NCF On The Trail: Les Miles

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For all the solid work Jim McElwain and his coaches did down the critical 2015 recruiting stretch in the past month, those efforts should stand as a starting point for Florida's football program. That is by no means an end game or a standard for the Gators.

Not to sound like I'm getting ahead of myself too much, but Florida's 2016 recruiting class is critical to the success McElwain hopes to have during his tenure in Gainesville. The SEC is too good and the threat of sliding further and further in the SEC is nothing for the Gators to play around with. Just look at how long it's taken Tennessee to get back to relevancy, and that journey back toward the top still has a steep climb ahead for the Vols.

McElwain has yet to name a starting quarterback, let alone coach a single moment of practice, but in a fast-paced, cutthroat college football society, he and his coaches can't waste any time getting some sort of time with this 2016 class, which really could make or break McElwain's time at Florida. That might sound harsh or even like a bit of hyperbole, but look where Florida's program is now and look at the SEC around it. You can't afford to be a weak link in a conference as cannibalistic as the SEC.

The good news for McElwain is that he and his staff proved they have a clutch closing gene that helped transform a once hopeless 2015 Florida class into a top-20 group equipped with two five-stars and six ESPN 300 members. Another thing to consider is that recent new coaches in this league have had very good success with their second recruiting classes. From Urban Meyer to Butch Jones, a handful of first-year coaches in the SEC have cleaned up in recruiting with their second classes, and McElwain has to continue that trend.

What McElwain got in his first class with the Gators was a mixed bag -- some contents quality, some unknown. Landing immediate-impact five-star prospects Martez Ivey (offensive tackle) and CeCe Jefferson (defensive end) and playmaking hopefuls like running back Jordan Scarlett, wide receiver Antonio Callaway, and athletes D'Anfernee McGriff, Jordan Cronkrite and Chris Williamson gives the Gators a solid early foundation to work with, but it's no secret Florida needs more star power in its 2016 class.

McElwain desperately needed depth along the offensive line and signed five lineman, including two ESPN 300 recruits. That certainly helps with depth, but getting a little more quality there in 2016 will be essential. The same is absolutely true about the wide receiver spot, where Florida again needs legit playmakers, and quarterback, where questions abound this season.

Florida currently has just one 2016 commitment -- wide receiver Rick Wells -- but if recent history is any indication, McElwain and Co., who can sign a big class with such low scholarship numbers for this current team, could really make a statement with next year's class.

Not to immediately compare McElwain to Meyer and Nick Saban -- although Gators fans are hoping he reaches their level -- but those two went from having OK first classes at Florida and Alabama, respectively, to consensus top-five classes by major recruiting services (ESPN.com, Rivals.com and Scout.com) in Year 2. Florida ranked No. 1 in ESPN's class rankings in Meyer's second year (2006), while Alabama ranked third in Saban's second year (2008). Meyer went on to win two national titles at Florida, while Saban has won three at Alabama.

After bringing in a top-20 class during his first year at LSU in 2005, Les Miles landed a consensus top-eight class nationally in 2006 and won the national title in 2007. Former Auburn coach Gene Chizik reeled in a top-25 class in 2009, then won a national title in his second year and brought home a top-five class in 2010.

Even coaches who haven't won titles have recently had second-year recruiting success in the SEC. Hugh Freeze began his time as Ole Miss' coach in 2012 with a class that barely registered on the recruiting radar and then signed arguably the school's best class ever in 2013 with headliners like Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil.

Butch Jones signed a top-30 class in 2013 and now has back-to-back No. 5 classes in ESPN RecruitingNation's class rankings. Of course, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn has signed back-to-back top-10 classes in his two years at Auburn, but he's just bragging at this point.

McElwain has a long way to go as a coach and a recruiter at Florida, and he hasn't even seen his team run actual plays on a field yet. But having a strong second year of recruiting is essential to righting Florida's ship. Heck, even his predecessor, Will Muschamp, signed the No. 4 class nationally in his second year, so there's a formula for recruiting success McElwain can follow. And with the way the SEC is moving, McElwain can't afford to get behind and must emulate those before him.

