Michigan Wolverines: Alabama Crimson Tide

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REDONDO BEACH, Calif. -- Thirty athletes from the West region in the ESPN Junior 300 met at Redondo Union (Calif.) High School on Sunday morning for the first Nike Football Training Camp of the spring. With hundreds of recruits in attendance, it wasn't surprising that many of the top prospects coming into the event stood out.


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The nation’s top-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the Class of 2015 has a top 10.

ESPN Junior 300 quarterback Jarrett Stidham (Stephenville, Texas/Stephenville) announced his early list via Twitter and confirmed the list via phone. Stidham’s list includes Texas A&M, Auburn, Alabama, Oregon, Michigan, Ohio State, Tennessee and Big 12 schools Baylor, Oklahoma and Texas Tech.

Ranked No. 24 in the ESPN Junior 300 and the No. 3 player in the state of Texas, Stidham said all 10 of the schools have a lot in common, but he is hoping to make spring visits to separate them.


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Ultimate ESPN 300: Future members 

January, 29, 2014
Jan 29
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It’s never too early to look ahead to next year. Here are five current prospects in the 2014 class we feel could make their mark in future editions of the Ultimate ESPN 300.

RB Leonard Fournette (LSU): It’s not just based on the fact that he’s the top-rated player in the ESPN 300, but rather the perfect blend of talent, need and fit that awaits him at LSU. Fournette is an ideal downhill back for LSU's system. He is physically ready to carry the load and should have an immediate chance to make an impression with the Tigers' lack of depth in the backfield.


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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: Round one of the new Charlie Strong-Kevin Sumlin recruiting rivalry goes to Texas A&M, as the Aggies were able to flip Zaycoven Henderson in what will go down as one of the wildest recruiting stories of the season; Bobby Petrino's hiring at Louisville received mixed reviews from coaches and recruits; and what type of recruiter is Michigan getting with new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier?

Aggies win first battle against Strong
College football’s second season is known for plenty of twists and turns, but few will match the bumpy ride that four-star defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson (Longview, Texas/Longview) gave Texas and Texas A&M fans Wednesday. Henderson, the No. 36 defensive tackle, decommitted from Texas, then recommitted to the Longhorns, only to flip to Texas A&M in less than a 24-hour span. Henderson’s decision came in the wake of coaching changes at Texas and the Horns chances slipped majorly when defensive line coach Bo Davis accepted a position at USC. It also marks the first victory for A&M coach Kevin Sumlin over new Texas coach Charlie Strong. Henderson is an early enrollee that was scheduled to start classes in Austin next Monday, but now he’ll be attending classes in College Station. Henderson originally committed to TCU last February but decommitted in September. On Dec. 9, Henderson gave Texas his verbal pledge during a ceremony at his school.

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When reports surfaced that Michigan will hire Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, one of the natural reactions for both Alabama and Michigan fans was to wonder how it would impact Crimson Tide 2015 quarterback commit Ricky Town (Ventura, Calif./St. Bonaventure).

The No. 22 overall prospect in the ESPN Junior 300 and No. 2 quarterback in the 2015 class has been committed to Alabama since August.


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If a program runs a high-concept scheme on defense, cornerback can be the most difficult position to make the leap from high school to college, aside from quarterback of course. Rarely do prospects face a player across from him who is bigger, faster or quicker in high school and they just don’t get challenged very often, which is why it can be very difficult to project the success of cornerbacks in college. Also, many players are not devoted to playing corner fulltime and must become acclimated through reps and experience to maximize their ceiling for production. Here are our top five cornerbacks and a comparable productive player for each at the collegiate level.


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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s Early Offering is coming to you from the Under Armour Combine in St. Petersburg, Fla. Here’s a look at who stood out among the 150-plus competitors.

Campbell steals the show
George Campbell (Tarpon Springs, Fla./East Lake) showed why he is ranked as the No. 2 player in the ESPN Junior 300. The 6-foot-4, 185-pound Campbell tested off the charts with a 4.36-second time in the 40-yard dash and a 4.06 shuttle. He then backed it up with a strong performance in the one-on-one and seven-on-seven portion of the combine. Defensive backs lined up to face him and, in most cases, he burned them with either his speed or his ability to go up get the ball at its highest point. “I felt good about what I did today,” Campbell said. “I wanted to test myself against the best-of-the-best.” Consider the test passed. On the recruiting front, Campbell recently backed away from his commitment to Michigan and said at Wednesday’s registration he’s slowing down the process.

