National signing day is just five days away and while every college football team is putting the finishing touches on their respective recruiting classes, many of last year’s freshmen will be on the field for the first time in 2013.
At most major programs, freshmen often redshirt unless they are one of the top prospects in the country. The redshirt year gives the player time to acclimate to college, add size, learn the speed of the college game, etc.
The Virginia Tech Hokies signed 28 players in 2012. Most of the class redshirted and those who did play didn’t contribute significantly with the exception of running back J.C. Coleman.
Of the 20 players expected to sign with Virginia Tech next week, logic says only a handful will play as true freshmen. Here is a look at five players from last year’s class who could have the biggest impact in 2013.
Another wild and crazy season of recruiting is winding down across the college football landscape.
The final weekend of official visits before national signing day will take place Friday through Sunday on the Plains.
And if you like stars next to the name of prospects, this is the weekend for you.
Auburn is expected to host four 5-star prospects, two 4-star prospects and three 3-star prospects on official visits from Feb. 1 to Feb. 3.
Other prospects, like Auburn 4-star commit Tashawn Bower, will likely visit Auburn in an unofficial capacity.
There could always be a surprise visitor, like when 5-star cornerback Mackensie Alexander stopped by last weekend for an official visit. That turned out pretty well for Auburn.
With recruiting momentum in the Tigers' corner, a fourth consecutive Top 10 recruiting class is not out of the picture. According to Rivals, Auburn's classes ranked No. 4, No. 7 and No. 10 in 2010, 2011 and 2012, respectively.
A Top 10 recruiting class did not seem likely just last month, when Auburn dropped as low as No. 28 in various recruiting rankings.
Not only are Auburn's visitors top-tier prospects that will have the "star-gazers" in awe, but they are prospects for positions in which Auburn needs immediate help. Six of the eight visitors are defensive prospects at the defensive line or linebacker positions.
Getting these high profile prospects on campus the final weekend before national signing day gives the Tigers a big opportunity to finish the 2013 recruiting class in strong fashion.
The pitch from the Auburn coaching staff will likely be the last face-to-face recruiting pitch these recruits hear before announcing their college destination. The NCAA-mandated quiet period, where only on-campus visits are permitted, begins on Feb. 3. The dead period, when no face-to-face contact is permitted, begins on Feb.4.
The last 48 hours leading up to signing day on Feb. 6 will consist of the Auburn coaching staff communicating with prospects on the phone.
If nothing else, Auburn will be an interesting team to watch down the stretch. According to Rivals' national recruiting analyst, Mike Farrell, Auburn will be the most interesting team to watch.
"I thought USC would be the most interesting team to watch, but now it's Auburn," Farrell said on the Birmingham-based radio show, Eyes on Auburn.
Auburn will have to make a big impression on the 5-stars visiting campus. Acclaimed recruiter and defensive line coach Rodney Garner will be the main recruiter for much of the top talent on campus during the visit. Three of the four 5-stars visiting will make their home on the defensive line at the school of their choice.
The four 5-stars (according to 247sports) visiting are DT Montravius Adams, LB Reuben Foster and DEs Carl Lawson and Elijah Daniels. All of these prospects rank in the Top 3 in the country at their position.
Auburn is thought to hold a slim lead over Georgia for Foster, the one-time Auburn commit who decommitted from the Tigers following the dismissal of former head coach Gene Chizik and his staff.
Lawson is currently committed. Tennessee and Clemson have made a strong late push for Lawson, however.
247sports national recruiting analyst, J.C. Shurburtt, still thinks he is Auburn-bound.
Thanks to a relationship with Garner, the Tigers have also gotten in on the Adams' sweepstakes and are getting an official visit from Daniels, who is committed to Ole Miss.
Among the 4-stars visiting, JUCO DT Toby Johnson is Auburn's primary target. Like Adams, he is also a UGA target that Garner has continued to pursue after being hired.
Currently Auburn sits at No. 18 in the 247sports composite rankings.
To crack the Top 10, Auburn will need to secure a commitment from at least one more 5-star and fill the remaining spots with 4-star prospects.
An interesting scenario to watch will be if Foster and Lawson announce their intentions to play for Auburn on Monday. Foster will be announcing on Fox Sports South at 10 p.m. EST.
Lawson will simply call the school of his choice and end the recruiting process. That's refreshing, isn't it?
If both Lawson and Foster announce for Auburn, does that build even more momentum and catch the eyes of other recruits considering Auburn and lead them to signing with the Tigers? It's certainly possible.
Commitments from prospects with a lot of stars do not necessarily predict how well a team will do. Auburn fans can testify to that after seeing three highly ranked recruiting classes result in a 3-9 season in 2012.
