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What Chance Does Blake Barnett Really Have to Be Alabama's Starting QB in 2015?

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Blake Barnett’s arrival at the University of Alabama has been met with much fanfare, and deservedly so.

He is one of the top quarterback prospects in the 2015 class. He is the highest-rated quarterback Nick Saban has signed at Alabama. His social media is sending the hearts of undergraduate females on campus aflutter.

The problem, though, is that the precedent set at Alabama for quarterbacks is waiting for playing time...and waiting, and waiting, and waiting.

AJ McCarron was Saban’s youngest starting quarterback while at Alabama when he won the job as a redshirt sophomore. Every signal-caller has redshirted his first season on campus.

So even if Barnett follows the so-far best-case scenario, we won’t be seeing him outside of Snapchat and Twitter until 2017.

But in an offseason of such instability at the quarterback position—there isn’t really a slam-dunk candidate right now to win the job—could Barnett surprise everyone and be Alabama’s starter in 2015?

“Right now I’m just focused on getting down with the playbook, getting stronger and preparing myself just for the season as much as possible,” Barnett said. “The depth chart is something I’m not completely worried about right now. I want to improve myself and my game as much as I can. Obviously, coming from high school to here is a big change, so I’m going to try to get in transition as best as possible and get familiar with the coaches and my teammates. That’s what my main focus is right now.”

It would be bucking a massive trend for Saban and would undoubtedly draw a lot of attention to the other quarterbacks on the roster.

Does it actually have a chance of happening?

Saban says it does.

“I wouldn't rule that out at all,” Saban said on national signing day when asked if he would start a true freshman quarterback. “If he's the best player, why would we not play him? That's like saying a guy is from California so we should not play him because he's from California. We wouldn't have recruited him. If the guy's the best player, we're going to play him.

“Just like Julio Jones was the best player when he was a wide receiver as a freshman and we played him. Amari Cooper was. Trent Richardson was. If a guy's ready to play and he's the best player, that means he's done something to deserve the right to play. “

With all due respect to Saban, he is almost contradicting himself here.

His logic is sound. Of course you would play the best guy at the position. But comparing playing wide receiver or running back as a freshman, like Jones, Cooper and Richardson were, isn’t in the same stratosphere as a quarterback.

In fact, Saban himself admitted as much during fall camp this year.

“I always say that the two positions that I feel like a guy could play at more quickly than others is probably running back and receiver,” Saban said. “I think that if you're an instinctive player, you have the skill set, there's not a whole lot to learn.”

It’s simple enough, if a guy is physically developed and has the skills, to send in a running back for a few carries or a wide receiver for a few routes.

But playing quarterback is obviously a different and more complicated animal. The quarterback has to know what every single player is doing on every single play, make protection calls with the offensive line, recognize coverages, change the play at the line. The list goes on and on.

So how does this all relate back to Barnett?

For him to be the starting quarterback, he has to prove he can do all of those things and be able to do them instinctually. Additionally, he needs to show his physical tools and ability can translate to the college game after just a spring, summer and fall camp on campus.

But he won’t start off as far behind as most freshmen do.

Lane Kiffin has only been Alabama’s offensive coordinator for a little over a year now, bringing in an entirely new scheme and playbook. The other quarterbacks on campus only have a year with Kiffin under their belts. That’s a far cry from a quarterback who comes into an established system.

There is every indication that Barnett has the skill set to compete for the job, but he’ll still face an uphill climb to win it. But he can’t be completely counted out.

And even if he doesn’t win the job this year, his future is still very bright in Tuscaloosa.

“My main goal is to compete for a spot, but right now that’s big-picture things,” Barnett said. “The small picture I’m focusing on right now is to get the playbook down and take it step by step. I think that’s a while away from here.”

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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Auburn Reveals It Will Soon Have the Largest Video Board in College Football

Jordan-Hare Stadium, the home of the Auburn Tigers football team, will soon get a major upgrade.

How major? Auburn will upgrade its video board and become the proud owner of the largest big screen in college football. The picture above, uploaded to Auburn's Instagram account, shows how the transformation will look.

[Instagram]

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10 Most Underrated 2015 College Football Recruiting Classes

Alabama, USC, Florida State. Three programs with three outstanding 2015 recruiting classes. Everybody knows about these teams.

It's the potential sleeper classes that you have to be on the lookout for in a couple of years.

