A college football team's recruiting class is judged by the sum of its parts, but there's no denying the player at the top tends to draw the most initial interest.
These are the prospects each Power Five team wanted more than anyone else—the ones who serve as the face of their class and thus head into 2016 with the most notoriety.
Not all of the top recruits will end up contributing this first season, but for the time being, they're drawing the most attention. We've evaluated the top signee—based on their 247Sports composite ranking—for each Power Five conference team (as well as BYU and Notre Dame) and assessed their chances of being a part of the plan for this fall.
Anyone who wonders what kind of impact a freshman can have on a team only needs to look at the University of Alabama football program last season.
While many would think the Crimson Tide might probably be the least likely team for a freshman to contribute about half of the 2015 recruiting class, they did with wide receiver Calvin Ridley joining Amari Cooper as the only first-year players in program history to have 1,000-yard seasons.
“Well, he didn’t go into the year replacing a guy like Amari; that’s not our expectation for him,” head coach Nick Saban said. “He was playing, rotating with Robert Foster and ArDarius Stewart and [Richard] Mullaney. Those four guys were sort of playing a lot. Robert Foster got hurt, and that gave Calvin a lot more opportunity to play.
“But I can’t really say that I am surprised. When we recruited him, we thought he was an outstanding talent.”
Ridley and redshirt freshman cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who caught the onside kick against Clemson in the national championship game, ended up named to the Football Writers Association of America's Freshman All-America Team.
They were two of eight Southeastern Conference selections—the most of any league. The others were Arkansas linebacker Dre Greenlaw, LSU offensive lineman Will Clapp, Missouri defensive end Walter Brady and defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr., with Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk named an all-purpose player and Florida’s Antonio Callaway at punt returner.
With that in mind, here’s a look at the SEC teams most likely starting some true freshmen in 2016:
By looking at 247Sports' team rankings, we know which teams added the most talent by volume this recruiting cycle.
We don't know, necessarily, where they added it.
To fix that, we've graded which team signed the most talent at each position. There are spots where even Alabama, which just won its sixth straight recruiting national title, failed to sign whomever it wanted.
The grades made heavy use of 247Sports' composite ratings, which aggregate four separate recruiting services. From there we compared the quality and quantity of players at each position in each class.
Sound off below and let us know what you think!
National signing day is over, and the elation over completing a school’s recruiting class is still echoing around campuses across the Pac-12.
All told, it was a fairly impressive effort from several of the conference’s football programs. Both USC and UCLA finished strong to capture top-15 recruiting classes nationally, and others such as Arizona State, Oregon and Washington faired well in the rankings with top-40 classes despite not having a ton of scholarships to offer this February.
While coaches have barely had time to catch their breath from being out on the recruiting trail, work is no doubt underway to prepare for 2016. With that in mind, let's turn our attention to Pac-12 teams most likely to start their recently signed players as true freshmen or transfers this season.
While every squad will likely see a newcomer wind up as a starter because of either injuries or talent level, here are a few who are already factoring in their new signees.
The big winners of national signing day earlier this week were obvious.
Defending national champion Alabama closed extremely hard to put together another consensus No. 1 class. Texas skyrocketed up the rankings with a big Wednesday haul. Michigan nabbed the nation's top player on a day that featured a one-of-a-kind recruiting event with plenty of celebrities.
Other recruiting powerhouses such as Florida State, LSU, Ohio State, Georgia and Auburn finished once again with top-10 classes. Florida, Tennessee, Notre Dame and Penn State occupied coveted spots in the overall top 20.
But what about those programs that didn't get much of the spotlight on signing day? Which ones can feel like they signed a haul that was much better than the rankings indicated?
Here are 10 programs that finished outside the top 20 of 247Sports' composite team rankings with truly underrated recruiting classes, based on the percentage of blue-chip recruits they signed and the needs they filled. True success on the recruiting trail doesn't always come down to who gets the best numbers.