But as recruiting services have improved, the rankings have become a good barometer of a team's potential when the talent is developed.
Programs are defined on the field during fall Saturdays, and Auburn has certainly defined itself in that way over the past 121 years.
But it is weekends like this that have the potential to impact the program on the field for the next four to five years. Auburn has surprisingly put itself in position to have yet another talented recruiting class come in.
With a strong finish on the recruiting trail, this new coaching staff can make a loud and clear statement to the rest of the SEC.
In just a few days, we will know exactly what kind of statement it sent.
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It's not official just yet, but with a new coaching staff in place at Wisconsin, the Badgers' defense appears poised to switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 formation on defense beginning next season.
The move is a result of new head coach Gary Andersen bringing over his defensive coordinator from Utah State, Dave Aranda, who instituted the 3-4 defense last season with the Aggies.
What Aranda was able to accomplish in just one season at Utah State was pretty remarkable, as he was nominated for the Broyles Award, which honors the top assistant in college football. The Aggies also had the No. 15 defense in the FBS, just two spots behind Wisconsin, a dramatic improvement from 2011 when Utah State ranked 53rd in total defense.
The argument could end right there that Aranda's 3-4 defense is the right move going forward in Madison, but it also takes a certain group of personnel in order to pull off the scheme. Wisconsin football fans should know that by now, as they have seen the transformation from a 4-3 to a 3-4 up in Green Bay under Packers' defensive coordinator Dom Capers.
Fans would have reasons to be objective about Wisconsin using a 3-4 defense due to some of the recent struggles the Packers have gone through, but while you can prepare during the week leading up to a game all you want, it comes down to the execution on the field.
One philosophy Aranda shares with Capers is that he preaches forcing turnovers and getting to the quarterback, something the Badgers weren't exactly known for last season. When Aranda coached at Hawaii in 2010, his defense led the nation in forced turnovers—an astounding 38 takeaways.
Wisconsin's defense has been no slouch in recent years, but it's been an inability to force turnovers that has been lacking, especially last season when the offense struggled to generate points.
Ball-hawking and blitzing tendencies would create more opportunities to affect the game at Wisconsin, and out of the 3-4 defense, linebackers (and even defensive backs) tend to rush more from the outside while linemen plug up the middle.
But do the Badgers currently have the right players in place to run a 3-4 defense? Aranda has said that the biggest strength of Wisconsin is its defensive line, so to remove a lineman and replace him with a linebacker might not be in the Badgers' best interest right away.
Or, perhaps defensive end David Gilbert could make the switch to outside linebacker, seeing how he was the team's best pass-rusher from a season ago. There are still several unknowns about what Wisconsin's defense will look like in 2013, but for the sake of transition, it would be smart for Aranda to institute the 3-4 as soon as possible, even if it requires some shuffling around.
Who knows? Maybe Gilbert would excel even more standing up rather than having a hand in the ground, but Aranda didn't rule out running a 4-3 next season so as not to interrupt the stout Wisconsin front seven while occasionally using some 3-4 tactics.
Should the Badgers eventually make the full-time switch to the 3-4, they will have to adjust how they recruit. While Andersen won't have an opportunity to make much of an impact on the front for the 2013 class, there has already been talk revolving around the role Alec James will play, a 4-star defensive end recruit via ESPN who recently reaffirmed his commitment to Madison (Sports Madison.com).
Aranda and new defensive line coach Chad Kauha'aha'a sold James on becoming somewhat of a hybrid-type defender (somewhere between defensive lineman or outside linebacker), something that convinced James to stay in Madison. That "hybrid" defender could be one of the biggest recruiting priorities for Wisconsin moving forward.
Among recruits from the state of Wisconsin in the class of 2013, the top three recruits were defensive ends according to rivals.com. The Badgers' No.1 selling point to those recruits could be the opportunity to be that hybrid-type defender.
Wisconsin's conservative approach on defense has come and gone—Dave Aranda's desire to blitz more, force turnovers and use his defensive ends in unique ways will create more excitement in Madison and make the switch to the 3-4 defense the right decision moving forward.
All that's left to do is to commit to it, make a smooth transition and sell this new strategy to his senior-laden defense—something easier said than done. But judging by his track record, Aranda has what it takes to get the job done.
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Another day, another scandal in college football.
The latest black mark on the sport comes from Tuscaloosa, where the Alabama Crimson Tide are reportedly involved in a performance-enhancing drug scandal just weeks after their huge win in the National Championship over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Alabama players have reportedly been involved with a company known as SWATS (Sports with Alternatives to Steroids), which has been providing certain athletes with deer-antler spray (according to ESPN and reporter Joe Schad).