Part of the excitement of national signing day involves the last-minute targets who commit, which ultimately results in where a team finishes in team rankings. Alabama has dominated the team rankings the last five years, but USC and Florida State gave the Crimson Tide stiff competition this year.

But what about those teams that don't get the national publicity for their efforts on signing day? What about those programs without the 5-star names?

Here are 10 programs who signed recruiting classes some might consider under the radar. These underrated teams—not listed in any particular order—were chosen on overall talent level and includes players with the potential for seeing early playing time.

Begin Slideshow

Urban Meyer Beat Jim Harbaugh for Mike Weber, but at What Cost?

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Standing at his signing day press conference, having just inked a fourth consecutive top-10 class, Urban Meyer was asked if he ever takes pride in beating a particular opposing coach for a prospect.

Initially, Meyer downplayed the premise. But as he realized that the inquiry was in reference to Ohio State besting Michigan and new head coach Jim Harbaugh for 4-star running back Michael Weber, Meyer saw fit to take aim.

"We do keep score against the rival in everything we do," Meyer said. "That's gone on for long before us and will take place long after us. Absolutely you keep score on that one."

It's Meyer 1, Harbaugh 0, and the Buckeyes head coach had every right to puff his chest. Despite already possessing a loaded backfield—both now and for the foreseeable future—Meyer walked into the Wolverines' backyard and took a one-time Michigan commit from one of its pipeline schools.

But at what cost?

Just one day after Weber made his gut-wrenching decision—the Detroit Cass Tech product was clearly torn between Ohio State and Michigan before announcing he'd be a Buckeye around 11 a.m.—OSU running backs coach Stan Drayton announced he'd accepted a job with the Chicago Bears.

Taking to Twitter, Weber's reaction spoke for itself.

The timeline of Drayton's departure remains unclear. ElevenWarriors.com reported that he interviewed with the Bears on Thursday—one day after signing day—and accepted a job in Chicago shortly thereafter.

It's hard to imagine him making a life-altering decision in such a short amount of time, and it doesn't seem coincidental Drayton left Columbus one day after signing day as opposed to one day before. But regardless of how long the now-former Ohio State assistant had been talking to the Bears—or what Meyer knew of it—the timing of his move isn't a good look for the Buckeyes, especially when it's dealing with a kid who was clearly as torn as Weber was.

OSU assistant Kerry Coombs led the charge in Weber's recruitment alongside Drayton and admitted that even he didn't know where the prized prospect would land until he told the Buckeyes staff shortly before announcing his intentions.

“It was close,” Coombs said on signing day. "But that just is what it is when you get down to these battles and you’re fighting and you’re scratching until the name is on the paper. So, yeah, I expected it to be close like that all morning and it was.”

"Even at 8:00, 9:00 this morning we all weren't sure," Meyer admitted. "Up until about an hour before he announced, we weren't sure."

Drayton was well-aware of Weber's concerns when it came to leaving his home state for its archrival.

"Just being a Michigan kid that’s going to graduate with an Ohio State degree, and he wants to be able to live in his state again one day and wants to have success,” Drayton answered when asked why Weber was wavering. 

“He wants to represent Detroit wearing scarlet and gray, and he absolutely can do that. He absolutely will do that. I have a wife from Detroit, and I told him, ‘If I sit here and I coach you and I don’t let you represent Detroit, my wife is probably going to divorce me. There’s no way in this world I’m not going to let you represent where you’re from.'"

Assuming Weber doesn't ask for a release from his scholarship—and there's no reason to believe he will at this point—he'll still more than likely have a successful college career in Columbus. After all, the Buckeyes have produced back-to-back 1,000-yard running backs in the past two seasons, and Meyer has earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to hiring assistants and getting the most out of his players.

"The last two tailbacks are as good as anybody in America," Meyer said, referencing Carlos Hyde and Ezekiel Elliott. "We have a fantastic offensive line, and we believe in our tailback. It's not theory. It's real. You watch it on film."

And as Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee wrote earlier, kids should commit to a program, not a coach. Simply too much can change within a program on any given day, and Weber wasn't the only signee around the country to find that out this week.

But that doesn't change the fact that fewer than 48 hours after Weber inked his national letter of intent, the position coach who he figured he'd be playing for and trusted throughout the recruitment process left for the NFL. That won't be lost on Harbaugh, who will go head-to-head with Meyer on multiple occasions throughout the 2016 recruiting cycle and for the foreseeable future.