SEC signing day roundtable: Coach under pressure

February, 10, 2015
Feb 10
10:00
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There is only one new face among SEC head coaches this year -- Florida’s Jim McElwain -- but a number of the league’s head honchos face increased pressure to perform in 2015.

Continuing this week’s SEC series of post-signing day roundtable discussions, today we’ll examine the conference coaches who are under pressure to make something happen after signing their newest class of recruits.

Edward Aschoff: Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
Year 4 of the Freeze era is beginning, and expectations are about to explode in Oxford. After being on the cusp of an SEC West title and a spot in the first College Football Playoff, Ole Miss now has to stay in the thick of the title hunts. While Freeze has been enormously successful during his time at Ole Miss, he has now signed three straight top-20 classes, and now the 2013 class (the crown jewel of Freeze’s tenure) will be all grown up. If the bulk of that class is going to bring a championship to Ole Miss, the time is now because the heavy hitters, like Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil, will likely head to the NFL after this coming season. There’s too much talent in Oxford for Ole Miss not to compete for a spot in Atlanta, and anything else will be considered a failure.

David Ching: Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
I was tempted to focus on Mark Richt or Les Miles because the natives seem to be getting restless at Georgia and LSU, but let’s go in a different direction. Mason probably needs to get more out of this 2015 class immediately than those two SEC veterans. Last season was a mess at Vandy, with the Commodores failing to put up a good fight in most of their nine losses. Their three wins came against UMass (by three points), Charleston Southern (by one) and Old Dominion (by 14), and they lost by an average of 18 points per game in SEC play. Now Mason enters his second season with two new coordinators (actually he’ll be his own defensive coordinator) and a recruiting class that ESPN ranked No. 44 nationally, dead last in the SEC. Mason told reporters on signing day that he staked his reputation on the quality of this class, which is all well and good. But if the Commodores don’t start looking like a more competent team this fall, I’m not sure Mason’s reputation as a head coach will be too great.

Sam Khan Jr.: Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
I think Travis Haney said it best Insider that Sumlin must begin to reap the fruits of the recruiting labor he and his staff have put in over the last three years. The Aggies' classes ranked eighth, fourth and 12th nationally in Sumlin's first three full recruiting cycles, and the team now enters its fourth year in the SEC. He made significant coaching staff changes (including paying a pretty penny for former LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis), and overall the Aggies have recruited better than any team in their own state -- which is talent-rich -- since Sumlin has been there. It's time for the recruiting hauls to translate to the standings.

Chris Low: Mark Stoops, Kentucky
As it turns out, the sky didn't fall at Kentucky after the Wildcats lost six commitments in a span of eight days leading up to signing day. Thanks to some hustle by Stoops and his staff, Kentucky was able to plug some of the gaps late and finish with the nation's 43rd-ranked class. The problem was that Stoops reeled in the 20th-ranked class the year before, so expectations were lofty. As Stoops enters his third season at Kentucky -- with a brand-new contract that will pay him an average of $3.57 million per year -- expectations will be equally high on the field. Kentucky will be aiming for its first winning season since 2009. The Wildcats looked like they were on their way in 2014 after starting out 5-1, but wound up losing their last six games.

Greg Ostendorf: Jim McElwain, Florida
All things considered, McElwain deserves credit for this class. He took over two months before signing day and closed with a top-20 class that included five-star prospects Martez Ivey and CeCe Jefferson. But this class had a chance to be more than solid. It had the potential to be great. Florida missed on a number of homegrown prospects, including Byron Cowart and Jeff Holland, who both decided to leave home to play at Auburn for the man McElwain replaced. The first-year coach deserves a pass for this class, but he can’t keep letting the top players out of the state. Losing battles to Florida State is one thing. Losing battles to Will Muschamp and Auburn is another.

Alex Scarborough: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
The great thing about Steve Spurrier is that you can take him at his word. But this time I think his openness hurt him. By telling reporters he thought he'd stay at South Carolina 2-3 more years, he had to turn some recruits off. I mean, who would commit to a program knowing the head coach wouldn't be there the whole way through? Though his 31-man signing class was solid, coming in at No. 21 overall in the country, it was what was missing that Gamecocks fans should find troubling -- most notably, four-star defensive players Damon Arnette and Arden Key, who both decommitted heading down the stretch. While you have to appreciate Spurrier’s honest assessment of himself, reading a head coach say this has to be jarring: "I don't think I did a very good job of maybe going full-speed as much as we needed as it turned out."

