Georgia QB Bennett is old-school Heisman Trophy contender

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

NEW YORK – At a time when Heisman Trophy winners are usually on their way to being first-round picks in the NFL draft, Stetson Bennett is a contender from another era of college football.

The Georgia quarterback already has a national championship ring and this season he has stepped up his own play in an offense that has entrusted him with more responsibility.

At 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, Bennett is no lock to be drafted at all even though he is a bona fide college football star.

“I think I’m as good as quarterback is anybody, but I don’t think about as, like, I’m the best quarterback. Because there’s so many different variables and different offenses and things that you’re asked to do, who you have around you,” said Bennett, who was sporting an old-school look Friday in a red-and-black letterman’s jacket while meeting with reporters and posing for pictures at a Manhattan hotel with three other Heisman finalist quarterbacks.

Southern California’s Caleb Williams is the favorite to win the award Saturday night.

Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud is a finalist for the second straight year for the playoff-bound and fourth-ranked Buckeyes, who face Bennett and the top-ranked Bulldogs on Dec. 31 in the Peach Bowl.

TCU’s Max Duggan had a breakout senior season, leading the surprising, third-ranked Horned Frogs to the College Football Playoff against No. 2 Michigan.

Williams and Stroud fit the modern mold of Heisman contenders.

Thirteen of the last 14 Heisman winners to enter the NFL have been selected in the first round, including all 11 quarterbacks. That does not include last year’s winner, Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, who is expected to be a first-rounder if he enters the next draft.

Williams has one more year left of college football before becoming draft eligible and is already drawing comparisons to Chiefs’ star Patrick Mahomes.

“It’s pretty cool,” Williams said. “Because everybody watches Patrick and sees all the cool things he can do. I always said, even in high school … obviously it’s special, but I don’t think there’s anything I can’t do that he’s doing out there.”

Stroud is considered a likely first-round pick in April’s draft. Maybe the first quarterback taken. Maybe No. 1 overall, though he hasn’t said for sure this will be his final season at Ohio State.

Duggan is a former four-star recruit with the size (6-foot-2, 210-pounds) and athleticism to be an NFL prospect, too. He also has not decided if he will return for another season of college football.

Bennett conjures up memories of Heisman winners such as Oklahoma’s Jason White in 2003 or Florida’s Danny Wuerffel in 1996: Highly productive college passers on national title contending teams, but not big-time pro prospects.

The last Heisman-winning quarterback not selected in the first round was Ohio State’s Troy Smith, who won the award in 2006 and was drafted in the fifth round by Baltimore.

At 25, Bennett would be the second oldest Heisman winner. Florida State quarterback Chris Weinke was 28 when he won it in 2000.

Bennett is college football’s everyman superstar. The former walk-on who took a detour through junior college has been an unlikely leader of a team packed with blue-chip recruits. He took hold of the starting job early last season and guided the Bulldogs to their first national championship since 1980.

This season, Bennett has be more playmaker than caretaker for an offense that ranks third in the Southeastern Conference with 285 yards passing per game. He has thrown for 3,425 yards and 20 touchdowns and run for seven scores.

Bennett said he has shored up his mechanics in the last year, and is better at self-correcting when his delivery gets out of sorts. Most of his improvement, though, is on the mental side of the game, better understanding what each play is trying to accomplish.

Georgia (13-0) has already thrown more passes this year (430) in two fewer games than it did last season (407).

“So (the offense) so far has been more explosive. And there has been more asked of me this year, which has been fun for me, and I’ve enjoyed it a lot,” Bennett said. “But I think that comes from me earning it, me being good enough to do that. I don’t think I necessarily was last year. Some spots, but not all the time.”

While Williams acknowledged winning the Heisman was one of many goals he had coming into this season, Bennett never really gave it much thought.

Bennett said Buster Faulkner, Georgia’s offensive quality control coach who he works closely with, told him before the season that the way the offense was evolving a Heisman run would be possible.

“I just heard it and, what does that mean? Right?” Bennett said. “But, shoot, he was a little bit right.”

Signing day ends recruiting sagas for QB Rashada, CB McClain

college signing day
Chris Leduc/Getty Images
2 Comments

The opening of college football’s traditional signing period for high school prospects brought an apparent end to two of the cycle’s most notable recruitments.

Blue-chip quarterback Jaden Rashada, who signed with Florida in December and then asked to be released from the commitment when a name, imagine and likeness deal fell through, announced Wednesday he is going to Arizona State.

“Glad to truly be home!” Rashada posted on Twitter.

Also in the Pac-12, Cormani McClain, previously committed to Miami, signed with Colorado to make it two straight years that coach Deion Sanders has landed a five-star cornerback.

