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Is Van Jefferson's Decommitment a Bad Omen for Georgia's National Signing Day?

Van Jefferson, a 6'2", 4-star wide receiver was supposed to be one of the crown jewels of a stellar Georgia Bulldogs recruiting class. Regarded by the 247Sports composite rankings as the 11th best player at his position and ranked just outside of the national Top 100, Jefferson was supposed to be a lock on national signing day.

Now, he could be an Oklahoma Sooner, and his recent decommitment raises major questions for Mark Richt's Bulldogs.

Will his defection be an isolated occurrence as recruiting season winds down? Or is his change of heart a bad omen for the Dawgs?

At surface level this decommitment may not be all that alarming. Jefferson is an out-of-state prospect, and he may not have even been the best prospect at his position in Georgia's 2015 class. After all, Terry Godwin, a 5-star athlete, is expected to settle quickly at the receiver position. Further, star players change their minds all the time, especially when faced with attractive options.

According to Barton Simmons of 247Sports, that appears to be what happened to Jefferson, who was wooed persistently by Oklahoma. "Sources have indicated that Jefferson's visit to OU over the weekend blew him away, and he had a great in-home with Bob Stoops on Monday night," Simmons reported on Tuesday.

But Jefferson did not commit to Oklahoma. He simply decommitted from Georgia. And for a player who initially committed to the Bulldogs back in August and rebuffed the advances of Ole Miss and Florida, it's surprising—if not discouraging—to see such a decisive change of heart.

Equally disturbing is the fact that Georgia remained in hot pursuit of Jefferson. According to 247Sports, new Bulldog offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer visited Jefferson as recently as last Friday.

This unrest is compounded by the fact that Georgia is seemingly in need of a big, talented receiver like Jefferson. Returning receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley have been plagued by injuries for most of their careers, while Michael Bennett and Chris Conley, who combined for over 3,500 receiving yards and 37 touchdowns over four years, have exhausted their eligibility.

There is a need for depth and talent at the receiver position. Accordingly, a player with Jefferson's hands, athleticism and college-ready size would have contended for playing time immediately and could have competed for a starting spot.

Georgia seemed to have every reason to keep Jefferson. A big-name offensive coordinator paid him a visit. Playing time was up for grabs. All things considered, it seemed like Jefferson's long-standing commitment would be honored. But then it wasn't.

To be clear, Jefferson has every right to decommit from Georgia. The hope for any young, talented athlete is that all decisions are made with wisdom and aspiration for long-term betterment. If the right choice wasn't Georgia, then all the power to Jefferson for recognizing and correcting what could have been an mistake.

But what if a few other seemingly committed players do the same? Can Georgia afford to lose the likes of Godwin or safety Rashad Roundtree? Could the nation's top overall player, Trent Thompson, change his mind? Georgia better identify flight risks now and proactively keep them grounded in Athens, or Jefferson could be the first of several decommitments.

Is Jefferson an outlier or a trend-setter? We'll find out in two weeks.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand, all stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.com.

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Ranking Every College Football Conference by Their Head Coaches

As we close in on two weeks until college football’s national signing day, the game’s coaching carousel seems to have ground to a stop, at least at its highest levels.

This winter, 14 college programs changed head coaches, down from 21 a year ago. For the second consecutive offseason, no college coaches jumped to the NFL, and the college game made a huge gain with Michigan’s hire of former San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. Yahoo! Sports' Pat Forde says there were winners and losers from this round of change.

Now that the dust has settled, it’s an excellent time to examine which FBS league has the best collective group of coaches. Leagues were ranked by the success their coaches have experienced on a national level, as well as the top-to-bottom talent and potential they possess.

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National Signing Day 2015: Latest Rumors and Predictions for Top Recruits

A week and a half is an eternity in the world of college football recruiting, which means anything is possible between now and national signing day Feb. 4.

With teenagers making a life-altering decision that can change trajectory due to a number of reasons, notable flips late in the process among the nation's top recruits take place year in and year out. 2015 figures to be no different, as rumblings and recent news continue to show some of the biggest impact players in the class might be changing commitments.

Nothing is certain until the pen is put to paper, and verbal commitments only matter so much when it comes to such a big decision. 

Let's take a look at a couple of the blue-chip recruits of the 2015 class whose futures are still up in the air and take a stab at where they might land.

 

Torrance Gibson, QB

As it turns out, J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller aren't the only quarterbacks that the emergence of Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones has raised questions over.