Whether that will yield tangible results for Harbaugh remains to be seen, but in recruiting, every edge can make a difference. Which is why the timing of Drayton's departure doesn't seem coincidental, as it very well could have resulted in a different choice for Weber on Wednesday.

Meyer won the first battle and knows it. But his war with Harbaugh is just getting started.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Tennessee Football: Mike DeBord Is Not the Ideal Hire for Vols

Former offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian's surprise move to the NFL to become the quarterbacks coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers left a void in the Tennessee coaching staff through national signing day, but it didn't take long for head coach Butch Jones to find his replacement.

Tennessee announced on Friday that Mike DeBord will join the Vols' staff and take over as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

DeBord discussed the move:

It is truly an honor and a privilege to be a part of the great tradition and culture of the University of Tennessee football program. I was very selective about the job opportunities presented, and I'm very excited to be a part of the building of something special here at Tennessee. The familiarity with the system, the staff, and Butch Jones will be a great asset as we build upon and enhance our offensive system at Tennessee.

DeBord most recently served in an administrative role for Michigan's Olympic sports teams and was its offensive coordinator on two separate occasions (2006-2007 and 1997-1999). His most recent on-field job was as the tight ends coach for the Chicago Bears from 2010-2012. He was Jones' boss when DeBord was Central Michigan's head coach from 2000-2003.

Impressed?

No?

Me either.

What does DeBord bring to the table that current wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni doesn't? What does he bring to the table that South Carolina wide receivers coach G.A. Mangus doesn't? What does he bring to the table that Alabama wide receivers coach Billy Napier, USC wide receivers coach Tee Martin and Arizona co-offensive coordinator Calvin Magee don't?

Familiarity with Jones?

That seems to be the most important factor. As an offensive coordinator in college, his experience doesn't exactly jump off the page.

According to Sports-Reference.com, his Michigan offense finished sixth in the Big Ten in total offense in 2006 (370.8 yards per game) and 10th in 2007 (385.1 yards per game). In his first stint at Michigan, his offense finished no higher than fifth in the conference in scoring offense.

This is a hire out of convenience rather than one for progress. His first order of business, as Bleacher Report's Brad Shepard notes, might be winning over the fans.

Azzanni would have been a much better choice, and FootballScoop.com expects him to receive a pay bump and promotion in conjunction with the Vols' staff shake-up:

He's an up-and-coming wide receivers coach who's more familiar with Jones' program, and Brian Manzullo of the Detroit Free Press floated his name as a contender for the Central Michigan job this offseason. However, he told WMNL (h/t Fansided's Zach Ragan) that he never spoke with CMU about the position.

As Shepard notes, Vol fans should be thankful for Azzanni while they have him:

Why not do everything possible to keep him longer?

He's an integral part of the recruiting efforts on Rocky Top, helping reel in stud wide receivers Marquez North, Josh Malone and Preston Williams during his time with the program, according to his 247Sports recruiter bio.

If the coaching carousel is indeed going to spin in favor of a promotion, he clearly has enough interest from other places to play the leverage game.

On top of that, he has much more familiarity with how Jones runs this particular Tennessee program.

Jones has his say with what goes on in the offense, so DeBord's presence certainly doesn't change much.

His hire does, however, seem like Jones is making the coaching hire equivalent of bringing in a pinch hitter for Barry Bonds during his prime.

If he hits a home run, that's great, but he's likelier to hit a ground-rule double instead.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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How New Offensive Coordinator Mike DeBord Can Win over Tennessee Fans

With so much returning talent and the Tennessee football program on the uptick, the hiring of Mike DeBord—Michigan's 58-year-old Olympic sports administrator—wasn't exactly met with a universal vote of confidence throughout the Big Orange Nation.

Message boards and the Twitter universe buzzed with equal parts snark and serious questions Thursday afternoon. There's even a fake account already set up lampooning DeBord as "Mike DeBoring."

Tennessee's official announcement Friday morning confirming the worst-kept secret in college football set off a predictable chorus of "Who?" and "Why?" from fans. The questions were so vocal the past couple of days that several national media members, including ESPN's Chris Low, reacted to the frenzy:

Assuredly, there's very little glitz and glamor to head coach Butch Jones' decision to hire DeBord. He hasn't been an offensive coordinator since 2007 or a coach of any sort since 2012.

The 30-plus-year veteran assistant served two separate stints as the Wolverines' offensive coordinator, winning one national championship, two Big Ten titles, two BCS appearances and coming within a three-point loss to Ohio State of playing for another national championship.