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Three days of practice are now in the books and overall execution was sharper as the players begin to move into final preparations for the Under Armour All-America Game on Thursday. The productivity of the players picked up as did the speed of the play, and they’re continuing to think less and display their natural ability more. It was a physical day, with the pads popping and some big hits throughout the practice. Here are some of the highlights.

Top performers


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As expected, Day 2 at the Under Armour All-America practices were smoother, more concise and much more productive. The players are now starting to think less and play more. Natural ability is starting to come to the forefront, which allows for them to be more productive. There have been fewer dropped passes, fewer misses by the QBs and the offensive lines are starting to jell quicker than expected. Perhaps the most impressive thing about this group is there have not been any true letdowns. They have stepped up and been as advertised almost top to bottom for both squads. Let’s hit the highlights of the day:

Top performers

WR Cameron Sims (Monroe, La./Ouachita Parish): Sims might not wow anyone with his 40-yard dash time, but it may not matter. Sims is so similar to Mike Evans at Texas A&M. He just makes plays. He has extremely long arms and is outstanding when in contested matchups. The ball will look like it is uncatchable and then next thing you know he jumps out of nowhere, extends and makes a play and the defender is left scratching his head. When it comes down to it, the QBs for Team Highlight can trust that if they need to throw it up, Sims will make a play. The most basic thing about the position is catching the football and Sims has no problem doing that.


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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- One thing is for sure for all the 2014 Under Armour All-Americans: This isn’t high school anymore. Day 1 is about gauging the competition. Some guys dive right in and some test the waters with their big toe, but by the end of the first day of practice, all those in attendance have a pretty good idea of where they stand and what they need to do to compete and get better.

Given that it is Day 1, the playbook is introduced (Team Nitro is going no huddle with wrist bands and limited plays), and there can be sloppy moments of indecision and uncertainty. With each rep, most, if not all, prospects began to get a better feel for what is expected. Most importantly, the center-quarterback exchanges were very good for the most part, which is generally the biggest worry. Upon completion of the first practice, here are some observations and things to look for over the week:

Top Performers


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Big Ten Friday mailblog

December, 13, 2013
12/13/13
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Sadly, there's no Big Ten football this weekend for the first time since August. I'll be counting the minutes until bowl season.

Don't forget to follow us on Twitter.

To the inbox ...

Matthew from Minneapolis writes: Hey Adam, I can't help but feeling you've been dodging my question about "national brand teams" in Michigan/Penn State. What qualitative or quantitative data do you have to substantiate these claims? You recently wrote "...what they're used to seeing, and that's Michigan/Penn State [being good]..." really? When was the last time either of these teams were even remotely decent?

Adam Rittenberg: Matthew, I'm not sure how old you are. If you're under 30, the Michigan and PSU brands might not resonate for you as much as Wisconsin's, MSU's and Iowa's. But it's different for those who remember Michigan's national title in 1997 and five Big Ten championships between 1997-2004, not to mention the program's long-term history. The same holds true for those who remember Penn State's national titles in the 1980s or the great teams in 1994, 2005 and 2008.

You want data that validates Michigan and Penn State as big brands? Look at the money they bring in. They're always included in Forbes' list of most valuable college football teams. They have huge stadiums, massive alumni/fan bases and plenty of NFL alumni. I'm not arguing that Michigan and, to a lesser extent because of the circumstances, Penn State are underachieving. I'm actually underscoring that in Michigan's case. But they're still national brands because of what they've done over time.


Ron from Minneapolis writes: Hi, Adam. I think the Gophers got the shaft this year for their bowl game. Gophers fans don't travel well because they end up in bad bowl games. I would bet anything that had they been selected to the Gator Bowl, the fan base would be very good. What I worry about is, even if they would go 9-3 or 10-2 next year, they will still get passed over to a good bowl because of fan travel? It's hard to recruit and become a contender when people don't even watch a lower bowl game like this. As fans, how do we get the word out to the bowl committees so this doesn't keep happening?

Adam Rittenberg: Ron, the good news for you and your fellow Gophers fans is that the Big Ten, beginning in 2014, will take over the bowl selection process rather than put it solely in the hands of bowl officials. Bowls and teams will be assigned to tiers, and the league will work to avoid repeat destinations or repeat opponents for teams. "We're going to really want to have different teams in different bowls," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said in announcing the new bowl lineup in June. "... You'll see a real focus on getting diversity and freshness."

