If there is one program that is off to the fastest start in the 2016 class, it's the Miami (FL) Hurricanes. Al Golden and staff had five ESPN Jr 300 commitments headed into Jan. 25's Junior Day, and have added to that number with the verbals by safety Cedrick Wright and defensive end Joseph Jackson.
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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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D.J. Fluker, No. 12 in 2009 class
Fluker was born in New Orleans, but graduated from Foley High in Alabama. He committed to Alabama in November of 2007, but did give LSU and Florida long looks throughout the process even into his senior season. Fluker was a member of the Crimson Tide’s top-ranked 2009 class that included Chance Warmack, James Carpenter, Dre Kirkpatrick, Eddie Lacy, A.J. McCarron, Trent Richardson, Quinton Dial, Nico Johnson, Kevin Norwood, Anthony Steen and others.
After redshirting in 2009, Fluker started at right tackle in 2010. He made nine starts, missing three games due to injury.
It was as a third-year sophomore in 2011 that Fluker began to show that he would be a high NFL draft choice. He started 13 games for the Crimson Tide at right tackle as part of a dominant offensive line that was key in leading Alabama to the BCS National Championship.
The 2012 season would be Fluker’s best in Tuscaloosa. He started 14 games helping lead the Crimson Tide to back-to-back BCS National Championships. Following the season, he was named All-SEC first team and first-team All-America by numerous media outlets.
Fluker decided to forgo his final year of eligibility following the 2012 season. He left Alabama with three national championship rings, as well as starting all 36 games he appeared in.
Fluker was selected No. 11 overall by the San Diego Chargers in the 2013 NFL draft, and has started every game he has appeared in.
Honorable mention: Ryan Mallett, No. 12 in 2007 class. Mallett signed with Michigan, but transferred to Arkansas where he earned all-conference honors as a quarterback with superior arm talent. He was selected in the third round, No. 74 overall, by the New England Patriots in 2011. He is currently a member of the Houston Texans. ... Malcom Brown, No. 12 in 2012 class. Brown earned All-American honors this season for the Texas Longhorns, and has entered the 2015 NFL draft where he is expected to be selected in the first round. ... Su’a Cravens, No. 12 in 2013. The USC star has quickly become one of college football’s top defensive players as a playmaking safety with linebacker physicality. He is expected to be a first-round NFL draft selection in either 2016 or 2017.
New defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin used his ties to the state of Florida to go and get Jones, who is only commit No. 7 for the Wolverines in the 2015 class. Michigan has room for roughly nine more prospects and still has plenty of needs to fill, so there is still plenty of work ahead.
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Aaron Murray, No. 13 in 2009 class
Murray was an accomplished quarterback coming out of Tampa (Florida) Plant High School. In April 2008, Murray picked Georgia over childhood favorite Florida due in large part to his comfort level and relationship with Mark Richt and then-Bulldogs offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. Murray was part of a Top 10 Georgia class that included Orson Charles, Marlon Brown, Abry Jones, Zach Mettenberger and Branden Smith.
After redshirting in 2009, Murray started 13 games in 2010, passing for 3,049 yards and 24 touchdowns, earning All-SEC Freshman Team honors from the league's coaches.
Murray started 14 games in 2011, passing for 3,149 yards and 35 TDs. He was named All-SEC second-team and set single-season school records for passing touchdowns (35) and touchdowns responsible for (37).
The 2012 season would prove to be Murray’s best at Georgia. He threw for 3,893 yards and 36 TDs in 14 starts, finishing second in the country in with a 174.82 quarterback rating. His 3,893 yards are a school single-season passing yardage record. He earned various All-SEC Team honors from media outlets following the season.
The 2013 season was another record-setting one for Murray. He became the first quarterback in SEC history to throw for 3,000 yards or more in four straight seasons. He made 11 starts as a fifth-year senior before tearing his ACL in the second-to-last regular-season game. He passed for 3,075 yards and 26 scores prior to the injury.
Murray finished his career at Georgia with 13,166 yards passing and 121 TDs against 41 INTs, along with 16 rushing scores. He left Athens as the SEC's career passing touchdown leader and SEC career passing yards leader. He finished his career with a 35-17 record as a starting quarterback.
Murray was selected in the fifth round with the No. 163 overall pick by the Kansas City Chiefs.
Honorable mention: Stefon Diggs, No. 13 in 2012 class. Diggs chose to stay home and play at Maryland over Florida, Ohio State and Auburn. In three years for the Terrapins, he caught 150 passes for 2,227 yards and 14 TDs. He has entered the 2015 NFL Draft and is expected to be drafted in the first three rounds.
