama's top wide receiver, Calvin Ridley, per ESPN.com's Sam Khan Jr.: "Listen, I don't stroke nobody's ego. I go out there and handle my business. I feel like I'm the best and biggest man in the country, and I go out there and do it. I'm done talking about this. We do what we do. We face great players. They have great players. We faced great players all year."

Ridley, a freshman, is far and away the Crimson Tide's biggest receiving threat, with 1,031 yards and seven touchdowns on the season. Alabama is a power-running team predicated on Derrick Henry slowly eroding a defense while quarterback Jake Coker takes advantage of an over-committed and tired opposition. This is why neutralizing Ridley is one of the keys to the game for Clemson, per Newsday's Greg Logan

Ridley has drawn comparisons to former Alabama star Amari Cooper, who was a first-round pick by Oakland in last spring’s NFL Draft. But Alexander, a redshirt sophomore with first-round talent who is eligible for this year’s draft, didn’t hesitate to compare himself to Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis when it comes to shutdown ability. And he meant Revis in his prime when the top wide receivers in the game disappeared on “Revis Island.”

Although Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said Alexander won’t necessarily “shadow” Ridley the whole game, the Tigers’ defense is predicated on being able to leave their corners in single coverage so they can commit more numbers to the line of scrimmage.

Ensuring Alabama has the right blend of pass and run against Clemson's stellar defense falls upon offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, who has worked wonders under Saban the past couple of years. Arizona Cardinals quarterback Matt Barkley, who played at USC during Kiffin's tenure as head coach, says his former coach has given Alabama an added dimension with his play-calling acumen.

“I think he’s really given them a spark on offense with all the play action and the schemes that he’s brought,” Barkley said, per Duane Rankin of the Montgomery Advertiser. “I think he’s done a good job utilizing the athletes that Alabama has and made the most of it.”

A big part of the Tigers thwarting a Kiffin-devised offense depends on the health of defensive end Shaq Lawson, one of the best players in college football. Lawson suffered a knee injury in Clemson's national semifinal win over Oklahoma, but he's optimistic he will suit up on Monday. 

"I have been doing pretty much everything I can to get strength back in my knee," Lawson said at the team media day, per Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times"I have been having a busy week with treatment. I am in the training room probably about two hours a day and getting two treatments per day."

The challenges for Clemson in this game extend far beyond containing Alabama's offense. Heisman Trophy finalist Deshaun Watson is going to need a big game both on the ground and through the air if Clemson is to win this game. Alabama's defense is nasty, to put it mildly.

“They want to go live, they want to hit people. You got to almost hold them back; you don’t want them to injure a scout team player or injure themselves. But they’re not worried about that,” defensive coordinator Kirby Smart said, per Steve Hummer of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

In order to live up to his eye-popping potential, he'll need a strong performance from his offensive line.

Alabama features a menacing front seven replete with NFL-caliber players like linebacker Reggie Ragland and defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson. It makes sense that Clemson guard Eric Mac Lain is using the reputation of his opponents to fire up his teammates on the offensive line.

"I try to express that to the offensive line," Mac Lain said, per AL.com's Matt Zenitz. "If they have any aspirations of playing in the NFL, you have to do good against NFL prospects. I think we all realize that, and excited for the challenge."

Mac Lain's strategy for pumping up his teammates puts things in a long-term perspective, a reminder of the riches still unattainable for these talented athletes. That may sound overly serious and business-like, but it's nothing more than a little perspective.

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney has no problems with his team forsaking dour demeanors and having a little bit of fun. He insisted his team show joy in the buildup to the national championship, per Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde

Well, is that against the rules? That question right there is what's wrong with society. I mean, it's like a big deal if somebody enjoys what they do. Like we're supposed to be miserable going through this. I don't understand that. I mean, there's no rule that says you can't have fun.

Saban isn't exactly known for sporting a fun-loving demeanor, but he has his own motivational tactics that at this point shouldn't really be disputed. Per Chuck Culpepper of the Washington Post, Saban spoke of truly appreciating what his team has accomplished up to this point: 

Let me try to put it this way. You know, at the banquet this year, I gave a speech about "thank you." But there’s a second part to "thank you" that no one ever thinks about, that when I was a kid, I was thanking my coach and my teams for whatever, and my dad was picking me up after practice, and he said, "You thanked your coach. That was really nice. But there’s an IOU that goes with every 'thank you,' which is, you owe them your best." [With this team,] I thanked them for all their hard work, their togetherness, their competitive spirit, all that they were able to accomplish in winning the SEC championship.

Building up a sense of appreciation, trust and togetherness is key when the whole world is waiting for you to perform. It can be especially helpful for players in unfamiliar environments. For at least one Alabama player, Arizona has proven to be an alien backdrop for what is potentially the most important game he'll ever participate in.

"It's a little bit different from where I'm from," Alabama cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick said, per Talty. "I've never seen a cactus on the side of the road. I had never seen huge mountains before, either. It's pretty cool."

It's not just the scenery. Everything about the game will be different for the vast majority of these players. It's a different atmosphere, a different level of scrutiny. There is one game, a mere 60 minutes, for these players to make their mark in college football history.

The CFP is still a nascent adventure. History is to be made in Glendale, Arizona. A win at this early stage of the CFP—a system that seems quite likely to stick and would probably benefit from expansion—would be the achievement of a lifetime. Of course it's going to be different.

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Alabama's Nick Saban Calls for Changes to NFL Draft Declaration Process

Alabama head coach Nick Saban has begun a push to have the NFL delay offering draft-evaluation reports until a player's season is over.

Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News and Duane Rankin of the Montgomery Advertiser reported the news Sunday. ESPN.com's Joe Schad reported Saturday that the Crimson Tide voted as a team not to read its reports until after Monday's College Football Playoff National Championship Game.

"All our focus is on one game," Alabama tight end O.J. Howard told Schad.

Underclassmen who apply for NFL draft reports are typically given a range of rounds in which they may be drafted. Saban explained the reasoning behind his proposal Sunday, per Chase Goodbread of NFL.com:   

The NFL moved the draft back. I wish they'd move the declare date back. I wish they'd make a rule that says you can't even tell a player what his draft status is through the NFL committee until they've finished their competition as college players. So that you don't put them and their family in this situation where there's a big timing issue relative to competition. Now if you finish your season on Dec. 6, you can make a decision. If you finished it on Jan. 11, then you get your (feedback) information after that, but you have a significant amount of time to make that decision when you finish playing so you can stay focused on what you need to do to play well, because it benefits all those players to play well in the game.

Clemson players have not made a collective decision on when to view draft reports, according to Goodbread. Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney has allowed each player to make his own decision regarding his report, though he agreed with Saban's point that the grades should not be seen until the end of the season. 

It's easy to see where both coaches are coming from. Their teams are days away from the national championship game, but players making draft decisions are also on the verge of one of the most important times of their lives.

The draft reports are important for players, who want to have a general idea of where they stand. Anything that allows them to make an informed decision should be viewed as a positive, even as their well-paid coaches try to wrest control of the process.

