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Posted on: February 21, 2012 2:17 pm
Edited on: February 22, 2012 12:29 pm
 

Top 10: Best bets to put on combine freak show

The NFL combine kicks off this week, meaning it's time for the league's annual freak show. This week's Top 10: The former college players with the best shot of lighting up Indy with their testing numbers. (Note: A few guys I had considered for this list, such as Stanford TE Coby Fleener, I didn't include because it has been reported that he is not working out in Indy. In Fleener's case that is due to an ankle injury.)

1-Robert Griffin III, Baylor, QB: The 2011 Heisman Trophy winner proved over the past year he's a lot more than just a guy who happens to have world class speed as a hurdler. RG3's exploits as a college QB are now well-documented. Griffin not only blossomed as a quarterback, often doing his damage as a pocket passer but he also has filled out quite a bit since coming to Waco and is a solid 6-2, 220. However, he still has wheels like few others at any position. QBs, especially ones with arms like Griffin has, almost never run sub-4.6s in Indy, RG3 should blow that away. Earlier this week RG3 told Dan Patrick there's a possibility he will go sub-4.4. Given his track credentials, it'll be surprising if he doesn't.

2-Zach Brown, UNC, OLB:
There will be many bigger linebackers in Indy but none faster than the Tar Heel. Brown is amazing athlete. Before arriving in Chapel Hill he had a 29-0 record as a prep wrestler with 17 pins. He also ran for over 1,500 yards as a high school senior. In his first time running the 40 as a Tar Heel, he started coaches by clocking a 4.28.

Brown has spent the past six weeks in South Florida working out with trainer Tony Villiani, who says the Tar Heel "will be bigger than people think he is. He's not going to be that small weakside linebacker. The goal is for him to be low 4.4s or under. People know about his speed but normally guys who are that fast hey may not be as agile too. People who watched him at the Senior Bowl know he's both."

3-Trent Richardson, Alabama, RB: The former 'Bama star has it all: size, power, moves and sprinter's speed. Pound-for-pound Richardson, who has benched almost 500 pounds and cleaned almost 400, might just be the strongest player in Indy. Don't be too surprised if he also proves to be one of the fastest and most explosive too.

4-Tommy Streeter, Miami, WR: After a few years of teasing 'Canes staff with his potential, the 6-5, 216-pound junior had a breakout season in 2011. Streeter opted to leave early after his one big year, and with his size and exceptional speed, he has the chance to shoot up draft board this week. Scouts don't expect to see a guy his height so fast, but remember he's been one of the fastest men in a very fast program from the day he arrived in Coral Gables. (Two other UM speeders, Lamar Miller and Travis Benjamin also could've made this list.) Those close to the UM program are expecting some big things this week from Streeter, who has a chance to shock scouts with just how fast he actually is. Last year's fastest man in Indy, DeMarcus VanDyke, a former Cane CB who got drafted by  the Raiders after he blazed the fastest 40-time at the Combine, told me a few weeks back that Streeter could duplicate his showing this year.

5-Janzen Jackson, McNeese State, DB: The former five-star recruit had some great moments as a Vol, but also was plagued by off-field issues at Tennessee. No one ever doubt his athleticism though. He finished his college career back in Louisiana at McNeese and will be looking to get back in scouts good graces with a big showing in Indy. Jackson's pre-combine workouts in Louisiana have impressed his trainer, former NFL player Wyatt Harris:
"I have trained some great athletes here at Sonic Boom. People like Marques Colston, Robert Meachem, Tracy Porter, Jacoby Jones and Devery Henderson, and I have never had an athlete like him here," Harris told Houma Today. "He is the best athlete that's ever trained at Sonic Boom. His athleticism is freakish and his speed, quickness and ease of movement are at the very top of the athletic ladder. He applies all that athletic ability to the football field. He is just not a great athlete, but he can play a high level of football also. He is going to knock the socks off of these other safeties he tests against at the combine."

6-Mike Martin, Michigan, DT:
The former standout high school wrestler and shot putter has talked recently about besting Stephen Paea's 49 reps of 225 in the bench in Indy. Given Martin's rep in the weight room, it wouldn't be a shock if he did. Going into last season, he'd already put up impressive marks of benching 505, squatting over 700, power cleaning 430, hang cleaning 475 and run the 40 in the 4.9s.

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7-David Wilson, Va. Tech, RB: Everyone around Blacksburg has been raving about this guy's explosiveness for years. Some of that burst as well as his determination was evident in the 205-pounder breaking some 150 would-be tackles en route to rolling up almost 1000 yards after contact in regular season play in 2011. In training at Tech he's been clocked in the 40 at 4.29 and vertical jumped 40.5-inches, according to the school. Those kinds of jaw-dropping numbers often draw skepticism, but keep in mind this is also a guy who earned All-American honors in the triple jump. It's rare to see a guy broad jump over 11-feet in Indy, you'd have to think Wilson is primed to go long here.

8-Dontari Poe, Memphis, DT:
Another serious contender to put on a show when he gets on the bench press. Poe is a mammoth inside presence with surprisingly good agility, the 6-5, 350-pounder is a powerhouse in the weight room, having power cleaned over 400 pounds, benched 500 and squatted over 700 pounds.

9-(tie) Jarius Wright, Arkansas, WR:
The fastest Hog was also one of the most underrated receivers in the country. He has a good chance to create some more buzz if he can come close to the 4.27 40 time the Arkansas coaches say he clocked last spring. His times in the shuttles also could be head-turning.

9-(tie) Bruce Irvin, WVU, OLB-DE:
A pass-rushing specialist Irvin plays super fast. According to some of his teammates, he also times that way too. They swear he can run a sub-4.4 at 235 pounds. The question is how much heavier will he been in Indy and has he retained that speed?



Posted on: February 17, 2012 1:31 pm
Edited on: February 17, 2012 5:38 pm
 

Friday Mailbag: Big Ten ready to flex muscle?


Here is this week's mailbag. As always, you can send your questions via Twitter at BFeldmanCBS.

From @Mark Johnson  w SEC the best conf who do you think is the 2nd best after realignment?