It's also increased the recruitment for Torrance Gibson, the nation's sixth-ranked dual-threat quarterback who is still committed to Ohio State. A late push from the Buckeyes closed down a once wide-open recruitment for Gibson, but recent developments have caused him to listen to other suitors.

Gibson told AL.com's Wesley Sinor that Auburn is pushing hard, and the thought of sitting two-plus years at Ohio State has him listening:

I sat in Gus Malzahn's office and he told me I'm his guy. He wants me to come in and get a fair opportunity at playing quarterback. That's what he told me, and I believe him. Look what he did with Cam Newton in one year and Nick Marshall in two. Imagine what he could do with me in three.

That's pretty tough. I would have no problem redshirting, but sitting two or three years -- that's not what I have to do. I want to come in, get a fair opportunity to play quarterback. I have a home visit with Coach Rhett Lashlee, Coach Gus Malzahn and Coach Urban Meyer in a few weeks, so we'll see what happens.

According to Gibson's personal Twitter, visiting with Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee went well:

Of course, there remains a scenario in which Gibson could compete for the Ohio State starting job after an obvious redshirt 2015 season. Jones should be gone to the NFL if he holds down the starting job, Miller will also be gone and who knows if then-junior Barrett will still be around.

With that said, Auburn has a gaping hole at the quarterback position right now with quarterback Nick Marshall graduating, and his ability to gain yards with his legs could be a better fit for head coach Gus Malzahn and the Auburn offense.

Gibson has been changing his mind repeatedly throughout the process, with the likes of Tennessee, LSU and Auburn all leading for his services at one point or another. He relished an opportunity to compete for the job at Ohio State, but different circumstances will push him to greener pastures on The Plains.

Prediction: Gibson flips from Ohio State to Auburn

 

Martez Ivey, OT

It looks to be a two-stallion race to the finish for top offensive tackle Martez Ivey.

Ivey, who is regarded as the nation's top offensive tackle and second-best overall player in the class, has yet to announce his commitment. But he left no secret to Justin Hokanson of 247Sports that it's seemingly coming down to Auburn and Florida, both of whom he has visits with down the home stretch:

"I'll make up my mind after that," Ivey told AuburnUndercover. "Being comfortable, reaching my goals, that's what it will come down to."

Is Ivey leaning to either Florida or Auburn, his two leaders?

"No," he said.

It's hard to argue he wouldn't be highly valued early on at both schools.

Auburn only has two offensive linemen in its class who rank as 4-star recruits, while Florida has yet to build much of a class under new head coach Jim McElwain and only has 3-star linemen in the fold. 

The Tigers only return four offensive starters, three of which are on the offensive line. The Gators, on the other hand, have three starting spots available—including at right tackle, where Ivey figures to lock in.

The Apopka, Florida, native not only has closer geographical ties to the Gators, but he has a chance to be an early impact player on a team building much more from scratch than the Tigers. Playing for a winner is coveted by all top recruits, but so is early playing time—Ivey can seemingly achieve both by picking Florida.

Along with that, Ivey can be the blue-chip recruit of McElwain's initial class if he goes with the Gators.

Prediction: Ivey commits to Florida

 

Alize Jones, TE

It didn't take long for Alize Jones to make the switch to South Bend after the top tight end decommitted from UCLA. 

The Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) standout ranks as the top tight end in the class, and he had been committed to the Bruins for over a year before flipping to Notre Dame on Jan. 15.

His decommitment from UCLA and commitment to Notre Dame came on the same day, and it's not hard to see why.

UCLA coach Jim Mora brings an exciting offense to L.A., but it's not one that seems to value tight ends—at least in the passing game. To say it's not an ideal fit for the nation's top tight end would be putting it lightly.

Meanwhile, there may not be a better fit for playmaking tight ends than in South Bend, where head coach Brian Kelly's pro-style offense has made NFL players out of Tyler Eifert and Kyle Rudolph, among others.

Recruits can change commitments back and forth this time of year, but don't expect that from Jones. After making his decision so late into the process, this one feels like a sure thing.

Prediction: Jones remains committed to Notre Dame

 

Recruit information and rankings via 247Sports.com unless otherwise noted. 

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CFB Recruiting 200: Top 15 Offensive Tackles

After thorough study using specific scoring criteria, Bleacher Report recruiting analysts Sanjay Kirpalani and Tyler Donohue have graded the top 200 players in the 247Sports Composite Rankings and provided in-depth analysis. As national signing day draws near, Bleacher Report provides a position-by-position breakdown of the best college football recruits. Today, we present the Top Cornerbacks. 