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CFP National Championship 2016: Key Factors for Clemson vs. Alabama Matchup

No more polls, no more committees, no more voting, no more politics. Just 100 yards of grass, a pigskin and 22 men in between two white lines to settle who is the best college football team in the land.

A southern tilt will shift west to Arizona as No. 1 Clemson and No. 2 Alabama face off at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Clemson used a big second half in the Orange Bowl to move past No. 4 Oklahoma easily, while Alabama thrashed No. 3 Michigan State 38-0. With both teams holding plenty of momentum, there are a few key factors that can deliver one team to victory or spoil its national title hopes.

Let's take a look.


Deshaun Watson

If there's one thing that has been able to throw a wrench in Alabama's defensive machine, it's been a scrambling quarterback. 

While Chad Kelly of Ole Miss didn't need his legs to pick apart the Crimson Tide for Alabama's lone loss this season, they have burned in the past by mobile passers. Last year, it was Bo Wallace of Ole Miss and Ohio State's Cardale Jones in the Sugar Bowl. 

Their ability to use their legs and extend plays helped to beat an Alabama defense that makes a living off getting after the quarterback and disrupting plays behind the line of scrimmage.

If Alabama can't get to the quarterback, the rest of its defense is left stranded. It's in for quite a test in Clemson's Deshaun Watson.

Watson has rushed for over 1,000 yards to go with 3,699 passing yards in an offense he throttles with big plays each and every week. He's accounted for 43 total touchdowns this season, which basically means Clemson goes as he does. 

Alabama head coach Nick Saban knows his unit is up against it too.

"The guy is an outstanding player and does a great job of executing their offense, tremendous dual threat," he said, per Matt Connelly of the State (h/t Neil Greenberg of the Washington Post). "You know, really is a very good rhythm passer as well as a guy who can sustain plays and extend plays because of his athleticism and ability to scramble.

If Watson is able to throw for 300 yards and rush for 75, Clemson has a really good chance of winning this football game.


Jake Coker

If Jake Coker plays like he did against Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl, then Alabama is going to win this game easily.

Coker was surgical in breaking down the Spartans defense, putting up season highs in completions and yards with 25 and 286, respectively. It's been an up-and-down season of sorts with Coker.

With a Heisman Trophy-winning running back in Derrick Henry in the backfield, Coker was relegated to playing second fiddle on offense, and his numbers were pedestrian at best. There were times this season when he struggled to command the offense, but he's come on strong as of late.

In his past four games, he's thrown for seven touchdowns and no interceptions as the Crimson Tide have made easy work of some big programs like Mississippi State, Florida and Auburn.

Leading up to the game, the quarterback who wasn't given much of a chance in his first three years in Alabama looks set to lead the Crimson Tide into battle.

Everyone and their mothers know that Henry is going to see a lot of the ball. In the biggest game of the year, it's only natural that the best player in the nation gets the ball as much as Saban allows it.

So if Clemson decides to key in on the run and load up the box in preparation of Henry's impending arrival, Coker's arm is going to have to be on the money if Alabama wants to outscore Clemson.

Put up a game like he did against Ole Miss or even Arkansas, and Alabama will have problems on Monday.


Stats courtesy of ESPN.com.

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Alabama vs. Clemson: TV Info, Picks for College Football Championship 2016

After a week-and-a-half of hype and hoopla, Clemson and Alabama are just one day away from their duel in the desert. 

But really, this matchup has been nearly a full season in the making. The top-ranked Tigers have maintained their perch atop the College Football Playoff rankings since Week 10, and Alabama has been lurking at No. 2 nearly the entire way, one week notwithstanding. 

Here is a guide to Monday’s national championship game.


Date: Monday, January 11

Time: 8:30 p.m. ET

Venue: University of Phoenix Stadium (Glendale, Arizona)


Live Stream: WatchESPN

Odds (via OddsShark.com): Alabama -5.5


These teams have been the class of the field all season, and while they are among the sport's annual heavyweights, their respective paths to the title game have been unique. 

Almighty Alabama, going for its fourth national title in the Nick Saban era, fielded speculation that its dynasty had drawn to an end following a Week 3 hiccup to Ole Miss. But Saban and company reminded everyone they own the throne until someone yanks them from the top. 

Clemson has returned to relevancy behind flamboyant head coach Dabo Swinney, who in a sport chalk full of villains is arguably the toughest figure to root against.

His abundance of endless motivation and sincerity has made Clemson one of the most fun teams to watch this season. Swinney never shies from celebrating after big wins, such as the Tigers’ 24-22 victory in Week 5 over then-No. 6 Notre Dame, as shown by the ACC Network:

Swinney has not only revitalized Clemson after 10 years of underachievement under former head coach Tommy Bowden, but he’s shaken the program’s stigma for “Clemsoning”—the moniker aligned to its well-chronicled history of inexplicably choking in games with so much on the line. 

Since 2012, Swinney’s Tigers have defeated some of the best programs in college football away from the ACC, including Ohio State, LSU, Georgia and Auburn, and this year, Notre Dame and Oklahoma. 

They’d sure like to add Alabama to that impressive list. 

In doing so, the Tigers would become the first team in FBS history to finish the season 15-0 and claim their first national title since 1981. 

"August 3, when we started the season, I gave them shirts that said 'Dream the Dream,'" Swinney said, per Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press. "And I said '15 for 15,' with the message being let's make them print 15 tickets this year, somehow, some way.”

The Tigers are FBS' last unbeaten team, and their path to remain unblemished fittingly pits them against the juggernaut that has defied odds by dominating a cyclical sport for nearly a decade. 

And Alabama has unfinished business to resolve. 

The Tide were the best team in college football last year but admittedly let Ohio State get the best of them in a 42-35 loss in the CFP semifinal. 

They returned to the grand stage in typical Saban fashion—behind a rugged defense, a run-heavy offense and toe-of-the-line coaching that were put on best display in Alabama’s 38-0 win over Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl semifinal. 

Never has Saban’s “process” been on better display than with this year’s Crimson Tide—a team that complements its humility from last year’s disappointment with relentless intensity, as Saban admitted, per Charlie Potter of 247Sports:

First of all, when you talk about a team that buys in to doing things the way that you like to do it, you define principles and values of the organization that you think are important to helping the organization be successful. That’s the easy part. Getting everybody to follow the process and having the discipline to execute that on a day-to-day basis, on a game-to-game basis all season long and get everybody to buy into those things, that’s the difficult part and that’s what this team has done a really good job of.

This team appears to be on a mission to return to glory. 

Clemson has been arguably the most complete team in college football this season. Heisman Trophy runner-up Deshaun Watson anchors a prolific offense that has complemented a rugged defense that ranks sixth overall. 

But there’s an old saying that seems fitting given each team’s path to this year’s culminating game—you have to lose one to win one. 

Despite its dynasty under Saban, Alabama has been in the losing locker room of monumental games—the 2013 "kick-six" in the Iron Bowl, the 2011 home loss to LSU in "the Game of the Century" and of course last year’s Sugar Bowl semifinal. 

And while the Tigers have been impressive under Swinney, they haven’t yet played on this stage. Clemson was resilient in the Orange Bowl win, shutting out Oklahoma in the second half after trailing after the first two quarters. But Oklahoma is no Alabama. 

