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Pitt Football Coach Pat Narduzzi Tweets Video of Epic Team Tug-of-War Drill

Much has been made of how new Pitt football coach Pat Narduzzi has upped the social media and recruiting game for the Panthers.

This latest gem should get all football fans quite hyped (considering they've been scraping combine results to get their fixes in the offseason).

In the video, two Pitt players battle in a tug-of-war match, using every muscle. Everything is on the line, and the team is positively raucous. An exercise like this can go a long way toward impacting team morale.

Narduzzi's caption seems fitting: "Word of the day: Team."

[Twitter, h/t College Spun]

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Meet 'The Shark': 4-Star LB Jeffrey McCulloch Earning His Nickname, Big Offers

It all started as a joke.

Jeffrey McCulloch and his Davis High School teammates and friends were watching videos of game film. McCulloch, a 4-star linebacker, made a jarring hit on an opposing player.

And then another one. And another one. And another. Every play finishing with the same result: McCulloch racing full speed to a quarterback or running back and appearing to make a tackle with the impact of a minor car crash.

And then, McCulloch said, one of his teammates—2015 defensive back Kenneth Lathan, the one McCulloch called "the jokester of the team"—said something matter-of-factly that's happened to become something of a budding phenomenon.

"He said, "Man, you're out there like a shark," McCulloch said. "I would always run down the field, always going forward. Before the quarterback would get the pass off, I was hitting him."

"It was funny, because the team we were playing was in red. What do they say about sharks smelling blood?"

The nickname stuck. And now, "The Shark" is preparing for the spring, the upcoming 2015 regular season at Davis and the future—college football. He's the No. 78 player in 247Sports' composite rankings and the No. 6 outside linebacker in the nation.

At 6'2" and 230 pounds, McCulloch is the type of outside linebacker every coach wants. He's a strong, physical athlete who plays each down as if it was his last. McCulloch added that he's been clocked in the 40-yard dash at 4.48 seconds.

Imagine a player with his size and aggressiveness running full speed into an unsuspecting player.

Shark tactics.

"I just try to be an aggressive pass rusher who can cover anybody down the field," McCulloch said. "Honestly, I didn't think [the nickname] would stick. I thought it was just us being silly at first. Then after a while, I heard teammates saying it, then friends were saying it, then teachers were saying it."

Angel Verdejo of the Houston Chronicle told Bleacher Report that McCulloch recorded 59 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 11 quarterback hurries, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries during his junior year. Of those 59 tackles, 18.5 were tackles for loss. He also has eight batted passes and six pass breakups, showing off his coverage skills.

Because of his play, McCulloch has landed over 20 offers and could be at 30-plus by the end of the spring. And because of his nickname, he's also been able to get some pretty cool social media edits from fans of schools interested.

McCulloch said he has a top-seven list of schools but has chosen to keep the list a secret until the spring. Currently, 247Sports has Texas, LSU, Alabama, Oregon, Michigan and Auburn as potential destinations for him. Auburn was his last offer.

"Everything is just crazy right now," he said. "My head is on a constant spin every day, but I'm just taking it day by day."

Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Baylor and Arkansas also should be considered in the running for McCulloch. He went to Texas A&M's junior day last month. On Saturday, McCullouch will be at Texas' junior day. He camped at Texas last summer.

And what will the winning school get, aside from a player who thrives on living up to his nickname?

"Whoever gets The Shark will get someone who'll play for four years and carry on the name of the program hopefully in the NFL," McCulloch said. "Some of the coaches are saying I have next-level talent and talent after that. I try to be explosive and a player who can do it all—play safety, outside linebacker, middle linebacker, defensive end, whatever."

"I just try to be relentless. I'll never stop until we have a championship. Multiple championships."

It's the perfect attitude to have for an athlete on a mission, a shark looking to make an impact in bigger waters.

 

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

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Michigan Football: Top Candidates for Wolverines' Open Starting Jobs

Michigan has taken the plunge into spring, so finding replacements for six of its top departed starters is of the utmost importance.

On Tuesday, first-year Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh gave a brief and fuzzy update on recent events. Then again, he only had one practice to reference, so he really didn’t have much to talk about.

He knows that he has to replace quarterback Devin Gardner, but he doesn’t know with whom.

He’ll have to find someone to take wide receiver Devin Funchess’ spot as well, but again, Harbaugh doesn’t know which player will end up doing so. It’s just too early to make that call.

Due to the departure of Frank Clark and Brennen Beyer, Michigan is now looking for a pair to bookend the defensive line. And now that Ray Taylor’s gone, there’s a hole to fill in the secondary too.

Finding the next Jake Ryan could take time, but there are enough linebackers to bridge the gap.

Replacing two offensive weapons and four defensive starters should be relatively painless for Harbaugh, who—relatively speaking—has it easy when compared to other coaches around the Big Ten.

Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer lost a lot of talent to the NFL draft pool and graduation, so they’ll be seeking to replenish their wells this spring as well. And they need to do a lot more than tinker with a few positions.

The spring game is on April 4, which means Harbaugh has roughly a month to get his ducks in a row before the real test comes this fall. Time is of the essence, and Harbaugh has none to waste.

 

Who’s the Next QB?

Wilton Speight, Shane Morris and Alex Malzone seem to be the top three candidates to replace Gardner, but Harbaugh wouldn’t hint either way during his media availability on Tuesday.

The best one will win the job, which is the case for every position.

Morris, a former Warren De La Salle star, has the experience card, but Speight, who’ll be a redshirt frosh this fall, has become a more popular pick among fans and media. The 6’6”, 234-pounder out of Richmond Collegiate (Virginia) has an arm that can wow the masses and possesses ideal size.

Morris’ two starts and time in the program are pluses, but they’re not enough to guarantee him the job.

As for Malzone, well, the idea of a true freshman starting at quarterback is almost ridiculous. That’s not Michigan’s style, so it’s highly unlikely that the 6’1.5”, 200-pounder out of Birmingham Brother Rice gets the nod—unless, of course, he blows the doors off the competition this spring.

Zach Gentry arrives this fall, but the 6’7”, 230-pounder out of Albuquerque Eldorado (New Mexico) will face the same set of circumstances as Malzone, and the lack of reps this spring could put him behind the pace—at least for this year.

Today, until someone says otherwise, Morris and Speight are top two. Speight could be the one to emerge and earn the No. 1 role. The spring game will decide that.

 

Replacing Funchess

Losing Funchess isn’t a killer, but it doesn’t make matters easier for the Wolverines, who have just three receivers returning with 15 more catches.

One of the pass-catchers is tight end Jake Butt, who is also rehabbing an ACL injury.

