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Wisconsin Football Recruiting: 5 Commits, Top Targets to Watch at 'The Opening'

Nike's The Opening is always one of the biggest events on the recruiting calendar, with 162 players coming to this year's edition of the camp held in Oakland, California.  The Wisconsin football team has no commits headed to the camp but a number of targets set to workout there.

The Badgers' recruiting has picked up since they brought Coach Gary Andersen on board, so their lack of a commitment among this group is a bit disappointing. However, it is not all together surprising.

With much of the Badgers' recruiting effort focused on the Midwest, where very few players invited to the camp live, one cannot be too surprised.

The Badgers have signed eight players thus far, and here are five more who are attending The Opening that the Badgers would love to sign.

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Why Alabama Is the Perfect Fit for Travis Waller

Lane Kiffin inherited a 5-star quarterback commit when he accepted the offensive coordinator position at Alabama. However, his relationship with Ricky Town lasted just two weeks, as the coveted California prospect flipped to USC in late January and created a glaring need in the Crimson Tide's 2015 recruiting class.

The hunt for a premier passer has seeped into the early stages of summer, turning Alabama's attention back to the West Coast. Anaheim product Travis Waller is the latest target following a series of whiffs with other options.

The 4-star recruit revealed four favorites Monday night and shared that he expects to announce a decision July 1:

The Crimson Tide made the cut, joining Notre Dame, Northwestern and Ohio State as his top contenders. Alabama extended an offer May 17, midway through a busy month for the 6'3", 190-pound Servite High School standout.

Waller's recruitment escalated during the final stretch of spring, capped off by a Notre Dame offer last week. An opportunity to play in Tuscaloosa represented a big step in the process for Waller, according to Servite head coach A.J. Gass.

"He was very excited," Gass told Drew Champlin of AL.com. "The attention of getting a school like Alabama to notice you is really, really something to be proud of. The tradition they have of winning, the exposure and the SEC, all the big things you think about in college football."

His enthusiasm toward the Tide remains evident. Just one day after announcing his top four, Waller was en route to Tuscaloosa:

Alabama stands out among his finalists because, unlike the other three, the program isn't known as a place where dual-threat quarterbacks flourish. Head coach Nick Saban has won three titles with the Tide while relying on a strong rushing attack and accurate pocket passers.

AJ McCarron and Greg McElroy combined to rush for five total touchdowns during the past five seasons.

Travis Waller brings a much different skill set to the field. He rushed for 1,293 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2013, averaging nearly eight yards per carry.

So what's the appeal at Alabama, where NFL-caliber running backs have long ruled the rushing lanes?

Well, let's start with the fact that Saban decided he needed to shake things up offensively following a 2013 season that ended with the team's first losing streak in five years. The move to hire Kiffin provided a clear indication that dynamics might change, though it may be a slow and steady progression that maintains the head coach's basic offensive principles.

Just take a look at the kind of quarterbacks Alabama has offered in recent months.

Brandon Wimbush picked up an offer from the Tide May 1, four days before he pledged to Penn State. Rated No. 5 nationally among dual-threat quarterbacks in 247Sports' composite rankings, the New Jersey prospect gained nearly 12 yards per rushing attempt and reached the end zone seven times as a runner in 2013, per NJ.com.

Blake Barnett, another California quarterback, added an Alabama offer to his collection in February despite a commitment to Notre Dame. He rushed for nearly 700 yards and 13 scores last season, ranking third among dual-threat talents in the 2015 class.

Barnett backed off his pledge to the Fighting Irish last week and will visit Alabama in the near future, his head coach told AL.com. Alabama is clearly open to the idea of moving forward with a quarterback who can do damage with his legs, and it's not just a desperation move as options at the position dwindle.

"They were telling me I could come in and compete and they think I could excel in their offense," Barnett told 247Sports reporter Justin Hopkins (subscription required).

When you consider the prospect of combining Alabama's rotating backfield of beastly backs with a quarterback who can tuck the ball and take off with effectiveness, it's easy to see why Saban may be shifting toward a new look down the line.

After all, he knows exactly how challenging it is to game-plan for dual-threat quarterbacks after battling the likes of Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel and Tim Tebow during his tenure with the Tide. Perhaps he's ready to flip the script.

It's important to note that Waller is no slouch in the pocket. He averaged 20 pass attempts per contest as a junior, tallying nearly 1,700 yards and 12 touchdowns through the air.

Waller remains relatively raw from a mechanical standpoint and is likely to spend at least a year or two on the sidelines in college as he develops a more polished delivery and develops his downfield reads.

Alabama would he investing in a player with the proverbial "high ceiling." Waller would be investing in an offensive scheme open to innovation.

The Tide are in pursuit of multiple quarterbacks who can extend plays and create offense when things break down in the passing game. Based on coaching track records, Waller may find an attack more tailored to his skills elsewhere, but he won't be able to replicate the supporting cast that would await him in Tuscaloosa.