Harbaugh is to earn $5 million in each of the first three years of his deal -- a $500,000 base salary and $4.5 million in additional compensation for contracted TV and radio appearances and an apparel agreement, among other items.
The contract calls for a 10 percent raise to $5.5 million in January 2018 and another 10 percent raise to $6.04 million in January 2020, pending the market-value review.
The total value of the deal is $38,069,000.
If Harbaugh leaves Michigan for other employment, he must pay the university the remaining pro-rated amount of his $2 million signing bonus. For instance, if he takes an NFL job after four years, he will owe the school $857,142.
Other terms of the contract provide Harbaugh with:
- The joint responsibility with the athletic director to schedule games. The final decision rests with the AD.
- The use of two automobiles.
- $4,000 of apparel annually from Michigan’s official outfitter (currently adidas).
- Use of a private viewing box for his family and guests at Michigan Stadium and 16 additional tickets to home games.
- Private air travel for all recruiting purposes and up to 25 hours of additional flight time for personal travel. First-class commercial airfare for all other football-related travel.
The contract allows for a salary pool of $4-5 million for his assistant coaches, with 10 percent raises after the third and fifth years of Harbaugh’s deal.
Harbaugh’s incentives include payment of $125,000 for winning the Big Ten East Division, $250,000 for a conference title, $200,000 for a New Year’s Six bowl appearance, $300,000 for a berth in the College Football Playoff and $500,000 for a national championship.
Additionally, he will receive $50,000 if named Big Ten coach of the year, $75,000 as national coach of the year and up to $150,000 for the academic performance of his players.
The contract was dated Dec. 28, 2014, and signed by Michigan athletic director Jim Hackett and president Mark Schlissel. Harbaugh was introduced in Ann Arbor on Dec. 30.
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How talented? Florida State could be in rarefied air once the draft is completed in early May. With a nation-leading five early entrants in the draft, Florida State is on course to have at least 11 players selected.
If that happens, Florida State will have 29 players drafted over the last three years, more than any other team since the draft was cut down to seven rounds in 1994. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the last school that had at least 29 players drafted over a three-year period was Texas, with 31 taken from 1982-84.
Only two programs have had 28 players taken since 2002: Miami (2002-04) and USC (2008-10).
Those Miami teams are widely regarded as among the best all-time at producing NFL talent. Of those 28 drafted, 15 went in the first round. Florida State will not come close to that first-round number, having had four first-round picks in 2013 and 2014 with a handful projected for 2015.
But there is an interesting debate to be had between this recent Florida State stretch that produced a national championship, 29 straight wins and potentially more overall picks, and the Miami stretch that produced a national championship, 34 straight wins and more first-round picks.
Is the 2001 Miami championship team head-and-shoulders above the 2013 Florida State championship team? That question is worth discussion.
What is not up for debate is where this Florida State group stands compared to its other talented teams. This three-year stretch blows any other in school history away. Until now, its most drafted three-year group was 22 from 1993-95.
It goes without saying that coach Jimbo Fisher has done a tremendous job on the recruiting trail. Not only is he signing top-flight classes, he is taken the highly skilled players in those groups and developing them into professional talents at rapid-fire rates. Fisher can boast that better than just about anyone.
Here is a look at the recent three-year stretches Florida State, Miami and USC have put together in the NFL draft:
2002 draftees: 11
First round: Five -- Bryant McKinnie, Jeremy Shockey, Phillip Buchanon, Ed Reed, Mike Rumph
2003 draftees: Eight
First round: Four -- Andre Johnson, Jerome McDougle, Willis McGahee, William Joseph
2004 draftees: Nine
First round: Six -- Sean Taylor, Kellen Winslow, Jonathan Vilma, D.J. Williams, Vernon Carey, Vince Wilfork
2008 draftees: 10
First round: Four -- Sedrick Ellis, Keith Rivers, Sam Baker, Lawrence Jackson
2009 draftees: 11
First round: Three -- Mark Sanchez, Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews
2010 draftees: Seven
First round: None
FLORIDA STATE, 2013-15
2013 draftees: 11
First round: Three -- EJ Manuel, Bjoern Werner, Xavier Rhodes
2014 draftees: Seven
First round: One -- Kelvin Benjamin.
2015 draftees: TBD
Most likely to be drafted: Jameis Winston, Eddie Goldman, P.J. Williams, Mario Edwards Jr., Ronald Darby, Cameron Erving, Josue Matias, Karlos Williams, Rashad Greene, Nick O'Leary, Tre' Jackson
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Athletic director Brad Bates wants to make it clear that the Eagles will adhere to the new legislation, set to be implemented as early as August. But the university has multiple concerns about the issue, forming the basis of its "no" vote.
