NCAA

College Football Roundup: Stellar class for Stanford, change hurts Cal

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AP

College Football Roundup: Stellar class for Stanford, change hurts Cal

Wednesday is “National Signing Day” in college football, the day when thousands of high school recruits make their choice of colleges official by signing binding letters of intent.

And it’s become a huge production.

To record this momentous occasion, athletic departments churn out reams of press releases hyping the size, speed, ratings and statistics of their top recruits. CBS and ESPN present marathon coverage, similar to the NFL Draft. Elite players don the hats of their chosen schools before TV cameras, teammates and proud parents. Coaches spout glittering words of praise about the impact these new commits will have on their programs. And recruiting services anoint the colleges that made the biggest hauls.

Most schools now have a well-orchestrated Signing Day event—for the media, donors, select fans and local alums—featuring video clips of each signee accompanied by pulsating sound tracks.

These events can get pretty elaborate. Last year Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh invited a few high-profile ex-players, including New England Patriot quarterback Tom Brady, to attend his “Signing of the Stars” extravaganza.

The primary objective is to excite alums and motivate fans to buy tickets, not to mention impressing future recruits and their families.

The problem with all this, of course, is that it’s just speculation. Many of the “can’t miss” five-star prospects do, in fact, miss. And many unheralded two-star prospects and walk-ons achieve greatness, not just in college, but in the pros. As you might suspect, coaching has something to do with this.

In the Pac-12, according to the San Jose Mercury News' Jon Wilner, UCLA has had the top-rated recruiting class in the league for three of the last four years (plus No. 2 the fourth year). Yet the Bruins have failed to win a conference title or post a league record better than 6-3 during that time. On the flip side, Colorado, which had the league’s worst recruiting class three of the past four years, just won the South Division title this season.

Consider the case of Alex Mack, a two-star high school recruit from Santa Barbara, who became a standout at Cal, won the equivalent of the academic Heisman Trophy from the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame, and has been a perennial Pro Bowl selection. He signed a free agent contract with Atlanta before the 2016 season, and this Sunday will be snapping the ball for the Falcons in the Super Bowl.

In 2013, the San Francisco 49ers went to the Super Bowl with a couple of two-star high school recruits who became All-Pro offensive linemen—Joe Staley and Mike Iupati.

Speaking of the Super Bowl, according to Jon Solomon of CBS, the starting players in this Sunday’s game were rated as follows coming out of high school: New England offense, average 2.9 stars (out of 5); New England defense, avg. 2.8; Atlanta offense 2.8; Atlanta defense 2.5. Over 60% of these gentlemen were not even in the top 500 recruits of their respective high school classes. Late bloomers, I guess.

The good news is that things are about to change. This April, the NCAA is expected to approve an early signing period that will allow high school recruits to make their commitments to colleges during a three-day window in December.

Many players, perhaps a majority, will jump at this opportunity. These days, most recruits make up their minds long before the first Wednesday of February. (In fact, according to 247Sports, 12 of this year’s top 18 players enrolled at the school of their choice in January).

If we’re lucky, the early signing period will take much of the glamour out of Signing Day, and that will be a healthy thing for college football.

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STANFORD SHINES

Coach David Shaw reeled in a stellar class of 19 players, highlighted by five recruits who own the nation’s No. 1 ranking at their positions according to at least one recruiting service. They are: offensive tackle Walker Little (Houston, Texas), who is also rated the No. 1 recruit in the nation by 247 Sports and No. 4 by Scout.com; QB Davis Mills of Greater Atlanta Christian School, also rated the sixth best player in the country according to Scout; offensive tackle Foster Sarell (Graham, Washington), also rated the second best recruit in the nation by Scout and No. 3 by Prepstar; tight end Colby Parkinson (Westlake Village); and fullback Sione Lund from Salt Lake City.

All five of the No. 1’s have excellent size: Little is 6-8, 305; Mills 6-4, 205; Sarell 6-7, 315; Parkinson 6-7, 235; and Lund 6-1, 235. Mills passed for over 2700 yards and 34 touchdowns this year, with only one interception, despite missing two games with an injury. He also ran for over 300 yards and 8 touchdowns.

