On The Trail Show (Mon., noon ET)

February, 1, 2015
Feb 1
4:00
PM ET
With only days until national signing day, there's a lot of recruiting news. Join RecruitingNation's panel of experts Monday at noon ET to break down the weekend's top news and what to expect for signing day.

In the 100 days leading up to signing day 2015, RecruitingNation will be looking back at our ESPN recruiting rankings from 2006 to the present and counting down the best player of the past 10 years at each ranking position, No. 100 to No. 1.

A.J. Green, No. 5 in 2008 class

Green came out of Summerville High as one of the top prospects the state of South Carolina has ever produced. While many of the nation's top programs recruited him, including Florida State, Notre Dame and Florida, the Under Armour All-America Game alumnus made his commitment to childhood favorite Georgia early in the process. Green was part of a 2008 Bulldogs top-10 class that featured Toby Jackson, Brandon Boykin, Ben Jones, Cornelius Washington and DeAngelo Tyson.

As a freshman in 2008, Green was SEC Freshman of the Year and second-team All-SEC after making 56 catches for 963 yards and eight touchdowns in 13 games, all school Georgia freshman records.

Green appeared in 10 games, including eight starts, as a sophomore. He made 53 receptions for 808 yards and six TDs, earning All-SEC first-team honors from the league coaches.

As a junior, Green was suspended for the first four games of the season, but still made a team-leading 57 receptions for 848 yards and nine scores, earning All-SEC second-team honors.

Green had 166 receptions for 2,619 yards and 23 touchdowns in three seasons despite missing seven games to injury and NCAA suspension.

Green chose to forgo his final season of eligibility and was selected No. 4 overall in the 2011 NFL draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. He has been named to the Pro Bowl in each of his four seasons in the league.

Honorable mention: Matthew Stafford, No. 5 in 2006 class. Stafford also starred at Georgia and was selected No. 1 overall by the Detroit Lions in the 2009 NFL draft. Martez Wilson, No. 5 in 2007 class. Wilson played at Illinois and was a third-round selection (No. 72 overall) by the New Orleans Saints in the 2011 draft. Laremy Tunsil, No. 5 in 2013 class. has been a two-year starter at Ole Miss, and is a potential first-round NFL draft selection following the 2015 season.

Early Commit: WR Courtney Lark to TCU 

January, 31, 2015
Jan 31
8:33
PM ET
TCU is certainly making the most of the 12-win season and top-5 finish. While the Horned Frogs were already off to a terrific start in the 2016 class with seven commitments and three ESPN Jr 300s, Gary Patterson and staff added a fourth ESPN Jr 300 pledge Saturday in receiver Courtney Lark.

In the 100 days leading up to signing day 2015, RecruitingNation will be looking back at our ESPN recruiting rankings from 2006 to the present and counting down the best player of the past 10 years at each ranking position, No. 100 to No. 1.

DeMarco Murray, No. 6 in 2006 class

Murray's recruitment was hotly contested coming out of Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas.

After picking Oklahoma and redshirting in 2006, Murray quickly became one of the Big 12’s most feared running backs in 2007. He rushed for 764 yards and 13 touchdowns and accumulated 1,263 all-purpose yards in 11 games before dislocating a kneecap. He was selected honorable mention All-Big 12 by the league coaches.

As a third-year sophomore in 2008, Murray rushed for 1,002 yards and 14 TDs. He also topped 2,000 all-purpose yards, finishing with a school single-season record 2,171 yards and 18 total touchdowns on his way to All-Big 12 first-team honors from the league coaches. He missed the Big 12 championship game and the BCS Championship because of a hamstring injury, however.

In 2009, Murray rushed for 705 yards and eight scores and totaled 1,227 all-purpose yards and 12 TDs, earning All-Big 12 second-team by the coaches.

Murray rebounded as a senior in 2010 and rushed for 1,214 yards and 15 TDs. He also caught 71 passes for 594 yards and five TDs.