There is a big drop-off between the SEC and the next-best conference. Having won six BCS titles in a row is quite an accomplishment and with four or five SEC teams expected to open the season in the top 12, it doesn't seem like anyone is close to make a move to overtake Mike Slive's league. 

  Going forward, I'd lean to the Big Ten in who I'd list as the next toughest conference. A big reason for that is Urban Meyer's arrival giving Ohio State and really the rest of the Big Ten such a jolt. On top of that you have Michigan now surging back on track, coming off a BCS Bowl win; Wisconsin coming off back-to-back Rose Bowl appearances; Michigan State coming off its best season in over a decade and Nebraska joining the league in 2011. The downside of it is the uncertainty of the direction Penn State is headed.

  The other conferences I had right there with the Big Ten are the Big 12 and the Pac-12. From an off-the-field component the Big 12 still seems fairly unstable given all of the uncertainty around it and its recent history. On the field, you've had Oklahoma State rise up with consecutive top 10 finishes. We'll see if Mike Gundy's program can sustain it. Same for Bill Snyder at K-State. Baylor had a fantastic season but figures to backslide some with RG3 gone. OU had a "disappointing" season yet still finished in the top 15 and now gets Mike Stoops back to run the defense. Texas appears to be on the way back up after two woeful seasons. 
 
The Big 12 also added two programs in WVU and TCU that are poised for big debut seasons because they both return a lot of young talent although the Horned Frogs, given this week's events and key player dismissals, definitely don't look as strong as they did a few days ago.

  Larry Scott's league is on much more solid footing than the Big 12 big picture, but it's still coming off a season where one of the teams that played in its title game, UCLA, finished with a 6-8 record. That doesn't speak well of the league when something like that happens. Chip Kelly just led Oregon to perhaps its best season ever, but the Ducks still have the Will Lyles recruiting mess hanging over the program. Stanford lost Andrew Luck and a couple of other top 15 draft picks and the Cardinal are likely to drop out of the top 20, although with the way David Shaw has recruited, it doesn't seem like this program will plummet off the national radar. USC is poised for a great 2012, but after Matt Barkley's senior year, the Trojans will have to deal with the meat of the NCAA's scholarship sanctions. After these three teams, the rest of the conference is in scuffling to get to be Top 25 caliber.

  From @Drew Conrad  what do you think about University of Utah promoting a 25-year-old to OC? 

  No question it's risky to flip the keys to a guy this young, but Brian Johnson has spent a lot of time around some very bright offensive minds, starting with Urban Meyer and Dan Mullen, going through Andy Ludwig and Norm Chow. That's a pretty interesting mix of coaches and styles. From the guys in the coaching world I've asked about Johnson, I've heard a lot of good things. Almost all of those guys keep talking about how focused and smart the former QB is.

His experience working with head coach Kyle Whittingham and knowing what he wants is also key for a new hire. Johnson's level of coaching experience isn't much less than what Kliff Kingsbury had when he took over play-calling duties at Houston, and that worked out great for the Cougars. The biggest difference there though is that Kingsbury's head coach Kevin Sumlin had been an OC before while Whittingham is a defensive guy.

  The short-term concerns here are that the team lost two very good offensive tackles and on top of that a terrific O-line coach, Tim Davis just left the program for Florida. And obviously, they need to get better at QB if they're going to be serious contenders in the Pac-12 South.

From @GoonerAggieFan Thoughts on the Staff that Kevin Sumlin has put together at A&M, including his most recent addition Terry Price?

  It is excellent. He brought one of the sharpest young offensive guys in coaching with him from UH in Kingsbury. That guy is going to be a star in this business very soon. He also brought one of his betters recruiters in the Southwest in Clarence McKinney, and landed USF D-coordinator Mark Snyder, who is one of the top defensive guys in the country. I'll have a lot more on the Aggies in a week or so. I'm heading to College Station in a few days.

  From @marty roberts  If FSU shores up OL, how far u think they can go this year? And where u think they start in rankings?

Given all of the youth and newcomers from the JC ranks they're adding into the mix, that is a pretty big if. I'd expect improvement, but can this group make such dramatic strides to go from being as shaky as they were last year to the caliber of being part of a BCS title contender? I have my doubts, especially when you consider after last season's hype, it's basically anything short of a top-five season will be seen as a major disappointment/underachieving yet again. 

  The line was a mess last year. FSU was 110th in sacks allowed and 104th in rushing. You can't be an elite team no matter how tough your defense is being so bad in both those stats. 

The other big key is E.J. Manuel also needs to take a significant step forward and become much more consistent. Part of his struggles, no doubt, were due to the inexperienced O-line and to his injuries, but you look at just how much he and the Noles struggled in their regular season finale at UF and it's clear this is still a team with a lot of work ahead.

As far as where the Noles will open the season, I'd expect them to begin around No. 11 or 12. On paper, there is a lot of reasons for enthusiasm: returning QB coming off a pretty good first season as a starter with a gifted young group of receivers, an outstanding defense returning and the influx of (another) touted signing class. The problem: it seems like we've heard much of these same reasons why FSU is finally poised to compete for a BCS title again before, almost annually in fact, and for a variety of reasons, it hasn't came true and things fizzled out. And, why I used the word "problem" is that I suspect that notion isn't something only the media now believes, it's something players on the team hear about so much that it's a challenge to not let that mindset seep into the locker room: 'O.K., what's going to creep up and muck things up for us this time?'

From @Omer Subhani how good/bad was recruiting job by All Golden considering circumstances? TheU

  The recruiting job Golden's staff at Miami did this year, considering the circumstances of the avalanche of publicity the Nevin Shapiro story got, and the fact that there is an on-going NCAA investigation still hanging over the program, was remarkable.

As I said on our Signing Day Central show, I think there were three big keys to this class: the first was having a local star hold firm on being very public about his desire to be a Cane as Duke Johnson, perhaps the most dynamic running back prospect in the country, did. The second was stocking up on depleted positions (WR, D-line and DBs) with scholarship restrictions looming. The third was finishing with a flourish to build up that momentum going forward, and by reeling in Tracy Howard, the nation's top CB recruit, Golden did that in a big way. Remember, Howard was a kid who just a few weeks earlier was said to be a long-shot for Miami. Highly touted DE Tyriq McCord was another big late pick-up who many top programs chased hard.

If Golden can land a class this deep and talented in the face of all of the Shapiro stuff/NCAA player suspensions, it'll be interesting to see what he can do at Miami once the NCAA's ruling finally is known.

From @djr98 wat do u think of arkansas for 2012? 

  I like the Hogs chances to be a top 10 team, but I don't like their chances to win the SEC West and compete for a BCS title. Reasons for a top 10 run: Tyler Wilson is back, along with Knile Davis and they do get LSU and Bama at home this year. Reasons why I don't think they can win the SEC: I'm not sold on the defense. It wasn't good enough in 2011 and they're losing most of the best players they had on that D to the NFL.

From @joe king Who's gonna be next years Sammy Watkins,An can Hugh Freeze recruit well enough after Mullin has dominated the State this yr.

  I'll go with Dorial Green-Beckham being the biggest impact freshman wideout. He has freakish athleticism at 6-6, 225 and will play in a wide-open offense at Mizzou with a promising young QB (James Franklin) where they run the ball well enough to stress defenses. That should enable DGB to have a lot of big-play opportunities.

  Freeze is an ultra-aggressive recruiter and a good salesman. He also knows the area around Ole Miss as well as any coach they could've hired. I suspect he'll probably end up offering more scholarships before the summer than any coach in the country. I have no doubts he will get some talented players to Oxford. He was able to nab a couple already.

The on-field product is going to be mediocre for a few years, though. Freeze inherited a complete mess from Houston Nutt. Recruiting there had really tailed off save for Nitt's final class there. The program was in disarray and that won't be mended overnight. Dan Mullen just put together a very strong class, especially on the D-line and at linebacker. There is a pretty sizeable gap for Freeze to try and close.
Posted on: February 16, 2012 3:34 pm
Edited on: February 16, 2012 3:42 pm
 

O'Brien expected to appeal on Vandy ban

Think the recruiting process gets crazy for blue-chip high schoolers? Well, it can be even more chaotic if you're a proven college QB who can be eligible immediately.

Danny O'Brien, a 2010 Freshman All-American and former ACC Rookie of the Year, who had a 22-8 TD-INT ratio while helping lead Maryland to a 9-4 record and a top 25 finish, announced earlier this week he's transferring from the Terps program after the tumultuous first year of the Randy Edsall Era in College Park. A pro-style QB who still has two years of eligibility remaining would intrigue a lot of programs, but O'Brien's even a hotter commodity because he's on schedule to graduate with a Business degree in the spring and would be eligible as a graduate transfer this fall. Much like former N.C, State QB Russell Wilson was for Wisconsin this past year. However, unlike many of these recent graduate transfer cases, O'Brien has two years remaining, not just one. Even the SEC's new rule restricting graduate transfers would be open to O'Brien because he has two years of eligibility remaining, not just one season. And that twist has only spiced things up even more here.

Edsall employed a system that didn't suit the 6-3, 210-pounder very well, and O'Brien, along with the rest of a team that finished with an abysmal 2-10 record, struggled. The young QB appeared to regress last year. Edsall benched O'Brien in a loss to Georgia Tech in early October and later made comments in the media that certainly didn't come across as a ringing endorsement of the quarterback.

After O'Brien informed Edsall of his decision to transfer, the coach said in a statement: "I'm disappointed by Danny's decision. Danny told me that he's not committed to our program. that he's not 'all in.' I want what's best for all of our players."

Obviously, Edsall wasn't happy about the news, and apparently isn't just showing that by the statement. He also had denied permission of O'Brien to transfer to Vanderbilt. That wouldn't stop O'Brien from being able to attend Vandy, but it would keep him from getting a football scholarship there. In many cases, coaches try and restrict the places where one of their former players can transfer to, and the criteria usually is if that other program plays in the same conference or appears on the schedule in the next year or two. Vandy, however, is not in the ACC or slated to face the Terps any time soon. (The last time the two schools met on a football field was in the late '80s.) But Vandy's coach is James Franklin, the man who used to be the Terps offensive coordinator when O'Brien had his breakout season in 2010. Franklin also had recruited O'Brien from North Carolina to College Park. In addition, Edsall has blocked two of the other former Terp starters (LT Max Garcia and LB Mario Rowson), who also announced they were bailing from Edsall's program Monday, from transferring to Vandy as well.

The players can appeal that decision to get Edsall's restrictions overturned. An NCAA source said that student-athletes often win such appeals.

On Thursday morning, O'Brien's high school coach Todd Willert, who says he speaks to the QB almost every day, expects the family will make such an appeal in order to have the option to transfer to Vandy.

"I believe they will," said Willert. "This weekend, Danny and his family will sort through everything. They think (Vandy) should be an option but I don't know exactly what they'll decide. It should be an option for him.  Just be fair to everybody. Danny has no ill will towards anybody."

Attempts to reach O'Brien on Thursday were unsuccessful.

Among the schools believed to be in the mix to land O'Brien in addition to Vandy are Wisconsin, Stanford, Michigan State, East Carolina and Ole Miss. Willert would not disclose which programs O'Brien has had contact with but says there has been a lot of interest.
Posted on: February 14, 2012 1:19 pm
Edited on: February 14, 2012 2:03 pm
 

Tuesday Top 10: Most intriguing redshirt freshmen

With spring football here this week (thanks to Army getting an early start on things), let's take a peek at some freshmen who redshirted last fall but have generated some buzz within their football programs. The Tuesday Top 10: Most intriguing redshirt freshmen to remember this off-season.

1, Everett Golson, Notre Dame, QB: Brian Kelly's biggest headache in 2011 was due to shaky quarterback play. ND had some very capable weapons in Michael Floyd, Tyler Eifert and Cierre Wood, but the Irish were inept in the Red Zone and prone to momentum-crushing mistakes at the worst possible times. Tommy Rees started most of the season at QB and is back. So is Andrew Hendrix, a more mobile option with a stronger arm. Touted freshman Gunner Kiel is already on campus, but don't underestimate Golson, a 5-11, 185-pounder from South Carolina. When we had Kelly on our Signing Day Central show a few weeks ago and the Notre Dame coach gushed when I asked him about Golson. You heard a completely different vibe from Kelly just as he started to describe the young QB who had led his high school to state championships in both football and basketball. While Golson does not have prototype size, he has a quick release, a strong arm and wonderful footwork. He also apparently has that presence about him that coaches love.

2, Dee Hart, Bama RB: The Tide has to replace the great Trent Richardson, but still has Eddie Lacy. Hart, one of the nation's top recruits last year, would've pushed for playing time had he not blown out his knee and needed surgery in July. The 5-9, 187-pound Orlando product will face more than his share of fellow blue-chippers also jockeying for carries since 2013 signee T.J. Yeldon already is on campus along with Jalston Fowler and Brent Calloway. Hart doesn't quite have the lower body strength that Lacy, Richardson and Mark Ingram have, but he is a very dynamic back with good burst and terrific hands, who should spark the offense and the Tide's return game.

3, Michael Holmes, Va. Tech, RB: The Hokies lost spectacular David Wilson to the NFL, and his production and tenacity is going to be tough to replace. Holmes is an intriguing option. Unlike a lot of players on this list, he was not a celebrated recruit. Scout.com ranked him as the No. 77 RB in the Class of 2011. ESPN had him as the No. 136 running back. Rivals didn't even rank him among backs, aside from listing him as the No. 25 overall prospect in the state of Virginia. Holmes doesn't have Wilson's explosiveness (almost no other back in college football did) but the 6-1, 200-pounder turned a lot of heads of the defensive coaches and players at Tech with his work on the scout team last fall. His position coach Shane Beamer told me he's just a back who plays really hard, has good vision and has a knack for making plays. Tech seems to have found more than its share of the latter over the past decade or so.

4, Michael Eubank, ASU, QB: Todd Graham inherits a very interesting prospect in the strong-armed, extremely mobile 6-5, 235-pound kid from Southern California. As talented and raw as Eubank was, he wasn't going to beat out Brock Osweiler last year, but with the former Gonzaga hoops recruit leaving early for the NFL, there is a big opportunity there. The new staff is familiar with Eubank because they tried to recruit him when they were at Pitt. There figures to be some growing pains with him, but if he can make smart decisions, he's going to be a guy worth remembering. This is a huge "upside" kid.

5, Kelvin Benjamin, FSU, WR: E.J. Manuel should have some very good options to throw to in 2012. The only target FSU loses is Bert Reed, but they gain the super-sized Benjamin in his place. Coaches say Benjamin is up to 245 pounds on his 6-5 frame and he still has the athleticism to get away from DBs and go up and make acrobatic catches in traffic.

6, Brett Hundley, UCLA, QB: Despite huge expectations (the Bruin fan base dubbed him "the Savior") and the team's spotty quarterbacking, Hundley was on the sidelines for 2011. The former coach Rick Neuheisel deemed that the Arizona product wasn't ready to play. Hundley's arm was inconsistent when he got his reps in practice, but he is bright and has good size and athleticism. Noel Mazzone takes over the offense and will try and sort out an interesting collection of QBs in 2012. Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut, who have both played a lot, return for their senior seasons. Hyped QB recruits T.J. Millweard, who Mazzone personally reeled in from his previous stop, ASU, and dual-threat QB Devin Fuller, will also join the mix. Can Hundley win over the new staff this spring to help spark what has been a sputtering offense?

7, Jay Rome, Georgia, TE: Touted by many as the top tight end in the 2011 signing class, the 6-6, 253-pounder saw more action in Georgia basketball games than football games this year. His dad Stan was a two-sport star at Clemson and the younger Rome was an elite AAU hoops talent but it's football where he will make the biggest impact, especially since standout TE Orson Charles has opted to leave UGA early for the NFL. Rome told the AJC recently that the biggest aspect of his game he needs to work on is his blocking but with his size and athleticism he should be a welcome target for Aaron Murray in 2012.

8, Antwaun Woods, USC, DT: The Trojans return experience at almost every other spot but they are going to be pretty young on the interior of their defense. Only sophomore George Uko has played a lot in the middle of the D-line. Lane Kiffin redshirted most of his celebrated 2011 D-line signing class. Woods has reshaped his body considerably since arriving last summer, going from well over 330 down to under 310. Coaches really like his explosiveness but will challenge him to bring his effort on consistent basis. The improved conditioning no doubt will help on that front.

9, Jalen Collins, LSU CB: The Tigers have taken to call LSU "DBU" and the defensive backs I spoke to down in New Orleans around the BCS title game touted Collins as the next great one in the pipeline. He's a rangy 6-1, 195-pounder (up about 20 pounds since high school), who was a prep track star and really not that highly touted in the recruiting process. Teammates call him the most athletic guy on the team, which is obviously a mouthful. Don't expect him to overtake Tharold Simon in the race to replace Mo Claiborne, but Collins will be a big factor in a loaded DB rotation.

10, Greg Robinson, Auburn, OT: Gene Chizik redshirted a bunch of former blue-chippers in 2011 with the Louisiana product and Christian Westerman both sitting out. Classmate Reese Dismukes filled an immediate need, starting the entire season at center. Robinson, a nimble 305-pounder, who Westerman remarked moves like a tight end, has talked about working hard this past season to improve as a pass protector. He will have plenty of opportunity since the Tigers have to replace both starting tackles, Brandon Moseley and A.J. Greene.

Posted on: February 10, 2012 12:50 pm
 

Friday Mailbag: The state of Penn St recruiting

Here is this week's mailbag. As always, you can send questions to me via Twitter at BFeldmanCBS.

From @Philly_Sak Given all the circumstances, how do you feel Bill O'Brien did salvaging the PSU recruiting class?

As you mentioned, the circumstances around this class were so catastrophic, relatively speaking, people couldn't have expected too much after all that has been happening around State College of late. On top of all of that, you also had a new head coach without any head coaching track record having spent most of his time away from his new program while he finishes up with in the NFL. That is A LOT to overcome.


Recruiting analysts ranked the class around No. 50 nationally and in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten. That's actually better than what I would've expected given the circumstances. Of course, we try not to read too much into the team rankings especially. After all, a few years ago, Stanford signed a class that was ranked around No. 50 nationally and in retrospect the group with Andrew Luck, David DeCastro and others should've been no lower than No. 2 overall. 
 
  The downside is six prospects who had verbaled to PSU opted to go some place else. Many of them will play in the Big Ten but for Ohio State. They did hang on to touted WR Eugene Lewis, a local kid who all the recruiting sites are very high on. DL Jamil Pollard and Brian Gaia, an offensive lineman from Maryland, are two other coveted recruits bound for Penn State. 

While it helped that O'Brien immediately retained Larry Johnson who had been the program's best recruiter, I really think due to all of the above this was about as close to a lost class as a big-time program will ever have. 

On the bright side, there have been reports this week that many top 2013 recruits, including one of the top-ranked tight ends, Adam Breneman are high on PSU and O'Brien. You'd have to think O'Brien's work in New England with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez will help sell guys like Breneman, and if he can reel in a highly touted 2013 recruit early that will stir some much-needed momentum with the next wave of kids. But recruiting is going to be an uphill battle there for quite some time and Meyer and Brady Hoke having as much momentum as they do now is only going to make it that much harder. Beyond that, Wisconsin has never been stronger coming off consecutive Rose Bowl trips.

  From @ClintonOftedahl After USC/Barkley, which schools made out the best with players postponing the NFL Draft?

I agree that no program made out any better than USC sorting out which underclassmen stayed/left for the NFL. The Trojans did lose their best lineman in LT Matt Kalil and their top pass rusher, DE Nick Perry, but it was Barkley, who will be a four-year starter and has been the leader of this team the past two seasons, that was the pivotal guy. They also retained T.J. McDonald, one of the nation's top safeties, who is the leader of the defense. If Barkley bolted, I expect the Trojans would be an eight or nine-win team. With him, they are a legit national title contender.

At No. 2 in terms of schools that benefitted the most from the stay/go status, I'd put Notre Dame. Brian Kelly has to feel good about having LB Manti Te'o for another season and they also keep Tyler Eifert, one of the country's better tight ends. Eifert is a big plus for a team that lost its best weapon, WR Michael Floyd and has issues at quarterback. Having a legit go-to guy like Eifert for 2012 will be huge for whoever becomes the starting QB.

Right after them, I'd put Oklahoma, which retains Landry Jones, who three months ago, most observers figured was a lock to leave. Another fan base that should be breathing a big sigh of relief is Arkansas. The Hogs QB Tyler Wilson gave a lot of consideration to bolting for the NFL in the days leading up to the deadline, but he's going to be back as is RB Knile Davis.

For the fifth spot, I'd list Georgia. The Dawgs lost gifted tight end Orson Charles but didn't lose LB Jarvis Jones or DB Baccari Rambo. The last big "winner" here I'll mention is Wisconsin. Most top young running backs tend to jump to the NFL when they get the chance. Montee Ball, who just capped off a magnificent season, didn't jump, and that's surprising.

From @Falb7 Does Urban Meyer have a right to be upset with Bret Bielema's comments about his recruiting tactics?

As I said last week, it's hard to sift though much of the finger-pointing and backtalk we had in the aftermath of signing day. None of the guys involved ever come out looking better for being a part of that, although selfishly I do think it does spice up subplots to the games in the fall and sweeten potential rivalries or, in some cases, foster new ones. 

  No coach ever likes to get accused by a peer especially for shady business on the recruiting trail. The perception-is-reality stuff has to be frustrating but as long as it doesn't turn off recruits, and that sure doesn't seem to be the case with Ohio State, I doubt Meyer will lose any sleep over it. Rival coaches only tend to grouse about people's success. They never seem to pay much attention to anyone that isn't impacting their own success. Or the guy who is going 3-9 and signing all of the "two-star" kids. 

 

The one thing that doesn't sit well, and this was something a lot of Florida fans pointed out was that Meyer had been very outspoken as he left coaching for what he deemed unethical recruiting methods that had been increasing in recent years. Some of Meyer's critics, such as Mike Bianchi, have called him out on that.


"What I've seen the last five years is a complete turn in the integrity of the college coaching profession," Meyer said in one radio interview last year. "It's completely turned the other way. Right now, it's not good because the risk-reward is 'have at it, do what you've got to do to get the great player, go win games and at the end of the day we'll find out what happens down the road.' "


From @jgeer92376  A CFB question - which team of Stanford, Baylor, Oregon, Michigan State or Wisconsin will suffer the most for losing their QB?
 

It's a toss-up between Stanford and Baylor. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were as close to "Franchise QBs" or program-elevators as we've seen in the last 20 years. Even though both programs are in much better positions now than when before both QBs signed with them out of high school, there is going to be significant drop-off in 2012. After that, I'd put Michigan State next because of all Kirk Cousins meant to his program on and off-the-field the past four years. The program that loses the least: Oregon. Darron Thomas was a good QB, especially in that system, but Bryan Bennett was already nipping at his heels and redshirt Marcus Mariota is right there pushing him.

From @MR_SOUTH_BEACH where do you see mich being ranked in the preseason poll and can they beat alabama ?

I had them No. 11 in my early rankings for 2012. The program has some nice momentum coming off an 11-win season and a Sugar Bowl win in Brady Hoke's first year. And, the Wolverines finally beat Ohio State, which is huge for their psyche in Ann Arbor. 

For the Wolverines to take the next step and be a national title contender, which is where they'd need to be to knock off Alabama this year, Denard Robinson needs to be much sharper as a passer. He actually seemed to regress in 2011. His completion percentage was way down (from 63 percent to 55 percent) and he threw four more INTs despite quite a few less attempts. He also got away with some jump balls that could've turned into more picks. You'd think the off-season with time to review his work in his first season with OC Al Borges would be a good thing in that regard. We'll see. There is plenty of talent around him (especially RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, who after Montee Ball is near the top for running backs in the Big Ten), but they are going to miss center David Molk, who was solid anchoring the line.


They also need to find a way to get tougher on defense, which isn't going to be easy considering they have to replace NG Mike Martin. But there are a lot of very promising young players who got settled in last fall and should thrive with another off-season with Greg Mattison. Keep an eye on Jake Ryan, a budding star there.

Alabama is losing a lot of great players on both sides of the ball. However, they still may have the best O-line in the country and the back-ups Nick Saban had on D probably were better than anyone else's, save for maybe LSU. That Tide group also is better than most people's starters.  Hoke has his share of playmakers, starting with Robinson, and Mattison is one of the brightest defensive minds around. Bama also is going to be young in most spots, so it's not unrealistic to think Michigan could pull off the upset. Still, to see a Big Ten team beat the defending national champs, especially one that is NOT breaking in a new QB definitely would be a head-turner of major proportions.

From @cbhenn What's your pre-spring SEC East 1-7 predictions for 2012?

I have Georgia winning the East. The Dawgs have a very good, experienced D returning and a savvy QB in Aaron Murray. After that, I have South Carolina. I could see Tennessee coming in third as my surprise team. The Vols will no longer be a young team. They'll have a lot of three-year starters on what figures to be a potent offense. They will be counting on a lot of unproven guys on the D-line but my hunch is they have a shot to win nine this year. I slotted UF fourth ahead of Mizzou because they have a much deeper group of athletes on defense. After that, I have Vandy and UK rounding out the division.

From @Tavon4Heisman Does Geno Smith have a better shot at a Heisman now that WVU will be in the Big 12 as opposed to playing in the Big East?

No doubt. He and WVU finished the year with a strong statement, scoring 70 on Clemson in the Orange Bowl. All of the key skill guys are back and should be even better with another off-season to fine-tune the timing of Dana Holgorsen's system. And now, Smith moves to a bigger stage in a much more high-profile league. Four of the past 10 Heisman winners came from Big 12 schools. That's more than any other conference can claim. If Smith has a big season, and he should, he will be right in the mix to get to New York and perhaps with the trophy. He is going to need some help though from his team's defense because no matter how eye-popping his stats are, if WVU is no better than 8-4, he won't win it.


From Matthew Parten in Auburn, AL: What, in your opinion will end up being the most important off season development for Auburn this year - the premature departures of Gus Malzahn, Barrett Trotter, and Michael Dyer, the hire of Brian Van Gorder, the decisions by Onterio McCalebb and Philip Lutzenkirken to remain at school for their Senior seasons, or the upcoming hire of an offensive coordinator?  

The hire of Van Gorder, who had so much success at Georgia, was a good move. His experience in the league will help a lot, but I'd say the most important development was the departure of Malzahn. Even though things dropped off dramatically in 2011, and much of that can be traced to Cam Newton and most of the O-line being gone, Malzahn is still one of the brightest offensive minds in college football. He's proven in recent years to be a very savvy play-caller and game-planner. Plus, you can also tie in the departure of a stud running back/workhorse such as Dyer and it makes it sting that much more.

From @cnichollHays  You've brought up a lot of interesting stats in the "Stats that Matter" feature...what is the most interesting stat uve seen


There have been a lot of them that I was really intrigued by the more we discussed them. Tom Herman, the new offensive coordinator at Ohio State, had a really interesting one called the "double positive"that was fun to track and Texas DC Manny Diaz willingness to embrace the Moneyball mind set was cool to write about as well.
Posted on: February 7, 2012 1:02 pm
 

Tuesday Top 10: Best assistant moves

As we try and size up the best and worst head coaching hires of the the past few months, I thought it was worth delving into some of the top in-the-trenches guys and staffers who made news but on a much smaller scale during "the silly season" that is the coaching carousel. This week's Top 10: best assistant moves:

1. Oklahoma hiring back Mike Stoops as defensive coordinator: Some Sooner fans have been lamenting the Mike Stoops Jinx for years now noting that OU football hasn't been as tough or as effective, especially in big games since Bob Stoops' fiery brother left for Arizona. On paper, the younger Stoops brother certainly left a mark, coaching OU to the top or near the top in almost every significant defensive statistic. He also sparked OU to a school-best 48 wins over a four-year stretch from 2000-03 that included a BCS national title. During that four-year stretch OU had three top-five finishes and produced 10 All-Americans on defense. In the eight years since he's been out of Norman, the Sooners have only had two top-five finishes and six All-Americans on D. 

2. Washington hires Tosh Lupoi as D-line coach: The Huskies had been atrocious on defense prompting Steve Sarkisian to make some tough changes. One of them meant breaking the bank for the 30-year old former Cal assistant, who helped mentor some really good defensive linemen for the Golden Bears with Cameron Jordan and Tyson Alualu both becoming first-rounders in recent years. However, Lupoi's biggest impact comes off the field, where his departure shook up the recruiting world in the past few months. Five-star DB Shaq Thompson took a late visit up to U-Dub and ended up signing with the Huskies. Lupoi also got long-time USC DE commit Pio Vatuvei to flip to Washington on Signing Day. If Lupoi doesn't bolt for Seattle, Cal probably reels in a Top 10 recruiting class despite the fact that it has a sub .500 record in league play the past three years. But the coach's exit torpedoed that, and yes, it was messy. Expect many more fireworks in the coming year and for U-Dub to be a player nationally on the recruiting scene as long as Lupoi is with the Huskies.

3. Michigan State retains DC Pat Narduzzi: Arguably the most underrated defensive coordinator in college football, Narduzzi was courted by Kevin Sumlin after the new Texas A&M coach arrived at the SEC program, but MSU was able to hang onto the Youngstown product. That's quite a coup for the Spartans. In 2010, Narduzzi led MSU to one of its better defensive seasons in years. But going into last season he had to replace four of the top five tacklers, including star LB Greg Jones. The result: the Spartans played even better. MSU was No. 6 in the country in total defense; No. 10 in scoring; No. 7 in sacks and No. 9 against the run. They won 11 games and finished in the Top 10 for the first time since the Nick Saban days in the late '90s.

4. UNC lands Vic Koenning as its defensive coordinator: One of the best moves Ron Zook made at Illinois was flipping the keys to Koenning to run his defense. Koenning transformed the Illini D from 91st nationally to No. 7 in one year. He also sparked a dramatic improvement in K-State's defense at his previous stop. In his last stint in the ACC, at Clemson, Koenning (pronounced "CONE-ing") did something no other Tiger DC ever could do:  Each of his four defenses from 2005-2008 finished in the top 25 in scoring, total, and pass efficiency defense each season.

5. Urban Meyer reunites with Mickey Marotti as Ohio State gets a new strength coach: A huge key for Meyer in his run at UF was surrounding himself with a great staff. With the possible exception of Charlie Strong, no other assistant was more vital to UF's success in that time than Marotti, who goes back with Meyer to their days in Columbus in the late 80s when both were just beginning their coaching careers. When Meyer talked about his new staff at OSU, Marotti was the one he called his "most important hire." The one-time OSU grad assistant developed 22 All-Americans and eight first-rounders during his seven years in Gainesville.



6. Jim Mora recruits his ace recruiters: The new UCLA head coach had never really worked in college and there was a lot of skepticism about how the NFL lifer would acclimate to things like recruiting. Well, Mora wasted little time getting up to speed by landing a couple of assistants with deep California connections in O-line coach Adrian Klemm and Demetrice Martin, a pair of aggressive young assistants who grew up in the L.A. area. Martin helped snag Ellis McCarthy, perhaps the top defensive lineman on the West Coast, along with touted DE Jeremy Castro, while Klemm nabbed a bunch of other blue-chippers that included CB Ishmael Adams, WR Jordan Payton and OT Lacy Westbrook.

7. Paul Chryst brings O-line coach Bob Bostad to Pitt: The Panthers were beyond brutal up front. They ranked dead last in the NCAA in sacks allowed with an eye-popping 64-- 17 more than the next worst team. You almost never see such wide gaps in the pits of the NCAA ineptitude stats. That figures to get a whole lot better under Chryst and Bostad. The former Badger O-line coach developed four all-Americans in the past two seasons alone (Gabe Carimi, John Moffitt, Kevin Zeitler and Peter Konz) as Wisconsin rushed for over 3,000 yards the past two seasons en route to consecutive Rose Bowl appearances. Bostad's O-line actually allowed two few sacks in the past three seasons combined in 40 games than Pitt surrendered in 2011.

8. Rich Rodriguez finally gets Jeff Casteel back to run his defense: Rodriguez' biggest shortcoming from his time at Michigan was not being able to have his former WVU DC with him to run the Wolverines defense. Casteel has coached defenses that have finished in the top 15 in scoring D in four of the previous seven seasons. In 2010, the Mountaineers were third in the nation in scoring defense. Better still, Casteel is bringing a couple of WVU defensive assistants with him to Tucson who knew exactly what he wants and does. They will have plenty of work ahead of them in the most diverse offensive league as they inherit a team that was 107th in scoring defense and 116th in sacks.

9. Florida goes to Boise for its new OC: Charlie Weis had a very shaky season in Gainesville as the Gators stumbled in their transition season out of the Urban Meyer offense, finishing 105th in the country in total offense. Pease moves south after working with one of the most productive QBs in college history (Kellen Moore). The 47-year-old Pease also had a lot of success in his days at Montana in the 90s and had some good moments leading an undermanned Kentucky offense in the SEC before moving to Boise.

10. Mike Locksley is back at Maryland: No doubt Locksley had a disastrous run as New Mexico's head coach, going 2-26 and being at the center of a few off-field scandals. He signs on with second-year coach Randy Edsall, who had a disastrous beginning with the Terps going 2-10 with only one win over an FBS opponent. But never underestimate the recruiting juice Locksley has, especially in that part of the country.  He will get kids who would never get within sniffing distance of Edsall's program to give the Terps a long, hard look now. And the school made sure to sweeter Locksley's deal on that front. According to the Washington Post, if Maryland is ranked in the top 40 by either Rivals.com or Scout.com's recruiting rankings on National Signing Day, Locksley will earn $25,000. He'll also get an additional $20,000 if the Terrapins place in the top four of ACC teams in the Rivals.com or Scout.com's rankings on National Signing Day.
Posted on: February 4, 2012 10:51 am
Edited on: February 5, 2012 2:46 am
 

Rice coach understands what commitment means


Like thousands of other gifted high school football recruits, David Wilganowski and his family probably took a big sigh of relief and celebrated that the madness that has become National Signing Day was finally behind them.

It's around this time--just a few days after colleges announce who they've landed--that we tend to start learning about those other kids, who may have bought into hollow promises only to realize that they've been left out in the margins, squeezed by the world of big-time college sports. It happens so much now that we shrug our shoulders at coaches making cutthroat "business" decisions or when both players and coaches mangle the definition of the word "commitment" that the details behind the 6-4, 230-pound defensive end's signing with the Rice Owls Wednesday should make you smile.

Oh, Wilganowski, like the rest of the recruits who faxed in their letters a few days ago, was a big deal in his hometown. He'd committed to play D1 football on a full scholarship (to Rice) in June. He was a team captain and Homecoming King as a senior and starred in other sports (track and power lifting). The kid from Rudder High School in Bryan, Texas was also Academic All-State and picked the Owls over offers from among others, Army, Navy and Air Force.

Then, Wilganowski's life took a dramatic turn. At the start of Wilganowski's senior season, he collapsed during a game. His heart had given out. Paramedics had to revive him. Wilganowski was diagnosed with something called Long Q-T Syndrome. He had a heart defibrillator implanted into his chest. Doctors informed him his football career was over.

His mom, Susan told Fox Sports Houston she thought there was "no chance" her son would be on an athletic scholarship this fall.

However, Rice head coach David Bailiff remained committed to the kid and to his promise to welcome him as part of the Owls football program. On Wednesday, the coach was proud to announce that Wilganowski was getting that full scholarship.

We ask those young men to commit to us, and we tell them we're gonna be there through thick and thin," Bailiff said. "That's how that works. Your word has to be good."

