NCF On The Trail: Nick Saban
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Like any good quarterback, Blake Barnett has plenty of confidence. And why not? He’s 6-foot-5, 205 pounds, has a great head of hair and says he can throw the ball about 70 yards. He has the honor of being ESPN’s No. 1-rated pocket passer, and he’s even got some dual-threat in him, too, having rushed for 479 yards and seven touchdowns as a high school senior.
In short, the kid is the total package. So why not enroll early, dive head-long into the offense and take a shot at the starting job as a true freshman? That’s what Barnett did.
Of course, the rookie said the right things on signing day, pointing out how his focus was "getting down with the playbook, getting stronger, and preparing myself for the season ... as much as possible." But even as he ever so diplomatically explained that, "The depth chart is something I’m not completely worried about," you could feel his confidence tugging at him. When asked point-blank whether his goal was to start right away, he couldn’t say no.
"My main goal is to compete for a spot," Barnett said, "but right now that’s big-picture things. The small picture I’m focusing on right now is to get the playbook down and take it step by step. I think that’s a while away from here.
"I don’t want to say anything, make any statements right now."
And neither will his coach, Nick Saban, who said he wouldn’t rule out playing a true freshman at quarterback.
"I wouldn’t rule that out at all," he said. "If he’s the best player, why would we not play him? That’s like saying a guy is from California, so we should not play him because he’s from California."
Barnett, just so we’re clear, is from California.
But does all that mean a West Coast kid will be running Saban’s pro-style offense? In spite of Barnett’s confidence and Saban’s let-the-best-man-win attitude, that seems unlikely. Not only would he have to pass Cooper Bateman, Jake Coker, David Cornwell, and Alec Morris on the depth chart, he’d have to hurdle history, too.
Saban, for all his talk, has never fully handed over the reins of his offense to a true freshman. He didn’t at Toledo when sophomore Kevin Meger was his quarterback. He didn’t at Michigan State when he went from sophomore Tony Banks to junior Todd Schultz to junior Billy Burke. He was close at LSU, starting Jamarcus Russell four games as a redshirt freshman in 2004, but otherwise it was junior Josh Booty, senior Rohan Davey, sophomore Marcus Randall, and junior Matt Mauk.
Since arriving at Alabama in 2007, Saban has continued to side with experience, going from junior John Parker Wilson to junior Greg McElroy to redshirt sophomore AJ McCarron to fifth-year senior Blake Sims.
In what will be Saban’s 20th season coaching the college game, can we really expect him to change his stripes? Is Barnett good enough to convince him that a rookie can handle the responsibility?
If anything, Barnett has the tools to pull off the upset. He talks a pretty good game, too.
Now all he has to do is get his coach to have confidence in him.
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.
With 19 ESPN 300 signees -- three more than any other school and twice the average of the SEC -- there is no doubt that Alabama has the most stacked recruiting class in college football. Coach Nick Saban not only signed the country’s No. 1 passer (Blake Barnett), he signed its No. 1 receiver (Calvin Ridley), its No. 2 running back (Damien Harris) and its No. 3 cornerback (Kendall Sheffield). Not to mention the 14 other players he signed who rank among the top 10 at their respective positions.
It’s staggering really.
But there is a bigger question at play. Because it is Alabama and because it holds ESPN's recruiting title for four years running now, you have to look at things differently. Unlike Florida, which is rebuilding under a new head coach, or Auburn, which went after better personnel on defense, Alabama didn’t have to make wholesale changes or cover up obvious deficiencies on its roster. With 54 ESPN 300 recruits already on campus, the talent was there before signing day ever began.
So at what point do you move past the obvious recruiting numbers and ask whether Alabama is truly any better than it was at this time a year ago? Trading one blue-chip prospect for another doesn’t guarantee anything. It only begs the question: do any of these new recruits translate to a national championship in 2015?
In a sense, this was what Saban was getting at when he told reporters on Wednesday that, "Every coach is going to stand here at this podium ... and say they're pleased with the guys they recruited."
"No one has a bad recruiting class," he explained. "And we're certainly pleased with our guys, but predicting how a young person is going to do academically and athletically in college by giving them some rating when he's in high school is not very scientific.
"We try to use science to create things that are very subjective in terms of what someone's performance is going to be, and I don't think that's really possible. There's no scientific way to know what the achievement of any person is going to be in anything they try to do. It's impossible."