Among them: adding expenses to athletic departments that already are struggling to generate profits; troublesome scenarios that could lead to eliminating non-revenue sports if the increased expenses become unmanageable; and the disparity between cost of attendance figures across campuses, an issue that could ultimately lead to recruiting advantages.
"We're trying to be true to what our institutional culture is and what we believe should be how we approach intercollegiate athletics," Bates said in a recent phone interview. Bates points to the small number of athletic departments generating a profit. According to a report from the NCAA published in August 2014, that number was 20 on the FBS level.
"The rest of us are all relying on institutional subsidies and a lot of those subsidies come from student fees at many institutions," he said. "So with increased costs of higher education, we keep passing legislation that's increasing our costs. We're putting a lot of pressure on athletic departments to really seriously look into eliminating sports, which ultimately hurts student-athletes rather than helps."
Schools already have begun to eliminate sports, even before this legislation passed. According to Bates, 15 different schools have cut a total of 66 sports since 2010. UAB drew the biggest headlines of all recently, when it chose to eliminate football to save costs.
"If that's not symbolic of the strain of the cost of athletics at an institution, I'm not sure what is," Bates said.
The NCAA report showed expenses are growing at a higher rate than revenues -- despite all the cash television and sponsorship deals have generated. Just as troubling, the five Power 5 conferences had an average loss of $2.3 million. That loss climbed nearly eight times higher -- $17.6 million -- at all other FBS schools.
Now more costs will be added to the bottom line, and those costs will vary from school to school. Full cost of attendance means an additional payment for miscellaneous expenses, including travel back home. At Boston College, the average cost for these expenses is $2,200, bringing the total scholarship figure to roughly $63,000 a year.
We can use another ACC school as an example. Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock announced Thursday that the Hokies' cost of attendance per student-athlete would add roughly $2,500 more to each scholarship, costing the athletic department between $850,000-$900,000 more per year.
Bates said Boston College would be in the same ballpark. But he also noted there is flexibility in how the full cost of attendance is determined.
"It's a very complicated formula, but it allows some leeway in how you interpret it," Bates said. "Some school's gaps are less than $1,000 and some schools are over $6,000. That will be significantly exploited in recruiting."
In order to increase revenues to cover the full cost of attendance, schools will be looking at new and creative ways to bring in more money, whether through corporate sponsors, ticket sales or donor gifts. But issues will remain as long as legislation continues to pass increasing spending, at rates that exceed income.
Everybody can agree full cost of attendance is good, in principle. But in the excitement to get the first big piece of autonomy legislation passed, perhaps there was not as much forethought given into how, exactly, athletic departments would begin to pay for it.
"People made an assumption that this was going to pass easily and they didn't necessarily want to attract attention by voting no, but I also think there was some naivety about the integration of this policy," Bates said. "I'm not sure that everyone fully comprehended the types of issues we're talking about right now."
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1. James Conner, Pittsburgh
Position: Running back
Tough to go with anybody else at No. 1 after watching Conner bulldoze the competition en route to ACC Offensive Player of the Year and ACC Player of the Year honors. And, well, it is not every day that Tony Dorsett's long-standing school records are shattered. Conner led the league in rushing yards (1,765), rushing touchdowns (26), rushing yards per game (135.8) and scoring (156 points). His touchdown and scoring totals broke the Pitt single-season records Dorsett set in 1976. Conner had three 200-yard games and seven 100-yard games, often taking multiple defenders on his back along for a ride. He was downright dominant, and in a year of powerful backs, he deserves the No. 1 spot.
2. Jameis Winston, Florida State
Year: Redshirt sophomore
If there is one player on this list you would take with the game on the line, it would be Winston. But this list is an evaluation of the top performances week in and week out, and Winston was simply not consistent enough to merit the top spot this year. He made too many mistakes, whether he was trying too hard with an inexperienced receiving corps or just making the wrong decisions. But those mistakes do not diminish the fact that Winston remains one of the best (and most dangerous) players in the nation. Winston ended the season with an ACC-leading 3,907 yards passing, 25 touchdowns and 18 interceptions, all down from a year ago. But he did lead Florida State to a third straight ACC title and a spot in the College Football Playoff.
3. Vic Beasley, Clemson
Position: Defensive end
Beasley returned to school for his senior season and was even better -- despite facing more double- and triple-teams than at any point in his career. He won ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors and was a finalist for the Bednarik and Lombardi awards after racking up a team-high 21.5 tackles for loss, a team-high 12 sacks, nine quarterback pressures, three pass breakups and two forced fumbles. Nobody in the ACC was better off the edge than Beasley, and he was a nightmare for many teams to block.