Derek Tyson: Butch Jones, Tennessee
After two top-five recruiting classes in a row, Tennessee head coach Butch Jones now has the talent on his roster to make a move in the SEC East. With Josh Dobbs showing promise last season and several other freshmen having standout years, including Derek Barnett, Jalen Hurd and Todd Kelly Jr., the talent is in place to have a big season on the field this year. Another 7-6 season could have Tennessee fans getting a little restless.
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU's coaching staff had not fully completed its 2015 signing class before 2016 was already front-and-center in the coaches' minds.

Only three days after national signing day, LSU will stage its "Boys From the Boot" recruiting weekend where it will host many of the state's up-and-coming prospects -- so getting the state's top talent on campus this weekend became an immediate top priority.

"We'll have guys from 2016, 2017 from the state of Louisiana here on our campus," LSU recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson said Wednesday afternoon, "and so we've got Thursday, Friday, we're fighting like hell to get those guys here on campus, and Saturday it's showtime."

This is a good time to make an impression on the prospects who visit Baton Rouge this weekend. Much like 2014, when in-state recruits like Leonard Fournette, Cameron Robinson, Speedy Noil, Malachi Dupre, Trey Quinn and Hootie Jones made Louisiana one of the most competitive recruiting battlegrounds in the country, 2016 is shaping up as another year where the state is loaded with high-end talent.

Five of the top 29 players in the ESPN Junior 300 -- defensive tackles Edwin Alexander, Rashard Lawrence, athlete Shyheim Carter, quarterback Shea Patterson and offensive tackle Willie Allen -- and 12 of the top 105 hail from the Tigers' home state.

Allen was among the players who received a scholarship offer from LSU at the event last year, and there will likely be a number of offers going out this weekend, as well.

"We've done all the communication by way of email, by way of correspondence and literature, camp brochures -- all the things that lead up to this point," Wilson said. "It would be the first time on campus that we describe to them the expectations from our staff, and what we expect from them to be recruitable athletes for us at LSU."

Two priority positions in the 2016 class will be linebacker and defensive tackle -- both spots where LSU did not sign a player in 2015. The Tigers would hit a home run at one of those positions -- defensive tackle -- just by taking care of business in state.

They already have a commitment from 6-foot-4, 349-pound Donavaughn Campbell, but tackles Alexander (No. 7 on ESPN 300 and No. 1 tackle) and Lawrence (No. 16 overall and No. 3 tackle) are the two most coveted prospects from within the state. ESPN's No. 13 defensive tackle Glen Logan also hails from Louisiana.

"You can probably imagine 2016 will be a big year for us defensively, as we return several guys this year and our numbers are probably minus-2 where we would like them to be, but we'll get it with no problem next year at the linebacker position, at the defensive tackle position," Wilson said. "As those guys -- [starting defensive tackles] Christian LaCouture, Davon Godchaux -- as they get older, we'll look to have some parity in the distinction between our sophomores and juniors and the freshman class that will come in.

"So I think we'll have a heavy emphasis on our defensive line, our linebacker position and kind of take the rest of them in stride based on graduation and guys that may opt to go the National Football League."

Junior LaCouture and sophomore Godchaux return as starters, and new defensive line coach Ed Orgeron will also have a number of third-year sophomores (Maquedius Bain, Greg Gilmore and Frank Herron) and redshirt freshmen (Travonte Valentine and Trey Lealaimatafao) at his disposal in 2015. Recruiting the 2016 tackle standouts will not only be about bolstering depth, but solidifying the interior line for several years to come.

"We're very deep, but we have some young players that played very well last year. We have some guys that we redshirted here that we think are going to be great players," Orgeron told ESPN's Niki Noto Palmer on Wednesday. "Obviously we always want to get the best defensive tackle in the country here at LSU. That wasn't available to us this year, but it's a great year for defensive tackles in the state of Louisiana and across the country and we look to sign a bunch next year."

