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Who Are the Most Valuable Offensive Coordinators in College Football?

Peyton Manning’s (likely) final rodeo and ride off into the sunset during Super Bowl 50 received most of the attention on Sunday following the Denver Broncos' 24-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers, but there was one storyline that proved to be key to the final outcome of the game: that of victorious defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.

The longtime coach capped off a weekend in which he was named NFL Assistant of the Year by putting together one of the most impressive defensive performances of any Super Bowl and was finally able to savor the sweet, sweet moment of holding up the Lombardi Trophy.

While players like Von Miller and T.J. Ward were the ones who made the plays when they counted against the Panthers, it was Phillips’ game plan that might have been the most impressive effort of Denver’s run to a title.

That got us to thinking: With Phillips playing such a key role for a Super Bowl winner, who in college football might be considered the most valuable defensive coordinator? Likewise, who takes the honors on the offensive side of the ball?

With most hires already in the books and offseasons getting ready to take the next step with spring football, it seems like the perfect time to scan the landscape and see who has a Phillips-like impact on their teams as quality coordinators. You can find the defensive list here, while the most valuable offensive coordinators are discussed below.

 

Lane Kiffin, Alabama

Is Kiffin the most polarizing offensive coordinator in the country? Absolutely, there’s little doubt about that.

Still, there are few better when it comes serving as a coordinator, and it speaks volumes that Nick Saban entrusts that side of the ball to the still-young coach.

Kiffin’s reputation may have been initially built off the backs of Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush, but some of his best work has been done lately in the SEC. At Alabama, he’s developed two different first-time starting quarterbacks into quality players and churned out a Heisman Trophy winner at running back, Derrick Henry.

Just as impressive has been his overall ability to bring the Tide into the modern game with his installation of uptempo spread-offense concepts.

The persona Kiffin developed at Tennessee has colored much of how he’s viewed in the college football world, but when you look past that, you see a top-notch OC who has proved to be an equally good recruiter.

 

Bill Legg, Marshall

Legg doesn’t receive the attention that some of his other Power Five peers do but nevertheless has produced some of the most prolific offenses in the country during his time at Marshall, and even before that.

His best work was done in bringing along quarterback Rakeem Cato and wideout Tommy Shuler a few seasons ago and turning the two into one of the most productive duos in NCAA history.

Legg has led the Thundering Herd to top marks in a number of top offensive categories, both nationally and in Conference USA, during his tenure. Before that, he was co-coordinator on several successful Purdue squads that were some of the best teams in Boilermakers history this side of Drew Brees.

The West Virginia native (and former Mountaineer) has spent the bulk of his career in his home state and along the Eastern Seaboard but has been mentioned for bigger jobs over the years thanks to a quality resume.

 

Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie, TCU

There may be no hotter names for athletic directors or other head coaches in need of a new offensive coordinator than the dynamic duo in charge of Gary Patterson’s offense. Each has been mentioned quite a bit this offseason for other jobs, but both have chosen to stay in Fort Worth to try to bring a Big 12 title to TCU.

The elder of the two, Meacham has found success at just about every stop. He’s served as an OC or co-coordinator at six schools and was part of several other record-setting offenses at Oklahoma State (where he was also a player). A veteran receiving coach when not calling plays, he’s tutored a number of standouts from Brandon Pettigrew to Josh Doctson.

As a former Texas Tech quarterback, few know the Air Raid offense as well as Cumbie does, considering he led the nation in passing and total offense when he was the signal-caller for the Red Raiders and has carried that over into an impressive coaching career in just a short time frame. He also has experience coaching receivers but has really stood out with his work turning Trevone Boykin into a star quarterback.

 

Ivin Jasper, Navy

Most college football fans may not have heard Jasper’s name until this past offseason, when rumors surfaced that he could take over for Ken Niumatalolo at Navy, but the former Hawaii player has been a big part of the Midshipmen’s success over the past few years.

Amazingly, he’s going on his 16th year at the Naval Academy and is getting close to a decade as the steady hand and offensive coordinator behind the team’s triple-option attack.

Unlike other coaches on this list, Jasper has to deal with a number of restrictions on the players he can recruit and how much time he can spend with them. Still, that hasn’t hampered Navy’s productivity, as just recently quarterback Keenan Reynolds set numerous NCAA records as the trigger of the offense and the team surged to a national ranking in the polls.

In 2015, the Midshipmen also topped the nine-win plateau for the fourth time in the eight seasons Jasper has been running the offense.

 

Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma

Riley capped off a remarkable 2015 season by becoming the youngest ever to win the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant. Just 32, he was tapped by Bob Stoops to turn around the Oklahoma offense and did just that in leading the team to the College Football Playoff and making quarterback Baker Mayfield a household name.

As part of their run to the Big 12 title, the Sooners averaged 45 points a game on the season and were borderline unstoppable following a loss to Texas early in the season.

While he’s known for installing the Mike Leach blend of the Air Raid attack in Norman, Riley also showed how well he could adapt to his personnel by making OU much more of a power run team behind Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. In addition, Mayfield became one of the best quarterbacks in the country, and wide receiver Sterling Shepard closed out his record-setting career as a borderline unstoppable player late in the season.

Also highly regarded as a quality recruiter with a keen eye for talent, Riley is a longtime veteran coach in the Big 12, despite his age, and drew plenty of recognition for his work as East Carolina’s offensive coordinator.

 

Mike Sanford, Notre Dame

Brian Kelly has his hands all over the Notre Dame offense, given his background, but few are doubting how big of a role Sanford plays in developing the team’s quarterbacks and preparing the team’s game plans.

The son of a coach, Sanford has found success at just about every stop and has the distinction of coaching in five straight BCS/CFP bowls in the past five seasons as part of the staff at Stanford, Boise State and Notre Dame.

Prior to coming to South Bend, the former Broncos quarterback helped his alma mater place in the top 25 of most major offensive categories, as the team earned the first Group of Five bid to a major College Football Playoff bowl.

In addition to tutoring Grant Hedrick to a career year, Sanford also directed tailback Jay Ajayi to numerous school and conference records back in 2014. Prior to that, he helped turn Stepfan Taylor into one of the best backs in Stanford history and was chiefly responsible for bringing along Kevin Hogan as Andrew Luck’s replacement in 2013.

Sanford’s greatest work may have been this past year with the Irish, however, as he helped the team manage and maneuver around some major injuries but still wind up within sniffing distance of a spot in the final four. He was a big reason why quarterback Malik Zaire was drawing national praise prior to his injury and a big part of backup DeShone Kizer's turning into a budding superstar.

As a result, it probably won’t be too long before Sanford gets tapped to be a head coach somewhere, just like his father.

 

Dana Dimel, Kansas State

The Kansas State graduate has been a big part of the offensive success Bill Snyder has had in Manhattan, as evidenced by the fact that Dimel is on his third stint with the team as a coach.

Year after year, the Wildcats have one of the most diverse offenses in the Big 12 despite a lack of top-end recruits, and every season the team has found a way to be competitive against just about everybody. Under Dimel just recently, K-State has set a number of school records and won the Big 12 title, while quarterback Collin Klein was a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2012.

Dimel had a solid record as head coach at Wyoming (and a disastrous one at Houston) but has proved to be a top-flight coordinator thanks to his work with the Wildcats. Few are able to do more with less, and the respect he has from his peers in the conference and nationally runs very high.

 

Tee Martin, USC

Martin was only recently promoted to become USC’s offensive coordinator, but he’s had a hand in just about everything the Trojans have done offensively since arriving on the West Coast in 2012.

A former national championship-winning quarterback at Tennessee, he has tutored several wide receivers to national prominence, including Randall Cobb, Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor.

Martin’s work as a recruiter is probably the biggest reason why he earns a place on this list, however. He’s been named National or Pac-12 Recruiter of the Year by all four major recruiting services at some point and topped 247Sports’ recruiter rankings in 2016 for his work in USC’s strong close on national signing day.