At 6’6” and 250 pounds, Butt could theoretically fill the void of No. 1 target left by Funchess. His size makes him the obvious successor in the weaponry department.

As far as pure receivers go, Amara Darboh is the successor to the No. 1 role. That’s different than being the No. 1 target, which will probably end up being Butt’s duty.

Darboh has hands, but the 6’2”, 216-pound redshirt-junior-to-be lacks elite speed. However, he can absorb contact, grab and go over the middle and fly down the sideline for the deep ball.

Michigan has a stable of receivers who are 6’2”, 200 pounds or heavier: Jehu Chesson, Jaron Dukes, Maurice Ways and early enrollee Brian Cole could each at least compete for the primary role.

Nothing is set in stone at any position, Harbaugh said on Tuesday.

 

The Bookends

Taco Charlton, Mario Ojemudia, Henry Poggi and Chris Wormley are arguably the top four ends heading into spring ball.

Charlton, a 6’6”, 273-pound junior-to-be, has appeared in 21 games during his time in Ann Arbor. His praises had been sung by former coach Brady Hoke for two years, so it’s time that he emerges as the potential impact player everyone expects.

That should be easier now that Clark and Beyer are out of the picture.

Ojemudia has been an unheralded cog of the defense. The 6’3”, 252-pound senior-to-be has seen action in 33 games, but he’s started just thrice.

This spring is crucial for the former Farmington Hills Harrison star, as he’s in danger of being surpassed by the likes of Poggi, who was supposed to be one of the gems of Hoke’s 2013 class. However, the 6’4”, 273-pounder redshirted that year and has played in just six games.

Wormley’s been in the mix for two years, and he’s a player whom D-line coach Greg Mattison absolutely loves. At 6’5” and 300 pounds, the soon-to-be junior seems like a better fit for the inside. But an offseason of conditioning could reveal a leaner, faster Wormley who’d better serve as an end than a tackle.

It all depends on Mattison and new defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin. They’ll run a mix of the 4-3 and 3-4, so Wormley could easily slide inside and outside.

This past season, Beyer had 5.5 sacks and Clark had 4.5. Mattison and Durkin have enough knowhow and resources to manufacture at least 10 sacks from the DE position this fall. Replacing Beyer and Clark’s numbers shouldn’t be too tough of a task.

 

Step up for Ryan

Ryan’s senior year left a little to be desired, but he still managed to finish second in the Big Ten with 112 tackles. He averaged 1.17 tackles for a loss, the fifth-best mark in the conference, and consistently found a way to influence nearly every play on the field.

He played both inside and outside linebacker during his four-year tenure.

While in the middle, Ryan was often one of the first to meet the ball-carrier. His speed—he ran an impressive 4.65-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine—allowed him to make life difficult for tight ends and receivers too.

As it was last year, the linebacker position could end up being one of the most competitive during workouts. That’s not a bad thing, either.

Joe Bolden, a senior-to-be, stands out as Ryan’s successor. At 6’3” and 232 pounds, he packs a punch. However, he must improve on wrapping up running backs. That was one of his weaknesses in 2014.

Desmond Morgan will return for a fifth year, so it’s fair to assume that he’ll be a guy to beat. The 6’1”, 236-pounder has 31 starts to his credit, making him ideal to assume the lead role in Ryan’s absence.

 

Peppers for Ray

If not for a lower leg/ankle injury, Jabrill Peppers would have been the starting nickelback for the Wolverines. He would have also started at corner—and wherever else he wanted, really.

The 6’1”, 205-pounder is fully healthy now, evidenced by a recent spree of backflips, so it’s safe to assume that he’ll get Taylor’s job—or take someone else’s job. Either/or.

 

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

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand by the writer via press conference, press release or other media availability. Stats were pulled from Michigan’s ESPN team page, MGoBlue.com and BigTen.org. Recruiting info via 247Sports.

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4-Star Buckeye Commit: 'My Recruitment Is Still Open, but My Heart Is with OSU'

Bruce Judson, a 4-star dual-threat quarterback, per 247Sports, is committed to Ohio State. The talented athlete will be sure to bring his all-around game to the storied Buckeyes program.

Watch as he shares his earliest football memories, his interactions with Urban Meyer and what he loves about the Ohio State campus.

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Rapid-Fire Predictions for College Football's Biggest Spring Practice Storylines

As we inch closer toward the month of March, it's almost time for spring practices. There are a ton of storylines brewing as the Ohio State Buckeyes have a three-headed quarterback battle, the Oregon Ducks begin their search for Marcus Mariota's replacement, and head coach Jim Harbaugh begins his Michigan reign. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Adam Kramer and Barrett Sallee dish out their headlines in anticipation for spring practices. 

Who will emerge as the Ohio State quarterback? Check out the video, and let us know! 

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Tennessee's Butch Jones on Vols Offseason Hype: 'We're Still a Work in Progress'

Tennessee coach Butch Jones presides over a Volunteers program that is a trendy pick to make a lot of noise throughout the college football landscape in 2015.

They've now got the playmakers to do it.

Already, the Vols' name is peppered all over way-too-early top-25 rankings across the Internet—from ESPN.com to Fox Sports to NFL.com.

Oddsshark.com includes Tennessee running back Jalen Hurd toward the bottom of its early Heisman Trophy candidates. According to college football guru Phil Steele, Vols quarterback Joshua Dobbs is also on a Heisman odds board.

There's nowhere for the Vols to hide any longer. The expectations have arrived. But is UT ready to win big?

"We're ready to continue to develop," Jones told B/R in an exclusive interview.

"Obviously, when you win, expectations are placed upon you, and we understand that. You want to be in a program where you have high expectations, but also I deal in realism. Like we spoke about, we're still not there yet from a competitive depth standpoint. But what I've told our football team is in terms of total development, we can't just be a year older; we have to be a year better."

Yes, UT's roster still has some holes, but it also has some areas that absolutely could shine.

Dobbs and Hurd are stars in the making. JUCO running back transfer Alvin Kamara really should bolster the running game, and there is a wealth of talent in the receiving corps. If the offensive line improves, the Vols could be explosive on offense.

Defensively, they already return a lot of talent in nine starters. When you throw in high-profile defensive linemen such as Kahlil McKenzie and Shy Tuttle, as well as potential stars throughout the unit, that side of the ball carries a lot of excitement as well.

For the first time in many years, there aren't any guaranteed losses on the schedule. Tennessee gets Georgia, Oklahoma, Arkansas and South Carolina all at home. It has to travel to Alabama, Florida and Missouri, but the slate of games doesn't look as daunting anymore considering UT's talent.