All that said, it's important for Minnesota fans to show up at this year's Texas Bowl, support a good team and begin to change the perception about how well they travel. Quite frankly, you're overestimating the gap between the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl and the Texas Bowl. The Gator Bowl has some more tradition, but I'd argue the Texas Bowl is in better location with a better time slot, away from the New Year's Day gridlock. Bowl committees don't care about head-to-head results or fans whining about being passed over. You probably won't have this problem in the future, but you still should go and support your team if possible.


Todd from Peoria, Ill., writes: How did Ohio State end up playing Clemson and Alabama playing Oklahoma? Given how close both came to the title game, wouldn't that be a better match-up than either got this year? It would prove how the (true) best SEC team this year compares to the best available B1G team and whether OSU had any business thinking of playing for the crystal football. Also, what do you think of the apparent decision by Tim Beckman to keep DC Tim Banks despite two years of dismal defense by my beloved Illini?

Adam Rittenberg: Todd, it has more to do with the current relationships between BCS bowls and certain leagues. The ACC's tie to the Discover Orange Bowl led the bowl to replace Florida State with Clemson. The same held true with the SEC and the Allstate Sugar Bowl, which replaced Auburn with Alabama. Ohio State-Alabama would have been great, though I was hoping the Sugar would pick Oregon to face Bama, a matchup we've wanted for years. But because of the game's upcoming Big 12 tie-in (Champions Bowl), it went with Oklahoma, and Alabama-Oklahoma looks like a mismatch.

As for Illinois, I'm a little surprised Beckman will keep his entire defensive staff intact. He's entering a make-or-break season, and he wants to sink or swim with the coaches he hired. He probably doesn't want another year of significant staff turnover. But the defense must get a lot better.


Tony from Austin, Texas, writes: Hey Adam, what are the chances of Taylor Martinez playing in the NFL? Is it likely he has a future as an NFL quarterback or is he best changing positions (see Denard Robinson)?

Adam Rittenberg: Tony, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini told me before the season that he thinks Martinez can play quarterback in the NFL. Pelini knows the NFL, but I'd be surprised if Martinez is taking snaps in the pros next year. His mechanics are improved from his sophomore year but remain far from textbook, which is the standard in the NFL. I don't see enough arm strength, either. Martinez certainly has skills that translate to the next level, namely his speed, so I see him moving to another position.


Todd from Louisville writes: Adam, your comments in two different posts appear to be almost directly opposed to me. Should Iowa fans demand and expect more than an 8-4 record or be realistic/objective about being ambitious and excited for the future? Do you intend to appear combative with these fans no matter what position they espouse?

Adam Rittenberg: Todd, I think my Iowa comment was misinterpreted, and that's my fault. Iowa fans obviously should be excited about their team's four-win improvement this season. My comment was that in general, an 8-4 record seems to please more fan bases in the Big Ten then it would in the SEC. I don't think enough Big Ten fan bases demand excellence from their programs. That's not a shot at Iowa fans, who were understandably disappointed in 2012. But now the bar must be raised for 2014. Iowa has a real chance to win the West division, and anything less should be considered a disappointment. Kirk Ferentz makes big money and should be held to a higher standard than 8-4. That's more than fair.

There are many reasons why the Big Ten has slipped a bit nationally in football. But I wonder if enough teams in this league take a championship-or-bust approach to seasons, and whether that's contributing to the mediocrity.


Sam from Detroit writes: Adam, if things go how they usually go with Nick Saban and he decides to leave for Texas, do you think Mark Dantonio would be a candidate for the Alabama job? He has to be one of the more desirable coaches out there right now, and Alabama is obviously one of the better jobs. I seem to remember Dantonio being in the middle of the pack as far as compensation for B1G coaches and while I'm sure he'll get a bump this year, it won't be an SEC-esque bump. Do you think he'd leave for a job like Alabama?

Adam Rittenberg: I don't think so, but Michigan State needs to step up and provide Dantonio and his assistants substantial raises. Dantonio knows he's in a great situation at MSU. He has a great boss in Mark Hollis, and his family is happy there. His only tie to the SEC is the fact he played at South Carolina. Dantonio definitely has some leverage if other schools begin courting him, but I'd be a bit surprised if he leaves. He's not a guy completely driven by money, and he knows he can compete for the College Football Playoff at MSU.