In addition to helping land several top players in the Trojans’ backyard, Martin also has been responsible for some of the program’s biggest wins on the national recruiting trail as well.

When you consider how much turmoil has gone on at USC since Martin arrived, it’s pretty notable to see that he’s one of the calm, steady hands that has kept the school relevant year after year on the national stage. That’s saying quite a bit.

 

Bryan Fischer is a national college football columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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Kyle Allen Comments on Johnny Manziel, Culture at Texas A&M

Kyle Allen opened up Tuesday regarding his transfer from Texas A&M to Houston in an interview with CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd.  

Allen argued the atmosphere around the program isn't conducive to success, citing Johnny Manziel's rise to prominence as creating systemic issues:

I think the culture was a big part of it, and I think that stems from Johnny's era there—the way that they let Johnny and [others] act there. They [could] do that and still win games because they had Johnny … and five offensive linemen playing in the NFL right now.

A lot of people were riding off that, "I can do whatever the hell I want and win on Saturday."

On paper, Allen should've thrived in College Station. He was the No. 1 pro-style quarterback in the 2014 recruiting class, per 247Sports' composite rankings. Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin was also successful in developing both Manziel and former Cougars quarterback Case Keenum in his first head-coaching job.

Instead, Allen struggled somewhat, throwing for 3,532 yards, 33 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in his two years at A&M. The Aggies also posted an 8-5 record in each of those seasons.

He doesn't specifically criticize Sumlin, but he paints the picture of a head coach unable to get the most out of his players.

"Everyone wasn't in a straight line. Everyone was going this way, this way, this way," Allen said. "We had a ton of talent there. I think that, once you get all the right coaches there and get the vision right, you can do a lot of things."

Joe Buettner of the Dallas Morning News posited the arrival of graduate transfer Trevor Knight might help in part solve the problem:

Sumlin has seemingly attracted the requisite recruits necessary to turn A&M into a perennial SEC contender. According to 247Sports' team composite ranking, his recruiting classes finished No. 11 nationally in 2015, No. 5 in 2014, No. 9 in 2013 and No. 16 in 2012.

The last two years have put Sumlin under the microscope, though, after the Aggies failed to build on the success of the Manziel era. The departure of offensive coordinator Jake Spavital will only put more pressure on Sumlin, too, since he'll have one less person on whom to deflect blame should things go wrong.

Whether serious issues exist behind the scenes or not, the head coach heads into the 2016 season on the hot seat, and Allen's comments will do little to help matters. If Texas A&M finishes with eight or nine wins next year, it's possible Sumlin could be out of a job.

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CFB Players Who Could Be Beaten Out by Freshmen for Starting Jobs in 2016

For every star football recruit who is able to crack the starting lineup in his first collegiate season, there are usually older players who weren't able to stay in front.

Sometimes a true freshman starter immediately steps into a situation where there is a hole on the depth chart thanks to a departed player. These recruits know when they sign they could fill a role left by a graduate or NFL-bound playmaker.

However, some new freshmen are able to beat out players who held starting jobs in previous seasons. Because of the nature of constant competition that a lot of coaches like to bring to spring and fall practices, blue-chip recruits have been able to snag playing time over established veterans.

Here are several returning starters in college football who could—that's a key word, considering these are early projections—lose their coveted jobs to true freshmen in 2016. Whether it's because of a change in coaching staff or scheme, or the outstanding potential of the newcomer, these players will face big-time position battles this offseason.

Tell us who else you think could be on their way out of a starting job in 2016 thanks to an incoming recruit in the comments below.

Begin Slideshow

Most Indispensable Assistant Coaches in College Football for 2016

Have you ever noticed that, after national signing day, a quick surge of assistant coaching hirings are made? Head coaches get all the credit (and blame), but a great staff of assistant coaches goes a long way as well. And it can be a cut-throat business trying to put it together. 

In reality, no coach is every truly irreplaceable—they come and go all the time—but there are many who are critical to a program's success. These are college football's indispensable assistant coaches. In the follow slides are assistants who excel in at least one of the following areas: recruiting, on-field results (i.e. stats) and longevity/loyalty (in other words, if they've been with the same coach for years). 

By rule, we're eliminating assistant coaches entering their first full year with their new program since their value with that particular team has yet to be determined. For example: LSU's new defensive coordinator, Dave Aranda, isn't eligible because he just switched jobs. However, given what Wisconsin accomplished defensively over the past few years, Aranda would seem like a natural choice. 

So check out our list of the most indispensable coaches. Have one of your own? Make your case in the comment section below. 

Begin Slideshow

What Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin Must Do to Save His Job in 2016

If you see Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin squirming a little bit while sitting down this offseason, don't be alarmed.

He's just trying to look and remain calm while sitting on the hottest seat in the country.

Sumlin's Aggies have fallen off the SEC radar after he and former quarterback Johnny Manziel burst onto the scene in 2012—the program's first season in the conference. 

Since winning the Cotton Bowl after that season, they've regressed to a point where they're rarely thought of in the SEC West race and have become noted for inconsistent defense and an ongoing quarterback carousel rather than contending.

The culture of the program was even brought into question by former quarterback Kyle Allen in an interview with CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd. Allen and fellow 5-star quarterback Kyler Murray both transferred from the program in December.

As ESPN's Chris Low noted on Sports Talk With Bo, a statewide syndicated radio show in Arkansas, Sumlin can't continue along this trajectory.

Low: If Kevin Sumlin has another year similar to the last two years, it’s going to be tough for him to survive. Climate of the SEC West.

— Bo Mattingly (@SportsTalkwBo) January 6, 2016

Sumlin has to contend in 2016, and that likely means at least having a shot at the SEC West title when the calendar flips to November.

Does he need to win it? 

Of course not.

He just needs to have a legitimate chance in November, and Sumlin should be fine.

Administrators and most fans know that while teams have to be talented and well-coached to win titles, they have to have a little bit of luck, too—which is wildly unpredictable.

It's not like the SEC West is littered with certainty, though.

Alabama has earned the benefit of the doubt in the face of massive roster turnover, but every other team in the division either has massive roster holes to address this offseason or philosophies that need to change in order to be taken seriously. 

The thing about this team is that aside from the surprising departures of Allen and Murray, Texas A&M actually has some things going for it that could land it in contention.

Former offensive coordinator Jake Spavital's departure was addition by subtraction, no matter who the replacement was. As I noted during the season, Spavital has overseen three of the four most notable midseason quarterback regressions over the last four seasons and clearly was a problem in College Station.

Not only did Sumlin do the right thing by showing Spavital the door, but he hired Noel Mazzone away from UCLA to replace him. Mazzone teaches a physical offense that is predicated on establishing the run while incorporating many of the same spread elements that have become synonymous with Sumlin and Texas A&M. 

He's the perfect coordinator to maintain Texas A&M's offensive identity while making the appropriate tweaks to deal with the day-to-day grind of SEC football.

No quarterback? No problem. 

All Sumlin did was sign Oklahoma graduate transfer Trevor Knight to contend with Jake Hubenak, who topped the 300-yard mark in the loss to Louisville in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. 

No, Knight didn't look great against TCU as an injury replacement for Baker Mayfield in 2015 and nearly allowed the Horned Frogs to win a game they had no business being in at halftime. But he is a two-time captain of the Sooners (even when he wasn't the starter), enjoyed success at the top of the college football food chain when he toppled Alabama in the 2014 Allstate Sugar Bowl and was the best graduate transfer quarterback on the market.

"You see how certain guys just ooze leadership, and he's all about that," Sumlin said on national signing day, according to the school: 

Takes care of his business. Tremendous team guy. Tremendous leadership guy. First thing that strikes me is we got back here and his conversation level is a lot different than an 18-year-old. His ability to rally guys when we are gone and the coaches can't be there … He's already had guys out throwing and catching.

Simply put, Sumlin made the best of a bad situation in the face of massive pressure.