He’s right, there is no way of knowing. Just look at the quarterback position where Alabama has signed seven prospects since 2010, including Phillip Sims, who ranked No. 1 out of high school, David Cornwell and Cooper Bateman, who each ranked in the top five, and Jake Coker, who was viewed as an uber talent upon leaving Florida State. Who won the job last season? A three-star athlete. A fifth-year senior. A former running back by the name of Blake Sims.
Talent is great, but development trumps all.
It’s why the secondary took a step back last season and is not guaranteed to get better in 2015. Because though you could say that signing cornerbacks like Sheffield and four-star Minkah Fitzpatrick will help, you have to at least acknowledge the year before when five-star freshmen Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey had little impact. For that matter, neither did sophomores and former four-star recruits Maurice Smith and Anthony Averett.
That is not to say those players won’t become starters with time, only that you can’t get carried away with what happens on signing day. At least you can’t when it’s Alabama and you’ve watched it carry home the recruiting trophy four years in a row.
Saban signed the best players in the country on Wednesday. He signed the players who best fit his team’s needs. And he will probably send a few of them to the NFL in time.
But what has changed? The same things were true last year before Alabama lost to Ohio State in the playoff, and the same things were true the year before, when Alabama's championship drought began.
You have to respect the talent Saban has assembled, but when the four- and five-stars become too many to count, you move on to what it all means. And when you venture into the territory of predicting a No. 1 class will lead to the country's No. 1 team, you're not relying on science. Knowing that with certainty is impossible.
"It feels amazing to spend this moment with my friends, family and everybody here at this school because they’ve done so much for me,” Hentges, the nation’s second-ranked tight end and No. 2 player in Missouri, said. “It's great to give something back to them. It's a blessing.
“Helias is very different than other high schools. It is so much more tight-knit. It is really a community. Our teachers and coaches expect so much more from us, and they expect greatness from us every day. They've really challenged us, and I wouldn’t have gotten to this point without everybody at this school urging me on every day.”
Hentges is one of two Missouri players selected to play in the Under Armour Game, and while the Show Me State doesn’t have the same reputation for top-end talent like California, Florida or Texas, he and good friend Alex Ofodile of Columbia Rock Bridge plan on showing everybody there is top talent in the middle of the country.
“Missouri always gets overlooked, even with some of the great players in Kansas City and St. Louis, it's not known as a football state,” Hentges said. “For us to get down there to the Under Armour Game and showcase our talent and hopefully open some eyes would be great. Maybe something like this helps get some recruits some exposure and coaches will say 'Hey, there are good kids in Missouri, let's go look there.'”
Coaches from all over the country did discover Hengtes, though. He was one of the nation’s most heavily-courted prospects -- receiving more than 30 scholarships from schools coast-to-coast -- before he committed to Alabama in late May. While Hentges admitted there was a lot of pressure to stay close to home and play for Missouri, the school down the road, he knew when he got the offer from the Crimson Tide, it was going to be tough to turn down.
“I was talking to Coach [Nick] Saban on the phone, and I couldn't believe it,” Hentges said. “Here I was talking to Coach Saban. He's the closest thing to God and Alabama, and here he is talking to me on the phone. He offered me a scholarship. I was in shock the rest of the day."
Once he did visit Tuscaloosa, Hentges knew it was the right place for him, and he wanted to become a part of what is being called one of the best recruiting classes in the last decade.
“Coach Saban expects a lot out of you,” Hentges said. “He's very business-like. I think everybody can see that on the field, but the amount of love and care that he gives to his players, people do not see that. I see that. Off the field, he'll tell you 'Whatever is wrong, come and talk to me about it.' Things like that are not shown by the media. He really is a father to his players. He holds them accountable, which I think is the greatest love. It really clicks with what I'm used to here at Helias.”
When did you know you were going to be a good football player?
“I thought I always wanted to play basketball. When I got to high school, I opened up some eyes going into the summer before my freshman year. I was able to make it on summer. We had a defensive line coach, Lorenzo Williams, [who] played at Mizzou and Brandon Coleman, who was a backup quarterback at MU. They said 'Hey, this kid is really good.' They knew what it took because they played in college. They said 'We have to give this kid exposure.' We just started sending my tape out, and schools like it. That made me realize maybe this football thing is for me.”