Other Positions 

Offensive tackles take on a greater position of importance in today's collegiate football scene given the elevated importance of an imposing aerial attack. Aside from protecting the passer, these linemen must also seal off the edge for running backs to do damage along the perimeter.

We continue our position-by-position review of America's premier prospects by taking a closer look at the top bookends in this class. Here's a highlighted look at the offensive tackles who appear among 247Sports' top 200 overall prospects, including our 100-point assessment based on power, hands, lateral quickness, pass protection and run blocking.

*All prospects studied and graded by Bleacher Report national recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue

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UCLA Football: Breaking Down Bruins' QB Contenders for 2015

The most interesting position battle heading into the offseason for the UCLA football team is at quarterback. 

Last year's starting quarterback, Brett Hundley, is headed to the NFL. Hundley was able to generate tremendous production during his three years in Westwood. In fact, from a statistical standpoint, he is perhaps the best quarterback to ever play at the university. 

Needless to say, the next eventual starting quarterback at UCLA will have some massive shoes to fill. 

This piece will look at the three most logical candidates competing to be the next signal-caller in Westwood. One area of concern is the lack of tangible time on the field. Of the trio vying for the job, only one has played (albeit minimally) in a collegiate game.

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UCLA Football: Breaking Down Bruins' QB Contenders for 2015

The most interesting position battle heading into the offseason for the UCLA football team is at quarterback. Last year's starting quarterback, Brett Hundley , is headed to the NFL...

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How DJ Durkin Will Bring More Speed to the Michigan Defense

D.J. Durkin has been on the job less than two weeks and he’s already put Michigan in prime position to upgrade its overall defensive speed. Durkin comes to Michigan after competing in the SEC for five seasons at Florida. His efforts have convinced 4-star recruit Roquan Smith to put Michigan in his top three schools with two weeks to go before national signing day.

Roquan Smith is the No. 47-ranked recruit in the nation according to 247Sports, and he has narrowed his list down to Michigan, UCLA and Georgia.

Michigan hadn’t been a contender for the highly touted recruit until Durkin was hired. Smith talked about Michigan’s new defensive coordinator on MLive:

My relationship with him is really good," Smith told MLive earlier this month. "I know he takes care of his players on and off the field, he's a great guy at heart. He's great at developing guys and doing all he can for them, I know that.

Smith won’t be the only player from SEC territory who is drawn to Durkin’s experience and reputation. Rivals named him the 2012 Recruiter of the Year for his previous efforts.

Durkin’s recruitment of Smith proves that Michigan will have a strong presence in Florida and Georgia, which are both among the top states in producing NFL talent.

A closer look at the top states producing NFL talent reveals a road map for Durkin to infuse his defense with speed.

During his career he has developed strong relationships with local high school coaches in five out of the top six states producing pro talent: Florida (SEC), California (Stanford), Georgia (SEC), Ohio (Bowling Green) and South Carolina (SEC).

His reputation as a top defensive coach comes from his success at Florida, where his squads were ranked among the very best in the nation (15th in 2014 and eighth in 2013) over the last two seasons.

Durkin is part of a staff that has a unique mix of national recruiting reach and experience in identifying and developing pro talent. Between Jim Harbaugh and his coaches, Michigan has the credibility to recruit any player from anywhere.

One positive result of Ohio State’s national championship is that Durkin can make the case that recruits will be competing in one of the top divisions in all of college football. A schedule that includes Ohio State, Michigan State and a resurgent Penn State along with newcomers Maryland and Rutgers appears a lot more interesting after this past season’s results.

With signing day quickly approaching, Michigan’s new coaches are working to bring in their first recruiting class. D.J. Durkin is pressing for that class to include a speed upgrade for his defense. If he’s successful, Michigan’s march to the Big Ten championship will have begun.

Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations obtained firsthand

Follow @PCallihan

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BYU Football: The Best Transfers for the Cougars of All Time

January and February mark the hottest times of the year for college football recruiting. With national signing day around the corner, high school stars are starting to commit, decommit and sign with schools from all over the nation.

The same goes for transfers. BYU landed three high-profile FBS players last week, and although it's been a quiet offseason for recruiting, getting those transfers was huge.

This isn't anything new for the Cougs, either. BYU has landed big-time transfers for years. Here are five of the most well-known transfers that have come to BYU.