That matters, even though it goes largely unnoticed by the public.

Lost in the shuffle of the quarterback exodus and intra-state rival Texas' dominant national signing day was the fact that Sumlin gets two more big-time transfers in 2016 after they sat out 2015.

Keith Ford is a former 5-star running back for Oklahoma who will provide options and depth in the backfield alongside James White. On the other side of the football, former 4-star corner Priest Willis will join a defensive backfield that includes safety Armani Watts, as well as a front seven that includes stud defensive ends Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall, tackle Daylon Mack and linebacker Otaro Alaka. 

"[We were] able to add two really good transfers last year—Priest Williams as a corner who started at UCLA and Keith Ford who was really fine player at Oklahoma," Sumlin said of the newcomers in a press conference on national signing day. "Those guys don't show up on this list, but you add them to this class and you start to see the depth pile up real quick."

Depth is what vaults teams into contention for championships, and Texas A&M actually has that everywhere else other than quarterback.

Sumlin needs to contend to save his job. Even though the last few months have been uncomfortable at best and dicey at worst, he has done a lot to the roster and staff over the last couple of seasons to do just that.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Thomas Sirk Injury: Updates on Duke QB's Recovery from Achilles Surgery

The Duke Blue Devils are facing major injury questions even before their football season begins, as senior quarterback Thomas Sirk suffered an Achilles injury.     

Continue for updates. 

Sirk to Undergo Surgery Tuesday, Feb. 9

According to Stephen Wiseman of the Herald-Sun, Sirk ruptured his Achilles tendon on Tuesday morning and will have surgery to repair the injury.

Laura Keeley of the News & Observer noted it was Sirk's left Achilles tendon and that there is no timetable for his return. 

This marks the second time in three years Sirk has suffered this injury, as he previously ruptured his right Achilles during a Duke practice in April 2013. He was a redshirt freshman that season and wound up not playing in any games as the team went 10-4 with Anthony Boone under center. 

Sirk played sparingly in garbage time two years ago before taking over as Duke's starting quarterback in 2015.

He was tremendous in 12 games last season, throwing for 2,624 yards, running for 809, recording 24 total touchdowns (16 passing) and leading the program to its first bowl win since 1960 with a 44-41 victory over Indiana in the Pinstripe Bowl. 

With Sirk on the sidelines for the the foreseeable future, Duke head coach David Cutcliffe will likely rely on Parker Boehme, who started one game in 2015 and is entering his fourth season with the program as a redshirt junior. 

Boehme did gain experience last season, but Sirk proved himself to be a valuable dual-threat option in Cutcliffe's offense. Fortunately, the Blue Devils have time to work with all of their backups so they feel 100 percent comfortable running things if Sirk has to miss substantial time during the season, which starts Sept. 3. 

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Ohio State's Biggest Spring Position Battle Isn't for a Starting Spot

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Stop me if you've heard this before, but there's a quarterback controversy brewing in Columbus.

OK, don't stop me—it's not the type of signal-caller battle that those who have followed the Ohio State program have become accustomed to in the past year.

While J.T. Barrett is firmly entrenched as the Buckeyes' starting quarterback after spending the better part of the past 12 months competing with Cardale Jones for that right, Ohio State now finds itself with a shortage of experience on what's been its most talked-about position on the depth chart.

A year ago, the Buckeyes didn't only seem poised to have the best backup quarterback in the country, but the most talented third-stringer as well, before Braxton Miller made his offseason move to wide receiver.

Now? There's Barrett at the front of the line—that's no longer up for debate. But behind the Fiesta Bowl MVP sits nothing but unknown commodities, even for as well as head coach Urban Meyer has recruited since arriving to Columbus.

The battle for Ohio State's backup quarterback job won't only be important for the future, giving the winner the inside track to replacing Barrett as the Buckeyes' starter—something that could occur as soon as 2017—but for the upcoming season as well.

After all, if there's one program that understands the value of a backup quarterback, it's the one that won a national championship just a year ago with its third-string signal-caller.

With two scholarship quarterbacks behind Barrett on campus and a third on his way for the fall, the fight to serve as Ohio State's top understudy will begin as soon as this spring. At the moment, there is no clear-cut favorite to become Barrett's primary backup, but Meyer will have no shortage of options to evaluate this offseason.

 

Stephen Collier 

If experience is of any sort of importance in the Buckeyes' backup quarterback race, then Stephen Collier would seem to have a slight edge—although not necessarily as big of one as you'd think. Of the three quarterbacks vying for Ohio State's No. 2 signal-caller role, Collier is the only one to have taken an official snap in his college career, with the 6'4", 225-pounder receiving sporadic mop-up duty in 2015.

But while one would think that alone would give Collier an advantage heading into spring practice, Meyer curiously failed to mention the former 3-star prospect while discussing his team's quarterback situation during a signing day appearance on his radio call-in show.

"This is a critical spring for him," Meyer later said at his signing day press conference. "This is the time for him to produce. He works his tail off. To get in the mix you've got to be pretty good."

The reality is that Collier has always been a long shot to be a long-term solution for the Buckeyes at quarterback, an under-recruited player who arrived at Ohio State after Meyer missed on Deshaun Watson, Kyle Allen and Brandon Harris during the 2014 recruiting cycle.

It's likely not a coincidence that the Buckeyes reportedly got back in the Allen sweepstakes this offseason after he announced his intentions to transfer from Texas A&M before ultimately landing at Houston with former OSU offensive coordinator Tom Herman.

A native of Leesburg, Georgia, Collier's ceiling always seemed to be that of former Ohio State signal-caller Kenny Guiton, who turned into a viable backup for Braxton Miller in the final two seasons of his five-year college career.

Ultimately, that's what Collier could find himself as this season: Barrett's backup in title, but a major question mark should significant playing time be needed from the Buckeyes' understudy. Much of where Collier goes from now will be determined this spring, perhaps making him the biggest wild card in this offseason battle.

 

Joe Burrow

While Collier may have experience—no matter how limited—on his side, it's redshirt freshman Joe Burrow who appears to be Meyer's favorite to secure Ohio State's No. 2 quarterback.

The fifth-year Buckeyes head coach said as much during his signing day call-in show, anointing Burrow as Barrett's backup in the same answer in which he omitted Collier.

"Joe Burrow's really moving," Meyer said.

A former 4-star prospect by way of The Plains, Ohio, Burrow redshirted in 2015 but was impressive enough in practice to steal reps from Collier with the Buckeyes' third team by season's end. Earning Ohio's Mr. Football award in 2014, the 6'3", 208-pounder put up video game-like numbers in his storied high school career, completing 72 percent of his passes for 4,445 yards, 63 touchdowns and two interceptions while adding 642 yards and five scores on the ground in his senior season.

Playing in Ohio's Division III, questions often arose about the competition he faced, but in his short time on campus, that already appears to be a nonfactor. Arriving alongside fellow QB Torrance Gibson, who has since moved to wideout, questions have always seemed to be attached to Burrow's college career, but for now he seems to have the inside track to becoming the Buckeyes' quarterback of the future.

At the very least, Burrow should be considered the favorite to be Barrett's backup this season, giving him the inside track to becoming his long-term replacement. And should Ohio State's starter go down with an injury in 2016, don't be surprised if Burrow finds himself in the starting lineup as the most viable long-term solution to any quarterback needs.

 

Dwayne Haskins

Although Meyer has seemingly penciled in Burrow as Barrett's backup, the Buckeyes head coach also noted, "The one walking through the doors in June is really good."

"The one" Meyer was referring to is Dwayne Haskins, a 4-star prospect and the lone quarterback signee in Ohio State's 2016 class. A longtime commit to Maryland, Haskins flipped his pledge to the Buckeyes in January after Tristen Wallace spurned Ohio State to play wide receiver at Oregon.

