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The Opening 2014: Each Top 25 Team's Most Important Target at Beaverton

Tyler DonohueNational Recruiting AnalystJuly 1, 2014

The Opening 2014: Each Top 25 Team's Most Important Target at Beaverton

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    Florida QB Torrance Gibson has several teams chasing him.
    Florida QB Torrance Gibson has several teams chasing him.Credit: 247Sports

    More than 150 premier prospects were invited to compete at The Opening, a Nike football showcase being held July 5-10 in Beaverton, Oregon. The annual event promises to provide plenty of storylines, as a rare collection of talent assembles to prove their abilities against top contemporaries.

    Aside from the on-field action, a large percentage of players are still working their way through the recruiting process. Many of them remain in search of the right collegiate fit, considering expansive lists of scholarship offers.

    Teams will keep tabs on coveted athletes during The Opening and look to line up campus visits later this summer. We explored the primary targets for programs that currently claim a top-25 recruiting class in 247Sports' composite rankings.

25. Ohio State

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Top Target: 5-star defensive end Josh Sweat (Chesapeake, Virginia)


    Why He’s So Important

    Sweat, the nation's top-ranked defensive end in 247Sports' composite rankings, is going to chase down quarterbacks early and often during his college career. The 6'5", 237-pound Oscar Smith High School standout totaled 94 tackles and 22 sacks last season.

    He covers the run sideline to sideline, flashing rare speed for an athlete of his physical stature. He could make a strong case as America's top defensive prospect, if not the No. 1 overall recruit.

    Urban Meyer is building a special defensive depth chart, aided again by this class. A commitment from Sweat would put the group over the top and set the stage for dominance in Columbus.



    247 Crystal Ball: Virginia Tech leads (48 percent)

    If Sweat stays in his home state, the Hokies appear to have an edge over Virginia. He visited Tennessee and Georgia in June, days before his trip to Ohio State.

    The Buckeyes hosted him on campus and put themselves in the discussion when a decision arrives.

24. Arkansas

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Top Target: 4-star wide receiver K.J. Hill (Bryant, Arkansas)


    Why He’s So Important

    Arkansas has assembled an impressive offensive haul during this cycle, starting with 4-star quarterback Ty Storey. The Razorbacks hold commitments from a trio of talented tight ends and landed Texas running back Rawleigh Williams III in June.

    Hill is the field-stretching receiver who can bring balance to the attack by keeping defensive secondaries on alert. The 6'0", 190-pound North Little Rock High School speedster caught 83 passes for 1,210 yards and 20 touchdowns last fall.

    “I grew up loving the Razorbacks and wanting to play there in either football or basketball,” Hill told Dudley Dawson of Scout.com in March.



    247 Crystal Ball: 62 percent in favor of Arkansas

    The Razorbacks are viewed as the favorite for Hill, who attended a June camp on campus, though the team must contend with several SEC rivals. He journeyed to Alabama's spring game and is expected to return to Tuscaloosa for an official visit. Auburn is also a top contender.

23. TCU

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Top Target: 4-star defensive end Keisean Lucier-South (Orange, California)


    Why He’s So Important

    TCU has enjoyed a nice run during this cycle but isn't in the mix for many prospects at The Opening. An offered player of note is Lucier-Smith, a dynamic pass-rusher from Southern California.

    The 6'5", 225-pound Orange Lutheran High School star tallied 38 tackles and 10 sacks as a junior. His speed separates him from most defensive end recruits, though he remains unrefined against the run and could vastly improve during a redshirt season.

    Despite the interest, his recruitment is unlikely to run through the Horned Frogs backyard.


    247 Crystal Ball: UCLA leads (56 percent)

    Lucier-Smith is the latest top-tier player being pulled in two directions by crosstown rivals UCLA and USC. Both squads will continue their pursuit, while Michigan and Notre Dame are among the favorites and expect to receive official visits, per 247Sports.

    He simply isn't in the cards for TCU.

22. USC

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Top Target: 5-star cornerback Iman Marshall (Long Beach, California)


    Why He’s So Important

    The Trojans enjoyed a late flurry during the 2014 recruiting cycle, spearheaded by 5-star California recruits. USC can add to that collection of talent with Marshall, who belongs in any discussion about the nation's top cornerback.

