Florida State Seminoles: Ohio State Buckeyes

At this time last year, Texas A&M was the epicenter of college football during spring practice. The Aggies' 2013 spring game drew a record crowd. ESPN televised the game, "Johnny Football" was the face of the sport and it helped swing in-state recruiting momentum from the Longhorns.

It would only make sense that Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin was ready to do it all again this spring.

“No, it’s not for me,” Sumlin said in March. “I’ll be honest with you, you guys know me, that second half [of spring games] goes real quick. I’m ready to get out of there.”

The spring game in many ways goes against the core belief of Sumlin, and really every coach, of using every practice to get better. So the Aggies went without a game this spring, and will do so again in 2015 as Kyle Field's renovations continue.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Greg Bartram/USA TODAY SportsOhio State coach Urban Meyer likes the opportunity to get young players, such as redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett, some playing time in a spring game.
Spring games are at somewhat of a crossroads in college football. They’re hardly fighting off extinction as 54 FBS programs held games this past weekend. But the watered-down product is giving coaches reason for pause. The argument against holding the spring game is picking up steam, and coaches are questioning the value in using the final spring practice on a half-speed “dog-and-pony show,” as Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship puts it.

A handful of programs aren't holding spring games this year. Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy did not plan a spring game, and Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst believed it wasn’t in the program’s best interest to have one, either.

Both Chryst and Gundy have young rosters. Only Utah State returns fewer starters than the Cowboys. Chryst is still trying to put his stamp on a program that has had more head coaches than winning seasons in the last decade, and he is breaking in a new quarterback. To Chryst and Gundy, it did not make sense to waste a practice day for a haphazard game.

“Truly looking at this from the inside of the program and what this group needs, it was, 'What’s the best use of the 15 opportunities we get in the spring,'” Chryst said. “I felt like we didn’t have a group where we’re going to take just one full day and scrimmage. Bottom line is we wanted to make sure we’re maximizing our opportunities.”

Two coaches not questioning a spring game finale are the leaders of programs with some of the best odds to win the first College Football Playoff. Both Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer are in favor of the model most programs still subscribe to: 14 practices, mix in a few scrimmages and hold a game at the end of camp. Fisher and Meyer believe it’s the only time in the spring to get an accurate read on how players react to a fall Saturday game atmosphere.

“What you get is the people in the stadium, you get pressure, you get outside people watching you get the lights on the scoreboard and [the game] matters,” Fisher told ESPN.com last week. “You get a game environment. It might not be the one in the fall, but it’s as close as you’ll ever get out in this practice field. To get a guy in front of 40,000 people and watch how they play in front of them, to me, I put more value in that.”

However, Meyer acknowledges the issues the modern-day spring game presents. Ohio State star quarterback Braxton Miller was out with an injury, but Joey Bosa, Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington were healthy scratches. Fisher elected to sit starting running back Karlos Williams, leaving a fullback and a handful of walk-on running backs to carry the spring load Saturday. The sustainability of the spring game could come down to depth, but rosters are thinner with the 85 scholarship limit, and coaches are keeping their proven commodities out of harm’s way.

Fisher To get a guy in front of 40,000 people and watch how they play in front of them, to me, I put more value in that.

-- Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, on the value of spring games
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said the lack of numbers at certain positions causes the few available players to “double dip” and play both sides, opening those few healthy players up to injury. The emphasis on preventing and identifying concussions has grown substantially in the last few years, and Blankenship added that “a lot more guys are missing practice today with concussion-related symptoms, and that’s been consistent across the board with other coaches I talk to.”

Meyer said spring games are often a “great opportunity to get scout-team guys a chance to play,” which in itself can be considered an indictment of the spring game’s inherent value.

“One time at Florida we had only five or six offensive linemen and they had to play both ways,” Meyer said, “but the experience of playing in front of [fans], if you want to have a practice but arrange how the receiver has to be the guy, to be in coverage and catch a pass and hear the crowd, that’s real.”

There are only so many programs that consistently draw 30,000 or more fans for a spring game, though. Those other programs don’t have the benefit of putting their players in a game-day atmosphere when only a few thousand fans fill the bleachers.

Blankenship understands he needs to promote his Tulsa program and bring in as many fans as possible. So last year, they tried a new spring game model. Instead of a traditional game of the roster being split, Blankenship operates on only 50 percent of the field and allows fans to sit on the other side of the 50 to get a more intimate view. The game resembles more of a practice as the team works on situations such as red zone and fourth down instead of keeping score.

A piece of him still wants a sound 15th practice, though.