Alabama is well on its way to a fifth consecutive No. 1 running class, collecting several new weapons for an offense already overflowing with playmakers. Waller would join a group of pledges that already includes two of the country's top wide receivers in Calvin Ridley and Daylon Charlot, along with 4-star rusher Desherrius Flowers, the latest addition to a stable of explosive backs.

Waller has an opportunity to explore Saban and Kiffin's offensive vision this week while spending time on campus. If he likes the sales pitch, July could bring a long-awaited quarterback commit to Alabama, where Waller would provide expanded possibilities for the Tide attack in the years to come.

 

Recruit information and ratings courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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Meet the Next De'Anthony Thomas, 2015 ATH Stephen Johnson

2015 stud athlete Stephen Johnson is known for his blazing speed. The 5'11", 180-pound recruit plays mostly quarterback in high school but projects as either a wide receiver or a defensive back at the college level.

Bleacher Report caught up with Johnson to discuss what makes him such an exceptional player, who he models his game after and why a certain former Oregon QB is his favorite player.

Who could the former Duck be?

Watch the video to find out.


Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Meet the Next De'Anthony Thomas, 2015 ATH Stephen Johnson

2015 stud athlete Stephen Johnson is known for his blazing speed. The 5'11", 180-pound recruit plays mostly quarterback in high school but projects as either a wide receiver or a defensive back at the college level...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Michigan Football: Players That Brady Hoke Needs Back by Next Season

Brady Hoke needs all the help he can get to put Michigan back on track.

He began this offseason by firing his friend Al Borges and hiring Doug Nussmeier from Alabama to fix the offense. Concerned that his seniors became entitled after attending the team’s annual leadership retreat with Navy SEALs last season, he canceled this spring’s trip according to Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com.

Hoke is also dealing with injuries at key positions as Michigan tries to regain the momentum which evaporated during a crushing 1-4 end to last season’s Big Ten schedule. The schedule doesn't get any easier this season with his team facing both Michigan State and Ohio State—both on the road—in the newly formed Big Ten East Division.

Hoke will need these players back at full strength for Michigan to challenge its rivals for Big Ten supremacy.


Blake Countess, CB

Countess is recovering from surgery to repair a core injury from last season, as reported by Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press. Countess has recovered enough to participate in the team’s annual Women’s Football Academy that raises funds for cancer research.

He previously missed the 2012 season after being injured in the season opener against Alabama, but is expected to be at full strength by fall camp.

Hoke is relying on Countess to lead a secondary that needs to pick up the slack while the defensive line rebuilds and Jake Ryan adjusts to the middle linebacker position.

 

Jake Butt, TE

When opponents locked down receivers Jeremy Gallon and Devin Funchess last season, Devin Gardner often found Jake Butt (20 receptions for 235 yards, two touchdowns) for the outlet pass.

With Gallon and Drew Dileo graduating (combined 105 receptions, 1574 yards and 11 touchdowns), Butt’s role in the offense was expected to grow next season until he injured his ACL during offseason conditioning.

Butt has tweeted that his rehab is going well and Hoke told Snyder of the Detroit Free Press that he expects Butt back by the third game of the season.

Butt is needed not only for his ability to catch passes but to help bolster the blocking of the offensive line.


Erik Magnuson, OL

The Michigan offensive line was epically bad last season. According to statistics compiled by Football Study Hall, the Wolverines were 118th in the nation—two spots behind Western Michigan and two spots ahead of Brady Hoke’s former team, San Diego State.

With the loss of tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, Magnuson was expected fill one of the open positions but was sidelined by a shoulder injury that forced him to miss spring practice.

With the off-field problems of Graham Glasgow already disrupting the retooling of the offensive line during spring practice, Hoke needs Magnuson to come back and be a steady contributor in both pass protection and run blocking.

Devin Gardner, QB

Gardner returned for spring practice but he needs to work on regaining his strength and conditioning after missing the bulk of offseason workouts rehabbing from a leg injury.

Gardner showed toughness playing through the injury against Ohio State, but he’ll need more than toughness to return Michigan to prominence. Gardner needs to show he has the skills to elevate the offense past last year’s level.

Sophomore Shane Morris filled in admirably during Gardner’s absence, but Hoke can’t afford to break in a new quarterback while also rolling out Nussmeier’s new offense. Gardner’s running ability might also prove itself useful as the offensive line rebuilds.


All season statistics from mgoblue.com, official University of Michigan athletic department web site.

Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via Press Conferences or in person.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Football Recruiting: 15 Commits and Top Targets to Watch at the Opening

Nike's 2014 The Opening football camp is just around the corner, and a few hundred of the nation's most promising athletes will attend with the intention of boosting their recruitment stock...

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Power Ranking: The Best Quarterbacks to Play for Nick Saban

Previous to the 2013 season, Nick Saban had coached an All-American player at every position minus three: Tight end, punter and, believe it or not, quarterback.

That ended when the University of Alabama’s AJ McCarron was named a first-team selection by both the Walter Camp Foundation and the American Football Coaches Association, two of the services the National Collegiate Athletic Association uses to determine consensus and unanimous status.

