Feed aggregator

NCAA Changes Recruiting Rules for Mid-Year Enrollees

The NCAA has amended a recruiting rule it developed last year, altering the landscape for early enrollment candidates yet again. Division I Legislative Council members decided during a meeting this month that financial aid agreements for mid-year arrivals will now come with added caution.

The governing body of collegiate athletics previously gave prospects an opportunity to sign early, non-binding financial aid agreements with programs. This allowed for unrestricted contact between a recruit and whichever team he selected, leading up to an anticipated enrollment on campus.

However, the process didn't prove as simple and clear-cut as the NCAA intended. Various players signed financial aid agreements with multiple programs, essentially setting the stage for potential unrestrained free-for-all action during the final stretch of their respective recruitments.

This wasn't the official interpretation of the rule, which stated that only the first program that signed a player could maintain "unlimited recruiting access." Still, the development created enough concern to demand a necessity for further examination.

The NCAA addressed the issue in its Wednesday press release.

The change created an unintended scenario in which prospects (most often mid-year enrollees) signed multiple offers of financial aid and coaches were incentivized to recruit prospects to sign so they could recruit without restrictions. The act of signing the agreements then lifted recruiting restrictions for that prospect with more than one school and created what some termed an unhealthy recruiting environment surrounding mid-year enrollees.

Last year, 5-star running back Dalvin Cook signed financial aid agreements with Florida State, Florida and Miami. He eventually enrolled at Florida State.

Wide receiver Josh Malone has already enjoyed a strong spring camp at Tennessee, but didn't officially join the Volunteers until after he also signed financial aid agreements with Florida State, Georgia and Clemson.

The NCAA is attempting to shy away from this by considering teams "in violation of recruiting rules" if a player signed to a financial aid agreement does not ultimately attend the school. This forces programs to become more diligent in determining who deserves an early pact, particularly if the player is uncommitted.

Universities are also expected to confirm proper academic standing for early enrollment with student-athletes before extending any financial aid agreement. The NCAA cited an appeal from the SEC as cause for a collective overhaul of the rule's interpretation moving forward.

"Schools often aren’t aware when prospects sign financial aid agreements with multiple schools and in what order," the NCAA said in the statement. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Football: 3 Running Backs Still a Juggling Act

Shrinking the depth chart at running back was one of Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly's first orders of business this spring. Amir Carlisle, who opened last season as the team's starting tailback, was shipped out to slot receiver. Will Mahone joined him.

Add in the mutual decision for George Atkinson to head to the NFL, and Tony Alford's meeting room just got a little bit roomier.

But juggling snaps for three capable running backs is no easy task. And while Kelly and offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock have four months to figure it out, finding touches for Greg Bryant, Tarean Folston and Cam McDaniel will be the key to the team's success. 

After riding a strong running game in 2012, the Irish took a step backwards in 2013. After achieving perfect balance in 2012, Notre Dame averaged just 150 yards a game on the ground, down 50 yards from its regular-season total. A mobile quarterback will certainly help rectify that deficiency. But utilizing the talent in the backfield, while also returning to Kelly's spread roots, will be the challenge. 

A quick look back at the past 20 years of Notre Dame football gives you an idea of how rarely three backs have demanded touches. 

In 2010, an injury to Armando Allen opened the door for Robert Hughes, who provided depth down the stretch. Charlie Weis juggled a similar trio in 2008 (James Aldridge joined Allen and Hughes), but Notre Dame averaged just 3.3 yards a carry that season, one of the nation's worst running games. 

Notre Dame's unlikely Fiesta Bowl run after the 2000 season was fueled by Julius Jones, Tony Fisher and Terrance Howard. And Lou Holtz's best offenses were powered by strong running backs, the product of an option system where passing came second. 

Nobody is going to confuse Brian Kelly's offense with Dr. Lou's. And with the passing game ready to take flight with a talented receiving corps, making sure the ground game doesn't get lost in the shuffle will be a vital part of providing balance.

One look at the Blue-Gold game makes it hard to believe that this coaching staff could forget about Tarean Folston or Greg Bryant. But in critical losses to Michigan and Pittsburgh last year, the running game came up empty, drastically turning the fortunes of a four-loss season. 

While Kelly will return to calling plays, Denbrock's leadership role in the offense will likely help balance things out. While he's coached receivers and coordinated the passing game, Denbrock's roots are along the offensive line, a good sign that a coach understands the benefits of a powerful running attack. 

How best to power that attack? Well, it might mean reshuffling a depth chart to make room for a youth movement. 

At this point we know what to expect from senior Cam McDaniel. The Irish's most consistent back last season, McDaniel led the team in touches even though he averaged significantly less per carry than Atkinson or Folston. Kelly has shown how much he values consistency, choosing Theo Riddick over Cierre Wood in 2012 even with a similar statistical imbalance. But with Folston and Bryant no longer freshmen learning on the fly, it could be a matter of talent. 

While Bryant's long run was the highlight of the Blue-Gold game, Folston's performance solidified the fact that he's currently the team's best and most versatile back. His five first-half catches provided the position with much-needed production in the passing game. His vision and running ability looked as good as ever, even with limited touches. 

If Folston showed the savvy of a veteran, Bryant's power and rugged nature clearly have a home in this offense as well. Desperately in need of a between-the-tackles banger, Bryant's no bigger than Folston or McDaniel, but runs with a violence that's been lacking in the Kelly era.

If Notre Dame is asked to win games in a grind-it-out fashion, Bryant could play the role Riddick did down the stretch in 2012, gaining the tough yards against BYU and USC to cement an undefeated regular season. 

Notre Dame has yet to have a true "lead back" under Kelly. But the head coach has shown the ability to properly utilize two running backs, mixing and matching play calls to optimize the running game. With Bryant and Folston, he has two backs capable of executing the entire playbook, all while possessing big play ability. 

Counting out McDaniel would be foolish. But the veteran leader doesn't possess the explosive skill set his younger teammates do. But doing the little things is what's gotten McDaniel this far, and providing protection on third down or adding value in the passing game will make him valuable in 2014. 

The stars are aligning for the Irish offense. But finding the best way to utilize a talented running back position will be critical. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Aaron Murray Pro Day: QB Proves Healthy, but Plenty of Questions Still Remain

Former Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray proved he was healthy and ready to get his football career back on track at his pro day on Wednesday afternoon, but plenty of questions still surround the once-top passer. 

Rewind to late 2008/early 2009. Murray was at the top of the football landscape as one of the hottest names around. A Parade All-American, finalist for Florida's Mr. Football and a participant in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, Murray put together such a stellar football career at Plant High School near Tampa, Fla., that the accolades rolled in regardless of the fact that he missed significant time due to injury. 