The versatile back finished his Sooners’ career with 3,685 rushing yards, 1,571 receiving yards and a school-record 6,718 all-purpose yards despite missing time to injuries. He's Oklahoma's all-time touchdowns leader, all-time leader in receiving yards for a running back and all-time leader in kickoff return average.

Murray was selected in the third round, No. 71 overall, by the Dallas Cowboys in the 2011 draft. He has become one of the best running backs in the NFL, having been named to back-to-back Pro Bowls. He was the NFL's rushing leader in 2014 with 1,845 yards.

Honorable mention: Trent Richardson, No. 6 in 2009 class. Richardson starred at Alabama with 3,130 rushing yards and 35 TDs in three seasons and 2011 All-American honors before heading to the NFL draft in 2012, when he was selected No. 3 overall by the Cleveland Browns. Lamarcus Joyner, No. 6 in the 2010 class, was an All-ACC performer at Florida State and was selected in the second round (No. 41 overall) in the 2014 NFL draft by the St. Louis Rams. Landon Collins, No. 6 in the 2012 class, is projected to be a first-round selection in the 2015 draft after a stellar career as a safety at Alabama. Matthew Thomas, No. 6 in the 2013 class, just finished his redshirt freshman season at Florida State and came on strong in the second half of the 2014 season.

Recruit breakdown: CB Iman Marshall 

January, 30, 2015
Jan 30
3:00
PM ET
What he brings: The versatile Iman Marshall is the complete package at the corner position. He brings size, ball skills and athleticism that could project at different positions throughout the secondary. He possesses great transitional quickness for a perimeter defender with his frame and closing speed to shut down receivers in man coverage. He also has the big frame and physicality, range and ball-hawking skills to add value at safety. We expect this competitive and instinctive athlete to compete for early playing time at the next level.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

In the 100 days leading up to signing day 2015, RecruitingNation will be looking back at our ESPN recruiting rankings from 2006 to the present and counting down the best player of the past 10 years at each ranking position, No. 100 to No. 1.

Jaylon Smith, No. 7 in 2013 class

Smith was the most heavily recruited linebacker in the country in the 2013 class coming out Bishop Luers High in Fort Wayne, Indiana. While his brother Rod Smith was a running back at Ohio State, Smith was more partial to in-state schools and chose Notre Dame in June 2012. He headlined a Fighting Irish class that included Tarean Folston, Max Redfield, Cole Luke, William Fuller and several others, including current UCLA defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes, who was released from his letter of intent.

Smith was a star from Day 1 in South Bend. He started all 13 games at outside linebacker as a freshman in 2013, making 67 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, three pass breakups and one interception, earning several Freshman All-America honors following the season. His 67 tackles were the third most ever by a freshman by a Notre Dame player.

If Smith’s freshman campaign wasn’t impressive enough, his sophomore season in 2014 could be tabbed as dominant. In 13 starts, he made a team-leading 112 tackles with nine tackles for loss, seven quarterback hurries and 3.5 sacks, earning AP second-team All-America honors.

Headed into his junior season, he is virtual lock to be on every major All-America preseason list, as well as several preseason college football awards lists.

He’s already considered a near-lock to be a first-round selection in the 2016 NFL draft.

Honorable mention: Robert Woods, No. 7 in 2010 class. Woods picked USC coming out of Junipero Serra High in Los Angeles. After an All-Pac-12 and All-America three-year career for the Trojans, Woods entered the 2013 NFL draft and was selected in the second round (No. 41 overall) by the Buffalo Bills. He has 105 catches and eight touchdowns in two seasons.
This week, we're taking a closer look at one specific area each Big 12 team needs to improve before 2015. We continue the series with West Virginia:

Position to improve: Quarterback

Why it was a problem: Calling the Mountaineers quarterback situation in 2014 a problem is a bit unfair, as WVU’s return to a bowl game would not have been possible without the exploits of Clint Trickett. Yet, at the same time, Trickett shoulders plenty of blame for WVU’s late-season slide. The departed senior was outstanding in WVU wins over Maryland and Baylor, but his interceptions proved too much to overcome during a three-game losing streak to TCU, Texas and Kansas State. In those games, Trickett threw one touchdown and five interceptions. In addition, Skyler Howard replaced Trickett (who was forced to retire due to lingering concussion symptoms) for WVU’s final two games and was solid with back-to-back games with three touchdown passes and zero interceptions.