    The 6'1", 190-pound Long Beach Poly High School defender didn't allow a pass completion against league opponents last season, per the Long Beach Press-Telegram. He also provided a presence in perimeter run coverage, totaling 64 tackles in 2013.



    247 Crystal Ball: USC leads (97 percent)

    Steve Sarkisian and his staff have spent substantial time with Marshall on campus since taking over the program. USC has company in the Pac-12 here, as Oregon, UCLA and Stanford are among his suitors.

    If he decides to leave the West Coast, potential landing spots include LSU, Michigan and Notre Dame.

21. Kentucky

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Top Target: 5-star running back Damien Harris (Berea, Kentucky)


    Why He’s So Important

    Kentucky fended off SEC foes for in-state standouts Drew Barker (quarterback) and Matt Elam (defensive tackle) last signing day. The fight will be more formidable for the Wildcats to keep Harris on his home turf.

    The 5'11", 205-pound Madison Southern High School standout is the top-ranked running back in 247Sports' composite rankings. He rushed for 2,621 yards and 42 touchdowns as a junior.

    Harris would vie for significant carries upon his arrival in Lexington and ignite a new level of excitement around the program.


    247 Crystal Ball: Ohio State leads (68 percent)

    Harris decommitted from Michigan last winter and could end up with the Wolverines' hated rivals at Ohio State. Alabama, Florida State and Auburn also offered, but Kentucky is his most likely SEC destination.

    The Buckeyes and Wildcats are both firmly entrenched among his top options, as several recent visits to each school have enhanced those relationships. This recruitment could last beyond the 2014 season.

20. Wisconsin

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Top Target: 4-star running back Michael Weber (Detroit, Michigan)

     

    Why He’s So Important

    Wisconsin will always set the tone with its rushing attack. The Badgers, still searching for a back in this class, could find an excellent match in Weber, a workhorse 5'10", 210-pound prospect.

    The Cass Technical High School star carved up opponents for 3,359 yards and 45 touchdowns in 2013. Wisconsin, which is already set with a solid crop of runners, could work him into the rotation slowly until he's ready to take over as the go-to guy.

     

    247 Crystal Ball: Michigan State leads (84 percent)

    The Spartans are viewed as front-runners for the in-state prospect, though this pursuit is packed with Big Ten teams. Michigan and Ohio State have also extended offers.

    Miami is an outlier among competitors. The Hurricanes hosted Weber for a June camp and offered on the spot.

    Wisconsin cracked his top three in June, per Tom VanHaaren of ESPN.

19. West Virginia

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Top Target: 4-star offensive tackle Isaiah Prince (Greenbelt, Maryland)

     

    Why He’s So Important

    The Mountaineers offered Prince a scholarship in May but may be too late to the party to compete for his commitment. West Virginia needs to get bigger up front if it wants to make strides in the Big 12.

    Prince, a 6'7", 280-pound beast from Eleanor Roosevelt, could anchor the offensive line for multiple years at tackle. West Virginia holds three commitments from linemen, but none is rated higher than a 3-star prospect.

     

    247 Crystal Ball: Maryland leads (53 percent)

    The Terrapins aim to keep Prince in his home state, but it won't be easy given his frenzied recruitment. He visited Ohio State in June, and upcoming trips to Auburn and Alabama are expected.

    When you throw Florida, Tennessee and Georgia into the mix, you wonder if the Mountaineers can be anything more than an afterthought in this race.

18. Oregon

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Top Target: 5-star defensive end Byron Cowart (Seffner, Florida)

     

    Why He’s So Important

    Oregon could flex its recruiting muscles by reaching across the country for a coveted talent like Cowart. The 6'4", 250-pound Armwood High School standout is rated second nationally among strong-side defensive ends in 247Sports' composite rankings.

    He would compete for a role as an edge-rushing menace in Eugene. Cowart collected 72 tackles and 13 sacks in 2013. The Ducks could pluck a special player away from SEC country by signing him.

     

    247 Crystal Ball: Florida leads (88 percent)

    Cowart included Oregon among his top four teams this spring. The school can't provide the regional proximity of Florida or Alabama, but it's a destination he's considered for a while.

    "Oregon has always been up there for me on my list of schools," Cowart told Justin Hopkins of 247Sports last fall.

