Linebacker Alston Orji has committed to Vanderbilt, becoming the Commodores' first ESPN 300 recruit in the 2018 class. Here's a look at why he could contribute early while developing into a highly productive player in Nashville:
Alabama is nowhere to be found in the 2018 recruiting class rankings. This time last year, Alabama had the No. 2 recruiting class, and it was on top by signing day. This year, the Tide have two total commitments and are outside the top 25 of ESPN’s recruiting class rankings for the first time since 2009.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesHave years of unprecedented recruiting success actually hurt Nick Saban and Alabama?
Before this year, the lowest ranking Alabama had this late in the spring was No. 11 in 2016. At the time, that was Alabama's only class ranked outside the top 10. Should Alabama fans be worried? Not yet, but there are some things to be concerned about. For recruits, Alabama is one of a few schools that can afford to lose an assistant coach every now and then as long as head coach Nick Saban is still around. Saban carries so much weight with recruits that they are rarely impacted by an assistant coaching change here or there. But there have been quite a few recent, high-profile changes on the Tide staff. Offensive coordinators Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian are both gone. Offensive line coach Mario Cristobal, one of the staff’s best recruiters, is now at Oregon, and wide receivers coach Billy Napier is at Arizona State. Although the recruits trust Saban’s ability to build a new staff, the recruiting process is predicated on relationships built over a long period of time. ESPN 300 athlete Joshua Moore said that staff changes mean starting over. “Some people might have had close relationships with some of the coaches that got let go and changed jobs,” Moore said. “If you’re planning on committing to a school, you wouldn’t want to commit to school when the whole coaching staff is new. You hardly have any time to get to know the guys, and I think recruits want to get to know those coaches and make the right decision.” That is one part of why Alabama has so few commits compared to some of the other schools near the top of the rankings. Alabama tends to recruit the higher-ranked, more-sought-after prospects, who usually wait longer to make their commitments, but having only two commitments at this point is not the normal, especially compared to 2018’s top classes. Miami has 17 total commitments, Ohio State has 10, LSU has 16 and Penn State has 13. At this time last year, Alabama had nine total commitments, and it had eight in 2016 and 16 in 2015. Typically, one year of down recruiting wouldn’t be too much cause for concern. But at Alabama, where the Tide have not finished with a recruiting class ranked lower than No. 2 since 2009, any departure from that level seems jarring. Furthermore, the enormous success of Saban and his recruiters is having a negative effect on some prospects in this class. Having landed 76 ESPN 300 prospects over the past four recruiting classes, Alabama has built up a tremendous amount of elite depth across the team.
Phelan M. Ebenhack for ESPNXavier Williams, the No. 27 recruit nationally, is among the top-ranked players in Alabama's class.
That depth has former five-star prospects such as Da’Shawn Hand waiting longer than expected for starting jobs. Most prospects say they don’t shy away from competition, but at some point, it can be daunting, considering that they have only four to five years to make their mark. The Tide recently lost a commitment from ESPN 300 running back Dameon Pierce, who had started to visit other programs. Pierce, ranked No. 100 overall, had been committed since last July, but he mentioned that Alabama’s depth was part of his decision to explore other options. Pierce would arrive on campus with two former five-stars and two former top-35 recruits fighting for carries. “When you go to college, you want to have an equal opportunity to play,” Pierce said. “Of course there’s going to be competition everywhere, but sometimes too much competition can be overwhelming.” It’s crazy to think that one school could have stockpiled so much talent that elite recruits have second thoughts. That isn't to say depth will impact every recruit, but it is something prospects are taking into consideration. While these factors are cause for concern right now, there are still plenty of top-ranked prospects considering Alabama. As odd as it sounds right now, this class could end up as one of the country’s best if things go as planned for the Tide. ESPN 300 defensive back Jalyn Armour-Davis is one of those recruits still considering Alabama, and he knows it’s a long way to national signing day. “I think they’re going to finish strong, like they usually do,” Armour-Davis said. “I could see why people might be a little shocked with schools like Miami and Penn State getting recruits early, but who’s to say those prospects will stay committed? If I’m an Alabama fan, I wouldn’t be worried.”