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Lorenzo Phillips to FSU: Seminoles Land 4-Star LB Prospect

Florida State is losing a lot of talented players to the NFL this year, but at least one incoming player should be able to help them from the get-go, as junior college linebacker Lorenzo Phillips has committed to the Seminoles.

Safid Deen of the Tallahassee Democrat has more:

Lorenzo Phillips, rated the No. 1 junior college outside linebacker in the country, committed to Florida State on Tuesday afternoon.

Phillips, who played at LSU before transferring to East Mississippi Community College, has two seasons of eligibility left and could immediately help the Seminoles defense.

Standing at 6'3" and weighing 230 pounds, Phillips is considered a 4-star linebacker by 247Sports, which ranks him as the top JUCO linebacker, the No. 18 junior college prospect in the country and the No. 7 junior college prospect from the state of Louisiana. 

Phillips certainly is prepared to make an instant impact with the 'Noles, as he told Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel:

Sonnone has more on the role he might play with Florida State:

However Florida State utilizes him, Phillips has the opportunity to make an instant impact for the school. His combination of physicality and speed will allow him to play on the line, but he also has the athleticism to stand up and adjust to a new role. 

A strong tackler, Phillips gives the Noles, at worst, a bit more depth on defense. At best, he can be a standout performer immediately. Florida State will be hoping for the latter.

 

 

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Oregon Football: Who Will Replace Ducks' Top NFL Draft Prospects?

Despite the outcome of the national championship game, Oregon’s 2014 season was wildly successful.

Oregon has become one of the best programs in college football; however, now it will have to deal with one of its biggest rebuilding projects in years. 

The Ducks are losing a host of players to graduation and the 2015 NFL draft, including Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, who is undoubtedly the best player in the history of Oregon football.

The Oregon program is well-positioned to continue its dominance of the Pac-12 despite the players it will lose next year. The Ducks will return almost every playmaker on the offensive side of the ball, and the young defensive players should be able to replace those lost to the draft.

There’s no doubt that the Oregon coaches will have their hands full as they attempt to replace as many as nine players who could be drafted in April. That being said, the coaches should be excited with the talent they have to work with.

Here's a look at seven Ducks who will likely be selected in the NFL draft and will need to be replaced in 2015.

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Oregon Football: Who Will Replace Ducks' Top NFL Draft Prospects?

Despite the outcome of the national championship game, Oregon’s 2014 season was wildly successful. Oregon has become one of the best programs in college football; however, ...

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Biggest Meltdowns from CFB Coaches

The greatest coaching meltdowns in sports history are typically reserved for minor league baseball managers who must pierce the humid monotony of an interminable baseball season, but these eight irked college football coaches make for equally entertaining viewing. 

College coaches always want to protect their players, but all too often they seek to defend those young men on the roster as if they were prepubescent teenagers, not elite athletes above the age of majority recruited to the school specifically for the purpose of playing a sport. 

An undeniable tension exists in college football whereby youngsters play a game for zero money. But many of those football programs make millions upon millions of dollars of profit, which justifiably makes those programs worthy of media coverage and subject to journalistic criticism.

Most of these coaches, including Mike Gundy and Urban Meyer, were simply defending their players. One coach ran into trouble with an overwrought metaphor, while another extolled the rigors of D-I football, and the most infamous of all saw a legend slug a player and knock his own career to the canvas for good.  

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Texas A&M Recruiting: Aggies DC John Chavis Already Making an Impact

The Texas A&M football coaches are trying to put the finishing touches on the 2015 recruiting class. Newly hired defensive coordinator John Chavis has already made his impact felt on the defensive side of the ball.

When head coach Kevin Sumlin hired Chavis away from LSU, he was making a statement to all of the other teams in the SEC. Sumlin and Texas A&M are saying that defense matters to them and they are intent on building a championship program in Aggieland.

When Chavis was at LSU, he consistently produced some of the top defenses in the country. He is an elite defensive coordinator who will produce a defense that will allow the Aggies to compete for championships.

That will include bringing his kind of player into the program. Chavis has begun to leave his imprint on the Aggie program with his first recruiting pledge on defense.

 

Addressing a Need

The Aggies' biggest issue on defense is at the linebacker position. The linebacker play was very poor in 2014, although it did improve at the end of the season as the coaches relied on younger players.

Rising sophomores Otaro Alaka and Josh Walker displayed the ability to be quality linebackers in the SEC in the future.

Alaka finished the year with seven tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss in the Liberty Bowl. He appears to be the Aggies' future at the middle linebacker position. Walker had 27 tackles with half a sack on the year. He missed the last three games of the season with a broken leg.