Week 14: Lucky? Ask Ohio State, Auburn

December, 3, 2013
12/03/13
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Michael BennettGregory Shamus/Getty ImagesOhio State players celebrate stopping Michigan's fourth-quarter two-point conversion attempt.
For four months, ESPN The Magazine will follow the march to the Vizio BCS National Championship, moment by moment, culminating in our “Story of the Season” double issue Dec. 27. Every Tuesday, Mag senior writer Ryan McGee will pick the previous week’s biggest moments and tell you why they’ll have the most impact on potential BCS title matchups. If you disagree, send a tweet to @ESPNMag and tell us why your moment matters more, using the hashtag #StoryoftheSeason. Who knows? Your moment (and tweet) might just end up in our issue.

"We play the game to win ..."

Brady Hoke's vocal cords sounded even more tired than usual as the Michigan coach stood at the podium on Saturday afternoon, moments after losing to archrival Ohio State 42-41. His answer was a response to the first question he faced -- and the one he'll keep hearing as his Wolverines trudge through their mid-tier bowl and into a cold Ann Arbor winter.

Going for two instead of kicking the PAT and likely heading to overtime? At home? In the Big House? With your offense performing at a season-best clip? With a chance to shoot down the Buckeyes' chances at a BCS title?

That's the scenario Hoke had presented to his seniors on the Michigan Stadium sideline. He'd left it up to them, though he was quick to absorb all the criticism after the final outcome. They wanted to go for it. So did he. Besides, they had the go-to, two-point play already dialed up. Always did.

From the moment quarterback Devin Gardner stepped into the shotgun position, the play -- like so many others during his amazing 451-yard passing and five-touchdown day -- had looked perfect. In reality, it looked too perfect. On both sides of the football.

Michigan initially lined up with two receivers stacked on the right side, led by 6-foot-5 Devin Funchess, who had just hauled in the touchdown pass that set up the situation. On the left side was the sneaky Wes Welker-like possession artist, 5-10 Drew Dileo. But before the snap, Dileo went into motion and jogged over to take his place behind Funchess and Jeremy Gallon, who already had 175 yards receiving on the day.

The moment Dileo took his position, Ohio State corner Tyvis Powell had to catch himself. He didn't want to reveal what had just popped into his mind, like some sort of heavenly transmission from Woody Hayes ... or at the very least a current OSU position coach.

"It's all thanks to Coach Coombs," said Powell, referring to the Buckeyes' demonstrative secondary coach, Kerry Coombs. Head coach Urban Meyer had let Michigan get set for the two-point try and called a timeout to discuss what the coaches had just seen. Coombs approached Powell, a redshirt freshman, and told him that there was no doubt the Wolverines would run one of two plays. It would either be a speed option, which had already led to a pair of Michigan touchdowns. Or the play would come out of a triple stack ... with Dileo, Powell's man, hiding in the third slot ... as the primary receiver ... running something short ... likely a pivot ... at the goal line ...

"It all started happening just like we'd seen on film and how the coaches said it would," recalled Powell, still sounding a little stunned by it all. But he didn't believe that's how the actual play would go down. It was too obvious, right? Wrong.

Even though Ohio State had four defensive backs guarding three receivers, it was a designed mismatch by Michigan. At the snap, Funchess made contact with Powell and was supposed to either screen him out or draw him into the back of the end zone to help the waiting safety. But Powell didn't bite. His eyes never left Gardner, whose eyes never left Dileo. Funchess had a size mismatch in the back of the end zone, and if Gallon had run a true out instead of a halfhearted block attempt on OSU corner Doran Grant, he would've had room to work on the outside half of the end zone.

But Gardner fired the ball into unexpected double coverage, where Powell stepped in at the goal line and made the interception. (Had he not, Grant was also waiting in front of Dileo, having slipped Gallon's shove.)

"He really threw the ball," said Powell, admitting he was "shocked" to see it come his way. "That's their bread-and-butter play on two-point conversions. All week that's what we practiced."

Michigan, too.

A couple of hours later, Powell was still gripping the Michigan football in his arms on the team bus. He was still grinning. But now he was watching Alabama play at Auburn on the bus TV. Like the game he'd just played in, this one seemed destined for overtime.

"There was a shot ... we had the wind behind us ..."

If Hoke's voice was hoarse, then Nick Saban's was like the inside of a gravel truck. Like Hoke, the Alabama coach had rolled the dice. Unlike Hoke, Saban's situation -- a 57-yard field goal with no time remaining -- seemed risk-free. Miss and go to overtime.

But what happened next -- Chris Davis' impromptu 109-yard kick return for the game-winning touchdown -- has sparked college football conversations in every corner of America, from stuffed-shirt academia to Barbara Walters and Whoopi Goldberg on Monday morning's "The View."

