Saturday Football: Alabama makes history, the Vols' 'bush league' move and Michigan trending up?
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Good morning and happy Thursday! National Signing Day is now in the past, and there were some interesting stories to come from Wednesday’s action. We’ll dive into some of those top headlines in today’s newsletter, but there’s also plenty more to discuss.
We’ll also talk about Michigan making some praise-worthy moves this offseason. Then, we’ll head to Gainesville, where Florida may have found the guy who will replace Kyle Pitts. We’ve also sprinkled in a couple of mentions of the big EA Sports college football video game news. Let’s get started!
NATIONAL SIGNING DAY
National Signing Day doesn’t pack the same punch, but it’s still important. Who were the winners and losers this year?
These days, an overwhelming majority of recruits sign during December’s Early Signing Period. Many of them then go on to enroll at their respective universities during the spring semester to get a head start on their college football careers. But, Wednesday’s National Signing Day still provided some excitement and drama.
So, which teams had the best days and which teams had the worst? Let’s break down some winners and losers from Wednesday’s National Signing Day:
- To the surprise of no one, Alabama was the day’s biggest winner. Coming off an undefeated national championship season, the Crimson Tide went out and simply put together the best-ever recruiting class, according to 247Sports and the other major recruiting outlets. That came even after a snippet of one of Nick Saban’s Zoom calls with a recruit was leaked, allowing other schools to get a look at his recruiting pitch. The leak infuriated many former Alabama players. LSU coach Ed Orgeron is taking some heat on Twitter for comments he made last year about beating Alabama in recruiting.
- One of the biggest losers of the day was Tennessee. The Josh Heupel era got off to a rough start as a high school coach in Alabama ripped the Vols for pulling a scholarship offer for a player the day before National Signing Day. The coach called the move by the Vols “bush league.” Safe to say Heupel didn’t make a good first impression there. AL.com columnist Joseph Goodman tore the Vols apart for how that saga played out. The player, Roc Taylor, ended up signing with Memphis instead.
- The Ohio State Buckeyes also had a good day on Wednesday. They put together the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class, and might not be done just yet. The No. 3 player in the class, DE J.T. Tuimoloau, is projected to end up at Ohio State by all the 247Sports experts who have made their Crystal Ball picks. Oh, and they also signed a running back — TreVeyon Henderson — who FOX Sports analyst RJ Young compared to Christian McCaffrey. No pressure there!
Now, the focus turns to the 2022 recruiting class. Many schools have already started putting together their classes, since recruiting is a 24/7 endeavor. Want an early look at the top 2022 recruits and where they’re signing? Here are the 247Sports composite player rankings and here are the class rankings.
- There are a number of elite QBs who have signed during the 2021 cycle. Who will we see on the field this fall, and who will have to wait their turn? Saturday Down South’s Connor O’Gara broke down the SEC QB signees with the quickest paths to starting. Meanwhile, Saturday Tradition’s Phil Ervin did the same thing for the Big Ten.
- There was a bit of excitement in the sports gaming world this week. EA Sports announced it was rebooting its popular college football franchise. That, naturally, set the internet ablaze. ESPN’s Michael Rothstein and Dan Murphy broke down everything you need to know about the reboot news.
- The SEC will have four new head coaches when the 2021 season kicks off. That comes after last year’s coaching carousel, which also produced four new SEC head coaches. So, does that mean the offseason between the 2021 and 2022 seasons will pass without any SEC teams firing their coaches? Saturday Down South’s Connor O’Gara explains why there’s a good chance this next offseason is quiet in the SEC.
- With Brock Vandagriff in 2021 and Gunner Stockton in 2022, the Georgia Bulldogs continue to land elite 5-star quarterbacks in each recruiting class. Starting with Jacob Eason in the 2016 class, Kirby Smart has quite the touch when it comes to landing elite quarterbacks. Saturday Down South’s Connor O’Gara dives into how Smart has turned Georgia into a 5-star QB factory.
MICHIGAN’S IMPRESSIVE OFFSEASON
Jim Harbaugh’s staff overhaul seems to have appealed to recruits. Is Michigan winning the offseason?
When Michigan offered a 4-year contract extension to Jim Harbaugh following a 2-4 season in 2020, there was some head-scratching happening. Why would the Wolverines provide more job security for a head coach who hasn’t beaten Ohio State, owns a less-than-impressive record against Top 10 opponents and has failed to win a B1G title in six seasons? It didn’t seem like the smartest play at the time.
In the weeks since Michigan offered Harbaugh that extension, the head coach has made sweeping changes to his staff, particularly on the defensive side. He even recently hired Ron Bellamy as the wide receivers coach, a high school coaching legend in the state. The adjustments to the staff seem to be paying off on the recruiting trail, and it’s starting to look like Michigan made the right decision by retaining Harbaugh:
- Michigan was the B1G winner of National Signing Day. Michigan’s victories started early on Wednesday morning, flipping talented in-state 4-star defensive tackle Rayshaun Benny, who had been committed to in-state rival Michigan State. Later, the Wolverines were able to flip another defensive tackle, 3-star prospect Ikechukwu Iwunnah, who previously gave his pledge to Colorado. With those two commitments, the Wolverines jumped into the top 10 of the national recruiting rankings, per 247Sports. Saturday Tradition’s Dustin Schutte writes that U-M was easily the most productive team in the B1G on National Signing Day.