The Cardinal landed five other prospects who earned four stars from either Scout or ESPN—wide receiver Osiris St. Brown of Mater Dei in Santa Ana, wide receiver Paulson Adebo from Mansfield, TX, running back/defensive back Connor Wedington from Sumner, Washington, defensive tackle Dalyn Wade-Perry from Sparta, NJ, and defensive end Ryan Johnson from Axis, Alabama. Brown, the brother of Notre Dame receiver Equanimeous St. Brown, had 62 receptions for 1,127 yards and 19TDs this year.

Other names of note include center Drew Dalman from Pacific Grove, son of former Stanford and 49er center Chris Dalman, and tight end Tucker Fisk from Davis, son of former Stanford and NFL defensive lineman Jason Fisk.

The various services rate Stanford’s class anywhere from 10th in the country (ESPN) to 24th (Scout).

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BEAR TERRITORY

Despite a late start, new Cal coach Justin Wilcox landed a couple of Scout.com four-star players in tight end Taariq Johnson from Buena Park and cornerback Elijah Hicks from La Mirada, both of whom have already enrolled at Berkeley. The Bears also signed 6-2, 192 pound quarterback, Chase Garbers from Corona Del Mar, who’s rated the No. 10 QB in the country by ESPN and No. 35 by scout.

The Bears signed 14 recruits in all, but the late coaching change cost them four local players who flipped to USC. More junior college signings are anticipated in the coming weeks and months.

The bottom line, though, is to take all of this with a grain of salt. The true merits of these recruiting classes won’t be known for two or three years. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

Love finishes as Heisman runner-up

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USATSI

Love finishes as Heisman runner-up

NEW YORK  — Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield has won the Heisman Trophy, completing a climb from walk-on to one of the most accomplished players in the history of college football.

The brash, flag-planting Sooners star became the sixth Oklahoma player to the win Heisman in one of the most lopsided votes ever.

Stanford running back Bryce Love was the runner-up, making it five second-place finishes for the Cardinal since 2009. Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, last year's Heisman winner, was third, the best finish by a returning winner since Tim Tebow of Florida in 2008.

Mayfield received 732 first-place votes and 2,398 points. Love had 75 first-place votes and 1,300 points and Jackson received 47 and 793. Mayfield received 86 percent of the total points available, the third-highest percentage in Heisman history.

Mayfield is the third player to win the Heisman heading to the College Football Playoff. The second-ranked Sooners meet No. 3 Georgia in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. He is the first senior to win the award since Troy Smith of Ohio State in 2006 and the first Heisman winner to begin his career as a walk-on since athletic scholarships started in the 1950s.

"It's been a tough journey," Mayfield said during his acceptance speech. He choked back tears thanking his parents and Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley.

Mayfield finished fourth in the Heisman voting two years ago and third last year. He entered this season as one of the favorites and jumped toward the front of the pack when he led the Sooners to an early victory at Ohio State that he celebrated by planting the OU flag in the Horseshoe turf.

He later apologized for that, but that has been Mayfield's career. Spectacular play fueled by grudges, slights and trying to prove doubters wrong. Moxie is the word that gets attached to Mayfield often, but at times poor judgment has gotten him in trouble on and off the field.

Those were really the only marks on Mayfield's Heisman resume because his play has been consistently stellar. He has thrown for 4,340 yards and 41 touchdowns this season for the Big 12 champion Sooners (12-1). For his career, Mayfield is eighth in FBS history in yards passing (14,320) and sixth in touchdown passes (129). He is likely to leave college with the two best single-season passer ratings in major college football.

Pretty good for a scrawny kid who grew up in Austin, Texas, rooting for Oklahoma, but did not receive a scholarship offer out of high school from either the hometown Longhorns or his beloved Sooners.

At Lake Travis High School, Mayfield won a state championship at a school that regularly pumps out Division I quarterbacks. Mayfield was undersized at 6-1 and received just one offer from a Power Five program — Washington State.

