NCF On The Trail: Michigan State Spartans

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After reviewing performances at The Opening last week, here are a few quick hits on how each Elite 11 quarterback performed:

ESPN 300 running back L.J. Scott has committed to play for head coach Mark Dantonio. Read below for more on one of 2015's best system-fitting pledges:


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BEAVERTON, Ore. -- The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford was one of the many high-profile college and NFL quarterbacks on hand Sunday at the Elite 11 quarterback competition on Nike's campus. Bradford said he was impressed with the play of a number of the quarterbacks, but he did have some candid advice for the recruits that have yet to make their college decisions. Plus, one college quarterback really made a big impression on No. 3 dual-threat quarterback Deondre Francois and Monday's schedule features more work at the Elite 11.


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Five-star prospects Justin Hilliard and Jashon Cornell will announce their commitments live on ESPN.com Wednesday at 10 a.m. ET.

The two recruits will announce separately from their respective schools, but will make their decisions back to back so let’s get you up to speed on where each one is at in the process.


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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: While many people will be enjoying a little time off this week, college coaches chasing five-star linebacker Justin Hilliard and five-star defensive end Jashon Cornell are putting in overtime to convince them to come to their school before both prospects make decisions at 10 a.m. ET Wednesday on ESPN.com. Both players say they want to play together in college, so what are the chances one school ends up 10 stars better Wednesday?


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The 2015 edition of the ESPN 300 debuts today. Uncommitted defensive tackle Trenton Thompson tops the first batch of rankings. Here are 10 things to know about the initial 2015 ESPN 300:

[+] EnlargeTrenton Thompson
Gerry Hamilton/ESPNTrenton Thompson is the top-ranked player in the ESPN 300.
1. Top spot still up for grabs: While Thompson remains atop the rankings, there is no guarantee he stays there. The Opening, where linemen will compete in pads against each other, is right around the corner, and prospects like Martez Ivey, Josh Sweat and Byron Cowart have the opportunity make a push for the top spot. Defensive linemen have been ranked No. 1 by ESPN three of the past four years, and the 2015 group is trying to make it four out of five.

2. Defensive line dominates: Six of the top 10 2015 prospects and eight of the 16 five-star prospects are defensive linemen. There are 22 defensive linemen in the top 100 and 48 in the top 300. When looking for the states to find the top DL prospects, Georgia tops the list with eight, followed by Virginia with five and South Carolina and North Carolina with four each.

3. O Canada: Jumping into the ESPN 300 at No. 186 is Canadian defensive tackle prospect Neville Gallimore. The 6-foot-3, 280-pound stand-up defensive end projects as a defensive tackle and has offers from Oklahoma, Florida, Michigan State, Ohio State and others. He is the first prospect who is playing high school football in Canada at the time of his ranking to be listed in the ESPN 300. Michael O’Connor, No. 132 in the 2014 rankings, is from Canada but played his final two years of high school in the U.S.

4. Players off the board quickly: To date, 152 prospects in the ESPN 300 have committed. As expected, the SEC leads the way with 65 ESPN 300 prospects, led by Alabama’s 15. The SEC West has 40 of the pledges.

5. Sunshine statement: The state of Florida leads the way with 52 prospects in the ESPN 300, including six five-star prospects. Dade and Broward counties combine to claim 16 of the 52 players. This number further illustrates the continuing importance of the state to recruiting, as does the fact that 44 former Florida high school players were taken in the 2014 NFL draft.

6. Tidal wave: With 15 ESPN 300 prospects committed, Alabama currently has 52 ESPN 300-ranked players in the past three classes, following 19 in 2014 and 18 in 2013. Including ESPN 150 players in 2011 and 2012, the Crimson Tide have 76 prospects in the 300 and 150 combined in the past five years.

7. Peach State trending: There are 34 prospects from Georgia in the 2015 ESPN 300. That number is up from 27 in the final 2014 rankings and 30 in 2013. Only Florida and Texas (42 ESPN 300 players) have more prospects in the 2015 300. The strength of the state is on the lines, with 18 of the 34 being offensive and defensive linemen.

8. Familiar last names: Vanderbilt quarterback commit Kyle Shurmur is the son of Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. No. 1 quarterback and five-star QB Kyler Murray is the son of former Texas A&M quarterback Kevin Murray. No. 22 Shy Tuttle is the nephew of former Clemson standout and first-round NFL draft pick Perry Tuttle. No. 95 Kahlil McKenzie is the son of former Tennessee standout and current Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie.

9. California QBs: The state’s nine ranked signal-callers are by far the most from one state in the three years since the rankings were expanded to 300. In the 2013 class, the state of California had six QBs in the 300.

