NCF On The Trail: Auburn Tigers

No. 14 Trayvon Mullen names a leader 

February, 28, 2015
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PLANTATION, Fla. -- The 14th-ranked player in the ESPN Junior 300, Trayvon Mullen, was one of only four players to get invited to The Opening at the conclusion of the Nike regional football camp on Saturday afternoon.

The 6-foot-2, 170-pound athlete from Coconut Creek (Florida) High School was impressive and won several one-on-one battles against an extremely deep and talented group of receivers at the Nike Football The Opening Miami Regional.

Mullen arrived to the camp decked out in an LSU back pack, jacket and gloves. So is it safe to assume that the No. 1-ranked cornerback in the country has the Tigers on top?

“Right now, yes LSU is my leader,” Mullen said. “I just like the people, coaches and just the atmosphere there. Coach [Corey] Raymond is a great dude. I talk to him everyday actually. He’s just a great guy. We just talk about everything; we barely talk about football. Mostly we just talk about life and things like that.”

PLANTATION, Fla. -- The Nike football camp in Miami is generally regarded as one of the top camps, talent-wise, in the country every year and this year’s camp held at American Heritage School didn’t disappoint.


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Many believe ESPN Junior 300 defensive Nick Bosa will be an even better college football player than his brother. That’s saying a lot because his brother is Joey Bosa, star defensive lineman for national champion Ohio State and one of the top projected picks for the 2016 NFL draft.


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Ultimate ESPN 300: Top surprises in the SEC 

February, 17, 2015
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When the Ultimate ESPN 300 was released on Monday, there were some noticeable surprises. Some players shot to near the top of the list early on in their careers, while other players weren’t ranked high coming out of college but now appear on this prestigious list. Here’s a closer look at some of the top surprises in the SEC.


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SEC 2015 recruiting in review 

February, 13, 2015
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It was another incredible year of recruiting in the SEC. More than one-third (117 prospects) of the ESPN 300 signed with SEC schools. The conference also signed 12 of the 20 five-star prospects, and 218 four-star prospects. All but two of the 14 SEC schools finished in the top 40 of the final ESPN class rankings. Here is a closer look at the 2015 recruiting cycle in review.


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The days of waiting for youngsters to make impact in college football are over. If you're a top freshman prospect, you're expected to come in and contribute.

So much for slacking on your training before prom.

But more and more, freshmen are proving to be up for the task of immediate playing time and immediate pressure. Coaches aren't afraid to throw these guys into the fire, and it's working out all around the country.

So who are some freshmen to keep an eye on in the SEC from the 2015 class?

Edward Aschoff: DT Trenton Thompson, Georgia
What the Bulldogs needed in this class were hefty, intimidating, athletic defensive linemen. Georgia got all of that in Thompson, a 6-foot-4, 311-pound behemoth who could see immediate playing time for a Bulldogs team in need of help at the defensive tackle spot. With only five scholarship defensive linemen returning, Thompson will have every opportunity to compete for a starting spot. The five-star was the No. 2-rated defensive tackle nationally, according to ESPN’s RecruitingNation, and was named the 2014 Maxwell Football Club’s National High School Player of the Year. Georgia needs a quality plug in the middle who can stop the run and harass quarterbacks. Thompson has everything needed to be that in 2015.

David Ching: DE Arden Key, LSU
I touched on this subject from an LSU perspective earlier this week. The first player I listed in that post was Key, ESPN’s No. 24 overall prospect and No. 6 defensive end, because he can help address an immediate need. LSU must replace starting defensive ends Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco. There is some talent returning – Tashawn Bower seems to be a leading candidate to take over one of the starting spots – but nobody has proven himself as a college player yet. LSU struggled to generate sacks last season, finishing 102nd nationally with just 19. Les Miles and his assistants believe Key can help address that issue right away.

Sam Khan Jr.: S Deionte Thompson, Alabama
The ESPN 300 prospect has good size (6-2, 180) and speed and the advantage of being an early enrollee. Thompson, the nation's No. 3 safety and the No. 65 player overall in the ESPN 300, is a versatile athlete (he was a talented high school track and field athlete) and given the departures at safety for Alabama (two graduated plus Landon Collins declared for the draft) there will be spots available. Don't be shocked if Thompson works his way into one of them and plays well.

Greg Ostendorf: S Jamal Peters, Mississippi State
Peters, ranked No. 40 in the ESPN 300, is the highest-ranked player to sign at Mississippi State since Dan Mullen took over, slightly surpassing current defensive lineman Chris Jones (No. 46). Last week, Mullen was already raving about his new toy at his signing day news conference. With Jay Hughes graduating, there’s an opening at the strong safety spot that’s perfect for Peters to come in and play right away. It’s not an easy position to play early, but Peters has the size and athletic ability to do it. The rest he can learn along the way.

