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National recruiting coordinator Craig Haubert discusses new Florida coach Jim McElwain's ability to close 2015 recruiting. National recruiting director Tom Luginbill breaks down the Gators' sales pitch in their attempt to flip committed prospects.

Daily Social Roundup: CeCe Jefferson stays busy 

January, 23, 2015
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Thursday saw activity on social media throughout the country, with coaches on the road, schools collecting commitments and No. 9 overall prospect CeCe Jefferson receiving a visit from one of his finalists.

SEC morning links

January, 23, 2015
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1. The offseason coaching carousel is spinning at full speed, and SEC schools figured into a couple of Thursday's headlines. Perhaps the biggest story was that Central Michigan head coach -- let me type that again … HEAD COACH -- Dan Enos was leaving his post to replace Jim Chaney as Arkansas' offensive coordinator. Don't see that kind of move too often, but multiple writers were quick to point out on Thursday that Enos will actually make more money even with a lesser job title. He made $360,000 at Central Michigan, but ESPN's Brett McMurphy reported that Arkansas will pay him $550,000 per year. In other SEC coordinator news, Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian has left the Volunteers to become quarterbacks coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That's a big opening for Butch Jones to fill with less than two weeks left until national signing day. One other move worth mentioning: Texas A&M officially announced that Virginia Tech receivers coach -- and former NFL receiver -- Aaron Moorehead had accepted the same job with the Aggies.

2. Speaking of national signing day, two SEC programs learned on Thursday that they're still in the running for ESPN's No. 1 overall prospect for 2015, Byron Cowart (Seffner, Fla./Armwood). Cowart revealed that his decision will come down to Auburn and Florida -- both programs that could use his pass-rushing presence at defensive end. Cowart received visiting coaches from Florida State only Wednesday and had a visit scheduled with the Seminoles (Insider) next weekend. Certainly there are no guarantees in the recruiting game, but it appears as though the five-star prospect will be in the SEC come fall.

3. Dak Prescott made a wise decision by returning to Mississippi State for his senior season. So says Greg Gabriel, who served as an NFL scout for decades and now writes for the National Football Post. The Bulldogs star "wasn't even close to being ready," Gabriel told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, noting that another college season will help the raw quarterback prospect refine his skills. Prescott likely would have been drafted -- passing for 3,449 yards and rushing for 986 in the SEC certainly proves that Prescott possesses exceptional athleticism -- but Gabriel points out that the passing windows in the NFL are much smaller. Prescott needs to improve his passing accuracy if he is to become an impact player in the pros.

Around the SEC

" Athlon is grading each of the new FBS head coaching hires thus far, including Florida's Jim McElwain (he got an A-minus) and several former SEC assistants.

" Ole Miss' Trae Elston and Damore'ea Stringfellow were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct early Thursday.

" All-star game season has given several former Georgia players the opportunity to improve their draft stock.

" A Louisiana family is suing their son's former powerlifting coach Curtis Tsuruda -- who once worked on the strength and conditioning staffs at Tulane and LSU -- for allegedly tricking the teen into using steroids and disguising the doses as protein pills.

Tweet of the day
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Recruiting reporters Derek Tyson, Tom VanHaaren and Erik McKinney join ESPN's Phil Murphy to project which recruits are likeliest to change their commitments in the final weeks before signing day and which colleges will benefit.
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There are less than two weeks until national signing day, and five-star defensive end Byron Cowart is closing on his college decision. The No. 1-ranked player in the ESPN 300 had a top three of Auburn, Florida, and Florida State just last week, and now the 6-foot-3, 258-pound defensive end has dwindled his choices to two.

"I would have to say, just to be honest, Auburn and Florida are my top two schools," Cowart said. "I have to keep it professional -- I have to. Who knows, you see coaches and they go into the league, and when it’s time for you to get drafted you don’t want to have a bad name.

"A lot of guys say things that they back away from, and yeah I probably said 'yeah I like this school and I might end up coming here' but that’s probably how I was feeling at the time, but a lot of things happen and I just want people to know that I’m man enough to say 'thank you for recruiting me, but I might not go to your school.' But right now, truly, it will come down to Auburn and Florida. That’s just being honest."

That is somewhat of a surprise considering FSU coaches visited Cowart at his school on Wednesday afternoon and Cowart was scheduled to take his last visit to Florida State next weekend.

"The visit was good. It was different," Cowart said. "I haven’t had the heat put to me like that before. It’s crunch time, so they want me to come up for this last visit, but it’s like I already know what they can bring to the table, I already know what I can I get from Florida State the school. It’s just crazy, I just want to relax and get away, think and get my thoughts together, and that’s why I was like 'I don’t know if I’m going to do my last visit -- I don’t know if I’m going to go anywhere on my last visit.'