What type of tight end are you?
“I can stretch the field really well, and with my basketball background, I feel like I can high point the ball really well. Rebdounds. Boxout. I still want to be as tenacious as possible in the run game. I want to be a threat in the passing game, but then again be a glorified tackle.
Is there a player you really pattern your game after?
“I really like Jason Witten. I feel like he just does everything right. He gets it done in the running game. He gets it done in the passing game. He doesn't have blazing speed, but he gets the job done. I feel like I'm really comparable to him.”
Was the recruiting process overwhelming?
“It did get a little overwhelming. The spring of my junior year before I made the decision, I was getting 10 or 12 calls every day. That was so daunting. It was like 'Oh, man, I'm finally home, but I have three hours of phone calls to do now.' That was extremely daunting. Fortunately, we were able to hit the road and finally figure out what I wanted to do. Once that part was over with, it calmed down a whole lot.”
OK, I’ll use states as a whole here as well as regions.
1. Alabama: The entire state has been phenomenal going back to the 2006 class. Georgia gets more hype, but you could argue the state of Alabama has had a sensational success rate when compared to any of the other notable states, including Florida. Go back over the last several years and look at the guys who have come out of Alabama and how they have panned out.
2. The Carolinas: Both South Carolina and North Carolina might, at worst, be top heavy, but at best they’re becoming more stocked top to bottom over recent years, especially when it comes to offensive and defensive linemen.
3. Jacksonville: Miami and the surrounding counties get all the hype for the state of Florida, but Jacksonville has really begun to make a push in a wide range of positions.
4. Mobile: I know I mentioned Alabama as a state, but this is a hot spot for a smaller metro region. Nick Saban loved this area when at LSU and likes it even more now that he is in the state.
5. Phoenix and surrounding areas such as Tempe, Chandler, etc.: The numbers aren’t going to be high year in and year out, but the caliber of players has drawn interest from the entire Big 12 and Pac-12, among others. Brett Hundley, Andrus Peat and D.J. Foster come to mind recently, just to name a few as prospects from the area.
"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.
HOOVER, Ala. -- For better or worse, Nick Saban has a reputation. And after four decades of coaching, it's not likely to change.
He's gruff. He's demanding. He's hard-nosed, unrelenting and oftentimes furious.
He is, according to a survey conducted by ESPN, the most-intimidating coach in college football. Of the 58 recruits who responded to a survey, 22 selected Saban as the most intimidating coach they've spoken with. The next-highest on the list was Urban Meyer, who was selected only seven times.
What's maybe more telling: Among the 58 recruits who answered the question, "Of all the head coaches you've spoken with, who was the easiest to talk with?" none said Saban.
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Ivey won't let distractions get in the way
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As of Friday, the SEC has seven teams ranking within the top 15 of the ESPN's RecruitingNation team rankings. Five of those teams -- Alabama, Texas A&M, Auburn, LSU and Tennessee -- are ranked inside the top 10. Alabama, which has 18 verbal commitments (16 ESPN 300 members), is No. 1, while Texas A&M (13 verbal commits/nine ESPN 300 members) is ranked second.
Here's a complete look at how the SEC is faring on the recruiting front, as we enter the month of June:
2015 verbal commitments: 18
Spotlight: You know that Nick Saban loves collecting gems in the secondary, and that's exactly what he has in four-star cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick of Jersey City, N.J. He's a very smart corner who has good size -- with room to grow -- to compete with bigger receivers.
ESPN 300 members: 16 (Fitzpatrick; WR Calvin Ridley of Coconut Creek, Fla.; WR Daylon Charlot of Patterson, La.; DT Jonathan Ledbetter of Tucker, Ga.; TE Hale Hentest of Jefferson City, Mo.; OLB Mekhi Brown of Columbus, Ga.; OG Lester Cotton of Tuscaloosa, Ala.; S Deionte Thompson of Orange, Texas; S Shawn Burgess-Becker of Coconut Creek, Fla.; RB DeSherrius Flowers of Prichard, Ala.; OG Richie Petitbon of Washington, D.C.; DE Christian Bell of Birmingham, Ala.; DT T.D. Moton of Shreveport, La.; OG Dallas Warmack of Atlanta)
2015 verbal commitments: 8
Spotlight: Defensive tackle Hjalte Froholdt of Warren, Ohio, is exactly what Bret Bielema wants and needs along his defensive line. The ESPN 300 member could add some weight, but has nice strength and quickness to make him a valuable get for the Razorbacks.
