NCF On The Trail: College Football

Signing day has come and gone and with it an entirely new batch of Pac-12 players is joining the conference (269 players, to be exact).

With the Pac-12 gaining more national recognition, it’s no surprise to see the recruiting trends heading further outside of what was typically considered “Pac-12 territory.”

For example, the most heavily recruited area was -- unsurprisingly -- the West Coast and states that are the home to one or more Pac-12 programs. But right after that, the next-biggest target was the South and Southeast: SEC territory. The Pac-12 signed the same number of recruits from Texas as it did Arizona. Louisiana was a big state for the conference as well -- Pac-12 schools signed 13 players from the Bayou State.

Here’s a closer look at where exactly the conference picked up its Class of 2015 talent:
Observations:

  • One obvious note is the number of players from California -- players from the Golden State account for 48 percent of Pac-12 signees in 2015. That’s not too surprising, considering how large and talent-rich the state is. Of the top 25 players in California, 21 signed with Pac-12 schools. The other four signed with Alabama, Tennessee, Notre Dame and San Jose State.
  • Each Pac-12 program signed at least one player from California in the 2015 class (that’s the only state with which that’s true this season). On average, there are 11 signees from California in each recruiting class this season. Though it’s USC who leads the way with 17 signees from California, Washington State was right on the Trojans’ heels with 16 signees from Cali.
  • The state of Washington showed out pretty well in the conference. While there was only one player from Washington in the ESPN 300, there were 16 signees from the state who landed with Pac-12 programs.
  • The only program to not sign a player from the program’s home state was Oregon. However, there were five players from Oregon that did sign with Pac-12 programs. Those players ended up at Arizona (1), Oregon State (2), Stanford (1) and Washington (1).
  • Players staying home: Arizona and Arizona State signed seven players from Arizona; California, Stanford, UCLA and USC signed 48 players from California; Colorado signed four players from Colorado; Oregon State signed two players from Oregon; Utah signed three players from Utah; and Washington and Wazzu signed a total of nine players from Washington.
  • The most national class (meaning the team that signed the players from the most number of states) was Stanford, which signed players from 13 states. The least national class was USC, which signed players from just six states.

But what about the concentration of top talent in the 2015 class?

Again, unsurprisingly, California leads the way. The Golden State makes up half of the four-star and five-star players in the 2015 Pac-12 class. USC snagged five-star cornerback Iman Marshall, who hails from Long Beach, California, and 33 of the 66 four-stars in the 2015 class are also from California.

But this is where there’s a bit of a changeup. Of the 14 players from Texas that signed in the 2015 class, five (36 percent) are four-star players who landed at Pac-12 programs. After that -- with the exception of three four-star players from Georgia -- the majority of the top talent, again, hails from the traditional Pac-12 region.

[+] EnlargeChris Clark
Joe Faraoni/ESPN ImagesIt's not often that the Pac-12 pulls top prospects from Connecticut, such as UCLA-bound tight end Chris Clark.
Five-stars:

  • Hawaii: 1
  • California: 1
Four-stars:

  • California: 33
  • Texas: 5
  • Washington: 4
  • Arizona: 3
  • Georgia: 3
  • Utah: 3
  • Two four-star signees: Louisiana, North Carolina, Nevada, Oklahoma
  • One four-star signee: South Carolina, Colorado, Missouri, Tennessee, Florida, Connecticut, Hawaii

More notes:

  • Notably, the conference signed a four-star and five-star player from Hawaii. There were only four players in the state that were four- or five-star players. The two players who didn’t sign with a Pac-12 team went to Texas Tech and BYU. Both had Pac-12 offers.
  • The conference also cleaned up -- in regard to snagging the limited top talent out of state -- in Nevada. There were only three four-star players in Nevada and two ended up in the Pac-12 (UCLA and USC). The other player signed with Notre Dame.
  • More impressively, the conference was able to sign one of two four-star players out of Connecticut (TE Chris Clark, UCLA). When considering the distance between Nevada and the Pac-12 and Connecticut and the Pac-12, this is quite a recruiting feat.

As these players get more into the programs and possibly become big Pac-12 contributors, it will only open up these national pipelines more, making the conference’s footprint even bigger.
With such a talented group of players on one list, the Ultimate ESPN 300, it was difficult to narrow things to three favorites. After all, these are some of the best ever to play college football. With that being said, here are three of my favorites:

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesFew players have come off the edge like Jadeveon Clowney in his South Carolina heyday.
1. I've covered recruiting for several years, but watching defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (No. 1) go up against offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio at the 2011 Under Armour All-America game and practices was something I'll never forget. Clowney is the best athlete I have seen, and watching him go up against another five-star prospect was incredible.