"I don’t want to make a mistake. Like my mom said, when you are rushing and you’re moving too fast sometimes you can make a mistake and go somewhere that you never even thought you would go. So I want to be in the right mind and be focused, and to know that this is the school I want to go to."


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The SEC took some flak in 2014 for not having enough elite quarterback play.

Expect some of that flak to return this season, as the SEC once again deals with a handful of young and relatively inexperienced quarterbacks running amok through the league. Seven of the top 14 SEC passers from 2014 won't be returning in 2015, giving some offensive coordinators extra work to do this year.

But fear not OCs and QBs, the league is still stocked with running back talent that should be able to carry some of those offenses still looking for stability at quarterback.

It sounds redundant, but 2015 really could be the "Year of the Running Back." And this group of running backs is on the younger side, but that shouldn't matter. Freshmen running backs took the league by storm last season, and unfortunately for SEC defenses, those kids are only going to get better.

[+] EnlargeNick Chubb
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsNick Chubb rushed for 1,547 yards and 14 TDs last season, despite making just eight starts.
Six of the top-10 statistical running backs return in 2015, and all of them have the capability of making up for some quarterback deficiencies their teams might have.

The four schools that immediately come to mind are Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, and LSU. T.J. Yeldon might be gone at Alabama, but the Crimson Tide will be in very good hands with rising junior Derrick Henry taking over as the lead back. Henry and Yeldon shared the carries in 2014, with Henry leading the way with 990 rushing yards. The return of Kenyan Drake will add another dimension to Alabama's running game, but Henry is a special talent, and with Alabama breaking in a new quarterback, a restructured offensive line and a young group of receivers, Henry will have plenty of opportunities to shine.

Leading the charge of the running back revolution is rising sophomore Nick Chubb, who will be the center of attention in Georgia's offense while the Bulldogs look for a quarterback. You think that's an issue for Chubb? All he did was rank second in the SEC in rushing (1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns) after making just eight starts last season. He was thrust into the starting role after star running back Todd Gurley was suspended by the NCAA for four games and then tore his ACL in his late-season return.

That led to Chubb running over, around and through so many unfortunate defenders. In those eight starts, he never dipped below 100 rushing yards and averaged 165.4 per game. Like Gurley, Chubb just runs on another level and appears to either be from another planet or constructed in a lab hidden in the Mojave Desert. The Bulldogs bring back solid talent around Chubb, but let's face it, if new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer isn't routinely handing the rock to Chubb, something just isn't right.

About 600 miles southwest of Chubb is his position rival for the next two years: LSU's Leonard Fournette. Another manchild who roughed up plenty of defenders this past season (so, so sorry Aggies), Fournette will have to carry the load for the Tigers in 2015, because we just don't know what to expect from the quarterback position. He needed some time to feel comfortable, but when he did, he made his opponents suffer, finishing the season with 1,034 and 10 touchdowns.

Then, there is Arkansas, which has the SEC's best running back duo in Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins. Both rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season, and with Brandon Allen still needing to find his way at quarterback, those two will be relied upon again in 2015. And why not? Coach Bret Bielema wants to pound his opponents into submission anyway, and those two have done it well for the past two seasons.

And just for the heck of it, Tennessee's Jalen Hurd will rush for 1,000 yards, even with talented quarterback Joshua Dobbs under center.

Here are some other running backs who might have to push their quarterbacks:

Kelvin Taylor/Adam Lane Jr., Florida: With new coach Jim McElwain installing yet another offense in Gainesville, the Gators have yet another quarterback battle on their hands. The good news is that Taylor and Lane have the potential to be a solid duo. Taylor rushed for 565 and six touchdowns as a backup last season, and Lane broke out in Florida's bowl game, rushing for 109 yards and touchdown.

Brandon Wilds, South Carolina: The Gamecocks lose Dylan Thompson at quarterback, and there is a bit of a battle brewing for his replacement. Wilds, who has 1,277 career rushing yards, has been very solid, and should have no trouble taking over as the starter for Mike Davis.

Ralph Webb, Vanderbilt: Another freshman standout in 2014, Webb will have to continue to be Vandy's top offensive weapon in 2015. The quarterback situation was up-and-down last season, and who knows what it will look like this year. Webb rushed for 907 yards and four touchdowns last season.