How it can be fixed: It feels like the Mountaineers have the answer on campus with Howard and William Crest among the competitors to take over as the starter in 2015. Howard has experience and ball protection on his side heading into the quarterback derby, but Crest could be the future. The redshirt freshman was WVU’s backup quarterback heading into the 2014 season before an injury forced a redshirt campaign. The Mountaineers also added a pair of quarterbacks in David Sills and Chris Chugunov in their Class of 2015. WVU has some quality options behind center, and it's just a matter of who seizes the opportunity to become the main man.

Early 2015 outlook: Howard or Crest are likely to rise to the top of this quarterback battle. Howard was impressive during his short stint as the starter in 2014, showing the ability to protect the ball and lead WVU to points in a road win over Iowa State and bowl loss to Texas A&M. But all signs point to Crest being the long-term answer at the position, and the future could start as early as this fall. Either way, the starter will be tasked to run the offense efficiently and take care of the football for Dana Holgorsen's offense. One thing is certain: The quarterback position in Morgantown, West Virginia looks a lot better right now than it did 12 months ago.
Our Big Ten-wide look at positions that need improvement winds to a close with an examination of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.

Problem position: Quarterback

Why quarterback is a problem: Gary Nova is gone. Nova was the perfect security blanket for Rutgers in its transition season to the Big Ten, with his three years of starting experience before 2014. He guided the Scarlet Knights admirably, ranking in QBR among Big Ten quarterbacks behind only J.T. Barrett and Connor Cook. When Nova was hurt at Nebraska, Rutgers’ offense suffered badly. Moving forward, Chris Laviano is the only quarterback on the roster to take a collegiate snap. In fact, of six Rutgers quarterbacks to participate in practice last spring, only Laviano remains in Piscataway. And with the departure of three starting linemen and talented tight end Tyler Kroft, now is not the best time for uncertainty at quarterback.

How it can be fixed: Laviano looks set to battle LSU transfer Hayden Rettig in the spring. Both will be third-year sophomores. And while Laviano has the edge in experience, Rettig is an exciting prospect and likely offers a higher ceiling. He ranked 17th among pocket passers in the 2013 recruiting class out of Los Angeles and signed early with the Tigers. Rettig sat out at Rutgers last fall as Laviano got into five games and completed 11 of 28 passes. Meaningful competition in the spring is important.

Early 2015 outlook: Rutgers would be wise to rely on its deep and diverse stable of running backs as the new quarterback gets settled in the fall. While Laviano and Rettig have the edge, redshirt freshman Giovanni Rescigno will compete for time in the spring, and New Jersey prep prospect Michael Dare is set to sign next week. Offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen did a nice job with Nova and is noted for his solid work with quarterbacks, so whomever wins the job will benefit from a solid teacher.
Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason had a lot of issues to wade through during his first year in Nashville. A year removed from the program's improbable three-year bowl string, the Commodores fell to an unflattering 3-9 record that left Mason ushering in a new staff for the 2015 season.

As the Commodores look to get back on solid ground, they'll have to start by figuring out their situation at quarterback:

Position to improve: Quarterback

Why it was a problem: From the start, Vanderbilt’s coaching staff couldn’t settle on one quarterback. The Commodores used multiple quarterbacks in games eight times, going 2-6 in the process. Even when Vandy kept one quarterback in for an entire game, the Commodores went just 1-3, with those starters throwing for 622 yards with seven touchdowns and five interceptions on 49-of-110 passing (.445). First, Patton Robinette – the one with the most experience coming in – didn’t work out after only a few snaps in the opener. So the staff moved to LSU transfer Stephen Rivers, who basically fizzled out after a blowout loss to Ole Miss in Week 2. By the time redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary started back-to-back games late in the year, the season was lost and even McCrary couldn’t stay as the full-time guy for long. With four different quarterbacks starting games, there was absolutely no continuity at quarterback, and that really affected an offense that ranked 13th or worse in all four major offensive categories.