And although Haskins at one time appeared to be the Buckeyes' Plan B, Meyer hasn't been short on praise for the 6'3", 198-pounder who was recently named MVP of the International Bowl.

"If you go watch his highlight tape, just watch the ball come out of his hand, his arm strength, he's a good 6'3"-plus," Meyer said. "The fundamentals that Dwayne Haskins possesses right now is as good as I've ever seen in a young quarterback."

With Barrett entrenched in the starting lineup, Haskins would ideally redshirt in 2016, just like Barrett, Jones, Collier and Burrow have all done under Meyer. But with the way Meyer has talked about his newest quarterback and the uncertainty behind Barrett on the Buckeyes depth chart, the three-time national championship head coach appears to be considering deviating from his plan and playing Haskins as soon as he deems necessary.

"I anticipate...he will compete for playing time as a true freshman," Meyer said.

Without the added benefit of spring practice, beating out Burrow—or even Collier for that matter—could prove to be a tall task.

But for now, the battle to be the Buckeyes' backup quarterback appears wide-open, and could go a long way in shaping the future of Ohio State football.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Can LSU Regain the Commitment of No. 1 2017 Recruit Dylan Moses?

As the nation's top-ranked player in the 2017 class, Dylan Moses is a marked individual. Everything he does is weighed on a proverbial scale.

When the outside linebacker recruit committed to LSU as a freshman in September of 2013, it made national news. When he decommitted from LSU in August of last year, the news was treated with high reverence.

And when Moses decided to transfer from University Lab in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, it shook the recruiting world.

Everything Moses does is news, and LSU is hoping to write headlines next year when Moses announces his verbal commitment and signs his national letter of intent. The Tigers are looking to regain his pledge and fight off schools like Alabama, Texas, Georgia, Florida, USC and UCLA, the schools he recently re-confirmed to ESPN.com's Derek Tyson as being his current favorites.

Is there a chance for Moses to one day recommit to LSU? Sure. Will it be tough for LSU? Definitely. But is it impossible? Absolutely not.

The truth is it'll be hard to find any college program on any level publicly saying it doesn't want Moses on its campus by January 2017 (Moses is planning to enroll in college early).

At 6'2" and 220 pounds, Moses is a specimen with and without pads on. He's well put together physically, super-athletic and someone who makes playing the linebacker position look easy.

As an outside linebacker, Moses has excellent field vision and reacts to plays quickly. He's the guy who rarely misses a tackle and, on occasion, makes that jarring hit determined to wow the crowd and suitable to lead the average highlight tape.

And then there's his play at running back. If a college chooses to use him on the offensive side of the ball, Moses is a guy who can be the shifty, elusive back on one play and the bruising, north-south punisher who enjoys contact on another play.

A handful of LSU coaches have been integral in Moses' recruitment. Along with head coach Les Miles, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, defensive backs coach Corey Raymond and linebackers coach Bradley Dale Peveto all have done their part in recruiting Moses.

Although Moses is now at IMG Academy, Baton Rouge is still his home, and the LSU campus is still minutes away from home. His old high school is located on the LSU campus.

It helps that he's a big fan of Miles. He was very open with his opinions when Miles was under fire and being threatened with losing his coaching position.

Moses is still interested in LSU, but the decommitment was an opportunity for him to fully explore his options and make the right decision next February. He has more than 30 reported offers, the latest reportedly coming from North Carolina and Oklahoma. This spring could mean an opportunity to land even more as he prepares for his senior year at IMG.

Moses told Tyson that Alabama is currently his front-runner, primarily because of the Crimson Tide being "more structured." He also has plans to take unofficial visits to Florida and Florida State. Moses also wants to return to Baton Rouge and see one of LSU's spring practices.

That's great news for LSU. It's not out of the race.

It may be far from being a runaway leader, but it's not out of the race.

It's now all about letting Moses' process play out—all while staying aggressive in landing the nation's top-ranked player.

 

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

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Haskell Garrett to Ohio State: Buckeyes Land 4-Star DT Prospect

Coveted defensive line recruit Haskell Garrett announced Tuesday that he's going to play college football at Ohio State: 

Garrett is a 4-star prospect who rates as the No. 78 overall prospect in the 2017 class, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. He also checks in as the No. 4 defensive tackle and No. 3 recruit from Nevada among the incoming freshmen.

The Bishop Gorman High School star has displayed an impressive combination of skills wrapped into an athletic frame (6'2'', 280 pounds). He's established himself as a force against the run while also making himself a consistent pass-rushing threat.

It's raised questions about what role he'll fill at the college level. Steve Hare of Scout passed along comments from the versatile tackle back in December about what teams have told him.

"There's a lot that are recruiting me as a defensive tackle or defensive end," Garrett said. "I think most people are recruiting me as a three-technique."

All told, Garrett is a prospect with a lot of potential. His technique still needs quite a bit of polish and the transition to college is going to take some time after he simply overpowered a lot of linemen at the high school level. But the long-term outlook is extremely positive.

Adding him to the equation certainly provides a nice boost to the 2017 class.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Football Q&A: Early Picks for the 2016 SEC Championship Game

National signing day just wrapped up, and spring practice is just around the corner.

What better way to hold you over until toe meets leather in March than your weekly serving of SEC Q&A, right?

This week, we take a stab at a post-signing day SEC Championship Game prediction, which redshirt freshmen will become stars in 2016, the budding Florida-Arkansas rivalry and Mississippi State's hopes in the post-Dak Prescott era.

 

@BarrettSallee sec championship game who's gonna be in it

— Robert Gideon (@gideon_robert) February 8, 2016

For the first time since 2010 when Auburn topped South Carolina, the SEC Championship Game will be a rematch. Plus, for the first time, it will be a rematch of one of the top rivalries in college football.

Alabama and Tennessee meet in Knoxville on the "Third Saturday of November." If I had to guess right now, the Crimson Tide will get the best of the Vols in their first meeting, but Tennessee will have the chance for revenge a month and a half later with a conference title on the line.

Actually, I'm more confident in my pick of Tennessee in the East than I am with Alabama out of the West.

The Vols return a fearsome, multidimensional ground attack that features quarterback Joshua Dobbs, junior running back Jalen Hurd and senior running back Alvin Kamara. They have developed experience and depth up front along the offensive line and defensive line, have one of the best linebackers in the country in Jalen Reeves-Maybin, a loaded secondary that includes senior Cam Sutton, and they upgraded at defensive coordinator from John Jancek to Bob Shoop.

What's more, they get Florida on Rocky Top in a game that decided the division last year. 

Alabama has much more uncertainty on its roster, with the losses of Heisman Trophy-winning running back Derrick Henry, senior starting quarterback Jake Coker, center Ryan Kelly and senior middle linebacker Reggie Ragland.

Yes, Alabama should be fine and has earned the benefit of the doubt. The combination of Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris should be fine at running back, there are plenty of talented quarterbacks like Blake Barnett and David Cornwell for offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin to choose from, the offensive line has built through recruiting over the last few years and my theory that Alabama has a machine that clones middle linebackers hidden somewhere in Tuscaloosa hasn't been refuted yet. 

A little more concerning for Alabama is that early test versus Ole Miss in Oxford. The Tide have lost that game in each of the last two seasons but still managed to make it to Atlanta. If that happens again—and it could considering the loaded Rebel roster and relative uncertainty with the Tide early on—that would leave head coach Nick Saban's crew a small margin for error for the final two-and-a-half months. 

Give me the Tide over the Rebels in a game that will decide the West, Tennessee over Georgia in the game that will decide the East and Alabama toppling Tennessee for its third straight SEC title.

Subject to change, of course.

 

@BarrettSallee always seems like there's a few RS FR that break out each year. Which ones should we be watching out for next year?

— Saturday @ The Swamp (@SwampSaturdays) February 8, 2016

The first name that pops into my mind is Blake Barnett, the former 5-star prospect from California who enrolled at Alabama last January. 

