Midyear signings: Penn State

January, 16, 2014
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According to ESPN's Tom VanHaaren, the following players have enrolled at Penn State:

De'Andre Thompkins, ATH (Swansboro, N.C./Swansboro)
HT: 5-11; WT: 176
Positional Rank: No. 8 ATH
Stars: 4
ESPN 300: No. 73
Under Armour All-American

Michael O'Connor, QB-PP (Bradenton, Fla./IMG)
HT: 6-5; WT: 223
Positional Rank: No. 6 QB-PP
Stars: 4
ESPN 300: No. 132
Under Armour All-American

Antoine White, DT (Millville, N.J./Millville)
HT: 6-3; WT: 265
Positional Rank: No. 80 DT
Stars: 3

Chasz Wright, OT (Woodbridge, Va./Milford Academy)
HT: 6-7; WT: 295
Positional Rank: N/A (post-grad)
Stars: 3

ESPN JC 50 defensive tackle Tarow Barney (Bainbridge, Ga./Northwest Mississippi CC) signed in December, according to GoPSUSports.com.

Big Ten's lunch links

January, 16, 2014
Jan 16
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At least there are still college all-star games to fill the time.
  • Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg sat down with new coach James Franklin shortly after he was hired, but he wasn't looking for a sales pitch.
  • The Michigan secondary didn't grade well at all in 2013, and it's clear it will need to show marked improvement in defending the pass in 2014.
  • Former Michigan State linebacker Max Bullough has no plans to make himself available to the media, and not only is that at odds with his reputation as a stand-up leader, it's become an "elephant in the room," writes Mike Griffith.
  • An ability to communicate and build relationships with his players has been at the heart of new Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson's success.
  • Ohio State's schedule didn't impress many people around the country during debates about its merit as a national-title threat in 2013. Next season presents a few more challenges.
  • Could the "Year of the Blackshirt" be just what the Nebraska program needs to give it a jolt of life?
  • Minnesota wide receiver Jamel Harbison announced on Twitter that he will transfer.
  • Purdue defensive lineman Langston Newton, a transfer from Kentucky, could potentially be eligible right away and provide some help for the Boilermakers up front.
  • Josh Klecko, son of a NFL great Joe Klecko, is leaving Rutgers.
  • Detroit Lions president Tom Lewand, a Michigan man, had an interesting idea for a tattoo from a rival school if Jim Tressel joins the staff and helps the organization win.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Christian Hackenberg stood in the center of Penn State's weight room, three days after first meeting his new head coach, and calmly brushed off concern about taking a step back.

[+] EnlargeChristian Hackenberg
Nabil K. Mark/Centre Daily Times/Getty ImagesChristian Hackenberg says he's looking forward to working with new Penn State coach James Franklin.
He didn't yet have a playbook to study. He wasn't yet certain whom his quarterback coach would be. And he shrugged when asked about coach James Franklin's philosophy. But the rising sophomore, who's been on campus for seven months, told a tightly packed circle of reporters that he still knew he was ready for whatever came next.

"Nothing's changed in my mindset," he said Wednesday. "Coach Franklin is going to work with our strengths, and a lot of our strengths were what Coach [Bill] O'Brien was running last year. So I don't feel there's going to be too much change. We're just going to go forward."

The Big Ten freshman of the year is forced to go with feel instead of facts at this early point. Hackenberg twice fielded calls from Franklin back when the high-energy coach hoped to sway him to Vanderbilt, but those brief talks were their only communication until a sit-down Sunday meeting -- in an office that, three weeks ago, held a photo of O'Brien posing alongside Tom Brady.

"I wasn't hoping to get any answer," Hackenberg said, while weights clanged in the background. "I was just sitting down trying to get to know my new coach."

This first week must feel a bit surreal for the young quarterback and his Nittany Lions. The blue-lettered mantras covering the weight-room walls -- Hair on Fire, One Team, Iron Lion, etc. -- are left over from the old staff, but the familiar faces from just last month are nearly all gone. Some of the assistant strength coaches have returned, but the men who persuaded Hackenberg to pass over Alabama and Georgia for a school mired in sanctions have since handed in their resignations.