How it can be fixed: Mason and new offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Andy Ludwig need to push a real, tough quarterback battle this spring and then find a concrete starter coming out of fall camp -- if not before. It's time to find a quarterback and ride him through the good and the bad. The quarterback-by-committee approach didn’t work last season, and there’s no reason for anyone to believe it will work this year. With Rivers deciding to transfer, the Commodores return McCrary, Robinette and rising sophomore Wade Freebeck, who, of course, all played and started last year. What would also help is some sort of development at receiver. The Commodores return three of their top receiving targets, but none reached the 40-catch mark, nor did any catch more than four touchdowns. Someone has to step up as a consistent playmaker to help these quarterbacks. Having a solid, young running back in Ralph Webb (912 yards and four touchdowns) returning will provide a nice safety net for anyone under center.

Early 2015 outlook: Having three experienced quarterbacks returning means that Vandy’s coaches won’t exactly be telling these guys things they don’t already know about how to prepare and what to expect. The problem is that none of them were very successful when given the opportunity last year. That means there’s a lot of development that must take place immediately this spring. Ludwig will also have freshman Shawn Stankavage to mentor this spring. He sat out all of last year, but did work as a scout-team quarterback. Vandy also has two quarterbacks committed in its 2015 recruiting class, including ESPN 300 member Kyle Shurmur, who is the No. 7-ranked pocket passer by ESPN’s RecruitingNation. The Commodores will once again have a logjam at quarterback, but the hope is that Vandy’s staff can finally find one guy to lead this team.
Every team has issues to address this offseason, and this week, we're taking a look at the most glaring holes for each ACC team and figuring out where they might find answers between now and the season opener.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Position to improve: Offensive line

Why it was a problem: It all starts up front, and that was the cause of the biggest problems for the Demon Deacons this season. It is hard to run the ball or make big plays in the pass game when the men in the trenches have a difficult time sustaining blocks. The offensive line has been an issue for years at Wake Forest, so it was not a huge surprise that this unit struggled. Especially when you consider the Deacs had started a true freshman at center for the first seven games of the season to pair with a true freshman starting quarterback. Add in next to no experience or depth at running back, and you get one of the worst offenses in the country. Wake Forest finished No. 124 in rushing offense (out of 125) with an average of 39.9 yards per game (and 1.25 yards per carry). Yards were taken off those rushing numbers because the Deacs gave up so many sacks -- 48 in all, to rank tied for last in the country.

How it can be fixed: Wake Forest only had one senior listed on its two-deep from a year ago, so the hope is that this group will come back not only with more experience, but with a deeper knowledge of the new offensive scheme and systems. The Deacs also redshirted several freshmen offensive linemen a year ago, so they should have more depth and more competition during practices. During recruiting, Wake Forest heavily targeted skill position players as well to help provide added depth and competition at running back, quarterback and receiver. Three of the four early enrollees this year are skill players.

Early 2015 outlook: Coach Dave Clawson expects every unit to step up its play this season, most especially the offensive line since that is the unit that takes the longest to develop. Though Cory Helms decided to transfer, three starters are expected back, including veteran tackle Dylan Intemann, with 28 career starts. Wake Forest also expects to sign two more offensive tackles next week. Keep in mind Wake Forest would also like to use more two-tight end sets. Cam Serigne emerged a year ago; now the Deacs have added ESPN 300 tight end Bowman Archibald into the mix. They have the potential to help with blocking as well. There is little doubt the offensive line is a work in progress, but this group should be improved in 2015.
We continue our look at what positions groups need to improve between now and next season.