Clemson is on the cusp of a crown—but it's not there just yet. 

Prediction: Alabama 27, Clemson 20

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College Football Championship 2016: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Time, More

Love it or hate it, the College Football Playoff did its job and gave the world a showdown between the Clemson Tigers and the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Prestigious histories aside, both programs have something to prove. Clemson marched to historic numbers and would love to reel in a 15-0 mark and a national title after blowing through Oklahoma in the semifinal, 37-17, but it has its own recent history to overcome.

Meanwhile, Alabama already put last year's sloppy debut in the CFP behind it by becoming the only program to make a return appearance, pasting Michigan State in a 38-0 laugher in the semifinal. But the winds of change and transition once again encircle the team.

Let's take a look at the integral details surrounding this heavyweight showdown.


Game Details

When: Monday, Jan. 11, at 8:30 p.m. ET

Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona

Television: ESPN

Live Stream:WatchESPN

Tickets: ScoreBig

Over/Under: 50.5

Spread: Alabama (-6.5)


Team Injury Reports

Injury reports courtesy of USA Today.


Redefining "Clemsoning"

The expectations around Clemson entering the season were, well, interesting.

After all, over the past few years, the Tigers helped invent the word "Clemsoning," loosely defined as coming up short in a big opportunity. Folks looked for it when the team lined up against then-No. 6 Notre Dame in October. Nope. Clemson won, 24-22. Same against then-No. 16 Florida State in November, a 23-13 win. Ditto for December's encounter with then-No. 10 North Carolina, a 45-37 win.

Fine, most figured, there was still the Orange Bowl against Oklahoma, the fourth-ranked team. There, sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson accounted for two total scores while lead back Wayne Gallman posted two of his own and the Clemson defense posted two interceptions in the rout.

So much for the funny word that's chased the program for years. Now Clemson's the most dangerous No. 1 underdog around.

“I’m glad we’re going against the best,” Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware said, according to ESPN.com's David M. Hale. “Well, what everybody says is the best team in college football. Technically we’re ranked No. 1.”

It's a fitting role for Clemson. Watson completed 68.2 percent of his passes this year with 31 scores and added another 12 on the ground. Gallman had 1,482 yards and 12 scores of his own on the ground. The tandem helped keep the narrative at arm's length to make it this far.

Clemson has to do it once more, though this time against the best defensive line in the nation and a Nick Saban-led team littered with future NFL talent. It's not an easy task by any means, but the vibes coming out of Death Valley hint the Tigers wouldn't have it any other way.


Unfamiliar Territory

Past blemishes chase the Crimson Tide, too.

It's a tad different for Saban's powerhouse, though. The program's elite status means Alabama has to worry more about a letdown than the opposition—at least in most games.

Last year still haunts the Crimson Tide, whose crop of NFL-bound talent seemed to look forward to waltzing to the podium instead of focusing on Ohio State in what turned into a 42-35 upset in the semifinal.

So far, it seems Saban's players have put the gaffe behind them. In the 38-0 whipping of the Spartans, Jake Coker tossed two touchdowns, Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry added two on the ground and the Alabama defense picked off supposed future first-round pick Connor Cook twice.

Monday isn't most games, though.

Alabama's taken care of its fair share of top-ranked opponents, besting Georgia, Texas A&M, LSU and Michigan State teams ranked in the top 10. But the Crimson Tide really haven't encountered an attack as deadly as Clemson's.

Alabama has made a point of adapting its defensive system to such attacks over the years, of course, as Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel and even Chad Kelly helped force the changes.

"The diversity in the kind of players that we have helps us against the kind of offenses we see now," Saban said, according to ESPN.com's Alex Scarborough. "We can play some situational defense with some of those guys."

The question, though, is whether the changes are enough. So far, so good, but Alabama's going to need to use Henry in a run-heavy approach and exploit its newfound defensive speed—every ounce of it—to win the title.



Clemson's defense might play a bigger role in this game than the highly publicized Alabama unit. 

If the Tigers cannot slow Henry, who has of 2,061 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns alongside his individual hardware, Watson and Gallman might have a hard time getting on the field at all. This is the same Clemson defense that struggled to contain the North Carolina (142 rushing yards, 4.4 average, two touchdowns) and South Carolina (181 yards, 4.8 average, one score) rushing attacks down the stretch.

The Crimson Tide will control the pace in this one. Watson's going to do some damage, but scoreless drives in the Orange Bowl will lead to issues against a stout Alabama defense.

Look for the Crimson Tide to buckle down with something to prove, keeping the Tigers mostly in check and grinding this one out.

Prediction: Alabama 35, Clemson 30


Statistics courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified. All betting information courtesy of Odds Shark.

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Lane Kiffin Says He Would 'Definitely' Hire Steve Sarkisian

Lane Kiffin has been pretty successful as the offensive coordinator of the Alabama Crimson Tide. You can't say the same thing about his tenure as a head coach.

The former Southern California Trojans and Tennessee Volunteers headman went a pedestrian 35-21 in five years as a head coach, failing to win even one bowl game. In four years at USC, he was 28-15, which won't cut it with one of the most storied football programs in the country.

He left Tennessee after just one year, which did not sit well with the team, and was ousted from USC five games into his fourth season.

Yet if he finds himself leading a team in the future, he would be fine with hiring another embattled former USC coach.

Per Sam Khan Jr. of ESPN.com, Kiffin would have no problem hiring Steve Sarkisian, who was fired by the Trojans in the middle of the season after allegedly appearing intoxicated at a team meeting. According to SB Nation (via ESPN.com), he later checked into a rehabilitation facility.

"Oh, I definitely would [hire him]," Kiffin said, per Khan. "People go through things, and they happen. There are all kinds of comeback stories. ... Hopefully he'll be one of them."

Kiffin pointed to Sarkisian's success with the Washington Huskies as a big reason he would add him to his future staff, per Khan:

People go through things. It doesn't mean he can't coach. The guy is a great playcaller. I always go back to his last year at Washington. In the history of the school there had been six games of over 600 yards. He had six in the same season.

There's no question about that. There's no question about his relationships with the players, quarterback development. We all go through things, and I can tell talking to him that he has come back stronger and he'll be even better.

Of course, Kiffin was just answering a question that came his way, and it's not as though he landed a job and now has to put his money where his mouth is.

However, he didn't brush off the question, either, adding that he invited Sarkisian to attend an Alabama practice last month, though Sarkisian declined, per Khan. Instead, he offered some advice for Kiffin via text message at halftime of Alabama's 38-0 Cotton Bowl victory over the Michigan State Spartans.

Kiffin declined to discuss any possible head coaching jobs prior to his team's College Football Playoff Championship Game against the No. 1 Clemson Tigers, per Khan.

"That's why you have an agent to deal with all of that stuff, but I'm not going into all that," he said. "I have a great job. So any time that stuff comes up, I remind myself that I have a great job with great players and a great head coach and there are only two teams still playing, so we're fortunate to be here."

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Grading the Top 10 Recruits from the 2016 Army All-American Bowl

Like all recruiting showcases, the Army All-American Bowl is more about who commits where and how players develop than the actual game.

