NCF Nation: Football Recruiting

CommitCast: Darian Roseboro

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
9:30
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ESPN 300 defensive tackle Darian Roseboro announced his decision Friday. Watch to see why the 6-foot-4, 285-pound prospect chose Michigan.

CommitCast: K.J. Hill

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
9:00
AM ET
ESPN 300 wide receiver K.J. Hill made his college choice. Watch the No. 208-ranked player talk about why he chose Arkansas.

The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting news from across the country. Today's offerings: UCLA quarterback commitment Josh Rosen is off to a strong start in Week 1, showcasing why he will be a valuable recruiting tool for the Bruins this season. Plus, most of the Pac-12 attention has been on UCLA, USC and Oregon, but don't forget about the quality classes at UofA and ASU, and we continue our tour of the top recruiting happenings on social media.

Joshua McMillon announcement

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
9:00
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Four-star linebacker Joshua McMillon, ranked No. 163 in the ESPN 300, is set to make his college decision. The 6-foot-3, 249-pound linebacker has big names Alabama, Oklahoma, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt in the mix. Tune in at 11 a.m. ET for the announcement.

 
Boston College coach Steve Addazio remembers an era when players wanted to redshirt as true freshmen to better prepare them for the final four years of their college career.

"Now it's 'I want to play,' " Addazio, 55, said. "If you're talking about not playing them early, the majority are like 'What do you mean?'"

So, the ability to play or possibly even start as a true freshman has become a regular sales pitch for coaches from the Power Five to the Group of Five. It's certainly a tool in the belt for Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher. Last week, Fisher alluded to the number of freshmen All-Americans he's coached the last four seasons. Twenty-four hours later, it was on the program's official recruiting Twitter page.

"The last [four] years we've had 14 freshmen All-Americans," said Fisher, condensing multiple outlets' freshmen award teams into one, concise Florida State propaganda poster. "If you come in ready to play, we're willing to put you on the field. It's critical for guys to come in saying 'When I'm the best, I'll play.'"

Fisher has the goods to back up his claims, even if the numbers are obviously skewed to best represent his program. But how does his résumé compare to those coaching some of the country's other top programs?

I tried to come up with a way to accurately discern which schools play the most freshmen and decided true freshmen letterwinners was the simplest and most effective way to crunch the numbers. To earn a letter, a player has to actually play consistently through the season. The disclaimer is each program can use different benchmarks when awarding letters, but there is never going to be a perfect way.

I began with Florida State's, looking back at the 2011-2013 classes. To properly quantify the data from Florida State, I decided I'd look at the five schools ranked highest in the preseason polls that have had its coach in place at least five seasons. Oregon's Mark Helfrich was offered an exemption because he was promoted from within and is in his sixth season with the Ducks. Coaches in place at least five years was the stipulation since an incoming coach might be susceptible to playing the prospects he recruited or having a number of transfers that could open up starting or rotational spots.

The criteria: Each class was looked at and the total number of signees was pared down to just those who enrolled as members of the football team in the fall. Junior college signees were excluded, as were any recruits who were academically or medically disqualified before playing a game. That explains why the total number of freshmen for our purposes might look different than what might be seen on RecruitingNation. Any true freshmen who spent a year at a post-graduate or prep school was also excluded. Redshirt freshmen were disqualified, too.

Bottom line is if the player was not a part of the football team the fall following his high school graduation, he was excluded.

Nearly all of the data was collected after poring through media guides and archives, although the communications departments at some of the schools were also helpful providing numbers and deserve recognition.

So, here is the actual data:

 

It is hardly a coincidence that Fisher and Alabama's Nick Saban, who mentored Fisher at LSU, have identical percentages of true freshmen earning a letter. Fisher and Saban arguably have been the two best recruiters over the last few cycles, and, the data shows those two are not going to keep young talent off the field simply because of age. Nearly half of the true freshmen at Alabama and Florida State lettered over the last three seasons.