Another big, stacked recruiting class, on top of the one from 2014, has restocked the shelves of players on Rocky Top. Talented commitments from offensive linemen, defensive linemen, quarterbacks, running backs and at middle linebacker have strengthened some areas where Tennessee lacked depth.

Even all the transfers UT has dealt with this offseason can't be considered too detrimental. Despite eight defections from last year's class, the Vols still have 53 players on the roster from the previous two recruiting cycles.

UT is still equipped with enough depth and talent to win right now.

Though Jones still doesn't see a finished product, he commended his players' work in the weight room, how much they've taken to new offensive coordinator Mike DeBord and how the defensive players remain dedicated to improve under coordinator John Jancek.

All those things—along with a ho-hum offseason devoid of trouble thus far—are indicators UT has the leadership to handle the hype.

Jones preaches focusing on getting better every day, and that's why he doesn't worry about the Vols becoming too arrogant. They're only coming off of a 7-6 season in which they had to fight just to become bowl-eligible, after all.

To go from that point to competing for an SEC East title in one year is a tall order.

"We're still a work in progress," Jones said. "Now, you understand there are great expectations and you want that, but all we have to do is not take our eyes off the bull's-eye. We have to work to become better individually and collectively as a football team as well.

"What individuals can see now is they can see that vision starting to shape and take place. To me, it's all about timing, being at the right place at the right time, and Tennessee football is the right place at the right time. It's about leaving your legacy and helping put Tennessee football back to where it belongs."

It's a mantra Jones preaches in recruiting and to his players once they become Vols. He wants to see an ownership of the program, and when that happens, the wins will come.

From the day he arrived in Knoxville, he said, losing hasn't been acceptable, even if it was always understood it wouldn't be an overnight fix.

With a winning record capped by a bowl victory last year, the Vols took an important step—one that the public relations department showcased with a video that further fuels the hype machine.

Even so, Jones knows that TaxSlayer Bowls won't be celebrated quite so fondly in a future expected to hold bigger and better things, beginning now.

Recruiting buzz mixed with last season's success on the field equal an urgency to produce in the win column. Jones knows it, the players already at UT know it and recruits are groomed to expect more.

"My goals are to help the University of Tennessee win the national championship, and every other one of my personal goals and everything like that fall under that category," the 5-star Kahlil McKenzie told B/R last week. "The coaches told me what I need to do, and it's just all about me going out there, putting my nose down and getting to work and trying to be the best football player I can be to help Tennessee win a national championship. That'll be my main goal all four years I'm there."

According to Rocky Top Talk's Will Shelton, UT will be trotting out its most talented lineup since 2008, with a projected 22 starters that have a total of 81 stars from recruiting rankings. Sure, that talent is still young, but it's an impressive group of players.

With the way Jones continues to recruit and with dynamic players in key roles, there's no wonder the Vols are being talked about as a program on the rise.

It's good publicity, but it's also important to note that Jones' mentality hasn't changed, even if it's obvious from talking to him that he seems much more confident in his roster than a season ago.

"We always have championship expectations. That’s part of our culture; that’s part of the DNA of Tennessee football," Jones said. "We expect to win, and we expect to compete to win championships: bowl championships, SEC championships and then eventually the national championships, but that’s all a process.

"I'm very excited, but that excitement factor has not changed. This is a very, very special place. It's an honor and privilege to play here and an honor and privilege to coach here. I’m excited for our fans. I have that excitement each and every day I come to work."

 

All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports composite rankings unless otherwise noted. All quotes obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted.

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

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Georgia Football: Mark Richt's Toughest Task This Spring

Evolved as college football may be, some things haven't changed. One of those pillars of continuity is the importance of the quarterback position. Put plainly: You still need a solid quarterback to be successful.

Unfortunately for the Georgia Bulldogs, they've somehow managed to find poverty in their abundance.

There's an old football mantra that says teams who claim to have two quarterbacks really don't have one quarterback. If that's true, then what do teams with three quarterbacks have?

The short answer: a problem.

The slightly longer answer for Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt: a tough task that must be tackled this spring.

Richt appeared on the SEC Network's Paul Finebaum Show earlier this week. During the segment, Finebaum mistakenly referred to former Georgia starter Hutson Mason as "Hunter," but Richt fumbled his way through the 2015 depth chart with equally unconvincing posturing.

After listing the parties contending for the starting spot, Richt concluded (video above), "We've got three guys right now that are on scholarship that are going to be battling away for that job. I don't really see a front-runner right now."

Some of that inexact prognostication was likely coy coachspeak. But there's some truth to the notion that everyone playing the quarterback position at Georgia is in contention for the job.

Granted, each player brings something different to the table.

Faton Bauta, a junior in 2015, is the most agile and mobile option. Brice Ramsey, a rising sophomore, has the biggest arm. Jacob Park, who will be a freshman, may be the most versatile of the three potential starters.

But these traits aren't newfound intricacies and shouldn't require too much further evaluation from Richt and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.

After all, Bauta, Ramsey and Park all enrolled early as freshmen and each player took a redshirt season. In total, the three signal-callers have been enrolled at the university for 15 combined semesters (not including summers).

So while Georgia is looking for a "new" starter to replace Mason, those vying for the coveted spot as top Dawg aren't new themselves.

Conventional wisdom suggests that Ramsey is the man for the job. Thanks to a cannon-like arm, he's also the likeliest to shake the "system quarterback" label that hung over Mason.

But when Mason went down with an injury in the Belk Bowl, the transfer of power was hardly that of a Hollywood production. Ramsey completed just four of nine passes and tossed an interception while generally resembling a frazzled Matt Saracen thrust prematurely into action in Friday Night Lights. 

It wasn't the script that Bulldog fans had envisioned.

But it's still telling that it was his name called and not Bauta's. Even more indicative of Ramsey's front-runner status is the fact that Bauta, who arrived on campus in January of 2012, has attempted just five career passes.

Meanwhile, Park remains an unknown quantity despite rave reviews from his season as the scout squad's quarterback. As former Bulldog defensive back Damian Swann told Gentry Estes of Dawgs247, "The kid has a bright future, athletic, strong arm, can make every throw."

But the time for hypothesizing and passive conjecture is drawing to a close for Richt and fans alike.

Though open competition should foster improvement for Ramsey, Bauta and Park, it's not like the trio hasn't already had an opportunity to demonstrate value. And to be fair, it's not necessarily true that they've failed to do so.

But the need for differentiation is urgent and ultimately the decision-making process will fall on Richt and Schottenheimer. Their work is cut out for them—even schematically.