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videoRecent Tennessee decommit Jashaun Corbin is now on board with Florida State, giving the Seminoles a pair of ESPN 300 running backs in their 2018 class. Read below to see why Corbin could be used in a variety of roles in Tallahassee:

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AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. -- Commissioner John Swofford took some time to brag on his conference once ACC spring meetings wrapped up, and really, who could blame him?

Not only is the ACC coming off perhaps its most successful season collectively as a league, Swofford also noted a sense of normalcy throughout the meetings that, in his words, hasn’t been there for a decade or so.

What’s more, Swofford, league and school administrators and ESPN representatives spent time hammering out details for the forthcoming launch of the linear ACC Network, still on track to debut in 2019. Among those discussion points: best practices for building out and staffing up television studios at each university, and possible Week 1 matchups to help maximize interest in the network right from the start.

Dabo Swinney, Fiesta Bowl trophyAndrew Hancock for ESPNDabo Swinney and Clemson have helped the ACC gain momentum in football with its recent success.

So yes, these are heady times for a conference that had been a few steps behind on the football field until about five years ago. While it might be unreasonable to believe the ACC will replicate its 2016 success every single season, it’s also unreasonable to believe the ACC is going to slink back to its days as an afterthought.

The ACC has arguably the best group of football coaches in the country. The ACC has momentum, finally. And the ACC also has a future network it believes will help even the playing field from a revenues standpoint, something that has been a sticking point as the SEC and Big Ten have developed networks of their own.

Solid football brands + solid football coaches + more exposure + more revenues = ability to maintain success. And that is where the ACC is right now, really. The mountain has been climbed. Staying at the top is the new challenge that confronts this league.

“I compare it to a program on a campus,” Swofford said. “It’s really hard to climb that ladder. It’s hard to build to where you want to be. It’s even tougher to sustain it. That’s why I have so much respect for programs, football or basketball, that are able to get there and stay there. I’m not sure you can expect every year to be what we had this year, but we’ve built our programs across the board to a point that this league is really well set for a long time to come. There’s no reason that we cannot continue to be one of the premier conferences, in all sports.”

Ask any coach whether it is easier to build a program or maintain success, and the answer inevitably is the same as Swofford’s answer. Staying at the top comes with a level of difficulty only the truly gifted are able to master.

“What do you have to do to stay there?” North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said. “You’ve got to keep winning. You’re not sneaking up on anybody.”

Scheduling and winning major nonconference matchups remains a high priority for obvious reasons. In the first three weeks of 2017, ACC teams play: Alabama, South Carolina, California, Tennessee, West Virginia, Auburn, Northwestern, Penn State, Baylor, Oklahoma State and Notre Dame.

Zero head coaching turnover for the first time in a decade also helps. Developing teams beyond Florida State and Clemson has been beneficial, and should pay off again this year.

“We used to have these conversations five, six, seven years ago, and I used to say we just need to keep our mouth shut and go to work,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “We start winning some games and the questions will change. That’s what’s happened.”

Skepticism is a natural reaction, of course, especially since the script has flipped over a relatively short period. And until the ACC Network officially launches, there will be some who take a “believe it until we see it” approach.

But what the ACC has accomplished over the past five years has it in position to keep telling anyone who will listen, this is only the beginning.

“With stabilization of the league and where we’re headed with our television, there’s no reason for us to be anything but very, very competitive in all sports,” Swofford said.

As Big 12 history has shown, the impact of true freshmen can be significant.

Below is a look at some of the conference's true freshmen who could help their respective teams this season.

Texas Tech OG Jack Anderson: The Red Raiders are desperate for help along the offensive line. Inking one of the country's top high school guards could be an immediate salve.

Texas QB Sam Ehlinger: Though sophomore Shane Buechele remains the favorite to retain the starting job as the incumbent, Ehlinger will be an injury -- or rough Buechele stretch on the field -- away from being thrown into the fire himself.

Kansas State LB Daniel Green: Landing the three-star Green out of Oregon was a huge signing-day coup for the Wildcats. Given that K-State will be breaking in a completely new linebacking corps, Green could follow in the footsteps of Elijah Lee as the next true-freshman linebacker to garner playing time.

Oklahoma State RB Chuba Hubbard: The Cowboys are looking for a backup for reigning Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year Justice Hill. With three senior rushers from the 2017 team gone, the incoming, four-star Canada native will have a shot to become Hill's wingman.

