Kyler Murray isn't the only high-profile Texan who will shape the future of Lone Star State recruiting, as ESPN 300 defensive backs Kris Boyd and Holton Hill will announce their decisions together Friday.

The fever pitch in the state of Texas on the recruiting trail hasn’t been felt since the 2003-04 recruitment of Adrian Peterson, or even prior. Starting on Friday, it will be the Texas Longhorns and Texas A&M Aggies duking it out for supremacy in the Lone Star State. A cycle that started with Texas A&M being the "cool school" in the state and seemingly winning every big battle has gotten a lot more interesting after last Wednesday’s unofficial visit to Texas by Texas A&M quarterback commitment Kyler Murray and receiver DaMarkus Lodge.

With what could be a recruiting windfall for either the Aggies or Longhorns, and momentum for the 2016 class and beyond, here are the eight most important recruits remaining in the balance in the Lone Star State.

Kris Boyd, CB, Gilmer High
ESPN 300 ranking: No. 241


Boyd is set to announce Friday, along with good buddy and fellow ESPN 300 cornerback Holton Hill. Boyd has dwindled his list to Texas and Texas A&M, where he officially visited the past two weekends. If either the Longhorns or Aggies are to start an overwhelming wave of momentum Friday, it could lead to a near historic finish for the winning school. Boyd played for head coach Jeff Traylor at Gilmer, whose son is a walk-on quarterback at Texas A&M. Boyd is also the cousin of former Gilmer and Texas standout Curtis Brown.

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Holton Hill, CB, Houston Lamar High
ESPN 300 ranking: No. 152


As mentioned above, Hill will announce on Friday. Though a Texas A&M official visit over the weekend seemingly put the Aggies in the race, Texas and LSU were the overwhelming favorites headed into the visit, with the closest-to-home Longhorns considered to be the front-runner. Like Boyd, if either Texas or Texas A&M gets both of the ESPN 300 cornerbacks, it could start a tidal wave come National Signing Day. Hill visited LSU on Dec. 5 before Texas and Texas A&M the past two weekends, respectively.

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Chris Warren III, RB, Rockwall High
ESPN 300 ranking: No. 102


What looked like a Texas vs. Washington battle has possibly changed with Texas A&M offering recently. In fact, add this to the list of battles between the two rivals if Warren visits College Station before heading to Washington on Jan. 30. Warren is the load-carrying big back who could be a running-game changer for any program. This is likely one of at least four National Signing Day decisions that will have all state of Texas fans closely following, with the Longhorns considered the favorite heading into the final two official visits. Warren made an official visit to Texas Tech over the weekend.

You learn pretty quickly in the realm of college football to never say never.

So I won’t go that far, but with the first College Football Playoff in our rear-view mirror, I will say that I have a hard time seeing two teams from the same conference ever getting in, at least as long as it remains a four-team format.

And that’s bad news for the SEC.

When it became obvious that a playoff was coming, the initial thought in SEC locales was that the league would be strong enough to merit two teams in a lot of years.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsNick Saban and Alabama had to survive a challenging SEC schedule to earn a playoff berth.
After all, this was the big, bad SEC, which had won seven straight BCS national championships (with four different teams) and had played in eight straight BCS title games.

But the College Football Playoff is a different animal, and those of us who thought the SEC might get two seats at the table every couple of years were dead wrong.

The most iron-clad unwritten rule going is that conference champions will get first dibs every time, and I’m not necessarily saying that’s a bad thing.

Ohio State was the fourth team in this season and earned its spot by destroying Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game. I’d say the Buckeyes were a worthy participant with the way they mowed down Alabama and Oregon in a span of 12 days.

Once given the stage, they proved they were the best team in the country and did so with a team that many thought was a year away.

Now, could they have navigated their way through the SEC with just one loss and even been in position to make the playoff?

That’s a story for a different day, but it brings into perspective the dilemma the SEC faces in the playoff era.

The grind of the league is what makes it so treacherous. As we saw this bowl season, particularly with regard to the Western Division teams, all bets are off in a one-game season. The West went a very humbling 2-5 and lost every one of its high-profile bowl games.

The SEC West had been hailed all season as the deepest division in the country, and some in the league speculated that it might have been the toughest division in college football history.

At the end of the day, the SEC didn’t have any dominant teams this season. It did have a handful of teams capable of winning a national championship, but most of those teams beat up on each other.

Let’s not forget that Alabama had to survive by one point at Arkansas, pulled out an improbable overtime win at LSU and beat Auburn at home in the regular-season finale despite giving up 630 total yards.

What you saw this season in the SEC is going to be much more indicative of what you’re going to see in the league going forward. That doesn’t mean Alabama is going anywhere, and it also doesn’t mean that Mississippi State is going to win 10 games every year.