Russell Hansbrough, Missouri: But the Tigers have veteran Maty Mauk at quarterback! Well, he wasn't exactly consistent last season, and proved to be a liability at times for Mizzou's offense. Hansbrough, on the other hand, rushed for 1,084 yards and 10 touchdowns in a breakout year. With Marcus Murphy gone, Hansbrough should grab the majority of carries and improve on a very solid first year as a starter.
We're almost done with our ranking of the SEC's Top 25 players for the 2014 season, and today we take a look at Nos. 6-10:

6. Dante Fowler Jr., DE/LB, Florida
He entered the season with a chance to put his name among the SEC's best pass-rushers, and he didn't disappoint. The hybrid defensive end/linebacker played the Buck position excellently all season. He led the Gators in sacks (8.5), tackles for loss (15) and quarterback hurries (17). Fowler has always been a physical specimen during his time in Gainesville, but his in-game evolution really shined in 2014. He played smarter and was much more disruptive on the outside. He was able to cover a lot of ground from the Buck position, finishing with 60 tackles and two forced fumbles. He was a major energy source for Florida's defense and was able to disrupt plays without recording stats. He played himself into possibly being a top-10 pick in this year's NFL draft.

7. La'el Collins, OT, LSU
The second-team All-American was one of the SEC's best linemen this season after a solid year in 2013. Collins anchored LSU's line from that left tackle position and led the team in both offensive snaps (843) and knockdowns (88). The first-team All-SEC member also received the Jacobs Blocking Trophy, which is presented annually to the top offensive lineman in the SEC, as voted on by the league’s coaches. Collins really excelled as a run-blocker for the Tigers in '14 and could land himself in the first round of this year's NFL draft. He could play either left or right tackle at the next level.

8. Senquez Golson, CB, Ole Miss
Talk about a major turnaround. Golson went from just an OK athlete running around Ole Miss' secondary to the league's top statistical cornerback in 2014. The 5-foot-9, 176-pound defensive spark plug was the ultimate ball hawk on the outside for the Rebels; he led the SEC in 2014 with a school record-tying 10 interceptions and tied for first in the league with 18 defended passes. The first-team All-American essentially took one side of the field away from opposing quarterbacks, while his speed and athleticism helped him cover plenty of ground in the defensive backfield. Golson totaled 43 tackles (33 solo) and averaged 1.4 passes defended per game.

9. Reese Dismukes, C, Auburn
I know, how was he still in college last season? The old man on the Plains played with the style of a polished veteran but had the energy of a young pup for the Tigers. Dismukes wasn't just the SEC's best center this year, he was officially named the nation's best center, winning the Rimington Trophy in December. For the past two seasons, Dismukes has been a team captain for the Tigers, and he has consistently been one of the toughest linemen to beat across the country.

10. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
Even though a four-game suspension and an eventual ACL injury cut his 2014 season short, a healthy Todd Gurley was arguably the nation's best player, regardless of position. Gurley went from an injury-riddled 2013 season to being in the best football shape of his Bulldog life at the beginning of the 2014 season. In the five games prior to his suspension, Gurley rushed for an SEC-high 773 yards and had eight rushing touchdowns. He also returned a kick 100 yards for a touchdown. After he returned, Gurley rushed for 138 yards and a touchdown before going down with that ACL injury. In six games, Gurley rushed for 911 yards (151.8 yards per game) and nine touchdowns, averaging 7.4 yards per carry. He also rushed for at least 131 yards in five of those six games.
In the 100 days leading up to signing day 2015, RecruitingNation will be looking back at our ESPN recruiting rankings from 2006 to the present and count down the best player of the past 10 years at each ranking position, No. 100 to No. 1.

Tim Tebow, No. 15 in 2006 class

Tebow made official visits coming out of Nease High in Ponte Vedra, Florida, but was considered a near-lock for the Florida Gators -- who won out

Tebow
Tebow earned the backup job as a true freshman in 2006 playing behind senior Chris Leak on the Gators' BCS national championship team, finishing second on the team in rushing yards. He accounted for two touchdowns in the title-game win over Ohio State.

As a sophomore, Tebow took over as the starting signal caller and quickly became one of the most dominant players in college football. He won the Heisman Trophy, AP Player of the Year and Davey O'Brien Award to go with All-SEC honors. He set SEC season records with 23 rushing touchdowns and 55 total touchdowns accounted for. In 13 games, Tebow threw for 3,286 yards and 32 touchdowns while rushing for 895 yards.

In 2008, Tebow's numbers would dip but he led the Gators to a second national championship in three seasons, throwing for 2,747 yards and 30 TDs. He also rushed for 673 yards and 12 scores. He was selected first-team All-American, was the SEC Offensive Player of the Year, won a second straight Maxwell Award, took home the Manning Award and finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting following the season.