Creed HumphreyRobin Alam/Icon SportswireFreshman Creed Humphrey has a good chance at playing time on Oklahoma's stellar offensive line.

Oklahoma C Creed Humphrey: Coach Bob Stoops called Humphrey the most talented freshman center he's ever coached. Humphrey is already on the Sooners' two-deep and could work his way into playing time for arguably the best offensive line in the country.

Kansas LB Kyron Johnson: Coach David Beaty has been lauding Johnson's speed from the first day of spring ball. The combination of that speed and Johnson's ability to deliver big hits could earn him immediate time on the field.

Oklahoma LB Kenneth Murray: More unheralded than the majority of fellow OU signees, Murray instantly turned heads this spring as one of a dozen Sooners early enrollees. Murray has put himself in position to win a starting role on the inside of the linebacking corps this fall.

West Virginia S Derrek Pitts Jr.: Flipping Pitts from Penn State was a huge recruiting victory for the Mountaineers. In West Virginia's spring game, Pitts showed he's already primed to man a role in the Mountaineers' talented safety rotation.

TCU WR Jalen Reagor: During the spring, TCU coach Gary Patterson lamented how the Horned Frogs are in need of a go-to receiver. Reagor, the only top-10 Texas recruit to sign with a Big 12 school, has the talent to be just that, down the line or as soon as this season.

Baylor WR R.J. Sneed: Given the lack of firepower returning at wideout, Sneed, one of Matt Rhule's several impressive late additions to his first recruiting class, will have every opportunity to contribute right away -- particularly after catching three passes for 45 yards in the Bears' spring game.

Miami takes a new approach to grad transfers

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Mark RichtShanna Lockwood/USA TODAY SportsMark Richt's tactic of taking to Twitter may prove fruitful if Miami can land a running back.

AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. -- Mark Richt is looking for a running back.

This does not qualify as breaking news. In fact, if it were, Richt would be the man credited with breaking the story because, just last week, he took to Twitter to let the world know.

In this new era of graduate transfers in college football, Richt placed the recruiting equivalent of a personal ad. And until there's a Tinder for transfers -- swipe left if you like Miami! -- it seems like as good a battle plan as any.

"I wasn't targeting a kid," Richt said, "but I don't even know if a kid is in position to want to transfer. Maybe you find a guy who's interested, and then you check him out and find out if he's going to work out or not."

This is somewhat uncharted territory in college football, where the rules -- the strict NCAA guidelines and the etiquette that coaches are supposed to follow -- are largely being made up on the fly, so there's no ideal way to identify targets. With more and more players graduating early due to year-round coursework, the NCAA saw a threefold increase in graduate transfer rates in men's sports from 2011 to 2015. In football, that increase has been significantly higher.

In Richt's own division, transfers figure to play a big role. At North Carolina, coach Larry Fedora is dabbling with graduate transfers for the first time in his career -- nabbing four from other schools, including former LSU quarterback Brandon Harris -- in hopes of filling some big needs. How will it work? Fedora is the first to say he's not entirely sure. He hopes the new arrivals will fit with his current team, the chemistry will work, and the system will prove easy enough to learn quickly.

At Pitt, coach Pat Narduzzi has a little more experience with transfers, including this year's likely starting quarterback, Max Browne, from USC. Still, Narduzzi was impressed by Richt's openness in appealing to potential transfers.

"That's not a bad idea," Narduzzi said.

Pitt landed Browne through a mix of interest from the quarterback and aggressiveness from Narduzzi's staff. Browne and his brother made a list of five potential schools and Pitt made clear it was interested.

In other places, however, Narduzzi has heard some less above-board approaches.

"I've heard of staffs now reaching out and looking at rosters at 1-AA and non-Power 5 schools," he said. "I can respect what Mark did. He just put it out on Twitter."

Officially, the recruitment of a graduate transfer -- or any transfer, for that matter -- cannot begin until he's been granted his release from his current school. But the rules are malleable, and it's not hard to find some middle men to test the waters. That's where things get sketchy. In an age when graduate transfers are proliferating to a point that college football has something approaching its own form of free agency, there's incentive to push the envelope.