Injuries, however, have become a common refrain for Murray. That injury (to his knee) sidelined him for a few months. The next season, at Georgia, he suffered a shoulder injury that forced him into a redshirt and Joe Cox back into the starting quarterback position. Now, just a few months removed from a surgery on his ACL, Murray spent his pro day proving he is at 100 percent. 

That refrain—though it is oft-repeated—may not be fully accurate. 

Bleacher Report college football columnist Sanjay Kirpalani was at Murray's pro day, and although he's a self-proclaimed rider of the Murray bandwagon, he provided a levelheaded assessment when asked how the quarterback looked:

If he wasn't at 100 percent, he looked awfully close to it. You couldn’t tell that he had just had ACL surgery a few months ago. The first thing he did was some plyometric drills, focusing on running and cutting. He did a lot of bootlegs and throwing on the run. 

I thought he looked really good—victimized by a lot of drops. Deep-ball accuracy was great. Only one or two throws fluttered, and that was toward the end...was very solid. Scout walked by and said: “He looked really mobile” with a shocked look on his face. 

According to Kirpalani, this performance was in front of 35-45 scouts (a conservative estimate and admittedly nowhere near the South Carolina pro day that Kirpalani attended and that was a zoo). Notably, coaches from the Jacksonville Jaguars and Indianapolis Colts assisted with the throwing session, and a couple of Oakland Raiders coaches were very intent throughout the process. 

Another thing Kirpalani pointed out, however—apart from the pro day—was that Murray started 52 games as a Georgia Bulldog and actually tied David Greene's school record for most consecutive starts by a non-kicker. Although the double knee injuries and shoulder injury is a lot for a team to take in, Murray showed not only incredible durability and toughness as a starter, but also crazy work ethic in his return from his latest injury. 

Question answered? Maybe, maybe not. Still, even the most strident of critics have to realize that Murray is not as cut-and-dried an injury risk as he looked like only a month ago. In fact, his accelerated timetable of recovery is incredible. B/R's Dr. Dave Siebert covered Murray's recovery earlier this year:

Fortunately, Murray sustained no other ligament or knee damage—as is often the case with non-contact injuries—and his prognosis is almost surely excellent.

Recently, thanks to improvements in surgical technique and rehabilitation science, isolated ACL tears are requiring less and less post-operative rehabilitation time compared to the past. A very unscientific, cursory survey of cases in the past year throughout college and professional football comes up with a very rough estimate of about nine to 10 months.

This doesn't mean, of course, that Murray is going to be ready to take NFL hits in Week 1, but it does show a ridiculous amount of progress and (like Zach Mettenberger's similar pro day last week) that his first year in the NFL doesn't need to be a "medical redshirt" season. 

The difference between Mettenberger and Murray is that a healthy Mettenberger has a chance to be one of the best quarterbacks in this draft class, while Murray has a much steeper hill to climb. My grade on Murray is that of what scouts call a "dirty starter," someone who could potentially start at the next level but isn't winning matchups consistently. 

Dirty starters at the quarterback position get coaches and general managers fired in a hurry. 

Note that my scouting grade doesn't really take into consideration or attempt to predict where a player gets drafted in terms of round. For the most part, though teams do that as well, grades are about projection two or three years down the road, not for one day in May. 

Ironically, dirty starters at quarterback go in the first round all the time. However, the difference between Murray and guys like Tennessee Titans QB Jake Locker and Jacksonville Jaguars QB Blaine Gabbert—both who had similar, albeit slightly higher grades than Murray in my system—is that those guys lacked acquired (coachable, teachable) talent and had plenty of physical tools. 

In many ways, Murray is the polar opposite of former Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford (now with the Detroit Lions), who was a scout's dream in the physical tools department but scared plenty of teams (and still does) with his loose mechanics, decision making and lack of consistency. 

Put Murray's craftsmanship with Stafford's tools, and Canton would have to start carving out a space in the Hall of Fame for all the hardware that mythical player would win. Without those elite physical tools, however, Murray remains a good passer that leaves a lot of scouts wanting more. 

Kirpalani said it best: "If he were 6'4", we'd be talking about him as a top quarterback prospect in this class." He also noted the aforementioned starts and the fact that SEC defenders often list Murray as one of the players who gave them the most trouble. 

While I'm not quite as much on the Murray bandwagon as Kirpalani, it's notable that he does have a stellar career to look back on in the country's toughest football conference. He's also got a live arm that (while certainly not a cannon) can make all of the throws, and those 52 starts definitely speak to some toughness, durability, leadership and poise. 

Ryan Lownes compiled the scouting report on Murray for Bleacher Report and came away with a fourth- or fifth-round projection, saying:

A four-year starter that went on to set conference records in passing yards and touchdowns, he will go down as one of the most productive quarterbacks in college football history. But while he is an accurate passer with good mechanics and enough athleticism, his lack of size and arm strength are concerns. At the next level, he projects as a good backup with low-end starter potential in a West Coast offense.

I wouldn't completely pigeonhole Murray, because just about every offense is going to have West Coast principles as well as Air Raid and spread principles that smart quarterbacks like Murray can also excel at.

Yet, the point is valid that Murray will not only need the right sort of situation, but also the right offense to succeed at the next level.

In many ways, he fits on the "low-end starter" somewhere between the Cincinnati Bengals' Andy Dalton and Green Bay Packers backup Matt Flynn. Like both of those quarterbacks, Murray is a facilitator who can make an offense hum if he has the right components around him. However, he's not the physical talent that Dalton was at TCU, nor is he as pedestrian an athlete as Flynn was at LSU. 

Let's not put the cart before the horse, though. 

Being healthy, as Murray clearly is, gives him the chance to start working toward answering some of the more important questions about his NFL future. No pro day will answer all of those (even if you blare Drake music and have former presidents in your entourage), but Murray took a step forward. 

It is unlikely that any team will hand the proverbial keys to the franchise over to Murray next month in the draft, but teams that find themselves without a quarterback on the first or second day could look to Murray as a potential backup plan or as competition. 

What he does with his NFL career from there depends on Murray, and if the past is any indication whatsoever, one has to like his odds. 

 

Michael Schottey is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff on his archive page and follow him on Twitter. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand. 

Thanks to B/R Featured Columnist Sanjay Kirpalani for contributing to this report. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Does College Football Have Too Many Bowl Games Now?

Another year, another offseason filled with new bowl games. 

According to ESPN.com's Brett McMurphy, the American Athletic Conference and the Sun Belt will meet in the Cure Bowl in Orlando, Fla., following the 2015 season. The new bowl game will be the 40th postseason bowl after the Camellia Bowl (Montgomery, Ala.), Detroit Bowl, Bahamas Bowl, Miami Beach Bowl and Boca Raton Bowl debut following he 2014 season.