Mark Dantonio has built Michigan State into a national title contender in a different manor, relying on experience. Only 12 percent of true freshmen lettered over the last three seasons. Recruiting to Michigan State is not the easy task it is at some other top-10 programs, and the Spartans are not recruiting as many ESPN 300-level players as the likes of Alabama and Florida State.

It should be noted Michigan State, Oklahoma and Oregon don't have quite the recruiting base Alabama and Florida State do.

Inquiring minds want to see how that 45 percent stacks up to some of the other top programs in the country, so even though they did not fit the criteria I looked at a few other schools with coaches in place at least five seasons and lately in the top half of the rankings. LSU was worth a look considering it's Les Miles' 10th season in Baton Rouge and, like Fisher and Saban, has recruited exceptionally well for a long period of time. Mark Richt is in his 14th season at Georgia and, like Miles, usually has a highly-regarded recruiting class. Steve Spurrier is in his 10th season at South Carolina and has steadily improved the Gamecocks' class to the point that the 2015 class is No. 5 nationally. Dabo Swinney has turned Clemson from a perennial disappointment into a two-time BCS bowl participant. And Ohio State and Texas A&M, mainly because it's worth seeing how third-year Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer fares considering he frequently voices his preference to avoid redshirting. Kevin Sumlin is also in the process of trying to build an SEC power that can compete with Alabama and LSU in the SEC West.

 

For the Buckeyes, out of the 69 true freshmen to land in Columbus, Ohio, from 2011-2013, 31 lettered -- the same 45 percent. Looking at just Meyer's two seasons, however, he is decimals ahead of Fisher and Saban at 46 percent (21 out of 46), thanks in large part to 14 freshmen letterwinners in his first season.

Georgia's Mark Richt has a percentage of nearly 50 percent, but the Bulldogs' numbers might be the most skewed. Along with South Carolina, the Bulldogs had several recruits that either did not qualify or spent time at a prep school or junior college. Also, Georgia's long list of dismissals and transfers is well documented, and all of the departures has opened up spots for freshmen to earn immediate playing time.

It is Miles, though, who plays a higher percentage of freshmen than all of the others. Twelve true freshmen lettered for LSU in both 2012 and 2013, and another nine earned a letter in 2011. There were a total of 65 applicable freshmen to enter LSU during that span and 33 of them lettered. That's a percentage of 51 percent.

Certainly the numbers will fluctuate year to year, and coaches at every single program are playing freshmen more frequently than ever before. When taking into account the timeline is over three years, LSU averages just one more freshman letterwinner per season than Alabama and Florida State. For our intents and purposes, though, the data shows which top programs consistently play the most freshmen in this new era of freshmen phenoms.

And, uh, FYI, Alabama has 19 ESPN 300 players prepping for their freshmen season this fall. LSU has 16, and Florida State isn't far off with 13 of their own.
Frank Beamer says it has never crossed his mind. Al Golden wasn’t sure if it was already happening at the high school level.

They’re not the only two college coaches who didn’t know what to think when asked about prep quarterbacks who -- before stepping on campus -- were already equipping themselves to use the graduate transfer rule in a worst-case scenario.

"You know, I've never thought of that,” Beamer said. “I'm not saying that that's not possible.”

This offseason, Beamer and Golden have taken advantage of the graduate transfer rule. It's a rule that -- for the most part -- allows players who have graduated early from college but have not exhausted their eligibility to transfer to another school without sitting out a year. Virginia Tech brought in Michael Brewer (Texas Tech), and Golden signed Jake Heaps (Kansas). Boston College coach Steve Addazio also brought in a graduate quarterback in Tyler Murphy, and even Alabama, which grabbed Jacob Coker from Florida State, made use of the rule made famous by Russell Wilson when he left NC State for Wisconsin in 2011.