On the other hand, most coaches are wary of bringing in a player for one year without being sure he's a good fit. Selfishly, Richt said, there's little downside to a grad transfer. But for the player, it's a critical choice.

"You can still bring in a midyear, and he doesn't keep you from signing another guy in the next year's class, so it doesn't cost you anything," Richt said. "But you don't want to bring in a guy who's miserable. The kid gets one shot, and I want him to have his best shot."

That's certainly worked well for a handful of transfers, from Russell Wilson in 2011 (when just 17 graduate transfers occurred in football) to Syracuse's Amba Etta-Tawo last year (when 108 switched schools). And in 2017, Browne and Harris figure to play big roles as graduate transfers.

Some will work out. Others, not so much. That's the point, Richt said. There isn't a game plan, really. The rules are flexible, the outcomes varied and the players diverse. So why not simply throw something out on social media and see what happens?

"It's a brand-new thing," Richt said. "If there was years and years of it, and you could predict, but I just don't know what to expect."

AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. -- In December, Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette decided to skip bowl games. In January, coaches unanimously supported a proposal that would conceivably allow any redshirting player to participate in a bowl game.

While it is easy to connect the two with one straight line, anybody who follows the NCAA knows that nothing is ever as simple or clear-cut. Before McCaffrey and Fournette ever played a collegiate down, coaches discussed ways to change redshirt rules.

For years, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher has wanted players to get five years of eligibility. Others advocated giving players five years to play four. Their reasons had nothing to do with bowls. Fisher pointed to the scholarship numbers, the wear and tear on teams, the ability to help alleviate depth concerns and player safety.

Fisher/SwinneyStreeter Lecka/Getty ImagesFlorida State's Jimbo Fisher, left, and Clemson's Dabo Swinney are two coaches on a wide spectrum who have come out in favor of allowing redshirting players to play in four games.

While those two plans are not in play, Fisher and his fellow ACC coaches are in favor of the current proposal: allowing redshirts to play in four games per season without it costing them a year’s eligibility. They are not alone. Coaches from across Power 5 conferences appear to be in favor, too, from Nick Saban and his SEC colleagues to Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern to Dana Holgorsen at West Virginia.

Let’s put that into perspective. It is rare to get coaches from across the Power 5 conferences to agree on specific rules changes. For instance, ACC coaches spent two days at their spring meetings lamenting the new recruiting calendar, many wondering how counterparts in conferences such as the Big Ten supported official visits in the spring.

Go back to last season, when debates erupted over satellite camps. Here, the ACC and SEC stood firmly against, while the Big Ten and Group of 5 conferences led the charge in favor. Need another example? It took a decade for an early signing date to pass because so many conferences and coaches had so many different opinions.

You get the idea: Coaches, and therefore conferences, often have divergent views depending on what benefits them.

So to see coaches from across conferences united behind a redshirt proposal that suddenly seems to be on the fast track to passage means one thing: There is no perceived competitive advantage (one driving force behind many disagreements).

Fisher, Saban, Fitzgerald and Holgorsen lead programs at different points on the Power 5 spectrum. Fisher and Saban are College Football Playoff contenders every season; Northwestern and West Virginia do not claim to have the same resources or facilities (these are often points where disagreements arise, too). What is good for Alabama is not always good for Northwestern, and vice versa.

In this case, though, every team struggles with injuries, depth and deciding how to use redshirts. Changing the rule helps alleviate those concerns.

“For player safety it’s a good rule,” Fisher said. “At the end of the year, if a guy has developed himself and is ready to play, he may not have been ready early, and all of a sudden you’ve had some injuries those last four games; whether he’s on special teams or they incorporate themselves into playing time, I think that is a significant thing to do, and I think it’s a good thing.”

If that ends up meaning more redshirt freshmen play in bowl games, that's a worthwhile goal, too. Outside the playoffs, coaches view the bowls with a dual purpose: putting a bow on the current season while looking forward to the next. There is no better way to look forward than to catch a real-time glimpse at what could be in store for the future.

That leads back to Fournette and McCaffrey. There are coaches who believe their decisions will lead to more players skipping bowl games. Others, such as Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, don’t believe it will become a trend. But that idea alone shouldn’t inform the ultimate decision on what to do with the redshirt rules.