Rashada’s recruitment made national headlines and became something of a cautionary tale for the college football’s NIL era.

The four-star recruit from California was the focal point of a recruiting fight between Miami and Florida. That led to a bidding war between booster-run collectives that try to secure sponsorship deals for athletes from those schools.

Rashada had originally given a verbal commitment to Miami, but flipped to Florida and signed with the Gators during the early signing period after being offered an NIL deal that could have been worth more than $13 million.

When it became clear that Gator Collective, which is not part of the University of Florida or its athletic department, did not have the money to fund the deal, Rashada asked to be released from his national letter of intent. Florida granted the request.

Gators coach Billy Napier told reporters he could not provide details on what happened with Rashada, but did say he did not anticipated hearing from the NCAA about possible violations of recruiting rules.

“I think the reality is the current structure of NIL with third parties being involved, with agents being involved, with marketing representatives, with lawyers, with collectives, very fluid and I think a very unique dynamic,” Napier said. “I think ultimately NIL is a strength for the Gators.”

Rashada becomes the highest-profile high school recruit in new Arizona State coach Kenny Dillingham‘s first signing class. The 32-year-old Phoenix native and Arizona State graduate was hired in December.

Rashada’s father, Harlen, was part of Arizona State’s football team in the 1990s. Jaden Rashada called ASU his “childhood dream school.”

“Can’t wait to carry on the family name at the University and start my journey. Forks up!” Rashada posted.

McClain’s recruitment was more traditional in its twists and turns. One of the highest-rated players in the country, he was pursued by most of college football’s most successful programs, including Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State.

The Lakeland, Florida, product committed to Miami last fall, but even then it seemed he might be lured away from the Hurricanes by the Crimson Tide.

Then Coach Prime took over in Boulder, Colorado, and changed the game.

Last year, Sanders made recruiting history when he swayed five-star cornerback Travis Hunter to renege on a verbal commitment to Florida State and sign with Jackson State.

Never before had a player rated that highly signed at a school that plays in Division I football’s second tier, the Championship Subdivision.

Colorado hired Sanders to turn around a program that has been stuck near the bottom of the Pac-12 for most of the last decade. McClain visited Boulder last month and soon after committed to become the first five-star to sign with the Buffaloes in more than a decade.

He made it official early on signing day. McClain will join Hunter, who transferred to Colorado, in the Buffs’ secondary.

“First time CU signed two five-star players in the same class,” Sanders said. “Same position, by the way, and both of them are dogs. I can’t wait to see them play together.”

SOUTH CAROLINA SPEEDSTER

Nyckoles Harbor from Washington was one of the few five stars, as rated by 247 Sports’ composite rankings, who entered signing day uncommitted with real mystery surrounding where he would end up.

The decision came down to Oregon and South Carolina and the Gamecocks were the choice for the 6-foot-5, 225-pound edge rusher who might wind up playing receiver in college.

Harbor runs track, has posted elite times in the 100 and 200 and has Olympic aspirations.

STILL DUCK SEASON

Oregon drew a lot of attention during the early signing period, winning a handful of high-profile recruiting battles to be in position to have the Pac-12’s highest rated class.

The Ducks missed out on Harbor but had one more big score, landing four-star cornerback Rodrick Pleasant. The California player picked Oregon over Pac-12 rival – at least for another year – Southern California.

“Ultimately, we want to sign the best players everywhere but if you can win in your footprint, and our footprint, certainly California is part of that, we want to have success there and think this year we proved that we’re able to do that,” Lanning told reporters.

USC, which moves to the Big Ten after the 2023-24 school year, did get a signing day win with four-star tight end Walker Lyons.

FINAL SCORE

Alabama had already locked up the No. 1 recruiting class in the country for the 10th time in 13 years before the February signing period.

The Tide landed nine five stars. There were only 39 players given a five-star rating in the class, according to 247’s composite.

Two-time defending national champion Georgia was second, followed by Texas, Oklahoma and Ohio State. The rest of the top 10 were LSU, Miami, Oregon, Tennessee and Notre Dame.

While there has been much angst over the impact of NIL money being used as a recruiting inducement, the early results suggests it isn’t changing which schools are coming away with the highest-rated classes.

Using a five-year average of recruiting rankings from the 247 composite, here are the top 20 schools from 2017-21.