Still, the hiatus from coaching is odd for such a key position.

The hire, on its surface, is puzzling. After all, the Vols return all but one offensive starter to a unit that appears poised to break out in 2015.

With quarterback Joshua Dobbs, running back Jalen Hurd and others coming back, this would have been the perfect environment for a dynamic, innovative young mind to jump at the opportunity to come to UT.

Instead, Jones chose familiarity over fanfare.

DeBord was Central Michigan's head coach from 2000-03, where he hired Jones, who was eventually elevated to head coach. The duo have a history.

The biggest question remains: Who is going to mentor Dobbs and UT's young stable of quarterbacks? DeBord was also given the title of "quarterbacks coach" along with the coordinator position, but he hasn't served much time in the former role.

But graduate assistant Nick Sheridan is still on staff and worked a lot with the signal-callers under former offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian, so he'll continue to help in that role. Regardless, DeBord's hire gives Jones continued continuity, which always has been important to UT's coach.

Jones always has been loyal, as evidenced by his bringing most of his staff with him from Cincinnati.

Among that staff were Bajakian and defensive coordinator John Jancek, neither of whom UT fans were thrilled about. At the time, Jones told the Big Orange Nation, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press' Patrick Brown, "I can assure you we will put together the best football staff in the country."

Though Bajakian never really produced big numbers, the Vols finally were showing signs of improvement before he bolted a couple of weeks ago for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' quarterbacks coaching position.

Jancek has led UT to steady improvement over the course of his two seasons, and most Vols fans are thrilled about the progress on that side of the ball. Heck, the hire of Jones himself was ridiculed loudly and openly by a fanbase that thought they deserved better.

Two full seasons later, Tennessee is recruiting at the highest level in the country and is coming off a 7-6 season and a TaxSlayer Bowl victory. The Vols are also a B/R pick to win the SEC East next year with so much talent returning.

In other words, Jones has earned the right to be trusted. Just because the hires don't always appear to be what the fans want, they've worked out for the most part thus far.

If a search that began with DeBord but included names such as Boise State's upstart coordinator Mike Sanford Jr., Arizona State's Mike Norvell, Arizona's Rod Smith and North Carolina State's Matt Canada wound up coming full circle to DeBord again, how can anybody be concerned whether Jones did his due diligence?

Still, as was the case with Jones and Jancek, DeBord's going to have to prove his worth on the field. How's he going to do that?

 

Run Jones' Offense to a 'T'

With all the young stars aligned and in place to make a nice offensive leap next year, the last thing Jones wanted to do was change his offensive direction.

That's probably a big reason he was reluctant to relinquish the reigns to a coordinator who would have commanded control.

Instead, Jones gets a guy he can trust in DeBord, even though the assistant has a history of running mostly a Power-I formation.

Make no mistake: DeBord won't be running that scheme at Tennessee. If so, he wouldn't be coming. Rocky Top Insider's Daniel Lewis said the same in a radio interview with RTI Radio on Thursday:

This reeks of Jones' hiring somebody who will call plays within the framework of his zone-read-option offense, keep a lot of the same playbook and terminology and expand upon it with some wrinkles from his experienced resume. That's obviously the hope.

You can't blame Jones for wanting to hire someone he trusts who will keep the same scheme that has served him well at CMU and Cincinnati; the one that has shown signs of breaking through with a full stable of talent in the rugged SEC.

Ask yourself if you think it's best for the Vols to cram a new playbook into their offseason schedules? If so, it would burn all that time they spent hammering on the Jones-Bajakian formula last year.

DeBord is in a fine position to be successful. Bajakian already went through the struggles of getting UT's roster in position to run the scheme, and now in Dobbs, the Vols finally have a quarterback tailor-made for it. With the players in place, DeBord just has to take this offense and not break it.

In other words, he has to avoid being Dave Clawson, whose disastrous 2008 offense led to legendary coach Phillip Fulmer's dismissal.

This is Mike DeBord's job, but he's going to be running Butch Jones' offense. He's a caretaker with a garage full of shiny new cars. As long as he keeps the same navigation system and doesn't wreck them, he'll be just fine.

 

Lend a Much-Needed Hand

It's no secret that the position that has struggled the most since Jones took over is the offensive line.

Though the Vols put up relatively decent rushing totals in 2013, the line underachieved for a unit with four seniors (including three who went on to be rookie starters in the NFL) and a junior who left early. Then this past year, UT struggled mightily in the trenches.