It should be no surprise that perfection-obsessed Saban routinely addresses that very situation in practice, despite the fact that Saturday night's Miracle on the Plains was, according to the NCAA, only the fourth time a game has ended on a similar play. It should also be no surprise that Saban reminded his team as they took the field (like the Michigan two-pointer, after a timeout) to keep an eye on Davis, who was lining up in the end zone, more than half a field away from the line of scrimmage.

Of course, Auburn practices that play, too. No matter how rare it might be. That was made obvious by the beautiful wall of blockers that lined the left sideline to plow the road for Davis. At least three pancake blocks took place in Davis' line of sight. But while all that was going on, we all should have been paying more attention to the cornerback's left foot, which came within inches of stepping over the line and out of bounds at the 35 ... the 40 ... the 45 ... and pretty much every yard in between.

It was so close that a group of bitter Tide fans posted what they believe is photographic evidence that he did step out of bounds, along with a petition to have overtime played.

"It was closer than I thought," admitted Davis, who carried his game-winning football all the way home, just like Powell. "But I knew I was in."

Davis' white-line ballet was reminiscent of so many other moments in so many games this season that came down to inches. (Remember that missed Missouri field goal against South Carolina in double-OT? How much more interesting would the SEC title game be had it gone the other way?)

But as Lou Holtz reminds us each weekend on "College Football Final," every team that wins a national championship has to have one game in which they're lucky. Auburn now has two. Ohio State, on the other hand, hasn't needed much this year, at least not until Michigan.

Still, for these two teams to meet in Pasadena, Calif., in January, it will require ... lots more luck. They'll need Duke (perhaps second only to Auburn when it comes to 2013's out-of-nowhere teams) to work some magic in Charlotte, N.C., against Florida State. And they'll both need to make sure they aren't on the wrong side of luck in their respective conference title games.

But regardless of what happens this weekend, Tyvis Powell and Chris Davis will never have to buy another lunch in their home states. And Powell will always have his football. Davis is still searching for his.

He dropped it after crossing the goal line during the celebration. The last time anyone saw it, it was at the feet of fellow defensive back Robenson Therezie, one of Davis' escorts into the end zone, who stood over it signaling for a touchdown as the crowd started flooding the field. At one point it was thought that it had been retrieved and Davis was even handed a football that was believed to be the one. But it was not.

A crystal football in January would be a nice substitute.

3-point stance: Bama's bowl outlook

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
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1. No. 4 Alabama becomes the prettiest debutante at the BCS at-large ball, which could include No. 9 Baylor, No. 14 Northern Illinois and either No. 12 Oregon or No. 13 Clemson. But who takes the Crimson Tide? Would the Orange Bowl risk asking Alabama fans who had their hopes set on the BCS title game to come to Miami for a second straight year? Would the Rose Bowl, picking second, take the Crimson Tide over an 11-2 Michigan State team that’s eligible (top 14) for Pasadena? Probably not. But if the Spartans aren’t eligible, Alabama may play in its first Rose Bowl since 1946.

2. Michigan coach Brady Hoke and Alabama coach Nick Saban both made end-game decisions Saturday that blew up on them. Hoke risked the game on a two-point play, and it’s good to keep in mind the saying that the longer the game, the greater the advantage to the better team. Saban had much greater percentages in his favor. Being struck by lightning, no matter how great the odds, hurts just as much.

3. Syracuse’s last-second victory over Boston College made the Orange (6-6) the 11th ACC team to qualify for a bowl game, which makes the week to come very interesting. One of those 11 teams is Maryland (7-5), which is leaving for the Big Ten next summer. If a team is going to be left out, human nature points to the Terrapins. But ACC associate commissioner Mike Finn says it won’t happen that way. “They are ours until July 1. We are trying to take care of them,” Finn said. “It wouldn’t be fair to their student-athletes.”

Kickoff Live

November, 27, 2013
11/27/13
9:49
AM ET
To watch on your smart phone click here

SEC reporter Edward Aschoff, Big Ten reporter Austin Ward and Pac-12 reporter Kevin Gemmell join host Chantel Jennings to discuss the biggest and most storied rivalries taking place this weekend.


Programs off to fast start in 2015 

November, 19, 2013
11/19/13
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While recruiting is undoubtedly a marathon and not a sprint, that doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with a good start.

The key for any program is being able to sustain and finish strong, and only time will tell which programs will be able to do that, but what we do know is which teams are off to a fast start in the Class of 2015. Below are the five programs that are leading the pack early for 2015, as well as a few other notable fast starters:


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