“I do think [the spring game] is worth it from the fan standpoint,” he said, “but the coach in me would like to have another practice.”

[+] EnlargeVirginia Spring Game
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsThese Virginia students received a better-than-front-row view of the Cavaliers' spring game.
Fans and alumni are maybe the most overlooked part of the equation of whether it is realistic to ditch the spring game. Florida State director of marketing Jason Dennard said it would be nearly impossible to change the Seminoles’ spring game model, which begins with downtown events Friday. The school even receives grant dollars from the local economic development council to fortify the weekend lineup.

“It’s a complete home run,” Dennard said. “After what we’ve built, it’d be hard to scale it down. People have come to expect this to be a big deal. It’s an investment into the future of our program.”

While Pittsburgh has struggled to draw fans for its spring games in recent years, Chryst was still cognizant of the program’s fans when he decided to cancel the spring game. So Chryst met with the marketing department at Pitt and helped introduce a football clinic for young players and offensive and defensive breakdowns of the Panthers’ schemes for the Xs-and-Os fan.

“It was different at first and people said, ‘What, no spring game?’ But when Coach Chryst announced the Field Pass, the response was overwhelming,” said Chris Ferris, associate athletic director for external relations at Pitt.

Could that union of a standard 15th practice with an added day of fan interaction be the union that seals the fate of spring games? Maybe.

“I think it is,” Blankenship said. “We’re much closer to that in our part of the country. I think the tradition of the spring game is something we’re all kind of tied to, but we’re all figuring out there’s a better way.”

IMG Southeast Regional notebook 

March, 31, 2014
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BRADENTON, Fla. -- South Florida has always been known for producing top talent and elite seven-on-seven teams but it was two teams from Jacksonville (Fla.) that battled in the finals of the IMG 7v7 Southeast Regional Championships on Sunday.

The Pro Impact team, led by LSU commit and the No. 3-ranked player in the ESPN Junior 300 Kevin Toliver II and defensive back Derwin James Jr., a Florida State commit, upset River City, which featured FSU quarterback commit De’Andre Johnson and South Carolina commit Sherrod Pittman, 23-14.


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Birmingham NFTC notebook 

March, 30, 2014
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HOOVER, Ala. -- The state of Alabama is home to four of the last five national championships, and there was no shortage of talent on hand Sunday as the Nike Football Training Camp made a stop in the Yellowhammer State. By the end of the day, seven players from four different states earned their invite to The Opening.

New offers pique Payne’s interest

The top-ranked player at the event was defensive tackle Daron Payne, a local product, ranked No. 23 overall in the ESPN 300. He didn’t make the list of players invited to The Opening, but based on the media coverage, he was still the center of attention, both on and off the field.


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South Florida is arguably the most fertile area in the country for recruiting, and college football coaches annually flock to the talent-rich area to try to land a small piece of a very large pie. The large area located south of Lake Okeechobee that includes the football hotbeds of Broward, Palm Beach and Dade counties has produced 45 ESPN 300 members in the last two recruiting cycles and almost half (22) signed with out-of-state schools.


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Getting to know Taj Griffin 

March, 27, 2014
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ROSWELL, Ga. -- When listing the most explosive prospects in the Class of 2015, it does not take long to call on Taj Griffin.

The 5-foot-10, 174-pound, versatile running back was one of the standouts at last weekend's Atlanta Nike Nike Football Training Camp and SPARQ combine, earning an invitation to the The Opening in early July.


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video Throughout this recruiting cycle, RecruitingNation will profile a number of ESPN 300 prospects in the 2015 class, including an inside look at the prospect, his recruitment, a scouting report and what college program could benefit when he ultimately makes his decision.

MIAMI -- South Florida has always been a recruiting hot bed and this year is no different. Out-of-state schools will flock to the talent-rich area to try and land some of the top prospects in the country. Prospects like ESPN Junior 300 defensive back Tarvarus McFadden and his teammate Torrance Gibson are two of the highly-ranked recruits that are getting that attention in this class.

McFadden, the No. 58-ranked player in the country, is considering the big in-state schools -- Florida, Florida State and Miami -- and handful of out-of-state schools like Ohio State, USC, LSU, Georgia, Auburn and Tennessee.


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Top position classes: OL 

February, 20, 2014
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With national signing day in the books, RecruitingNation is looking at the top position classes. For the full series, click here.

