SEC schools still leading the way on the recruiting trail

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The SEC may have been served a little dose of reality this past college football bowl season with some bad losses in spotlight bowl games and Alabama being topped by Ohio State in the College Football Playoff, but the demise of the SEC has greatly been exaggerated. In college football, recruiting is the lifeblood of a program, and schools in the SEC are doing just fine in this department with National Signing Day looming.

This goes much deeper than the annually impressive haul Alabama is piecing together. SEC schools are scattered throughout the recruiting rankings, a suggestion the conference is managing to lure plenty of good, quality talent as this recruiting cycle comes to a close.

According to the latest Rivals team recruiting rankings, 10 of the top 25 schools hail from the Southeastern Conference. That number includes all seven from the SEC West, with Alabama leading the way as the top-ranked team in the Rivals rankings. At No. 28, Missouri is a tad shy of the top 25. Kentucky (No. 33) is even ranked higher than programs like Michigan State (No. 35) and Arizona (No. 36) and Nebraska (No. 42).

One program from the SEC that has a much lower ranking than you might expect is Florida. At No. 100, the Gators have a long way to go to climb back atop the recruiting rankings, although odds are that can change in a hurry with Jim McElwain hoping to revive the Gators as a football power. While Florida is struggling, in-state rivals are not.

Florida State has consistently been one of the top destinations for high school talent, and this season is no exception to that rule. The Seminoles are ranked fourth in the Rivals rankings, just one spot behind another ACC program, Clemson. USC, from the Pac-12, is currently sitting in second place and likely to make a late surge over the next week and a half. Miami, the other power conference school in the state of Florida, has a top 25 class being put together by Al Golden as well (No. 22).

The reigning national champions from Ohio State should have a tremendous amount of depth next season. The Buckeyes did not see one underclassman declare early for the NFL Draft and Braxton Miller has now hinted at a possible return to Columbus. Throw that on top of what Rivals ranks the No. 7 recruiting class and Urban Meyer looks to have the Buckeyes situated in a very good position in the Big Ten for years to come. Only one other Big Ten program ranks in the top 25, according to Rivals.

Penn State, at No. 10, is now working with a full set of scholarships and is moving forward with a slightly more focus on quantity over quality. Penn State is without five-star talent but James Franklin is filling many roster spots with four and three-star talent that can have potential. No other Big Ten program cracks the top 25, although Wisconsin (No. 26) is right there and recently added a couple of solid players to the mix for 2015. Michigan has some work to do and Will Likely be a more solid threat in 2016, but Jim Harbaugh has managed to flip a four-star quarterback from Texas to Michigan, and there is plenty of hype surrounding the Wolverines moving forward.

You might be wondering about the Pac-12, especially given the rise of the conference as a whole on the playing field the last few seasons. Yes, the Pac-12 is doing just fine. USC has been a traditional force among Pac-12 schools and continues to bring in plenty of talent. But right now the Trojans are playing on a different playing field compared to the rest of the Pac-12. Oregon is the next highest-ranked team in the Rivals recruiting rankings, at No. 17. UCLA follows at No. 18, and Arizona State (No. 24) and Washington (No. 25) round out the top 25.

Everybody has a different philosophy when it comes to evaluating recruiting. Whether you believe in star rankings or not, the bottom line is coaches that tap the full potential of their players will be the ones that are successful and winning games. You do not necessarily need five-star players to win big. Just ask the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots. Neither team playing in next week’s Super Bowl has a player that was rated five stars coming out of high school, according to this study from SB Nation.

Minnesota gives Fleck 1-year extension, plus raise

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MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota football coach P.J. Fleck had his contract extended Wednesday by an additional year with a $1 million raise in annual salary, after the latest round of big spending by Big Ten rivals.

The new seven-year deal will run through the 2029 season, the university announced without releasing terms. Fleck will now make $6 million per year, a person with knowledge of the contract confirmed. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the deal had not yet been finalized.

Last week, Nebraska hired Matt Rhule and Wisconsin hired Luke Fickell to put them in the top tier of head coach compensation in the conference. In terms of average annual value, the 42-year-old Fleck is eighth in the Big Ten behind Michigan State’s Mel Tucker, Ohio State’s Ryan Day, Rhule, Fickell, Penn State’s James Franklin, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz. All seven of those coaches make $7 million or more per season.

The Gophers (8-4) play Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 29. They’re 3-0 in bowl games under Fleck, who was hired away from Western Michigan in 2017.

Minnesota tied for second place in the Big Ten West Division this year, behind Purdue. Fleck is 43-27 overall with the Gophers, including 26-26 in conference play. They’re 0-6 against Iowa and 3-3 against Wisconsin, their primary rivals.

Fleck’s winning percentage is third-best in program history among coaches with 45 games or more, behind Henry Williams (1900-21) and Bernie Bierman (1932-41).

“What P.J. and his staff have done in a short amount of time is remarkable,” athletic director Mark Coyle said in a statement distributed by the university. “He has recruited and developed some of the best student-athletes to ever play at Minnesota and his team continues to excel academically, athletically and socially.”

This is the fifth time in six years on the job that Fleck’s deal has been adjusted to keep up with the competition, as power conference coach contracts these days rarely have less than five years on them at any time. Minnesota extended his deal a year ago, too.

In that iteration of his contract, the termination fees Fleck would owe Minnesota if he were to hop to another program were bumped way up. Those numbers landed at $7 million in 2023, $5 million in 2024, $4 million in 2025 and $3 million in 2026. Details about those figures in the new deal were not immediately available.

Virginia players granted extra year of eligibility

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The NCAA has granted an extra year of eligibility to Virginia players whose eligibility has expired in the aftermath of the slaying of three members of the team, the school confirmed.

Lavel Davis Jr., D’Sean Perry and Devin Chandler were killed last month as they returned to campus from a field trip to see a play in Washington, D.C. A former player at the school, Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., is facing three counts of second-degree murder and other charges in the shooting. A fourth player, Mike Hollins, and student Marlee Morgan were injured in the shooting.

Virginia canceled its final two games of the season after the shooting, and the team and university community memorialized the victims in a nearly two-hour service on campus. Team members also traveled to each of the three funerals held for their teammates.