Alex Scarborough: RB Damien Harris, Alabama
I'm tempted to go with Kyler Murray here because I believe he could win the job outright, but the QB position is just too hard to predict. So instead I'll turn to a position that does lend itself to making an impact early: running back. I'm going way down the list of the top players in the country to No. 36 Harris. The nation's No. 2 running back has a chance to make a significant impact from Day 1 with Alabama. T.J. Yeldon and Jalston Fowler off to the NFL, remember, and Kenyan Drake is coming off an injury, Altee Tenpenny has transferred out and Tyren Jones has a history of ending up in the doghouse. If Harris, a well-rounded back, can grasp the offense, he could be a dangerous change of pace to the bruising Derrick Henry.

Derek Tyson: DE Byron Cowart, Auburn
The Auburn defense was tied for 92nd in the FBS in sacks by getting to the quarterback only 21 times last season. That was a point of emphasis for new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, and no player was bigger than the No. 1 defensive end and No. 1 player overall, Cowart. The five-star prospect was absolutely dominant during the Under Armour All-America game week of practice. At 6-3, 258 pounds, he is already big and athletic enough to see the field early on in his career at Auburn.
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Quarterback Kyler Murray grabbed all of the headlines at Allen (Texas) High School over the past few seasons, but it’s actually junior offensive tackle Greg Little who is a higher-ranked prospect.


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2016 recruits to watch in the SEC 

February, 6, 2015
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With national signing day 2015 complete, attention will now turn to the Class of 2016. There are 33 prospects in the ESPN Junior 300 already committed to SEC schools. Here's a closer look at five players who could be grabbing headlines a year from now.


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When five-star defensive end and ESPN 300 No. 9-ranked CeCe Jefferson announced his commitment to Florida over Alabama, Auburn and Ole Miss on national signing day, it appeared as if the Gators had locked up two of the top three prospects in the Sunshine State along with No. 1-ranked offensive tackle Martez Ivey.

Fast-forward nearly 24 hours and Jefferson has yet to fax his letter of intent to the University of Florida. According to Jefferson’s father, Leo Jefferson, Jefferson is still thinking about his decision.

“No, we are not sending it yet,” Leo Jefferson said. “CeCe is still thinking about it. He wants time to think about it.”

Rumors have circulated that Jefferson’s cold feet have been caused by Florida defensive line coach Terrell Williams leaving for the Miami Dolphins. Jefferson’s father declined to comment on what was delaying the decision.

“I don’t know. I don’t want to speak for CeCe,” Leo Jefferson said. “These young kids change their mind all the time.”

Whatever the reason for Jefferson rethinking his decision, a resolution might not be coming any time soon.

“We don’t have a timetable,” Leo Jefferson said. “CeCe could change his mind about everything.”

Jefferson, who still favors the Gators, made official visits to Ole Miss, Auburn and Alabama during the recruiting process, as well as a number of unofficial visits to Gainesville.
Gus Malzahn was not a happy camper after the Iron Bowl. He was frustrated with his team’s execution in the red zone, and he was not pleased with his defense, which allowed 55 points and 539 yards to rival Alabama. One of those was on him. The other he knew he needed to fix.

The day after the game, Malzahn let go of veteran defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson after two seasons on the Plains. Less than two weeks later, he hired ex-Florida coach Will Muschamp to replace Johnson. It was a home run hire for Auburn. In January, Travaris Robinson and Lance Thompson were added to the defensive staff, and the transformation was complete.

But this was a defense that allowed 30 or more points in seven of the last eight games. It needed more than a few coaching changes. It needed an infusion of young talent.

Fast forward to Wednesday, national signing day. Auburn finished with the No. 7 recruiting class per ESPN. Of the 27 signees, 13 came on the defensive side of the ball. That group included five players ranked in the ESPN 300 and was highlighted by five-star defensive end Byron Cowart.

"The future is very bright on that side of the football," Malzahn told ESPN after the class was complete.

It didn’t come without drama, though. Oh was there drama. The coaches rejoiced in the morning when Cowart announced he was choosing Auburn over Florida, but grew weary when the signed letter of intent never came through. Finally, it was Muschamp, the man most responsible for landing Cowart, who took the papers off the fax machine about 3 p.m. CT.

The coaches could celebrate once again, knowing they landed the nation's No. 1 player.

"You’re talking about the best player in the country," Malzahn said in his signing day news conference. "So yeah, he’ll have a chance to compete and have a chance to be on the field immediately with his skill set."

Cowart, along with fellow Floridian Jeffrey Holland, filled arguably the Tigers’ biggest need -- players who could get to the quarterback. Auburn finished No. 11 in the SEC this past season with 21 sacks, so developing a pass rush was Priority No. 1 for the new staff.