Nationally (and SEC)
Not only did Alabama put together the best offensive line class in the 2014 cycle, but it's also one of the best in recent memory. The Crimson Tide inked early enrollee and five-star offensive tackle Cameron Robinson (Monroe, La./West Monroe) and also got top-ranked junior college offensive tackle Dominick Jackson (San Mateo, Calif./College of San Mateo). On the interior, the nation's top two centers, No. 168 overall Josh Casher (Mobile, Ala./Saint Paul’s Episcopal) and No. 190 J.C. Hassenauer (Woodbury, Minn./East Ridge) signed, as did No. 3 guard Ross Pierschbacher (Cedar Falls, Iowa/Cedar Falls). A second guard in the class is three-star Montel McBride (Plant City, Fla./Plant City), who could also play nose tackle at the next level.

The Crimson Tide had the nation’s best offensive line class; here’s which schools had the best in each of the remaining power conferences:


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Top position classes: LB 

February, 17, 2014
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With national signing day in the books, RecruitingNation is looking at the top position classes. For the full series, click here.

Nationally (and SEC)
The Alabama Crimson Tide’s 2014 class fill just about every need on the board, and that includes linebacker. With designs on addressing pass rushing and the ability to play in space on the edge at outside 'backer in Nick Saban’s 3-4 scheme, Alabama signed the Nos. 1 and No. 2 outside linebackers in the country in No. 48 overall Christian Miller (Columbia, S.C./Spring Valley) and No. 52 overall Rashaan Evans (Auburn, Ala./Auburn), who is pound for pound of the best pure athletes in the 2014 cycle. The Crimson Tide added two more talented linebackers in ESPN 300’s No. 102 Shaun Dion Hamilton (Montgomery, Ala./Carver) and No. 281 Keith Holcombe (Tuscaloosa, Ala./Hillcrest). Hamilton is an MLB.

The Crimson Tide had the nation’s best linebacker class; here’s which schools had the best in each of the remaining power conferences:


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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Tuesday's offerings: The Tiger was already out of the bag, but that didn’t stop Deondre Clark from having his moment in the sun; it looks like the Malik McDowell saga is going to last quite a bit longer; and the defensive tackle position looks loaded in the Class of 2015.


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Malik McDowell to take more visits

February, 10, 2014
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When Malik McDowell announced at a news conference on signing day that he would attend Michigan State, it was great news for the Spartans. The coaching staff celebrated in East Lansing.

But, of course, McDowell's letter of intent never made it to the school. The Southfield, Mich., defensive end -- ESPN Recruiting Nation's No. 60 overall player in the Class of 2014 -- has yet to actually sign with anybody, and the saga appears to be far from over.

McDowell's father, Greg, told Rivals' Josh Hemholdt on Monday that the family plans to take unofficial visits to Florida State and Ohio State in the near future. He also said that Michigan remains in the picture.

"We plan on doing some unofficials and see if he and his mom can resolve this," Greg McDowell said. "It's possible she'll be open to Michigan State as well, so we'll have to see."

Malik McDowell wants to go to Michigan State, but his mother is against the choice. His parents have said they would like to see their son attend college out of state.

Prospects have until April 1 to sign a letter of intent with a school. McDowell is under no obligation to sign a letter of intent, however, and in fact more players of his stature should probably avoid it. Those who bind themselves to a letter of intent must sit out a year if they decide to transfer at any time after signing. The Big Ten requires that players sign a league tender in order to receive financial aid, but there are no transfer penalties until after a player's second semester, provided he does not transfer within the conference. But McDowell would need one of his parents to sign a Big Ten tender since he is under 21. The Detroit Free Press' Joe Rexrode lays out McDowell's options here.

There's clearly some family drama going on here that may take a while to resolve. Three Big Ten schools continue to hope it works out in their favor.
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: The Class of 2014 will go down as one of the wildest recruiting rides in recent memory. With so many players switching commitments and some elite prospects still left on the board, here are five things to keep an eye on heading into recruiting’s biggest day.

Does Bama have the best class ever?


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Several Big Ten recruiting targets will announce their college choices on national signing day, and perhaps none will generate more regional attention than Malik McDowell. The 6-foot-6, 260-pound defensive lineman from Southfield, Mich., rated as the nation's No. 60 overall player by ESPN Recruiting Nation, is deciding among four schools, three of which are in the Big Ten: Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State.

McDowell visited Ohio State last weekend after visiting Michigan State the previous week. His destination remains a mystery, and he'll announce his choice at 9:30 a.m. ET Wednesday.

