It's been a while since Texas A&M and the University of Texas have been locked in a handful of major recruiting battles. A rivalry that was once played on the field is now playing out in high schools and living rooms with six days left until national signing day. While Longhorns fans are in a state of frenzy due to rumors and chatter, the Aggies remain the "cool school" in the Lone Star State and hold the momentum headed into the first two of five announcements that could flip that perception within the state lines.

What exactly is on the line for both programs beginning with Friday's announcements by ESPN 300 cornerbacks Holton Hill and Kris Boyd? The Longhorns' shot at starting a wave of momentum of their own, and the Aggies showinging their ability to make a late push on two prospects Texas has recruited as priorities.

Looking ahead at potential playmakers in 2015, there should be two divisions: Ohio State, and everyone else.

[+] EnlargeEzekiel Elliott
Scott Clarke/ESPN ImagesEzekiel Elliott is among Ohio State's many offensive weapons returning for the 2015 campaign.
Heaven help Big Ten defensive coordinators trying to plan for a team that will have the power element of Ezekiel Elliott’s running complemented by the ankle-breaking athleticism and versatility of utility types Jalin Marshall, Curtis Samuel and Dontre Wilson. Oh, and there’s that Braxton Miller fella, should he return to OSU.

Jokes about “Big Ten speed,” or lack thereof, are hereby declared dead. They have ceased because of Urban Meyer and his staff’s recruiting.

Miller, the Buckeyes' quarterback from 2011-13, will be one of the country’s top playmakers regardless of where he plays. Most people in college football believe returning is his best option, even if it means a new, varied role.

Miller’s size (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) compares well to NFL running backs such as Matt Forte, Darren McFadden and Arian Foster, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Miller, though, needs to prove to NFL teams that he can play the position without injury. Miller’s ability in space is uncanny, but I was surprised to learn that he rushed for 701 yards between the tackles in 2013 (508 outside). One more Stats & Info nugget: His 7.3 yards per carry since 2011 puts him behind only Melvin Gordon (minimum 320 carries).So, yeah, it would be highly intriguing to add Miller’s skill to the elite-level playmaking talent that’s already present.

As a redshirt freshman, Marshall was the team’s breakout playmaker in 2014. He scored eight touchdowns (six receiving, one rushing, one punt return). If something happened to Cardale Jones in the postseason, Marshall likely would have played QB, too.

Samuel, a freshman this past season, and Wilson, a sophomore, are similarly versatile. They’re the team’s primary kick returners, averaging 22.8 yards per return last season. They’re nowhere near their ceilings, either. You think new co-OC and QBs coach Tim Beck entered into a good situation?

Here are playmaker standouts from the non-Ohio State crop

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Greg McElroy predicts the SEC football athletes that will have a breakout season in 2015.
Despite making a commitment to Alabama last week, ESPN 300 offensive tackle Isaiah Prince said Wednesday he's visiting Maryland and will give the Terps a solid look.


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SEC Network reporter Kayce Smith talks Texas A&M football with Paul Finebaum.

Recruit breakdown: DT Daylon Mack 

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What he brings: Daylon Mack is a compact, but thickly built and powerful defensive tackle who is capable of being a disruptive force in the trenches. He lacks some in ideal height, but built like a powder keg the five-star can quickly explode off the ball and create problems. With a quick first-step and good snap anticipation, Mack is capable of blowing up plays in the backfield, but strong and with a low center of gravity, he is tough to move and control even when blockers can get a piece of him. He may be closer to his ceiling of development than most of the five-star prospects, but is a pretty darn good player at this stage. If he can continue to refine his technique and manage his weight, he has demonstrated the tools needed to be a handful at the college level and likely can begin causing havoc soon after hitting campus.


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Malzahn leads list of best playcallers 

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This week, I asked a few coaches what constituted a good playcaller. Balance was one consistent element, both in terms of run and pass calls as well as taking shots downfield. Creating and leveraging mismatches, finding space for playmakers, was another.

Another characteristic -- confidence -- was a bit more abstract. Coaches said a proper playcaller has to take control of a game rather than allowing a defensive coordinator to get the upper hand.

It’s a chess game in the gladiator arena, and one coach said “bravado” is required.

“Always be on the attack,” he said, “regardless of down, distance, score or time of the game.”

Here are 10 playcallers -- coordinators and head coaches -- who most embody those elements.

1. Gus Malzahn, Auburn head coach
Even though the Auburn offense is built on the same few basic run plays, Malzahn continues to frustrate defensive coordinators.

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SEC morning links

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1. I hate to start the day off with this, but it needs to be addressed. Two ex-Vanderbilt football players were convicted of rape Wednesday, and two more are still awaiting trial. It’s a black eye for the school, for the conference and for college football. The verdict likely gave some closure to the victim, but this is not going away anytime soon for the Commodores football program. Is it fair for head coach Derek Mason who took over after the incident occurred? No, but he’s the one who will have to deal with the consequences. One can only hope that the culture has changed under Mason's watch. And maybe all this will send a message to other student-athletes. Here’s to not having to address these types of issues as often in college football.

2. On a different note, we are officially one week from national signing day. Who’s ready? ESPNU will have wall-to-wall coverage next Wednesday with more than 15 live commitments and reporters on different college campuses across the country. There’s plenty of intrigue with six of the top 10 players in the ESPN 300 still uncommitted, and some believe Auburn, Florida and USC will make the most noise on signing day. The biggest name to watch will be five-star quarterback Kyler Murray, who is in the middle of a Lone Star recruiting battle for the ages. Will he stick with his current Texas A&M commitment or will he flip to the Longhorns and go play for head coach Charlie Strong? We’ll have to wait and see.

Around the SEC
Tweet of the day

Official visits, unofficial visits, in home visits and everything else one can possibly think of is happening with one week until national signing day, Feb. 4. As expected, Twitter is abuzz right now with information flowing constantly all day and night.

Here is a look at some highlights from Tuesday.

@HamiltonESPN: ESPN300 five-star defensive end CeCe Jefferson headed to Florida on Tuesday afternoon for an unofficial following a trip to Ole Miss and Alabama over the weekend. In a recruitment that could go a number of different directions, the Rebels and Gators are the best bets to be standing on national signing day unless Auburn can pull the upset. Jefferson is scheduled to visit LSU this weekend, followed by a national signing day announcement live on ESPN.

@HamiltonESPN: Nick Saban was in South Florida on Tuesday, and one of his stops was Coconut Creek High. The reason is simple -- Coconut Creek is home to a trio of ESPN Junior 300 prospects, including top cornerback Trayvon Mullen, who has an Alabama offer.

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.


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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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