[+] EnlargeBlake Barnett
Tom Hauck for Student SportsAlabama 2015 QB commitment Blake Barnett plans to graduate in three years, giving him the option of transferring without penalty as early as possible if things don't work out with the Crimson Tide.
A large contingency of coaches either haven’t put much thought into the idea of high school quarterbacks preparing for Plan B or don’t believe college football has reached that point -- “I think it's looking too far down the road,” Addazio said -- but the truth is the latest cycle of prep stars are acutely aware of all their options. It’s manifested itself after an offseason in which nine FBS quarterbacks, according to a list compiled by CBSSports.com’s Jeremy Fowler, are eligible to play immediately at their new schools, thanks to their use of the graduate transfer rule.

Blake Barnett is a five-star Alabama commitment. The No. 2 quarterback nationally in the ESPN 300 is possibly in line to be one of the sport’s upcoming superstars. His father, Lance, said his son is prepared to compete for the Crimson Tide’s starting job in 2015 as a freshman and is not intimidated by the Tide’s collection of elite high school signal-callers.

But the Barnetts also understand only one quarterback per team is on the field at a time, so graduating in three years is the plan for Barnett.

“The faster he can get his degree, the better off he is,” Lance said. “God forbid you have to transfer, or you can go to the NFL, or he can work on his master’s. ... You always have to prepare for situations that come your way down the road. Hopefully, [transferring] is a situation he doesn’t see himself in. ... Get your degree as soon as possible, and worry after that. You’re not penalized then.”

Ricky Town is one of two 2015 quarterback commits to USC. His father, Rick, said his son “loves USC, and you couldn’t pry him away,” but he is keeping an eye out for his son’s best interests long-term. The Towns envision Ricky graduating from USC in three years, which gives him the same three options: NFL, master’s degree or transfer.

Rick said he first became aware of the graduate transfer rule within the past year when he read reports that Coker was looking to transfer using the graduate rule. Coincidentally, Coker announced he was transferring to Alabama days before Town flipped from the Tide to the Trojans.

“You always plan ahead and explore more exit strategies, and the more avenues you have the better,” the elder Town said. “You don’t think you’ll transfer in three years -- you set up for it, but it’s not a goal. It’s a bailout strategy if, for whatever reason, things don’t go according to plan. It’s a business. That’s the bottom line.”

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher had two quarterbacks transfer over a nine-month period, Coker among them. The national championship-winning coach was in favor of both players transferring and said it was in their best interest with Jameis Winston entrenched as the Seminoles’ starter.

Fisher said he is not for or against the graduate transfer rule -- it depends on each player’s circumstance. He did say, however, he wishes more quarterbacks allowed the carousel to do a full revolution before they opt off the ride.

“I think it’s better to have patience -- I really do,” he said. “We’re quick to jump.”

But coaches are, in a way, opening their programs to graduate transfers at quarterback with how the position has been recruited recently. Of the top five quarterbacks in the ESPN 300, each could be January enrollees. Rick Town said his family began preparations for early enrollment after the second game of Ricky’s sophomore season. Blake Barnett didn’t begin thinking about enrolling early until Division I attention starting pouring in, but he’s made up for lost time and will take two classes at Alabama during the spring semester.

Most players take classes during the summer as well, and the NCAA passed legislation in October that allows coaches to implement eight weeks of mandatory summer workouts. Between early enrollment and the summer credits, quarterbacks are often on track for graduation after three years.

“Then you still have those two full years of eligibility,” Rick Town said.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama wasn’t missing just three players to start fall camp on Friday.

In addition to announcing the suspensions of Brandon Ivory, Jarran Reed and Tim Williams, coach Nick Saban updated the status of two highly coveted signees who have not made it to campus.

“Two freshmen that are not here,” Saban said. “Bo Scarbrough, we have an appeal in place because he is very close to qualifying. That will take some time. We will have a plan here at his high school to try to do the things that he needs to do to finish and be able to qualify. And our goal is to get him here in January.

Montel McBride did not qualify and will be placed in junior college.”

