NCF On The Trail: Football recruiting

The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting news across the country. Today’s offerings: No. 2 cornerback Iman Marshall announced four of his five official visits on Thursday, but he decided to crowd-source his final visit and that brought out the worst from Oklahoma and Texas fans. Alabama is expected to bounce back with good news on Friday after losing two recruits last weekend, and we continue our tour of the top recruiting happenings on social media.

1. Five-star cornerback Iman Marshall announced Thursday he was going to take official visits to Notre Dame, Florida State, LSU and Michigan. He said the final visit would either go to Texas or Oklahoma and he asked the fan bases of both schools to help him “decide between these two historic programs.” Of course that didn't go over well, as fans of both programs quickly pounced on the opportunity to trash a rival school. You can see for yourself a few of the tamer tweets from Horn and Sooner fans, but most we simply can't publish here. There are times when fan interaction with recruits isn't really that bad thing and can be fun to follow, but this wasn't one of those times. A situation like this could certainly raise some eyebrows with officials in Indianapolis.

2. ESPN 300 linebacker Joshua McMillon is slated to announce his decision at 11 a.m. ET Friday on ESPN.com. The smart money is on Alabama and the ESPN Hot Board has him projected to the Crimson Tide with high confidence. Landing McMillon would give the Tide a nice boost after dropping two commitments from their top-ranked class last weekend.

3. Nine games and 28 players in the ESPN 300. That’s what recruiting fans will get to see this weekend as part of the 2014 High School Football Kickoff. ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU has nine different games that feature some of the nation's best prospects, including the nation’s No. 1 prospect Josh Sweat facing 2013 Florida 4A state champion Miami Booker T. Washington at 9 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPNU.

Some of the other household names recruiting fans can see: Recent Georgia defensive tackle commit and No. 6 player overall Trenton Thompson of Albany (Georgia) is the key name in the game against Lee (Georgia) County that airs at 1 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPNU. The Jacksonville (Florida) Trinity Christian Academy-Buford (Georgia) High School matchup features seven ESPN 300 prospects, including five from Trinity Christian alone. Trinity Christian is led by top-ranked cornerback and LSU pledge Kevin Toliver II and No. 41 prospect Jeffery Holland. Buford is headlined by ESPN Junior 300 tight end Isaac Nauta, who has offers from coast to coast. The Palm Beach Dwyer and Plantation American Heritage game at 3 p.m. ET Saturday (ESPN) will be a great opportunity for No. 12 Torrance Gibson to show he can play quarterback on the highest level.

#FlashbackFriday
In the class of 2006, few were more heavily courted at the running back spot than Knowshon Moreno out of Middletown (New Jersey) South. Moreno had run for 2,030 yards and 37 touchdowns as a junior, making him one of the most heavily courted prospects around.

On this day nine years ago, Moreno called Oklahoma “the team to beat” and he was excited about a September official visit and the possibility of filling the shoes of Adrian Peterson, who was expected to leave after the 2006 season.

The visit to OU never took place, as Oklahoma went on to land DeMarco Murray out of Las Vegas Bishop Gorman, and Moreno zeroed his focus on Florida and Georgia before picking the Dawgs. OU made the right decision grabbing Murray, and nobody can question Moreno’s choice. At Georgia, Moreno rushed for 2,734 yards and 30 touchdowns and was a two-time first-team all-SEC selection. He went on to become a first-round draft choice and has had a successful NFL career.

Social Studies
Five-star defensive tackle and Texas A&M Daylon Mack is not only one of my favorite talents in the 2015 class, he’s also one of my favorite follows on Twitter. Mack simply doesn’t disappoint and always finds a way to get recruiting fans fired up or make them smile with his tweets. This tweet from Thursday did both.

Early Offer: The chase for Campbell 

August, 20, 2014
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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting news across the country. Today’s offerings: Five-star George Campbell has committed and decommitted from Michigan and listed Florida and LSU as teams he’s really high on. But as he gets closer to his decision, don’t be surprised if another team emerges. Plus, ESPN Grade could be a positive recruiting tool for Alabama, UCLA, Ohio State and Stanford, and we continue our tour of the top recruiting happenings on social media.


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Video: Class Rankings Aug. 20 breakdown

August, 20, 2014
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National recruiting analyst Craig Haubert joins ESPN’s Phil Murphy to break down updates to the ESPN class rankings for 2015 football recruiting. One SEC program continued its climb towards No. 1.

Scout's Take: Jaquan Johnson to Miami 

August, 20, 2014
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Miami has picked up local product Jaquan Johnson. Read on to see how the ESPN 300 athlete can make an impact for the Hurricanes:


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ESPN 300 safety Jamile Johnson Jr. is a versatile defender who could make an immediate impact in Chapel Hill.


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Big Ten programs have been working hard to fill their recruiting classes before the season starts to get most of the heavy lifting out of the way. With 26 ESPN 300 commitments within the conference there is still work to be done, though.

The conference is once again top heavy in the recruiting class rankings and has a few teams that need to step up their efforts.


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When the USC Trojans scrimmaged in the Coliseum last week, there was a notable sideline visitor in highly ranked cornerback Iman “Biggie” Marshall.