LSU struck out with inside linebacker Leo Lewis on Wednesday, making the position even more of a concern for new defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Kevin Steele over the next year. Only half of the six linebackers LSU signed in 2012 (Lamar Louis, Deion Jones and Ronnie Feist) remain on the roster, and the Tigers signed just two linebackers in 2013 (Kendell Beckwith and Duke Riley) and 2014 (Clifton Garrett and Donnie Alexander) before landing none this year.

Noted recruiters Steele and Orgeron only joined Les Miles' coaching staff three weeks before signing day. That was certainly not enough time for them to make a huge impact in this recruiting cycle, although Wilson said "we couldn't have gotten" Arden Key (ESPN's No. 24 overall prospect and No. 6 defensive end for 2015) without the two new coaches.

However, just wait until this time next year, Miles said, once Steele and Orgeron have had adequate time to connect with recruits.

"In a year you're going to see how good they recruit because they will have relationships that they will carry over for a solid year and then they will have an opportunity to have those men sign with us, first and foremost," Miles said. "But both of those guys know the brand at LSU. Both of those guys played against us. Both of those guys had an opportunity to grow up around this program.

"Ed Orgeron is having a blast being an LSU Tiger and coaching for us and Kevin Steele is, as well. Really it was a natural fit in recruiting. Both guys are professional and know how to do it"
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Based upon his good fortune over the past few weeks, Jeff Grimes should consider buying lottery tickets.

Three weeks after learning that draft-eligible starters Vadal Alexander and Jerald Hawkins would return for another season, LSU’s offensive line coach cleaned up on national signing day -- effectively addressing the Tigers’ biggest area of need for this 25-man recruiting class.

“We signed five offensive linemen and Grimes was a point guy on all of them,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “He just really did a great job.”

LSU’s coaching staff closed out this class of linemen with a flourish. Within the past week, Grimes added a pair of ESPN 300 offensive linemen -- Chidi Valentine-Okeke and Toby Weathersby, a onetime Texas commitment who announced his decision on Wednesday -- to go along with previous commitments from guard Maea Teuhema and tackles Adrian Magee and George Brown Jr.

[+] EnlargeToby Weathersby
Max Olson/ESPNLSU's 10th-ranked recruiting class by ESPN includes standout offensive lineman Toby Weathersby.
Teuhema -- ESPN’s No. 71 overall prospect and No. 2 guard -- is arguably the star of the group. ESPN rated Teuhema as the top offensive line prospect in Texas and Weathersby -- No. 149 overall and No. 9 at guard -- as No. 2.

“The biggest need in this class of course was offensive line, not only because of the guys that graduated in Elliott Porter and La’el Collins and Evan Washington and all those guys, but also because of what we have departing next year,” LSU recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson said. “So we lost several guys and then we have a senior-driven class next year with Jerald Hawkins, with Vadal Alexander and some of those guys who will be draft eligible.

“So we wanted to make sure that we had quality depth in a year where offensive line was heavy, especially from a national perspective. So it was our greatest emphasis in this class.”

Highlighted by their recruiting hauls at offensive line and in the secondary, the Tigers wrapped up national signing day with the nation’s No. 10 class in the ESPN RecruitingNation class rankings.

It was a relatively quiet day at LSU compared to the soap operas that developed at some other programs, but it was not without some drama.

The Tigers landed a signature from Weathersby early Wednesday morning, flipped ESPN 300 athlete Derrick Dillon from Florida, ESPN 300 receiver Brandon Martin from Missouri and closed with Arden Key -- ESPN’s No. 24 overall prospect and No. 6 defensive end -- who committed to LSU late Monday night. They also added late signatures from tight end Foster Moreau and Australian punter Josh Growden while holding on to commitments from running backs Nick Brossette and Derrius Guice.

Conversely, LSU did not sign linebacker Leo Lewis (Mississippi State), receiver Daylon Charlot (Alabama), quarterback Torrance Gibson (Ohio State) and defensive back Justin Reid (Stanford), all of whom had considered the Tigers at some point.

Lewis is probably the most painful miss out of the bunch, as the Tigers failed to sign a single linebacker in this class once former defensive coordinator/linebackers coach John Chavis split for Texas A&M after the season. That will be a key position for LSU’s staff to address in its 2016 class, as the Tigers will also lose several veterans after this fall.