McBride was one of six offensive linemen in the 2014 class. Multiple reports have the three-star prospect heading to Iowa Western Community College.

Scarbrough, on the other hand, was a much more highly regarded recruit. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound native of Northport, Alabama, was a five-star prospect and the No. 2 ranked athlete in his class, according to ESPN. He was the first to commit to the Crimson Tide from the 2014 class, which ranked No. 1 in the country.

Scarbrough, even if he had qualified, would have faced quite an uphill battle for playing time at running back, where T.J. Yeldon and his 2,343 career rushing yards are firmly atop the depth chart. Talented sophomore Derrick Henry, who scored two touchdowns and accounted for 161 total yards against Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, is not far behind, and he’s trailed by junior Kenyan Drake, who had 694 yards on the ground and averaged 7.5 yards per carry last season. There’s also Jalston Fowler, Altee Tenpenny and Tyren Jones in the mix.

Without Ivory and Reed, Alabama is in a bigger pickle. Ivory was one of only five returning starters on the defense after starting all 13 games at nose guard last season. And Reed, a junior college transfer, was expected to push for reps at the same position. Now the incumbent is Darren Lake, who played in all 13 games last season and mustered only 15 tackles, none of which resulted in a loss.

To balance the good with the bad, Alabama welcomed back corner Eddie Jackson to the practice field only a few months after tearing his ACL during spring practice.

The sophomore, who started four games last season, wore a brace to protect his surgically repaired knee.

Jackson is on a “pitch count,” according to Saban, but he prefaced his comments by saying that Jackson had a successful rehab this summer and is is doing “really, really well."

“With these guys, it's always about how much can they do before they start to get sore or before they start to break down relative to where they are,” he said. “We'd like to just not push the envelope too far that we get to that point. We're going to kind of keep him on a pitch count that will gradually increase and see when he gets back to 100 percent.

“Eddie took all the tests and passed them, so straight-line running is not the issue. It's cutting, changing direction, doing those kinds of things and see what issues those things create. But we're very encouraged with where he's at."

Best cross-conference recruiting battles 

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
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Some recruits get attention from all over the country. Whether it’s their prowess or proximity to multiple teams, top prospects will have schools from multiple conferences pursuing them. ESPN.com’s conference recruiting reporters look at five players in the recently updated ESPN 300 who have different conferences after them and have recruiting battles that could carry throughout the fall.

NOTE: For battles with multiple teams, reporters chose reported leaders or best fits.


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Video: 2015 class rankings update

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
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National recruiting analyst Craig Haubert joins ESPN's Phil Murphy to break down updates to the ESPN RecruitingNation class rankings for 2015 football recruiting. Nearly a dozen ranked prospects announced college decisions in the last week.
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HOOVER, Ala. -- For better or worse, Nick Saban has a reputation. And after four decades of coaching, it's not likely to change.

He's gruff. He's demanding. He's hard-nosed, unrelenting and oftentimes furious.

He is, according to a survey conducted by ESPN, the most-intimidating coach in college football. Of the 58 recruits who responded to a survey, 22 selected Saban as the most intimidating coach they've spoken with. The next-highest on the list was Urban Meyer, who was selected only seven times.

What's maybe more telling: Among the 58 recruits who answered the question, "Of all the head coaches you've spoken with, who was the easiest to talk with?" none said Saban.

To continue reading this story, click here.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- The ongoing NCAA investigation into academic fraud at North Carolina hasn't been a focal point in the Tar Heels' locker room, coach Larry Fedora said at Monday's ACC Kickoff, but it's been an ever-present speed bump on the recruiting trail.

The NCAA last month reopened the investigation, which had been concluded in 2012 and which Fedora said he'd believed was closed for good, sparking another round of negative recruiting from competing schools.

"It's not really affecting our team," Fedora said. "The players, they're not concerned with it. They've been hearing about it for three years. It's just old news. The ones it affects is in recruiting. That's where it hits you the hardest. The other schools, that's what they're using when they're recruiting against you."