Hackenberg didn't initially enroll in Penn State for the rolling valleys or for the fans who recognized him by the thousands. He came for O'Brien. But now, he said, he's staying for other reasons.

"After you finally get on campus and get to build a relationship with the guys and people here, it's tough to leave," he said. "It's a special place, and people really don't understand that until they step up here and are really a part of it. It's not only me; I think almost every single guy in that locker room feels the same way."

When asked whether he ever considered transferring, or whether the thought even crossed his mind, Hackenberg quickly responded: "I didn't." He paused for several seconds afterward, waiting for the next question. He didn't feel that one needed anymore elaboration.

Franklin told the media on Saturday he expected to use a multiple pro-style offense, something that fits Hackenberg well. But little else is known at this point. Hackenberg tried to take that all in stride, saying he learned one playbook, and he'll learn another again.

Some things are sure to carry over, although the verbiage will likely change along with the coaches he's taking instruction from. Still, he stepped on campus last June and took over the starting job in August after transitioning from a simple high school offense.

At least this time around, he has a full offseason to prepare. And he won't have to sit at his kitchen table, between baseball practices, while studying flash cards of O'Brien's offensive plays.

"People come and go," Hackenberg said. "But you can never forget what each one teaches you, and you got to be more excited when you get the next guy.

"And I think Coach Franklin is a great fit here."
1. It will be weird to see Larry Johnson wearing scarlet and gray. The last coaching connection to Joe Paterno at Penn State has left for Ohio State. Like Ed Orgeron at USC, Johnson auditioned for the head coaching job, didn’t get it, and refused to stay and work for the guy who did. It’s hard to believe that Johnson would set aside 18 years, but egos can be slow to heal. Penn State will pay a price for his departure. Defensive tackle Thomas Holley of Brooklyn already has decommitted from Penn State for Florida.

2. NCAA President Mark Emmert will deliver his State of the Association address Thursday, and the title of the speech alone speaks to the pomposity that the NCAA needs to reduce. How Emmert survived the mess his administration made of things at Penn State and Miami is beyond belief; his inability to push through the increase in benefits to student-athletes he has championed for three years is another poor grade on his report card. Perhaps his remarks Thursday can begin to turn around a disappointing tenure.

3. The first thing to leap out about the Pac-12 schedule announced last week is how well things set up for Oregon. Three of the Ducks’ toughest opponents -- Michigan State, Washington and Stanford -- come to Eugene; the Pac-12 South teams that Oregon skips are defending division champ Arizona State and USC; and the toughest road games are at UCLA and at Oregon State. The intersectional game against the Spartans in Week 2 will serve as a national stage for quarterback Marcus Mariota. Let the Heisman talk begin.

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
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Mail time ...

Ed S. from Belleville, Ill., writes: Please ask James Franklin how he can justify going after kids he recruited for Vanderbilt and whether he is going out of his way to try to wreck the Vanderbilt football program. What happened to his "fierce loyalty" to the Commodores and what does he now think of recruits who renege on their commitments to other schools?

Brian Bennett: Ed, those are fair questions. Some coaches say they won't recruit players who committed to their previous school when they switch jobs. There are a couple of things to keep in mind here. One, the better players in Vanderbilt's class almost certainly committed to the Commodores because of Franklin, so it makes sense that they'd be interested in following him to another school. Given Penn State's scholarship limitations, he may feel an even bigger need to flip some of those Vandy recruits. And this is who Franklin is, a guy who's going to be aggressive in everything he does, especially so in recruiting. He's going to push the envelope and ruffle some feathers.


Glenn K. from Leesburg, Fla., writes: Brian, regarding your article about BIG ticket sales for bowl games, don't you think attendance might also have been affected by the economy and the weather? If you want to enjoy the whole enchilada with your team before the actual game, including airfare, hotel, parties, tours, etc., you're looking at thousands of dollars (I know from experience), plus thousands more if you're taking your whole family. I wouldn't think that the weather in the Midwest and East helped much, either, as far as traveling goes.