Offensive line coach Don Mahoney really hasn't inspired a ton of confidence in his two seasons in Knoxville.

So it's an underrated benefit that DeBord's experience is chiefly as an offensive line coach. In 16 of his 32 coaching years he's helmed the offensive front, so it certainly doesn't hurt to have a longtime veteran aboard with that level of expertise who has coached in the NFL.

The Vols have a group of six linemen who started at times last year. They also have a strong class of Drew Richmond, Venzell Boulware, Jack Jones, Chance Hall and Zach Stewart coming in, so there are more kids for DeBord to help mold.

DeBord's main area of focus will no doubt be play-calling, facilitating Jones' offense and advancing it. But every offensive coordinator has a position of focus, and DeBord's will almost assuredly be the offensive line. 

While at Michigan, he helped groom linemen such as Steve Hutchinson, Jeff Backus and Jon Jansen. Hutchinson and Jansen were both first-team All-Americans, so DeBord has a track record of coaching elite linemen.

DeBord will help bring the new guys along and get the most out of the returning players. They need all the help they can get there, and some new blood will stir things up a bit.

 

Second Time's the Charm

Way back in 2008, Fulmer interviewed DeBord, a successful veteran with pronounced success, to be his offensive coordinator at Tennessee. Instead, the longtime UT coach chose Clawson, whose ill-fated "Clawfense" ultimately helped usher Fulmer into an early retirement.

All these years later, Clawson has experienced a successful head coaching tenure at Bowling Green and is going into his second season at Wake Forest. Fulmer is still retired, and DeBord has been semiretired.

Now DeBord gets a second chance to coach in Knoxville. He'll try not to follow in the footsteps of Clawson.

To be clear, Jones is in absolutely no danger of being fired anytime soon. He is still a darling among UT fans, has the program on the upswing, recruits with the best in the country and looks ready to win big.

But make no mistake: This is an important hire.

Any time a coach hires a coordinator, it's a pivotal point for his program. When one hires a guy who isn't universally loved throughout his fanbase—as is the case with DeBord—the magnifying glass begins to concentrate a little more heat on the head coach.

Tennessee has a quarterback with elite potential, a talented group of running backs, a stable of pass-catchers that rivals anybody in the league and an offensive line that is going on its second year of playing together. It has three incoming freshmen quarterbacks and a sturdy class full of 4- and 5-star prospects.

It all lines up for DeBord to be successful running Jones' scheme in a transitional period that is going to determine the trajectory of the program.

If he coaches them up, UT fans will look at this hire as just the latest in a long line of times they should have trusted their coach's judgment. If he doesn't, Tennessee will have much bigger concerns that who is calling plays.

 

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

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Michigan Football: Top Sleepers from the 2015 Recruiting Class

Michigan’s 2015 recruiting class, the first under coach Jim Harbaugh, isn’t a blow-you-away, stars-for-days collection—as a matter of fact, it’s pretty modest, ranking No. 38 overall and No. 6 in the Big Ten, per 247Sports.

And really, it pales in comparison, at least on paper, to the previous efforts of former coach Brady Hoke, who recruited a pair of top-10 classes before being released in December. 

But as Harbaugh said during Wednesday’s national signing day presser, the 2015 class is full of “winners” and has plenty in the “tough/toughness” department. 

Harbaugh signed 14 players on signing day, six of the 4-star variety, but he also landed under-the-radar guys who could make impressions come spring, such as 3-star running back Karan Higdon, 3-star wide receiver Grant Perry, 3-star offensive lineman Jon Runyan Jr. and 3-star athlete Keith Washington.

The Wolverines’ running back situation isn’t written in stone, and they could use another receiver to strengthen the stable. The O-line could use an injection of talent, and a return job could be up for grabs. There are openings for Higdon, Perry, Runyan Jr. and Washington—and at least one of them could gain serious ground come spring.

 

Set Your Alarm for Higdon

Once committed to Iowa, Higdon didn’t receive a lot of play from major programs. That’s not to say they weren’t interested, but they weren’t beating down his door. Higdon had 14 offers, including invites from Arkansas, Tennessee and Arizona.

Florida looked at him. So did Notre Dame. No offer, though.

Harbaugh offered him this past Saturday and signed him Wednesday.