To continue reading this story, click here.
Maryland and Rutgers are entering their first season as members of the Big Ten Conference, and there are plenty of challenges ahead of both programs on the field. Joining the conference also means there will be new roadblocks on the recruiting trail.

Both programs have dealt with Big Ten schools invading their home states, but now that they are conference foes it becomes imperative they land their in-state recruiting targets.

Being able to fight off the competition means knowing who the competition is and the landscape for both programs. Here is a look at what Maryland and Rutgers are up against.


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Video: Updated class rankings

June, 12, 2014
Jun 12
11:00
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National recruiting analyst Craig Haubert joins ESPN's Phil Murphy to discuss updates to the ESPN class rankings for 2015 football recruiting.
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As it becomes more and more apparent that some form of an early signing period has a good chance to work its way into college football, it’s time to caution against unintended consequences.

On the surface, an early period -- whether it's before the season, shortly after Thanksgiving, or at some other point -- has been billed as an opportunity for high school seniors to end their recruiting process so they can move on with their senior years. No more phone calls, no more text messages, no more distractions. And for some of these kids, it’ll work out just like that.

Just don’t confuse the notion that because it’ll help make the recruiting process better for some, that it’ll have that effect on a majority. That’s unfounded.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsStanford coach David Shaw believes that an early signing period would create more problems than solutions for both players and programs.
Stanford coach David Shaw has been one of the most outspoken coaches in the country against implementing an early signing period for various reasons, but he’s particularly wary of how it’ll change recruiting practices.

"The reasoning behind it is really bad," he said. "I think we should let these young men take as much time as they need without coaches forcing them, because that’s what will happen. College coaches will be pressuring these guys to sign early, and I think that’s wrong."

The rebuttal to this concept seems to be something along the lines of "you can’t force a kid to sign."

For the four- and five-star recruits of the world -- the ones whose recruitments are more heavily publicized -- this is probably true. The player, in this case, holds the upper hand, and coaches will always be more willing to invest more time to land potential stars.

It won’t work that way for the less-heralded recruits, though. They’ll instantly become susceptible to conditional offers -- a program might extend an offer good only through the first signing day. Even if a recruit isn’t ready to make the final call, he could feel compelled to sign anyway out of fear he could miss out on what will ultimately be his best, or only, opportunity.

Not all programs will operate that way, but enough will to change the recruiting game.

The bottom-line result here is that more kids will inherently wind up at places that might not be the best fit. And because of that, it’s hard to envision a scenario in which it doesn’t lead to more transfers. Speculating on how widespread these potential pitfalls would be is nearly impossible to do, but they certainly need to be taken into account before the NCAA moves forward on the issue.

What also needs to get ironed out is how strictly the NCAA will enforce those early letters of intent.

The way Shaw sees it, those kids that get pressured into signing before they’re ready won’t ultimately be held to those commitments if they change their minds down the road.

"There will still be guys that sign in that early signing period that will want to change. Whether it’s because of a coaching change or something else happens," he said. "They’re going to want to change, and [the NCAA] is going to let them out of it."

If that’s the case, then what’s the point?

Shaw’s words have always rung sincere, but it should also be noted that a change to the current system would likely affect Stanford more negatively than other schools because of the emphasis the school places on its academic admission standards. Often times, even with some of the most high-profile recruits, the football coaching staff doesn’t get the green light from the admissions office on specific kids until days before the February signing day.

Those in the Stanford football program aren’t confident that process would change with an earlier signing day, and most hold the opinion that it shouldn’t have to.

Then again, this is the NCAA we’re talking about. Why would academics play a role?

Early signing period FAQ

June, 4, 2014
Jun 4
10:00
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College coaches and administrators have debated for years the merits of introducing an early signing period for football. Basketball has long used a system that allows recruits to sign their national letters of intent in the fall and spring, easing the pressure on prospects who wish to end the recruiting process early in their senior years of high school.