Even if the talent level between the three quarterbacks is equal, some delineation needs to be made based on playing style.

Ramsey seems best suited for a big-play, pro-style offense given his arm strength and pocket presence. But is that what Georgia wants? It's what the Bulldogs had with Matthew Stafford and later Aaron Murray. However, neither player won an SEC Championship.

Recently, Georgia hasn't placed a large emphasis on quarterback mobility. Though Murray was more adept at running than he was given credit for, Mason's scrambles were more recognizable for their awkward slides than their elusiveness.

One would think Bauta, a dual-threat commodity, was recruited for a reason. If Georgia wants to stay run-heavy and explore read-option attacks, he could be the man.

And if Park really can do a little bit of everything, then perhaps his versatility will be valuable enough to negate his youth.

In any event, Georgia must leave spring practice with one starting quarterback—not three. If Richt and Schottenheimer fail to prioritize skill sets and evaluate players with conviction, offseason development of the offense will be stunted.

That could be a bad thing for Schottenheimer and a worse thing for Richt, who persuaded the athletic department into spending big dollars on Schottenheimer and other assistants.

If Richt doesn't find a winning passer, winning may pass him by.

 

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

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Mississippi State HC Dan Mullen Latest to Benefit in Salary Arms Race

It wasn't a matter of "if," it was a matter of "when" Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen would receive a raise and contract extension.

"When" came on Thursday, when the school announced that Mullen would receive $4.275 million over the next four years—four years being the maximum duration allowed under state law.

"It’s a privilege to represent our university, our program and our fans here at Mississippi State," said Mullen in a release from the school. "I appreciate Scott Stricklin and our administration who have given us the tools and resources to be successful and develop Bulldog football into a national brand over the last six years."

Is it appropriate? You bet it is, given the current landscape of college football.

It may seem like Mullen is being rewarded for one good season—one in which his Bulldogs were ranked No. 1 for the first time ever, won 10 or more games for just the third time in history and earned an Orange Bowl bid for the first time since 1941.

To a point, that's accurate, but everything is relative. Relatively speaking, the fact that Mullen can say the program is even in the ballpark of becoming a "national brand" is nothing short of a miracle.

Prior to Mullen's arrival, Mississippi State had gone to just 13 bowl games in its existence (1895-2008). Since his arrival, it's gone to five straight bowl games (2010-2014) for the first time in program history.

Up until his arrival, Mississippi State being an average SEC football team was the college football equivalent of the Washington Generals beating the Harlem Globetrotters twice in a row. It was mythical.

Not only did Mullen make it reality, he built on the foundation he constructed with 2014's magical run.

Mullen said in the release:

We spent five weeks ranked No. 1 last season for the first time, but we have only scratched the surface on what we can accomplish here. We have created a winning culture both on and off the field and built a program that has sustained success in the nation’s toughest conference. I’ve always said we are going to win a championship here, and I firmly believe that.

Stability helps sustain success, and Mullen's new contract announces to the college football world that Mississippi State is stable.

Is that a mirage, or is that reality?

Nobody knows until the Bulldogs go out and prove it, but the college football's newest $4 million man furthers that perception, and perception is reality in every aspect of college football.

From the way teams are perceived by the College Football Playoff selection committee, to the things coaches say to prospects in living rooms around the country, to the Heisman Trophy, everything is about public relations, and that's why Mullen's extension is important.

This is nothing new.

"It’s a salary race," former Georgia head coach and athletics director Vince Dooley told Bleacher Report. "I don’t know where it’s going to stop. It’s always been a race. When we came to Georgia, we had the worst facilities in the world. We changed that, but before we knew it, we were getting passed again. It’s constant, and you have that with salaries now."

Is Mississippi State athletics director Scott Stricklin taking a chance by backing up the Brinks truck to Mullen's house based on "one good season?"

Maybe.

But not doing it is much more of a risk, because it would signal to the rest of the world that the administration felt that 2014 was just one good season.

That's far more detrimental than a few million bucks.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.

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

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Are LSU's Recruiting Sanctions Indicative of a Bigger Problem in Baton Rouge?

It's never truly the offseason unless there's some kind of scandal, and LSU is now embroiled in a scandal.

Well, a "mini-scandal," anyway.

The school was banned from signing early enrollees to financial aid agreements for two years and docked 10 percent of its recruiting evaluation days in 2015, according to Ross Dellenger of The Advocate.

The sanctions from the SEC stem from the financial aid agreement that 3-star class of 2015 offensive line prospect Matt Womack signed with LSU prior to signing a national letter of intent with Alabama.

Womack's reaction?

As B/R national recruiting writer Damon Sayles noted, LSU will be just fine on the recruiting trail. 

On the bigger scale, it will be more of the same.

This is not a sign of impending doom, a sign that head coach Les Miles is losing control or that the foundation of the LSU program is crumbling. 

This is not a sign that college football is dirty, programs are out of control or that there needs to be a massive regulatory overhaul.

It's just proof of what we already knew—the financial aid agreement process, which was instituted two years ago, is heavily slanted in favor of the prospect.

Unlike the national letter of intent, which prospects sign and fax in to their schools on national signing day, the financial aid agreement binds the school to the player, but not the other way around. They are typically signed to unlock different rules that allow coaches to have unlimited contact with players even during times in which only limited contact is allowed.

Even after signing the financial aid agreement, the Womack family wasn't convinced that LSU was actually using it, according to Courtney Cronin of The (Jackson) Clarion-Ledger

If it was signed, though, and some contact was made that otherwise wouldn't be allowed under normal recruiting rules, then LSU did, technically, break the rules.

That's the problem—the rules.

Basically, the whim of a teenager cost LSU quite a bit of evaluation time and two years of financial aid agreements.

Toss the two-year financial aid agreement ban out the window. It's meaningless.

After this fiasco, programs should be much more reluctant to offer them, with LSU leading the charge. This ruling doesn't prevent the Tigers from having early enrollees, it just prevents those early enrollees from signing financial aid agreements.

All this will do is force programs to be smarter when handing out financial aid agreements in the future, especially early in the recruiting cycle.

Maybe, just maybe, 3-star prospects won't get them anymore.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.

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

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Michigan Football: Predictions for Spring Practice

Jim Harbaugh is known for brutal honesty, whether tweaking opposing coaches or his own players. Fans and media have diligently waited for Harbaugh to unload on rivals Ohio State and Michigan State or perhaps take a shot at former collegiate and NFL rival Pete Carroll for falling short of the Super Bowl.

But Harbaugh has been remarkably restrained. Since his opening press conference he has resisted the urge to be controversial, choosing rather to defer to coach speak rather than provide grist for the media or bulletin-board material for a future opponent.