Brian Bennett: The economy absolutely plays a factor, Glenn, and I mentioned the costs in my post. Airfare and hotel rates have gone up, and I was astounded at how expensive hotels in south Florida were over New Year's. These are not cheap trips, for the most part, especially because the majority of Big Ten bowl sites are located more than a comfortable driving distance away from campuses. I doubt very much that weather played a role in keeping people away, since you really need to book these kinds of trips a couple of weeks in advance to have any success finding good deals. If anything, the weather fosters more travel as Midwesterners love any excuse to escape the winter. But there's little question that bowl trips are becoming more difficult for the average fan, and it will be interesting to see how fans travel if their team can make it to a Big Ten championship game, national semifinal and national title game all in about a month's time under the new playoff system.


Kevin from Saline, Mich., writes: What is it that has made this 2013 MSU football team so much more successful than the 2011 Spartans? Every skill position on that 2011 team was terrific, the defense was still elite, and the chemistry and leadership with Kirk Cousins at the helm was extremely good as well. Is it just finding the inches, as Mark Dantonio always says? I was convinced that 2011 team was destined to be the team to break our Rose Bowl drought. I couldn't be happier with this season and this team, but when I compare them side-by-side with the 2011 version, that 2011 version seems more talented to me.

Brian Bennett: Kevin, you're right that the 2011 Michigan State team was awfully good and probably still a bit underrated in hindsight. The offense was much more experienced in 2011 with Cousins and B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin at receiver. The defense was very good, though not quite as elite as the 2013 team. The 2011 team turned in a couple of clunkers, however, including an 18-point loss at Notre Dame and a 24-3 defeat at Nebraska in which the Spartans looked completely flat a week after beating Wisconsin on the Hail Mary.

Still, that team was extremely close to making the Rose Bowl, losing a back-and-forth Big Ten championship game to Russell Wilson's Wisconsin team that turned on a late running-into-the-punter penalty. And those Spartans went on to beat Georgia in the Outback Bowl. This year's team might have benefited from an easier schedule leading up to the Big Ten title game -- the 2011 squad, for example, played three teams ranked in the top 15 in the regular season, while the 2013 squad faced none. But this year's Spartans turned it on when it really mattered and "found the inches," as Dantonio said. That last step from being a very good team to a championship one is sometimes the steepest.


David K. from New Haven, Ind., writes: Brian, any chance that IU might actually spend what it takes to get a proven defensive coordinator? I think Kevin Wilson has the program going in the right direction, but unless they get somebody in there who knows what he is doing and has been with a winning program, I fear he is doomed to fail because of the awful defense. You get what you pay for, and if they go that way, then the Hoosiers and Wilson are doomed.

Brian Bennett: David, every Big Ten team has money. It's good to see teams like Michigan State, Penn State and Michigan making major commitments to coaching salaries this winter, because that is what it's going to take to win at the big-boy table. Indiana doesn't have quite the deep pockets as some other schools, mainly because of the Hoosiers' attendance problems. Wilson's highest-paid assistant is offensive coordinator Seth Littrell, who is making $356,500 -- and earning it, based on IU's offensive numbers in 2013. I doubt you would see Indiana go much higher than that on the defensive side. Just how many superstar coordinators would be interested in coming to a program that has struggled on defense for so long and now has an offense-first mentality? That remains a major question. There's nothing wrong with finding an up-and-comer to run the defense. Indiana's challenge will be to keep top assistants such as Littrell when they become hot commodities.


Samuel from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Hey, Brian. Some big coaching moves in the East got me wondering about Iowa. Kirk Ferentz is one of the best-paid head coaches. But what about the assistants? Did I read correctly last week that Iowa is once again one of the most valuable football programs in the country? Does Iowa have the resources the make some big assistant coaching moves like OSU is doing?

Brian Bennett: Iowa does have strong resources. Not quite Ohio State or Michigan level, but certainly in the upper half of the Big Ten. Much of those resources are going to pay Ferentz close to $4 million per year. Neither defensive coordinator Phil Parker nor offensive coordinator Greg Davis are among the top 10 in salary among assistants in the Big Ten. That has been the pattern under Ferentz, who promoted Parker from within and hired Davis after he had been out of football for a year. Perhaps whenever Ferentz retires, the pay scale between the Iowa head coach and his assistants will tilt a little.