What it does mean is that the SEC is going to continue to cannibalize itself, and that’s not good for business in a four-team playoff system.

The East is going to bounce back at some point, and maybe its 5-0 record in bowl games this season is a sign that it may occur sooner rather than later. When it does, the pathway to a national championship will become an even steeper mountain to climb for the SEC.

With that kind of balance on both sides, simply making it through the regular season in the SEC will be harrowing enough. Then comes the SEC championship game and two playoff games.

I remember vividly coaches in the league grumbling when the SEC championship game was created in 1992. A lot of them said then that having to win an extra game would severely hurt their chances of winning a national championship.

They were proved wrong. From 1992 to 2013, the SEC won 11 of the 22 national titles.

Maybe this will be a similar deal, and if (or when) the playoff moves to eight teams in the coming years, the landscape is sure to change again.

The mere fact that a national championship game was played this year without an SEC representative was surreal. And yes, refreshing, too, for all those coaches, players and fans who grew weary over the last decade of hearing about the SEC’s perceived dominance.

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson might as well have been speaking for everybody outside the SEC’s footprint when he chortled, “At least we don’t have to hear about the SEC for a while,” following the Yellow Jackets’ win over Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl.

Nobody’s suggesting that the SEC’s party is over. It’s still the best conference in college football, and privately, those who’ve coached in the SEC in the past and moved elsewhere will confirm as much.

But now that we’ve had a taste of the playoff, seen how it works and processed it all, it’s not necessarily a party the SEC is going to host every year.

And in some years, the SEC (gasp) might not even get an invite.
Monday was a busy day on the recruiting trail, as expected with just 10 days left until national signing day Feb. 4. The state of Texas is literally hanging on every word and tweet of a handful of top uncommitted prospects that will provide bragging rights for a fan base that no longer plays each other on the field. This and a number of others topics make up today's Daily Social.

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What a roller coaster of a season for Texas A&M. There were some lofty highs and some deep lows. The 2014 Aggies kept everyone guessing en route to an 8-5 finish. Let’s grade out how they did:

Offense -- B-minus: By the standards set in head coach Kevin Sumlin's first two seasons at Texas A&M, this season was a down one for the offense. The Aggies are used to ranking in the top five or top 10 nationally in offense; this season they were 26th in scoring (35.2 points per game), 30th in yards per game (455.4), and the running game left much to be desired (149.9 yards per game, 82nd nationally). There were flashes of greatness in the season-opening win at South Carolina, the upset at Auburn, and the AutoZone Liberty Bowl victory against West Virginia. There were other times when the unit sputtered or just stopped (Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Alabama come to mind). Some of that is to be expected with first-year starters at quarterback (sophomore Kenny Hill, then true freshman Kyle Allen) so it’s forgivable.

Defense -- F: Finishing last in the SEC in yards allowed per game and rushing isn’t going to cut it. That’s what Texas A&M did for a second straight season, and it cost former defensive coordinator Mark Snyder his job. There were some bright spots, especially from the Aggies’ young players like freshman defensive end Myles Garrett, freshman safety Armani Watts, and freshmen linebackers Otaro Alaka and Josh Walker to name a few. There were also times when the defense shined (at South Carolina, and against West Virginia) or kept the Aggies in a game while the offense sputtered. Ultimately, allowing 280-plus rushing yards, which the Aggies did six times this season, is unacceptable.

Special teams -- A-minus: This season was a good one for the Texas A&M special teams. For the first time in the Sumlin era, the placekicking was solid and without issue (Josh Lambo was 13-of-15 on field goals and perfect on 59 point-after-touchdown kick attempts). The Aggies allowed fewer than 20 yards per kickoff return. The team was 14th nationally in net punting (40.48 net yards per punt). The Aggies were in the top 25 nationally in both yards per kickoff return (22.9) and yards per punt return (12.4). Also, one of the biggest plays of the season came via special teams: the Garrett blocked field goal that was returned by Deshazor Everett for a touchdown in the 41-38 upset win against Auburn.

Coaching -- B: Considering the preseason expectations and everything the Aggies lost off their 2013 team, they finished with a win total many likely expected, going 8-5. It’s how they got there that makes things interesting. The first five games of the season gave fans visions of the College Football Playoff; the next three were a nightmare. The Aggies finished by winning three of their final five. Getting hammered during the midseason three-game losing streak looked bad, but the way the Sumlin and his coaching staff addressed the problems, via personnel and game-plan changes, turned out to be effective, and produced the huge win at Auburn. The season could have easily spiraled out of control and didn’t, and the staff ended the year on a positive note with the Liberty Bowl win.

Overall -- C-plus: The three-game losing streak in the middle of the year is hard to ignore, and finishing sixth in the SEC West is not what this team was looking for -- especially after a 5-0 start. It was a transitional year without a ton of preseason expectations, but it still could have been better. Sumlin hired defensive coordinator John Chavis away from LSU to address the defensive issues, and with a returning quarterback (Allen) the future looks bright in Aggieland.
Texas hosted a number of top targets over the weekend, but none was potentially more impactful than five-star defensive tackle Daylon Mack.