Despite that, stars are expected to shine on a national stage and play up to the reputation that got them there.

Even among a group of All-Americans, the following 10 players stand out. They are all 5-star recruits and rank among the top 25 prospects in the class (top 10 in the All-American Bowl). Fans of the teams they will play for tuned in Saturday to see them live for the first time in many cases.

Which ones lived up to the hype?

Begin Slideshow

Nick Saban vs. Dabo Swinney and the Battle for the Soul of College Football

PHOENIX — The smiling, dancing, life-loving head coach wants to talk about jet skis. He's not glowing about his prodigious young quarterback or a defense that was successfully reassembled in a matter of months. Instead, Dabo Swinney, days before a game that could ultimately push his program into another stratosphere of acceptance, is reliving beach volleyball games at the Orange Bowl.

“We were the only team to be on the beach, a week in Miami, and we played pretty good,” Swinney said.

He cracks another smile. Always smiling. Swinney doesn’t look like a man who is being asked to slay a mighty giant. And he doesn’t seem the least bit concerned with what happens next.

Instead, he sounds like himself. The stakes, as different as they are now, have not reshaped what brought him this far.

“It would be sad to come up here at a national championship setting and be all stressed out,” Swinney said. “Stressed about what? I mean, I'm too blessed to be stressed. I mean, I really am.”

That is one way to look at it. But there is another way.

Less than an hour after Swinney was guided off the podium, Alabama commandeered the Phoenix Convention Center for its latest media-day appearance. If they do not make it to this room, the perception would be that something went horribly wrong.

Led into the room by Nick Saban, a different message was delivered. It came from the man Saban tasked to completely recalibrate his offense.

Lane Kiffin has picked up quite a following these last two weeks, looking completely at ease in his role. He looks happy with how far he’s come, although comfort and enjoyment are distant cousins in this instance.

“I don’t think fun is a word used around our program much,” Kiffin told the group of reporters circled around him. “We’re not here to have fun, we’re here to win.”

At its very core, the national championship intrigue starts here. It begins with two programs that have vastly different personalities—starting at the top.

From the coaches, to the offenses, to the defenses, to the history, to the mentalities and expectations, Alabama and Clemson are stark contrasts in almost every way imaginable.

One is as well-known and immutable as the Rock of Gibraltar. The other is a sudden, breathtaking jolt of electricity.

In one corner stands the constant—the most diabolical assembly line in sports. Through no choice of its own, Alabama has become the tyrant. It did not ask for that title, but it doesn’t truly mind it, either.

Operating with a style that is as deliberate as it is devastating, Alabama’s game plan is both recognizable and impossible to duplicate. The mindset is that you will eventually tap out or pass out. It really doesn’t matter what comes first.

The symbol for this team is Derrick Henry—a 242-pound running who somewhat brilliantly ties the whole thing together. Henry exemplifies everything Alabama hopes to be: physically unmatched and completely original.

“When I think of Alabama football, it’s the toughest team out there,” quarterback Jake Coker said. “No matter what happens, you’re going to know you played Alabama.”

In the other corner stands the confident young challenger—bobbing up and down with a different kind of vigor. Completely unfazed by our unwillingness to embrace new powers, Clemson has decided it’s ready for that next step without asking for approval—dancing, laughing and celebrating the whole way.

It has taken this quantum leap forward through a variety of factors, starting with its incredible young quarterback. With Deshaun Watson, anything seems possible. He is the team's heart and soul . He is the symbol for what Clemson is and what it’s trying to become.

He is the piece that Alabama—as exceptional as it is in so many places—cannot match. Few can.

The defense has unquestionably done its part, as has under-celebrated running back Wayne Gallman. This is much more than one player on the verge of greatness, something that can be easily lost. This was years in the making.

Along the way, they have danced. The head coach has not hid his feelings or his personality—celebrating each victory as if it’s the most important yet. In many ways, that is completely true. It’s how we arrived here.

Clemson is on the Alabama path. The Tigers are simply much earlier in the climb, adding in their own flavor along the way.

 “At Alabama, they ask you to win the championship every year,” Swinney said. “At Clemson, it’s only every other year.”

Alabama would like to keep it that way for as long it can. It would like to, one more time until the next time, squeeze the life out of its opponent until it says enough. It would like to, once again, reach unfair expectations.

Clemson would like to officially announce its arrival. It would like to slay the beast and become a beast of its own, showcasing a much-different personality on the grandest of stages.

If the Tigers win, they will dance until they can no longer stand. It will be a party that will be heard all the way back in South Carolina. It won't stop for weeks.

And Alabama?

“We’d probably have a 7:30 a.m. staff meeting,” Kiffin told reporters, cracking just enough of a smile to create some mystery of whether he was joking or not.


Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand.

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Army Bowl Commit Further Supports Jim Harbaugh's Recruiting Power at Michigan

SAN ANTONIO — As the first of five commits at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, 4-star wide receiver Dylan Crawford committed to Michigan over offers from UCLA, Miami and Oregon.

Crawford's pledge put Michigan at No. 2 in the latest 247Sports composite team recruiting rankings behind LSU. His pledge also further proved what Michigan fans have been stressing for months.

Jim Harbaugh can recruit. Very well.

The well-known head coach for the Wolverines now has 24 commitments in the 2016 class. Of the 24, 14 are 4-star prospects. And of the 3-star players committed, one is the No. 2 player from Massachusetts in tight end Sean McKeon; one is the nation's top-ranked fullback in Kingston Davis; and one brings a solid resume to the table in running back Kiante Enis.

Since the summer, Harbaugh has made the commitment to recruiting the entire country a major priority. He made news when he and his staff were a part of a satellite-camp tour that included Texas, Indiana, Alabama, Florida, Pennsylvania and California.

Harbaugh showed all summer that he was likable and easygoing. He instantly became a favorite with many when he would participate in camp drills.

Harbaugh's personality, coupled with the anticipated future of the program, has equated to a class that could ultimately rival LSU by national signing day.

What may be even more impressive is the geographical range of recruiting with Michigan. The Wolverines have only one in-state pledge, 4-star lineman Michael Onwenu. Harbaugh and his coaching staff have ventured all over the country and have players committed from Massachusetts to Florida to California and all points in between.

New Jersey has been a major recruiting state for Harbaugh, as four players—running back Kareem Walker, defensive end Ron Johnson and wide receivers Ahmir Mitchell and Brad Hawkins—all hail from the Garden State. Michigan is hoping to get at least one more player from the state—the nation's top-ranked overall player, defensive tackle Rashan Gary.

As the Wolverines await Gary's much-anticipated commitment, they will relish on their newest pledge. Crawford is a big, athletic wide receiver who will bring speed, power and agility to Ann Arbor.

At The Opening this summer in Oregon, Crawford was a finalist in the Nike Football Rating Championship, recording impressive stats in the 40-yard dash (4.45 seconds), the vertical jump (40.1 inches), the 20-yard shuttle (4.01 seconds) and the power ball toss (44.5 feet).

"Football wise, they're definitely stable right now. They're on the rise," Crawford told 247Sports's Steve Wiltfong. "Networking wise, they're obviously one of the best in the nation. You're going to get your degree. [Harbaugh] is going to be on you to get your degree. I need someone that can push me like that."