According to the report, both current and former Crimson Tide players are involved, as well as others from LSU and Auburn.
The report asserts that the spray contains a substance—IGF-1—which is on the NFL's banned list. IGF-1 is the end component from human growth hormone (HGH) as noted by SWATS head man Christopher Key in the ESPN piece:
"You're familiar with HGH, correct? It's converted in the liver to IGF-1," Key explained, according to the Sports Illustrated report. "IGF-1, or insulin-like growth factor, is a natural, anabolic hormone that stimulates muscle growth. We have deer that we harvest out of New Zealand. Their antlers are the fastest-growing substance on planet Earth ... because of the high concentration of IGF-1."
Key maintains in the report that if tested, the players who took the spray would not fail a drug test, and that the substance only helps to provide additional nutrients in the body that are lost during competition.
Not to worry, Tide faithful. This story is just a blip on the radar for the most dominant college football program of the BCS era.
For starters, this story lacks the necessary evidence to pursue further discipline for the players implicated. Key is the only source mentioned in the story who implicates the SEC schools in the scandals, and all three schools mentioned claim to have sent a cease-and-desist order after learning of his role in their program.
Even if players involved are facing discipline from the governing board of the sport, it won't be enough to make a dent in this program's depth or drive going forward.
Alabama is a machine.
What this will do is force the NCAA to take a closer look at smaller companies like this trying to infiltrate a program from the outside. Unlike cases at SMU in the 1980s and Miami in the early part of the 2000s, Alabama isn't headed for any major review to its program, players or coaching staff.
When it's all said and done, "deer-antler spray" will likely be another laughing matter in this steroid era of professional sports we all live in.
It isn't going to effect Alabama's National Signing Day on Friday. According to 247Sports.com, the Tide still have the No. 1 class in the country, and there have been no major whispers of that changing as the moment of truth approaches.
As this column is being posted, it's likely that Saban is forgetting all about these claims. He should, because if this Huffington Post report about coach Bob Grisham is true, the Tide are going to have worse public relations nightmares in their future.
It is what it is. Players are always looking for a competitive edge, and sometimes they make the mistake of getting in with the wrong people.
Right or wrong, the prestige, work ethic and continued success of this program will keep it out of the spotlight. Deer-antler spray will be a thing of the past by the time the Tide hit the field in 2013—maybe even by the annual spring game.
Ethan Grant is a featured columnist for B/R's Breaking News Team. Check him out on Twitter.
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Another season is in the books, and for the Big Ten the grand finale of it all was the usual five-game bowl bonanza. We'll just have to talk about how exactly the Big Ten did in the postseason, but it was one heck of a way to kick off a month of January that stayed interesting long after the games had ceased.
Here's a look back at the month that was, and the winners and losers in this great and beautiful conference.
January is normally considered a boring month in college football—except for the BCS Bowls, of course—but this month has seen considerable action in regards to noteworthy events.
Sure, recruiting is a big part of college football with signing day one week away, but there has been some changing of the guard as well.
Pac-12 football as a whole looks to be a major contender for the BCS Championship since the teams have so many outstanding players returning—Arizona actually returns all 11 defensive starters this year.
So while we gleefully anticipate spring camps, here's what the Pac-12 has done for the month of January.
We give you our Pac-12 football winners and losers for the month of January.
The Texas A&M football team had a banner season during their inaugural year in the Southeastern Conference. The Aggies are going to have to avoid multiple pitfalls if they want to experience similar success during their second season in the SEC.
Texas A&M was expected to struggle on the field in 2012. The SEC plays a physical brand of football, and the Ags were deemed incapable of matching up in the trenches.
A&M had the best offensive line in the country in 2012 and a front seven that held opponents to 3.7 yards per rush. The Ags suffered significant losses to those units due to graduation and early defections into the NFL draft.
How they deal with those losses and various other obstacles will define the immediate future of the program. This is a look at multiple pitfalls that the Aggies may face in 2013.
You win some, you lose some.
In the month of January, the fortunes of college football teams and individuals varied. Between coaching changes, recruiting news and some pretty intense revelations, there were some big winners and losers on the college football landscape this month.
Let's kick off with the winners.
First up is Notre Dame. Sure, the Irish got their behinds whipped in the BCS National Championship Game, but, on the bright side, they at least made the national title game. For a team that is just a few seasons removed from losing to Tulsa and playing in the Sun Bowl, that's a big step in the right direction.