ESPN 300 members: 2 (Froholdt; DE Jamario Bell of Junction City, Ark.)
2015 verbal commitments: 15
Spotlight: Athlete Kerryon Johnson of Madison, Ala., is not only the third-ranked athlete in this class, he's the No. 1-ranked player in the state of Alabama. With his combination of size, speed and strength, Johnson could line up all over. He could be a running back or safety for the Tigers.
ESPN 300 members: 6 (Johnson; OLB Jordan Colbert of Griffin, Ga.; S Ben Edwards of Jacksonville, Fla.; OG Kaleb Kim of Hoschton, Ga.; ATH D'Anfernee McGriff of Tallahassee, Fla.; OG Marquel Harrell of Fairburn, Ga.)
2015 verbal commitments: 8
Spotlight: The Gators need to upgrade in the offensive playmaking department and athlete Derrick Dillon of Franklington, La., has made a lot of noise as a quarterback, but will likely play receiver at the next level. With his speed and explosiveness, he'll fit right in with Kurt Roper's up-tempo, spread offense.
ESPN 300 members: 4 (Dillon; OG Tyler Jordan of Jacksonville, Fla.; WR Tristan Payton of Jacksonville, Fla.; S Deontai Williams of Jacksonville, Fla.)
2015 verbal commitments: 9
Spotlight: Athlete Terry Godwin of Hogansville, Ga., could hit a couple positions of need for the Bulldogs. He has excellent ball skills to be a cornerback and his hands yell wide receiver. His speed and athleticism should only get better as the year progresses.
ESPN 300 members: 4 (Godwin; DE Chauncey Rivers of Stone Mountain, Ga.; DE Natrez Patrick of Atlanta; S Rico McGraw of Nashville)
2015 verbal commitments: 9
Spotlight: As the Wildcats look to enhance their defensive talent, outside linebacker Eli Brown of Bowling Green, Ky., is exactly what Mark Stoops needs. With questions and depth issues at linebacker, Stoops needs top-flight players to come in at that position, and Brown could be a great pass rusher for the Wildcats in the future.
ESPN 300 members: 1 (Brown)
2015 verbal commitments: 12
Spotlight: Cornerback Kevin Toliver II of Jacksonville, Fla., is the nation's top-rated corner prospect and has the build of that prototypical, elite LSU corner. He has great size and instincts, and excels in man coverage.
ESPN 300 members: 5 (Toliver; OG Maea Teuhema of Keller, Texas; RB Nick Brossette of Baton Rouge, La; RB Derrius Guice of Baton Rouge; S Kevin Henry of Baton Rouge)
2015 verbal commitments: 16
Spotlight: Outside linebacker Timothy Washington of Yazoo City, Miss., could provide some very good depth if junior linebacker Benardrick McKinney decides to leave early for the NFL. He's still a little raw, but has the speed and quickness to be a real threat off the edge.
ESPN 300 members: 1 (Washington)
2015 verbal commitments: 7
Spotlight: Quarterback Drew Lock of Lee's Summit, Mo., could come in handy for the Tigers in the future. This is Maty Mauk's team, but once he's gone, let the battle begin. Lock is more of a drop-back passer than Mauk, but knows how to buy himself time in the pocket.
ESPN 300 members: 1 (Lock)
2015 verbal commitments: 6
Spotlight: The Rebels will have to help their depth at running back, and Eric Swinney of Tyrone, Ga., is a quick, strong, explosive back who has the ability to hit the home-run ball at any moment. Swinney's natural talent and upside could give him the opportunity to compete for playing time early.
ESPN 300 members: 2 (Swinney; ATH Willie Hibbler of Sardis, Miss.)
2015 verbal commitments: 11
Spotlight: Defensive end Arden Key of Lithonia, Ga., has great size at 6 feet 5 inches, and has plenty of room to grow with his 210-pound frame. He also has solid speed to cause trouble as a pass rusher and has the patience/strength to play well against the run.
ESPN 300 members: 5 (Key; ILB Sherrod Pittman of Jacksonville, Fla.; CB Mark Fields II of Cornelius N.C.; DE Shameik Blackshear of Bluffton, S.C.; WR Jalen Christian of Damascus, Md.)