This begs the question, are there too many bowls?

Nope. 

Bowls are fun. Football is fun. If more cities, committees and television networks want to create events during the holiday season, bring it on. Andy Staples of SI.com agrees.

Hey, look. People are complaining about too many bowl games again. Sort of like complaining about too many varieties of gummy bears.

— Andy Staples (@Andy_Staples) April 15, 2014

Before you sprint to the comment section to complain about how mediocre teams with 6-6 and 7-5 records shouldn't be rewarded for their mediocrity, think about this for a second.

Bowl games are rewards to players.

They're rewarded with a national stage, bowl gifts and travel per diem. If you're for expanded player compensation through full cost of attendance stipends and other avenues, you're ignoring some of those same talking points if you're upset with the number of bowl games.

Is a check to cover the full cost of attendance the same as getting a new PlayStation 4 or some new Beats by Dre headphones? No. But those things are rewards for playing college football. 

The pay-for-play debate and the number of bowl games are different discussions, but they are related in the sense that more games create more opportunities for players to legally benefit.

Should the backup offensive guard of a 6-6 program be rewarded with a trip to the Bahamas for a lower-tier bowl?

You bet he should. That guy earned it. He earned that PS4, too.

"But bowl games are financial drains to schools!"

Every winter, you'll see stories pop up about how teams lose money each year by going to bowls. But those stories typically ignore a team's share of the conference payout, according to sports business reporter Kristi Dosh, which comes at the end of each school year.

@jasonrmcintyre @BarrettSallee Kind of deceptive because bowl payouts from conference usually more than cover school's loss.

— Kristi Dosh (@SportsBizMiss) April 15, 2014

Mandatory ticket requirements are a bit silly, but a school can choose not to accept a bid if it feels that, financially, it doesn't make sense. After all, this is a business.

Besides, unless it's your alma mater or a school you have some sort of vested interest in, why should it matter?

Having a random football game on a random December weeknight between two marginal teams isn't taking away from the other games that are on that night because there are no other games on that night.

My B/R colleague Adam Kramer said it best regarding more bowl games:

Here's what I know about you if you don't want more bowl games: a) you're not a gambler b) you hate fun

— Adam Kramer (@KegsnEggs) April 15, 2014

Bowl games are fun, even when they involve two teams that you don't really care about. 

See: the 2013 New Mexico Bowl.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

How Nick Saban Turned Alabama Football Around

Nick Saban arrived at the Tuscaloosa Regional Airport to a frenzied throng of Alabama fans with perhaps unheralded excitement and expectations.

Considering that excitement and those expectations came from Alabama, the idea of there being unheralded speaks volumes.

Many coaches have come to Alabama in hopes of bringing a multitude of national championships the way Bear Bryant once did.

Few have succeeded in producing even one.

Rather than looking at the treacherous mountain to climb and becoming intimidated, though, Saban trusted his “process.”

It had worked in the past. After all, Saban led LSU to the 2003 BCS National Championship. Him doing so within Alabama’s own division only further inflated already lofty expectations within the program.

In believing in the “Process,” Saban has returned Alabama to a level of national prominence not seen since the Bear roamed the sidelines.

The Crimson Tide has won three national championships in the first seven years under Saban. Last season, only Auburn’s miracle play in the final seconds of regulation prevented Alabama from having an overtime session to determine whether it would play for a third consecutive title.

Today, we take a look at the 10 most defining moments in Saban’s remarkable era at Alabama. The moments on this list should serve the purpose of either an incredible high or a noteworthy turning point.

Here is our list of Saban’s most defining moments since taking over as Alabama head coach, listed in chronological order.

Begin Slideshow

Top Transfer Options for Ex-Texas A&M QB Matt Joeckel

Quarterback Matt Joeckel will transfer from Texas A&M, according to a university release. As a career backup, he's thrown for 335 yards and two touchdowns, but it doesn't look like he was going to win the starting job in 2014. 

That means the Aggies' quarterback race is down to two: sophomore Kenny Hill, who was suspended indefinitely last month for a public intoxication arrest, and early enrollee Kyle Allen. 

Because Joeckel earned his undergraduate degree in December, he will be able to complete his final year of eligibility in 2014 without having to sit out a year. 

Of course, Texas A&M could block Joeckel from having permission to contact and/or permission to play immediately at any school on its 2014 schedule. That's the school's right. 

Still, Joeckel is likely bound for some place where he would have a chance to win the starting job right away. Who are some early possibilities?

 

TCU

As TCU transitions into a new offense with co-coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham, it still has a quarterback issue to deal with. Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports tweets that, in fact, the Frogs could be a possibility. 

Junior Trevone Boykin remains the No. 1 option at quarterback, according to head coach Gary Patterson, but there's no doubt Boykin looks more comfortable as either a wide receiver or running back. 

The situation behind Boykin is murky as backup Tyler Matthews announced on Twitter on Tuesday that he's transferring. Last month, Patterson said backup quarterback play was “nothing to write home to mother yet" (h/t Stefan Stevenson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram).

Additionally, a pair of freshmen—Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein—aren't scheduled to arrive until this summer.

Joeckel would give Patterson another option—and one with with experience in the Air Raid offense, no less. If Joeckel were to win the starting job, that could allow Boykin to move to a position better suited for his skill set while redshirting Sawyer and/or Muehlstein. 

 

SMU

As mentioned above by Feldman, the Mustangs could be an early leader in the Joeckel sweepstakes. SMU is in need of a quarterback, too, after the departure of Garrett Gilbert.

However, unlike TCU, SMU is on A&M's '14 schedule (Sept. 20). Would A&M take issue with that? It is worth noting that former A&M quarterback Jameill Showers transferred to UTEP last year, and the Miners played the Aggies last season.

Still, A&M had an established, Heisman-winning quarterback at the time—Johnny Manziel. Things could be viewed differently this time around since there is still a competition for the starting job.

In any case, SMU would seem like a natural fit for Joeckel. It could just come down to whether A&M is OK with the transfer. 

 

Northern Illinois

Perhaps the Huskies are content with the quarterback battle among Drew Hare, Matt McIntosh and Anthony Maddie, but this would be an interesting, off-the-radar landing spot for Joeckel. 

Northern Illinois is replacing quarterback Jordan Lynch. Despite what he may be at the NFL level, he was still massively important to NIU's offense and accounted for 69 percent of the team's touchdowns last season. 

That's not easily replaced by anyone, but NIU has a lot of inexperience at quarterback. Bringing in Joeckel would at least provide some experience. Hare is likely the favorite to succeed Lynch, but he attempted just nine passes last season. 