So far at Michigan he's remained in check, but things are about to get very interesting now that practice has begun in Ann Arbor.

Harbaugh made his intentions clear on ESPN Radio last month:

There's a great saying: You never get a second chance to make a first impression. I’m going into this not watching a lot of tape of the current team, because I want to make our own evaluation and have everybody make a clean slate and a fresh start. They're my guys. They're going to know that I'm in their corner and they're in my corner and we're in each other's corner.

Whatever these players did good or bad before now has been wiped away. This approach was also mentioned by defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin after the second day of practice:

What I want to do is make sure all these guys, and I told them this when I met with them, that they have a clean slate to start from. In terms of individuals, I want these guys to know, maybe you’re a guy who hasn't played much, you have a new opportunity to do that…You gotta go earn it.

When Harbaugh faced the media after his first practice, there were points where you could sense him churning through potential responses before doling out some coach speak, but Mount Harbaugh is going to erupt sooner rather than later.

He may not have watched a lot of tape on his team from last season, but he’s sure to repeatedly watch every second of practice from now on. And when he’s comfortable that he has a good sample size, he’ll begin to talk about his team.

The quarterbacks will be the first to bear the brunt of his honesty. Even with the transfer of Russell Bellomy, Michigan has a surplus at the position with two more are on the way in the fall. Some may choose to transfer or change positions to help the team.

Former Wolverine Devin Gardner switched to wide receiver (and perhaps should have stayed there), and tight ends Andy Mignery and Jay Riemersma both started as quarterbacks.

Harbaugh won’t be shy about letting players know were they stand. And everyone from top recruit to returning starter will need to compete every day.

For now, Harbaugh is exhibiting the restraint he’s developed during his time in the NFL, when every utterance could become a distraction to his team.

But the relative quiet won’t last forever.


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

Follow @PCallihan

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Ohio State Football: How Will the Buckeyes Replace Devin Smith?

By the end of the season, there wasn't a team in Ohio State's path that could contain Devin Smith.

The 6'1", 199-pound wide receiver had served as the Buckeyes' lethal deep threat during his tenure in Columbus, but the blazing pass-catcher hit his stride at the best possible time.

In the Big Ten title game against Wisconsin, when Ohio State desperately needed to make a statement for the College Football Playoff selection committee, Smith came through with the best performance of his collegiate career. 

Four catches. One hundred and thirty-seven yards. Three touchdowns.

That performance helped the Buckeyes register a historic 59-0 thrashing of the Badgers—a victory that propelled Ohio State over Baylor and TCU and into the playoff, where it was matched up with top-ranked Alabama.

Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide didn't have any answers for Smith either.

Smith notched catches of 40 and 47 yards in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama, the latter of which went for a touchdown that gave Ohio State a lead it wouldn't surrender. Eleven days later, he got behind Oregon's defense for a 45-yard catch that set the Buckeyes up for their third touchdown in the title game.

Former Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman knew what the Buckeyes had in Smith. 

“Best deep ball catcher in America that we have seen in a long time,” Herman said, according to James Grega Jr. of The LanternOhio State's student newspaper.

The numbers back that up. 

According to CFBStats.com, Smith led the country in yards per reception by a wide margin in 2014, averaging 28.8 yards per catch. Even more impressively, the 12 touchdowns he registered during his senior season averaged 39.1 yards, with a long of 80 (against Navy in the season opener).

Smith didn't just provide Ohio State with the occasional big play. When he was on the field, he kept opposing defenses honest. It was hard for safeties to creep up and support the run when he was on the perimeter, just waiting for an opportunity to hit the burners and make them pay.

If the Buckeyes can't find a suitable deep threat to replace Smith, their offense won't be as dynamic. Wide receivers coach Zach Smith knows how daunting that challenge will be for his unit this season.

"That's a lot of production that just walked out the door and is gonna be playing on Sundays," Zach Smith said, via Bill Landis of The Plain Dealer. "So now I gotta replace that production with young guys who haven't stepped into that role, who need to step into that role."

Fortunately for the Buckeyes, Urban Meyer has recruited a number of wideouts with blazing speed. Those are resources Zach Smith plans on using this season, according to Eric Seger of The Ozone.

At the end of the day you need guys with speed and we have a number of them. Johnnie Dixon’s a great example, when he comes back. He is an elite guy. James Clark was before his injury, so when he gets healthy and gets confident, he’ll be a guy that we look to.

And then Terry McLaurin and Parris Campbell are two guys that can really run. We’ve got four young guys that haven’t done much around here that can flat fly. So it’s going to be fun to watch and fun to develop and interesting to see how it plays out.

Will any of the players listed above be able to step up and give Ohio State the deep threat Devin Smith provided over the last four years? 

Meyer, Zach Smith and the Buckeyes are certainly hoping so. 

 

David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

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Why Proposed Freshman Ineligibility Rule Would Be Worse for Notre Dame

The Big Ten wants freshmen to stay on the sideline.

Just months after the Big Ten won back a large bit of respect on the field with Ohio State's national championship, conference commissioner Jim Delany's "year of readiness" proposal is creating shockwaves across the college sports world. 

Calling on "a diverse group of thought leaders" in a released statement, the conference is exploring the idea of forcing freshmen from competition in basketball and football with the hopes of stressing the importance of academics.

"We're trying to figure out a way to communicate the idea that education comes before athletics," Delany told the Big Ten Network's Dave Revsine.

Here's a novel idea, Jim:

Just do it. 

It doesn't take a group of thought leaders to figure out that Delany's proposal is pretty much the empire striking back.

After lawsuits by Ed O'Bannon and others and calls for unionization coming from Northwestern football players within his own conference, Delany's radical proposal would have all sorts of unintended consequences if it somehow gained consensus across collegiate athletics. 

And it would be very bad for Notre Dame. 

No, the Irish wouldn't miss out on the one-and-done athletes who have always been allergic to Notre Dame basketball coach Mike Brey.

And while Brian Kelly's ability to recruit among the elite in the country would be somewhat nullified, the on-field impact of forcing standouts like Jaylon Smith and Nyles Morgan to sit a season would be far less painful than bottom-feeding Big Ten coaches promising early playing time, just like Jim Harbaugh is likely doing in Ann Arbor. 

Rather, forcing freshmen off the field or court would take away one of the very best calling cards Notre Dame has: the ability to actually provide an exceptional experience as both a student and an athlete. 

Notre Dame isn't the only university doing it. Stanford is. So is Duke. So are some of Delany's own schools, with Northwestern the standard-bearer for the conference. 