“That’s just a small one because I don’t think you’re going to have a mass exodus of guys not playing bowl games,” Swinney said. “You might have a guy here or there. There’s lots of positives ... from an overall player-welfare standpoint, the length of the season, the maturity and development of guys. I think guys would be much more engaged. ... I don’t see a negative at all. All the coaches love it.”

What the final version looks like remains to be seen. (Remember, tweaks often happen during the lengthy review process.) For instance, should a coach be able to choose which four games he uses his redshirting player? If so, think about the strategy involved, especially in high-stakes conference games as the season wears on.

Whatever shape it ultimately takes, Swinney could have been speaking for many of his colleagues across the country. That’s what makes this potential rule change so different: what appears to be universal agreement.

UCLA's Soso JamaboStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesSoso Jamabo and the UCLA running attack needs to get drastically better in 2017.


It’s a slow time of year in college football. Spring practices are over, the NFL draft has come and gone, leaving four long months before college football returns to our television screens. We’ll take a look at some questions facing each Pac-12 team over the next couple weeks. Next up: UCLA.

Can the Bruins develop a running game?

If the UCLA offense had an identity last season, it was that there really wasn't one. Offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu ditched the spread the program has been running and introduced more of a multiple, pro-style system, but by the middle of season it had evolved into something more closely resembling an Air Raid. It didn't matter what they did; the Bruins couldn't run the ball. They finished last in the country with 1,011 rushing yards and their running backs managed a measly 3.72 yards per carry.

With Polamalu out and Jedd Fisch in, the running game remains a concern primarily because there hasn’t been much roster turnover. It's essentially the same cast, with some new faces on the offensive line and Josh Rosen back at quarterback after he missed the second half of last season. The scheme obviously makes a significant difference, but after last year's disaster it's hard to be overly optimistic at this stage.

Will DE Jaelan Phillips make an immediate impact?

In a word: yes. Phillips was the top-ranked defensive player in the Class of 2017 and his performance throughout the spring only reinforced the idea that he could potentially help the Bruins right away. There was an adjustment period, of course, but by the end of the 15 practices he certainly didn't look like a player who had just enrolled in school.

Takkarist McKinley's departure will still be felt, but Phillips' arrival will help lessen that. It's too early to handicap this with much confidence, but Phillips still feels like a heavy favorite to be the Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. Another true freshman, CB Darnay Holmes, also impressed during the spring and should be a contributor from Day 1.

What should be expected from Rosen?

Rosen's sophomore season should be graded as incomplete. The Bruins were just 3-3 in games he started, but that's not necessarily indicative of how he was playing. With a running game as bad as the Bruins had, opposing defenses were free to pressure him at will and the offensive line was often overwhelmed. He didn't light the world on fire but still averaged 319.2 yards passing a game and made several throws that are usually reserved for Sundays.

There were some decision-making issues -- notably against Texas A&M when he threw three interceptions -- but it's fair to wonder how much of those came as a result of a poorly-installed scheme. What we know is that Rosen is one of the most talented quarterbacks in the country and should still be penciled in as a likely first-round draft pick in the 2018 NFL draft. There were no signs of any lingering effects from the shoulder injury that cut his season short, which was the most noteworthy development for the Bruins since the season ended.

Spring football is over, the offseason is hitting the dog days and media days are still months away. Recruiting, however, goes all year-round. Coaches all over the country are on the trail looking for the next crop of talent.

As the spring evaluation period winds down (it ends May 31), let's take a look at where SEC teams stand in recruiting the 2018 class. Today, we look at the SEC East teams (note, current ESPN class rankings are here):

Florida
Commitments: Six.
Current class ranking: 25th.
Top commits: S C.J. Smith, CB Divaad Wilson, ATH Iverson Clement.
Breakdown: This is a solid group thus far. Smith, Wilson and Clement are all ESPN 300 prospects. It's mostly skill-position talent, with only one of the six being a lineman (offensive tackle Jalen Goss). The Gators are still on the hunt for a quarterback in the class, but otherwise, things seem to be going smoothly on the trail for Jim McElwain's crew.