10. Remember the name: Quarterback Sam Darnold is the highest-ranked newcomer to the 300 at No. 89. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Darnold missed the majority of his junior season with a fractured foot and just began popping onto the national recruiting radar during the spring evaluation period. He has offers from Northwestern, Utah, Wake Forest and Duke, among others.
College coaches and recruits are always quick to proclaim their school as the best at developing certain positions. Whether it’s DBU or Linebacker U, recruits have a definite perception of which school stands out at their position.

Prospects from across the country were polled on which school has been the best at developing each position over the past 10 years. Did your school make the list?


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The Sound Mind Sound Body camp was full of top prospects from all over the country. The recruits, ranging from the 2015 to 2017 classes, came in for a two-day camp with on-the-field instruction and off-the-field speakers.

College coaches from nearly every Big Ten team, Stanford, Notre Dame and MAC schools were on hand to take in the event, and some were given the opportunity to speak to the prospects.

The coaches took advantage of the face time by spending time with top targets, including defensive end Jashon Cornell, running back Jacques Patrick, wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown and others.

Given the nature of the camp there was plenty of recruiting news and visit updates from those top recruits.

Patrick takes in Michigan
Michigan is still in pursuit of a top running back after losing Damien Harris to a decommitment earlier in the year. Mike Weber and Jacques Patrick have been two big targets, along with Harris, and Patrick made his annual trip up to Michigan to see the campus and take in the camp.


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Top Big Ten recruiters 

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Want to dominate on the recruiting trail in Big Ten territory? You better be long in experience because the conference’s best have lengthy track records that often stretch for more than a decade. These rankings are dominated by three Ohio State assistants, which might explain why the Buckeyes always manage to reel in plenty of ESPN 300 prospects.


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Unlike the ACC or SEC, the Big Ten hasn't taken an official position on an early signing period. Many Big Ten coaches see the benefits, but there has been no united front.

Here's a bit of advice: The Big Ten coaches should band together about an urgent recruiting item, but not the early signing period.

The Big Ten must campaign for official visits to be moved up. No other league is affected more by population shifts that have created dense pockets of top recruits located far from its footprint. The Big Ten is expanding its recruiting reach, especially to the Southeast, but its proximity to many talent bases remains a significant obstacle.

If the Big Ten can't get prospects to its campuses before decisions are made, it will continue to fall behind in the recruiting race.

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
AP Photo/Nati HarnikEarlier official visits would be a boon to Bo Pelini and Nebraska, as the Cornhuskers have to recruit nationally because of a limited local talent base.
"The first thing we have to do is get kids on campus earlier," Michigan coach Brady Hoke told ESPN.com. "I'm sure our friends in the Pac-12 and the SEC would rather not that be the case. They'd rather have kids come in to Ann Arbor if it's winter.

"But I think it would help the guys from distance and the guys from those climates to come on campus to see what it is like."

NCAA rules state that prospects can't begin taking their five official visits -- paid for by the schools -- until the start of their senior year in high school. But many recruits make their college choices much earlier.

The accelerated recruiting cycle has minimized the significance of official visits. Many prospects commit after taking unofficial visits, for which they pay their own way. But the distance between Big Ten schools and the highest concentrations of elite prospects makes it challenging for recruits and their families to fund long, expensive trips.

"Since the trend is for early commitments, it makes sense that it favors schools located in population bases that produce a lot of players," said Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo, a former coach at Indiana, LSU and Vanderbilt. "So how do you combat that? How does a kid from Atlanta get to Lincoln, Nebraska, in the summer on their own expense?"

DiNardo views Nebraska as the FBS school most impacted by accelerated recruiting cycle. Nebraska always has recruited nationally because of its small local population base, but former coach Tom Osborne -- "a tireless recruiter," DiNardo said -- capitalized on the fact that recruits made their choices after an official visit to Lincoln.

Huskers coach Bo Pelini acknowledges earlier official visits "would help us."

"When you take official visits away from the equation, it really hurts a place like Nebraska," DiNardo said. "So early signing day has to be partnered up with official visits in a prospect's junior year.

"If just the date moves up without official visits, it sets the Big Ten even further behind."

DiNardo notes that a program such as Ohio State is less affected by the official visits timetable because it has a large local talent base that can easily reach its campus. But other Big Ten programs must cast a wider recruiting net.

It's especially true for programs in the western part of the league: Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

"It gives some of the schools that aren't surrounded by a lot of schools or a lot of places, it gives us a chance," Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said. "But I don't know if that's going to happen or not. People in Texas aren't going to vote for that because they never have to leave Texas."

Most Big Ten coaches interviewed by ESPN.com favor earlier official visits but want clear guidelines. One question is timing.