Which 2016 recruiting class outside the top 20 do you believe is the most underrated? Tell us in the comments below.
The University of Southern California announced Friday that athletic director Pat Haden is going to retire from the position effective June 30.
USC president C. L. Max Nikias passed along the news in a letter to the school community. He also stated Haden agreed to a one-year deal to lead the renovation of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Nikias went on to explain the process school officials are planning to replace Haden:
Going forward, I will be working closely with Nick Brill, principal and co-founder of the Brill Neumann executive search firm, to identify USC's next athletic director. His firm brings valuable experience working with USC, and me directly, on previous executive searches, including senior vice president positions. The process will be national in scope, with all proceedings held in the strictest confidence, for the benefit of USC Athletics and all qualified candidates.
Nathan Fenno of the Los Angeles Times provided further background about the search:
Bleacher Report's Bryan Fischer included the names of some potential candidates:
Haden, who played quarterback for the Trojans in the 1970s, returned to the program to serve as athletic director starting in 2010.
His retirement announcement comes after a tumultuous stretch for the football program, which included the firing of Steve Sarkisian in October. The former head coach filed a wrongful-termination lawsuit in December for letting him go while he sought alcohol-rehabilitation treatment, per ESPN.
Research by Paul Pringle and Nathan Fenno of the Los Angeles Times after Sarkisian's departure showed Haden was filling more than a dozen roles aside from his work with USC. He downplayed the issue, however.
"You can't work any more at this job than I do," Haden said. But that didn't stop the criticism directed at the 63-year-old.
In late October, he stepped down from the College Football Playoff selection committee and stated his doctors wanted him to take on less travel burden, as the CFP's official site noted.
Despite the mixed feedback late in Haden's tenure, Nikias applauded his overall efforts with the school's athletic department over the past handful of years, as Greg Beacham of the Associated Press highlighted:
By retiring from the role of athletic director but agreeing to help with the stadium renovations, Haden gets to remain close to the football program without the same level of burden. And USC can begin to move in a new direction once the new AD is hired.
The announcement didn't include a timetable for how long that search is going to last.
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With national signing day over, the rosters for 2016 are about 99 percent set. Now comes the true offseason when two-deeps are formed, crumpled up, thrown in the trash and then drawn back up. (And then the process is repeated again. Probably a few times.)
With high school football and summer camps creating a year-round sport, incoming freshmen are more prepared than ever to play, and in some cases start, right away. In the following slides are the teams most likely to start key 2016 signees next season.
The reality is every Big 12 program will play some freshmen—and it's hardly alone in that, too—so where's the fun in projecting that? Rather, we're taking a look at teams that are most likely to start multiple first-year players, whom we identify as well, from Week 1 based on talent and depth-chart needs.
Pittsburgh Panthers running back James Conner was one of the shining stars in college football when he won the 2014 ACC Player of the Year, but his world drastically changed in 2015 when he announced he was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma. Pittsburgh received promising news Friday, and its coach reportedly expects the running back to return in 2016.
Jared Shanker of ESPN confirmed Pat Narduzzi believes Conner will take the field in 2016 and passed along this quote from the coach:
Conner was one of the best running backs in the country in 2014 and tallied 1,765 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns. He started the 2015 season in a promising way with 77 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the season opener against Youngstown State, but he injured his MCL and missed the rest of the campaign.
He announced he had Hodgkin lymphoma in December and was optimistic about the future at the time in a press release (via Matt Fortuna of ESPN.com): "I will play football again. I will be at Heinz Field again. I have the best coaches and teammates in the country. I thank God I chose Pitt because now I also have the best doctors in the country, and together we will win. I know this city has my back."
Narduzzi also pledged the support of the football team, via Fortuna:
Know this: James Conner will not face this challenge alone. We are all going to be right beside him every step of the way. And the day that he is declared cancer free, we will all celebrate like we do after one of his patented touchdown runs. James has never backed down from an opponent, and we all know this is a battle he will win.