Georgia
Commitments: Three.
Current class ranking: N/A
Top commits: CB Christopher Smith II, ILB Donovan Georges, K Jake Camarda.
Breakdown: After a dynamite 2017 class (the Bulldogs finished third nationally last year) this isn't where most figured the class would be at this point. Only three commits, and no four-star prospects thus far. And the top four in-state players are already committed elsewhere. The Bulldogs need to pick it up. That said, there's still plenty of time and Kirby Smart's first full recruiting cycle last year -- plus his track record as an assistant -- should breed patience before panic.

Kentucky
Commitments: Nine.
Current class ranking: N/A
Top commits: DE Alex Reigelsperger, QB Jarren Williams, OG Marquan McCall.
Breakdown: May has been a good month for the Wildcats, with three commitments: McCall, Williams and center Quintin Wilson. Of the nine commitments, three are ESPN 300 prospects (Reigelsperger, Williams and McCall). Getting Williams back was huge; the nation's 11th-best dual-threat quarterback committed last summer, decommitted after receiving several more offers, but recommitted this week, saying he's "shutting it down." Mark Stoops and his staff are doing well enough that they could creep back into the rankings if they keep this up.

Missouri
Commitments: One.
Current class ranking: N/A
Top commits: QB James Foster.
Breakdown: No doubt about it, the Tigers still have a ton of work to do as they currently sit with the SEC's smallest class. Fortunately for them, there's plenty of time left. The one commit they have is at a critical position (current starting QB Drew Lock will be a junior this fall) and is a well-regarded one: Foster is No. 89 overall in the ESPN 300 and is the nation's fifth-best dual-threat quarterback.

South Carolina
Commitments: Six.
Current class ranking: N/A
Top commits: RB Deshaun Fenwick, OG Lamarius Benson, OT Maxwell Iyama.
Breakdown: The Gamecocks have picked up two commitments this month, one from Fenwick -- a Florida prospect who is the highest-ranked commit in the class -- and outside linebacker Ernest Jones. It's a solid group, but without a four-star prospect. That will change if the Gamecocks can land ESPN 300 athlete Dakereon Joyner, a four-star prospect who plays quarterback and was invited to the Elite 11 finals. South Carolina is in Joyner's final two; it would be a huge get for Will Muschamp and Co.

Tennessee
Commitments: Nine.
Current class ranking: 10th
Top commits: OT Cade Mays, QB Adrian Martinez, WR Alontae Taylor, DT Brant Lawless.
Breakdown:Recruiting has rarely been an issue for Butch Jones since he arrived in Knoxville, and after snagging the nation's No. 1 prospect in the 2017 cycle, Jones and the Vols are moving along well in the 2018 class. Mays, Martinez, Taylor and Lawless make up the four ESPN 300 prospects in the class thus far, with Martinez (the No. 32 overall prospect in the 2018 class) being the most recent pickup. If he sticks, he'll be the highest-ranked quarterback prospect Jones has landed (Jarrett Guarantano, who was 101st overall in the 2016 class, was the previous highest).

Vanderbilt
Commitments: Three.
Current class ranking: N/A
Top commits: QB Allan Walters, OC Daniel Dawkins, ATH Miles Jones.
Breakdown: The Commodores have their quarterback in the class (Walters), a four-star prospect who is the 17th-ranked pocket passer in the country. It was a big-time pickup for Derek Mason and his staff, as Walters had several other SEC offers. Dawkins, his high-school teammate, is a three-star center, but also had other Power 5 offers (Michigan and North Carolina among them). It's a good start to the class; obviously, there are still plenty of voids to fill over the next nine months.

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It's not every day that you can get a group of coaches together, and they're all pretty much on the same page when it comes to recruiting. After all, recruiting is the essence of winning, which is the essence of keeping that paycheck.

But when it comes to some of the ins and outs of the new early signing period, SEC coaches aren't exactly giddy. While some coaches supported December's signing date for prospects, no one had anything positive to say about how the accelerated recruiting calendar will now allow recruits to take official visits, which are paid for by the schools, after April 1 of their junior year of high school.

This rule will go into effect in 2018, and it means that recruits will be able to take official visits nearly a year before they could potentially sign with a school. Early official visits mean less real personal time to build relationships with prospects and their families.

And you know what? SEC coaches are right about this one.