Mack, ranked No. 6 overall in the ESPN 300, wasn’t sure what to expect headed into his official visit, having not been on campus in Austin since the summer of 2013. That made Mack's trip this weekend a sort of first impression for Charlie Strong and the Longhorns staff.


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Recruit breakdown: ATH Soso Jamabo 

January, 23, 2015
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video What he brings: Versatility. Soso Jamabo has a taller, high-cut frame lacking a compact body structure and lower center of gravity but is an impressive physical prospect. Has a big body with a lot of room for development and very good top-end speed. He's a smooth glider in the open field. Needs development as a pass-catcher in terms of route-running. Right now he's a running back exclusively who could transition easily into a full-time receiver with his natural pass-catching ability. Is a definite home-run threat. Wins on physical prowess and ball skills.


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What was an already big week in recruiting for Texas just got a lot more interesting. Five-star defensive tackle Daylon Mack, No. 6 in the ESPN 300, informed RecruitingNation that he is officially visiting the Longhorns this weekend after canceling a planned visit to Auburn earlier in the week.


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The shockwaves from Texas A&M quarterback commitment Kyler Murray’s unofficial visit to Texas on Wednesday were still being felt Thursday because he's such an important target for both schools.


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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.

Next wave of dual-sport QBs

January, 22, 2015
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[+] EnlargeWinston
AP Photo/Phil SearsIn addition to being a Heisman winner and national champion quarterback, Jameis Winston excelled at baseball for the Seminoles.

While the Super Bowl pits two quarterbacks who were both MLB draft picks, Russell Wilson and Tom Brady aren't the only signal callers who thrived in multiple sports . The potential No. 1 pick in this year's NFL draft, Jameis Winston, was also a baseball star for the Seminoles. And in the high school ranks, the nation's top-rated quarterback, Texas A&M commit Kyler Murray, could be an early-round MLB draft pick even though most expect him to play football in college. 

Here's a look at six high school and college quarterbacks who have also excelled on the diamond:


(Read full post)



Everything is bigger in Texas, including the recruiting battles.

Kyler Murray, the nation’s No. 13 overall player and top dual-threat quarterback, and ESPN 300 receiver DaMarkus Lodge took a surprise unofficial visit to Texas Wednesday, sending shockwaves through the Lone Star State. All involved had kept quiet about these plans until Murray and Lodge tweeted photos of Texas uniforms with their respective numbers on Wednesday afternoon.

The news of Murray, who completed his career at Allen High School with a perfect 43-0 record and three Texas state championships, visiting the Forty Acres is big enough by itself. But when you consider Murray has been committed to rival Texas A&M for more than seven months, news of the visit quickly mushroomed into one of the biggest recruiting headlines for the entire 2015 recruiting cycle.

The pursuit of Murray comes at a time when Jim Harbaugh and Michigan are attempting to flip the Longhorns' lone quarterback commit, Zach Gentry. Murray did take an official visit to Oklahoma during the season. He took his official to Texas A&M last weekend. Charlie Strong has said Texas needs to take two quarterbacks for its class. ESPN 300 athlete Kai Locksley, a Florida State quarterback commit, is scheduled to visit Texas this weekend.

Texas was once the leader for Lodge while Mack Brown was head coach, but the nation's No. 57 prospect committed to Texas A&M last summer. He backed out of that commitment and just took his official visit to College Station with Murray last weekend. Lodge is expected to take his official to Ole Miss on Friday.

The odds of landing both in a signing day stunner probably aren't great, but Strong and the Longhorns at least got their chance on Wednesday to show Murray and Lodge what Texas has to offer and put a little pressure on their recruiting rival.
DALLAS -- It's a sign of the times when you start seeing ground-and-pound Alabama running tempo.

There's a reason one of Will Muschamp's final orders at Florida was to have his team attempt to run more of a spread offense with some tempo. There's a reason Texas A&M and Missouri's offenses have flourished and have a combined record of 56-23 during their first three seasons in the SEC. There's a reason the Mississippi schools have been on the rise. There's a reason Gus Malzahn has had immediate success in two short years as head coach at Auburn.

There's a reason we saw two spread-minded teams -- one incredibly tempo-driven -- with offenses ranked in the top 10 and defenses outside the top four of their own conferences reach the first College Football Playoff National Championship game.

As rugged and as defensive-minded as the SEC has been for years and years, offense is taking over college football, and the SEC -- for the most part -- is trying not to get left behind.

“Any offense is trying to find any advantage against the defense," Oregon running back Royce Freeman said during media day for the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T. "Why wouldn’t you? If it’s tempo or if it’s different personnel, if it’s by the rules, do it.”