Andrew from San Ramon, Calif., writes: Hi, Brian. I've done some research, and the Huskers have an OK schedule coming up this year. Notable teams like Fresno State and Miami lose a lot of key players to the draft. Seven home games and five away games. With the win of the Gator Bowl on their shoulders and new recruits coming in, what do you think the Huskers' chances are at going possibly 10-2 or 11-1? (Losses might be @ Wisconsin and/or Michigan State.)

Brian Bennett: It's entirely too soon to start predicting team records for 2014. I do like Nebraska right now as the early favorite to win the West Division, but I think the conference schedule is a little harder than you make it out to be. The Huskers not only have to travel to Michigan State and Wisconsin but also to Northwestern -- which has played Nebraska extremely tough and should bounce back from an abysmal 2013 -- and Iowa, which just won in Lincoln to close out the recently completed regular season. Compare that to new division rival Wisconsin, which does not play Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan or Penn State from the East and whose hardest conference road games are Iowa and Northwestern.

I like the potential for Nebraska's young defense in 2014, and if quarterback Tommy Armstrong makes a significant jump in the offseason, the offense could be really good, too. But Bo Pelini's team is going to have to get some work done on the road in league play to get back to the Big Ten championship game.

Big Ten class rankings analysis 

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
2:00
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video
With the final update to the ESPN 300, there has been movement within the class rankings as well. Big Ten teams have added to their classes and are looking for last minute prospects.

Here is a look at the latest within the Big Ten.

Trending up


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Final Big Ten Power Rankings

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
1:00
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Before we close the book on the 2013 season, here's the final version of the Big Ten power rankings. Bowl performances were factored in, as well as how teams finished the season, although there aren't too many changes from the previous version of the power rankings.

Let's get started ...

1. Michigan State (13-1, previously: 1): The Spartans rallied to beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO to record their team-record 13th victory. Thanks to stifling defense and improved quarterback play, Michigan State had its best season since the mid-1960s. The Spartans return QB Connor Cook and most of the skill players on offense, but must replace a lot of production on defense.

2. Ohio State (12-2, previously: 2): After winning 24 consecutive games to open the Urban Meyer era, Ohio State dropped consecutive games on big stages. The Buckeyes' defense couldn't slow down Clemson's pass game in the Discover Orange Bowl, and turnovers doomed Ohio State in the second half. Meyer's defensive staff will have a different look with new assistants Chris Ash and Larry Johnson.

3. Wisconsin (9-4, previously: 3): Like Ohio State, Wisconsin ended its season with a thud and a sloppy bowl performance against South Carolina. The Badgers received big performances from running backs Melvin Gordon and James White but couldn't stop South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw or hang on to the football.

4. Nebraska (9-4, previously: 6): All roads lead to 9-4 for Bo Pelini's team, but the Huskers are much happier to be there after an upset victory over Georgia in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl. An improved defense did a nice job of keeping the Bulldogs out of the end zone, and seniors such as wide receiver Quincy Enunwa stepped up in their final college game.

5. Iowa (8-5, previously: 4): A stout Hawkeyes defense kept the team in the Outback Bowl, but the offense never truly got going and lost starting quarterback Jake Rudock to injury. Iowa had its chances for a quality bowl win, but has to settle for a strong regular-season improvement and raised expectations entering the 2014 season.

6. Penn State (7-5, previously: 7): An impressive victory at Wisconsin marked the final game of the Bill O'Brien era. New coach James Franklin has brought a lot of enthusiasm to Happy Valley and should sparkle on the recruiting trail. His management of talented quarterback Christian Hackenberg and an undermanned defense will loom large this fall.

7. Minnesota (8-5, previously: 5): The Gophers had by far the most favorable bowl matchup but didn't reach the end zone for more than three quarters against Syracuse. Although a special-teams play ultimately doomed Minnesota, the Gophers' inability to establish a better passing game was a key element in a very disappointing loss. Minnesota should expect more in 2014.