At 6'5", 200 pounds, Barnett has the arm strength to stretch the field deep, can push the ball sideline to sideline and actually was reclassified as a prospect from a dual-threat to a pro-style quarterback. So, he has the wheels that can make him a force in an offense under Kiffin that has proven to be successful with both styles of quarterbacks over the last two seasons.

"Once he learns everything and gets stronger and all that stuff and does the things he has to do, he's going to be a monster in college football," said former linebacker Reggie Ragland in January, according to Matt Zenitz of AL.com.

Two Ole Miss guys jump to mind rather quickly, too: running back Eric Swinney and wide receiver Van Jefferson.

Swinney signed with Ole Miss a year ago and was slated to at least contend for some time at running back, but a stress fracture in his leg ended his season before it started, forcing him to sit out. Quarterback Chad Kelly is the leading returning rusher for the Rebels, and they've struggled to run consistently between the tackles for three years. At 5'9", 197 pounds, Swinney is deceptively tough between the tackles, has the edge speed that Ole Miss has become known for and could become a star.

Jefferson should get more playing time after sitting out last season, now that star wide receiver Laquon Treadwell has moved on. At 6'2", 181 pounds, the former 4-star prospect was one of the stars of last year's recruiting class, and he should become more of a factor in an offense that clicks when multiple receivers get in the mix. 

It seems like South Carolina fans have been talking about defensive tackle Dexter Wideman for years, after he flipped from Florida State to South Carolina on national signing day two years ago. He didn't qualify initially, went to prep school in 2014, then redshirted with the Gamecocks in 2015. 

With a new staff comes a fresh start, and the 6'3", 280-pound, ultra-athletic interior lineman is a perfect fit for the defense under head coach Will Muschamp that moves interior lineman around based on down and situation.

 

@BarrettSallee Who gets the last laugh when they meet on the field next season, Bielema or McElwain?

— ATL Gator (@champton85) February 8, 2016

In case you missed the signing day dust-up between the two, here's a CliffsNotes version:

  • Arkansas target Tyrie Cleveland commits to Florida
  • Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema either compliments Florida's recruiting efforts or suggests impropriety on national television
  • Florida head coach Jim McElwain takes exception
  • Bielema publicly states that it was meant as a compliment and didn't intend harm
  • Everybody's "happy"

Just because Bielema and McElwain have kissed and made up after the hour-long, passive-aggressive war of words, that doesn't mean that it won't be brought up internally when the two meet in Fayetteville, Arkansas, on Nov. 5.

I would lean toward Florida as of today, because the quarterback situation should be resolved at that point, the new defenders should be playing like veterans and the Gator defense is loaded with talented, young players. This year might be a mirror image of last year in Gainesville. The Gators might struggle early due to roster uncertainty but hit their stride down the stretch once everything comes together.

The same path is likely to be taken by Arkansas, which replaces a quarterback, two star running backs, several pieces along the offensive line and superstar tight end Hunter Henry. But what do we know about Bielema-coached teams? They finish strong and should do the same in 2016.

It will be a fun battle in Fayetteville, but Florida's top-end talent should negate any home-field advantage that Arkansas has. 

Plus, whether or not McElwain still takes offense to Bielema's comments in November, he'll certainly use them to his advantage.

 

@BarrettSallee how well will Mississippi State be this year w/o Dak Prescott?

— Kroeger (@GKroegs) February 8, 2016

Mississippi State will be competitive within the SEC West, but there's a distinction between being competitive in games and actually competing for the division title.

Nick Fitzgerald should take over at quarterback and run basically the same offense that former signal-caller Dak Prescott thrived in over the last two seasons. Getting Fred Brown back at wide receiver is huge for the transition to a new quarterback. The defense still has plenty to work with, including guys like linebacker Richie Brown and defensive back Kivon Coman leading the way. 

The floor of the program has been raised to a point where simply being bowl-eligible isn't good enough anymore, and seven or eight wins should be expected in down seasons. 

Head coach Dan Mullen has earned the benefit of the doubt, and he should be able to fill some roster holes successfully to at least be competitive in virtually every game and spring an "upset" or two.

At this point, though, Mississippi State hanging in games with the so-called "big boys" shouldn't be a surprise.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

CFB Future 100: Top 9 Quarterback Recruits in Class of 2017

After thorough study using specific scoring criteria, Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analysts Damon SaylesSanjay Kirpalani and Tyler Donohue have graded the top 100 players in the 247Sports composite rankings and provided in-depth analysis on each young athlete. Bleacher Report will run a position-by-position breakdown series of the best college football recruits in the 2017 class. Here, we present the Top Quarterbacks.

 

The quarterback position is a point of emphasis early in every recruiting cycle, as coaching staffs fully understand the importance of stabilizing future plans behind center. High-profile passers can also act as leaders as the cycle progresses, encouraging other prospects to join a class.

While they're only three-quarters of the way through their high school careers, several quarterbacks have emerged as coveted collegiate targets, and some elected to commit more than a year before national signing day. Here's a breakdown of each passer listed among the top 100 overall recruits in 247Sports' 2017 composite rankings, including B/R's assessment based on accuracy, arm strength, pocket presence, mobility, in-game intelligence and overall mechanics.

Begin Slideshow

Who Are the Most Valuable Defensive Coordinators in College Football?

Peyton Manning’s (likely) final rodeo and ride off into the sunset during Super Bowl 50 received most of the attention on Sunday following the Denver Broncos' victory over the Carolina Panthers. But there was one storyline that proved to be key to the final outcome of the game: Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.

The longtime coach capped off a weekend in which he was named NFL Assistant of the Year by putting together one of the most impressive defensive performances of any Super Bowl and savoring the sweet, sweet moment of holding up the Lombardi Trophy.

While players like Von Miller and T.J. Ward were the ones who made the plays when they counted against the Panthers, it was Phillips’ game plan that might have been the most impressive effort of Denver’s title run.

With Phillips playing such a key role for a Super Bowl winner, who in college football might be considered the most valuable defensive coordinator? With most hires already in the books and offseasons getting ready to take the next step toward spring football, it seems like the perfect time to scan the landscape for those who have a Phillips-like impact on their teams as a quality coordinator.

 

Dave Aranda, LSU

Aranda has been a rising star in the coaching profession for several years and drew his fair share of big headlines by making the move from Wisconsin to LSU this offseason. While it’s always a bit difficult to compare different situations, it could be argued that few defensive coordinators did more with less than the 38-year-old.

Let’s start with the fact that Aranda guided the Badgers to the No. 1 scoring defense in the FBS this past season and finished in the top 10 in four other major defensive categories as well.

That's been the case over the past several years in Madison despite the school not having a lot of access to high-end talent out of high school, as it finished in the top seven in total defense in each of the past three seasons. A perfect example of his work was on display in the Holiday Bowl, when Wisconsin limited a normally potent USC offense to just 286 yards and 21 points.

Even before proving himself at a Power Five school, Aranda put together impressive defenses at Utah State and Hawaii as well.

With his coaching chops well established, it’s now going to be fascinating to see what Aranda can do in Baton Rouge with a host of former 5-stars and future NFL draft picks.

 

Don Brown, Michigan

Brown has spent nearly 20 years as a successful defensive coordinator but parlayed a remarkable 2015 campaign into becoming much more of a national name, as Michigan hired him to replace the departed D.J. Durkin. While most of his career has been limited to the Northeast, he’s developed a quality track record at recent FBS stops in Maryland, Connecticut and Boston College.

His work with the Eagles this past season is particularly noteworthy for the normally aggressive coordinator. Despite having one of the worst (or the worst, depending on how you look at things) offenses of any Power Five team (125th of 127 in total offense), Boston College’s defense still finished as the top team in the nation in total defense.

Like some of his fellow peers on here, Brown will have put together several high-end defenses despite not having the player resources that one would normally associate with such lofty statistics and success.

Brown took home AFCA Assistant Coach of the Year honors in 2015, and the longtime veteran will also bring to Ann Arbor over a decade of head coaching experience at three different stops.