“Certainly we missed on a linebacker that we thought we had as we look into the end of recruiting,” Miles said. “But when you change staff, there’s a point in time where there’s some guys who’ve made relationships with some of our old coaches, and when they left, so did their interest in the school. So we went and made our case the best we could, but what will end up having to happen, certainly, is next year’s class will have to be a very, very heavy linebacker class.”

LSU landed one of the nation’s best groups of defensive back talent, led by five-star cornerback Kevin Toliver -- ESPN’s No. 10 overall prospect and one of four early enrollees along with quarterback Justin McMillan, tight end Hanner Shipley and fullback David Ducre.

Joining Toliver in the secondary will be cornerback Xavier Lewis, junior college safety Jeremy Cutrer and multi-talented athlete Donte Jackson, whom Miles said could get touches on offense and special teams in addition to playing cornerback.

“There’s no finer prospects in America than Toliver and Jackson,” Miles said.

Adding Ducre, Brossette and Guice was also key for a Tigers squad that lost two scholarship fullbacks and two scholarship tailbacks from the 2014 club.

“We didn’t have any scholarship fullbacks, so we needed to address that need at that position group. And then we have two sophomores and bring in two freshmen [at tailback],” Wilson said. “It gives us some leeway some next year where it’s not a position of demand in next year’s class.

“But we like where we’re at in that, only because it gives you quality depth and it’s not stacked. At times we’ve been as high as six, so four is a good number for us because the rotation becomes realistic.”

LSU signed five of ESPN’s top six prospects in Louisiana and seven of the top nine: No. 1 Tyron Johnson, No. 3 Guice, No. 4 Martin, No. 5 Dillon, No. 6 Brossette, No. 8 Lewis and No. 9 Jackson.

Overall, 15 signees will hail from LSU’s talent-rich home state, which Miles and Wilson both said remains their staff’s first priority in recruiting.

“It feels this way to me that there’s a certain style of man that grows up in Louisiana and says, ‘Are you kidding me? This is the only place I want to live,’” Miles said. “I think the degree that comes from LSU, the experience in that stadium of 102,000 that are wildly rabid and very faithful LSU fans, there are those men that just can’t have it any other way. So we present a tremendous opportunity for those people who want to stay in this state.”
SMU’s move to hire Texas native Chad Morris will pay off big time on the recruiting trail. Plus, you have to really give credit to UAB coach Bill Clark for the recruiting job he did while his administrators were shuttering his program.

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.
Even the least astute coach with his nose buried deep in his playbook knew the Ed O'Bannon antitrust lawsuit and the vote for autonomy was going forever change college football.

One of the first changes expected to pass, and would first impact prospects in the Class of 2016, will be the addition of full cost-of-attendance stipends. Four-year scholarship guarantees are expected to be on the early agenda, as well.

Those moves are good. But there is potentially a lot to fix and the concerns aren't going away.

"I'm afraid we've opened Pandora's box," a Big 12 recruiting coordinator said. "We kept hearing over and over autonomy was going to be positive for student-athletes and address their welfare. But there's a growing concern by a lot of coaches I visit with, that this is simply an end run by the biggest schools in the country to stack the deck for them even more, especially in recruiting."

Yes, there are bigger subjects the Power Five has to fix first, such as cost of attendance and the stipend issue, but not far behind those should be adjustments on the recruiting trail. Focus them on the recruits and do it with all 65 teams in mind, not just the biggest few.

Heck, the biggest reason autonomy passed originally was the idea that change could reduce the infringement on recruits' academic preparation. What would improve their academic well-being more than fixing the out of control recruiting process?

Recruits are facing more pressure than ever before. If it's not dealing with a coach direct messaging them at all hours in the day, it's the pressure to commit while on an unofficial visit in March of their junior year without mom and dad sitting at their side because they couldn't afford to make the visit.

Outside of the ability to add an early signing period, the vote for autonomy gives the Power Five an opportunity to re-write many of recruiting's key rules, and if a majority of schools and conferences agreed, it could make the process less of a burden for the student-athletes and parents involved.