So while Delany's proposal might serve as a counter to the legal maneuvering that's threatening to radically alter collegiate sports as we know it (viewed by most as an entirely good thing), it's also the essence of a "lower the bar" mentality that would all but concede failure and acknowledge schools' inability to self-police in the NCAA's two major revenue-driving sports.

(Delany's making Gary Andersen's run from Wisconsin over admissions standards look heroic.)

From a strictly academic standpoint, that's what's so maddening about Delany's proposal. Instead of putting faith in student-athletes that they can work their way through a university in four years while also playing football or basketball, Delany's essentially throwing up his arms in defeat. 

That Presidential Physical Fitness Test too hard in grade school? The Delany approach removes pull-ups and lets you win an Arnold Schwarzenegger-signed certificate if you can crack a 10-minute mile. 

Talk about a tone-deaf message from one of the power brokers within an organization that's spent years bragging about student-athletes' ability to go pro in something other than sports.

If Delany is looking for a way to make this work, he could fill his gas tank and take the 90-minute drive to South Bend. I'm guessing athletic director Jack Swarbrick could spare a few minutes.

No doubt, Irish fans like to crow about their school's achievements both on and off the court. And Notre Dame isn't the only school to show that balancing academics and athletics is a war worth fighting.

But while most laughed about the Irish's lopsided defeat to Alabama in the BCS title game after their undefeated 2012 regular season, not nearly enough people applauded Notre Dame's even rarer victory that season. 

Notre Dame closed the regular season ranked No. 1 in the BCS poll and No. 1 in the NCAA's Graduation Success Rate. There's proof you can do it right there, Jim.   

Of course, there's no reason to take what Delany's selling at face value. After all, this proposal is coming from the very people who have been protecting the hypocrisy of amateurism for decades all while watching the conference rake in millions. 

Whether they've done it on the record or off of it (just ask Gordon Gee about the Big Ten Network, conference expansion, etc.), Delany's comments reek of a larger motive.

"We don't want to be perceived and don't want to be a minor leagues for the NBA and NFL," Delany said.

Then don't be. But leave the kids alone already. 

You can care about the college in college athletics while also separating yourself from being a breeding ground or feeder system. And the NCAA hasn't even had a chance to see if its current solution—passed in 2012 and being put into effect in 2016—will work. 

Forgot about that one? Well, it's essentially the kind of common-sense proposal that does everything Delany says he wants to do but doesn't punish elite athletes forced by the NFL and NBA to spend time in college. 

"We want to give young people a fair chance to meet the new standards by taking core academic courses early in their high school education," NCAA Board Chair Judy Genshaft, president at South Florida, said way back in April of 2012. "The presidents have every confidence that future student-athletes will do the work necessary to be academically successful in college."

Maybe Delany is worried he doesn't have until 2016 to beat back the courts and the lawsuits breathing down the NCAA's neck. Or maybe—and let's give the guy some credit here—he actually does think that making a radical change like this could help improve graduation rates in basketball and football. 

But so would some self-discipline. 

So forcing freshmen off the field or court because it worked from the late 1800s until 1971 is bad math. You know what else didn't exist back then either? Mega-million-dollar TV deals or coaches making $5 million a season.

If you're looking for a correlation, take dead aim at that one—the one created by Delany and his cronies. 

High school athletes have never been more prepared for the rigors of their sport than they are today, with year-round training and coaching just part of the work prospective student-athletes commit themselves to in their pursuit of a free education and the chance to play sports professionally. 

While Notre Dame's academic issues the past two offseasons have shined an unkind light on the football program, it's also the product of holding student-athletes to the same standard as students who don't play sports.   

Take note, Jim. 

So let's give that a try before taking away opportunities for young athletes who spent the first 18 years of their lives working to be ready for college—some just as diligently in the classroom as on the field of play. 

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Dan Mullen, Mississippi State Agree on New Contract: Latest Details and Reaction

Mississippi State Bulldogs head football coach Dan Mullen was rewarded for a strong 2014 campaign with a new contract on Thursday.

Bob Carskadon of HailState.com initially reported the details on Mullen's new deal:

University director of athletics Scott Stricklin spoke about the decision to keep Mullen around for the long haul, per HailState.com:

Dan has done a phenomenal job in leading our football team the past six years, and we're happy to be in a position to reward his efforts while making sure he'll be able to continue building a championship program for Mississippi State. [...] Under Dan's guidance, Bulldog football has achieved a level of consistent success unparalleled in our history, during which time we've been ranked No. 1 in the nation and appeared in elite bowl games. We're proud Dan is our coach.

Mullen also reflected on what transpired in 2014 and what he's aspiring to down the road:

It's a privilege to represent our university, our program and our fans here at Mississippi State. I appreciate Scott Stricklin and our administration who have given us the tools and resources to be successful and develop Bulldog football into a national brand over the last six years.



We spent five weeks ranked No. 1 last season for the first time, but we have only scratched this surface on what we can accomplish here. We have created a winning culture both on and off the field and built a program that has sustained success in the nation’s toughest conference. I've always said we are going to win a championship here, and I firmly believe that.

The Bulldogs ranked first at the dawn of the new College Football Playoff rankings, only to lose that status on the road against rival SEC powerhouse Alabama. Despite defeats in the last two games, Mullen led Mississippi State to marked improvement with a 10-3 record in his sixth year at the helm.

Speaking of the mighty Crimson Tide, AL.com's Matt Scalici brings up an interesting point about Mullen's contract:

Chris Low of ESPN.com offered more context on the financial implications:

Bulldogs dual-threat quarterback Dak Prescott is returning in 2015, so with Mullen's future secure, the players can be guaranteed continuity as they seek to keep the team in the national championship chase.

With Prescott in the fold, Mississippi State ought to put up plenty of points.

The trick to sustaining success will be to play physical defense and endure the pounding that takes place in the SEC. With such top-flight competition across the board, every week of the conference slate offers a potential pitfall.

This last year proved that the Bulldogs are learning to navigate the SEC gauntlet better. Mullen is a big reason for that, as his improved recruiting classes in recent years have landed more blue-chip talent in Starkville.

Proof of Mullen's commendable coaching job is in the results on the gridiron. Mississippi State was patient with Mullen, and he rewarded the school with a breakout 2014 campaign. Now Mullen is being rewarded right back—and rightly so.

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Pete Carroll's Honorary USC Degree Is Excellent Tribute from School

USC decided to honor former head coach Pete Carroll with an honorary degree from the school. It's a well-earned honor for Carroll, who led the Trojans to one of their most successful periods in school history.