Whereas some defenses need offensive help in order to be successful, that does not tend to be a prerequisite for Brown. That’s a great sign for the Wolverines heading into the 2016 season as they enter with one of the best coordinators in the country taking over an already impressive unit.

 

Brent Venables, Clemson

Venables was part of a major storyline entering the College Football Playoff, guiding Clemson to a No. 1 ranking, but the former linebacker has been a noted defensive mind for a long time, even without all that attention. Whether it’s been at Kansas State, Oklahoma or Clemson, Venables’ units have brought some of his trademark intensity to the field and found plenty of success while doing so.

2015 might have been one of the more impressive jobs he has put forward, though. Despite losing two first-round draft picks and a host of other key players, Venables still guided the Tigers into the top 10 of a number of statistical categories and went toe-to-toe with Alabama and Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry in the national title game.

His track record for recruiting great players at multiple stops also speaks for itself.

This past season may only have served as confirmation, but Venables has proven to be one of the best defensive coordinators in the FBS, and he’s only enhanced his reputation since branching out from old friend and Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops. He can afford to be picky when it comes to his next gig, but it’s clear that the only thing left for Venables to do is try his hand at being a head coach.

 

Todd Orlando, Houston

When it comes to best defensive coordinators in the Group of Five schools, it’s hard to find anybody more qualified to earn the title than Orlando. He and his defenses have finished in the top 20 in scoring defense (at Houston and Utah State before that) in three straight years. He is highly regarded for not just clamping down on opposing offenses, but also for forcing a high number of turnovers.

Orlando’s acumen for devising a top-notch game plan was on full display in the Cougars’ Peach Bowl triumph over Florida State. In addition to limiting the team to just 24 points, Houston’s defense kept star tailback Dalvin Cook in check to the tune of 33 yards on 18 carries and forced five turnovers (including four interceptions).

Some thought that Orlando could replace Dave Aranda (as he also did at Utah State) at Wisconsin, but the former Badgers linebacker appears to be a key part in new head coach Tom Herman’s plans for 2016 and beyond in Houston.

As he begins to cement his role on Houston's staff, the coordinator played a role in luring 247Sports 5-star defensive tackle Ed Oliver to campus and returns a number of key contributors from last year’s team.

 

Bob Shoop, Tennessee

It was surprising to see Tennessee head coach Butch Jones dismiss John Jancek after the Volunteers turned in a 9-4 season with a solid defense. Still, a message was being sent around Knoxville that the stakes are higher than nine wins and a second-place finish in the SEC East. For the Vols, it’s time to get back to winning titles.

So who does Jones add to get the team over the hump? Bob Shoop, who has developed a reputation as a defensive wizard and will take his talents back to the SEC in one of the biggest offseason moves at the coordinator level.

Despite facing scholarship limitations at Penn State, the veteran coach still fielded a salty defense stocked with hard-nosed players. He also did a masterful job in bringing along former walk-on Carl Nassib and turning him into one of the best defenders in the country last season.

In order to win the SEC, you typically need an elite defense. That’s just what Shoop is expected to deliver, and based on his track record with the Nittany Lions and beyond, it’s a good bet he can do just that.

 

Pete Kwiatkowski, Washington

Kwiatkowski doesn’t have instant name recognition outside of the Northwest, but he’s got the track record of a high-profile defensive coordinator. A longtime member of Chris Petersen’s staff at Boise State, the former defensive lineman has led top-ranked defenses in the Big Sky, WAC, Mountain West and most recently the Pac-12.

Making his mark at his alma mater, Kwiatkowski was a big reason why Boise State was making annual appearances in the top 10 and fielding a defense to go along with its impressive offense. He took most of the same principles with him to Washington and managed to field a nasty defense despite the loss of three All-Americans and a host of other key contributors.

While every coach would love to have impact players return to school each season, the Huskies DC seems to always revamp his efforts and field an even stingier unit on that side of the ball the following year.

In 2015, Washington led the Pac-12 in scoring defense, total defense, first-down percentage and red-zone defense. It also led the country in defensive touchdowns scored. Other coordinators may get more press, but it’s clear that few are as capable of turning in quality defenses each year as Kwiatkowski.

 

Lance Anderson, Stanford

Anderson is the latest in a long line of successful defensive coordinators at Stanford, and he will likely be in line for a bigger job when the time comes to make a move. While head coach David Shaw has his hands in everything regarding the program, it’s Anderson who puts in the hard work with the defense, which keeps the Cardinal in every game they play.

Going on a decade now, Anderson has done a masterful job at identifying defensive talent from a limited recruiting pool, helping them into and through school and developing players into All-Pac-12 performers. He has coached a number of positions in the front seven and has consistently churned out quality players each and every season.

The Willie Shaw Director of Defense more than earned his fantastic title this past season in particular, as he maneuvered around a number of major injuries to field a tough unit that wound up being just as big of a factor in the team’s run for the Rose Bowl than Heisman runner-up Christian McCaffrey.

With more and more talented recruits arriving in his regime, it’s going to be interesting to see just how good Stanford’s defense will be under the steady watch of Anderson.

 

John Chavis, Texas A&M

Affectionately known as "The Chief," there are few defensive coordinators more respected than Chavis, a longtime veteran of the SEC.

Chavis first made his mark at his alma mater, Tennessee, capturing the national title in 1998 and helping field a number of impressive defenses over 14 seasons in Knoxville. After a rough ending to his tenure there, he landed on his feet at LSU and eventually took home the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant.

His time in Baton Rouge was particularly notable, not just because his defenses were annually found near the top of every major statistical category, but also because of the amount of NFL talent that he churned out. Plus, it didn’t seem to matter just how many players left early for the draft, as others would capably take their places and help keep the Tigers defense near the top of the SEC rankings.

While his first Texas A&M unit did not quite reach those levels, it was still a noticeable turnaround that Chavis instrumented in College Station. Nobody would mistake the defense for the old "Wrecking Crew" of a decade ago, but the Aggies tackled better and improved against the pass. Chavis helped bring along stud defensive ends Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall, and he might have a future star in rising sophomore Daylon Mack.

Simply put, there are few coordinators who have the resume, film and acumen that The Chief does.

 

Bud Foster, Virginia Tech

When head coach Frank Beamer retired after the Independence Bowl last year, he did so as the winningest active head coach in the FBS.

One of the biggest reasons why he was able to rack up so many wins and find so much success was due in part to his longtime assistant and defensive coordinator, Bud Foster. The pair coached together for over 30 years, and Foster became just as closely associated with Virginia Tech as his old head coach was.

While "Beamer Ball" emerged as a signature style of special teams play for the Hokies, so did the style of defense that Foster helped nurture over the years. Whether it was a lockdown secondary or speedy defensive linemen, Virginia Tech almost always had a top-flight unit that harassed opposing offenses into big mistakes. Foster’s defense was a big reason why the Hokies made it to the national title game in 1999, and he was responsible for several teams finishing tops in the nation in scoring defense.

Many considered new head coach Justin Fuente as one of the better hires of the offseason, but the school is no doubt just as thankful that Foster decided Blacksburg was the place to be going forward.

 

Bryan Fischer is a national college football columnist for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Grading Every New Power 5 Conference Coach's First Recruiting Class

Whether it's a crucial game week or an uneventful offseason stretch in the winter, college football coaches must always bring effort to a frenzied recruiting trail. Among America's most elite high school prospects, the vast majority begin receiving significant collegiate interest as underclassmen.

National signing day, which took place last Friday, is the culmination of years on the grind for coaches who've pursued players through multiple seasons. The process becomes even more challenging for a university when administration elects to make a coaching change or the head coach departs for an opportunity elsewhere.

When the 2016 season kicks off, there will be 13 head coaches in Power Five conference competition who weren't in that position a year ago. While wins and losses will ultimately develop the narrative of their respective inaugural endeavors, the first opportunity to impress arrived on signing day. 

