BRADENTON, Fla. -- IMG Academy will undoubtedly have one of the most talented football teams in the country in 2015, including defensive end Shavar Manuel. The nation's No. 2-ranked prospect in the 2016 ESPN Junior 300 has more than 40 scholarship offers to date, including the likes of Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State and Miami (Fla.).
On Monday, the 6-foot-4, 275-pound former Tampa Blake High star provided RecruitingNation with the latest on his recruitment.
However, there are plenty of reasons for optimism and one glaring question when discussing LSU as a candidate for a New Year’s Six bowl.
For one thing, that young defense that looked so clueless at points early last season developed into the SEC’s top total defense (316.8 yards allowed per game) and ranked fifth nationally in scoring defense (17.5 ppg). For another, the Tigers return six starters and nearly every significant reserve from that defense.
The Tigers were awful in the passing game last season, ranking 116th nationally with 162.9 yards per game. Will Anthony Jennings take a massive step forward in his second season as a starter? Will talented sophomore Brandon Harris overtake him between now and the Sept. 5 opener against McNeese State? Those are the leading questions that every LSU fan will ask over the next several months.
If Cameron sorts out the quarterback mess, the Tigers have plenty of pieces in place to be dangerous on offense. Leonard Fournette is back after setting an LSU freshman record with 1,034 rushing yards last season, and he’ll have three starting offensive linemen back to open holes. The Tigers have depth and talent at receiver (led by Travin Dural and Malachi Dupre) and tight end. LSU could be on the verge of a much more productive season on offense.
It all hinges on the quarterbacks, though. If the Tigers can’t score with the likes of Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State and Texas A&M, they’re going to have difficulty contending in the SEC West, much less claiming a New Year’s Six spot.
What could go wrong: While it would be a surprise if the Tigers struggled on defense, it’s not a certainty that they will be immediately successful under Steele. He seems likely to make some changes to the scheme Chavis had in place during his six years in Baton Rouge, and the last time we saw him as a defensive coordinator, his Clemson defense was the weak link on an ACC championship club.
But that seems to be a less likely problem area than the offense. The ESPN Stats & Information group ranks the Tigers third in its Preseason Football Power Index based upon LSU’s perceived strength and roster stability. That statistical model has more faith in Les Miles’ club than the pundits who released preseason rankings, with most ranking the Tigers somewhere between No. 9 and No. 19. Our Mark Schlabach was in the middle of that range, placing LSU 16th in his Way-Too-Early Top 25.
If Jennings or Harris fail to make huge strides this fall, a ranking in the mid-teens might be as good as the Tigers can do in 2015.
Here are five from the ACC, both positive and negative.
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
The Ultimate ESPN 300 is RecruitingNation's ranking of the best prospects since we began evaluating high school athletes in 2006. That means there are many names on the list known to college football and recruiting fans since coming out of high school. The list can also provide glimpses of which states have been top producers since 2006 and which teams have done the best and worst jobs of evaluating prospects and producing players.
Here are 15 things to know about the Ultimate ESPN 300:
15. Some classes turn out better than others, and that is true of the 2009 class. There are 45 players from the class in the Ultimate ESPN 300, the most of any class, including 15 that became first-round NFL draft selections. That includes four who signed with Alabama: Trent Richardson, Dre Kirkpatrick, D.J. Fluker and Chance Warmack.
14. Bob Stoops recruited and coached 13 players on the list. Of the 13, four were first-round NFL draft selections led by Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and 2008 Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford. Nine of the 13 were also members of the Sooners team that lost to Florida for the 2009 BCS National Championship.
13. The teams that played for the 2012 BCS National Championship, Alabama and LSU, were supremely talented. There are 22 players from those rosters in the Ultimate ESPN 300, including 14 for the Crimson Tide.
12. Quite possibly the most important part of the recruiting process for coaches is keeping the best at home. Well, only 137 of the Ultimate ESPN 300 stayed in state to play college football. One important aspect of this stat is that not every player on the list had the option to stay in state.
11. The teams from the 2014 BCS title game are well represented on the list. Twenty-three players from Florida State and Auburn make the list, with the Seminoles accounting for 18.
10. NCAA FBS single-game-rushing record holder Samaje Perine enters the list after a freshman season of 1,713 yards and 21 touchdowns for the Oklahoma Sooners. His 427 yards against Kansas in 2014 broke the record a week after Melvin Gordon had set a new mark.
9. The 2011 class is special. That class has 41 players in the Ultimate ESPN 300, including 12 first-round NFL draft picks with more possible, including Marcus Mariota, La'El Collins and Shane Ray. The Sunshine State led the way in the 2011 class with first-round picks: Sammy Watkins, Teddy Bridgewater, Ryan Shazier, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Kelvin Benjamin with more possible to be added to the list.