If transferring to a program with big offensive potential is Joeckel's goal, perhaps NIU is worth a look. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon Football: 5 Ducks Who Must Step Up with WR Bralon Addison Injured

The injury Oregon wide receiver Bralon Addison sustained last week could hold the talented junior out of action for the duration of the 2014 season. 

With the Ducks already losing Josh Huff and De'Anthony Thomas from the 2013 lineup, the Oregon offense must address some uncertainty—primarily, who will contribute the game-changing plays and serve as the foundation of the teams' passing attack? 

Oregon features a number of proven ball-carriers in running backs Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner, and quarterback Marcus Mariota. Ballyhooed recruit Royce Freeman adds further intrigue to the Ducks' ground game. All that talent in the backfield and the question marks in the receiving corps might have some thinking wishbone offense, as 247Sports.com's Matt Prehm tweeted

But don't expect to see the Ducks take the air out of the ball just yet. Though Oregon's roster is light on players with gaudy statistics in seasons past, the Ducks certainly are not lacking for talent. 

Any number of candidates could emerge as the standouts of Oregon's aerial assault in 2014. For the Ducks to truly thrive in that facet, there are five names to follow. 

 

Statistics compiled via CFBStats.com. Recruiting rankings and information culled from 247Sports.com

Begin Slideshow

Oregon Football: 5 Ducks Who Must Step Up with WR Bralon Addison Injured

The injury Oregon wide receiver Bralon Addison sustained last week could hold the talented junior out of action for the duration of the 2014 season...

Begin Slideshow

Alabama Ranked No. 1 in ESPN's First 2015 Class Recruiting Rankings

Alabama capped off the 2013 college football campaign by losing consecutive games for the first time in five years, but that frustrating finish hasn't prevented head coach Nick Saban from cleaning up on the recruiting trail.

The four-time national champion is busy assembling yet another impressive crop of playmakers. His efforts have helped Alabama rise to No. 1 in the first edition of 2015 ESPN recruiting rankings.

The Crimson Tide edged out SEC rival Texas A&M and surprising Penn State atop the list, which arrives nearly 10 months shy of national signing day. Alabama added pledge No. 10 on Monday when cornerback Montrell Custis flipped his commitment from Kentucky.

Saban began building this class last February, when 4-star Texas defensive back Deionte Thompson jumped on the bandwagon. Dynamic Alabama running back Desherrius Flowers and 5-star Georgia defensive end Mekhi Brown soon followed with pledges while they were still sophomores.

Recent notable additions to Alabama's class include dominant Washington D.C. offensive lineman Richie Petitbon and in-state defensive end Anfernee Jennings.

Despite all the premier pickups, Tide fans may still be lamenting about the prospect who got away.

Ricky Town, a 5-star quarterback from California, committed to Alabama in August. However, he changed his allegiances to USC shortly after the arrival of new Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian.

Saban and new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin remain in search of a quarterback in this class.

Texas A&M rates second in ESPN rankings. The Aggies started hot with nine commitments before the end of February, but pledges have stalled since then, allowing Alabama to surge past its new conference rival.

Penn State, listed at No. 3, has been on fire under the direction of first-year head coach James Franklin. The Nittany Lions have landed 12 prospects since Feb. 15, including 4-star defensive tackle Adam McLean (consensus No. 1 player in Maryland) last weekend.

LSU and Florida State round out the top five, respectively.

In comparison, 247Sports' composite team rankings offer a slightly different view of the upper recruiting echelon. The site has Penn State leading the way, with Alabama, Texas A&M, Clemson and Tennessee following behind.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Football: Landon Collins Could Be the Key to the Crimson Tide's Defense

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — University of Alabama junior safety Landon Collins was already used to the trash-talking whenever he headed home to Louisiana. Now he’s getting it in a whole new way.

Collins, of course, ruffled some feathers in 2012 when he committed to join the rival Crimson Tide just a couple of days before Alabama shut out LSU in the BCS title game in New Orleans, 21-0. The prize prospect is from Geismar, about 20 miles down I-10 from Baton Rouge.

History repeated a few months ago when his brother, defensive end Gerald Willis III, signed with Florida, and Collins expected what followed.

“We were out training the other day and he gave me the Gator sign,” Collins said. “So it’s definitely started.”

Although that may be what Collins remembers most about this offseason, it was nonetheless an important offseason for the hard-hitting player who was once considered the No. 3 national prospect by 247Sports.com and the No. 6 overall talent by ESPN.

“It was fantastic,” he said. “I got to work a lot on my footwork and schemes and getting my eye directions right, so you can play quicker and move and react faster.”

Doing so is paramount for the Crimson Tide defense, which is essentially in the process of a yearlong overhaul of the entire secondary. None of the four starters from the 2013 season opener remain, and nearly every other spot could still be up for grabs during fall camp. 

Senior Jarrick Williams is the exception and set at star, which is Nick Saban’s term for the extra defensive back in nickel formation. He was credited with 10 starts there last season, while Collins had nine while filling in for suspended Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and injured Vinnie Sunseri.

“Landon's certainly a guy that is a great competitor and really works hard every day to try to improve and has a really good attitude about it,” Saban said. “I think he's trying to affect other people, be a leader, set a good example, encourage others to do things the way they need to do it.

“When he understands what he's supposed to do, he really plays fast and is effective. I think the more knowledge and experience that he gets, the more consistently he'll be able to play that way, and that's certainly our goal for him this spring.”

Helping him with that is defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, who is back as the position coach after handling the interior linebackers the past three seasons. Before he was named the 2012 Assistant Coach of the Year by the American Football Coaches Association, Smart was the 2009 Broyles Award winner as college football's top assistant coach while directly overseeing Alabama’s safeties.

“He just coaches us at a different level, trying to get us to understand it from his point of view because he played the position and he knows what’s going on; it’s his defense,” Collins said. So basically it’s a tremendous thing for us safeties because he sits down and goes step by step on what we need to do and what will make us a better player.”

The coach and player combination could be ideal, and there’s no reason to think that the former Parade All-American can’t be the next great Crimson Tide defensive back if he continues to improve.

Despite not making any starts the first month of last season, Collins was still credited with 70 tackles. That was second on the team, but also aided by his strong special teams play, with Saban describing him as a “beast.”

“He's gotten stronger, faster and has more knowledge of the defense,” Saban said.

“At times last year, he wasn't really sure of himself,” senior safety Nick Perry said. “But now he's fully confident and I think you'll see a different Landon Collins this season.”

This summer, Collins will be on the watch list for numerous awards, perhaps more than any other Crimson Tide defensive player, and touted as a preseason All-Southeastern Conference, if not All-American. 