The Wolverines have the kind of class that can help Michigan fans forget about previous subpar years. The future is bright; now, it's just a matter of coaching these athletes.

If the Wolverines end up getting some 11th-hour, elite-level commits on Feb. 3, coaching the athletes will get that much easier. Whether you admire or despise Harbaugh, you have to give him and his staff credit for their recruiting efforts.


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

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Lane Kiffin Steals Nick Saban's Spotlight at National Championship

PHOENIX — The desert isn’t known for being particularly kind, and over the years it’s been doubly harsh to University of Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin.

The last time he was here, as Southern California’s head coach in 2013, not only did his team lose to Arizona State 62-41, but Kiffin was subsequently fired upon returning to Los Angeles.

The visit before that was for a hearing with the NCAA that didn’t go particularly well for the Trojans.

Perhaps the third time will be the charm, and Kiffin will finally have some fun in the Phoenix area.

“Fun? We don’t use that word around here,” he said.

Kiffin was only preaching Nick Saban’s message with that statement just two days before Alabama faces Clemson in the National Championship Game (7:30 p.m. CT, ESPN). The coaches have made it clear to the players that this isn’t the same as a bowl game but rather a business trip to procure Alabama’s 16th national title and Saban’s fifth.

“We’re here for the game and nothing else matters,” Kiffin said. “We’re here to win.” 

Meanwhile, across the room Saban was answering questions about Kiffin.

“Lane has done a good job with us, and I think the big thing that every coach that comes into our sort of organization sort of grows and develops into is—there's a certain way that we do things, and it really doesn't matter how you've done them before.

"This is how we do them. We want your input, and we want your ideas, and you can implement certain things in what you do relative to the personnel that we have, which we all make those decisions as a staff, but we also have sort of a process of how we do things, and everybody has got to buy into that.

“I think that him having been a head coach, that was something that he's done a really good job of over time, of sort of doing things the way we want and understanding the importance of that in this organization.”

But with each Kiffin answer the tweets were flying, and before long there were almost as many reporters surrounding him as those standing before Saban’s designated interview station.

Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart was working the room in part to promote his next job as Georgia’s head coach, but it was Kiffin whom ESPN/SEC Network made a point to talk to on air and promote online.

On a day in which just about the only real news was Clemson All-American defensive end Shaq Lawson giving himself about a 60 percent chance of playing due to a sprained knee, Kiffin ended up stealing the spotlight.

For those who don’t know, Alabama’s assistant coaches and coordinators are considered off-limits to reporters with two exceptions: the coordinators participate in a short press conference at the start of training camp and its bowl/playoff media day requirements.

Consequently, with the Cotton Bowl also having a media day and Alabama recently hosting one on-campus, Kiffin has been more available these past couple of weeks than the rest of the entire year.

Moreover, with Alabama having played no closer than Texas during the past two seasons this was the first time since USC that Kiffin was available to a lot of West Coast reporters.

Kiffin poked a little fun at it, joking that he was "A good 20 yards off the tarmac" when he was fired at the airport, and he admitted that he told USC athletic director Pat Haden “At least we found our quarterback,” without realizing that he was being fired. 

Kiffin also remains close to former USC head coach Steve Sarkisian and said his friend texted him some plays at halftime of the 38-0 victory over Michigan State (but didn’t disclose if he used any).

Regarding former Oregon and Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly visiting the Crimson Tide this past week, Kiffin said: “It was good to spend some time with him, to bring him in and get some different ideas.”

Kiffin had served as an Alabama analyst for bowl practices in 2013 before becoming the offensive coordinator. It’s the same job that Saban offered him after first arriving in 2007, but after thinking it over for a couple of days Kiffin decided to stay at USC.

Now he’s finally back in Pac-12 territory, while Clemson is a formidable opponent that will require a completely different approach from Michigan State in the semifinals. For that Kiffin said he scripted the first 22 plays but kept a close eye on how comfortable Jake Coker looked in the pocket.

With the Spartans determined to stop Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, the senior quarterback ended up completing 25 of 30 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions.

“A lot of times we’d read one guy, however he played [that would] determine what my move would be,” Coker said. “It’s a lot of simplified things that Coach Kiffin made and he did a real good job of helping us out.

"He's a football genius.” 


Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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



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Army All-American Bowl 2016: Complete Box Score and Analysis

The 2016 Army All-American Bowl took place on Saturday, and with it the recruiting cycle moved one step closer to completion.

With the Army Bowl, the Under Armour All-America Game and the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl all completed, we've officially reached the stretch run before national signing day on Feb. 3.

While much of the day concerned who committed where, there was also, well, a game to be played. Even in a mostly relaxed exhibition setting, there was plenty to learn on the field.

Let's take a look at who did what.


Line Score

Scoring Summary

The West started fast and took a 13-0 lead. Failing the second PAT stunted its momentum, but despite a wild scoring sequence in the second quarter, it actually extended that lead to 30-9 before halftime.

Things settled down in the third quarter, when both teams failed to score. The West added a final touchdown in the fourth quarter and capped a dominant performance with a fitting 37-9 scoreline. 


Passing Stats

Shea Patterson became the story early, leading Team West to a pair of touchdowns on its first two drives. The coaching staff elected to air things out, and Patterson was best equipped to handle it, posting better numbers than Michigan commit Brandon Peters and Stanford commit K.J. Costello, although Costello also played well.

East star Jacob Eason, who ranks one spot higher than Patterson on the 247Sports composite rankings, had an up-and-down performance. His huge, Matt Stafford-like arm was on display, but he also missed some throws and lost a fumble on a botched shotgun snap.

Florida commit Feleipe Franks, whose development is crucial to the Gators' future, struggled with a pair of interceptions.


Rushing Stats

Oregon commit Vavae Malepeai looks like another great Ducks running back and led the game with 74 yards on eight carries. His long of 25 was also the longest run of the game.

Across the line, future Ohio State Buckeye Demario McCall carried the load. Despite an offense that struggled to get going, he ran hard and finished with 38 yards on nine carries.

The highest-ranked running back in the game, 5-star Clemson commit Tavien Feaster, left with a first-quarter injury and did not return. His loss was unfortunate, but the injury did not appear serious.


Receiving Stats 

Team West aired things out and spread the wealth, and as a result five players recorded 25-50 receiving yards.

Simi Fehoko caught Patterson's 35-yard flea-flicker in the first quarter, staking the West to a lead it would never relinquish;Trevor Sikkema provided highlights:

That stood as the longest offensive play of the game until Donnie Corley, fresh off committing to Michigan State, caught a 39-yarder in the second half.

Corley's future teammate, Michigan State commit Cameron Chambers, led Team East with 39 yards on five receptions. Only four East players caught passes, which underscores the way its offense struggled. 


Notable Defensive Stats

Cornerback Jack Jones, a top-50 overall recruit who also plays receiver, had the best defensive performance of the day. He led the game with eight tackles and also recorded an interception.

The Team East highlight was inside linebacker Shaq Quarterman, who recorded six tackles. He should follow a nice lineage of inside linebackers at Miami, where he's headed to play next season.


