NCAA

Highlighted by Bay Area star running back, Alabama leads recruiting ranks

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AP

Highlighted by Bay Area star running back, Alabama leads recruiting ranks

Alabama came up just short in its bid for a second straight national title on the field, but the Crimson Tide's dominance on the recruiting trail remains as strong as ever.

According to composite rankings of recruiting services compiled by 247Sports , Alabama finished atop the team standings for a seventh consecutive year. And this might have been Nick Saban's best class yet.

Florida's 2010 class that included NFL first-round draft picks Dominique Easley, Matt Elam and Sharrif Floyd is 247Sports' only higher-rated class since 2002, which is as far back as 247Sports' data goes.

"It just speaks to the process that they've put in place there and the machine that is really unstoppable," said Barton Simmons, the director of scouting for 247Sports.

Alabama's class includes seven of the top 34 players in the 247Sports Composite : running back Najee Harris, offensive tackles Alex Leatherwood and Jedrick Willis, outside linebacker Dylan Moses, wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, defensive end LaBryan Ray and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Rivals and Scout rated Harris as the nation's No. 1 overall prospect.

"On paper, when you're talking about our point system and the number of five-stars, it's the best (Saban's) had at Alabama," said Mike Farrell, the director of recruiting for Rivals.

Ohio State and Southern California also had reason to celebrate.

Simmons said the average 247Sports Composite rating of Ohio State's signees is the highest of any class since 2002. Alabama finished higher in the team standings largely because it signed more players than Ohio State.

Southern California surged into the top five in the team standings with a fabulous finish. Linebacker Levi Jones, defensive tackle Jay Tufele, wide receiver Joseph Lewis and offensive tackle Austin Jackson made Signing Day decisions to join USC's class. All three are top-100 prospects in the 247Sports Composite.

"I think USC is the clear Signing Day story in terms of the way they rose in the rankings and in the days leading up to it," Simmons said. "They really had the perfect close."

Here are other notable Signing Day stories.

SIGNING DAY DECISIONS: Florida State landed the biggest prize of the day with the addition of defensive tackle Marvin Wilson, who was No. 6 in the 247Sports Composite and the highest-rated uncommitted player entering signing. Other members of the 247Sports Composite's top 50 who were uncommitted before Wednesday include defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon (Michigan), defensive ends K'Lavon Chaisson (LSU) and Ray (Alabama) plus wide receiver Jeff Thomas (Miami).

QUALITY, NOT QUANTITY: Ohio State wasn't the only program to make the most of relatively limited numbers. Although the small size of their classes kept them from ranking higher in team standings, Clemson and Stanford landed plenty of star power. Clemson has the nation's No. 2 pro-style quarterback (Hunter Johnson) and No. 2 wide receiver (Tee Higgins) according to the 247Sports Composite. Stanford has four of the top 36 players in the 247Sports Composite (offensive tackles Foster Sarell and Walker Little, quarterback Davis Mills and tight end Colby Parkinson). Mills was rated as the nation's No. 1 pro-style quarterback.

LEAVING TEXAS: New Texas coach Tom Herman will have to do a better job of keeping the state's best players home in future recruiting cycles. Texas didn't sign any of the Lone Star State's top 19 recruits according to the 247Sports Composite. Of the top 12 prospects in Texas, the only ones who chose Texas schools were inside linebacker Anthony Hines (Texas A&M) and offensive guard Jack Anderson (Texas Tech). "I think the Tom Herman effect was expected to do a little bit more," Farrell said. "You can never gauge a coach on his transitional year, (but) 2018 has to be a really good one though. I would say he'd better knock it out of the ballpark in 2018 or a lot of fans will be wondering, 'Did we really upgrade?' at least in the recruiting department."

SEC DOMINATION: Although some late decisions could shuffle the team standings, six SEC schools were ranked among the top 12 in the 247Sports Composite as of late Wednesday afternoon. Joining Alabama in that group of six were Georgia, LSU, Auburn, Florida and Texas A&M. While the SEC sizzled, the Big 12 fizzled. Oklahoma likely will be the only Big 12 team in the top 20.

MISSISSIPPI'S MISERY: Ole Miss landed a top-five class in 2016 even with an NCAA investigation looming, but the effects of the Rebels' off-field issues were much more apparent this year. As of late Wednesday afternoon, Ole Miss was outside the top 30 in the 247Sports Composite rankings and ahead of only Missouri and Vanderbilt in the SEC. Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze acknowledged negative recruiting made an impact. "It was ugly," Freeze said.

Pac-12 to experiment with ways to shorten football games

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Pac-12 to experiment with ways to shorten football games

LOS ANGELES -- The Pac-12 will shorten halftime and reduce the number of commercial breaks during its non-conference schedule this season as part of a trial program to reduce the length of its football games.

Halftime will be 15 minutes long, cut down from the usual 20-minute break. The number of commercial breaks will be reduced and they will be shorter in length, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said Wednesday.

Scott announced the initiative as the Pac-12 kicked off its media days in Hollywood. The experiment is intended to shorten ballooning game times in an era of up-tempo offenses running more plays and the increased scoring that comes with it.

"Just because metrics show robust ratings and attendance doesn't mean we shouldn't be experimenting and piloting with formats that will keep the sport attractive," Scott said. "It's incumbent on us to look at the presentation of the sport and make sure the pace of play is moving as much as possible and without changing the fundamentals of the game."