- Even with the uncertainty, Michigan brings in some impact players. As is the case with any top-10 class, there are some impact players the Wolverines are bringing to Ann Arbor with the 2021 class. Phil Ervin of Saturday Tradition writes that 5-star quarterback J.J. McCarthy has a great opportunity to challenge for the starting job right away this fall. Incoming 4-star running back Donovan Edwards just received some major honors, being named Michigan’s Mr. Football after rushing for 1,764 yards and 32 touchdowns in 12 games during his senior year at West Bloomfield. And just last week, Harbaugh landed a commitment from 4-star defensive tackle George Rooks, who held major offers from Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State.
- It’s not all cake and ice cream in Ann Arbor for Harbaugh. The 4-year extension provides the head coach with some job security and, yes, Michigan has benefited from the new deal and staff changes on the recruiting front. But athletic director Warde Manuel made it clear that the goal for Harbaugh and the Wolverines is to “win rivalry games and Big Ten championships.” That’s always been the standard in Ann Arbor, and that’s not changing. Michigan still has a ways to go to catch up to Ohio State which brought in the Big Ten’s top-ranked class and sits No. 2 nationally.
This has become somewhat of a regular offseason topic in the Big Ten. The debate rages on as to whether the upcoming year will be the year for Harbaugh and Michigan. Though there are certainly some concerns after a 2-4 season, Harbaugh’s willingness to make staff changes in order to build a winning program isn’t something we’ve seen in the past — at least not often. Could this be the sign of things finally changing in Ann Arbor? Or will it be more of the same when we kick off the 2021 season?
JUST FOR FUN
In some great news for video game fans, EA Sports announced that its popular college football franchise would soon return. The last game in the series was released in 2013. So, for today’s quiz, let’s see how much you know about the cover athletes for the last few versions of the game. Can you name who was on the cover in each of these years? (We’ll even give you a hint by putting the school each cover athlete was from in parentheses.)
- NCAA Football 11 (Florida)
- NCAA Football 12 (Alabama)
- NCAA Football 13 (Baylor and Oklahoma State)
- NCAA Football 14 (Michigan)
Scroll down for the answers to today’s quiz.
Florida has landed its next superstar tight end. What are the Gators getting in LSU transfer Arik Gilbert?
The Florida Gators are losing superstar TE Kyle Pitts to the 2021 NFL Draft, where he’s expected to be a Round 1 pick. But, they may have replaced him with another superstar. Former LSU tight end Arik Gilbert announced this week that he was committing to the Gators. That was a big blow for Georgia, as many fans and analysts thought the Georgia native might be joining the Bulldogs.
So, what are the Gators getting in Gilbert? And, can he indeed become the next Kyle Pitts? Let’s take a look at what’s being said about this week’s huge transfer news:
- Naturally, Florida fans were thrilled to be getting the former 5-star tight end. Reaction on social media was overwhelmingly positive. Fans also made sure to poke fun at the fact that Gilbert’s commitment tweet had “Family Dollar” tagged as his location. SEC Network host Paul Finebaum also had plenty of praise for the move, saying Gilbert does indeed have the skills to be like Pitts.
- Before opting out for the season, Gilbert was putting up solid numbers. In 8 games as a true freshman, Gilbert had 35 catches for 368 yards and 2 touchdowns. In 6 of those 8 games, he had at least 4 catches. Per Saturday Down South’s Connor O’Gara, that means he had more 4-catch games than Kyle Pitts, Hunter Henry and Evan Engram combined when they were true freshmen. OnlyGators.com’s Adam Silverstein explains what exactly makes Gilbert such a great threat in the passing game.
Gilbert showed flashes of brilliance at LSU. Can he take the next step as a receiver in 2021 at Florida? He’ll be working with a first-year starter, it seems, as Heisman finalist Kyle Trask is off to the NFL Draft. Will he make Emory Jones (or whoever else starts for the Gators) a Heisman-worthy QB, too?
The cover athletes from the most recent versions of the popular NCAA Football series were:
- NCAA Football 11 — Tim Tebow
- NCAA Football 12 — Mark Ingram Jr.
- NCAA Football 13 — Robert Griffin III and Barry Sanders
- NCAA Football 14 — Denard Robinson
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“(Hiring Josh Heupel is) not the best (Tennessee) could have done. It’s a convenient path. I firmly believe the new athletic director swung and missed a couple of times. Instead of having a protracted search that reminded people of the last time Tennessee went down this road, he looked at his phone and hit the shortcut button and there was Josh Heupel. (Danny White) knew he could hire him. He knew he was good enough. He knew he was relatively clean, which is important. And he brought him in.
“These things always seem better as time goes on and fans begin to adapt. But unfortunately here, the program is not in good shape — understatement of the century. Josh Heupel didn’t win the press conference. In fact, we barely heard him at the press conference. And Tennessee is not in a lot better shape than they were a couple weeks ago when they were firing Jeremy Pruitt.”
– SEC Network host Paul Finebaum weighed in on the Vols’ decision to hire Josh Heupel. He thinks new AD Danny White tried to hire a couple of other coaches before turning to the former UCF coach.
TWEET OF THE DAY
The big news in the gaming world this week is the return of the popular EA Sports College Football series. Sadly, former LSU QB Joe Burrow probably won’t be on the cover since he’s now in the NFL. He had a great reaction to the news of the game’s return. He would have been a prime candidate for the cover, too, after throwing for a record 60 touchdowns during the 2019 season!