Jerry DiPaola of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review noted in January Conner “reacted well” to the majority of the chemotherapy treatments and was already back in the Pittsburgh weight room at times.
Andrea Adelson of ESPN.com provided another update and said Conner wouldn’t participate in spring practice but “is targeting a September return.”
The Panthers play Penn State, Oklahoma State and North Carolina in September, so it would be a major boost if they added a game-changing running back to the mix during a daunting portion of their schedule.
If Conner does return, it will be another success story in football for a player dealing with this disease. Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in 2014, and all he did was make the Pro Bowl this season as an enforcer on the back end of the defense.
The Panthers do have some pieces to fill in for Conner until he is back.
Qadree Ollison played admirably in Conner’s absence in 2015 and topped the 1,000-yard mark with 1,121 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns in his freshman season. It is only natural to expect further development with a year of experience under his belt at the collegiate level, and he will certainly be ready to tote the rock until Conner is back (and share the backfield when that happens).
Darrin Hall was another freshman back for the Panthers last season who tallied 257 rushing yards and two touchdowns and adds important depth to the backfield.
Pittsburgh improved from 6-7 in 2014 to 8-5 in Narduzzi’s first season and reached the Military Bowl. The team could be even stronger and continue that ascension in 2016, especially if Conner joins an already talented running back group.
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National signing day is in the books for 2016, and the Big Ten has added a new crop of talent to its core for the coming years.
Overall, it was an impressive day for the conference, with two top-five classes and five top-25 finishes in the 247Sports' national rankings.
Some players will wait longer to develop, while other true freshmen will make an instant impact in the 2016 season. Much of that will be based on the specific needs of each team and the ability of its true freshmen to contribute immediately.
When it comes to the Big Ten, 2016 should be an interesting year, as several of the league's high-profile teams may need to count on true freshmen at one point or another. With that in mind, let's take a look at the Big Ten teams that are most likely to start their recently signed players in 2016.
On Friday, Johnson tweeted a message stating he was opening up his recruitment again, although Alabama would continue to be one of his top schools:
The 4-star offensive guard from Cedar Grove High School in Ellenwood, Georgia, had been committed to Alabama since receiving an offer from the Crimson Tide at a camp last June.
Johnson, a 6'5" and 330-pound junior, is currently rated as the nation's No. 5 offensive guard and No. 121 overall recruit. He was Alabama's fifth-highest-rated commitment for the 2017 class, which is currently ranked No. 2 behind Ohio State.
The news of Johnson's decommitment from the Crimson Tide is a good sign for SEC rivals Auburn and Georgia, who are said to be among his new leaders.
Half of Johnson's four "crystal ball" predictions at 247Sports have him staying in state with the Bulldogs this time next year.
New Georgia coach Kirby Smart told reporters Wednesday that the offensive line would be a high priority for the Bulldogs in the 2017 class after missing out on several key targets in this past cycle.
"When you go to the offensive line, it's not exactly what we want," Smart said, per Edward Aschoff of ESPN.com. "We want some offensive tackles. If you say what's the number one need going into 2017, it's offensive tackles is what we need. That's the most deficient area on our front."
Although Johnson is listed as a guard on 247Sports, he has the size and the ability to play offensive tackle at the next level.
According to Keith Niebuhr of 247Sports, Auburn could be considered the new No. 1 school for Johnson, who visited the Plains last weekend and said the Tigers "were his No. 2" behind Alabama.
Johnson was high school teammates with 2016 4-star defensive tackle Antwuan Jackson, who enrolled early with the Tigers. He also met new Auburn offensive line coach Herb Hand, formerly of Penn State.
"One, they have one of my players," Johnson said, per Niebuhr. "My coaches like the school and have a great connection. So I’m really liking Auburn night now."
A team outside the SEC that could become a major factor in this 2017 offensive lineman's recruitment is none other than Michigan.
Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh visited Johnson on Jan. 25 and offered him a scholarship, giving him 15 total offers from FBS programs.
"I'm definitely interested in Michigan," Johnson said, per Steve Lorenz of 247Sports. "I find them to be a very great school and a very great football program. ... Coach Harbaugh is the one who offered me, and I already know he is a great coach that knows how to produce and win games."
Like Auburn, Michigan also has a former Cedar Grove teammate of Johnson's set to join its roster—2016 3-star inside linebacker signee Elysee Mbem-Bosse.
Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.
Justin Ferguson is a college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.
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Ben Davis was diligent on the recruiting trail but ultimately found no alternative worth passing on a legacy opportunity at Alabama.
"I went with my heart," the nation's No. 1 overall linebacker recruit told Bleacher Report.
Davis committed to the Crimson Tide on national signing day, following his father's footsteps to Tuscaloosa. He declared those intentions Wednesday morning during a ceremony at Gordo High School in Alabama:
Davis, a 6'3", 240-pound prospect, considered several universities during an expansive recruitment process, displaying perhaps more reciprocated interest elsewhere than many anticipated. His dad, Wayne Davis, is Alabama's all-time tackles leader, recording 327 during a career that spanned 1983 through 1986.
That personal tie with the program provides extra incentive to pile up big plays in Tuscaloosa.
"He's got a great record there, but I'll be shooting for it. I'm gonna try to bust it," Davis said. "I won't be thinking about it. I'm just going to ball out, work hard, and if it happens, it happens. It'd be pretty cool. I'm gonna try to break it."
Davis racked up 119 tackles and seven touchdown receptions in 2015, according to Joey Chandler of the Tuscaloosa News, earning MVP honors at the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic. He was also a finalist for the Butkus Award, which is annually handed out to America's premier high school linebacker.
Despite official visits to Auburn, Georgia, LSU and Notre Dame, national recruiting analysts pegged Davis as a 100 percent Crimson Tide lock in his 247Sports Crystal Ball. The decision wasn't nearly that simple, according to Nick Saban's newest blue-chip defender.
"I was really sweating it between Alabama and Auburn," Davis said. "I had such a great visit to Auburn last weekend, but I just woke up and went with my heart."
He didn't finalize a choice until the morning of national signing day, notifying defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and assistant Bo Davis prior to sharing his intentions with a national television audience. He spoke with Saban afterward.
"He's ready to get me down to Tuscaloosa and coach me," Davis said. "It seems like he's already ready for next season. Very business-like, which is what I like. He knows what it takes to win, and I'm ready to be part of the process."
Rated No. 10 among all 2016 recruits in composite rankings, he was considered one of the most coveted uncommitted athletes entering national signing day. Hours after his announcement, fellow in-state 5-star linebacker and Butkus Award finalist Lyndell "Mack" Wilson also signed with the Crimson Tide over Georgia.
Davis and Wilson are close friends and often discussed the possibility of pairing up throughout this process. That plan came to fruition, providing Alabama with a 10-star linebacker duo that helped propel the program to a sixth straight No. 1 recruiting class in composite rankings.
"We talked about it a lot during the past year. We work together in a special way, and we're really like brothers," Davis said. "Our families have bonded, and it kind of feels like family. He and I can help continue a great linebacker tradition at Alabama."
Based on conversations with the Crimson Tide coaching staff, Davis expects to begin his collegiate career at inside linebacker. He will enroll at the university in June.
"Our class can help create another dynasty. But we've got to come in, work hard and strive to be great. It's all about getting better every day and pushing for a national championship," he said.
Coaching staffs across the country invested significant effort in an attempt to sever Davis' ties with the school his father attended. After years of surveying his options, the lauded linebacker officially feels right at home with Alabama.
"My dad was very excited. It means a lot to be able to do this," Davis said. "I get to play the game that I love and continue a legacy at Alabama."
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