Instead, he walked-on at Texas Tech and started eight games as a freshman. With a glut of quarterbacks in Lubbock, Mayfield left and had only one school in mind.

Oklahoma had Trevor Knight, coming off a Sugar Bowl victory against Alabama and with three more seasons left of eligibility, but that did not dissuade Mayfield.

Mayfield thanked former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who also was at the Best Buy Theater in midtown Manhattan, for welcoming a "chubby, unathletic kid into the program with open arms."

His departure from Texas Tech was contentious. At first, he lost a year of eligibility, despite not being on scholarship. Texas Tech could have given permission to waive the lost year, but did not.

Mayfield eventually got that year of eligibility back when the Big 12 tweaked its rules, but he never did let it go. For his last game against Texas Tech this season, he wore the "Traitor" T-shirt that some Red Raiders fans wore when he first returned to Lubbock with Oklahoma.

Later in the year, it was Kansas — or all teams — that tried to get the volatile Mayfield off his game. Jayhawks captains refused to shake his hand during the pregame coin flip. They trash-talked Mayfield and even took a late hit at him. He responded by screaming profanities and making a lewd gesture that television cameras caught. That led to a public apology from Mayfield, his third this year.

The first came after he was arrested in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in February for public intoxication, disorderly conduct and fleeing. He pleaded guilty to three misdemeanors and paid a $300 fine. The second came after that flag planting in Columbus, Ohio, after the Sooners beat the Buckeyes. Mayfield said before that early season showdown that the Buckeyes had irked him by celebrating on the Sooners' field in 2016.

Mayfield joins Jason White and Sam Bradford as Oklahoma quarterbacks who won the award since 2003. Only Notre Dame, Ohio State and USC have won more Heisman trophies with seven each.

Mayfield is an old-school winner. For decades, seniors dominated the Heisman, but over the last 10 years four juniors, four sophomores and two redshirt freshmen have won the Heisman. By comparison Mayfield has been around forever, that first season at Texas Tech coming in 2013. He has played 47 college games. Only USC's Carson Palmer with 50 had played more when he won his Heisman in 2002.

There is at least one more game to play for Mayfield, and maybe two. He and the Sooners will go into the playoff as a slight underdog against Georgia, which seems only appropriate for a player who has built his career on exceeding expectations.

Taggart living the New American Dream while his players suffer true consequences

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USATSI

Taggart living the New American Dream while his players suffer true consequences

Willie Taggart has done his part to address the issue of undercompensation and freedom of college athletes by reminding them all that he has rights they don’t.

Taggart left his job coaching the football team at the University of Oregon after two days short of a year to take the job at Florida State University. It is his fourth school in six years, and the bowl game he led the Ducks to (the Las Vegas Bowl) will be his fourth, of which he has remained to coach one.

He has, in short, bettered himself consistently without establishing roots anywhere. It’s the New American Dream.

Yet the athletes who actual fuel the college sports engine must appeal to transfer, must sit out years of eligibility and in some cases have their choices restricted or vetoed outright because otherwise CHAOS WOULD REIGN!

Well, there’s chaos and then there’s chaos, of course, to be defined only by those in charge. Coaches do come and go -- 12 have filled vacancies since Chip Kelly took the UCLA job 10 days ago, and there will be plenty more. Somehow the system survives.

But players moving to seek their betterment is bad for business, most of the time because the suspicion is that they have been gotten to by other coaches from other programs – a classic case of the system saving itself from itself at the expense of the weakest of its membership.

The obvious inequity here has not troubled college administrators before, and it surely won’t this time either. The first responsibility of any system is to protect itself, and college football is a cheerily money-making powerhouse – in considerable part because players are underpaid and restricted in ways that coaches aren’t.

But maybe Taggart’s wanderlust can become a force for good. Maybe the next time an athlete wants to transfer, he’ll just ask for “a Taggart form” in hopes of “Taggarting” to another school. I mean, we’d say “Kiffining,” but there is no compelling reason why Lane Kiffin’s name should be in anyone’s mouth unnecessarily, to speak of another coach who sees a better shade of green in every job he doesn’t have but might someday want.