Let's allow recruits to take official paid visits earlier. Recruits are already committing earlier and earlier, so why not let them get on campus with mom and dad at their side so they aren't pressured into making a decision they might not want to make?

Let's fix the communication situation. Both coaches and recruits are craving more actual communication on the phone or even face-to-face, instead of only 140 characters at a time. Having actual conversations surely would lead to fewer decommitments or confusion.

And let's also ensure that everybody is playing with the same cards and introduce limits on the size of recruiting support staffs a school can have.

There's a litany of other rules the Power Five could adjust that would make recruiting better. And if this move to autonomy was truly done with in the interest in supporting the student-athletes -- and not a power grab by schools with the deepest pockets -- then there's no reason why it shouldn't step up and make much-needed changes.

Social Studies


Aug. 1 was the first day schools could officially offer Class of 2015 prospects in writing, and it's been fascinating to see recruits posting pictures of their official offer letters. Before it was often a mystery as to whether or not a recruit truly had all the scholarship offers he claimed or what promises were made by schools. In today's social media world, though, it's all out there for everybody to see.

What's also out there for everybody to see is the language schools use in their letters.

For example, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher expects the Seminoles to have a football graduation rate of more than 90 percent by the end of this season.

 

Also, Colorado received a lot of positive attention when it sent an offer letter to both Buffalo offensive line commitment Tim Lynott and his family.

 

And Les Miles led off his pitch to ESPN 300 cornerback and LSU commitment Xavier Lewis by talking about how LSU will always be competing for a championship.

 
BATON ROUGE, La. – While it’s not completely set yet – he has some work left to complete in the classroom this summer – offensive tackle Jevonte Domond is on track to become the 24th member of LSU’s 2014 recruiting class.

Initially considered a 2015 prospect, Domond’s plans changed quickly when LSU offensive line coach Jeff Grimes informed him a few weeks ago that he could be academically eligible to become a Tiger by passing only a few more courses at Glendale (Ariz.) Community College.

“When he first offered me, it was for the 2015 season,” Domond said Sunday evening, shortly after returning home from his official visit to Baton Rouge, where he signed with the Tigers. “I was going to play another year at GCC and he just went through my transcripts and he told me that I only needed a couple of classes to be done at GCC, so I hurried up, I scrambled, got into some summer classes that I needed and then they offered the scholarship for this year.

“Truthfully, the offer happened and then a week later, that happened and all of it happened really fast.”

The 6-foot-5 offensive tackle said he is taking three classes at GCC this summer – astronomy, public speaking and world of religions – in order to complete his coursework. He plans to report to LSU in time for fall camp on Aug. 3.

LSU’s 2014 signing class was one of its best in years, ranking second nationally according to multiple recruiting services, including ESPN’s. If there was a hole in the star-studded class, it was that it didn’t include an offensive tackle, so Domond would be a welcomed addition.

“It was a couple months ago, maybe even a month ago, Coach Grimes came out and just told me he was looking for a juco tackle and he was scouring the country for a tackle that he wanted and that he would let me know if I had an offer from them,” Domond said. “A couple of weeks later, I got the offer. Before that, we started talking like once a week, building our relationship and just getting to know each other – just him telling me more about the program, more about himself. And so I got the offer, took my official this weekend.

“Basically I had committed before I’d even seen the school, just off the reputation of the school, the coaches that are there – Les Miles, Coach Grimes – they’re winning, the bowl-game history they have every year, a winning record every year. So I committed to them, took my official and it pretty much just sealed the deal, just made it concrete [and confirmed] everything I already thought.”

Domond is still fairly new to football. A former hockey player from Massachusetts, he played football only two years in high school plus last season at GCC, so he acknowledges that he has plenty to learn from Grimes. But with three years of eligibility remaining, he has faith that his new position coach can help him become a productive lineman.

“He can turn me into a great lineman to play any position,” Domond said. “I’m not set on playing just tackle. I’ll play anywhere they put me, anywhere I can contribute to the team. But yeah, I’m just ready to go in and just learn from him. He’s put some great people in the league and just taught a lot of people that had successful careers in the NFL, so I’m an open book and just ready to learn.”