8. As expected, the state of Florida leads the way with 52 players on the list. Texas is second with 35, and California third with 28. Georgia follows with 18. Only 23 of the 52 from the Sunshine State stayed in state for college, but 19 of those players left college with national championship rings.
7. There are 15 players who signed with USC on the list, including Jarvis Jones, who would later transfer to Georgia. That's the most from a school on the list that hasn’t won a national championship since 2006. Notre Dame is second on that list with 12.
6. There are six quarterbacks from the state of Texas in the Ultimate ESPN 300, and only one was recruited heavily and offered early by the University of Texas: Matthew Stafford. The five who weren’t offered or recruited as quarterbacks by the Longhorns: Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Johnny Manziel, Ryan Mallett and J.T. Barrett.
5. There are 17 players on the list recruited by Urban Meyer. The impressive list includes Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin, along with Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott and J.T. Barrett from 2015 national champion Ohio State.
4. St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is the high school with the most players on the list with six. That includes NFL running backs Gionvani Bernard and James White, who were members of the same backfield.
3. Nick Saban has recruited 25 players to Alabama on the prestigious list. Of those 25, 11 have been first-round NFL draft selections, with that number to hit 13 in a couple of months with Amari Cooper and Landon Collins projected to be 2015 first-rounders.
2. South Florida's Dade and Broward counties are the two most talented counties in the country that neighbor each other. To illustrate that fact, 22 members of the Ultimate ESPN 300 are from the otherworldly talented counties, including five NFL first-round draft picks, with that number expected to jump to seven or eight in April. Add in Palm Beach County, which neighbors Broward, and that number jumps to 29 of the 300, including seven first-round picks, with that number sure to hit double digits in two months. If one is a Miami (Fla.) fan, time to turn away, as only four of the 22 from Dade and Broward counties played for the Hurricanes.
1. How do you win three national championships in six years? Jimmys and Joes are where it must begin, and Alabama has the most of any school on the list with 27. More than half of the 27 have been or will be first-round draft selections after this year's draft. Both Florida and Florida State have 18 apiece on the list.
Here is the latest on several Sunshine State prospects.
Eli Stove, WR
ESPN Junior 300 ranking: No. 80
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
Some of these coaches will be entrusted with rebuilding efforts at their new locations, while the more fortunate members of the group inherit situations that are relatively stable. But who is in the best position to experience immediate success in his new SEC job?
There are a few directions you could go and make a reasonable argument:
- Because of the headway Butch Jones' staff has made on the recruiting trail and the young talent on hand -- names like Josh Dobbs, Marquez North and Jalen Hurd -- Tennessee's offense seems to be on the rise. Some college football writers are even tossing out the Volunteers as darkhorse contenders to make the College Football Playoff this season. Former Michigan assistant Mike DeBord is poised to make some noise as the Volunteers' offensive coordinator over the next couple of years.[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Hilary ScheinukKevin Steele replaces John Chavis as LSU's defensive coordinator.
- Brian Schottenheimer has some key offensive skill talent to replace as Mike Bobo's successor at Georgia -- that Todd Gurley guy was pretty good -- plus a quarterback competition to oversee, but the Bulldogs will keep rolling on offense. They still have Nick Chubb and the core of a solid offensive line returning along with adequate talent at the skill positions.
- With nearly everyone back on offense, Dan Enos steps into a promising situation at Arkansas. Especially since the lifeblood of the Razorbacks' offense -- the running game -- is in great shape thanks to the return of ballcarriers Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins and most of a stout offensive line. This might never be an explosive offense while Bret Bielema is head coach, but it will be difficult for opposing defenses to prevent the Hogs from grinding their way up and down the field.
- Geoff Collins was another tempting pick here. He inherits a Florida defense that under D.J. Durkin and Will Muschamp stood among the SEC's best. The Gators ranked in the top 20 nationally in total defense and scoring defense in 2014, and they return a talented nucleus of players. It doesn't hurt that, despite a recruiting class that didn't measure up to Florida's usual high standards, the Sunshine State is always loaded with premium talent that should keep the Gators among the SEC's top defenses once the new staff digs into its recruiting ground.
Those are all reasonable options, but LSU's Kevin Steele seems like the most obvious choice.
First of all, LSU under John Chavis boasted the SEC's top total defense (ranking ninth nationally, plus the No. 5 scoring defense, which trailed only Ole Miss in the SEC) in 2014. Second, Steele takes over a unit with no glaring holes on the roster. The Tigers return six starters from their bowl game against Notre Dame and most of the key reserves.
That doesn't mean LSU is without question marks. The Tigers lost both starting defensive ends, and they weren't particularly successful at generating sacks even with Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco on the roster. They also must sort out some roles in the secondary and adapt to the schematic adjustments Steele seems likely to make.