Yet it’s probably a good thing that he hasn’t led the defense in tackles during either of Alabama’s spring scrimmages. Unlike with some other schemes, Saban’s defense is geared more toward a player in the front seven being the primary tackler instead of a defensive back.

At the risk of making a statistical over-simplification, a pretty clear trend has emerged since the coach arrived in 2007: Every time an interior linebacker has led the Crimson Tide in tackling, they have played in a BCS bowl or better. Saban’s worst two years at the Capstone, 2007 and 2010, correspond to when that player was a safety.

Somewhat similarly, Collins had a career-high nine tackles in two games last season, against Auburn and Oklahoma, which were both losses (Note: C.J. Mosley led the Crimson Tide against the Tigers with 14 tackles, while fellow linebacker Trey DePriest was second with 11. Cornerback Eddie Jackson topped the team with 10 against the Sooners).

So while Alabama fans think that a special season may be in store for Collins, they also shouldn’t hope that the defense has to rely on him too much, or that he tries to be a one-man gang.

“Just keep playing as hard as I can and stay on top of things and stay focused because there’s a lot of stuff going on with social media about me,” said Collins, who remains a favorite target of LSU fans. “But I just have to stay focused on this team because we as a team are trying to get a national championship.”

  

Christopher Walsh is the lead Alabama football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. 

Follow @CrimsonWalsh

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas Football: Charlie Strong Updates Horns' QB Competition

The Texas quarterback situation is once again an area of concern for the Longhorns. Days after head coach Charlie Strong commended quarterback David Ash's progress throughout spring practice, Texas announced Ash suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot and will miss the rest of spring.

"You would have never known that he had the injury by just how well he has been practicing and the way he has been carrying himself," Strong said. "I wouldn't say that he is the clear No. 1, but he has established himself. He did a great job learning the offense and terminology and wanting to lead the team."

One could argue this injury could not have happened to a worse position for the Longhorns. With Ash sidelined, Texas has only one healthy scholarship quarterback on campus in Tyrone Swoopes. 

Swoopes saw action in six games during his true freshman season at Texas; the majority of those appearances were in garbage time. It's difficult to really know what Swoopes has to offer because of his limited playing time in 2013, but Strong is telling him to step up and take control of the team.

"I told Tyrone: 'The key for you is all about confidence. It is all about doing everything we ask you to do and playing within yourself,' " Strong said. "I said, 'Now that you are the quarterback, just take the field and know this is your team and it is up to you to go lead it.' "

Asking a player who is very green at the college level to lead the team is not something that can happen overnight. But Strong understands that and is waiting for Swoopes to establish himself, like Ash had done before his injury.

"We need everyone to perform and when you do lose a quarterback, whomever you lose, someone else will have to step up," Strong said. "Now it is Swoopes' job to step up."

Being without a solid quarterback is something the Longhorns are familiar with but is not necessarily something Strong has dealt with in recent years, considering he had an extremely talented quarterback and leader in Teddy Bridgewater at Louisville. Rather than putting all of the weight on Swoopes' shoulders, he is looking for the entire offense to step up its game during the final week of spring football.

"We have an offensive line that is doing a really good job blocking and protecting the quarterback," Strong said. "We have big backs with Malcolm Brown being one of them, and the receivers are making plays, but he (Swoopes) just needs everyone, and that is what you are looking for in a team." 

Swoopes is the guy for the annual Orange-White spring game April 19, but Texas will add another quarterback to the mix in June when incoming freshman Jerrod Heard arrives in Austin.

Quarterback coach Shawn Watson is obviously not opposed to starting a true freshman since he did it with Bridgewater in 2011, but Bridgewater was an early enrollee and was able to learn the system during spring practice. Heard not being an early enrollee could impact his chances of being the starting quarterback for the 2014 season.

"He's going to have a chance because he is going to be out there," Strong said of Heard's chances to start in 2014. "But the thing is that the guys who are here now know the system, and Jerrod has to come in and learn the system when he gets here in June."

The starting role is obviously not out of reach for Heard, but Texas fans who are anticipating him being the guy may want to lower those expectations.

What fans could hope for is Swoopes doing what Strong says by stepping up as a leader and playing within himself. Until Ash returns from injury, Swoopes is the guy who will be expected to lead this team.

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand.

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow her on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Redshirt Freshman Safety Jayme Thompson to Transfer from Ohio State

Just days after playing in the Ohio State spring game, defensive back Jayme Thompson has been granted his release from Ohio State and will transfer to another university.

Justin Rowland of Rivals.com reported the news Wednesday, noting that Thompson would be in attendance for Kentucky's spring game next weekend:

Thompson was a 4-star prospect in the class of 2013, ranking as the No. 219 overall player, No. 12 safety and No. 15 prospect from Ohio on the 247Sports composite. He took a redshirt after hurting his ankle last season and made three tackles in Saturday's spring game, per David Briggs of The Toledo Blade.

Jayme's father, Deon, released the following statement, per Marc Givler of BuckeyeGrove.com, Ohio State's affiliate on the Rivals network:

We would like to thank The Ohio State University for the opportunities that they have given my son, Jayme, and our family. Jayme is leaving the program in good academic standing and we look forward to the next chapter of Jayme's education and football playing career.

According to Givler's report, Thompson would have to sit out next season (per the NCAA's transfer rules) unless he applies for a waiver to play immediately because of the timing of this announcement. If that waiver is approved, he would be eligible to play in 2014.

Givler also reports that the family is in the process of discussing destinations. If he indeed ends up at Kentucky, though, it would be the latest in a line of recent coups by head coach Mark Stoops, who has revitalized the school's recruiting potential these past few seasons.

Most recently, Stoops landed the No. 22 class in the nation last recruiting cycle, per the 247Sports rankings. The class included six 4-star recruits and 29 commitments in total.

Landing Thompson would move UK even closer to fielding, for the first time in a long time, a competitive team in the SEC.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn Football: Last Year's A-Day MVP, Justin Garrett, Ready to Break Out

Justin Garrett is standing tall once again.

The junior from Tucker, Ga., was on track to be the star of Auburn defense last season in more ways than one. Garrett excelled at the new safety/linebacker "star" position in first-year defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson's 4-2-5 scheme in last spring's practices.

His hard work at the hybrid spot culminated in a breakout defensive MVP performance at last year's A-Day Game, where he recorded a scoop and score on the first series of the game.

Although Garrett was the most talked-about defensive player of the offseason, he had little chance to prove himself in the fall thanks to not one, but two foot injuries.

After missing the first two games of the 2013 season with a foot sprain, Garrett fractured his foot during Auburn's bye week between the road loss at LSU and the season-changing home win against Ole Miss.

"I was trying to push myself hard, but I came to reality around Georgia week that I still couldn’t walk normally yet," Garrett said about his recovery efforts last season. "I just decided around that time that I should just take the medical redshirt."