[+] EnlargeMalik McDowell
Tom Hauck/ESPNMalik McDowell and his parents apparently have different views on where he should attend school.
While McDowell has had positive things to say about all four schools, his parents are hesitant about their son playing close to home. Some recruiting analysts have considered Michigan State the favorite to land McDowell, including ESPN's Tom Luginbill, and McDowell told Rivals.com that he's most comfortable with MSU. But McDowell's mother made it clear Monday that she would prefer her son not end up in East Lansing.

From the Detroit Free Press:
"We don't want him at MSU," Malik's mother, Joya Crowe, said Monday night, and she gave multiple reasons.

"Something happened; I don't want to put it out there what it was," she said of her son's recent official visit, "but I had a bad experience at MSU."

Asked to elaborate, she said: "It was something on my end, I don't want to get into specifics."

Crowe said she and Malik's father, Greg McDowell, also fear "too much social life" at MSU.

"I want him to get a good education," Crowe said. "Not that he can't get a good education at MSU. But he also wants to be a first-round pick after college. Nothing is guaranteed, but I don't think their defensive line coach has the background for that."

Crowe's last remark is a bit of a head-scratcher. Didn't Spartans defensive end Shilique Calhoun become a second-team All-American last year under the watch of first-year line coach Ron Burton?

As Free Press reporter Joe Rexrode wrote on Twitter, Crowe's comment about Burton reeks of negative recruiting from another McDowell suitor. Would it be enough to push McDowell away from MSU?

The bigger issue is the apparent desire of both of McDowell's parents for their son to leave the state because of the potential distractions there. Ohio State fans certainly hope it's the case. It would be a blow to the Big Ten if McDowell picks Florida State, as the Big Ten needs to keep as many of the region's elite prospects as possible.

We've seen recruits defy their parents' wishes with their college choices before. Running back Alex Collins, a 2013 recruit, wanted to attend Arkansas but his mother refused to sign his national letter of intent, wanting Collins to play for Miami. Collins eventually got his father to sign the letter, and he rushed for 1,026 as a freshman for the Razorbacks this past season.

It will be interesting to see how much influence McDowell's folks have on his selection.

As Crowe told the Free Press, "It'll be one of the hats on the table. I hope he makes the right decision."
ESPN 300 defensive lineman Malik McDowell (Southfield, Mich./Southfield) is the highest-ranked prospect in the Midwest who has yet to make his commitment. At No. 60 overall, McDowell is down to Florida State, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State.


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The pressure is on for the class of 2014. The last weekend of visits is a wrap, and signing day is just two days away. For those who are 100 percent solid with their pledges, resting easy and rehearsing the national letter of intent signature is the order of the day. For those who are still second-guessing commitments, it’s pressure-packed days and sleepless nights full of family and high school coach discussions while trying to keep the remainder of the noise surrounding a decision to a minimum.

Here are five prospects in the ESPN 300 who have had second thoughts and are on flip watch as #SigningDay quickly approaches.


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3-point stance: Notre Dame luxuries

January, 31, 2014
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1. It took Notre Dame 67 years to perform its first facelift on Notre Dame Stadium in 1996. It took 17 years for the university to announce plans for a new iteration of The House That Rockne Built. The new construction will give Notre Dame the club seating and the suites that every other major stadium has. My favorite part of the news release: Father John I. Jenkins, the university president, said that he didn’t think raising $400 million to fund the construction would be an issue. With that fan base, he’s dead right.

2. The good and bad of Twitter: the travel nightmare endured by Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman in Atlanta, when he spent 19 hours stuck on an icy interstate, is only a slight exaggeration of the road-warrior sagas that FBS recruiters go through every January. Herman used Twitter as lifeline and diary during his overnight stay. Then there’s Syracuse coach Scott Shafer, who, unaware of how serious conditions were, tweeted that Atlantans were “softnosed.” Shafer meant it as a chain-jerk, but it was a classic ready-fire-aim use of the medium. We’ve all been there.

3. Alabama has a commitment from kicker J.K. Scott of Denver Mullen High, which rings a bell for anyone who remembers Wide Right I and II. After Florida State lost to Miami in consecutive seasons, knocking itself out of the race for No. 1, Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden had enough. In Feb. 1993, he signed the best high school kicker in the nation, Scott Bentley, also from the Denver area. Less than a year later, Bentley kicked the field goal that gave Bowden the 1993 national championship.

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Craig Haubert breaks down the Seminoles' efforts to translate on-field momentum to success in recruiting.Tags: Derwin James Jr., De'Andre Johnson, Tyrek Cole, Florida State Seminoles, Jimbo Fisher, Nike's The Opening
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