Several coaches mention late May or early June as the ideal time because many recruits already are touring schools unofficially and most staffs are conducting on-campus camps.

"With the way people are traveling around right now, it might be good to afford a prospect to take a couple of visits in June," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "Also, I think it'd be great to afford at least a parent the opportunity to join that prospect and make it part of the official trip."

Coaches say the parental component is critical.

"Sometimes kids just don't have the means to be able to get here, and they definitely don't have the means to have their parents come," Pelini said. "Hopefully, they'll change that. It's too big of a decision for a 17-year-old or 18-year-old kid to make without his parents or somebody being there."

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesMark Dantonio wants an early official-visit period, but would prefer for it to be in a limited window instead of spanning the entire spring and summer.
Both Pelini and Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio want a limit on the number of official visitors schools could have in the spring. FBS teams can provide up to 56 official visits, but Dantonio rarely uses more than half of the allotment.

"It's not just carte blanche," Dantonio said. "I would make it a two-week window and cap those numbers."

Allowing 10-20 early official visits could work. Dantonio and Pelini also think prospects should be allowed to take multiple official visits to the same school.

Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen favors an earlier signing date in December, but he needs more clarity on official visits -- when they would take place, and for how long.

"I have to look at quality of life for my coaches," Andersen said. "Are we willing to take 4-5 weeks away in the summer? I don’t want to do that."

Added Purdue coach Darrell Hazell: "You lose your life. The month of July, you need a little bit of decompression time."

The first two weeks in June makes the most sense. Create a dead period in July so coaches can take time off.

It also doesn't mean official visits in September and October will stop. Andersen can talk about Wisconsin's "Jump Around" and show videos, but, he said, "there’s nothing like being there."

Big Ten teams still will have the chance to showcase their stadiums, facilities and campuses during football season. But they can't afford to wait that long for far-flung prospects to arrive, especially when they can afford to bring them in sooner.

"It would help everybody," Hoke said. "The other conferences aren’t just staying in their region, either."

That's true, but the Big Ten has the most to gain, and pushing for change won't be easy.

"If that thing ever goes to a vote, everybody is going to say is that the Big Ten is just complaining," Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said. "They'll keep rallying their troops because they want to keep those kids at home."

The Big Ten coaches must rally, too. Otherwise, the recruiting gap will widen.

Notebook: Columbus NFTC 

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The top prospects from all over the Midwest came out to perform at the Columbus NFTC. When you gather that much talent in one place, it’s only natural that a lot of recruiting news will follow.

ESPN 300 linebacker Justin Hilliard was one of five prospects who earned an invitation to The Opening, and Hilliard discussed whether or not he has narrowed his top-five down even further.

He was one of many uncommitted recruits who made news on the day, as did running back Mike Weber, defensive end Jashon Cornell and offensive lineman Matt Burrell.

Those prospects became targets at the camp for some of the committed recruits on hand. One of the main targets was No. 1-ranked running back Damien Harris, who will soon have news of his own.

List to narrow for Harris


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From the beginning of Trenton Thompson’s recruitment, home state Georgia has been considered the odds-on favorite to land the top-ranked prospect in the Class of 2015.

While the Bulldogs remain the team to beat, a nearby SEC program and ACC program with terrific momentum are making this at least a three-team race.


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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- It was just two years ago that current Ohio State star freshman Joey Bosa was a top national prospect coming out of St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale.

Now there is another budding star at the high school that produced three 2014 NFL draft picks, and the last name remains the same.

Class of 2016 defensive lineman Nick Bosa has been a standout the past two years for the Raiders, and like many who have come before him at the talent-rich school, he will be a national recruit with a quickly growing offer list.


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The Big Ten has some excellent individual recruiters within the conference, but individual efforts are only as good as the program as a whole. So which are the top five best recruiting jobs in the Big Ten?

Here is a look at the list, and why each team ranks where they do.

1. Ohio State

Proximity to out-of-state talent: Geographically, Ohio State is in a good spot. It’s only a few hours from Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky and Pennsylvania. It also isn’t too far from Illinois, so the campus is easily accessible for most Midwest prospects. That doesn’t always matter with Ohio State, though, as the Buckeyes typically have a lot of in-state talent and are recruiting the South heavily.


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Coaches and athletic directors are always looking for creative ways to impress recruits and get the attention of top prospects.

Sending out graphically-designed recruiting material and using social media is a big part of that, but scheduling exciting games with national appeal is also a way that programs can attract prospective student-athletes.

There are only a few opportunities for an athletic director to make that kind of impact each season, so it’s important to make the right choices for the right reasons.


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