Along with Shaan Washington, they are the future at the position for the Aggies. Even if all three develop into quality starters, the Aggies still have a need for depth at the position.

A.J. Hilliard coming back from surgery should help in that area, but they still need to fill out the two-deep. The Aggies will be counting on members of the 2015 recruiting class to fill out the depth chart.

Chavis watched Dwaine Thomas perform at the LSU football camp in the summer of 2014. He invited Thomas to Aggieland for an official visit over the weekend and the 3-star prospect from Hahnville, Louisiana committed to the Aggies.

Thomas resembles a Tasmanian devil on the football field. He shows great instincts and plays football with a controlled rage. His quickness and attitude on the field make him perfect for what Chavis is looking for in a linebacker.

If Chavis can continue to bring in linebackers of Thomas' ability, then Aggie fans should be very excited about the future of the linebacker position.

 

Added Credibility

The hire of Chavis lends credibility to Sumlin and the A&M program. College football fans, coaches and recruits have to recognize that the Aggies are serious about putting an elite defense on the field.

When Chavis was hired at A&M, top defensive recruits took notice. Daylon Mack cancelled his visit to LSU and instead took an official visit to Texas A&M.

Mack is one of the top defensive recruits in the country. He was previously committed to A&M but opened his recruitment back up after the Aggies fired Mark Snyder.

Mack is the type of player who can step in and play immediately in the SEC. He would be in the two-deep at nose guard in 2015 and could be the anchor of the Aggies' run defense going forward.

Chavis has eight of his defensive tackles from LSU currently in the NFL. His ability to develop NFL-level defenders is very attractive to prospective recruits.

If you come to A&M now, you can play for an elite defensive coordinator who has a great track record of sending players into the NFL. That is as big of a draw as any school in the country has when it comes to recruiting on the defensive side of the ball.

Chavis has a history of identifying and developing under-the-radar recruits like Tyrann Mathieu. This bodes well for the future of the Aggie defense.

The bottom line for Texas A&M football fans is that the Aggies hit a home run when they hired John Chavis to be the new defensive coordinator. He has already made an impact on the 2015 recruiting class, and that impact will likely continue through signing day on February 4.

 

Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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College Football Teams with Most to Lose Between Now and National Signing Day

The final two weeks before national signing day are spent recruiting uncommitted and committed prospects. Just because a player has vowed to attend one school doesn't mean other schools will keep their grubby paws off him.

As a result, certain teams enter this home stretch with a lot to lose. The catalog of players they have "committed" for the cycle doesn't count until those players put pen to paper. Until then, there is still time for other teams to swoop in and poach them.

But there are other ways to make this list, too. Especially for teams making a coaching change or teams in the midst of a poor recruiting cycle, there is much to lose by not gaining extra commitments.

Here are five teams with a lot on the line.

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Auburn Football Recruiting: Tigers' Top Remaining 2015 Targets

With just over two weeks to go until national signing day, Auburn's 2015 recruiting class is looking pretty good. But it can still get a lot better.

The Tigers just picked up their 21st signee on Tuesday, with 4-star safety Tim Irvin flipping from Texas just over two weeks after making that commitment. This has lifted the overall class to 10th best in the country, according to 247Sports, though that's still only No. 5 among SEC schools.

Auburn is still hot on the trail of several other notable players to fill out the 2015 class, including several 5-star prospects. Here's a look at the ones who will matter most if coach Gus Malzahn and his staff can convince them to come to the Plains this season.

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Alabama Football: 10 Most Important Returning Players

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama’s returning roster is just about set.

Three juniors declared for the NFL draft, so, apart from the regular offseason attrition (some of which has already begun), we have a good idea of what major names and faces will be back next season.

The Crimson Tide will need new names and faces to step up to replace stars like Amari Cooper, T.J. Yeldon, Trey DePriest and Landon Collins. They also need their big returning contributors to continue their high-level play.

With that, let’s look at the 10 most important returning players for Alabama next year.

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Van Jefferson Decommits from Georgia: What's Next for Bulldogs, 4-Star WR?

Wide receiver Van Jefferson dropped his commitment to Georgia on Tuesday afternoon, announcing the decision via Twitter:

The 4-star Tennessee prospect spent the past five months as a Bulldogs pledge but elected to explore other opportunities just two weeks shy of national signing day. Oklahoma stands out as a potential landing spot, as he spent time on campus this past weekend and received an in-home visit from Bob Stoops on Monday.