8. Michigan (7-6, previously: 8): You knew it would be tough for Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl when quarterback Devin Gardner hobbled off of the plane on crutches. But the Wolverines never gave themselves a chance in the game, caving defensively against Kansas State's Jake Waters and Tyler Lockett. A blowout loss ended Michigan's highly disappointing season and marked the end for offensive coordinator Al Borges. Can coach Brady Hoke get things turned around in 2014?

9. Northwestern (5-7, previously: 9): Northwestern is awaiting confirmation that running back Venric Mark can return for a fifth season, and should get it in the next few weeks. Mark will help an offense that never truly got on track last fall and might need to be more of a pass-first unit if Trevor Siemian remains the starting quarterback. The defense returns nine starters.

10. Indiana (5-7, previously: 10): It took a little longer than expected, but coach Kevin Wilson fired defensive coordinator Doug Mallory last week as Indiana again will try to upgrade a perennially porous unit. The Hoosiers will be more experienced throughout the roster this fall, but the defense must change the script under new leadership as they enter the brutal East Division.

11. Illinois (4-8, previously: 11): While Wilson made a change at defensive coordinator, coach Tim Beckman is sticking with Tim Banks and the rest of his staff for a pivotal 2014 season. Like Indiana, Illinois will be more experienced on defense but must replace Nathan Scheelhaase at quarterback. A favorable schedule gives Illinois a chance to make a bowl game.

12. Purdue (1-11, previously: 12): No Big Ten team is more excited to start working this offseason than the Boilers, who are rebuilding through the quarterback spot with Danny Etling and early enrollee David Blough, who officially arrived this week. Purdue must improve along both lines and replace veteran defenders such as cornerback Ricardo Allen and tackle Bruce Gaston Jr.

Big Ten lunchtime links

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
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Happy hump day.

Football's recruiting race

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
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[+] EnlargeCharlie Strong
Erich Schlegel/Getty ImagesTexas coach Charlie Strong has one month between his introduction and signing day to make an impact on the recruiting trail.

There were fewer than 24 hours to go before six distraught high school seniors and their parents flooded Tulsa's campus demanding answers. The school was without a football coach and a half-dozen official visits were scheduled to begin the next day.



The few remaining assistant coaches pressed the athletic director to cancel the visits, but he insisted a coach would be named the next day. So during a brainstorming session, running backs coach Bill Blankenship formulated a plan.


(Read full post)


Season wrap: Penn State

January, 15, 2014
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Three overtime games, a huge upset win, a bigger loss, surprise, disappointment: In a lot of ways, the Nittany Lions' 2013 season had it all.

Penn State defied the odds by finishing with a winning, 7-5 season. But the Nittany Lions also fell to Indiana for the first time in school history and watched as the Buckeyes pounded them in a 63-14 decision. Christian Hackenberg lived up to expectations and won the Big Ten freshman of the year award, while last year's winner -- PSU's own DE Deion Barnes -- failed to live up to expectations.

It was a very yin-and-yang year for the Lions. They played a classic, four-OT thriller against Michigan and later watched as special teams errors cost them an overtime win against Nebraska. Overall, though, this season has to be considered a success -- and it certainly reinforced that you can never quite count out these Nittany Lions.

Offensive MVP: WR Allen Robinson. Not only did he break Penn State's single-season records for catches (97) and receiving yards (1,432), but he was the only consistent threat in the passing game. He boasted more receiving yards than Hackenberg's next five targets -- combined -- as he accounted for about 46 percent of the Nittany Lions' yards through the air. He's one of the best wideouts in school history.

Defensive MVP: DT DaQuan Jones. He had big shoes to fill with the graduation of Jordan Hill, but he more than lived up to expectations. He led the team in tackles for loss (11.5) and finished fifth on the team with 56 tackles, more than any other player on the line. The 318-pound DT made sure opposing ball carriers struggled to gain yards up the middle.

Best moment: Hanging on to upset Wisconsin in the finale. Penn State came in as a 24-point underdog. It came in facing the nation's top pair of running backs. But it left Camp Randall with a monumental upset and its first road win over a ranked foe -- Wisconsin was No. 15 at the time -- since beating Ohio State in 2008. Hackenberg paced his team, and the run defense held strong.