There are also questions about Steele himself. The veteran assistant has been a defensive coordinator twice -- he was Alabama's DC in 2007 and served in the same capacity at Clemson from 2009-11. Steele got mixed reviews at Clemson, and his tenure there ended with an embarrassing bowl flop against West Virginia.
Nonetheless, he's a coach who has been hired by multiple current and future Hall of Famers -- Johnny Majors, Tom Osborne, Bobby Bowden, Nick Saban and now Les Miles -- and he's taking over a defense that has been one of the SEC's best for most of Miles' decade on the bayou.
It would be a big surprise if the Tigers failed to remain among the conference's feistiest defenses in its first fall under Steele's leadership. So while many of the SEC's 14 new coordinators inherited good situations, LSU's new defensive coordinator looks like the one who is in the best position to experience immediate success.
Here are a few guesses as to who those players will be:
Edward Aschoff: DT Jabari Zuniga, Florida
Talk about flying way under the radar. Most Florida fans probably don’t even know who this kid is, but Zuniga has a chance to help the Gators up front this fall, and Florida’s staff was very excited about flipping him from NC State. Just take a look at his film and you can’t help but be impressed. He’s incredibly quick off the line, has great burst in the backfield and showcases a lot of power. He was reclassified from the 2016 class to 2015, which contributed to his low ranking (No. 45 DT), but he has the potential to be a real steal for the Gators, who need help along the defensive line.
David Ching: RB David Ducre, LSU
LSU’s coaches think they got a steal in running back David Ducre. He didn’t get the national attention that fellow backfield signees Derrius Guice and Nick Brossette did – probably because he’s a bit of a tweener. But Ducre is a perfect fit at LSU, and he fills an immediate need since the Tigers don’t currently have a scholarship fullback on the roster. Ducre is a power back who is fast enough to play tailback, but expect to see him lining up in front of Leonard Fournette, Darrel Williams and his two fellow 2015 signees more often. Since he’s an early enrollee, he seems likely to make an immediate impact.
Sam Khan Jr.: OL Zach Rogers, Arkansas
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema knows his offensive linemen well and that's why I think four-star guard Zach Rogers has a really bright future in Fayetteville. Rogers, though not in the ESPN 300, is a big (6-foot-1, 318 pounds), physical, tough player who I could see mauling opponents down the road and thriving for the Hogs. If we're talking three-star prospects, I'm a huge fan of outside linebacker Richard Moore. The Texas A&M signee is undersized (6-1, 210) but turn on his highlights and it's easy to see why he had two dozen offers. He's aggressive, hits like a truck and is fast.
Chris Low: TE Austin Cantrell, Arkansas
Tight ends have always been an integral part of Bret Bielema's offense, and that's only going to be reinforced now that Dan Enos is calling the plays. Arkansas signed three H-backs/tight ends in this class, and all three are a little bit different. Of the three, Austin Cantrell of Roland, Oklahoma, is the lowest rated, but he might also be the most versatile. The 6-4, 248-pound Cantrell played tight end, running back, defensive end and linebacker in high school. Oklahoma got on him late after he had a big senior season, but Cantrell stuck to his commitment to the Hogs. The initial plan is for Cantrell to work with the Arkansas H-backs, but he's the kind of football player who could make an impact a couple of different places.
Greg Ostendorf: TE Chandler Cox, Auburn
When Jay Prosch graduated a year ago, it left a huge void at Auburn’s H-back position. He wasn’t always the sexiest player, but he got the job done and the running game was better for it. There’s a reason Prosch beat out the longtime starter in his first training camp with the Houston Texans. The coaches believe Chandler Cox can be that same type of player. He needs to bulk up some, but he might already be a better pass-catcher than Prosch. The three-star prospect enrolled early at Auburn, giving him an even better shot at early playing time.
Alex Scarborough: QB Kyle Shurmur, Vanderbilt
Signing day came and went without much being said about Vanderbilt, and judging by its 18 total signees and No. 44 class ranking that makes sense. But if we're looking for an under-the-radar signee, look no further than Kyle Shurmur, the Commodores' newest quarterback and most highly-rated recruit. The nation's No. 7 QB-PP has everything you look for at the position, with good height (6-4), ideal weight (220 pounds) and a strong throwing arm. And unlike many freshmen quarterbacks in the SEC, he doesn't have much competition in front of him. Considering the fact that six players took snaps at QB for Vanderbilt last season, combining for 13 touchdowns and 19 interceptions, it's not a stretch to imagine Shurmur starting from Day 1.