Jefferson's recruitment suddenly seems to be trending toward the Sooners, according to Barton Simmons of 247Sports:

"Sources have indicated that Jefferson's visit to OU over the weekend blew him away," Simmons wrote. "Many have seen Jefferson's recruitment as a Ole Miss-Georgia battle but Oklahoma's January push is going to be tough for either program to beat."

Oklahoma may be viewed as the new leader in this pursuit, but don't expect the final chase to be easy for Stoops. 

Jefferson, a 6'2", 183-pound Ravenwood Academy product, will head to a pair of SEC campuses in the coming weeks:

Ole Miss also remains a strong contender for top-rated Texas receiver Damarkus Lodge, while Jim McElwain is working to salvage a class that currently includes just eight commits. If Jefferson lands with either squad, it will increase the sting for Georgia fans reeling about the loss. 

Trent Smallwood, who covers Bulldogs recruiting for Rivals.com, reports the program shouldn't be counted out just yet:

However, it's difficult to imagine Jefferson donning a Bulldogs hat on signing day. Georgia must likely look elsewhere for a replacement or remain content with its current haul at the position. 

Jefferson, rated 11th nationally among receivers in 247Sports' composite rankings, caught 154 passes for 2,481 yards and 27 touchdowns as an upperclassman. His absence from Georgia's class surely hurts, but diligent work on the recruiting trail softens the blow for Mark Richt and company.

The staff focused on addressing depth at receiver throughout this cycle, securing commitments from multiple standouts. Darius Slayton and Jayson Stanley, in-state talents who rate among the top 30 players at the position in 247Sports' composite rankings, are both on board, along with New Orleans pass-catcher Michael Chigbu.

Terry Godwin, rated the country's No. 1 overall "athlete," is a strong candidate to line up on offense. Georgia could quickly turn to the explosive 5-star recruit as a vertical downfield weapon. 

The Bulldogs now hold 25 commitments in a class listed sixth overall in 247Sports' composite rankings.

Despite the departure of a top-tier receiver, Georgia is likely to remain predominately focused on other roster needs. Expect the spotlight to stay on prospects like cornerback Donte Jackson, linebacker Roquan Smith and offensive tackle Chidi Valentine-Okeke as signing day approaches.

 

Recruit ratings and info courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The SEC's New Hot Recruiting Rivalry

Auburn and Florida last met on the football field in 2011, and barring matchups in the SEC Championship Game, they won't meet again on the gridiron until 2019 in Gainesville.

The two traditional SEC powers are, however, meeting in the living room early and often this January.

Former Gator head coach Will Muschamp's dismissal and subsequent move to Auburn as head coach Gus Malzahn's new defensive coordinator has transformed the Auburn/Florida rivalry into the hottest recruiting rivalry in the SEC in 2015, and it doesn't appear to be slowing down between now and national signing day.

Muschamp brought defensive backs coach and noted super-recruiter Travaris Robinson with him to the Plains, and the presence of the dynamic defensive duo piqued the interest of several top-tier prospects from the state of Florida.

These include 5-star offensive tackle Martez Ivey, 5-star defensive end Byron Cowart, 5-star defensive end CeCe Jefferson and 4-star linebacker Jeffery Holland.

According to James Crepea of the Montgomery Advertiser, Cowart, Jefferson and Holland all visited Auburn this weekend and could be a package deal, while Ivey was also on campus visiting friend and recent signee Chandler Cox.

Jefferson's comments on Twitter certainly suggest that the trio could be playing together at the next level:

Cowart's comments echo Jefferson's, according to Wesley Sinor of AL.com.

"Yeah, we're going to stick together," Cowart said on Sunday. "We'll all play at the same school, because we know we can make an impact. One guy can't make a difference at a school, and I don't think people understand that."

It was a star-studded recruiting weekend on the Plains, as 5-star defensive tackle Terry Beckner, Jr., 5-star athlete Terry Godwin, 4-star dual-threat quarterback Torrance Gibson and several others were also on hand.

With that said, the four stars from the Sunshine State hold the keys to the recruiting success of both Florida and Auburn.

If all four—or even the trio of defensive stars reported to be considering a package deal—head to Auburn, it would be considered a grand slam for Muschamp, Malzahn and the entire Auburn staff.

The Tigers currently rank 10th in the latest 247Sports team recruiting rankings, and according to the class calculator, Jefferson, Cowart and Holland would give them 276.21 recruiting points and vault them all the way into sixth spot, with more shuffling still possible down the stretch.

