Saturday Football: Senior Bowl standouts, B1G transfer QBs and more Vol drama
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Good morning and happy Monday! We’re fully in offseason mode, but there is some excitement this week, as National Signing Day is on Wednesday. Most of the top Class of 2021 players in the country signed during December’s Early Signing Period, but there are still some elite recruits out there who haven’t made their commitments just yet.
We’ll update you on the recruiting rankings in today’s newsletter. We’ll also talk about the Senior Bowl and who raised their NFL Draft stock. Then, we’ll discuss some Big Ten quarterbacks in the NCAA transfer portal. Finally, we’ll dive into even more drama on Rocky Top. Let’s get started!
The Senior Bowl was held in Mobile last week. Which players had the best performances?
The NFL Combine won’t be held as normal this year. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event won’t be held in Indianapolis. Instead, there will be regional medical checks, virtual meetings and Pro Days on campuses across the country. That makes events like this past week’s Senior Bowl in Mobile even more important to the players in the 2021 NFL Draft class.
It was an interesting week in Mobile, with NFL coaches getting in-depth looks at a handful of the nation’s best prospects. So, what were the biggest stories to come out of the Senior Bowl? Let’s take a look:
- Texas A&M QB Kellen Mond had perhaps the best week of any prospect. His stock is at an all-time high after he was named the game’s MVP. He threw 2 touchdown passes and ran for a two-point conversion. You can watch both of his touchdown passes here. Pro Football Focus had him as the highest-rated QB at the Senior Bowl. The Carolina Panthers’ coaching staff got to work with Mond all week, and head coach Matt Rhule had plenty of praise for the A&M quarterback after the event.
- Some other SEC quarterbacks didn’t have such great weeks. Alabama’s Mac Jones started strong, looking like a Round 1 pick during practices. Unfortunately, he suffered a minor ankle injury and had to miss Saturday’s game. Jones still answered questions about his week and what he hoped he proved. Hopefully he’s able to participate in Alabama’s Pro Day to stay in the Round 1 mix. Meanwhile, Jamie Newman, who transferred from Wake Forest to Georgia before opting out of the 2020 season, saw his draft stock take a tumble. He answered questions about his decision to opt out, but Bleacher Report’s Brent Sobleski wrote that Newman didn’t stand out as a passer during the week.
- There were some non-SEC players there, believe it or not! Some Big Ten standouts also made names for themselves. Saturday Tradition’s Dustin Schutte named five B1G guys who helped their draft stock in Mobile. The Ohio State defense also came out in force. Saturday Tradition’s Spenser Davis pointed out four Buckeye defenders who made big plays during the game.
Now, we’ll have to wait and see what happens in the next round of NFL mock drafts that will likely be coming out this week. Who will rise and who will fall? Everything that happened at the Senior Bowl will be analyzed in-depth and teams will start to update their draft boards ahead of April’s draft.
TOP 2021 RECRUITING CLASSES
National Signing Day is on Wednesday, and there are some big-name players still available who haven’t announced their commitments. However, many top programs have already signed a number of elite recruits, so we’ll see which ones are the most active on Wednesday.
As we enter the busy recruiting week, let’s take a look at which schools have the top recruiting classes. Here are the current top classes in the 2021 cycle (via the 247Sports composite rankings):
- Alabama — 26 players, 7 5-stars, 15 4-stars
- Ohio State — 21 players, 5 5-stars, 13 4-stars
- Georgia — 20 players, 4 5-stars, 11 4-stars
- LSU — 22 players, 2 5-stars, 15 4-stars
- Clemson — 19 players, 3 5-stars, 11 4-stars
- Oregon — 22 players, 0 5-stars, 18 4-stars
- Texas A&M — 22 players, 1 5-star, 15 4-stars
- USC — 21 players, 1 5-star, 13 4-stars
- Notre Dame — 27 players, 0 5-stars, 12 4-stars
- Oklahoma — 16 players, 1 5-star, 12 4-stars
Which schools will bolster their classes on Wednesday? There’s plenty of buzz around Ohio State, so keep an eye on the Buckeyes this week!
- The SEC has produced the last two champions in LSU and Alabama. There figure to be plenty of competitive teams in 2021, as well. But, let’s just say college football fans aren’t always the most rational bunch (ourselves included). Fortunately, Saturday Down South’s Connor O’Gara is here to break down a realistic ceiling for each SEC squad.
- There are some great teams all across the country, too. And, of course, there are plenty of teams that will struggle this fall. So, which teams rank where? Well, ESPN’s David M. Hale put together a ranking of all 130 FBS teams, breaking them up into tiers.
- The Heisman winner has also won the national title the past two years. QB Joe Burrow helped LSU win in 2019 and WR DeVonta Smith had a huge game for Alabama in the title game earlier this month. So, who will try to make it three Heisman/title winners in a row in 2021? Sports Illustrated’s Marcus Krum names some of the early Heisman candidates.
- With Signing Day on Wednesday, let’s look back at some underrated recruits. In the SEC, there have been a number of 3-star recruits who have gone on to become superstars. Saturday Down South’s Thomas Schlarp named each SEC school’s biggest recruiting overachiever.
B1G QBs IN THE TRANSFER PORTAL
Several B1G QBs have entered the NCAA transfer portal this offseason. Who are the biggest names?
The month after the college football season concludes is always a popular time for student-athletes to reconsider their options and if they’d rather explore opportunities elsewhere. This year, it seems Big Ten quarterbacks are taking advantage of the NCAA transfer portal to find new schools to call home.