Derek Tyson: LB Jordan Griffin, Vanderbilt
Defensive end Byron Cowart, the No. 1-ranked player in the country, might get all the attention at Seffner (Florida) Armwood High School. But it’s his teammate, Jordan Griffin, that might have a bigger impact next season. The three-star linebacker, who flipped his commitment from Wisconsin to Vanderbilt on signing day, is a tackling machine. Having seen Griffin play on multiple occasions I feel confident in saying he will make an impact at Vanderbilt early in his career. In the state championship game against nationally ranked Miami Central, Griffin totaled 19 tackles, four for loss, and two forced fumbles.
2. Alabama hasn't exactly been hurting for running back help over the past few years. Actually, ever since Nick Saban took over in 2007, running the ball has been the Crimson Tide's staple. But with the Tide losing T.J. Yeldon to the NFL, Altee Tenpenny transferring and Tyren Jones being suspended, Alabama finds itself a little thin at the running back position. With that said, Saban is prepared, and now freshman Bo Scarbrough has a chance to see a bigger role immediately. He's already on campus, and don't think for a second that Saban won't give him every chance to earn his keep this spring.
3. The horrific details of the sexual assault case involving four former Vanderbilt football players cast an ugly light on the sport of college football. It was a nightmare of a situation, and SI.com's Jessica Luther took a very complex look at the incident that left two former players convicted of multiple counts of sexual battery and aggravated rape and a community reeling.
Around the SEC
- Auburn cornerback Kalvaraz Bessent has decided to leave the Tigers' football program after just one season.
- Georgia wide receivers coach Tony Ball has confirmed that he's a candidate for LSU's opening at the same position.
- The Sporting News released its list of the top 50 players returning in 2015, and yes, the SEC is well represented.
Too soon, Jon. Too soon ...
#TDSBreakingNews Job openings jump to the highest since 2001. Especially in late night cable news satire hosting.— The Daily Show (@TheDailyShow) February 11, 2015
He predicted the Cardinals would take LSU cornerback Jalen Collins with the 24th overall choice in the first round.
I think there are more pressing needs for the Cardinals to address in the first round than a cornerback. Last season, the Cardinals had two Pro Bowlers in Antonio Cromartie and Patrick Peterson on the edges, and Jerraud Powers at nickel corner. If Cromartie doesn't re-sign, Powers would be the likely candidate to take his spot unless the Cardinals find a veteran corner in free agency.
But drafting a corner in the first round doesn’t make sense for the Cardinals. They need an athletic inside linebacker and pass-rusher or maybe even a running back if the right prospect falls to them, more than they need to spend the money on a corner.
As Kiper described Collins, who had three interceptions to complement 90 tackles and 25 pass break ups in three years at LSU, he’s still a “work in progress” which essentially means he won’t be ready to start as a rookie.
Collins, who would be joining fellow LSU Tigers Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu if Kiper were to be correct, may be a better fit for a team later in the first round.
When looking at the top prospects in the Ultimate ESPN 300, it became clear that a top-10 class doesn't guarantee success on the field. Consistently signing top-rated classes, though, can increase the chances for consistent success.
Below is a look at the 10 programs that assembled the "ultimate" classes from 2006 to 2014. These teams have not only been able to ink highly rated classes, but have also consistently developed top players while winning big. During this span these programs have accounted for eight top-rated classes and six BCS championships, as well as all four participants of the first College Football Playoff.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
Alabama has signed seven straight top-three recruiting classes and 2014 marked its third straight top-ranked class. That success on the recruiting trail has helped produce consistent success on the field over this span, including three BCS titles and a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff. The Crimson Tide's recruiting haul during this period included a Heisman Trophy winner in RB Mark Ingram as well as three other finalists in QB AJ McCarron and RB Trent Richardson, who signed in 2009, and most recently WR Amari Cooper from the 2012 class. Alabama's recruiting success also resulted in numerous All-Americans and All-SEC players. While the Tide have consistently recruited well under Nick Saban, their 2008 and 2009 classes were the most impactful. The 2008 class included Ingram, WR Julio Jones and several key defensive players like Marcel Dareus and Dont'a Hightower. McCarron, Richardson, Dre Kirkpatrick and outstanding OLs Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker were members of the 2009 class. The 2014 class delivered No. 1 OT Cameron Robinson, who became the first true freshman to start at left tackle for Alabama since Andre Smith in 2006.
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
Top Position Battles Heading In To Spring
TBD Bowling Green Tennessee TBD Wisconsin Alabama TBD UTEP Arkansas TBD Louisville Auburn TBD New Mexico State Florida TBD Louisiana-Monroe Georgia TBD Louisiana-Lafayette Kentucky TBD McNeese State LSU TBD Southeast Missouri State Missouri TBD Tennessee-Martin Ole Miss TBD Mississippi State Southern Miss TBD Arizona State Texas A&M TBD Western Kentucky Vanderbilt