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

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Following Army All-American Bowl, Who Is Real 2016 No. 1 QB Recruit?

SAN ANTONIO — It took only one drive early in the first quarter for quarterback Shea Patterson to introduce himself to the casual fan.

Patterson's first pass: A screen pass to new Michigan Wolverines receiver Dylan Crawford. The second pass: A dart to Stanford Cardinal-bound receiver Simi Fehoko for 15 yards.

After an incompletion where Miami Hurricanes pledge Tyler Byrd made a great defensive play, Patterson connected again with Fehoko for a 35-yard touchdown pass.

That pretty much summed up the day for Patterson, an Ole Miss Rebels pledge who made a strong case to be the nation's top-ranked quarterback. In a game where he split time with Stanford commit K.J. Costello and Michigan commit Brandon Peters, Patterson completed six of nine passes for 90 yards and two touchdowns for the game and also walked away with the Pete Dawkins Trophy, which is awarded to the game's most valuable player.

"I came here to compete," Patterson said. "This was a dream of mine."

To the casual fan, Patterson was impressive. And what's not to like? He throws an accurate ball deep, intermediate and short. His footwork and accuracy run neck and neck for his best assets. And when it comes to pressure situations, Patterson rarely panics.

Saturday was proof of that.

To those who have followed Patterson's recruiting process since his freshman year, his performance Saturday was par for the course. Every game, the 5-star quarterback plays as if he's on a mission to show everyone he's the best of a talented quarterback class.

It looked that way on Saturday—and the majority of his efforts came in the first half. He completed five of seven passes and accounted for both touchdowns in the first 21 minutes of play.

"I've dreamed about this since I was a little kid," he said. "I remember watching Cody Kessler and Bubba Starling play in this game maybe four or five years ago. It's just a childhood dream of mine come true. This is awesome."

Currently, Patterson is ranked the No. 2 pro-style quarterback in the 2016 class behind Georgia Bulldogs-bound Jacob Eason. Of the quarterbacks at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, five of the top six pro-style quarterbacks were in San Antonio.

Eason, the top-ranked pro-style quarterback, has all the measurables coaches want, and he showed his arm strength on a few of his passes. However, Eason had troubles fielding the snap early, and he finished completing six of 13 passes for 71 yards an interception. Feleipe Franks, a Florida Gators commit, threw two interceptions and completed only one pass.

Costello had a decent day, completing six of 10 passes for 76 yards and two touchdowns, but he also threw a pick early. Peters had the game's longest completion of 39 yards, but he only completed four of 16 passes for the day. Jawon Pass, the nation's No. 6 dual-threat quarterback, rushed for a score and completed five of nine passes for 47 yards for the day.

In short, Patterson displayed everything necessary to put himself in position to take over the top quarterback spot. And he did it against 5-star stud defensive tackles like Dexter Lawrence and Derrick Brown.

And now, Patterson focuses on life at Ole Miss, a place where many feel he'll challenge for the starting position early in his career. If he plays at Ole Miss anywhere close to how he played Saturday, Rebels fans should be excited for what's expected to be a fantastic career.


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

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Army All-American Bowl 2016: Score, Recruit Commitments and Twitter Reaction

The West team came out on top in the premier college recruit all-star game Saturday, as it easily defeated the East 37-9 in the 2016 Army All-American Bowl at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

Ole Miss quarterback recruit Shea Patterson took home MVP honors for the West, according to Yancy Porter of Scout, as he completed six of his 10 passes for 90 yards and two touchdowns in an extremely efficient performance:

Here is an in-depth look at how the 2016 Army All-American Bowl played out, along with a breakdown of the five recruits who announced their collegiate commitments Saturday.


Game Recap

The West came out of the gates firing thanks to the play of Patterson and his wide array of offensive weapons.

Following a 55-yard kickoff return, Patterson took advantage of the East's lax coverage in the secondary by finding Stanford wide receiver commit Simi Fehoko for a 35-yard touchdown.

According to Keith Niebuhr of 247Sports, Patterson's strong opening performance was quite consistent with what he brought to the table at the high school level:

While Patterson certainly has a lot of work to do before assuming the starting quarterback job with the Rebels, Chad Simmons of Scout firmly believes he will develop into one of the best signal-callers and players in the nation:

The East had a chance to answer on the ensuing drive with Georgia commit and No. 1-ranked quarterback Jacob Eason at the helm.

Eason fumbled a snap deep in his own territory, though, and then fumbled again after recovering it and getting hit. That allowed TCU running back commit Sewo Olonilua to punch the ball in from one yard out to give the West a 13-0 lead. A missed extra point followed.

As Mike Farrell of Rivals pointed out, Eason didn't look particularly comfortable on what turned out to be a disastrous opening drive for the East:

Scoring stalled out for a while after that, but there were some spectacular defensive plays sprinkled in, including Miami (Fla.) cornerback commit Tyler Byrd picking off Stanford recruit KJ Costello.

While Byrd showed excellent ball skills on the play, Bleacher Report's David Kenyon pointed out that he was helped out by a less-than-stellar Costello throw:

The West extended its lead with less than nine minutes remaining in the first half when Patterson threw his second touchdown of the day to Javon McKinley, who announced his college decision later in the game.

After Patterson found pay dirt on the play, Farrell pointed out that he was establishing himself as the game's top passer:

That score put the West up 19-0, but the East finally got on the board when Byrd blocked an extra-point attempt and returned it all the way to make it 19-2.

Former NFL quarterback and current Yahoo analyst Shaun King was among those who loved what they saw out of Byrd:

Byrd's big play gave the East the momentum it needed, as the team's ensuing drive ended in its first touchdown of the day when Louisville quarterback commit Jawon Pass ran for a short touchdown to pull to within 10 points of the lead:

Despite Pass sparking the East on offense, Woody Wommack of Rivals believes he has a lot of developing to do in comparison to the game's other quarterbacks:

The West bounced back, as it added 11 more points to its total in the final few minutes of the opening half.

Costello connected with USC commit Tyler Vaughns for a 19-yard touchdown before finding Olonilua for a two-point conversion to make the score 27-9:

After watching Vaughns' TD, Greg Biggins of Fox Sports lauded the pass-catcher for his skills as a receiver:

BYU kicker commit Skyler Southam had a rough first half, but he atoned for it just prior to halftime by knocking a 28-yard field goal through the uprights to put the West ahead 30-9 after 24 minutes.

Following a scoreless third quarter, the West continued to pour it on early in the fourth when Costello threw his second touchdown of the day, this time to uncommitted California tight end and defensive end Devin Asiasi to make it 37-9.

The 4-star Asiasi is ranked as the No. 4 athlete in the class, and Jason Howell of Rivals loved what he saw out of him on the play at the tight end position:

Eason's struggles continued for the East on the next drive, as he was intercepted by undecided cornerback Jack Jones. That prompted ESPN.com's Max Olson to observe that Eason may have been dealing with a thumb injury, although nothing was confirmed on that front.

The East team didn't take any chances, holding him out for the remainder of the game. Neither team was able to add to its respective scoring totals.

While there was a major disparity on the scoreboard, both the East and West showcased a ton of talent in the 2016 Army All-American Bowl.