Obviously, Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston of Florida State ended up the consensus first-team selection, but McCarron ended his career with two national championship rings as a starter (three overall), the Maxwell Award as college football’s most outstanding player and the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award for best quarterback 

Along the way he set numerous program records including for career passing yards, touchdown passes and wins despite being labeled as primarily being a game manager.

“To me, you can't be a good quarterback unless you're a good game manager, because you've got the ball in your hands every time and you're making some kind of choice and decision of what to do with it, whether you hand it off, what play you hand it off on, where you throw it in the passing game,” Saban said during last season. “You've got to process a lot of information quickly and make quick decisions. I don't think it's fair to AJ that because I said he's a really good game manager for us that it's like that means he doesn't do anything. He does everything.”

That included breaking Tim Tebow’s Southeastern Conference record for interceptions per pass attempt (62.2, 2006-09), but with two pickoffs during his final game finished at 68.4 to fall short of the national record held by Fresno State’s Billy Volek (77.8, 1997-99).

To help put that into perspective, consider that during his collegiate career in the 1960s, Joe Namath completed 203 of 374 passes (54.3 percent), for 2,713 yards, 24 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. Even in the 1990s, Jay Barker was 402 of 706 (56.9 percent), for 5,689 yards, 26 touchdowns and 24 interceptions. Their career ratios were one every 18.7 attempts, and 29.4, respectively.

With 77 touchdown passes compared to 15 interceptions, McCarron’s touchdown-to-interception ratio of 5.13 to 1 was the best in Crimson Tide history, although Alabama doesn’t include it in the record book. The key was the 2012 season when he posted an outstanding 10.3 to 1 ratio:

No Alabama starting quarterback has had more interceptions than touchdowns since Saban's arrival in 2007:

Quarterbacks ,TD/Int, ratio
2013 AJ McCarron 28/7; 4 to 1
2012 AJ McCarron 31/3; 10.3 to 1
2011 AJ McCarron 16/5; 3.2 to 1
2010 Greg McElroy 20/5; 4 to 1
2009 Greg McElroy 17/4; 4.25 to 1
2008 John Parker Wilson 10/8; 1.25 to 1
2007 John Parker Wilson 18/12; 1.5 to 1 

Here’s how that compares to some other Alabama quarterbacks since 1940:

2005 Brodie Croyle 14/4; 3.5 to 1
2001 Tyler Watts 10/3, 3.3 to 1
1997 Freddie Kitchens 11/4; 2.75 to 1
1994 Jay Barker 14/5; 2.8 to 1
1985 Mike Shula 16/8; 2.0 to 1
1975 Richard Todd 7/3; 2.3 to 1
1973 Gary Rutledge 8/4; 2.0 to 1
1966 Kenny Stabler 9/5; 1.8 to 1
1965 Steve Sloan 10/3; 3.3 to 1
1962 Joe Namath 13/8; 1.6 to 1
1961 Pat Trammell 8/2; 4 to 1
1953 Bart Starr 8/6; 1.3 to 1
1945 Harry Gilmer 13/3; 4.3 to 1 

With that in mind, the following's the top 10 quarterbacks to play for Saban, based primarily on what they accomplished while under the direction of the coach at Toledo (1990), Michigan State (1995-99), LSU (2000-04) and Alabama (2007-13):

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Grant Newsome Commits to Michigan: Wolverines Land Mammoth 4-Star OT

It appears James Franklin is fallible after all.

Penn State was locked in a tight recruiting battle with Michigan for the services of Grant Newsome, a 4-star offensive tackle from Lawrenceville, New Jersey. And although Franklin has been on fire during his first full cycle with PSU, Newsome announced Wednesday that he would play for the Wolverines.

Here is the wholehearted way Newsome announced the news:

The sincerity of Newsome's message was refreshing. Beyond his football skills—which we'll get to in a moment—Newsome seems like the type of player and kid any program would be lucky to have.

Even Greg Pickel, who covers Penn State recruiting for Scout.com, had to tip his cap to the way Newsome announced his decision:

And it definitely didn't hurt that Newsome thanked him:

Newsome is the No. 198 overall player and the No. 19 offensive tackle in the 247Sports composite rankings. At 6'6" and 290 pounds, he has the frame and the length to play on either side of the line but needs to add some weight.

ESPN Scouts Inc. (subscription required) lauded Newsome for his tall, lean frame and his athleticism, saying, at the very least, that his body appears "capable of supporting additional bulk." He is raw but has good flexibility and should be considered a high-upside prospect.

He joins a Michigan class that needed to land him much more than Penn State did. Entering the day, the Nittany Lions were (and remain) ranked No. 3 in the 247Sports team rankings with 16 committed players. Michigan moved up from No. 33 to No. 30 after landing Newsome, who is only their seventh commit of the cycle.

Combined with Jon Runyan Jr.—the son of longtime Philadelphia Eagles tackle Jon Runyan Sr.—Newsome gives the Wolverines a pair of offensive tackles to build around from the 2015 class.

Considering the shape of the offensive line last season, such reinforcements were desperately needed and can't stop here. The Wolverines' 3.28 rushing yards per attempt was No. 115 in the country and fifth-worst among teams from power conferences.

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