For Florida, keeping the best uncommitted players in-state is absolutely critical to the success of head coach Jim McElwain's first recruiting class. The Gators have only eight commitments thus far in their 2015 class and rank 84th in the nation—one spot behind Old Dominion. 

Cowart will get a visit from Florida this week, according to Thomas Goldkamp of 247Sports (subscription required), and Greg Ostendorf of ESPN.com (h/t ESPN's Derek Tyson) reported that Ivey will officially visit Gainesville before announcing his decision on national signing day:

Clearly, the need for quantity and quality is on the minds of McElwain and his new staff.

Uncertainty over Mushcamp's status took its toll over the last two seasons, and now that the recruiting dead period is over, McElwain and his new staff have to close strong. Otherwise, this will be a lost recruiting class for the Gators.

The lasting effects of a lost class are comparable to heavy recruiting sanctions. Depth issues will follow, the absence of momentum can linger and the rebuilding effort will suffer the college football equivalent of a construction delay.

All four stars from the Sunshine State are capable of defining a program, and protecting the border needs to be the first thing on McElwain's agenda.

Florida's success or failure in this recruiting cycle goes hand in hand with Auburn's.

If Auburn becomes the talk of the college football world over the next three weeks, it will likely be at the expense of the Gators. If Florida comes on strong, Auburn's class will still be solid but leave Tiger fans wondering what might have been.

We're not going to see these two teams on the field very often, but this offseason recruiting battle will at least quench the thirst of fans who remember the good old days when the Tigers and Gators were heated rivals.

 

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, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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4-Star ATH Donte Jackson Will Be Future SEC Star, but Where Will He Play?

To say that making a decision has been tough on Louisiana star ATH Donte Jackson may be more of an understatement than many anticipate.

In a matter of hours, Jackson, one of the nation's top-ranked athletes, is expected to announce he will play college football in the SEC. And while he's down to LSU and Georgia as his top finalists, that's where everything turns extremely difficult.

Where does Jackson fit best? Truthfully, he'd be a major asset for both schools—which could be the real reason why the decision is such a difficult one.

With how everything is unfolding, it wouldn't be surprising if Jackson chose LSU over Georgia on Wednesday, Jan. 21. According to 247Sports.com, Jackson is projected to stay in state and play for Les Miles and Co. Baton Rouge is only a little more than an hour away from Jackson's home in New Orleans, and the idea of potentially playing in the secondary with 5-star cornerback Kevin Toliver II and 4-star CB Xavier Lewis—another Louisiana player—is intriguing. Additionally, with 16 commits, LSU will have plenty of room for him in its recruiting class.

Georgia fans would welcome Jackson with equally open arms, but the recruiting window of opportunity is a little smaller. The Bulldogs have 26 commitments, including seven who are already enrolled on campus. Jackson took an official visit to Georgia over the weekend and said it was productive, as his family got to see the campus and he spoke with Mark Richt and the Georgia coaching staff. Jackson, however, added that the smaller, college-town environment was something he'd have to acclimate himself to.

"It’s not really what I’m used to, but it was alright," Jackson told Sonny Shipp of Geaux247. "It was a good environment. I’m just used to a bigger city."

The good news for Georgia is that the visit was still enough to make Jackson's ultimate decision a head-scratcher. He is expected to announce around 11:30 a.m. ET at Riverdale High School. And Bulldogs fans should like the odds of getting the most recent official visit. However, Jackson, regardless of his decision, is scheduled to take an official visit to LSU this weekend.

It appears as though coaching staffs, facilities and playing time all are neck and neck between Georgia and LSU. Distance could be the X-factor in Jackson's decision. While LSU is a relatively quick drive from New Orleans, Athens is located more than seven hours away by car.

The fact that Jackson still wants to take his LSU official visit gives an idea of how high his interest is for the program. He's taken several unofficial visits since receiving the offer in May, and he has built a solid relationship with recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson, as well as secondary coach Corey Raymond. Although Jackson is fond of Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, the multiple trips to Baton Rouge have to score points in a recruiting race so close.

At 5'11" and 164 pounds, Jackson has a lot of upside to be used in a versatile capacity. In addition to lining up in the secondary, Jackson also could see time as a reliable special teams option. His hands and vision can make him a slot receiver if Miles or Richt choose to go that route.

Whichever school he decides, know that it's been a tough decision.

Also know that one school will be more than ecstatic to land him on Wednesday.