The school announced the news on its official Twitter account:

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports has more:

He will also be inducted into the school's athletic hall of fame, according to The Associated Press via ESPN.

Carroll certainly had plenty of success during his tenure at USC from 2001-09. Along with winning a national championship and two Associated Press titles, he finished his college coaching career with a 97-19 record (though due to NCAA sanctions, his record technically is 83-19), a 7-2 bowl record and seven Pac-12 titles, three of which were co-championships. 

Carroll has since gone on to the Seattle Seahawks, where he's won a Super Bowl and taken the team to the last two, but his legacy really began during his time with the Trojans. While the school has struggled to reach the heights Carroll led it to in the years since his departure, his period of dominance will long live on in the school's history.

He had three Heisman Trophy winners (Carson Palmer in 2002, Matt Leinart in 2004 and Reggie Bush in 2005, though Bush's Heisman has been vacated due to NCAA violations). He changed the culture at the school, bringing a fun, upbeat vibe to practices that often included celebrities such as Snoop Dogg and Will Ferrell dropping by, among others. At a time when Los Angeles was without a professional football team, he made USC games the hottest ticket in town.

Carroll isn't just being honored for his time as a coach but also for the good he did in the community. That shouldn't be overlooked. But ultimately, Carroll will be remembered as a football coach—one who made USC a national power and restored its place as an iconic football institution. 

The school's recognition of his relevance and impact during his time at USC is well-deserved.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pete Carroll's Honorary USC Degree Is Excellent Tribute from School

USC decided to honor former head coach Pete Carroll with an honorary degree from the school. It's a well-earned honor for Carroll, who led the Trojans to one of their most successful periods in school history...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

High School Coaches Standing Up to the Giants of College Football

When big money and power meet grassroots, it isn't necessarily as one-sided a fight as you might think. During the college football recruiting season, we saw some coaches reneging on their promises to high school kids and others leaving their schools for other jobs roughly 30 seconds after kids signed binding commitments to play for them.      

We saw high school coaches getting all uppity about it on behalf of their kids. But what can your neighborhood high school coach do about it when your kids are screwed over by Urban Meyer, Jim Mora, Bobby Petrino?

Actually, plenty. And what we saw this recruiting season was high school coaches deciding to hit back. Grassroots packs a punch.

"As a coach, you have to have relationships that will detour those types of things from happening (to high school players) at your school," said Thomas Wilcher, coach at Cass Tech in Detroit. "If it happens, you have to take a stand, because if you do not, it will happen. It will happen.

"And if it doesn't happen at my school, it will happen at other schools. When the other schools, the whole city (gets together), that's when it can hurt colleges. When we have our organizational meetings, you speak up and say, 'Don't deal with this school.' It becomes a black hat against a university."

In at least two very public cases, coaches took this approach, threatening big-name coaches that they might not be welcome next year in recruiting kids at their school. But the power comes when these coaches spread that threat to nearby schools, an entire city.

Running back Matt Colburn of Dutch Fork High near Columbia, South Carolina, accepted Louisville coach Bobby Petrino's scholarship offer in June and cut off all other college recruiters. Then, on the week of National Signing Day, Petrino had an assistant call Colburn and tell him there would be no scholarship now, but that he could enroll in January of 2016.

Colburn's high school coach, Tom Knotts, said at the time that Petrino "won't be able to recruit my school anymore and I imagine there will be some other coaches that will say the same thing."

But what good does it do keeping college coaches away from future recruits? Doesn't that just reduce the number of opportunities for kids?

"It doesn't take away opportunities for players, it gives players a better opportunity," Wilcher said. "You want them to go somewhere where they have your interest at heart. It's not the interest of a football player, but the interest of a child.

"Football is just a road we walk down that leads us to opportunities. I just want college coaches to understand this is a child first, a student first. So you cannot allow those types of relationships to fester in your area, fester in your school, fester in your league."

We always hear about today's athletes feeling entitled. But what about the coaches and power structure of the sports themselves?

Wilcher took issue with Ohio State's treatment of his highly regarded running back, Mike Weber, who was choosing between Michigan and Ohio State. Webe signed to play for the Buckeyes, only to find out the next day that Ohio State running backs coach Stan Drayton was leaving to be an assistant for the Chicago Bears. Drayton had been involved in recruiting Weber but never said he might be leaving.

Wilcher spoke publicly. According to the Detroit News, he told WMGC 105.1-FM in Detroit, "I think Urban Meyer will have to step his game up; we're going to have to talk. He has come to my school and got the No. 1 athlete two years in a row.

"You cannot come over here, come up north, and walk out of here with you pockets full and not give us respect."

This is just another example of how the rules are not set up to help the kids, but rather the power schools. Weber had signed his letter and could not get out of it.

And how was it resolved? Meyer felt it important enough to call Wilcher and talk it out: "We talked about relationships, we talked about responsibilities, we talked about expectations," Wilcher said. He was satisfied and said he now believes that Meyer does have kids' best interest at heart.

There is a weird dynamic between high school coaches and big-time superstar college coaches. Both sides are holding the other's golden ticket.

"It's like a marriage almost," Wilcher said. "Both people have to get along with one another to survive. It should be a win-win."

At UNLV, new coach Tony Sanchez is going from one side of that relationship to the other. He was a longtime high school coach.

"I've been on the other side of the table my whole career," he said. "(College) teams throw out crazy offers and some are sincere and some are not. Would I do what Coach Petrino did? No, I wouldn't. We've got to be men of our word."

If he's not, he'll learn about the bottom-up power of grassroots. Soon, the message will get to coaches behaving badly.

 

Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report.

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How Urban Meyer's Recruiting Philosophy Has Changed Since Florida

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A lot of coaches won't say it, but Urban Meyer will: Recruiting rankings matter.

"There is a correlation between how teams do where your team is ranked, recruiting class is ranked," the Ohio State head coach said on last year's national signing day. "So actually we do pay attention to that."

So it's not a coincidence that when each signing day rolls around, Meyer's class usually sits near the top. It's also not a coincidence that the three-time national champion head coach is one of the best in the history of his profession, boasting a .845 winning percentage—top among active Division-I head coaches.

But that doesn't mean that over time, Meyer's recruiting philosophy hasn't evolved.

While Meyer may get ultra competitive at the end of each recruiting cycle—and he admittedly does—he's found himself adapting to what his team needs, rather than just chasing 5-stars. That was made evident in the Buckeyes' 2015 class, which ranked seventh in the country but lacked in an abundance of star power.

"He’s looking for guys that fit a certain profile, and he’s going to build his team around those guys," ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said during a Thursday appearance on The Herd with Colin Cowherd. "That’s clearly what he’s doing.”