Position to improve: secondary

Why it was a problem: In 12 games, 10 players (including six freshmen) combined to form seven different starting combinations in the secondary. With a serious lack of continuity and a lack of experience, the results were predictable: WSU allowed 296.6 passing yards per game, which ranked as the second most in FBS behind Cal (367.2). Teondray Caldwell, who converted from running back to safety before falling out of favor at a second position, elected to transfer in September, while cornerback Daquawn Brown, the team's top corner, was dismissed after the season. Freshman cornerback Kevin Griffin also left the team after the season.

How it can be fixed: After a lengthy search, coach Mike Leach hired Missouri safeties coach Alex Grinch as the team's new defensive coordinator, replacing Mike Breske. If it works out the way Leach hopes, the change will be pivotal in allowing the unit to improve, but considering how bad things were, it'll take more than that ... starting with recruiting. The Cougars have five defensive backs committed for a class that will become official next week.

Early 2015 outlook: A lot depends on the incoming guys, especially junior-college transfers safety Shalom Luani and corner Treshon Broughton, both of whom should be expected to contribute right way. Corners Pat Porter, Charleston White and Marcellus Pippins all started at least one game last year as freshmen and rising senior Taylor Taliulu started 10 games at safety. Sebastian LaRue, who sat out last season after transferring from Texas A&M, will be an interesting name to keep an eye on, too. A four-star receiver prospect in the Class of 2013, he converted to cornerback last spring.

2015 ACC schedule breakdown

January, 30, 2015
Jan 30
12:00
PM ET
Now that we have all had some time to digest the 2015 ACC schedule, let us look at the most noteable takeaways.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsDeshaun Watson and Clemson will get a later shot at Florida State in 2015, which is a positive development.
The good: Moving Florida State-Clemson to November. If both teams are as good as they have been in recent years, then their game will again determine the Atlantic Division. And there is nothing better than a high-stakes division contest in November, as opposed to September. There was absolutely no drama in the Atlantic this past season after Florida State beat the Tigers in Week 4; the Noles' spot in the ACC championship game was virtually solidified. As Jared Shanker pointed out, the ACC will have nationally relevant games in all three months of the 2015 regular season. That is absolutely huge.

The bad: North Carolina and Boston College are saddled with two FCS games apiece, a fact that did not go unnoticed Thursday. There is a simple explanation: previously scheduled games fell through and both schools were left scrambling. North Carolina had initially scheduled Ohio State for 2015. The game was moved, then subsequently canceled when the Big Ten voted to play nine conference games. Two more factors were at play: the ACC reversed course on a nine-game league schedule when it agreed to a partnership with Notre Dame. North Carolina wanted to wait on that schedule rotation to see how it would shake out. While having two FCS teams on the schedule is far from ideal, North Carolina does play two power-five teams with Illinois and South Carolina. As for Boston College, New Mexico State recently backed out of a 2015 game against the Eagles because it overscheduled. That left a hole the Boston College had to fill on very short notice. So Howard was added. Nobody is running around throwing a party over the FCS opponents. Sometimes these dilemmas happen. (Remember when Florida State had to replace West Virginia with Savannah State?)

The ugly: Poor Syracuse. Not only do the Orange get LSU in nonconference play, they also have the toughest three-game conference stretch of anybody in the ACC: at Florida State, at Louisville and Clemson on three straight weekends spanning the end of October into November. Nobody else in the Atlantic has to face the division's top three teams consecutively. Miami also faces a tough three-game stretch in October that could make or break Coastal Division hopes: at Florida State, Virginia Tech and Clemson. Nope, the Canes got no favors when they traded Louisville from the Atlantic for the Tigers. But there might not be anything uglier than the NC State nonconference schedule: Troy, Eastern Kentucky and then road games (yes, road games) against Old Dominion and South Alabama.