The reason behind Garrett's bad injury luck? Flat feet.

"This is the first time I’ve ever had a foot injury," Garrett said. "I didn’t even know I was flat-flooted. I’d never looked at it. When I injured my foot the first time, they actually looked at it and said I was really flat-footed."

But now Garrett is on top of his foot problems. He wears orthotic soles for arch support and a pair of specially made Under Armour cleats as he tries to work his way back up the depth chart during spring practice.

"It feels really good getting that frustration off me after sitting out for a whole season," Garrett said. "I’ve never experienced that before. It felt good getting out there with my teammates and enjoying practice."

Auburn's coaches have been impressed with the former starter's work at practice this spring after he sat out most of 2013.

"It’s kind of the same thing we saw last spring," head coach Gus Malzahn said. "He’s got a nose for the football, he'll really finish. He’s a physical-type guy, and he’s done a very solid job this spring. I think the bottom line is we just got to keep him healthy."

Garrett and his two healthy feet may be back in the mix for the Tigers this spring, but the former outside linebacker faces a tough uphill battle in order to get his old starting job. 

After Garrett went down with his first injury, former safety Robenson Therezie stepped into the star position and made a name for himself. Therezie led the Tigers with four interceptions in their SEC championship season and was sixth on the team in tackles.

"I was very proud of him," Garrett said. "We were roommates the year before Coach Malzahn got here. We always talked about whoever got that opportunity first, we’d do everything to support that other person."

Whether he gets back to working at star, rotates as a dime player in the secondary or contributes in special teams this season, Garrett said he is eager to play once again in front of the Auburn faithful.

But while he said he is ready for Saturday's A-Day Game, Garrett has his eyes on another date at Jordan-Hare Stadium—Aug. 30, when the Tigers face SEC West rivals Arkansas.

“I just want to make it to the first game,” Garrett said. “That’s all I’m really worried about, just making it to the first game and staying healthy the whole season.”

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Football: Spring Practice Grades for Early Enrollees

New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier has been the topic of conversation among Michigan football fans since he replaced Al Borges in January. Last season’s 7-6 record, followed by the dismissal of Borges combined with quarterback Devin Gardner’s lingering injury, cast a pall over the Michigan offseason.

But now that spring practice is complete, discussion turns to the seven early enrollees who arrived on campus to get an early start on competition for next season.

Hopes are high in Ann Arbor that Michigan will rebound, but which early enrollees will help Michigan compete for the Big Ten championship next season?

Begin Slideshow

SEC West's Most Indispensable Players for 2014 College Football Season

We hit on the SEC East division's most indispensable players on Tuesday. Now, it's time to head west.

Six SEC West teams have played in the BCS National Championship Game over the last five seasons, and a big reason for that is the ability for the upper-echelon teams within the division to reload, not rebuild.

There will be a lot of reloading this season. 

Star quarterbacks at Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M are all gone, and all three programs are working this spring to fill important roster holes at other positions.

But there are still stars, several of which are crucial to their teams' success in 2014. Who are the most indispensable players in the SEC West? Our picks are in this slideshow.

Begin Slideshow

Unlimited Meals for NCAA Athletes Is Long Overdue

On the same day that Dominos Pizza revealed perhaps the most "'Merica" thing ever, a pizza with a fried chicken crust, the NCAA revealed the second-most "'Merica" thing ever: a rule allowing athletes to have all the food they could eat. 

Coincidence? Yes, but both items are nevertheless dripping with patriotism. 

Specifically, the NCAA Legislative Council voted that "athletes, walk-ons and those on scholarship, can receive unlimited meals and snacks in conjunction with their athletics participation. Previously, student athletes received three meals a day or a food stipend." (H/T USA Today Sports

Other proposals in conjunction with the bottomless buffet rule were made as well, but none garnered nearly as much attention. That is, without a doubt, a result of UConn basketball player Shabazz Napier telling media during the men's Final Four that he often became "starving" because he couldn't afford food beyond meal plans. (H/T Sara Ganim, CNN

Consequently, the proposal was largely, and inaccurately, credited to Napier when in fact it had been in the works for some time. 

The proposal, titled 2013–31-B, will go to the NCAA Division I Board of Directors on April 24 and, if passed, will become effective Aug. 1. It should be passed. In fact, it should have been passed a long time ago. 

While jokes about happy linemen and former Kentucky quarterback Jared Lorenzen, he of the 320-pound physique, were in abundance, feeding athletes remains a part of a bigger issue. 

Players don't have normal diets. The strenuous activity they participate in daily requires more calories. Yes, athletes have been fed more often than the standard three meals a day, but sometimes the when and the how much don't add up. 

The simple argument of "they already get a free meal plan" doesn't cut it. John Infante of athleticscholarships.com explains: 

Sometimes the math does not add up, or at least it is unacceptably tight. This is especially true at universities which primarily have a la carte food courts rather than all-you-can-eat buffets. Combine expensive food with a very large calorie need and an athlete’s margin for error in budgeting can get very small very fast. All of the ways institutions can close that gap are “at the institution’s discretion.” Not every team gets the maximum per diem, the biggest training table, or every extra meal possible.

By deregulating the amount of food athletes have access to, schools can take better care of them—or, at least they can if they really want to. Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated takes a compelling recruiting angle to the subject ("Would LSU lock down Emeril Lagasse?"). 

What's more is that 2013-31-B allows for unlimited meals year-round, even in "voluntary" summer months. It also applies to walk-on athletes. Still, unlimited meals and snacks wouldn't mean anything if campus dining halls close at, say, 9 p.m., and an athlete is hungry at 9:30. 

Unintentionally, the proposal also brings up an interesting sub-topic about cost of attendance. If athletes require more food, should that not be taken into consideration when calculating that number? If anything, it would provide ammunition to the argument that the full cost of attendance is a bigger gap than most realize. 

While the unlimited food proposal is a step in the right direction, don't expect it to satisfy union pushes or other demands by student-athletes. Jeremy Fowler of CBSSports.com explains

Notice how the College Athletes Players Association, which spearheads the Northwestern union push, isn't asking for more food.

Enhanced medical coverage and brain trauma prevention for current and former players top the list.

The difficulty of passing NCAA legislation lies in the sheer number of members, meaning the ability to override or table a proposal is a strong possibility. That said, the only way the NCAA and its membership will stop something like a unionization push is if it begins to meet certain athlete demands.

Though it wasn't on the unionization platform, deregulating food access is a start.

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand.  

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

South Carolina Football: Spurrier's 4 Biggest Concerns Post-Spring Practice

South Carolina's spring practice season is in the books now. It was a fairly quiet spring, which leaves some concerns. 