Whether its former starters, guys in the hunt for the No. 1 spot or others who might have to wait a year or two to get their start, the Big Ten has seen numerous quarterbacks enter the transfer portal. Let’s take a look at some of the schools most affected, and the biggest QBs who are exploring their options:
- Both Dylan and Luke McCaffrey are in the portal. Dylan McCaffrey was the first to start exploring his options, initially opting out of the 2020 season at Michigan with the plan to leave the program at the end of the year. That was made official once the season came to a close, as he entered his name in the portal. His brother, Luke McCaffrey, who challenged Adrian Martinez to be the starter at Nebraska, made a shocking decision to transfer after two seasons with the Huskers. Even head coach Scott Frost called the move “a surprise.”
- Penn State had two QBs leave this offseason. First, it was freshman dual-threat quarterback Micah Bowens deciding to leave the program after not seeing any playing time in 2020. Lincoln Riley must’ve been a fan of Bowens, as the former 3-star prospect has already committed to Oklahoma. There was some surprising news out of Happy Valley, with backup Will Levis also announcing his decision to transfer, despite seeing a good amount of playing time the past two seasons behind Sean Clifford.
- Former starters are also leaving the Big Ten because of up-and-coming talent. Both Wisconsin and Michigan State have seen previous starters pack their bags and hit the portal during the offseason. With Graham Mertz appearing to lock down the starting job in Madison, 2019 starter Jack Coan decided to leave the Badgers and committed to Notre Dame, where he’ll compete for a starting job on a team that reached the College Football Playoff last season. Rocky Lombardi has decided to move on from East Lansing after starting for the Spartans in 2020. Near the end of the year, it appeared that Payton Thorne would be the next in line in East Lansing and would likely be the No. 1 guy for Mel Tucker in 2021. Lombardi has committed to Northern Illinois.
- Maryland and Rutgers also saw QBs jump into the portal. Former 4-star prospect Lance LeGendre, who many considered a steal for head coach Mike Locksley back in 2019, is leaving Maryland after two seasons and headed to Louisiana-Lafayette. His time on the field was limited, and it was unlikely LeGendre would’ve challenge Taulia Tagovailoa for the starting job. In Piscataway, former quarterback, tight end and do-it-all player Johnathon Lewis is looking for a new home after spending four seasons at Rutgers.
Every year, a lot of talented players enter their name in the NCAA transfer portal to explore new opportunities. It’s part of the new era of college football. This year, there will be a lot of skilled (former) Big Ten quarterbacks for teams to recruit.
JUST FOR FUN
Dating back to the 2000 NFL Draft, there have been seven players who have won the Heisman Trophy in college and then gone on to be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. For today’s quiz, can you name the seven guys who have accomplished both impressive feats?
Scroll down for the answers to today’s quiz.
MORE TENNESSEE NEWS
Tennessee has its new coach, but the Vols continue to stay in the news. What’s the latest drama on Rocky Top?
The Tennessee Volunteers are now UCF North, bringing in AD Danny White and head football coach Josh Heupel from the Knights. Now, both important positions are filled, but there has still been plenty of Rocky Top drama this week.
So, what’s going on in Knoxville now? And what are the big moves White and Heupel have made thus far? (He made an appearance at the Vols’ basketball game against Kansas over the weekend.) Let’s take a look at the latest news out of the Tennessee program:
- Naturally, the biggest story involves a lot of money going to waste. Earlier this month, the Vols hired former Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele to join Jeremy Pruitt’s staff. Then, Pruitt was immediately fired. Now, it seems Heupel won’t be keeping Steele around. That means the Vols will pay Steele almost $1 million for two weeks of work. How wasteful. Then, there was SEC Network host Paul Finebaum ripping the Tennessee program, saying Heupel is a good hire, but the Vols simply aren’t relevant anymore.
- Then, there was some drama involving a reported internal memo. There was a report that the Vols had sent an internal memo saying they were investigating recent leaks, tied to the coaching search. However, White took to Twitter to say there was no truth to those reports. Interesting.
Will the Vols be able to put together a nice National Signing Day and put some of this recent drama behind them? We’ll find out starting on Wednesday. Vol Nation will be hoping good news is coming its way. The Vols have reportedly made their first coaching staff hire under Heupel, bringing in his former assistant head coach and OL coach Glen Elarbee from UCF. We’ll see if he makes more hires this week.
The seven players since 2000 who have won the Heisman and gone on to be the No. 1 overall draft pick are:
- Carson Palmer
- Sam Bradford
- Cam Newton
- Jameis Winston
- Baker Mayfield
- Kyler Murray
- Joe Burrow
You’ll notice they’re all quarterbacks. That doesn’t bode well for this year’s Heisman winner, Alabama WR DeVonta Smith. We’ll see what happens in April!
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“Shaky. That’s a pretty big thing to say when you think about what he’s accomplished. He had a brutal year in spite of everything. The ending was bad. Even if you dismiss his comments at Texas A&M, the Missouri game, even if you throw all that out and just start the clock beginning at the LSU game and then the week of the bowl game was a disaster.
“His comments before the game, his comments after the game. The report by (Adam) Schefter that he was looking around the NFL, the really almost ignored revelation that he got a show cause. That’s a big deal.
“Knowing Scott Stricklin, he’s a straight shooter. He’s a stickler for things, and I would like to really get a sense for how Scott Stricklin feels about all of this.”
– SEC Network host Paul Finebaum said he’s not sure how stable Dan Mullen’s future is at Florida. He cites Mullen’s reported flirtation with the NFL and a couple of controversies he was involved in during the 2020 season.
TWEET OF THE DAY
New Tennessee coach Josh Heupel is building his first staff in Knoxville. Interestingly, Heupel finished second in the 2000 Heisman voting, behind Chris Weinke. Weinke was on Jeremy Pruitt’s Tennessee staff, but Heupel isn’t keeping him around. What a strange coincidence!
This edition of the Saturday Football newsletter was written by Adam Spencer and Dustin Schutte.