Some of these new regimes had just weeks to salvage past commitments and piece together fresh pledges during a frantic final stretch. Here's a look at how we graded each initial class for these 13 head coaches, considering overall talent value and the program dynamics they inherited.

Begin Slideshow

Nick Saban Has Built Alabama as the Clear 'Linebacker U' of College Football

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It began with an impromptu press conference hastily called in 2009. 

Linebacker Rolando McClain didn’t suspect anything major when he received a phone call the Monday following the SEC Championship Game telling him to be at the football building the next morning; he was scheduled for a meeting with head coach Nick Saban followed by an interview session with media.

However, his suspicions were slightly aroused when being told to dress up, which was different because when players are on camera they almost always wear something Crimson Tide–related.

“I was thinking, ‘Why do I need to wear slacks and a collared shirt?’” McClain said. “We don’t do media like that.”

He was still completely surprised when Dick Butkus walked into Saban’s office carrying his namesake trophy that annually goes to the nation’s best linebacker.

“I had no idea,” McClain said. “I’m really at a loss for words. I didn’t expect it.”

“He was really surprised,” Saban said. “It was a lot of fun.” 

Ever since then Crimson Tide reporters have been on high alert in early December as the program has repeatedly had players in the running for the award. The only years Alabama hasn’t had a finalist were 2010 and 2014.

When C.J. Mosley won in 2013, Butkus surprised him at the team banquet, and a strong argument could be made that Reggie Ragland was deserving this past season.

“Anytime you’re a competitor, I always want to win everything,” said Ragland, who used his close second-place finish to Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith as motivation for the playoffs. “A good guy won it. I can’t be mad. I’ll take it with a grain of salt and keep moving forward.”

Nevertheless, Alabama has become the standard when it comes to linebackers, which was only reinforced last week when it landed two 5-star recruits at the position, Ben Davis and Lyndell Wilson.

According to the 247Sports composite rankings, they were the fifth and sixth 5-star linebackers to sign with Alabama under Saban, joining Nico Johnson (2009), Trey DePriest (2011), Reuben Foster (2013) and Rashaan Evans (2014).

Meanwhile, in five of the last seven seasons Alabama has had a consensus/unanimous All-American at linebacker, which easily tops the nation. During that time period only Georgia, Notre Dame and Michigan State have had two, and for the Spartans it was Greg Jones named twice.

On the flip side of that, since the 2010 NFL draft there have been 19 linebackers selected in the first round, led by Alabama with three (McClain, Mosley and Dont’a Hightower, while Courtney Upshaw just missed). Ragland appears poised to be the fourth.

Consequently, it’s time Alabama claim the "Linebacker U" designation.

For years Penn State was known for that under head coach Joe Paterno, and rightfully so. Beginning with Dennis Onkotz, a two-time All-American in 1968-69, the Nittany Lions had the reputation for regularly having outstanding players at the position. 

Others included Jack Ham, John Skorupan, Greg Buttle, Shane Conlan, LaVar Arrington, Brandon Short and Paul Posluszny, who were all consensus All-Americans.

Nevertheless, Penn State’s only had the third-most consensus All-Americans at linebacker since 1965, when the NCAA got rid of its rules requiring the use of the one-platoon system which forced players to play on offense and defense.

The most recent player to join that club was Dan Connor in 2007, when he finished his career as Penn State’s all-time leading tackler with 419.

Yes, that’s the same year Saban landed in Tuscaloosa, and when McClain began his collegiate career. One of the holdovers from Mike Shula’s recruiting efforts, the in-state product started eight of 13 games as a freshman, finishing with 75 tackles, two interceptions and a sack.

That year, safety Rashad Johnson led the team with 94 tackles, while tied for second with 80 were defensive lineman Wallace Gilberry and linebacker Darren Mustin, a transfer from Middle Tennessee State. (Note: Johnson, a former walk-on at running back, now plays for the Arizona Cardinals. Gilberry plays with the Cincinnati Bengals). It's the last time Alabama failed to notch at least 10 wins.

Meanwhile, Alabama’s history includes Derrick Thomas, Cornelius Bennett, Lee Roy Jordan and Woodrow Lowe, who will stand up against any four linebackers in history.

All four are in the College Football Hall of Fame, which is one more linebacker than Penn State has had enshrined. 

As for Butkus—who played before 1965 and was listed as a unanimous All-American at center in 1963 and a consensus selection in 1964, but was voted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a linebacker—no one would be surprised if he keeps making return trips to Tuscaloosa.

Foster will attract a lot of offseason hype along with sack artists Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson, but down the road there’s Davis, Evans, Wilson, Christian Miller, Shaun Dion Hamilton …

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Predictions for the College Careers of the 2016 5-Star Recruits

Being a 5-star college football prospect doesn't guarantee they will have a successful career, though that's the expectation at the outset. Recruiting services don't arbitrarily hand out such lofty ratings, instead they're the result of detailed evaluations of those players' skills and meant to project what they're capable of at the college level.

The rest is up to the player, as well as the program they end up with, to turn promise into performance.

The 2016 recruiting class had 25 players that 247Sports' composite formula deemed were worthy of a 5-star rating, and 24 of those players have signed with FBS programs. Wide receiver Demetris Robinson, rated No. 14 overall and No. 1 at his position, remains undecided about his future.

For the other 24, we're going to take a stab at what lies ahead in their college careers. Check out our predictions for how every 2016 5-star recruit will fare over the next three to five years.

Begin Slideshow

No. 1 2017 Recruit Dylan Moses Reveals Top Schools, Hopes for Michigan Offer

Dylan Moses, the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2017, says he has a leader—the powerhouse program that just finished No. 1 in the 2015 season and No. 1 in the 2016 recruiting cycle.

According to Derek Tyson of ESPN.com, Alabama is the top school out of a list of six for Moses, an outside linebacker currently at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

Moses told Tyson his other top schools are Texas, Georgia, Florida, UCLA and USC, but the defending national champion is ahead of the rest right now:

Alabama is still my leader because they are more structured. They have very good discipline over there so they get their kids doing what they have to do. I like their strength program, coach [Scott] Cochran, coach [Nick] Saban. It’s just a really great coaching staff over there and I just really feel comfortable there.

The linebacker, who transferred to IMG Academy from University Lab in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, currently has 31 scholarship offers.

According to Tyson, Moses wants one of his next offers to come from Jim Harbaugh and Michigan, who will spend part of their spring practices this year at IMG: "That would be cool. I’ve never really seen Michigan up close like that before and I’ve never visited the school either. It’s just a great opportunity and you know, hopefully I can get an offer from them, because I don’t have one yet."

Last week, Michigan signed the No. 1 recruit for the 2016 class in defensive tackle Rashan Gary. Moses is currently ranked as the nation's top 2017 prospect by 247Sports and ESPN.

Moses is ranked No. 2 overall by Scout and No. 4 by Rivals, so he has a shot at joining Gary as a consensus No. 1 prospect.

According to 247Sports, Moses compiled a jaw-dropping 433.5 tackles in his last three seasons at University Lab. He stands at 6'2", weighs 220 pounds and ran a 40-yard dash in 4.57 seconds at The Opening last year.

The outside linebacker held scholarship offers from several powerhouses, including LSU, Alabama, Ole Miss and Florida State, before the start of his freshman year of high school.

But for the second straight time, Moses has left off his hometown team—LSU—from his list of top schools.

The Tigers once held a commitment from Moses, who received national attention in the summer of 2013 when he was on the cover of ESPN The Magazine as a heavily recruited eighth grader.

Moses decommitted from LSU last August. He told Andrew Lopez of NOLA.com last month that he left the Tigers out of his top schools because of their coaching situation—head coach Les Miles' hot-seat saga at the end of last season and defensive coordinator Kevin Steele's departure to SEC West rival Auburn.