4. Duke Johnson, Miami
Position: Running back
Johnson had the best season of his career because he was able to stay healthy and play all 13 games, finishing second behind Conner in the ACC in rushing with 1,652 yards. But Johnson led the league in all-purpose yards with 2,073, emerging as a much bigger pass-catching threat out of the backfield. When the season ended, he stood above all the other Miami greats on the career rushing and all-purpose yards lists. But maybe most impressive of all, he averaged 7.4 yards every time he touched the ball.
5. Gerod Holliman, Louisville
Year: Redshirt sophomore
There were plenty of questions about the Louisville secondary heading into the season, following the loss of Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor, two of the best players on the 2013 defense. But Holliman stepped right into the starting lineup and made an immediate impact in Todd Grantham's 3-4 scheme, using his athleticism to make plays all over the field. When it was over, Holliman had tied an NCAA record with 14 interceptions and won the Jim Thorpe Award as the best defensive back in college football.
Our countdown concludes below with Nos. 1-5:
1. Trevone Boykin, TCU (preseason rank: NR): Boykin put together one of the most stunning one-year turnarounds in Big 12 history. After finishing 2013 as a wide receiver, Boykin transformed himself into one of the top quarterbacks in the country in 2014. He threw for more than 3,900 yards and totaled 41 touchdowns while leading TCU to a 12-1 record. Boykin also finished fourth in the Heisman voting and figures to enter 2015 on the short list of Heisman favorites, especially with nine other offensive starters back for the Horned Frogs.
2. Tyler Lockett, Kansas State (2): Lockett was absolutely tremendous in his final season in a K-State uniform. He topped the Big 12 with 1,515 receiving yards and 11 receiving touchdowns while also leading the country in punt returns. Lockett finished with a flurry too, as he racked up 57 receptions and seven touchdowns in K-State’s final five games to pass his father, Kevin, as K-State’s all-time leading receiver.
3. Bryce Petty, Baylor (1): A back injury in the opener prevented Petty from becoming a serious contender for the Heisman Trophy. But even though his numbers were slightly down from his junior season, Petty was still lethal in his second year operating the Baylor offense. He finished sixth in the country with 321 passing yards per game to go with 29 touchdown passes. Petty was especially magical in Baylor’s stunning, come-from-behind win over TCU, in which he threw 510 yards and six touchdowns to erase TCU’s 21-point fourth-quarter lead. Petty finished his Baylor career by setting a Cotton Bowl Classic record with a career-high 550 yards passing against Michigan State.
4. Malcom Brown, Texas (15): Brown was the tone-setter for Texas’ stout defense and one of the most dominant interior defensive linemen in the country. With 6.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss, Brown became the first defensive tackle to lead the Longhorns in both categories since Lombardi Award winner Tony Degrate in 1984. As a result, Brown was a consensus first-team All-American and finalist for the Outland (best interior lineman) and Nagurski (top defensive player) awards. Brown, who is married with children, is leaving Texas early for the NFL draft, where Mel Kiper Jr. projects him to be a first-round pick.
5. Paul Dawson, TCU (NR): Dawson, who was a former high school receiver, spearheaded the TCU defense with a speculator senior season. The Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year teamed with Marcus Mallet to give the Horned Frogs the best linebacker tandem in the Big 12 and one of the finest in the country. Dawson led the conference with 136 tackles and tied for third in the league with four interceptions. One of those picks resulted in a game-winning touchdown return in the fourth quarter of TCU’s 37-33 win over Oklahoma. All year, Dawson was the heart and soul of a Horned Frogs unit that led the Big 12 in both total defense and scoring defense.
1. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
He was already a star, but Cooper shot into the stratosphere during an incredible 2014, smashing the SEC's single-season receptions record with 124 catches. Cooper won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top wide receiver -- the first Alabama player to win the award -- and was a Heisman Trophy finalist while totaling 1,727 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns. He entered the NFL draft after that standout junior season and figures to be selected early in the first round.
2. Shane Ray, DE, Missouri
Ray needed just one season as a starter to prove he has legitimate NFL star potential. Ray's blazing speed off the edge helped him emerge as one of the nation's top pass-rushers, and his 14.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss only back up that notion. Ray led the SEC in both of those statistical categories en route to SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors, and he looks like a surefire bet to become a first-round NFL draft pick in a couple of months.