It appears that Grimes and LSU beat several other programs to the punch in convincing Domond to sign. He was considering Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Miami when the LSU offer arrived, but nobody had made an offer to sign for 2014. Domond said Oklahoma and Oklahoma State offered for 2014 after LSU realized it could add the offensive lineman to this year’s class, but by then he had already decided where he wanted to go.

“When Grimes offered me for the 2014 season, Oklahoma said they would and Oklahoma State said they would, too,” Domond said. “But LSU, I think, is more of an elite school. I feel like it’ll be a better fit. I want to go up against the best and I want to compete at the highest level in college football.”
When he was first hired, Les Miles said one of the key ingredients for success at LSU was to win the local recruiting battles. Through the years, Miles has done a masterful job of doing just that. But in the past few classes, some LSU fans have complained after watching highly-ranked prospects such as Landon Collins, Tim Williams, Cameron Robinson, Laurence Jones and Speedy Noil end up at Alabama or Texas A&M.

Never mind that the Tigers landed Leonard Fournette, the nation’s No. 1 player in 2014, and five of the top 10 Louisiana players in both 2013 and 2014. All fans wanted to focus on were the setbacks. They shouldn’t.

LSU and Miles continue to be the kings of The Pelican State and continued to prove it Wednesday with the additions of two local ESPN Junior 300 prospects. The Tigers added pledges from St. Francisville (La.) West Feliciana four-star receiver Jazz Ferguson and Mandeville (La.) Lakeshore four-star running back David Ducre.


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Early Offer: A winning attitude 

January, 31, 2014
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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: Coaches say things like size and speed are important when determining whether or not they will pursue a recruit, but one ACC head coach has something else that’s vital in his team’s evaluation process; Les Miles and Nick Saban were in the home of the nation’s No. 1 receiver prospect on Thursday.

Overlooked part of evaluation


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Early Offer: Big weekend for USC 

January, 24, 2014
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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: If USC is going to close strong, landing some of this weekend’s 11 official visitors are key; even though neither are going to land him, Alabama and Oregon earned high praise for their recruiting efforts with offensive lineman Braden Smith’s coach; and Lorenzo Carter has become priority No. 1 for several of the Southeast's top teams.

11 recruits set to visit USC


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Early Offer: Wooing Dupre 

January, 20, 2014
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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Monday's offerings: The nation’s No. 1 receiver visited LSU over the weekend, but it’s just the first part of his tour throughout the Southeast this week; Derrick Griffin is back in Texas after a short stint at a prep school, and it will help him get back on the recruiting map; and Nebraska’s loss is Kansas State’s gain.


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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's latest feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: reasons for LSU fans to be patient, Ohio State's start, and Sonny Dykes reloading.


Patience is a virtue for LSU

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LSU was a dream school for Alexandria (La.) Senior High School receiver D.J. Chark growing up.

So when the 2014 prospect got the opportunity to become a Tiger while on an unofficial visit to campus on Monday, he took advantage and gave LSU his verbal pledge.

"It's great," Chark said. "I feel really good."

Chark, who was recruited by special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey, named a top three of LSU, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M going into the visit and was planning a return visit to the Aggies after they offered him on Sunday night, a week after he performed at their June 2 camp.

But after touring the campus and soaking in everything LSU had to offer academically and athletically and spending time with the coaching staff, Chark believed it was time to make a pledge right then and there in Les Miles' office.

"I was convinced about coming to LSU and that's when we shook on my commitment," Chark said.

The 6-foot-1, 176-pound receiver won't be visiting the Aggies now and is happy to be staying with his home state Tigers. Chark built a good relationship with McGaughey, who hopes to use him on special teams in addition to receiver when Chark arrives at LSU.

"He became like a mentor," Chark said. "He knows what he's doing and he does it well."

Aside from his top three, Chark had offers from Memphis, Tulane, Southeastern Louisiana and Southern University.

Brandon Harris makes the rounds 

June, 6, 2013
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The explosion of offers and attention was overwhelming enough for Brandon Harris when spread over four months.

But it was nothing compared to the 72-hour window a week ago that essentially offered confirmation that the four-star quarterback (Bossier City, La./Parkway) has arrived on the national scene and isn’t going away.


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