Only that's not always the approach Meyer has taken.

As Gruden explained, Meyer initially found success at Florida with that philosophy, capturing two national championships with players who fit his schemes to a T. But as Meyer chased success in every way possible, he abandoned fit in favor of flare.

The Gators pulled in the nation's top-ranked class in 2010. A year later, after a disappointing 8-5 season, Meyer had left coaching.

“I think what happened at Florida, he won the national titles, and then he wanted to be the No. 1 recruiting coach in the league," Gruden theorized. "Probably signed some players that didn’t fit the Urban Meyer profile."

Through four recruiting cycles, that hasn't been the case in Columbus—although it's worth noting Meyer's first four classes at Ohio State have ranked fifth, second, third and seventh, respectively. Yes, Meyer is still attracting the top talent in the country to his campus, but he's doing it with more of a balance than even he did in Gainesville, as evidenced by the makeup of last season's team.

The stars of the Buckeyes' national championship squad were hardly similar, ranging from All-American defensive end Joey Bosa, to former 3-star prospect Darron Lee to championship game MVP running back Ezekiel Elliott, who Meyer plucked out of St. Louis—not a traditional piece of the OSU recruiting pipeline.

Even OSU's ever-changing quarterback carousel illustrated Meyer's ability to adapt, as the Buckeyes won big with both the highly touted J.T. Barrett and former afterthought Cardale Jones, who was recruited to Columbus before Meyer arrived.

“What he did at Ohio State, losing a Heisman Trophy candidate [Braxton Miller] and then doing what he did with two different quarterbacks that were backups. Amazing to me," Gruden said. “Greatest coaching job of all time."

Despite his admitted preference to finish atop the recruiting rankings, Meyer insisted there's a balance he's always trying to strike. While he generally trusts recruiting services, he trusts himself more—perhaps even more so now than he did at Florida.

"It's not saying we take a kid who is a 5-star over a 3-star, if we believe in the 3-star. That's not it at all," Meyer said. "You've got to coach and develop them and get them here."

With the Buckeyes' 2016 class already shaping up to be one that could be the best in the country, Meyer will attempt to continue to get the best of both worlds—a talented crop of players who fit right in with both his scheme and culture. But make no mistake, he's still keeping tabs on the competition. And as always, he wants to be the best.

"I hear people say it's not important. I disagree," Meyer said. "As long as you're keeping score, we're going to try to win."

 

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

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8 Embarrassingly Soft 2015 College Football Schedules

The College Football Playoff selection committee made it clear last year that strength of schedule was an important factor in determining whether a team was worthy of one of those coveted semifinal bids. The same thing goes for non-power conference teams hoping to land a major bowl bid—just winning a lot isn't as important as doing so against a tough schedule.

There's nothing to suggest this will change for 2015, which isn't a good sign for some schools who appear to have replaced "strength" with "weakness" to describe their upcoming schedules.

Based on the 2014 records of teams on this fall's slate, we've found eight teams who are set to play schedules so soft they may very well need to run the table just to remain in the playoff of "Group of Five conference" bid hunt. There's no margin for error, not when the future opponents collectively are as weak as these schools have on tap for this fall.

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New LSU Recruiting Sanctions Won't Stop Les Miles from Bringing in Top Talent

Isolated incidents.

A recruit will never admit it, but there are few times when an isolated incident gets in the way of what a recruit wants. And when it comes to what a recruit wants, LSU often times has everything.

Put LSU's latest isolated incident in a category where it shouldn't affect how it does in recruiting the 2016 class. Or the 2017 class, for that matter.

2016 and 2017 athletes are still asked to do their research after news broke on Thursday that LSU will deal with recruiting sanctions this year. According to The Advocate, LSU is restricted from signing early enrollee prospects to financial aid agreements for the next two years. Additionally, the program will lose 10 percent of its recruiting evaluation days in 2015.

The penalties stem from a violation involving a recruit—3-star offensive tackle Matt Womack, according to The Advocate—signing a financial aid agreement with the intentions of coming to LSU as a January enrollee. The recruit, however, chose not to attend LSU, which ultimately made some of LSU's unlimited contact illegal.

The result: LSU will lose 21 of its 210 evaluation days in 2015—17 spring and four fall days. That means the Tigers coaching staff will be restricted from off-campus recruiting activity, such as making visits to a high school campus to watch a spring workout.

Exactly what does it mean for future prospects?

In a word: Nothing.

LSU is an established program that relies on results past and present. Like it or not, head coach Les Miles and his staff could lose half of its evaluation days and still come with recruiting wins. Reason being, the athletes love what LSU has to offer.

They love the tradition. They love "Death Valley." They love the coaching staff. Repeat: They love the coaching staff. There's Miles. And Cam Cameron. And Frank Wilson. And Kevin Steele. And Ed Orgeron. And Corey Raymond.

Recruits like these guys. And not just because the coaching staff has built a solid resume of producing NFL talent—almost always the ultimate goal for a competitive college athlete.

Recruiting wins will continue to be high for the Tigers, particularly with athletes in the state of Louisiana. It helps that the talent level is very high this year. One thing that LSU does well is recruit its in-state talent.

Louisiana has 18 4-star 2016 commits in the 247Sports composite top 100 rankings. Louisiana also has six 2017 commits in those rankings, including the class' top-ranked player, linebacker/running back Dylan Moses.

Of LSU's seven 2016 commits, four are from the Pelican State. Five of the seven are 4-star players. A sixth commit is 5-star cornerback Saivion Smith, the latest athlete to give Miles his verbal commitment.

The Tigers have built a healthy reputation of being an annual contender. Recruits see the results on television each Saturday. They check out the facilities and the campus environment on junior days, unofficial visits and, ultimately, official visits.

The evaluation days that will be lost for the LSU coaches are just that—for coaches. Most players will make their verbal commitment decisions by what they see surrounding the LSU environment, not by how they're seen in their own environment.

Consider the sanction a slap on the wrist of sorts. Don't expect it to hurt LSU's recruiting class in the long run.

 

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

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SEC Early Enrollees with Best Shot to Win Starting Job in Spring Practice

A recent trend in recruiting has begun with a handful of top recruits choosing to forgo the final semester of their senior year of high school in favor of enrolling early at the colleges of their choice. 

For example, 11 of the 35 recruits who earned a 5-star rating in the 2015 cycle are already on campus at their respective programs. 

The SEC has its share of stud recruits capable of coming in and making an immediate impact during the upcoming spring practices. 

Which SEC early enrollees have a shot to land starting jobs by the end of the spring?

 

*Players listed in alphabetical order.

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