2015 verbal commitments: 11
Spotlight: Preston Williams of Lovejoy, Ga., is the prize of the class, as the nation's No. 2-ranked wide receiver. The Vols might have signed a couple of impressive receiving talents in the last couple of classes, but getting a big, physical and fast player like Williams on campus would be extra icing on the cake.
ESPN 300 members: 4 (Williams; DE Andrew Butcher of Alpharetta, Ga.; OG Jack Jones of Murfreesboro, Tenn.; ATH Jauan Jennings of Murfreesboro)
2015 verbal commitments: 13
Spotlight: Don't be surprised by all the foaming at the mouth from Aggies fans after the commitment of quarterback Kyler Murray of Allen, Texas. He's the nation's No. 1 dual-threat QB for a reason. He isn't the biggest player at 5-11, 170 pounds, but he has tremendous speed and athleticism and delivers a beautiful ball inside and outside of the pocket.
ESPN 300 members: 9 (Murray; DT Daylon Mack of Gladewater, Texas; S Larry Pryor Jr. of Sulphur Springs, Texas; WR Kemah Siverand of Houston; OT Trevor Elbert of Heath, Texas; TE Jordan Davis of Houston; OT Connor Lanfear of Buda, Texas; RB Jay Bradford of Splendora, Texas; S Justin Dunning of Whitehouse, Texas)
2015 verbal commitments: 3
Spotlight: Cornerback Donovan Sheffield of Nashville would fill a hole at a position of need once on campus. He's a very patient and smart player, who has exceptional coverage skills.
ESPN 300 members: 1 (Sheffield)
Special class for Bama
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Overlooked part of evaluation
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But it also appears that he can also dance. More specifically, he can slide.
During a big recruiting weekend on campus, Saban entertained guests by partaking in the electric slide, which is a must for anyone with any ounce of soul or rhythm. If it's tricky for you, I suggest you either check Saban out and learn quickly before you're invited to any sort of shindig that has a dance floor.
ESPN 300 linebacker Rashaan Evans was in town on an official visit and his brother, Alex, captured part of the special moment on video and uploaded it to Vine. You can see it here. It's only six seconds long, but the little bit that you see of Saban is great. As a certified pro at the electric slide, I was really impressed with Saban's moves.
But what might have been even more impressive was the karaoke session new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin had with ESPN 300 running back commit Bo Scarbrough's mother, Donetris.
Here's what she told 247Sports about singing what had to be a very special duet of the song "Sweet Home Alabama":
"I think if you're new there, you have to do karaoke. It's kind of the theme with the new coaches. Everyone has to do a karaoke night. It was his turn and he kept on hiding. He told me, 'I think I'll go on ahead and do it, if you sing with me.'
"It made the night. It was the talk of the night."
Dancing is one thing, but singing is a whole different arena. As a former musical theater student, I'd jump at the chance, but not everyone has belted like I have. Kudos to Kiffin for letting those vocal cords go. Adding some air guitar to the whole thing would have just been icing on an already delicious cake.
It's just more proof that these coaches are, in fact, human. They aren't the robots they sometimes make themselves out to be. They have fun sides and know how to entertain when it's time to get out of coach mode. That had to be a pretty fun experience for everyone.
So which coaches would you guys love to see dance in public? Who would you love to see perform some beautiful karaoke, and what song would you pick?
I'd love to see soft-spoken Tennessee coach Butch Jones go solo with Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball." Singing only, of course. Maybe throw some Kanye West or Katy Perry at him to keep him on his toes. And clearly everyone wants to see Arkansas coach Bret Bielema do the "Dougie."
Will Rocky Top be home sweet home?
Four-star receiver Josh Malone, the nation’s No. 48 player out of Gallatin (Tenn.) Station Camp, has already signed financial aid agreements with Tennessee, Georgia, Clemson and Florida State, but he will announce his decision at noon ET Wednesday on NBC Sports Network. The RecruitingNation Hot Board has Malone projected to select Tennessee. The Volunteers were smart and were the first to use the signing of the financial aid paperwork as a tool in the recruiting process. Because he was technically “signed” UT coaches were able to have regular contact with him. Shortly after, the three other schools followed suit.
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