The byes: A 13-week scheduling window wreaked some havoc with the way the schedules were created because there was only space for one open week. ACC senior associate commissioner of football operations Michael Strickland had some good insight into how that was handled. Some teams are going to suffer more than others. Boston College has 10 straight games before its open date. Opening with the two FCS games might not serve as any consolation. Wake Forest, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech each have to play nine straight games to open the season; Florida State, Miami, Pitt and Clemson have to play nine straight games to end the season. The bye week is placed at an odd time for Clemson. The Tigers play Louisville on Thursday, Sept. 17 then go 15 days until they play again, Oct. 3 against Notre Dame. That is the longest regular-season layoff in school history.

The different: Friday night is the new weekday favorite in the ACC, with more announced dates than Thursday night, the former go-to spot. David Teel of the Daily Press has a great explainer piece on the topic, but it all comes down to television. The ACC will feature its top four teams from 2014 on either Thursday or Friday night this upcoming season. Strategery is definitely involved there.

The impossible: Once again, Virginia has the toughest schedule in the ACC, facing 10 teams that made bowl games in 2014. The move to overschedule is an interesting one, especially when you look at the nonconference scheduling models that NC State and Duke have followed. Both those programs have the worst nonconference schedules in 2015, choosing an easier route toward bowl eligibility. Last season, for example, Virginia was vastly improved, but still finished 5-7 with a backbreaking nonconference schedule. NC State finished 8-5 with a bowl victory, thanks to a cupcake nonconference schedule. NC State has scheduled up in the future to meet the requirement that ACC teams play at least one Power 5 opponent. But for right now, this schedule is hugely beneficial in the wins column. In the case of Virginia, the Hoos would be pleased if they make it out of their first four games against UCLA, Notre Dame, William & Mary and Boise State 2-2.

As former Virginia offensive lineman Luke Bowanko tweeted Thursday after the schedule was released:

All week, we've been examining a problematic position for each Big Ten team during the 2014 season and how it could potentially be repaired in 2015.

Last but not least: Indiana Hoosiers

Problem position: The secondary

Why the secondary was a problem in 2014: Honestly, we could have picked the entire defense as a problem spot for the Hoosiers. Again. Despite the hiring of a new defensive coordinator (Brian Knorr) and an infusion of more athletes on that side of the ball, Indiana once again struggled to stop anybody in the Big Ten. Knorr's unit gave up more passing yards per game (250) than anybody else in the conference, and opposing Big Ten quarterbacks completed 63.9 percent against the Hoosiers. That's an indictment on the lack of a pass rush up front and linebackers who can cover in space as well, but we'll focus on the defensive backs for these purposes.

How it can be fixed (solutions on the roster): Safety Mark Murphy and cornerback Tim Bennett, two of the leaders of the defense, used up their eligibility. Meanwhile, the team's other starting cornerback, Michael Hunter, decided not to return for his final year. That leaves the Hoosiers thin on experience going into 2015. Safety Antonio Allen, who was an important recruit for the Hoosiers, needs to continue to improve as a junior, and Chase Dutra likely joins him as a starter. Cornerbacks Rashard Fant and Donovan Clark saw action last fall as freshmen, and Kenny Mullen returns from an injury.

How it can be fixed (potential help from 2015 recruiting class): The Hoosiers have a pair of safeties -- Jonathan Crawford and Tyler Green -- ready to sign next week, as well as several athlete types who could play either linebacker or defensive back. They could still be in the market for a late addition at corner.

Early 2015 outlook: There is talent on hand here. Allen and Fant, for example, are two of the top-rated recruits Kevin Wilson has signed. The defensive backfield roles are actually more settled than wide receiver, which is a worrisome area on the offense. Again, the secondary was by no means the only weak link in the defense. But until Indiana can figure out a way to strengthen every aspect of the defense and become competitive on that side of the ball in the Big Ten, we could be talking about the same problematic positions for the Hoosiers in 2015.
This week, we’re taking a closer look at one specific area each Big 12 team needs to improve before 2015. We continue the series with Texas Tech.