Head ball coach Steve Spurrier kept the annual Garnet and Black Spring Game as a relaxing contest where younger players earned some reps, and the projected starters coasted through the motions. 

Some of the concerns with the Gamecocks were not addressed much in the spring game because these will be concerns right through the heart of the season. 

South Carolina's offense played exceptionally well in the spring game, though the defense lagged behind. Sure, the defense had to sit back in coverage and were not allowed to blitz, but the defense still struggled regardless. 

Putting aside all of the positional and unit concerns, I think the biggest concern is that the spring was fairly uneventful. 

How will South Carolina know what the concerns are and how to fix them if the spring practice season didn't bring out a lot of issues that are probably there. 

Here are head ball coach Steve Spurrier's four biggest concerns post-spring practice. 

Begin Slideshow

Texas A&M Football: QB Matt Joeckel Will Transfer from Aggies

The competition to replace Johnny Manziel as Texas A&M's starting quarterback gained a little more clarity Wednesday, with the school announcing that senior Matt Joeckel, last year's backup, will transfer out of the program.

Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee tweeted a quote of confirmation from head coach Kevin Sumlin, who wished Joeckel the best:

Matt is the younger brother of former Aggies tackle Luke Joeckel, who protected Manziel's blind side during his Heisman campaign in 2012 before being drafted No. 2 overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

When Manziel was suspended for the first half of last year's season opener against Rice, Joeckel started in his place and threw for 190 yards on 19 attempts. He was competing this spring with sophomore Kenny Hill and early enrollee Kyle Allen—the No. 1 quarterback on the 247Sports Composite—for the right to start next season.

With Joeckel's departure, Hill and Allen will now battle only each other for the job. Hill is more experienced in Sumlin's system after learning under Manziel and Joeckel last season, but he was arrested in March for underage drinking (after being found passed out in a plant) and suspended from the team, per Sam Khan Jr. of ESPN.com.

That leaves Allen as a realistic, if not likely, candidate to start as a true freshman this season. According to Travis Haney of ESPN.com, he has turned some heads in practice since Hill's suspension, although he does not have the gunslinger approach of A&M's previous QB:

"I have loved my four and a half years at Texas A&M," said Joeckel, per the official team website. "I am glad I had the opportunity to play for Coach Sumlin, Coach (Jake) Spavital and the rest of the coaches...and I'll always consider myself a member of the Aggie family."

Joeckel has already graduated from the Texas A&M business school and will be eligible to play in 2014, per the NCAA's transfer policy.

David Ubben of ESPN.com floated TCU as a possible destination.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Mammoth OT Prospect Greg Little Named 247Sports' No. 1 Recruit in Class of 2016

The 2016 recruiting cycle is already starting to heat up, with early offers arriving in every corner of the country. Gregory Little, a massive offensive tackle from Texas, has been identified as the nation's No. 1 sophomore player by 247Sports, according to Brian Perroni.

The 6'5.5", 282-pound prospect stars at Allen High School, a powerhouse in the Lone Star State. The Eagles have claimed two straight state titles with 4-star 2015 quarterback Kyler Murray leading the charge.

Little stepped up as a starter last season and shined in an offensive attack that featured one of the country's top dual-threat playmakers behind center and weapons all over the field.

Junior wide receiver Jalen Guyton committed to Notre Dame in March. Murray's offer sheet features Ohio State, Oregon, Clemson and Texas A&M.

Little and fellow front-line phenom Bobby Evans helped pave the way during an unbeaten 2013 campaign. Evans, a junior offensive lineman, committed to Oklahoma last summer.

The Eagles' latest coveted college commodity thrived after a freshman position switch. Little moved from tight end to tackle during spring camp, Allen offensive coordinator Jeff Fleener told 247Sports reporter Brian Perroni.

“He took to it very quickly," Fleener said. "He definitely was able to use his leverage and wingspan to his advantage where he was probably still lacking a little bit in strength, just being a sophomore.”

Little may have been physically raw, but he overpowered opponents, nonetheless. He spent his sophomore campaign clearing out his side of the field while anchored at right tackle.

Despite his immense frame at a young age, Little displays tremendous coordination and athleticism. When you project continued improvement in physique and skill during the next two years, it's easy to understand why he belongs in any discussion about the top spot in 2016 recruit rankings.

College coaches have quickly reacted, sending a steady steam of scholarships to the sophomore.

Texas A&M, Texas, TCU, Oklahoma State, Baylor and Ole Miss extended offers during his first season as a starter. High-profile programs have continued to come calling for Little, as Michigan, Auburn and LSU are among his latest options.

Little, the son of former South Carolina linebacker Derrick Little, is sure to see his collegiate horizons expand in the coming months. The word is out on this dominant blocker and a bull's-eye is squarely on his back as one of America's most promising young football stars.

 

Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The Life of a 5-Star Parent Through the Eyes of Ricky Town's Father

Seated comfortably more than 30,000 feet off the ground, Rick Town Sr. and his son Ricky Town were on their way back to Los Angeles after the latest recruiting camp trek. As they settled in for the journey home, the latest in a long line of sales pitches started without warning. This one came from an unfamiliar source.

"Ricky, we need you at Alabama," the man said with complete and utter desperation, hoping to make the most of this unexpected encounter. "I’m not joking; we need you. Sign your name here."

This was no coach or recruiter. This was a flight attendant who just so happened to work the charter flights for the Alabama football team. After he asked Ricky about the USC logo printed across his chest, he soon learned that he was speaking with one of the nation’s elite high school quarterbacks—who just so happened to be a former Crimson Tide commit—and his father.

The document he wanted Ricky to sign was a blank piece of paper, presumably some sort of impromptu national letter of intent. Ricky, 100 percent committed to USC, signed the paper with a smile as he and his father enjoyed this strange, but memorable, recruiting attempt.

"He asked us if we missed Lane Kiffin, then he showed pictures of coaches and players," Town Sr. said, laughing as he rehashed the story. "He was friendly and polite, and he did it for three-and-a-half hours. We had a blast."

Rick Town Sr. has a first-class seat to one of the most unique voyages in the sporting universe. He is the father of the nation’s No. 6 player in the class of 2015, according to 247Sports’ composite ranking. He is also a CEO of a land development company in Los Angeles—a position he has held for 15 years—and a former Division II football player.

He is remarkably sharp in both business and football, something that becomes evident after only a few minutes of conversation. It is natural but also calculated, and Town Sr. is no stranger to speaking about the process. He has spoken to parents at various recruiting camps, providing insight for others in a similar position seeking guidance.

He refers to recruiting as "the business," and also uses "Coach" to describe the various football people he is discussing. He is pro, and yet, he can’t help sounding like Charlie in the chocolate factory every now and then.