If Saturday's game was any indication, then college football is in for a major infusion of talent.


Recruit Commitments

The first of five live college commitments during the 2016 Army All-American Bowl occurred during the first quarter when wide receiver Dylan Crawford made his choice.

The Rancho Santa Margarita, California, native ranks as the No. 20 wide receiver in his class, and he will attempt to live up to that billing at the University of Michigan, according to the Army All-American Bowl's official Twitter account:

Per Nick Baumgardner of MLive, Crawford pointed toward Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh's presence as one of the defining factors in his decision to make the move to Ann Arbor during the game's broadcast.

"I just felt it was the all-around best fit for me," Crawford said. "They've got a good network there, I can go in there and try and compete from the beginning. Coach Harbaugh's going to get you right."

After Michigan secured Crawford, 247Sports pointed out the Wolverines have the best recruiting class in the Big Ten and the second-best in the nation:

In the second quarter, defensive tackle Ross Blacklock chose between TCU, Houston and Texas A&M.

The Missouri City, Texas, native ultimately decided to join Gary Patterson's Horned Frogs in the Big 12 Conference:

At 314 pounds, Blacklock rates as the No. 28 defensive tackle and No. 271 overall prospect in the 2016 recruiting class.

Fellow TCU commit and 4-star defensive end Isaiah Chambers was excited after hearing that he will play alongside Blacklock at the collegiate level:

Donnie Corley is an impressive wide receiver and cornerback recruit, and he declared his college choice in the third quarter.

Big Ten powers Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State were in the running, but the No. 2 player from the state of Michigan decided to remain close to home by committing to play for the Spartans:

While Corley is a 4-star wide receiver and the No. 19 wideout in his class, he is certainly talented enough to play on both sides of the ball.

According to Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports, Corley said during the Army All-American Bowl broadcast that his dual-threat ability played into his decision.

"They've just been real with me since the beginning," Corley said. "It was one of my first offers. I just love what Coach [Mark] Dantonio is doing up there. They've been winning the last couple years. They're in need of a lot of receivers and I got a chance to play both ways."

The third and final wide receiver to commit on the day did so in the fourth quarter, as Javon McKinley considered finalists Notre Dame, Oregon and Washington.

While the Corona, California, native is far closer to Pac-12 country, he decided to make the long trip to South Bend, Indiana, to play for Brian Kelly and the Fighting Irish:

The 4-star wideout ranks as the No. 18 receiver in the class of 2016, and, according to Wiltfong, he gave a number of reasons for his desire to be a Golden Domer on the broadcast.

"One of the best degree schools you could get," McKinley said. "I connected with the coaching staff really well. The whole tradition of Notre Dame is something to really look into. I just like Notre Dame."

The biggest announcement of the day was saved for last when 5-star No. 1-ranked tight end Isaac Nauta ended his recruiting process.

While Michigan made a late push to land him in addition to Crawford, Nauta's preference to remain close to home won out, as the Buford, Georgia, native committed to play for the Georgia Bulldogs, according to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports.

Even though the Wolverines came up short in the their pursuit of Nauta, Steve Lorenz of 247Sports still felt as though it was a significant step for Michigan in its quest to become a recruiting power once again:

Nauta will combine with Eason to create one of the most exciting, young offensive combinations in college football.

One can only assume that Nauta will be huge for Eason's development as a passer since he is among the highest-rated tight ends to enter the college ranks over the past several years, per Paul Maharry of UGASports.com:

Georgia may have scored the biggest coup of the day by getting its quarterback an elite weapon, but a number of schools significantly improved.

All five of the prospects who committed during the 2016 Army All-American Bowl have a chance to be NFL players, while several others who put forth strong on-field performances during the contest will have that opportunity as well.


*All recruit information and rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Winners and Losers of the 2016 Army All-American Bowl

The 2016 edition of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl is in the books as the West squad defeated the East 37-9 at the Alamodome in San Antonio. 

While fans across the country got to see recruits who could make an impact for their favorite schools as soon as this fall, there’s still plenty of work to do for those players who have still yet to make a decision on where they will commit. 

However, some teams got some good news, as five players announced their commitments during the game while others are left to regroup after missing out on them.

Additionally, some committed players backed up their lofty prep accolades and displayed why fans should be anxious in anticipating their arrival on campus. 

Who makes up the winners and losers from the 2016 Army All-American Bowl?

Begin Slideshow

Isaac Nauta to Georgia: Bulldogs Land 5-Star TE Prospect

When 5-star tight end Isaac Nauta decided to decommit from Florida State, he dealt the Seminoles a major blow. But he will drastically improve Georgia's 2016 recruiting class, as he ultimately decided to commit to the Bulldogs.

According to Jeff Sentell of Dawg Nation, Nauta officially committed to Georgia on Saturday and "has already applied for admission at UGA and will enroll early on Jan. 11."

The 6'3" and 244-pound tight end from IMG Academy is the No. 1-ranked tight end, the third-best prospect from the state of Georgia and the No. 9 overall prospect in the 2016 class, according to 247Sports' composite rankings.

Nauta's size and athleticism make him an exciting prospect. He'll high-point the ball in the air, and he has soft hands for a man his size, but he's also physical in the running game and attacks his blocking assignment.

It's a huge boon to Georgia's already-impressive recruiting class for 2016, with Radi Nabulsi of UGASports.com noting his commitment gives the Bulldogs the top tight end and top-ranked pro-style quarterback in Jacob Eason. 

Nauta looks as though he'll be a very versatile tight end who can stay on the field in all situations. 

He looks like a special prospect at the tight end position and is the sort of talent an offensive coordinator can utilize in a number of ways. 

Georgia's 2016 recruiting class before he committed was ranked 11th overall by 247Sports. New head coach Kirby Smart is making a profound impact on the program already. 

Florida State's loss, then, certainly is Georgia's massive gain.  

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No. 1 TE Isaac Nauta Will Provide Immediate Impact for Georgia

The momentum for Georgia and new head coach Kirby Smart is continuing to build. The Bulldogs landed a major piece to their 2016 class when 5-star tight end Isaac Nauta announced his commitment to Georgia during the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

The 6’3”, 244-pounder, who is originally from Buford, Georgia, will now head to Athens after choosing the Bulldogs over finalists Alabama and Michigan.

That proximity to home certainly didn’t hurt the Bulldogs' chances, but his bond with Smart also helped Georgia’s push to land him in the end.

"It's close to home and there's always a chance to win the SEC East with all the talent around the area," Nauta told Bleacher Report’s Tyler Donohue earlier this week. "I have a good relationship with Kirby Smart."

Nauta is the No. 9 overall prospect in the 2016 class and the nation’s top tight end prospect. As an added bonus, he will be on campus later this month as an early enrollee.

But there are many layers to his pledge that make it even more significant for the Bulldogs.

For starters, he’s an elite tight end who gives the Bulldogs a pass-catching threat and poses instant mismatch problems for defenses as soon as he steps foot on the field.

He also possesses the physical toughness necessary to step into the SEC and immediately be a factor. 