3. Landon Collins, S, Alabama
Another player who made the most of his first season as a full-time starter, Collins was easily one of the top defensive backs in the SEC. He led Alabama's defense with 103 tackles and tied for the team lead with three interceptions, becoming a unanimous All-American in the process. Once Collins decided to enter the draft after his strong junior season, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay both listed him as the top safety prospect and in the top 10 overall.
4. Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State
Prescott was once thought of as the possible Heisman front-runner, but his star faded down the stretch as the Bulldogs lost three of their last four games. With the SEC's most dynamic dual-threat quarterback returning for 2015, Mississippi State's offense will once again cause opposing defensive coordinators to lose sleep. It's awfully difficult to prepare for a player like Prescott, who can not only run (986 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns in 2014) but can also be an effective passer, as his 3,449 passing yards and 27 touchdown throws prove.
5. Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
The other names in the top five were not big surprises, but if you had told a Georgia fan before the season that Chubb -- not Todd Gurley -- would occupy this spot, they would have certainly been shocked. This was supposed to be a season when Chubb and Sony Michel learned on the job behind the nation's best running back, but Gurley's off-the-field issues (and later, injury) thrust Chubb into the spotlight. Wow, did he ever respond. Chubb registered 30-plus carries in each of his first two starts (road wins over Missouri and Arkansas) and was nearly unstoppable in the second half of the season. He rushed for at least 100 yards in all eight games after entering the starting lineup and capped an unbelievable freshman season by rushing for 266 and two scores in a bowl win against Louisville.
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No. 1: Oregon QB Marcus Mariota
Statistics: 304-445, 4,454 passing yards, 42 passing touchdowns, 4 interceptions
It should come as no surprise that the Heisman Trophy winner (Maxwell Award winner, Davey O'Brien Award winner, Walter Camp Award winner, etc.) is the No. 1 player in the Pac-12 this season. He led the nation with an adjusted QBR of 90.8 (and was the only signal-caller to have better than an 86). His TD:INT ratio of 21:2 also was an FBS-best this season, as was his passer efficiency rating of 181.7. Behind a depleted and constantly adjusting offensive line, he was cool and collected and made use of a group of playmakers that really didn't have a ton of experience. On the ground, he added 135 carries for 770 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns.
No. 2: Arizona LB Scooby Wright
Statistics: 163 total tackles, 29 TFL, 14 sacks, 6 forced fumbles
Wright -- the Bronko Nagurski Award winner and the Lombardi Award winner -- led the conference with 163 total tackles (99 solo, 64 assisted) while averaging a sack per game. He also forced a Pac-12-best six fumbles. Wright is the only member of this season's top five who will return in 2015, making him the early front-runner for the No. 1 spot after the 2015 season.
No. 3: Utah DE Nate Orchard
Statistics: 84 tackles, 21 TFL, 18.5 sacks, 2 QBH
There might not be another player in the Pac-12 who made as big of a jump on defense as Orchard did. As a junior he registered 50 total tackles, including nine tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks. His tackles for loss and sack numbers more than doubled over the past season as he faced even stiffer competition. The Utah defense became one of the biggest storylines of the season, thanks in large part to Orchard and his pass-rushing ability. With the Utes offense struggling and becoming more one-dimensional (due to injury) as the season went on, the defense became even more important and Orchard continued to step up. His presence will be sorely missed by Kyle Whittingham, but his mark on the Utah program is one that will last a very long time.
No. 4: USC DE Leonard Williams
Statistics: 80 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 7 sacks, 1 interception, 1 QBH
Williams, one of the nation's top NFL draft prospects, had a terrific junior season at USC. He missed some time due to injury but was still one of the most feared defensive players in a league stocked full of quarterback talent. He has the talent to play anywhere on the defensive line, which will make his pro career an interesting one, but his college career was one that won't be forgotten soon. Williams tallied 218 tackles, including 36.5 for loss, with 21 sacks.
No. 5: Washington LB Shaq Thompson
Statistics: 61 carries, 456 rushing yards, 2 rushing touchdowns | 81 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 interception
This winter, Thompson won the Paul Hornung Award, given to the nation's most versatile player, and rightfully so. He was a playmaker on both the offensive and the defensive side of the ball for the Huskies. He scored six touchdowns -- two rushing, one interception return and three fumble returns. Thompson finished the year as a first-team All-American, as well as becoming the first player to become a double honoree as a first-team All-Pac-12 player on both defense and special teams. Filling Thompson's shoes is going to be one tough task for Chris Petersen. It's pretty rare that one player can fill so many needs, but Petersen will now have to look for someone (or, to be realistic, two to three someones) to do the work that Thompson did alone.