However, Moses told Tyson he would take an unofficial visit to LSU, along with Florida and Florida State, during spring practices. 

Moses made several unofficial visits to nearby LSU last season, and he also visited Alabama when the Crimson Tide defeated the Bayou Bengals on November 7.

 

Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Justin Ferguson is a college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Big Ten Football: Early Odds for Each Team to Make the 2016-17 Playoff

The 2015 college football season is in the books and national signing day has came and went, meaning it's officially time to start looking ahead toward the 2016 season.

For the Big Ten, it should be unlike any other in recent memory, with the profile of the conference having only grown with its recent string of success on the field and big-name hirings of head coaches off of it.

Having made the playoff in each of the past two seasons, first with Ohio State and then Michigan State, doing so has not only become the goal, but the expectation in the 14-team league. The reality, however, is that not all teams have a realistic shot at making the College Football Playoff, particularly in the tougher of the Big Ten's two divisions—the East.

But if ever there was a time for optimism in college football, it'd be right now. With that in mind, let's take a look at my odds for each Big Ten team to make the 2016 College Football Playoff.

Begin Slideshow

Notre Dame Football Recruiting: Looking Ahead to 2017 Class

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame football officially welcomed a steady if not spectacular Class of 2016 last week, and the wheels are already in motion for the Irish's 2017 class.

Notre Dame’s Class of 2016 ranks 15th nationally and filled needs throughout the roster, especially in the secondary.

What can Irish fans expect in 2017?

Off we go.

 

The Commits

The Irish already have five commitments for the 2017 cycle.

Offensive lineman Dillan Gibbons became the class’s first pledge last April. The Clearwater, Florida, product is slotted as the No. 42 offensive tackle and No. 360 prospect overall. Gibbons has visited South Bend three times since his commitment.

Fellow offensive lineman Josh Lugg became the third member of the class in mid-August, as Irish offensive line coach Harry Hiestand and Company continue to land linemen of their choosing at an impressive clip. Lugg is the No. 21 tackle and No. 134 prospect nationally. The Wexford, Pennsylvania, native visited campus twice during the season and again last month for Notre Dame’s junior day.

Tight end Brock Wright gave his verbal commitment to the Irish in late June, joining Gibbons. Wright is currently the top tight end in the country and the No. 26 recruit in the class. Notre Dame didn’t nab a tight end in the class of 2016 and has already lined up a second for the 2017 cycle. Cole Kmet pledged to the Irish in early October. Kmet, who hails from Arlington Heights, Illinois, is the No. 4 player at his position and checks in at No. 194 overall.

Notre Dame’s most recent commitment in the Class of 2017 came in early November, when Georgia defensive end Robert Beal joined the group. Beal is the No. 3 weak-side defensive end in the class and No. 50 overall.

 

Needs

While the 2016 class might lack elite talent at the top, Notre Dame addressed a variety of needs to balance the roster moving forward.

Asked where the points of emphasis will be in 2017, Irish head coach Brian Kelly tabbed the offensive line, which already has commitments from Lugg and Gibbons.

“We’re going to have to fill that back up a little bit more,” Kelly said.

The Irish only landed three offensive linemen in the class of 2016, and Hunter Bivin, Mike McGlinchey, Colin McGovern, John Montelus and Steve Elmer will all be entering their fourth years in the program.

Beyond the offensive line, Kelly said Notre Dame has put itself in a position of balance and can focus on rounding out each unit.

 

Names to Watch

Irish247’s Tom Loy highlighted a batch of names to know for Notre Dame in the 2017 cycle.

Quarterback Avery Davis, running backs Najee Harris and A.J. Dillon and wide receivers Donovan Peoples-Jones, Osiris St. Brown and Tarik Black headline the offensive weapons. Davis, a dual-threat signal-caller from Texas, visited South Bend in November, a month after receiving his offer. Harris is the top back in the nation and has been committed to Alabama since April, while Dillon grabbed an Irish offer last month.

Peoples-Jones, the No. 1 wideout in the country, is from Detroit and attended Notre Dame’s junior day last month. St. Brown’s older brother, Equanimeous, could be poised for a breakout sophomore season with the Irish, and Osiris garnered an early offer from the school—his third overall—last January. Black collected his offer two weeks ago.

Offensive linemen Trey Smith and Jedrick Wills are targets to join Gibbons and Lugg, while top end Joshua Kaindoh, Corey Malone-Hatcher (from nearby Saint Joseph, Michigan), Haskell Garrett (from Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas), Ohio State pledge Jerron Cage (the younger brother of Irish junior-to-be Daniel Cage) and Dalyn Wade-Perry are on the board along the defensive line.

Pittsburgh linebacker David Adams, linebacker and Baylor commit Baron Browning, Ann Arbor, Michigan, linebacker Antjuan Simmons, Detroit cornerback Ambry Thomas, Detroit safety Jaylen Kelly-Powell, Indiana safety R.J. Potts and athlete Tyrell Ajian are other names to watch.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting stats and information courtesy of 247Sports and all quotes obtained firsthand. Star ratings reflect 247Sports composite rankings. 

Mike Monaco is the lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

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College Football's Most Important Offers of the Week

With the book now closed on the 2016 class, college football coaches across the nation have turned the page and are refocusing their recruiting efforts on the 2017 class.

One school looking to build on a strong 2016 class is the Tennessee Volunteers. Head coach Butch Jones and the Vols landed the nation’s No. 14 class last week and were active in searching for studs in the 2017 cycle.

One player they have targeted is 3-star quarterback Jack Sears

According to Scout’s Greg Biggins, the Vols offered the rising senior out of California's San Clemente High School.

Sears, who is the nation’s No. 25 pro-style quarterback and the No. 55 prospect overall from the Golden State, has seen his stock rise in recent weeks.

According to Tom Loy of 247Sports, Sears was excited to land his first offer from a SEC program:

I’ve been talking to (graduate assistant) Coach Nick Sheridan for about a month now. I got on the phone with (offensive coordinator) Coach (Mike) DeBord and Coach Sheridan Wednesday morning and we had a great talk. Then they were talking to my head coach and they said that they really liked me and what they saw on film. Then tonight, I called them up and Coach DeBord let me know I had an offer. He said that he wanted me to come up to campus for a visit and see what it’s like at Tennessee and what it feels like to go to school there for a day or two.

As Loy noted, Sears racked up 3,559 yards of total offense and 46 total touchdowns as a junior.

If the Vols can get Sears to make a trip to Knoxville, things could heat up between the two parties.

 

Ohio State Offers In-State DB

On the last weekend before signing day, Ohio State and head coach Urban Meyer hosted a junior day for the 2017 class.

One top target in attendance was 4-star safety Amir Riep—who netted an offer from the Buckeyes following the event.

The 6’0”, 180-pounder also landed offers from DukePenn State and Purdue last week. 

However, the Buckeyes' involvement with the in-state safety could become a major factor with Riep moving forward.

 

Big Ten, Pac-12 Powers Offer Alabama Pledge

Alabama has already jumped out to a fast start in the 2017 cycle, with 4-star offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood one the studs already bound for Tuscaloosa.

Last week, the Crimson Tide pledge landed offers from Michigan and USC

The 6’5”, 297-pounder rates as the nation’s No. 19 offensive tackle and the No. 128 player overall in the 2017 class.

While Leatherwood seems firm in his pledge at this point, his growing list of suitors could make things interesting in his recruitment if he opts to take visits.

 

Miami After Stud OL

Now that new Miami head coach Mark Richt has his first recruiting class under his belt, he and his staff can focus on starting their first full cycle with the Hurricanes in 2017.

Last week, Richt and his staff offered 4-star offensive lineman Marcus Minor

The 6’4”, 283-pounder holds early offers from programs such as Boston College, Duke, Maryland, North Carolina and West Virginia.

Minor is the nation’s No. 26 offensive tackle and the No. 165 player overall in the 2017 class.

 

Best of the Rest

2017

 

2018 

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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