Momentum for widespread legislative overhaul -- recruiting rules included -- has again opened serious discussion about an early signing period. In step with the NCAA, the Conference Commissioners Association will consider options for an early date when they meet on June 16.

Many questions remain about how it might work. Here are some of the most frequently asked:

What would an early signing period allow?

Simply, it would provide an option for recruits to sign binding agreements months or weeks in advance of the traditional signing period, which opens on the first Wednesday in February. Prospects who sign early would be subject to the same rules as their peers who sign in February.

When would an early signing period occur?

[+] EnlargeNCAA logo
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsCould the NCAA soon adopt an early signing period for football?
Proposals have suggested dates from late spring (at the end of prospects’ junior years) to mid-December (at the outset of the current dead period as bowl season opens). Recently, the Atlantic Coast Conference announced that its schools support an Aug. 1 date. The Southeastern Conference offered a recommendation for the Monday after Thanksgiving. Big Ten schools would likely align more closely with the ACC. If an early signing period passes, the most significant legislative hurdle likely involves its placement on the calendar.

Who can make it happen?

The 32-member panel of Division I conference commissioners. The group, which meets annually in June to discuss various topics, operates the letter-of-intent program. According to Susan Peal, NCAA associate director of operations who serves as liaison between the collegiate governing body and the commissioners, an early signing period was added this spring to the commissioners’ agenda after it had not been discussed in such a forum for several years.

Why now?

Because the recruiting process is not slowing down. Just the opposite, in fact. Many prospects make nonbinding pledges to college programs months, even years, in advance of the February signing period. Schools, in turn, continue to exhaust expenses to recruit on these committed prospects. Decommitments have grown into an epidemic that negatively impact college programs and prospects. Additionally, the NCAA clarified legislation last year that allows early enrolling seniors to sign scholarship papers -- different from a letter of intent in that it obligates the school but not the prospect -- on or after Aug. 1. It is commonly believed that an early signing period could alleviate many of the problems associated with each of these issues and the continued acceleration of recruiting.

What year would it go into effect?

This is open for discussion between the NCAA and the conference commissioners. From a logistical standpoint, though, it’s unlikely to affect the Class of 2015. If the conference commissioners reach a decision on change this summer, it’s reasonable to expect it could go into effect next year for the 2016 class.

How would it impact the timing of official visits and other aspects of the recruiting calendar?

Expect significant changes. If the commissioners institute an early signing period, the NCAA-organized recruiting calendar would adjust accordingly. Most importantly, official visits (paid by college programs) would begin earlier -- a development, alone, that would serve as a source of celebration on many campuses. Current rules allow prospects to take official visits no earlier than the start of their senior years of high school. Depending on the date of an early signing period, it’s expected that the NCAA would allow official visits in the previous spring or summer. In turn, the spring evaluation period, which runs April 15 to May 31 of a prospect’s junior year, may also require an adjustment.

What happens at schools that endure postseason coaching changes?

Likely, nothing. A great strength of the letter of intent is its binding power. Though an appeal process exists to nullify the document, such waivers are rarely granted based on a coaching change. Of course, coaching changes would come into play much more often for early signees. Regardless, recruits, as usual, would be advised to pick a college program for reasons other than its coaches. And despite the convenience of signing early, the long list of coaching moves in December and January might serve as a reminder for prospects of the benefit to bypass the early period.

Why do some programs oppose an early signing period?

For a variety of reasons. At Stanford, where coach David Shaw is an outspoken opponent, stringent entrance requirements limit the school’s ability to identify academic-worthy prospects until much later than many of its recruiting rivals. Many schools, primarily in the SEC, have feasted under the current recruiting structure; no need to change it, they figure. Despite the resistance, a majority of college programs favor a refined system. That’s the easy part. We'll soon learn if they can agree on how and when to implement change.

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