"I’ve gotten to meet Coach [Mack] Brown, Coach [Nick] Saban and other amazing coaches that are also amazing people," Town Sr. said. "My favorite part of this process, without question, has been getting to know these personalities and also seeing the storied programs and their stadiums."

The reason Town Sr. has gotten to enjoy these football palaces and become acclimated with legend after legend is that his son happens to be one of the most gifted quarterback prospects in the country.

At 6'4" and 205 pounds, Ricky Town already has the build of an NFL QB and the speed—right around the 4.6-second 40 range—of most gifted high school running backs.

Although he battled injuries during his junior season at St. Bonaventure in California, he is projected as a top-flight quarterback at the college level and perhaps beyond.

"Our analysts like Ricky Town because he's a complete quarterback," said 247Sports’ National Recruiting Director JC Shurburtt. "He has size, good arm strength and is incredibly accurate. We also value what he can do in pads in a full-speed game in a pro-style offense, which is a testament to his decision-making ability. He's a cool customer against pressure and excellent at reading defenses."

Although his physical gifts are what many will cite first, it's his mental approach that has coaches excited. 

"Ricky's football acumen is extremely high," Town Sr. said. "I know that's coming from a dad, however this and his maturity have been the biggest attraction to college offensive coordinators and head coaches."

It’s this total package that has had coaches lining up to speak to the golden-armed California wunderkind. And when they can't speak with him, chances are they're destroying the Towns' mailbox in an effort to make an impression.

They’ve been doing so for quite a while. 

"He received 125 letters on the first day colleges could send them," Town Sr. said. "He’s probably received between 7 to 10,000 letters in total. It’s unbelievable. He has boxes and boxes of them."

The road from promising high school quarterback with size to can’t-miss, 5-star prospect is one that you would think takes time. The reality of recruiting in its current form, however, is not the case.

Once word gets out, it’s out. From that point, the process takes over and the mail, text messages and phone calls begin to pour in.

"When Miami offered him, it quickly followed with UCLA," Town Sr. said. "His film really started to hit after that and he played in a couple of televised games. It was within six months that it really started to escalate."

Like anything else, all good things come with their downsides. In the instance of Ricky, the interest led to more camps, interactions and response.

His strengths and weaknesses have been (and will continue to be) dissected. And while the feedback is both respected and appreciated, it can become difficult to process everything over the long haul.

"Imagine trying to take golf lessons from dozens of different coaches a year, each with their own ideas on how to create the perfect swing," Town Sr. said when assessing the feedback. "While you love to hear knowledgeable coaches helping your son, this can be difficult for someone who is still maturing and learning a complex position to process."

Feedback is only a part of the 5-star treatment. Interest and a newfound celebrity status is another. It’s twisted to view high school juniors as celebrities, but as recruiting becomes more a part of the national spotlight, that’s exactly what they are.

It’s not something all players (and families) are ready for, but it’s something the Towns have been ably handling from a very early stage. There’s a support system in place—a "process" to steal a Saban term—although it doesn’t hurt to be ready for everything thrown your way.

"It was really about getting him grounded and balanced early on, but he does a real good job doing that himself," Town Sr. said. "But I’d say for the past two months, he’s had to readjust because so much has gone on."

Knowing when to get involved and when Ricky should steer the ship was a balance the two learned together. While recent national signing day nightmares have shown us just how disconnected players and their parents can be—look at Alex Collins and Malik McDowell, for starters—that has not been the case here.

There’s guidance at first, as you would hope, but Town Sr. has not wanted to be the focus. In fact, his role—at least on the communication front—has mainly centered around introductions.

"Once we established a relationship, my role diminished greatly," Town Sr. said on being the point of contact between Ricky and coaches. "Having my son grow the relationships was more important than anything I could possibly say or do. It was really building the bridge and letting Ricky cross it."

When it came to actually dissecting schools and offers, however, the Towns worked together. They set up criteria—putting nearly 20 years of CEO influence to good use. They formed plans going into visits, saw what they wanted to see and tried to separate themselves from the countless salesmen they encountered.

That might sound easy, but it’s not, at least not for most. College football coaches are some of the most convincing people on the planet, and recruits—along with their families—can be charmed after a two-minute conversation. It’s a coach’s job to do so.

"So many people asked me about coaches and recruiters and if you can trust them," Town Sr. said. "I try and tell them, politely, it doesn’t really apply. You have your own criteria and agenda and it doesn’t matter if they’re telling the truth. You need to dig into their system, get beyond the recruiters to your position coach and see how you relate. But more importantly, you need to learn how you relate to the system and the culture.”

That’s where USC comes in, the ultimate fit for the Towns in every way imaginable.

When Steve Sarkisian was hired, one of the first orders of business was to pursue Ricky Town—then an Alabama commit—to come play under new leadership.

While it may seem like protocol for a new head coach to check in on one of the state’s premier prospects, a player who grew up near the program, it was more than that. This, in many ways, is when USC truly showcased everything it had to offer after moving beyond turbulent times.

"The first few times we went to USC there was a sense of instability," Town Sr. said. "We didn’t get to see the campus like normal recruiting trips and they separated the parents from the players. It just seemed unstable. When Sark got the job and they really started coming after Ricky, we got the full treatment. We saw USC for the first time."

More than just a tour of the gorgeous campus, Ricky’s visit to USC included a gauntlet of football dialogue. Ricky spent hours with the coaches in the film room going over what offense he would be running. It turned out to be a similar offense to what he runs now, which is when the fit came into focus.

"After visiting, Ricky left saying, 'Dad, I’m going to USC,'" Town Sr. said. "I asked him to wait a week, think about it, and let me know on the following Saturday what he wanted to do."

The following Saturday Ricky woke up, came out of his bedroom and eliminated all suspense before breakfast. "I’m committing to USC today," he told his father.

And so he did.

Ricky plans to graduate early and sign his financial aid agreement in August. After he plays in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, he will enroll at USC in January of 2015, according to his father. The suspense is over.

Since Ricky committed to the Trojans earlier this year, the calls have subsided. The mailbox is no longer filling up, and the boxes of mail are no longer taking up more space. Rick Town Sr. is no longer introducing, processing various pitches or worrying about his son’s eventual destination. That wasn’t the case when he was committed to Alabama, although it is now.

"We were prepared for Ricky to go anywhere that was the best fit for him," Town Sr. said. "The fact that it came full circle and landed in our backyard is a true blessing."

Other schools have backed off, recognizing that the Towns—together—have found their dream school, dream coaching staff and dream fit. There’s no sense even trying, not now, not after a well-thought process took its course.

Flight attendants, you’ve been warned.

 

Adam Kramer is the College Football National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages