Florida Gators: Michigan Wolverines

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — CeCe Jefferson is one of the top defensive ends in the country, ranked No. 9 in the ESPN 300. Yet the 6-foot-3, 248-pound, five-star prospect found himself playing middle linebacker, defensive end and even fullback in his team's spring football game.

That’s exactly how Jefferson likes it.

"I like moving around because it shows the coaches at the next level that I’m versatile enough to do it,” Jefferson said. "I don’t mind playing multiple positions in college. Linebacker is probably what I’m going to be because I’m not really that big to play defensive end against 300-pounders all night. So moving around is definitely not a problem to me. I feel like I’m versatile enough to do it, so if a coach asks me to do it, I’m going to do it.”

It’s Jefferson’s versatility and ability to cause so much disruption for opposing offenses that has college coaches from across the country flocking to Glen St. Mary, Florida, to try to land the talented defender from Baker County High School.

SabanAP Photo/Chris O'MearaNick Saban is a major reason the SEC has hoisted the crystal football for seven years in a row.
So you think your team has a chance to reach the national championship game this season. You think this could be the year.

Hold up a second.

While there are always questions of timing and scheduling and the human element to winning college football games and reaching the national championship, there are some surprising similarities between teams that have been able to lift a crystal football at the end of the season and those who have come close.

Some, like talent, coaching and, at least for the past seven years, residing in the SEC, are obvious. But what about what takes place on the field?

Since 2006, when the Southeastern Conference began dominating college football, there have been specific criteria which have fit all of the champions plus three other teams (Florida in 2009, Penn State in 2008 and Ohio State in 2006), all of whom reached the Bowl Championship Series.

The criteria would have even been more streamlined, except Auburn’s defense in 2010 was a statistical tire fire and Florida found a bunch of ways to not score or rush too well in 2006. Had they been better in those areas, almost every statistical category measured by the NCAA would have had a strong baseline ranking for a champion.

While this isn’t foolproof -- again, see Auburn and Florida -- the following criteria could give you an idea as the season goes along how much of a chance your school really has at winning it all.

Rank 38th or better in rushing offense: Every national champion averaged more than 160 yards rushing during its national championship season and all save that 2006 Florida team gained more than 214.4 yards a game on the ground and ranked in the top 16.

Rank 23rd or better in scoring offense: National champions have been able to score a lot, which is even more impressive considering every national title winner since the 2006 season has been in the defense-oriented SEC. Every title team averaged at least 29.7 points a game and only 2006 Florida was under 32 points.

Rank 37th or better in passing efficiency: The national title winners have all been in the upper third when it comes to passing the ball -- again, a mild surprise considering the level of defenses in the SEC. Every national champion had a passer efficiency rating of 133.61 or better and was ranked 37th or better.

[+] EnlargeAlabama defense
AP Photo/Bill HaberThe past seven national champs have been particularly adept at stopping the run.
Have a top 15 run defense: For all the prior criticism of Auburn’s defense in 2010, the Tigers actually fared well here, ranking ninth in rushing defense that season. They did give up the most yards per game of any of the national champions, though, with 109.07. All, too, were ranked in the Top 15. Interestingly, Alabama has been the top rushing defense in the country the past two seasons when it won national titles. Of the seven national champions, four held opponents under 80 yards rushing a game.

Rank in the top 40 in sacks (but don’t rank too high): Surprisingly, none of the national title winners was in the top 10 in sacks, either, but all landed in the Top 40, somewhere between 2.29 and 2.64 sacks a game and somewhere between No. 24 and No. 40. So putting some pressure on an opponent’s quarterbacks -- but not too much? -- should be at a premium when it comes to fielding a title contender.

Have at least one player selected in the first round of the NFL draft following the national title game: This, actually, should not be much of a surprise considering the national champion should have at least some NFL-caliber talent on it to survive the season. Defending national champion Alabama did a good job of this in this past draft with three players in the top 11. The total first-rounders for the Crimson Tide actually dropped from the 2012 draft, which saw four players taken from the school. Every title winner, though, has had at least one the following April.

Have a player score at least 10 touchdowns rushing and/or receiving: Again, this seems like a no-brainer, especially considering how many points a game the national champion teams are averaging. But it also shows if a team spreads it around too much, there might not be that gamebreaker type of player to get a team a score when it was absolutely necessary.

Did not lose a non-conference game in the regular season: Again, not a stunner here. The national champions over the past seven years which have lost games have all lost them within the confines of the SEC. This, though, actually blows up the theory that losing early is better than losing late when it comes to the national polls and winning a national championship considering most non-conference games are played in September and early October. So as you get ready to dig in to conference play, know if your team dropped a game, it could be in real trouble to win a title. And/or if it has a difficult non-conference game (see Georgia vs. Clemson in August and Michigan vs. Notre Dame in September), that game might loom even larger.

Video: Seth Greenberg on Michigan's win

March, 31, 2013
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Seth Greenberg breaks down Michigan's 79-59 win against Florida in the Elite Eight.

2014 OT Denzel Ward looking around 

January, 4, 2013
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Offensive tackle Denzel Ward (Chicago/Hales Franciscan), a 2014 Michigan commitment, has made quite an impression at the Under Armour 2013 Combine.

The 6-foot-9, 295-pound prospect now has other schools in hot pursuit, and he is considering jumping back into the process.

"I am committed to Michigan, but I don't know what is going to happen," Ward said. "Our family might be opening the recruiting process soon. Some other schools may be coming in real hard.

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Smythe talks Stanford, visit plans 

December, 26, 2012
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HOUSTON -- The decision to decommit from Texas wasn't an easy one for Belton (Texas) High School tight end Durham Smythe. But for him, it was the right decision.

Now, as the weeks pass and national signing day approaches, Smythe is weighing all the options in front of him. He has plenty, but he's still in the process of trying to decide where he'll take his remaining official visits. After checking in for the Offense-Defense All-American Bowl -- set for Sunday at Reliant Stadium -- on Wednesday, he discussed all that has been going on since he made his decision.

"The week that I decommitted it was pretty crazy because the dead period was about to start at that point, so toward the end of that week, a lot of coaches and a lot of schools tried to get in contact with me to schedule home visits and stuff like that," Smythe said. "Over the dead period I've been in contact with coaches once a week on Facebook and stuff like that. It's been busy and right now I'm just in a period where I'm evaluating things and I'm trying to pick a couple favorites so I can take official visits there and have a base to compare."

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- With seven verbal commitments and numerous other targets in Beaverton, Ore., for The Opening, the Florida Gators were well represented at the prestigious event. Here's a look at five things we learned:

Florida's DB commits leave impression
The Gators had three defensive back commits at The Opening with safeties Keanu Neal and Nick Washington and cornerback Tre' Bell. Bell, rated a four-star prospect, is not in the ESPN 300, but ESPN national scout Tom Luginbill said Bell turned some heads after his standout performance at The Opening. Neal had several interceptions over the course of the camp. The big safety prospect is known for his physical play, but Neal proved he can more than hold his own in coverage as well.

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BRADENTON, Fla. -- It was easy to see why four-star tight end DeSean Smith (Lake Charles, La./Barbe) is the No. 4 rated tight end in the country at the IMG Madden 7-on-7 National Championships on Saturday. Smith opened the day with a long 30-yard touchdown catch in the first game and never looked back. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound athlete finished with several big plays.

To no one's surprise, the home-state LSU Tigers have always been considered a favorite for the talented tight end, but another team is making a strong push for his services -- the Florida Gators.

"They are recruiting me hard," Smith said. "They are one of the top teams on my list. As of now I'd say LSU and Florida are at the top for me. Coach [Derek] Lewis is doing a great job recruiting me. They respect me and I respect them. As of now it's close. Florida is in it real big. It's going to be a hard decision."

The No. 143 player in the ESPN 150 said he was surprised with what LSU showed him when he visited Baton Rouge for their spring game.

"I loved the way they surprised me at the spring game," Smith said. "They threw the ball excellent, and that's what surprised me the most when I was there."

Smith, who will make his decision at the U.S. Army Bowl in January, said leaving home would be difficult, but that he looks as college as a life-long opportunity.

"It's going to be hard, but at the same time I want to look at other options than just staying at home," he said. "I want to major in criminal justice, which you can really find anywhere, but this will be a decision with me that will stay with me for the next 40 years.

"It's going to come down with how they do this year, how are they producing on the field. It's going to come down to the offense and what quarterbacks they got coming in."

Miami back in the mix for Sherit

Tampa (Fla.) Hillsborough defensive end Jordan Sherit admitted that Miami had fallen behind in his recruitment, but after a late push by the Hurricanes, the Canes right back in the picture.

"I made one comment that I haven't heard from them in a while," Sherit said. "The next thing I know I get messaged from everyone on coaching staff for a couple weeks now. Especially with the addition of Travis Johnson, a great friend of mine that is going there. It makes me think about them again. I'll try to get down there in August."

Sherit, who said Florida and Vanderbilt are recruiting him the hardest, is close to narrowing down his list of top schools, but he already knows several teams that will be on it.

"I think I'll have a top 10 in the next couple of days," he said. "I can't think of all of them off the top of my head but some schools I would put in there are Florida, Miami, Stanford, Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Vanderbilt. I definitely want to take a trip out to Stanford when they play Notre Dame."

The four-star athlete has visited Florida three times since the spring began. Sherit said Florida is the most organized school he has been to.

"Coach [Will] Muschamp and their whole staff, as far as being organized and knowing what they are doing, they are ahead of everybody else," he said. "Just the way they run their junior days. You can tell by their committed class, they are one of the top classes in the nation. It's because they are doing the right things coaching, and they just have a helluva staff. I expect big things from Florida whether I'm there or not."

2014 WR Artavis Scott earns big offer

Tarpon Springs (Fla.) East Lake wide receiver Artavis Scott will be a big-time recruit next year, but the talented junior-to-be, will have to wait his turn to be the star of his 7-on-7 team. Team Tampa features several top 2013 prospects including Sherit, Leon McQuay III, Vernon Hargreaves III, Richard Benjamin, Travis Johnson and Alvin Bailey. Scott said he enjoys the competition.

"I love it," Scott said. "You don't have to come out here and worry about someone else not doing their job. We have it, they are always doing their job. Guys come out here to compete and we have the best on our team."

Scott, who already held offers from FSU, USF, Ohio State, South Carolina, Iowa State, Indiana and Cincinnati, earned an offer from Florida after recently camping in Gainesville.

"I was thankful for it," Scott said. "I was pretty glad that I got that offer. It's close to home and my mom likes that school. So it was pretty good to get that offer."

The 5-11, 165-pound receiver said he hit it off with Florida wide receivers coach Aubrey Hill.

"I think he's a pretty cool coach," Scott said. "After we came back from the field, we sat down in his office and talked for a while. He seems like a pretty nice guy. I communicate with him every now and then. He seems like a pretty cool dude."

Florida commit taking other visits?

Four-star Florida offensive line commit Josh Outlaw (Lithonia, Ga./Martin Luther King) has been committed to the Gators since April, but the guard prospect said he is still receiving interest from other schools.

"I definitely received a lot of attention over the last week," Outlaw said. "I've talked to Miami, Tennessee, Ole Miss and Arkansas. Things have slowed down a little bit, but there are some schools still coming after me. They are still interested."

Outlaw, who said he is still a solid commit to Florida, said he will likely take some other visits.

"Those schools want me to come and check them out," Outlaw said. "I definitely will probably take some because of my teammates. I don't want to be too shy and not take any visits and just sit at my house, so I'll probably be pretty active and check out some things."

Other Notes

  • Hargreaves III (Tampa, Fla./Wharton), a five-star cornerback, might have had the play of the day. He was beaten by a few steps on a deep route but recovered and made an acrobatic interception just before stepping out of the back of the end zone.
  • Florida 2014 commit Ryeshene Bronson (Ft. Myers, Fla./Dunbar) caught a 15-yard touchdown pass in the first game of the day. The 6-3 wide receiver caught the ball over another defender and barely tapped his feet in the back of the end zone for the score.

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Vanderdoes names his top 15 

June, 18, 2012
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Monday was a busy day for commitments in the West region, but defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes (Auburn, Calif./Placer) isn't exactly ready to jump into the commitment scene. More than half of the top 30 players in the West have already made verbal commitments, but Vanderdoes is taking things slowly. On Monday, the 6-foot-3, 285-pound lineman took to twitter to release a list of his top 15 schools.

Alabama, Baylor, California, Florida, Georgia Tech, LSU, Miami, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Oregon, Penn State, UCLA, USC and Washington all made the cut. Vanderdoes included in his tweet that he will be cutting that down to a top 10 group soon.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Florida Gators offered a scholarship on Tuesday to ESPNU 150 Watch List wide receiver Demorea Stringfellow (Moreno Valley, Calif./Rancho Verde).

The 6-foot-2, 200-pound receiver, who was a former high school teammate of Florida defensive end/outside linebacker Ronald Powell, said he was excited.

"This offer is big for me because I know only great players get a chance to play for Florida," Stringfellow said. "Plus I know it's so far away, so for them to come and get me from Cali, I must have something they like."

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- ESPNU 150 Watch List defensive tackle Rod Crayton (Dadeville, Ala./Dadeville) was one of several big-time prospects to visit Gainesville on Saturday. The 6-foot-1, 300-pound defensive tackle has offers from LSU, Tennessee, Mississippi State, Arkansas, Michigan and many others, but the Gators have not offered.

Crayton though, believes after his visit to Florida an offer could come soon.

"It was great. I really enjoyed practice," Crayton said. "I really enjoyed talking with coach [Dan] Quinn and coach [Bryant] Young. They haven't offered me yet because they have concerns about my height, but they said they will talk it over as a staff and get back to me. I think they are really interested in me."

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[+] EnlargeLaremy Tunsil
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comLaremy Tunsil is one of the most decorated offensive line prospects in the country.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Five-star offensive tackle prospect Laremy Tunsil (Lake City, Fla./Columbia) visited Florida on Saturday for junior day, and the 6-foot-6, 280-pound offensive tackle prospect said he enjoyed his visit to nearby Gainesville.

"It was awesome," Tunsil said. "I saw a lot of things that I haven't seen before at the University of Florida. I saw where the alligators are at. I saw a church. I saw the practice facilities. I saw the basketball court. I saw all of that stuff that I haven't seen before."

While on his visit Tunsil had a chance to speak with Florida head coach Will Muschamp.

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2013 OL talks Michigan offer 

February, 17, 2012
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The offensive line is a big need for Michigan in the 2013 class. Since at least four scholarship offensive linemen will be leaving the roster, the staff will most likely look to add the same amount of recruits for this class, if not more.

One offensive line prospect who recently received a Michigan offer is 6-foot-5, 290-pound John Montelus (Everett, Mass./Everett). The Michigan offer adds to an already hefty list including Florida, UConn, Boston College, NC State and West Virginia among others.

"Michigan (was an offer he was hoping for) because it is a really big school with good academics, good football team and great fans," he said. "I've been talking to Coach (Darrell) Funk, and I'm going to take a Michigan visit soon."

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Borges not interested in Florida

December, 20, 2011
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Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges has spent much of the season with his name as candidates for other jobs.

First was the head coaching position at New Mexico, which eventually went to Bob Davie. Then, it was a potential replacement for Charlie Weis as Florida's offensive coordinator.

On Tuesday, Borges said he isn't interested.

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Top Performers: Armwood vs. Central

December, 17, 2011
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- The FHSAA class 6A state championship game between Seffner (Fla.) Armwood and Miami Central came down to the wire with Armwood pulling out the 40-31 victory on Saturday afternoon.

The game featured several top prospects, not only for 2012, but also for 2013 and even 2014. Here are the top performers in the game.

Matt Jones, RB, (6-3/215, Armwood) -- 2012 Florida commit
The Florida running back commit was held in check on the ground but had a big impact on the game through the air. Jones had 15 carries for only 42 yards but added three receptions for 119 yards and a receiving touchdown. With Armwood clinging to a 30-24 lead in the fourth quarter, Jones caught a wheel route and outran the Central secondary for an 80-yard touchdown.

Leon McQuay III, S, (6-2/185, Armwood)
The junior safety made his impact in the first quarter. With Armwood leading 10-0, McQuay stepped in front of a pass over the middle and returned the interception 32 yards for a touchdown. For Armwood, it was the second interception returned for a touchdown in the first quarter. Senior corner Jarvis McCall, a USF commit, picked off the first pass of the game and returned it 55 yards for the score. McQuay also added seven tackles on the night. McQuay holds offers from Florida, Oklahoma, USF, Michigan and Vanderbilt among others. He said after the game that Florida and Vanderbilt are the schools that are standing out the most for him.

(Read full post)

SEFFNER, Fla. -- The Florida High School Athletic Association class 6A third-round playoff game between nationally ranked Seffner Armwood (13-0) and Gainesville (10-3) turned out to be a lot closer than some expected.

Armwood won the game 17-14 on Friday night, but with a closer look, it’s easy to see why Gainesville was able to keep it close. Like Armwood, Gainesville has several Division I prospects. Here is a look at some of the top performers of the game:

Eric Striker, LB, (6-foot-1/195 pounds, Armwood): The Oklahoma commit registered two sacks and pressured the quarterback for most of the evening. Striker said after the game he is firmly committed to the Sooners and will enroll next fall.

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National recruiting analyst Craig Haubert discusses where Florida goes from here now that its recruiting class has shrunk to eight. Haubert says, however, there's reason for optimism in Gainesville.
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