Scott did not completely dismiss potential rule changes in the future to address the length of games, saying that the upcoming experiment was part of a larger, more comprehensive review.

Scott noted that Pac-12 games have averaged nearly 3 hours and 30 minutes, more than 30 minutes longer than NFL games. Some of that discrepancy can be attributed to stopping the clock after first downs in college football, a rule not used in the NFL.

The halftime reduction could be a significant incentive to keep television viewers tuned in. Scott said up to 30 percent of the audience is lost during that break.

The changes could also have a positive effect on stadium attendance since Pac-12 fans have complained about the increase in late starts under the conference's most recent television deal. Fans might be more likely to watch a game in-person on a Thursday or Saturday night if they have a chance to get home before midnight.

For Arizona and Arizona State, which hold their early-season home games after dark to avoid the desert heat, it could mean their fans spend less time in triple-digit temperatures.

Pac-12 coaches consulted about the change did not believe it would hinder their ability to make adjustments at halftime, Scott said.

"I was delighted to hear our coaches feel like 20 minutes is more than they need from a student-athlete health and rest and X's and O's perspective," Scott said.

Scott also announced the league's plans to operate a centralized replay center, joining other conferences in consolidating its video review facilities.

The Pac-12 title game will stay at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California, through 2019, Scott said. The league also has the option to hold the 2020 game in Santa Clara.

New Cal coach Wyking Jones ready to prove critics wrong amid changes

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New Cal coach Wyking Jones ready to prove critics wrong amid changes

Even the most passionate Cal fan might struggle to name a single player on the current basketball roster. The team's top five leading scorers from last season have all departed. Ivan Rabb and Jabari Bird moved on to the NBA, Grant Mullins graduated, and both Charlie Moore and Kameron Rooks elected to transfer.

But perhaps the most significant change is on the sideline. Out is Cuonzo Martin, who agreed to a massive seven-year contract with Missouri, worth a reported $21 million. Replacing him is 44-year-old Wyking Jones, a longtime assistant coach, who spent the past two seasons as Martin's top aide in Berkeley.

Jones' promotion was met with heavy criticism from many in the media, both locally and nationally. Skeptics believe Cal settled for the cheap option, rather than the best option. But why can't both be true? There's no denying that salary played a factor in the hire - the athletic department's financial troubles have been well documented in recent years. But Jones impressed Athletic Director Mike Williams in other areas too, reportedly acing his job interview with a detailed plan for the program moving forward. And unlike the other candidates, Jones already has direct experience dealing with Cal's unique set of circumstances.

“It's not something that you can walk into and just get a really good grasp of,” Jones explained. “It's a learning curve that, if you walk into this situation for the first time, it would take you a tremendous amount of time. Knowing who to go to when you need things, who's in charge of this, who's in charge of that, just having a familiarity of how to really get things done around here.”

Jones also discovered the challenges of recruiting at a school like Cal, where not every athlete can qualify academically. While many coaches would view that as a negative, Jones chooses to embrace it.

“In my mind, that's what makes this place special,” he said. “It's the number one public institution in the world for a reason. Your recruiting pool shrinks quite a bit, but that's okay because typically what happens is if you get a kid who has a lot of discipline on and off the court, you're not going to run into troubles on the weekends when they're in the dorms. They're usually kids who have a lot of respect for the community and other students.”

From a coaching standpoint, Jones has unquestionably paid his dues in the world of college basketball. Prior to joining Cal as an assistant in 2015, he made stops at Louisville, New Mexico, Pepperdine, and Loyola Marymount, where he also played from 1991-95. Now, after nearly 15 years in collegiate coaching, Wyking Jones is a head coach.

“I think initially it's very exciting to have an opportunity to coach, have your own program at a storied program like Cal, to follow in the footsteps of some great coaches,” he said, smiling. “But now the smoke has cleared and it's time to get to work.”

That work has already begun. As previously mentioned, Jones will have to replace his top five scorers from a year ago, who accounted for nearly 56 points per game. The Bears will count on increased production from senior center Kingsley Okoroh and junior guard Don Coleman. They will also rely heavily on redshirt senior forward Marcus Lee, who sat out last season after transferring from Kentucky.

“It's an adjustment, for sure,” Jones admitted. “But you have 13 scholarships for a reason. It's just an opportunity for the guys who are still here to earn their scholarship. It's an opportunity for them to make a name for themselves and have an impact on this program.”

Under Cuonzo Martin, Cal established itself as one of the best defensive teams in the country. Last season, the Bears ranked 18th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 63.4 points per game. Jones hopes to continue that trend while also implementing a full-court pressure defense, similar to the one he coached at Louisville, which resulted in a national championship in 2013.

“It's a process,” he acknowledged. “In year one, hopefully we can be good at it. In year two, look to improve. In year three, hope to be great at it... It's a type of defense, when you're talking about pressing, it's reading all the other guys on the court. It's never scripted. It's being able to read when is the right time to go trap, when is the right time to go switch, when is the right time to bluff and stunt at a guy to slow him down. So there's a learning curve in it.”

Jones knows there will also be a learning curve for him personally as a head coach, especially with such a young and inexperienced roster. He expects his team to be overlooked and undervalued by much of the college basketball world, but that's just fine with him.

“I think a lot of people will probably guess that we won't be very good, and that's motivation right there. That's motivation for my staff, for our managers, for the support staff. It's motivation for everybody that's a part of this program to exceed those expectations. So I think that makes for an exciting season.”