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsAlabama's Nick Saban once led a crusade against up-tempo offenses, but employed a little of it himself this past season.
Exactly.

Times are changing in all forms of football. Offense is in and defense is ailing.

In each of the last two seasons, the SEC has had six teams finish the year allowing more than 390 yards per game. From 2008-12, only nine teams allowed more than 390 yards a game. The disintegration of defense is apparent in the SEC, and how long it lasts is unknown. Offense is having a trickle-up effect with high school teams adopting the spread more and more and ramping up the tempo. Running quarterbacks feel like more of a necessity in the sport than a luxury.

Nobody thought the spread would work in the NFL, but the read-option is there to stay (hello, Super Bowl-bound Seattle Seahawks) and even the New England Patriots have been running a version of the spread during the last few years at times.

It's a natural evolution in sports for people to try and find the next best thing. Football is no different. For a while, defenses were stagnant and offenses would shift and motion to create leverage. Now, defenses can move at and before the snap to create temporary advantages and mismatches. So offenses have answered by lining up quicker and snapping the ball faster.

It's in all forms of the sport, but Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, whose Ducks have been perfecting this thing since the Chip Kelly days, believes this offensive fad his school helped create might not be the future of football.

“It’ll cycle though. People that believe in certain things will keep it at their core," Helfrich said. "… There are also certain people who are just experimenting with it, so to speak.”

Cyclical or not, programs are realizing that the current offensive evolution -- or revolution -- is real. Most teams in the SEC implement some form of higher tempo in their offenses. Some are spreading guys out more and finding homes in the shotgun. While it goes against all old-school football mantras, it's something coaches realize is the style of the times, and it's working and it's greatly affecting defenses.

Just look at Alabama. This is a team that dominated college football with a very traditional -- and successful -- offense. But Nick Saban's defenses have struggled with the spread recently. Johnny Manziel and his high-flying Texas A&M Aggies lit up Alabama for an average of 523 yards and 35.5 points in games in 2012 and 2013. Against Auburn and that uptempo Malzahn spread the last two years, Alabama has surrendered 1,023 yards and 78 points.

Alabama went 2-2 in those four games.

[+] EnlargeDan Mullen
Mark Zerof/USA TODAY SportsDan Mullen has turned Mississippi State into a league power with a personnel-based spread offense he helped develop with Urban Meyer at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida.
Take it a step further and look at Alabama's two-game losing streak in the postseason where Oklahoma (spread and tempo) and Ohio State (spread) combined to score 87 points and reeled off 966 yards.

Running quarterbacks, spread and tempo have been weaknesses for Saban's defenses, so he added all three to his offense this year and watched Alabama set all sorts of offensive records and average 484.5 yards per game (most during his Alabama tenure) and 36.9 points a contest.

“Three or four years ago, Nick Saban was talking about how he didn’t really like [uptempo offense], and the disadvantages to it," Oregon defensive back Juwaan Williams said. "He’s making the evolution himself.”

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, a week removed from his third national championship victory, began some of the transformation down South by bringing his version of the spread offense from Utah to Florida in 2005. His very personnel-driven philosophy changed as the players did. That's why you saw Florida's 2008 national championship-winning offense look so different from the 2006 one.

And that's why Dan Mullen's spread at Mississippi State looks a little different from the one he helped run as the offensive coordinator at Florida. That's why Hugh Freeze's spread at Ole Miss has some philosophical differences from Mizzou's. That's why Tennessee is now spreading things out more now to go with its tempo with a more mobile quarterback in Joshua Dobbs.

“It’s not system-driven; it’s personnel-based," Meyer said of the spread.

That's why Bret Bielema isn't interested in it at Arkansas. He has his big guys plowing into everyone every chance they get, and he likes it. And that's fine, but as we continue to look around the league, more tempo and more spread is coming. Even new Florida coach Jim McElwain, who was a part of the ground-and-pound Bama philosophy during his time with Saban, would like to inject more tempo in the Gators. Steve Spurrier has even experimented with some tempo at South Carolina.

As we dive into this new playoff thing and football gets faster and faster, the SEC appears for the most part to be ready and adapting. And really, it had better be.

“It seems like every team is trying to conform to that," Ohio State offensive lineman Darryl Baldwin said. "I guess it’s more about scoring points now than playing defense now."
video

At the Under Armour All-American Game, some of the nation's top recruits discuss how much a school's tradition mattered in making a college decision.

SEC Weekend Wrap: Jan. 20

January, 20, 2015
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Recruiting reporter Derek Tyson discusses top recruiting news from the SEC.

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ESPN 300 Recruits: Does Tradition Matter?
At the Under Armour All-American Game, some of the nation's top recruits discuss how much a school's tradition mattered in making a college decision.
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