Tebow capped one of the best careers in college football history in 2009 throwing for 2,895 yards and 21 scores and rushing for 910 yards and 14 TD's in 14 games. Following the season, Tebow was awarded first-team All-SEC designation for a third consecutive year and was a Heisman Trophy finalst for a third straight year.

Tebow closed out his Florida career with a 35-6 record as the starting quarterback, including 2-0 in BCS bowl games. He threw for 9,286 yards and 88 TDs to go with 2,947 rushing yards and 57 scores in four seasons. He was inducted into the University of Florida Hall of Fame in April 2009.

Tebow was selected No. 25 overall in the 2010 NFL draft by the Denver Broncos, where he started 14 games in two seasons before being traded to the New York Jets.

Honorable mention: A number of prospects ranked No. 15 have gone on to terrific college and/or NFL careers. Carlos Dunlap, No. 15 in 2007 class, played at Florida and was drafted in the second round (No. 54 overall) in 2010. Greg Reid, No. 15 in 2009 class, was a standout at Florida State before off-the-field issues cut short his time in Tallahassee. That also hurt his NFL draft stock. Ahmad Dixon, No. 15 in 2010, was a seventh round draft selection in the 2014 draft after a standout career at Baylor. Aaron Lynch, No. 15 in 2011 class, played at Notre Dame and South Florida before being selected in the fifth round of the 2014 draft by the San Francisco 49ers where he is projected to start in 2015. Christian Hackenberg, No. 15 in 2013 class, is a projected NFL draft selection in 2016 or 2017.
Uniforms don't win games, and indoor facilities don't instantly make players faster or help quarterbacks throw farther.

But they are things that are aesthetically pleasing in recruiting, and they are things that certainly help teams in the never-ending college football arms race.

On Wednesday, Florida announced its long overdue plan to finally build an indoor football practice facility. The facility, which will be completed in early September and will house a full 120-yard, synthetic turf football field, is something that any powerhouse program should have, especially in a weather-ravaged state like Florida. The days of having to move practices to the Stephen C. O'Connell Center, which is about to undergo its own major renovation, or Florida Gym will soon be over. The days of having to cancel practices all together or having to practice under the (un)comforts of a parking garage will soon be a thing of the past.

In a release on Wednesday, the school estimated 30 practices were affected by weather during the 2014 season. That's all time lost for development. That's lost practice time, and if you saw Florida's 2014 season, you know that was valuable time.

Florida, which has needed facility upgrades for some time now, took a great step forward by getting with the times. And while it will help ease the stresses of practicing in a state that can have an unplanned monsoon hit at any second, an indoor practice facility will be a very attractive new feature for the Gators to use in recruiting.

Yes, part of this $15 million project is for enticing high school athletes, but that's the world we live in. They want the glitter. They want the flashy new toys. You have to go the extra mile more and more to attract the top players in the county, and a new indoor facility will go a long way with recruits. With the state of the program, Florida couldn't risk taking any extra recruiting hits, and this is a way to combat that.

"This is something we have talked about internally for some time," Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said.

It has been something discussed for years internally and externally, and there's no question that Florida's facilities have lagged behind a lot of other SEC programs. Every other team in the SEC either has some sort of indoor practice facility or is in the process of getting one, and Florida waiting until 2015 to get one has always been perplexing. Georgia has a 30-yard indoor field, but is working out plans to construct one in the near future.

Every program undergoes changes, and Florida is adding to and building up its brand with this indoor facility. During Will Muschamp's farewell news conference in November, Foley was asked if he felt Florida's facilities needed an upgrade after much was made about the Gators falling behind in that area.

Here's some of what he said:
"I wear orange and blue goggles a lot and I'm certainly willing to have wideopen eyes but I don't agree with that assessment that our facilities have fallen behind. We judge our facilities based on can they help our programs be successful. Do they make an impact on their ability to be successful, whether that's a weight room for football, gymnastics practice studio, what have you. As you look around our facilities, we're not into bells and whistles ... We're always looking to upgrade our facilities but we're not getting into an arms race and our facilities are not any issue in my opinion, affecting our success."

While I don't believe that not having an indoor practice field or a nicer locker room is the reason Florida has struggled over the last five years, not having the bells and whistles does turn off some kids. We are in an age of materialistic recruiting, and regardless of what Foley says, every team is in an arms race, and that won't stop ... especially in the SEC.