Nauta was dominant at The Opening over the summer, and he continued to flash his abilities both as a receiver and as a physical blocker in the run game during practices in San Antonio this week, as detailed by Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports.

Given the fact that he will get a chance to go through spring drills, he’ll have a shot to master the playbook of new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney by the time fall rolls around—which is his main goal now that his recruitment is finished.

"I want to get with coaches every day and learn the offense so by the time spring ball rolls around I'll be ready to go. I want to play right away as a freshman," Nauta told Donohue. 

With fellow 5-star recruit and early enrollee Jacob Eason a threat to be the Bulldogs starting quarterback this fall, pairing him with a battery mate such as Nauta would give him a safety net when things break down.

Another benefit of Nauta’s pledge is the boost it could give the Bulldogs down the stretch.

Smart and his staff have a handful of elite prospects, such as 5-star defensive tackle Derrick Brown and 5-star athletes Mecole Hardman Jr. and Demetris Robertson, who are all heavily considering staying in-state and choosing Georgia.

Regardless of who joins him in Athens, Nauta is the type of weapon who can make an immediate impact next season—which makes his commitment one worth celebrating for Bulldogs fans.


Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Information from Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue was used in this story. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Javon McKinley to Notre Dame: Fighting Irish Land 4-Star WR Prospect

One of the best playmakers in 2016's recruiting class is off the board, as wide receiver Javon McKinley has committed to Notre Dame.

Mike Farrell of Rivals.com reported McKinley's decision.

A four-star prospect out of Corona, California, McKinley is ranked as the No. 18 wide receiver in his class by 247 Sports. He's got a college-ready frame at 6'2" and 203 pounds, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see him on the field as a freshman. 

During The Opening event in July, McKinley showcased his ability to snatch a ball out of the air and run past defensive backs:

Every coach in the country loves to see what a player will do surrounded by traffic. McKinley has the chops to go over the middle and make plays because of his size and strength, making up for some deficiencies he has in other areas. 

That brief video does highlight some of those concerns scouts have with McKinley at this point in his development. He's not afraid to play physical with opposing cornerbacks, but lacks the ability to get away from them.

Here's ESPN.com's scouting report on McKinley's weaknesses: 

Needs to come off the ball with more purpose, explosion. Runs to just try and get open, not a lot of precision or reason for his methods. Muscles his way through tight coverage and needs technical polish and coaching as a route runner. Is more of a run and catch guy right now that is difficult to tackle. Needs to learn nuance and coverage.

This is hardly a crippling flaw in McKinley's game as he prepares to enter college. It's rare to find a wide receiver who knows how to run routes. These players spend four years in high school knowing they can just jump over cornerbacks to make big plays. 

Moving into college is the true test of a player's ability. McKinley has the raw physical package to be a superstar at the next level and will do well to start working with a college coaching staff as soon as possible to work out some kinks. 

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Donnie Corley to Michigan State: Spartans Land 4-Star WR Prospect

Michigan's second-ranked receiver prospect, Donnie Corley, announced he is staying in-state, committing to the Michigan State Spartans following Saturday's Army All-American Bowl, according to Mike Farrell of Rivals. 

Corley is a 6'2", 185-pound wideout from Detroit Martin Luther King High School in Wyandotte, Michigan. He's considered the No. 2 player in his state, the No. 19 wide receiver in the country and the No. 112 player overall, according to 247Sports' composite rankings.

Corley burst onto the scene in 2014, nabbing 47 catches for 1,087 yards and 18 receiving touchdowns. He's versatile as well, as he added nine interceptions that season as a corner. 

Corley has good size and speed for his position and is a smooth, natural athlete. He's excellent at high-pointing the ball as both a receiver and corner but is also very dangerous after the catch, making him a dangerous playmaker in the passing game. 

He has the ability to play corner at the next level too, however, and has ideal size at the position, so it's possible he could make the move to the defensive side of the ball.

Either way, Michigan State landed an excellent recruit and a player who should be a difference-maker in Mark Dantonio's offense.


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Ross Blacklock to TCU: Horned Frogs Land 4-Star DT Prospect

Ross Blacklock had long been expected to continue his football career in the Lone Star State, and following Saturday’s Army All-American Bowl, he reaffirmed those forecasts by signing with TCU.

Jeremy Birmingham of Eleven Warriors passed along Blacklock's decision. 

Blacklock is listed as a 4-star prospect and the nation’s No. 28 defensive tackle, per 247Sports. He has tremendous upside with the size and strength—6’4” and 314 pounds—to dictate traffic at the line of scrimmage.

The Missouri City, Texas, native was expected to sign with an in-state team, with Texas A&M, TCU and Houston his three finalists, per Howard Chen of CSN Houston.

Texas A&M made a hard push, with head coach Kevin Sumlin making an in-home visit in early December, according to Chuck Kingsbury of SEC Country, wooing Blacklock with the prospect of lining up next to former 5-star defensive tackle Daylon Mack.

LSU was in the mix for Blacklock as well, per Kingsbury, but faded around the holiday. He also has a scheduled visit to Alabama on Jan. 15, according to Gabe Brooks of Scout. Whether he still takes that visit remains to be seen.

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Dylan Crawford to Michigan: Wolverines Land 4-Star WR Prospect

Although they still have some time to wait before National Signing Day next month, Michigan fans can already start preparing for Dylan Crawford to arrive in Ann Arbor.

The 4-star wide receiver announced his commitment to Jim Harbaugh's team on Saturday, per Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free-Press:

According to 247Sports' composite rankings, Crawford is the 20th-best wideout in the 2016 recruiting class and ranks 113th overall. He's also the 18th-best player in the state of California.

Crawford made major waves in January 2015 when he announced that he was transferring from St. Francis High School to Santa Margarita Catholic High School.

Crawford's father, Glenn, revealed that education was the motivating factor behind the choice, per Aram Tolegian of the San Gabriel Valley Tribune: "Our family has nothing but great feelings for St. Francis and wish them the best in all things. The decision was made to accommodate academic options that would allow Dylan to graduate high school a semester early and allow him to start his life as a collegiate scholar-athlete."

The biggest on-field benefit for Crawford was that he would get paired with quarterback KJ Costello, who's also a 4-star recruit in the 2016 recruiting class. With a player that talented throwing him passes, Crawford couldn't have asked for a better situation to serve as a springboard to the collegiate level.

In addition, the two have a close relationship, taking multiple recruiting trips together:

Crawford is one of those receivers who doesn't have otherworldly gifts, but whatever physical advantage he lacks on a defensive back, he makes up for with on-field intelligence. The wideout knows how to use his hands to gain separation from his defender; he can also adjust his routes so as to be in the best position to make the catch.

That's not to say that Crawford is completely bereft of speed and agility. He possesses a wide variety of skills that will allow him to play a few different roles in the passing game.

The Wolverines currently have the nation's second-ranked recruiting class for 2016, per 247Sports, which doesn't yet factor in Crawford's commitment. Harbaugh is stockpiling a lot of impact talent after his first season with the program.

This is unlikely to be Michigan's biggest catch of the recruiting season, but Crawford has the potential to be a difference-maker in the Wolverines' offense in a few years.


Recruit star ratings and rankings via 247Sports, unless otherwise noted.

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