At 5’10” and 190 pounds, Higdon is average-ish—nothing too special, but he’s not a runt. He could hit the weights and enter the season as a 200-pound bruiser. He has the foundation—it’s on Harbaugh to build one of those houses he talked about during his intro on Dec. 30.

Circumstances and timing could easily create a path for Higdon to enter the rotation. He’ll have to fight Derrick Green, De’Veon Smith and Ty Isaac—who were three of the top backs of the 2013 class—for reps, but he could work his way into the mix.

He runs hard and has clocked a 4.5-second 40-yard dash.

And he’s worthy of your attention come spring.

 

Taken for Grant-ed?

Having chemistry with non-sleeper Alex Malzone could be a plus for Perry, as Malzone, a 4-star quarterback, is expected to at least challenge for a spot this spring and into the fall. That instant connection could benefit the both of them, actually. Quarterbacks make receivers look good and vice versa.

At 6’0” and 185 pounds, Perry is another average-ish player. However, the former Northwestern commit has great hands, and those are always in demand.

Within the right system, Perry could be a valuable secondary option or even leapfrog Drake Harris—who redshirted as a freshman due to injury in 2014—Jaron Dukes, Da’Mario Jones or even Maurice Ways, who had a small handful of nice grabs this past season.

Other than Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson, the Wolverines don’t really have an experienced and established corps of wideouts. The story has been the same since 2013—they have depth at the position, but the development...well, you know the rest.

Perry was the only true wide receiver recruited in the 2015 class. Brian Cole, a 4-star athlete, was initially viewed as a running back but is slated to play wide receiver. He could immediately help, and being the No. 73-ranked prospect of his class obviously disqualifies him from “sleeper” status.

However, the next unheralded recruit could also lend a hand in the pass-catching department, among many others.

 

Ultra-Magnetic Keith

Washington received interest from home-state programs Alabama and Auburn, and they typically pursue the highest-profile, superbly talented bunch.

But they didn’t offer him. So there’s that.

Missouri and Miami (Fla.) offered, but Washington ended up pledging to Cal...then he executed a last-minute flip to Michigan after being recruited by secondary coach Mike Zordich.

The 6’2”, 170-pounder played cornerback in high school, which is probably why Zordich went after him, but he also played quarterback. He could squeeze into certain sets as a gadget back or even serve as a return man—in addition to playing wide receiver.

His versatility makes him one of the most intriguing signees. He’s a lot like Cole in some regards, and the potential of that tandem is endless. While it’s easy to get carried away while projecting roles of players who are classified as “athletes,” it’s important to remember that they’re tagged as such for a reason: They can do pretty much anything.

Washington is one of them. Punts, kicks and picks—the freshman should get a few opportunities to showcase his talent come April 4, the date of the Wolverines’ spring game at The Big House in Ann Arbor.

 

Jon Legacy?

Being the son of a Michigan great probably carries a level of responsibility. It’s somewhat natural for fans and media to expect a little too much from someone due to his last name.

That’s fine—some of the time. However, it’s not entirely fair to evaluate the kid on what dear old dad did in the 1990s. We’re talking about two different eras and two very different programs.

At 6’4” and 276 pounds, Runyan Jr. ended his prep career as the No. 121-ranked tackle of his class. He was recruited by former offensive coordinator Al Borges and O-line coach Darrell Funk—so yeah, he’s been on board for some time. He was one of six who didn’t bail when the stuff hit the fan for Hoke’s staff.

There are obvious openings up front too. In 2014, true freshman Mason Cole earned the No. 1 left tackle job. He wasn’t a sleeper by definition, but he was the first frosh to start on the line for Michigan on opening day.

Runyan, in essence, could do something similar—not because he’s Jon Runyan’s kid but because he possesses the Harbaugh-approved characteristics of being incredibly strong-minded and dedicated to the idea of team and program.

"The apple doesn't fall far from the tree," Harbaugh said. 

 

Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and references were obtained firsthand by the writer via press conference, press release or other media availability.

Recruiting info via 247Sports.com

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Georgia Football: Why 2015 Signing Class Will Give Bulldogs a National Title

National signing day has come and gone, and the Georgia Bulldogs finished the day with one of the 10 best classes in the country.

However, there were some doubts as to how the class would turn out, because there were a few players who decommitted to the Bulldogs at the last minute. However, some players decommitted from one school to the Bulldogs, too.

At the end of the day, Mark Richt was able to come away with 28 players, including Trent Thompson, the No. 1 recruit in the country.