Kouandjio more than held his own that week against the top player in the country, but there was no doubt Clowney was on another level. Clowney went on to have an incredible career at South Carolina, and who could forget the devastating hit he laid on Michigan running back Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl?

2. Quarterback Tim Tebow (No. 2), with his unusual throwing mechanics and bruising style of play, had his doubters coming out of high school. Tebow, however, went on to have one of the most prolific careers in the history of college football by winning two national championships, two SEC championships and a Heisman Trophy.

To sum up Tebow's leadership ability and team-first mentality, I recall watching Tebow's high school team, Nease, play in the Florida state championship game against Armwood High School. Armwood had the ball and was driving for what would have been the go-ahead touchdown and a defensive lineman for Nease had to leave the game because of an injury. Tebow races out to the field and lines up at nose tackle. Though he didn't make the play, Nease won, and it displayed what kind of person he was. He was willing to do whatever it took to help his team win, and that's how he played throughout his college career.

3. Running back Derrick Henry's (No. 202) high school team, Yulee, didn't play in a very strong division in Florida, so the ridiculous stats (11,182 rushing yards and 153 rushing TDs) Henry put up in his high school career seemed to be somewhat inflated.

Henry's senior season, I had a chance to watch Yulee take on Belle Glade Glades Day School, which had Kelvin Taylor (No. 174), another five-star running back. I assumed that because of Henry's size (6-foot-4, 235 pounds) he would likely move to another position on the next level. But after watching him play in person and seeing how athletic and nimble he was, Henry convinced me he had the tools to be a top running back. Watching both running backs rush for more than 200 yards on the night and seeing two future stars at their brightest was one of the most memorable games I've ever had a chance to cover.
Some players flipped their commitments while other’s had memorable signing-day moments. Here is a closer look at the five most intriguing recruitments from the SEC.

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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Across the SEC and the Power 5 conferences as a whole, there were several coaching changes made after national signing day.

Once a recruit has signed his letter of intent, he is bound to the school he signed with. It seems unfair to the recruits, who have built relationships with coaches over the past two years just to see them leave for another job as soon as the player signs.

Every high school football recruit, at one time or another, has been told by a coach, parent or mentor to "choose a school not a coach."


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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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EUGENE, Ore. -- No news is good news ... at least for Oregon on signing day.

"I think we hit today with no surprises, in terms of good or bad," Oregon coach Mark Helrich said. "Which is always kind of maybe your goal on signing day."

Unlike a few of its Pac-12 brethren, the Ducks weren’t waiting on some last-minute commitments from top recruits. The only activity of late was a few other schools coming on hard to some of Oregon’s commits, and the visit from Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams last weekend.

However, even with that action, there were no changes in the class and the Ducks signed 22 players -- two junior college transfers and 20 high school seniors. Of those players, five have enrolled in Eugene.

Headlining the class and the early enrollees is five-star defensive end Canton Kaumatule, who could add immediate depth to the Ducks' pass rush this fall. Their second-highest signee is running back Taj Griffin, whose brother Ty is already on the roster. Griffin will add depth to a loaded Oregon backfield.

Oregon also added depth (both on the roster and height-wise) to their wide receiver and tight end groups. Both 6-foot-2 wide receiver Alex Ofodile and 6-foot-5 WR/TE hybrid Jake Breeland could see early playing time because of injuries and transfers.

Though the Ducks did manage to address a few areas of need with this class, the big question remains at quarterback: Who is going to replace Heisman winner Marcus Mariota?

Signee Travis Waller will arrive on campus in time for spring football, so he will be competing for the starting spot. At 6-3, he matches Morgan Mahalak as the tallest quarterbacks in competition, but Mahalak has the advantage of a year of training under Mariota in Oregon’s scheme.

But all of these names and heights and weights are old hat to most Oregon fans, who have been aware of these players for the past few months.

So what is it about the Ducks and their program that caused them not to have any late additions or subtractions?

"I think we’re honest -- it’s a very simple way to put it," Helfrich said. "I think there’s a lot of guys that love the sales aspect and the recruiting aspect. ... If we see you at this position, we’re going to be honest with you. It’s not the end all, be all, but we talk about how hard it is to play here and that, in the end, gets the right guys."

"We got some guys in this class because we deal with guys very honestly, and we lost some guys in this class because we deal with guys very honestly," Helfrich added.