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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting news across the country. Today’s offerings: Missouri made national headlines when it signed a five-star local prospect in the 2012 class. Now the question facing the Tigers is whether they can do it again with Class of 2015 five-star Terry Beckner Jr. Plus, Nebraska has had good luck with junior-college prospects under Bo Pelini, and the Huskers hope to continue that trend. We also continue our tour of the top recruiting happenings on social media.

[+] EnlargeTerry Beckner
Tom Hauck for Student SportsTerry Beckner Jr. is a vital in-state target for Mizzou.
1. Over the last four classes two of the nation's elite players have come from prospects in Missouri's backyard. In 2012, the state produced No. 3-ranked Dorial Green-Beckham, and he signed with Mizzou before running into off-the-field issues this past offseason that led to his departure. The Tigers are hoping they can replicate the recruiting success -- without the off-field complications -- with No. 4-ranked Beckner. The five-star defensive end is about as must-get of a recruit as there has been for Gary Pinkel in his time in CoMo. To win in the SEC, you have to have beasts on the defensive line, and Beckner is definitely talented. The good news is Missouri looks to be in good shape and will receive an unofficial visit on Oct. 11 for the Georgia game.

2. Without a doubt, “The Maryland Way” will be something that helps the Terps on the recruiting trail. Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson announced Tuesday the implementation of "The Maryland Way Guarantee,” which gives athletes a “lifetime” guarantee on their scholarship even if they can’t compete because of injury. As the Terps move into the B1G, they’re fighting for every advantage they can to keep top talent in the DMV at home and away from conference rivals, and this development will give Randy Edsall some additional recruiting ammo to work with.

3. Nebraska has never been one to go heavy after junior college prospects, but over the years the Huskers have managed to strike gold with a number of two-year prospects. Defensive back DeJon Gomes, linebacker Lavonte David and most recently defensive end Randy Gregory are great examples of juco players recruited by Bo Pelini that have panned out. Defensive back Justin Martin out of Northeastern Oklahoma A&M could be next in line. The Huskers recently offered Martin, and while he doesn’t have favorites listed at this point, he was quite excited about picking up the NU offer. Another factor that could help the Huskers is that his coach, Ryan Held, played at Nebraska.

#WednesdayWisdom
Pursuant to NCAA Bylaw 11.5.1, only coaches who have been certified may contact or evaluate prospective student-athletes off-campus. To become certified, coaches must answer 80 percent of the questions on the NCAA Coaches Certification Test correctly. Here are a few examples of the types of questions coaches must answer correctly:

True or False: An institution's coach may produce a computer recruiting presentation and show it to a prospective student-athlete at the prospective student-athlete's high school.

The answer: True

True or False: It is permissible for a football coach at an institution located in the state of Pennsylvania to conduct several institutional camps in Minnesota, Iowa and Missouri in order to attract more prospective student-athletes from the Midwest.

The answer: False

Social Studies
Marquise Doherty is not only one of the top running backs in the country he’s also one of the top baseball prospects around. So when Doherty tweeted out Tuesday his top five schools -- a list that consisted of Iowa, Oregon, Missouri, Kansas State and Louisville -- he indicated all the schools have talked to him about playing both sports in college. Some have pegged Iowa as the team to beat because his former high school teammate Aaron Mends is a freshman with the Hawkeyes, but Doherty says official visits will be key for him.
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.
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Nearly 90 recruits -- including 10 ESPN 300 prospects -- made commitments to the Pac-12 since the start of June, as the conference recruiting race heated up alongside the weather this summer. Not surpisingly, even with the boon over the past two and a half months, the Pac-12 still lags behind other conferences when it comes to sheer commitment numbers. Many Pac-12 programs have become content to wait until the season, or after the season, to put an emphasis on official visits and commitments. At this point, 35 programs hold commitments from 16 or more recruits, and only one of those -- Arizona -- resides in the Pac-12.


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Early Offer: Tough weekend for Tide 

August, 17, 2014
Aug 17
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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting news across the country. Today’s offerings: Alabama doesn’t lose too many recruiting battles, but the Crimson Tide suffered not just one but two stinging defeats over the weekend. Plus, Wisconsin’s classes never grab national headlines but the 2015 class is a good one, and we continue our tour of the top recruiting happenings on social media.


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Just a month ago, it looked as if the top ranked defensive lineman in Mississippi for 2016 was set to leave the state and play for national power Alabama. How quickly things change. After an Aug. 15 unofficial visit to Oxford, Mississippi, ESPN Junior 300 No. 120 Bentio Jones has decided to flip from the Crimson Tide to Ole Miss.


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Scout's Take: WR Stanley to Georgia 

August, 17, 2014
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Georgia has a new, top offensive pledge following Jayson Stanley's decision. Below, see why he's such a key addition to Georgia's 2015 class:


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Scout's Take: DT Ledbetter to UGA 

August, 17, 2014
Aug 17
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Georgia Bulldogs picked up more steam on the trail Saturday night by flipping Under Armour All-American defensive tackle Jonathan Ledbetter from his commitment to Alabama. Read on to see what this means for the Bulldogs:


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