But this class is different. This class may not be the best in the country according to most recruiting media outlets, but this class has a bit more of an edge to them than any other class in the Richt era.

That reason, along with a few more factors, is why the 2015 class will help the Bulldogs win a national championship.

Since Richt has been the head coach at UGA, he has had no issues signing talented players. However, he has never landed an individual who won National Player of the Year.

Congratulations to #UGA commit DT Trent Thompson on winning 2015 @247Sports Composite National Player of the Year! pic.twitter.com/QWV64GfvNd

— UGA Football Live (@UGAfootballLive) January 26, 2015

That changed when Thompson signed with the Bulldogs this week, which was huge for the Bulldogs moving forward. Bringing in a guy like Thompson will help strengthen the defensive line, which is needed if the Bulldogs want to have an elite defense.

But adding Thompson was only the beginning.

The Bulldogs also signed Jonathan Ledbetter, who could be a better defensive line NFL prospect than Thompson. The 6’5’’ defensive end is quick and physical and can get after the quarterback. Those two, along with Natrez Patrick, D’Andre Walker and Michael Barnett, make up possibly the best defensive line class in the Richt era.

As good as the defensive line can be, the offensive line is no slouch either. Sage Hardin, Sam Madden, Patrick Allen and DeVondre Seymour are all guys who can run-block, which is needed in the offense the Bulldogs run. Also, the line has a ton a size, so new O-line coach Rob Sale will have a lot to work with the next few seasons.

Adding depth and talent to both lines was needed for the Bulldogs to get over the hump in the SEC. But another thing they did was add depth, talent and versatility to the entire defense.  

The linebackers the Bulldogs signed can do a number of things, especially Gary McCrae. He can play outside linebacker, defensive end and inside linebacker. The same goes for Chauncey Rivers, who can also play various linebacker and defensive line positions.

The pass defense improved vastly for the Bulldogs in 2014, but defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt knows that it could have been better. That’s why the Bulldogs got Rico McGraw, Shaquery Wilson and Deandre Baker. Wilson and Baker could play offense, but the fact the Bulldogs added players with the ability to help in the secondary is huge.

Out of the 28 signees, 14 are from the state of Georgia. And of those 14, four are ranked in the 247 Sports Georgia Composite Rankings. The Bulldogs have had their struggles landing the top talent in Georgia in the past, but that wasn’t the case this year thanks to the coaches, who stayed on Thompson and Terry Godwin.

Georgia is a hotbed for college talent, and the fact the Bulldogs were able to sign nearly half of the 10 best players in the state is not a bad thing.

This class was about building the line of scrimmage, adding depth on defense and keeping the talent in-state, and the Bulldogs hit on all those three in more ways than one.

This team may not help the Bulldogs win the College Football Playoff this upcoming season, because most of them won’t see too much action. But watch out for the Bulldogs in 2016, because they will finally reach their goal thanks to 28 young men who on February 4, 2015.

 

All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted. Rankings courtesy of 247Sports Composite Rankings.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Nebraska Football Recruiting: Meet the Cornhuskers' 2015 Class

National signing day has officially come and gone. For head coach Mike Riley, it was his first recruiting class for the University of Nebraska, and he believes it's a "good class."

“This is a good class that started with the guys that were committed to Nebraska when we got here,” Riley said during his national signing day press conference.

By the end of the day, Nebraska landed at No. 35 on 247Sports' 2015 recruiting team rankings. In the Big Ten, Nebraska finished fifth, behind Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State and Wisconsin, respectively.

So, who exactly did Nebraska sign to its 2015 recruiting class? Let's meet the new Huskers.

 

Much Needed Attention at Key Positions

Riley knew there were certain positions that needed more attention that others. With this in mind, it helped the new head coach focus his time, as he told ESPNU (via Sean Callahan of Huskers Online):

Well linebacker for sure. There had been injuries there, there had been some attrition and we had to start getting some guys that could play and also be good in the way of depth in numbers at that position. We knew we had to do that and then we kind of earmarked we would like three offensive linemen in this class, we looked at that the quarterback thing hard because it's kind of fun to look at the quarterback - that one guy you are going to recruit.

We opted not to because we didn't want to make a late decision without a lot of background. We feel good about the guys here. We'll focus on that for next year. I'd say though the No. 1 spot we had to look at that we noticed was linebacker.

The focus allowed Riley to snag players like Mohamed BarryTyrin FergusonAdrienne Talan and Dedrick Young. Had Nebraska not been focused, the depth at positions like linebacker and defensive end likely would not have been fully addressed. As a result, the Huskers would have been back at square one.