"We didn’t have Carl Lawson this year, and we had a couple other injuries, too, so I thought it was very important," Malzahn said. "That was one of our priorities -- get some guys so that we could rush the passer with just four guys and not have to blitz. We were able to do that two years ago, and we weren’t able to do that this past year. So that was definitely a focus, and we’re very excited about these guys that signed today."

The other need Auburn wanted to address on signing day was finding players who could cover. The Tigers struggled against the pass last season, and with two starters departing from the secondary, it was important to bring in a handful of new defensive backs.

That is where Robinson comes in. The new assistant coach, who was with Muschamp at Florida, proved instrumental to the 2015 class, specifically in the secondary. Auburn landed four defensive backs in the past three weeks, and Robinson had a large part to do with all four signing Wednesday. It was no surprise that all four hailed from the Sunshine State.

"Coach T-Rob went out -- he already had relationships with some guys -- and he felt very good about them coming in," Malzahn said.

Auburn also signed Richard McBryde and Darrell Williams, the top two linebackers in the state. Both bring versatility, and should help with the transition of defensive schemes now that Muschamp has arrived. That was another key for this class.

"Coach Muschamp, he’s handpicking these guys to fit his defense, and he’s very excited about that," Malzahn said. "We’ve got some guys that can help us immediately."

Wednesday was the next step to rebuilding a defense that let Auburn down time and time again last season. Nobody expects a top-10 group next season, but as Malzahn said, the future certainly looks bright on that side of the ball.
Each of the four teams in the inaugural College Football Playoff relied on a freshman or two, and some in valuable positions.

Here are five teams that helped their playoff chances with the recruiting classes signed on national signing day.


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Stop, for a moment, at the close of another wild and unpredictable signing day, and remember these eight therapeutic words: Not a single football game was played Wednesday.

Now, proceed to lose your mind.

In possibly the final signing day of its kind, college football grabbed the spotlight for its annual, offseason showcase of the bizarre. Winners and losers emerged. Mostly, though, it went off about as scripted -- and by that, we mean totally, beautifully unscripted.

[+] EnlargeSoso Jamabo
Matt Garnett/Icon SportswireSoso Jamabo helped start signing day, and UCLA's run, with his commitment to the Bruins.
Wednesday out West, signs pointed to a raising of the stakes in the Pac-12.

UCLA won the morning with big scores over Michigan for tight end Chris Clark, Texas for athlete Soso Jamabo, Georgia for No. 2 outside linebacker Roquan Smith -- more on Smith later -- and Oklahoma for offensive guard Joshua Wariboko.

The Bruins later snagged receiver Cordell Broadus, son of Snoop Dogg, but by mid-afternoon, the fireworks shifted to the USC Trojans' side of town.

USC won out for top-ranked inside linebacker John Houston Jr., No. 1 cornerback Iman Marshall and defensive tackle Rasheem Green Wednesday, along with athlete Porter Gustin, linebacker Osa Masina and defensive tackle Kevin Scott earlier in January. The Trojans' late rush helped their class finish No. 3 overall.

National champion Ohio State of the Big Ten made a morning splash by retaining the commitment of quarterback Torrance Gibson, who gave late consideration to Auburn and LSU. The Buckeyes flipped offensive tackle Isaiah Prince from Alabama's No. 1 class, which was otherwise largely put to bed weeks ago.

Texas flipped safety P.J. Locke from Oregon to punctuate Charlie Strong's 29-man, No. 9-ranked class that might signal the return to prominence of the Longhorns.

And the SEC added its share of drama, starting with the Auburn-Florida battles, in which former Gators coach Will Muschamp loomed large.

Muschamp's new program beat his old one for linebacker Jeffery Holland and the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect, defensive end Byron Cowart of Seffner (Florida) Armwood.

Cowart, though, failed to fax his signed letter of intent to Auburn for some seven hours while reports bounced back and forth about his eventual decision.

Clearly, he was torn, feeling compelled to consider Florida coach Jim McElwain and his staff, on the job for two months.

"It's not their fault they're new," Cowart said. "In the recruiting process, [coaches] tell you what you want to hear, and when you get there, everything switches."

So ultimately, Cowart went with Auburn -- and the coach he trusted.

The Tigers, after the great start, lost No. 1 offensive tackle Martez Ivey and second-rated defensive end CeCe Jefferson to Florida and top-ranked defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr. to Missouri.

Tennessee claimed victory with the signing of elite defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie, a longtime commitment out of California, and the late flip of offensive tackle Drew Richmond from Ole Miss to secure the nation's fifth-rated class -- No. 2 in the SEC.

Ranked No. 1 nationally, for the fourth straight year, was the Crimson Tide.

"One of the very good things about this class is we didn't have a lot of drama today," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "These guys have been committed to us for a while.
"That's not the way to get the most attention from the media, but that certainly speaks highly of what a commitment means."