Florida to build indoor practice facility

January, 21, 2015
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[+] EnlargeJim McElwain
Tim Casey/UAA CommunicationsNew Florida coach Jim McElwain, left, will soon have the option of having the Gators practice indoors.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida announced plans for a $15 million indoor practice facility for football on Wednesday, becoming one of the last Southeastern Conference teams to build one.

Vanderbilt unveiled its full-size facility in November 2013. South Carolina is building one that is expected to open later this year.

Georgia has a 30-yard indoor field that's used for warm-ups and some drills, but far from ideal for full practices. Last September, the Bulldogs approved $400,000 for initial research into the construction of a full-size indoor facility.

The Florida project is expected to be completed in early September. It's one of the first steps in getting the football program back on par with some of the league's -- and nation's -- elite.


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Five-star CeCe Jefferson narrows list 

January, 21, 2015
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GLEN ST. MARY, Fla. -- Five-star defensive end CeCe Jefferson is nearing the time to make his college decision and the No. 9-ranked player in the ESPN 300 is starting to narrow his choices.


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SEC morning links

January, 21, 2015
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1. Here's another kind of story that we occasionally see this time of year -- of the much more pleasant variety than those about transfers and dismissals. Florida tight end Jake McGee tweeted Tuesday that the NCAA granted him a sixth season of eligibility after he broke his leg in the first game of the Gators' 2014 season. Georgia offensive lineman Kolton Houston received similar news about a month ago, less than two years removed from a years-long eligibility case that prevented him from playing during his first three seasons on campus. It's always nice to see the NCAA side with the athletes and give them the opportunity to make full use of their college experience when possible.

2. So maybe Nick Marshall is a defensive back, after all. Since it seemed likely that he would shift from quarterback -- where he starred at Auburn -- to cornerback during the run-up to the NFL draft, it seemed surprising when initial stories had Marshall coming to the Senior Bowl as a quarterback. Marshall cleared things up on Tuesday, however, saying he expects to be a defensive back in the pros after practicing at corner and as a gunner on special teams. When Southeastern Louisiana's Bryan Bennett joined the South team's roster Tuesday, it enabled Marshall to shift to cornerback full-time for this week's practices.

3. He's been rumored to be a front-runner for the San Francisco 49ers' offensive coordinator opening, but Lane Kiffin continues to recruit for Alabama. Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said Tuesday at Senior Bowl practice that he couldn't say with certainty that Kiffin would return to his staff next season, but he's “hopeful that will continue.” Kiffin certainly provided a jolt for Alabama's offense last season, helping Blake Sims become one of the nation's most efficient passers and funneling the ball to receiver Amari Cooper enough to solidify his status one of the most coveted prospects in the upcoming NFL draft. Insider. Kiffin predicted during Sugar Bowl week that he would return to Alabama in 2015, but an NFL coordinator job would have to be tempting for the former NFL coach.

Around the SEC

Age is just a number to Steve Spurrier, 69, who said he feels “really good” physically and has dedicated himself to improving South Carolina's performance from its disappointing 2014 campaign.

Former Missouri football player Phil Pitts reportedly stepped down from his position as head coach at Helias High School in Jefferson City, Missouri, to accept a coaching position at Mizzou. Pitts played at Missouri under Gary Pinkel, who is still recruiting Helias' star tight end Hale Hentges, a 2015 Alabama commit.

Tennessee will play its annual Orange and White spring game on April 25.

Louisiana athlete Donte Jackson will announce his pick between LSU and Georgia on Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. ET.

Alabama defensive end prospect Prince Tega Wanagho Jr., whose “Coming to America” story we mentioned in Monday's morning links, suffered a serious left leg injury during a basketball game Tuesday night. Wanagho recently emerged as one of the nation's hottest football prospects by flashing a rare combination of size and athleticism in his first year playing football after moving to the U.S. from Nigeria.

Tweet of the day

Tuesday was a busy day on the recruiting trail with head coaches and assistants earning frequent flyer miles with national signing day only 15 days away. The headliner on Tuesday was No. 2-ranked Terry Beckner Jr. and a visit from Florida State.


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Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

January, 20, 2015
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National signing day is less than three weeks away and it’s coming down to crunch time. This past weekend was one of three remaining weekends for recruits to take official visits before signing day and some of the top prospects took full advantage of the available weekend. Auburn had a monster recruiting weekend and, though not to the same extent, so did Alabama, Texas A&M, Florida, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and others. Here’s a closer look at the top news from this past weekend.


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Florida's Ability To Close 2015 Recruiting
National recruiting coordinator Craig Haubert discusses new Florida coach Jim McElwain's ability to close 2015 recruiting. National recruiting director Tom Luginbill breaks down the Gators' sales pitch in their attempt to flip committed prospects.
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