A true testament to Riley's focus is that all four linebackers that signed, committed to Nebraska after Riley was hired.

"As we looked at the linebacker situation, it was pretty glaring that we needed some numbers there," Riley said. "So we went right after that."

Riley's ability to focus and snag much needed players was not ignored by Bleacher Report's own Michael Felder and Adam Kramer, either:

 

Making a Statement in the Big Ten

During his national signing day press conference, Riley talked about competing for recruits with his good friends. Who would those coaches be? None other than Michigan's Jim Harbaugh and Wisconsin's Paul Chryst.

However, Riley ultimately viewed it all as just a little friendly competition.

"I've been in all kinds of situations in my life, including coaching against people that I know," Riley said during his national signing day press conference. "I coached against my dad up in the Canadian Football League. What I really try to do is enjoy it, but we always want to win."

Against Harbaugh, Riley did win.

Both tight end Matt Snyder and defensive end Daishon Neal were offered by Harbaugh and Michigan. Both could have easily made the choice to flip commitments. Instead, Riley made a strong enough case, and both Snyder and Neal stayed committed to the Huskers.

Going forward, Riley isn't concerned about the other Big Ten programs. 

"I take a step back and just remember what we’re doing here," he said. "We’re talking about our school, our program, our state and what we’ve got, and we’ll take it up against anyone."

The Big Ten better watch out, too. Riley believes in what he's building at Nebraska and will put it up against anybody who wants to compete for recruits, even if they're friends.

"We’re going to focus on who we are and what we do," Riley said.

Fans have to like that strategy.

 

A Promising First Class

As Hail Varsity's Brandon Vogel noted, the 2015 recruiting class had a strong start. Under Bo Pelini, the "class was ranked in the top-10 nationally according to Rivals with six verbal commits."

Riley was quick to give credit to Pelini for that. 

“I was impressed with the work that Bo [Pelini]’s staff did with these kids and really impressed with the film we saw," he said.

It was all on Riley after that, though. He could have easily lost quite a few of those original commits, but instead, he stepped in and re-secured the commitments. That included Colorado cornerbacks Eric Lee and Avery Anderson, as well as twin defensive tackles Carlos and Khalil Davis of Blue Springs, Missouri.

Additionally, Riley started to build the recruiting identity he wants to have going forward with the 2015 class. He wants to focus on the 500-mile radius surrounding Lincoln, Nebraska, but he understands the players the Huskers might need could be outside of that area.

“I really think if you’re good at home, and we’re good in this area, then we know now where we need to go to supplement that,” Riley said. “But we can get a really good foundation from Nebraska and all those surrounding states that send their kids to our camp. It may not fill up our recruiting class but it’ll be a nice foundation for any class if we can maintain a number in this area.”

For the 2015 class, Riley signed players from 13 different states; however, Riley's staff made sure the attention to local recruits was established.

“You look stupid when you're playing against kids that you could have gotten,” said director of player personnel Ryan Gunderson said before national signing day, per Jon Nyatawa of the Omaha World-Herald. "So we need to do our homework. At least recruit them, at least give them a shot. … Because I don't want to play against good players that we could have got."

Looking at Nebraska's 2015 class, Husker fans can get a good idea of what to expect in the future. Riley's strategy will clearly be finding solid local talent and then moving outside of the 500-mile radius to make it all come together.

For Riley, the 2015 class was a promising start to his career at the helm of Nebraska football. Only time will tell what he will accomplish going forward, but for now, it's a pretty solid way to kick things off for the Huskers.

 

All recruiting rankings and information via 247Sports.

Quotes obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

10 Players Who Can Boost NFL Draft Stock at Pro Day

With Super Bowl 49 in the record books, the NFL has officially shifted into draft mode. We’re less than two weeks from the annual NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, where coaches and executives from across the league gather to analyze, measure and interview the top prospects for May’s NFL draft. It’s the most high-profile scouting event of the NFL draft cycle, but it isn’t the only one.

For players who have questions about their games, are rebounding from injuries or are attempting a position shift, pro days are just as important as the combine. They’re a chance for scouts and coaches to focus more attention, dole out one-on-one time and perhaps take a closer view than they’re able to in the meat market that is the Indianapolis scouting combine.

Here are 10 players who can benefit from a big showing at their pro days, whenever they are.

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