LSU, with its new all-star cast of recruiters headlined by Ed Orgeron, finished with good news early in the week on defensive end Arden Key, followed by the Wednesday addition of guard Toby Weathersby -- a former Texas pledge -- and the flip of receiver Brandon Martin from Missouri.

Martin punctuated his change of heart with this hashtag on Twitter.



And then there was the case of Smith, the linebacker out of Macon County High School in Montezuma, Georgia, who announced his choice of UCLA over Georgia on ESPNU but never faxed his letter of intent.

Why? Because in the moments after signing, Smith learned from reporters at his school -- as Georgia coaches furiously called with the same news -- that UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich was up for a job as the Atlanta Falcons' linebackers coach.

Ulbrich recruited Smith, who plans to wait "a couple days to figure things out," Macon County coach Larry Harold told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Ah, there's nothing quite like signing day, which could change considerably for the next class of recruits if a proposal is approved this spring by the Division I conference commissioners to add a three-day early signing period in December.

So, if this was the last of its kind -- with the full-on drama and star power that only a once-a-year event can provide -- then signing day as we know it went out in style.
videoThe national signing day ceremonies have concluded, the ink has dried and the fax machines have been turned off. The Class of 2015 is mostly in the books. As is the case annually, there were a number of winners -- and a couple of losers -- on national signing day. Here is a look at the schools that excelled and the schools that had a rough day.

SCHOOLS THAT FARED WELL

UCLA: The Bruins began the day at No. 17 in the ESPN RecruitingNation class rankings, but they quickly moved up to No. 11 with a run of ESPN 300 commitments. No. 111 prospect Chris Clark, a tight end, got the day started and was followed by RB Soso Jamabo (No. 28), OG Joshua Wariboko (No. 105) and OLB Roquan Smith (No. 29). The day got even better in the early afternoon when No. 130 recruit Cordell Broadus, a wide receiver, picked the Bruins over Arizona State. All five of the recruits who committed to UCLA on Wednesday are from different states.

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Completed class: Auburn Tigers

February, 4, 2015
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Auburn has announced its 2015 class:

Five-stars
Byron Cowart DE -- Armwood High School, Florida
Kerryon Johnson ATH -- Madison Academy, Alabama

ESPN 300
Jeffery Holland OLB -- Trinity Christian Academy, Florida
Richard McBryde OLB -- Charles Henderson High School, Alabama
Jordan Colbert OLB -- Griffin High School, Georgia
Darius Slayton CB -- Greater Atlanta Christian School, Georgia
Bailey Sharp OT -- Sprayberry High School, Georgia
Darrell Williams OLB -- Hoover High School, Alabama
Kaleb Kim OG -- Mill Creek High School, Georgia
Ryan Davis ATH -- Lakewood Senior High School, Florida
Mike Horton OG -- Lakeside High School, Georgia
Marquel Harrell OG -- Creekside High School, Georgia

ESPN JC 50
Jovon Robinson RB -- Georgia Military College, Tennessee
Jason Smith ATH -- Mississippi Gulf Coast Comm College AL

Four-stars
Prince Tega Wanogho Jr. DE -- Edgewood Academy, Alabama
Tyler Carr OG -- Southside High School, Alabama
Tyler Queen QB-PP -- North Cobb High School, Georgia
Tim Irvin ATH -- Westminster Christian School, Florida

Three-stars
Carlton Davis S -- Miami Norland High School, Florida
Montavious Atkinson OLB -- Langston Hughes High School, Georgia
Chandler Cox TE-H -- Apopka High School, Florida
Jalen Harris TE-Y -- Saint James School, Alabama
Javarius Davis ATH -- Ed H. White High School, Florida
Jauntavius Johnson DT -- Lincoln High School, Alabama
Maurice Swain DT -- Mississippi Gulf Coast Comm College, Georgia
Ian Shannon K -- Marietta High School, Georgia
Jeremiah Dinson CB -- American High School, Florida
Jeffery Holland, Von MillerESPN, USA TODAY SportsDownhill pass-rushing ability and blitzing has Jeffery Holland drawing comparisons to Pro Bowler Von Miller.
Jeffery Holland, No. 46 in the ESPN 300 and the No. 4 outside linebacker prospect, committed to Auburn over Florida on Wednesday morning during a ceremony at Trinity Christian Academy in Jacksonville, Florida. The big win for the Tigers was expected due to family connections to Auburn and a strong relationship with Tigers defensive coordinator Will Muschamp.

Commitment impact: Holland is one of the top pass-rushing outside linebackers in recent memory coming out of the high school ranks and will bring impact edge-rush ability. Holland is one of four ESPN 300 prospects to commit to Auburn on national signing day, including two fellow Floridians: No. 1 Byron Cowart and No. 242 Ryan Davis.

[+] EnlargeJeffery Holland
ESPNLinebacker Jeffery Holland is one of the top pass rushers in the 2015 class.
What he brings:

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