In recruiting, the addition of Max Redfield to their commitment list is a big plus. They need safety help and Redfield is among the nation's best. If the safety can digest Bob Diaco's playbook, he can prove to be an immediate athletic upgrade in the back end, from an athleticism standpoint.
However, the real reason the Irish fall into the winners category is because the coach that led them to the BCS championship game appearance turned down the Philadelphia Eagles gig to stay in South Bend for another year. Brian Kelly is back, he's holding one of the nation's best recruiting classes in his pocket and a team that will be looking to get back on the big stage in 2013.
Our other big winners come by way of the recruiting trail as UCLA, Auburn, Ole Miss and Tennessee all grabbed a little shine.
Out west, UCLA is coming off a season in which it grabbed the Pac-12 South Championship, and head coach Jim Mora is using this momentum to put together a solid recruiting class. Currently, the Bruins are 10th in the 247Sports composite recruiting rankings.
Mora, a former defensive backs coach, also bolstered his back end with Tahaan Goodman and Priest Willis, two of the nation's best safeties. He's also landed some big-time offensive linemen.
Now, on to the SEC, because this trio is certainly putting in good work on the trail.
For Auburn it's about the way Gus Malzahn, after getting hired, has been able to cobble together a class that keeps getting better and better. He's hanging on to Carl Lawson, has Auburn again as the leader for Reuben Foster and he's got big-time defensive tackle Montravius Adams coming to take a look at The Plains.
As for Tennessee, last night it got the news that Marquez North, a wide receiver out of North Carolina, committed to the Vols (via MrSEC.com). That's a big get for head coach Butch Jones. Throw in the fact that safety Vonn Bell is running up to the wire with Alabama, Ohio State and Tennessee as his leaders, and it seems Jones knows what he's doing.
The last winner is Ole Miss. The Rebels, led by Hugh Freeze, are making a hard charge in the 11th hour of recruiting. Just this month Freeze has put three 4-stars and one 5-star on to his commitment list—three of which are from outside of the borders of Mississippi, two of whom are Midwest pulls for the Rebels.
With Freeze still in the running for safety Tony Conner and the nation's top player, Robert Nkemdiche, it is safe to say that Ole Miss will come out of January riding high and looking forward to February.
On the flip side of things, we have the losers.
That starts with the Oregon Ducks, who lost their head coach to the same Philadelphia Eagles team that Notre Dame was able to escape being poached by. Sure, the Ducks kept it all in the family by hiring Mark Helfrich, and the transition should ultimately be smooth from a game play and strategy standpoint.
However, losing Chip Kelly means that you lose some of the intangibles that he brought to the table; that tireless work ethic, the innovative thought processes and the drive to succeed that put him on the NFL's radar.
Does that mean Helfrich won't be able to do those same things? We shall see. All we know for sure is the Ducks are no longer led by one of the most successful head coaches in the college game.
Oregon was merely a slight loser, as it is largely operating on the unknown. The unequivocal biggest loser of January is the NCAA itself, as it was hit with two big strikes.
First was the NCAA's embarrassment during the Miami situation. The NCAA revealed that its own investigation team had taken improper liberties during the investigation to gain access to information that it should not have been privy to. Stick a fork in those guys because for the first time in recent history the shady practices of the NCAA got exposed for the world to see.
Ordinarily there are rumors about its tactics or situations seem to be off, such as deeming all Miami players who don't talk guilty. However, this time the NCAA had its pants pulled down and the collegiate world was watching. That is a tough loss to take.
The second L that collegiate sports' governing body took was in the court of law. Judge Claudia Wilken dismissed the NCAA's motion to prevent football and men's basketball players from pursuing money made from live television broadcast, per ESPN.
Not exactly a landmark win but a sure loss for the NCAA in its fight to retain the structure in its current form. The dismissal of the motion puts television revenues on the table, and that is not something the NCAA is looking forward to as the case moves closer to going to court.
For those uncertain as to what it means in the grand scheme of things, Senator Blutarsky from Get The Picture spells it out best:
And that’s what should make the NCAA more than a little nervous at this point. From where I’m sitting, it looks like you’ve got a judge who wishes the parties would get their collective heads out of their asses and reach some sort of settlement. Unfortunately, she may be underestimating Mark Emmert’s tone deafness. It wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened.
If this suit actually sees the inside of a courtroom, I have little doubt the plaintiffs – whomever they wind up being – will win. And that will be the cherry on top of the sundae that is Emmert’s presidency. Burn down the plantation, for the win!
The NCAA is certainly not in the best position from an enforcement and investigation standpoint, or on the legal side of things right now. Mark Emmert, and his team in Indianapolis, are in hot water, and they are the biggest losers in college football for the month of January.
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