Sadly, that's something that seems like it's becoming pretty rare these days.
Category: NCAAF
Tags: Rice
 
Posted on: February 3, 2012 3:14 pm
 

Friday Mailbag: Drama in the Big Ten

Here is the Friday Mailbag. As always, if you have questions, send them to me via Twitter at BFeldmanCBS.

From @ShawnMoritz Do you think Bielema has a legit argument against Urban and his recruiting tactics?

Well, I'd love to know exactly what Bret Bielema is talking about in regards to Meyer's tactics. During his Signing Day press conference, the Wisconsin coach made reference to Meyer using "illegal" recruiting tactics. What rules specifically was the new OSU coach breaking? Bielema spoke to the Sporting News on Thursday:

“I called Urban and we spoke about it,” Bielema said. “We talked about it, and he said it would stop and it did. I’ll let our commissioner deal with anything else. That’s not who we are (in the Big Ten). We settle things among ourselves as coaches.”


One issue Bielema would talk about—and it’s perfectly legal under current NCAA rules—is Meyer’s recruitment of players who already had given verbal commitments to other Big Ten schools. It has been a longstanding “gentlemen’s agreement” in the league that coaches wouldn’t recruit players who had publicly given commitments to schools.



On top of that, there were also some folks at Michigan State who weren't thrilled with Meyer either apparently. In reality, rival coaches never seem to mind when a program is losing out on coveted recruits or not winning games, but when it's the opposite that's when coaches get chaffed.



IF it all stems from one program going after another program's commitments, and this isn't the first time we've heard some carping about this within the Big Ten, I'm shrugging my shoulders on it. Welcome to the 21st Century, Big Ten. To paraphrase Dan Hawkins, it's D1 football. They're all competing for Rose Bowls and BCS bowls (at least theoretically), and even if Big Ten coaches are trying to be demure in their explanations, it all ends up reduced to he said/he said, gossipy semantics.



This all feels a lot like the laments about negative recruiting and how coaches spin that they really don't do it, when they essentially all do. The upshot: it only adds to the intrigue when we actually get back into the games.  

A final point about this: One thing that has happened in the aftermath of signing day is there really has been a lot of muddled reaction/grousing in comments made by coaches to both the media and/or booster groups that has gotten picked up and parsed around via social media, and in that process has created quite a combustible brew that has gotten lumped together. It's a big mess and been hard to keep straight about who said what about whom?



From @hogeandrew    What were the most shocking announcements on LOI day?

Seeing five-star WR Deontay Greenberry, a long-time Notre Dame commit, flip to Houston on Signing Day. Just getting Greenberry to visit UH was something of a stunner considering how many bigger programs tried to sway this kid. But for Tony Levine's program to actually reel him in was THE shocker of the day. It wasn't even like this was a local kid UH was keeping home. It was a California guy, but the track record of the Cougars offense and the fact that they have to replace four prolific wideouts only sweetened UH's sales pitch. 

From @bsu90  Do you think signing day has gotten out of hand?

You're talking to someone who just did eight-hours straight of live signing day coverage. I also spent two years of my life detailing the inner workings of the recruiting process a few years ago, and the whole thing has only gotten crazier in the five years since.


Out of hand? Yep, it is. And I, along with my brethren in the media would be kidding myself if I didn't own up to the fact that we contribute to the madness by covering it, and yes, hyping it. Often times, it seems like one big farce. Truth is, it is a huge business and because so many people are addicted to it, things only get more out of hand each year.

From @jeffriesj78 with Iowa's good recruiting class this year, multiple 4* and nice group of 3*, how high can we go next season?

From the coaches I've talked to over the past few months, the Hawkeyes landed a few really coveted guys with the athleticism to come in and contribute right away: RB Greg Garmon and D-lineman Faith Ekakitie, who one rival recruiter told me was one of the most gifted line prospects in the entire country. He and fellow DL Jaleel Johnson may be too talented not to get into the rotation, especially for a program that has lost five outstanding D-linemen in the past two seasons to the NFL.

Garmon and another RB signee Barkley Hill will get really long looks in camp because tailback is a big need for the Hawkeyes given the departures of Marcus Coker and Mika'il McCall.


In terms of Iowa's prospects in 2012, it sure helps that  James Vandenberg is back. He's one of the more talented QBs in the country and had a strong first season as a starter, although he did tail off some in the final two games of the year.
Overall, I feel like this program may have lost too many key guys (on the O-line, Marvin McNutt) to be a top 15 team, but this is always gonna be a well-coached group and there is still plenty of talent to crack the top 25 IF the young guys can step into significant roles.

From @CarlBleich for Florida's big 3...was there a bigger recruiting get than Miami getting Tracy Howard?

FSU, UF and Miami each landed more than their share of gems on Wednesday.  DT Eddie Goldman was cause for big celebration in the Noles war room, and Florida snagging Dante Fowler surely elicited similar in Gainesville, but I doubt either tops the significance of the nation's top CB, Tracy Howard opting to stay home and play at Miami. The two biggest reasons: First, Miami has been depleted at corner for the past two years. Second, it makes a huge statement for a program that has the cloud of an NCAA investigation hanging over it that appeared like it was going to scare off most local blue-chippers (outside of RB Duke Johnson) but in the end, that didn't happen. And Howard, a guy who sounded like a long-shot for Miami just a few weeks earlier, is major proof of the belief recruits have in Al Golden's program. Howard's statement is very big for the Class of 2013 as well, much as I would say Dorial Green-Beckham signing with Mizzou is for the Tigers in big picture sense because it tells future blue-chippers, Mizzou is "big-time."

From olemissking1977    How do you think Miss States class did, I live The Dline Mullen put together

It was a very impressive group. State landed arguably the top JC player in the nation in DE Denico Autry, who was chased after by half the SEC. Autry is a small-town kid and just loved the fit there. Starkville is the biggest place he's ever lived. DT Quay Evans, who's already at MSU was one of the top interior guys in the South. Evans is the typical, explosive D-tackle that has helped spark the SEC into the elite college football conference. One other coup was beating Tennessee, Stanford and arch-rival Ole Miss for Richie Brown, the top linebacker in the state of Mississippi and four-star talent Beniquez Brown, who was another hot commodity.


 
 
 
 
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