Position to improve: Linebacker

Why it was a problem: The Red Raiders didn’t have a dominating force in the middle of their defense. Sam Eguavoen (73) and Micah Awe (69) finished second and third in tackles for Tech yet neither guy was a unquestioned playmaker for a defense that allowed 259.5 rushing yards per game and 5.19 yards per carry. Arkansas dominating win in Lubbock in mid-September featured 438 rushing yards and was a early sign that the Red Raiders defense just wasn’t well-equipped to handle a strong running game and a lack of playmaking linebackers was a main culprit.

How it can be fixed: Awe is the Red Raiders' leading returning tackler at the position but Tech needs to add talent and depth at the position, which is losing several departed seniors including Eguavoen. Three-star linebacker D'Vonta Hinton is the lone linebacker on Tech’s commitment list so the answer will largely have to come from the players on campus. Thus, all eyes will be on Ohio State transfer Mike Mitchell, who has the pedigree and talent to slide into the Red Raiders defense and start transforming the linebacker spot after spending the past season on Tech's scout team defense. A member of the ESPN300 in the Class of 2013, Mitchell can make plays from sideline-to-sideline and could develop into the dominant force Kliff Kingsbury's defense has been searching for during his first two seasons in charge.

Early 2015 outlook: Mitchell brings plenty of hope to the position as he provides an immediate talent upgrade. Tech is losing a lot at linebacker, which means they could be even worse in 2015 but Mitchell brings a combination of talent, upside and excitement to the position. He could become the face of the linebacker corps in Lubbock but he will need help from Awe and the rest of the Red Raiders' linebackers to make the overall unit a more productive group.
Texas A&M's 8-5 season had its fair share of ups and downs. That also means there were some areas that shined and some that need work. We look at one area in particular that needs improvement heading into 2015:

Position to improve: Linebacker.

Why it was a problem: Depth was perhaps the biggest reason for the struggles because the Aggies ran thin on linebackers with actual SEC playing experience. One preseason dismissal (Darian Claiborne) and two early-season injuries (to A.J. Hilliard, for the season, and Shaan Washington, for the first three games) cut into the team's depth. During the first half of the 2014 campaign, the Aggies found themselves being ineffective at the position as well. After a 59-0 loss to Alabama, Texas A&M injected some youth into the lineup, giving starts to true freshmen Otaro Alaka and Josh Walker, both of whom looked promising in their time as starters. Overall, the Aggies still need all the experience they can get at the position. Texas A&M was last in the SEC in rushing defense in 2014 and linebacker play is a part of that.

How it can be fixed: Recruiting is one quick way to fix it and fortunately for the Aggies, they already have two linebacker recruits on campus. Junior college linebacker Claude George, the nation's fourth-ranked junior college outside linebacker, enrolled for the spring semester as did Cedar Hill (Texas) High School outside linebacker Richard Moore. Getting Hilliard back healthy next season will be huge: the TCU transfer was vying for a starting spot and has the ability to play all three positions in the Aggies' 4-3 alignment. Washington, who had a solid season, also returns. The Aggies have three more linebacker recruits in their 2015 class: three-star prospects Landis Durham, Riley Garner and Dwaine Thomas.

Early 2015 outlook: With a healthy returning quartet of Alaka, Hilliard, Walker and Washington, the Aggies have a group of players who have seen the field and are talented. Alaka's late season stretch was solid, including a good performance in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl where he won defensive MVP. Jordan Mastrogiovanni, who started the season at middle linebacker but struggled, also provides some experience and depth. Sprinkle in the early-enrollees, George and Moore, and the Aggies have a group of talented playmakers. The biggest asset here though comes from the sideline, not on the field: new Texas A&M defensive coordinator John Chavis. In his more than two decades as an SEC defensive coordinator, Chavis oversaw the linebackers at Tennessee and LSU. It stands to reason his presence can help upgrade linebacker play in Aggieland.

SPONSORED HEADLINES