“I’m a big fan of getting to know kids, and that’s difficult," Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said during Monday's post-spring SEC coaches teleconference. "Another problem is you’re getting ready [for a kid's visit], and you’ve really never had conversations with them yet. I want to know the kid’s fit with us; that’s really important to me. The way it’s been expedited because of this is troubling to me a little bit and could cause you to be a bit reckless.”

Freeze is on point with this one. In an age where college athletes are put under an even bigger microscope for off-field issues and college coaches are criticized even more for these off-field issues, shouldn't these coaches be given more time to actually get to know players? Shouldn't coaches be able to do their due diligence when it comes to figuring out who these kids really are?

If you're bringing guys in for official visits this early, you're rushing the relationship process, and that can lead to less thorough homework on program pillars. Head coaches can't conduct in-home visits with recruits during the month of May, yet you're asking them to balance more of their time to try and really get to know multiple prospects on official visits during spring practice?

Yeah, makes sense.

"The question is how do we get to know these guys a little bit better as we sign them early?" Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "The early signing date is great, but the calendar changing and pushing everything up is hard on high schools and hard on high school coaches. If we’re going to have May and June visits, it’s going to be rough."

Earlier official visits are unfortunately a necessary evil with an early signing period. With prospects being able to sign during a 72-hour window in late December, you can't possibly ask a lot of them to cram official visits into only a few months. And we all know that in-season visits are already limited because, you know, games. So if you're going to have a signing day in December, you have to allow these kids to have meaningful visits, like the ones in January that lead up to February's signing day.

But you're going to see players and coaches sacrifice getting to really know each other because once they take that official visit, traveling back is on the prospect's own dime. And as Alabama's Nick Saban put it, prospects tend to look a lot different from their junior season to their senior season.

You're also going to see players and coaches rush a lot in general. Georgia's Kirby Smart talked about how players are going to get pressured to sign from the schools they're committed to. At the same time, they'll get pressured from opposing staffs to not sign. Pressure could cause recruits to sign prematurely or cause coaches to sign players they might not be totally committed to, either.

You'll see some bluffs called, but you'll also see some mistakes made with more than a month left in the recruiting process.

“Evaluation is important," Saban said, "and the sooner you have to make decisions on these guys, the greater opportunity you have to make mistakes.

“By doing all this, we sort of minimize the opportunity to be able to evaluate these guys, which affects their opportunity too.”

LSU's Ed Orgeron went beyond just the recruit-coach relationship and mentioned the fact that a signing period in December is going to interrupt bowl preparation for the actual team fans watch and coaches coach. You think Alabama fans would be pleased with Saban and his staff hovering around a fax machine while simultaneously trying to run a practice leading up to the College Football Playoff semifinal?

No chance, but that's a trade-off.

There are some real positives with the early signing period, but there are a lot of consequences -- known and unknown at this point -- that staffs and players will have to maneuver through in the coming years.

“It’ll be interesting to see who uses it to their advantage best," Smart said.

Tom Hauck for Student SportsJustin Fields could be college football's next Deshaun Watson.
Whether it's measurables, style, tenacity or simple body movements, there can be a multitude of reasons one player might look an awful lot like another. If you've read our player evaluations, you know we often try to make these comparisons to give readers an idea of what prospects might look like at the next level. With that in mind, here's a look at some of the top quarterbacks in the 2018 class, and recognizable college quarterbacks to whom they compare favorably. Trevor Lawrence (Cartersville, Georgia) No. 1 QB-PP Committed to Clemson Compares to: Sam Darnold/USC Like Darnold, Lawrence has a rifle arm to accompany his big frame and sneaky athleticism outside the pocket. Both have all the physical tools coveted in a dropback passer, but their similar poise and mental makeup are not to be overshadowed. Lawrence is, however, ahead of Darnold in terms of meaningful game experience at the high school level. Justin Fields (Kennesaw, Georgia/Harrison) No. 1 QB-DT Committed to Penn State Compares to: Deondre Francois, FSU Deshaun Watson might be a closer comparison, but Francois works well, too. Francois and Field both have quick deliveries, and the ball jumps off their hands with juice and accuracy. Both are savvy, with Fields being the better athlete at this same stage. Jacob Sirmon (Bothell, Washington) No. 2 QB-PP Committed to Washington Compares to: Jacob Eason, Georgia Both are Washington natives and possess prototypical size and height for pocket passers. They have polished mechanics with a compact delivery and equally impressive velocity and accuracy on their deep balls. Emory Jones (Franklin, Georgia/Heard County) No. 2 QB-DT Committed to Ohio State Compares to: Lamar Jackson, Louisville Perhaps Jones is not as fast and dynamic as last year year’s Heisman Trophy winner, but he is plenty explosive and a big-play threat in the open field. Both have live arms and can make the throws when settled, but their athleticism and ability to improvise when the original play breaks down is most appealing. Adrian Martinez (Fresno, California/Clovis West) No. 3 PP Committed to Tennessee Compares to: Jarrett Stidham, Auburn Both QBs are passers first but athletic enough to make plays outside of the pocket and hurt you with their legs or ability to throw accurately on the run. Like Stidham, Martinez is a cool customer who drives the ball into tight windows when needed or can throw with touch and timing.