Helfrich’s consistency in his personality and attitude has been talked about at length throughout this season as one of the reasons why his team was able to bounce back from an early loss to Arizona and make it to the national title game.

It appears that same attitude exists in recruiting, too. And Helfrich said "derecruiting," -- the idea that when a four- or five-star player gets to campus he needs to be reminded that he isn’t all that -- just doesn’t happen with him because he never starts by telling a recruit he is all that.

"We don’t go into a tailback’s home and say, 'Hey, man, you’re going to carry the ball 35 times a game, you’re our bell cow, boom, let’s go,'" Helfrich said. "That never happens. They’re a part of something great."

Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

February, 3, 2015
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With national signing day only one day away, it is officially crunch time in recruiting. While some schools hosted several underclassmen for their junior day events, other schools hosted several official visitors in hopes of getting last-minute additions to their 2015 classes. Here is a closer look at some of the top news from around the SEC this weekend.


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The No. 1-ranked player in the ESPN 300, Byron Cowart, is just a few short days away from making his college decision. The five-star prospect will announce his final choice Wednesday at 9:10 a.m. ET on ESPNU.

Cowart, his mother Lacroria Wilson, and his 7-on-7 coach and mentor Woodrow Grady will sit down Monday night to discuss and ultimately make a final decision between selecting Auburn or Florida.


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GLEN ST. MARY, Fla. -- For five-star defensive end CeCe Jefferson, his recruitment has come down to the wire. The second-ranked defensive end in the country visited LSU this weekend, but sent out a tweet this morning with a final list of schools that included Alabama, Auburn, Florida, and Ole Miss.

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Best of the visits: SEC

February, 1, 2015
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It is down to the final weekend before national signing day, and there were some very important visitors over the weekend. Some were official visits, some were unofficial, and some were from top juniors around the country. Recruits from all over the SEC shared there thoughts on social media through tweets or Instagram photos. Here’s a look at the best social media posts from the weekend.

Five-star defensive end CeCe Jefferson posted an Instagram video of Mike the Tiger while on his official visit to LSU this weekend. Jefferson is set to make his decision on Wednesday and it's down to LSU, Florida, Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss and FSU.

 

Arizona State athlete commit Jaason Lewis posed for a photo while on his official visit to Ole Miss this weekend.

 

Four-star offensive guard Quarvez Boulware posted three photos while on his Florida visit this weekend. One of the photos included all of the official visitors Florida brought in over the weekend.

 

Mississippi State safety commit Jamal Peters posed for a photo with one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC this past season, Dak Prescott. There were rumors Peters might visit LSU this weekend, which had Mississippi State fans worried. But the No 2-ranked safety visited the team he has been committed to for a while, and it appears he will stick with his pledge on signing day.

 

ESPN 300 offensive tackle and Ole Miss commit Drew Richmond posted this photo when he arrived for his scheduled official visit to Tennessee this weekend. The Rebels are obviously hoping to hold on to the four-star prospect commitment, while the Vols are doing everything they can to flip the talented lineman.

 

Two ESPN Junior 300 prospects Derrick Brown and Kaden Smith posed for a photo during Alabama’s big junior day on Saturday.

 

Florida had commitment visits on Saturday from three-star offensive linemen Richerd Desir-Jones and Fredrick Johnson.

 

Recent Iowa State defensive tackle commit Josh Coleman took an official visit to Missouri this weekend.

 

ESPN Junior 300 running back C.J. Freeman and 2016 wide receiver Tyrek Tisdale pose for a photo while on an unofficial visit to South Carolina for the Gamecocks junior day.

 

SEC tipping point classes 

January, 30, 2015
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Signing day is just around the corner, and most SEC teams have a chance to finish in the top 40 of the ESPN class rankings. Two schools, however, could make or break their overall recruiting classes in this last week.

Auburn and Florida are in a unique situation that could certainly have an effect on both of their recruiting classes. Former Florida coach Will Muschamp is now the defensive coordinator at Auburn, and several top recruits from the state of Florida grew up Gators fans but have a great relationship with Muschamp. Here’s a closer look at how these two teams could finish.


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APOPKA, Fla. -- With one week remaining until national signing day, five-star offensive tackle Martez Ivey is finally closing in on his decision.

The fifth-ranked player in the ESPN 300 will announce his decision between Auburn and Florida next Wednesday on ESPNU but contemplated announcing early just to get the process over with.

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Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

January, 27, 2015
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This was one of two remaining weekends for recruits to take visits until national signing day. The weekend was full of news including over 10 commitments in the SEC. Here’s a closer look at some of the top news from around the conference this weekend.


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