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Why Texas A&M Aggies Will Have the Most Improved Defense in 2015

Texas A&M Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin doesn't need to answer questions about his offense. By bringing on defensive coordinator John Chavis—unofficially, that is; A&M hasn't actually announced the hire—Sumlin hopes he won't have to answer questions about his defense, either.

The reality for Sumlin is that A&M has declined in the win column in the past two seasons and not for a lack of offense. The Aggies have averaged at least 35 points per game each season under Sumlin.

The Aggies were subpar, if not outright bad, in essentially every major defensive category in 2014. Keep in mind that was one year removed from a season in which A&M was even worse on defense.

Thus, defensive coordinator Mark Snyder was rightly let go in November.

The good news for A&M, though, is there isn't a lot of room to regress. On the contrary, with Chavis running the show, the team should see a dramatic improvement on defense next season.

Chavis, who comes to A&M from divisional foe LSU, can elevate the Aggies to a legitimate SEC contender. These days, it's not enough to have a big name as a head coach. Programs need a one-two punch with head coaches and coordinators, a la Nick Saban/Lane Kiffin at Alabama and Gus Malzahn/Will Muschamp at Auburn.

For six years, LSU coach Les Miles had one of the best in the business. To be sure, it's not an easy loss: 

The parts are in place for Chavis, who will reportedly earn $4 million over three years, to transform the Aggies defense quickly. For one, Chavis runs the same 4-3 base as Snyder, so there's not a lot of adapting that has to be done personnel-wise.

Secondly, Snyder might have had two poor seasons, but he didn't leave the cupboard bare, as noted by Sam Khan of ESPN.com

Young talent does exist across Aggies' current defensive two-deep, led by true freshman defensive end Myles Garrett. Of the 29 players on the Aggies' final 2014 depth chart, 15 were freshmen or sophomores, and seven true freshmen—Garrett, defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson, linebackers Otaro Alaka and Josh Walker, and defensive backs Armani Watts, Nick Harvey and Donovan Wilson—started at least one game for the Aggies this season. 

These freshmen and sophomores weren't your garden-variety rotational players. Garrett, who broke the SEC sack record for a freshman previously held by Jadeveon Clowney at South Carolina, was a second-team All-SEC selection by the coaches and media.

Garrett will only get better as he improves as a tactician.

Ideally, though, he won't be the Aggies' only pass-rushing option, as he accounted for roughly one-third of the team's sacks. Two others, including Myles' backup Daeshon Hall, were second on the team with 4.5 sacks. That's a steep drop off.

Then there's the matter of stopping the run.

Giving up five yards per rush is unacceptable because it tells opposing offenses that, in theory, they could pick up a first down on two plays. Until last year, LSU gave up fewer than four yards per rush each year under Chavis.

With most of the defensive front seven returning, A&M certainly isn't lacking experience. There should be no more excuses for poor performances against the run.

The SEC West remains a division of run-first offenses—five West teams ranked among the top six teams in the conference in yards per rush—so there is an importance in at least slowing the run.

Whereas the defensive front seven should be a strength, the secondary sustains more losses.

A&M loses a handful of seniors, including its top two tacklers: safety Howard Matthews and corner Deshazor Everett. Additionally, Matthews and Everett ranked first and second, respectively, in passes broken up.

That's a lot of production to replace, but it's where Watts should step in with relative ease.

Watts didn't get the all-conference love Garrett did, but there's an argument to be made that he was every bit as important as a freshman. At safety, Watts is the last line of defense. When things go wrong and big plays erupt, the secondary can—fairly or unfairly—absorb a lot of the blame.

However, Watts led the team with three interceptions and tied for first with eight passes broken up. One of his highlight plays came in his first game against South Carolina:

A&M has done an astounding job on the recruiting trail. The Aggies are not lacking athletes. What they were lacking was a direction and a coach who could maximize potential.

Chavis promises to rectify that.

If there's one area of concern for Chavis, it's time of possession. While it's an overrated (if not irrelevant) stat for wins and losses, it's important for defenses.

In 2014, LSU ranked second in the SEC in time of possession (33:08 per game) while A&M averaged nearly seven minutes less in that category. That adds up over the course of the season if a defense doesn't have great depth.

Sumlin won't stop using tempo to his advantage, but it will be interesting to see how much he modifies it to help Chavis and this new-look defense. With plenty of talent, a highly regarded coordinator and perhaps a few more minutes to rest, A&M can be the most improved defense in major college football in 2015.

At the very least, A&M is investing the money to make it so.

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com and Texas A&M.

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