1. Alabama, 2 (average ranking)

2. Georgia, 2.2

3. Ohio State, 5

4. LSU, 6.8

5. Clemson, 8.2

6. Oklahoma 9.2

7. Texas A&M, 9.6

8. Texas, 10.8

9. Florida, 11.0

10. Oregon, 11.4.

11. Auburn, 11.6

12. Michigan, 11.6

13. Notre Dame, 12.4

14. Penn State, 13.8

15. Miami, 15.0

16. Florida State, 16.0

17. Tennessee, 16.8

18. USC, 19.6

19. Washington, 20.0

20. Nebraska 20.6.

Over the past two years (2022 and ’23), 17 of the top 20 teams remain in the top 20. USC was knocked out by an unusually low 70th place in 2022.

1. Alabama, 1.5

2. Georgia, 2.5

3. Texas, 4

4. Ohio State, 4.5

5. Oklahoma, 6

6. Texas A&M, 8

7. Notre Dame, 8.5

8. LSU, 9

9. Penn State, 9.5

10. Clemson, 10.5

11. Oregon, 10.5

12. Miami, 11.5

13. Tennessee, 13

14. Michigan, 13.5

15. Florida, 16

16. Auburn, 19

17. North Carolina, 19

18. Florida State, 20

19. South Carolina, 20

20. Kentucky. 22.5

Coach Prime comes up big in 1st recruiting class at Colorado

colorado football recruiting
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

BOULDER, Colo. — Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders proudly recited the numbers from his first recruiting class at Colorado.

Two five-star recruits. A No. 21 overall class ranking, which was the highest in 15 years, he pointed out. A top-five class from the transfer portal, according to 247 Sports.

Then, a quick reminder – he’s not done gathering talent. Not by a long shot. This is just a brief pause, he teased, with possibility of more skilled players arriving sometime after the spring.

It’s taken Sanders less than two months in Boulder not only to revamp a downtrodden program but to give a starved fan base something else – hope.

“We’re not recruiting just no ordinary Tom, Dick and Harry,” Sanders said Wednesday on signing day. “We recruited some guys that can light up the scoreboard and prevent touchdowns from occurring. We’re coming. We’re serious about that.

“Hope is in the house. Hope is in the air. Hope is in the city. Hope is in the community.”

Sanders and his veteran staff have been busy scouring the nation for talent. The Hall of Fame NFL player known then as “Prime Time” has also posted on social media for recruits to reach out to him as well: “I ain’t hard to find.”

The Buffaloes signed players from 16 states and two from England. Not only that, they brought in a pair of five-star recruits in high school cornerback Cormani McClain and transfer cornerback/receiver Travis Hunter, who followed Sanders from Jackson State.

In all, there are around 35 newcomers on the spring roster. Maybe that’s why Sanders didn’t really want to talk about each of them by name.

“We’ve got names on the back of their shirts right now,” cracked Sanders, who starts spring practice March 19 with the intrasquad game scheduled for April 22. “I’m not familiar with every kid. I’m not being disrespectful. I’m just being honest.”

Only natural, given that he’s completely overhauled the roster from a team that went 1-11 last season. The class has four players from Georgia and seven from Sanders’ home state of Florida. There are eight defensive backs, which will come in handy given the level of quarterback play in the Pac-12.

In addition, Sanders brought in eight wide receivers, including Adam Hopkins, a four-star from Georgia. There’s also running back Dylan Edwards, who switched after verbally committing to Notre Dame.

Of course, don’t forget that transfer quarterback named Shedeur Sanders, who just happens to be the son of “Coach Prime” and threw 70 TD passes in two seasons at Jackson State.

Deion Sanders said he’s only getting warmed up, too.

“This is just a comma, because there’s a lot of people that’s going to bungee jump into the portal after spring because they’re going to be disappointed in playing time, commitment or the level of participation they’re garnishing,” Sanders said. “We’re going to take full advantage of that. So we’re not done. This is just the comma for the spring. But I love where we are, and what we have.”

It hasn’t taken long for Sanders to settle into the city of Boulder, calling it a “hidden gem.” He can’t wait to move into a house and have “a dog run around the yard.” He even doesn’t mind the snow, which blanketed Folsom Field on Wednesday. Quite honestly, he’s not sure why any player would want to go anywhere else.

“We expect to go get that kid,” Sanders said. “Only thing that can keep that kid from coming and signing with us, is a bag – someone paying them, the collectives or whatever. That’s it. Just outkicking the coverage. That’s it.

“Because the coaching staff, the atmosphere, the city, the publicity, the structure, the discipline, the academics, the graduation rate, the food in the cafeteria – I can keep going, because this thing is getting good. Just everything. It’s hard to say no. It really is.”

Listening in was athletic director Rick George, who appreciated the tone of what he heard. Sanders has quickly built the framework for a speedy turnaround.

“He’s brought a lot of energy and passion to this program again,” George said. “It’s what we desperately needed.”