Worst moment: A 63-14 loss to Ohio State. That score will be etched in the minds of alumni for a while, as it was the program's worst loss in 114 years. Nothing went right for Penn State. Ohio State averaged 8 yards a carry, built up a 42-7 halftime lead and finished with 408 rushing yards. Imagine a worst-case scenario playing out on the field; that's exactly what happened. Hackenberg finished with a QBR of 12.1.
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: Numerous coaches at the American Football Coaches Association convention agree negative recruiting happens more than most people think and some of the stories are too good to be true; NC State has a top-40 class, but Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren is working to ensure they finish strong; and Larry Johnson recruiting for Ohio State could only mean big things for the Buckeyes.

Negative recruiting at its finest
There are numerous tales about negative recruiting tactics on the recruiting trail. So while at the AFCA convention, I asked coaches how much really does happen. The answer: a lot. A Utah assistant coach said rival Pac-12 schools do all they can to convince prospects Salt Lake City is a desolate place and try to confuse the Utes in-state rival BYU. “We get recruits that ask all the time about the Honor Code,” the coach said. “We have to constantly tell them ‘That’s BYU. That’s not our school.’ We also have had some kids tell us other schools said we don’t even have TVs in Utah.” Yes, it does get that bad when trying to sell a prospect during the final few weeks of recruiting.

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video
James Franklin had already flipped two of Vanderbilt’s commitments to Penn State, and the new coach has added another former Commodores pledge.

Offensive lineman Brendan Brosnan (Park Ridge, Ill./Maine Township) decided to switch his commitment to the Nittany Lions on Tuesday, and along with Chance Sorrell (Middletown, Ohio/Middletown), is the second offensive lineman for Franklin at Penn State.


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Sources: Buckeyes hire Ash, Johnson

January, 14, 2014
Jan 14
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State once again has a full coaching staff, and its beleaguered defense has two fresh faces to get started on the overhaul on that side of the ball.

The Buckeyes reached a deal Tuesday with Arkansas defensive coordinator Chris Ash, sources told ESPN's Joe Schad, and have officially announced the hiring of Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson Sr.

In a release on Wednesday, Johnson said: "In just a few hours I can tell that Ohio State cares about football. There is a winning tradition that is important here. They care about academics and they care about players, and I like the way [head] coach Urban Meyer approaches things. He's a great teacher. He is very organized and this is what I was looking for."

Meyer praised Johnson in a statement "as a family man, as a coach and mentor of young men, and as a recruiter. He is an outstanding addition to our coaching staff."

Ash is expected to fill the co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach role vacated by Everett Withers when he took over as the coach at James Madison. Johnson will replace defensive line coach Mike Vrabel, who was hired by the Houston Texans.

"I've got no comment right now," Ash told ESPN.com. "Nothing is official."

Ohio State has not confirmed the Ash hire, which was first reported by SI.com.

The coaching vacancies were the Buckeyes' first since Urban Meyer finalized his first staff prior to the 2012 season.


(Read full post)


Big Ten lunchtime links

January, 14, 2014
Jan 14
12:00
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The first point on my New Year's resolutions was to stop making so many lists. … This isn't going well.
Chris PetersenOtto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesChris Petersen is well-positioned to do big things at Washington.
There were a half-dozen major head-coaching moves in this most recent shuffle. How did those programs do with their decisions? After discussing the hires with several coaches around the game and adding in my own thoughts, I've given out grades to each of the six.

Here's a preview: Neither Texas nor USC is among my top two hires. Who graded out higher than the two premier openings? And did another school gain more from Lane Kiffin’s firing than the Trojans?

Here are my marks for new coaching hires, shaped by coaches’ opinions.

Washington Huskies

In: Chris Petersen
Out: Steve Sarkisian

Oddly, the biggest winner of Kiffin’s firing at USC was another Pac-12 program. When Sarkisian left for Los Angeles, it finally created the opportunity Petersen wanted in making the move to a power league.

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Penn State 2015 Class Debuts At No. 3
Craig Haubert discusses recent additions to the Nittany Lions' 2015 class and first-year coach James Franklin's success on the recruiting trail.Tags: Adam McLean, Ryan Bates, Penn State Nittany Lions, James Franklin
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