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Jim Harbaugh and his family started celebrating Mother’s Day early this year. That’s probably a good thing, according to his wife, Sarah, who says Harbaugh sometimes is too caught up in his coaching duties at Michigan to remember the day of the week, let alone any holidays sprinkled into the calendar.

“Are you kidding?” she joked. “I don’t think [he knows Sunday is Mother’s Day].”

Being the wife of a coach -- the mother of four young children and stepmother to Jim’s first three -- is not an easy gig. Sarah Harbaugh said she used to scoff at the people who told her that marrying into the football world would be difficult, but she quickly learned what they meant. She said that experiences such as watching her months-old son baptized in Vatican City a few weeks ago and the opportunity to help others make the demands worthwhile.

The Harbaughs were co-chairs of the ChadTough Foundation gala in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on Saturday night, kicking off a mom-centric weekend with an event designed to raise awareness and money for pediatric brain cancer. Nearly 1,000 people gathered at Michigan’s indoor practice field and raised more than $1 million in the memory of Chad Carr, the grandson of former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr.

Jonathan Whyley/ESPNJim and Sarah Harbaugh greet people at the Vatican last month during the Michigan team visit.

Tammi Carr, Chad’s mother, said it was no coincidence that her organization’s first fundraising gala fell on the eve of Mother’s Day.

“The thought of losing a child is something that resonates with every mom out there because it’s nowhere anyone wants to be,” she said. “We figured it would be appropriate.”

Sarah Harbaugh said she vividly remembers when Tammi texted to tell her that Chad had died in November 2015. She fell to the floor and started crying. Her 7-year-old daughter asked what was wrong and then provided Mom with some wisdom and direction.

“She looked at me and said, ‘Mom, Chad’s good now, but what about his mother?'”

Sarah, who had a brother diagnosed with cancer as a child, has since become an outspoken advocate for the Carr family’s foundation. She said she’s not very comfortable being one of the public faces of an organization, but the importance of helping was driven home again this past winter when her newest son, John, had to spend time in the NICU after he was born prematurely.

John, now approaching the normal size of a 4-month-old, made his first international trip last month when Michigan’s football team toured Italy for a week. He was baptized in a small chapel in Vatican City, which comes with a rare distinction. Because he was baptized there, the Harbaughs’ youngest son is now technically a citizen of the smallest country in the world.

“That was something I could never in a million years have imagined would happen,” she said. “The whole thing, you felt like you were in a different world. You were just there in the moment and it was beautiful.”

Experiences like that one, and watching her husband do anything he possibly can for his kids, make it pretty easy to take it in stride if a Mother’s Day card shows up a day late, Sarah said. Oh, and that reminds her, she had better make sure Jim remembers to sign the card she got for his mother, too.

Tennessee grabbed its third top-50 overall prospect Friday with the addition of QB-PP Adrian Martinez. Read below to see why this one-time Cal commit is an excellent pickup for the Vols:

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The SEC and ACC get into some fierce recruiting battles on an annual basis, and 2018 is more of the same. With Clemson winning the national championship and pulling the nation’s top-ranked quarterback Trevor Lawrence out of Georgia, combined with Miami’s growing momentum and Florida State’s continued success, the ACC has the chance to win some big battles vs. the SEC in this cycle. Here is a look at five key SEC vs. ACC recruiting battled headed into the summer.

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