17. Texas

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Top Target: 5-star cornerback Kendall Sheffield (Missouri City, Texas)

     

    Why He’s So Important

    Charlie Strong knows he needs to recruit defensive backs who can handle coverage duties against several pass-happy opponents in the Big 12. Sheffield is among the quickest cornerbacks in the country and smothers receivers stride for stride.

    The 5'11", 180-pound defender is rated the top Texas prospect in 247Sports' composite rankings. Strong could send a significant signal to his doubters by landing a player of Sheffield's caliber.

     

    247 Crystal Ball: Texas A&M leads (100 percent)

    The Aggies would deliver another blow to the Longhorns if Sheffield decides to play in College Station. The cornerback is also a state hurdles champion and could pursue a track career at the next level, which may influence his decision.

    Texas must also contend with the likes of Alabama, Baylor and LSU.

16. Boston College

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Top Target: 4-star running back Ray-Ray McCloud (Tampa, Florida)

     

    Why He’s So Important

    Boston College isn't targeting many players who are set to compete in Beaverton, but McCloud holds an offer from the Eagles, and his recruitment is wide open. His visits came in bunches in June, with trips to USC, UCLA, Maryland, Clemson, North Carolina and Florida.

    He would be a high-profile pickup for Boston College, although it's an unlikely outcome. He rushed for 2,316 yards and 26 touchdowns in 2013.

     

    247 Crystal Ball: Florida leads (53 percent)

    It's a long shot that McCloud would journey to Massachusetts, despite the success of 2013 Heisman Trophy finalist Andre Williams. Clemson could make a strong push, especially with a commitment from receiver Deon Cain, a longtime friend of the Tampa running back.

    The Gators are a slight favorite, but McCloud may be tempted to leave his home state for various opportunities.

15. Northwestern

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Top Target: 3-star quarterback Sam Darnold (San Clemente, California)

     

    Why He’s So Important

    Darnold hasn't been able to showcase his skills much in high school due to injuries, but there's a reason he was invited to compete at The Opening and Elite 11 final.

    The 6'4", 208-pound passer is a dual threat who can pick up tough yardage as a rusher. His high school tape is predominately filled with quick-hitting short passes. Still, he's proved himself enough at camps and in front of college coaches to earn a spot on the national radar despite just seven varsity touchdown tosses.

     

    247 Crystal Ball: USC leads (60 percent)

    The Trojans surprised some by extending an offer to the fast-rising Southern California recruit in late June. USC already holds a commitment from 5-star quarterback Ricky Town, but first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian seems focused on securing another quarterback in this class.

    Darnold, whose options also include Duke and Wake Forest, visited Northwestern in June.

14. North Carolina

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Top Target: 4-star running back Bryce Love (Wake Forest, North Carolina)

     

    Why He’s So Important

    Love would provide the Tar Heels offense with a new wrinkle and exciting playbook options. He's an absolute burner out of the backfield, clocked at 4.30 seconds in the 40-yard dash, per 247Sports.

    The 5'9", 180-pound playmaker turns on the jets once he hits the open field and could provide a dangerous element in the kick return game. Rated sixth nationally among all-purpose backs in 247Sports' composite rankings, Love rushed for 1,914 yards and 24 touchdowns as a junior.

     

    247 Crystal Ball: North Carolina leads (92 percent)

    Love has grown familiar with the Tar Heels coaching staff in recent months, spending time at Chapel Hill on multiple occasions. He attended a junior day at Tennessee this spring and visited North Carolina State in June.

    Florida and Stanford also present intriguing possibilities. However, it will be hard to keep him away from UNC down the stretch.

    His father told 247Sports reporter Ross Martin the family has a "great relationship with the coaching staff." 

13. Mississippi State

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Top Target: 4-star offensive guard Javon Patterson (Petal, Mississippi)

     

    Why He’s So Important

    Patterson, rated second nationally among guards in 247Sports' composite rankings, would provide another major boost for a recruiting class that has added 10 commitments since May. The 6'2", 290-pound Petal High School lineman is a dominant run-blocker who rarely surrenders leverage in the trenches.

    He would immediately give the Bulldogs a viable starting option along the offensive interior and has potential to play tackle if necessary. Mississippi State hopes to maintain momentum in the right direction by landing Patterson.

     

    247 Crystal Ball: Ole Miss leads (56 percent)

    The Bulldogs must battle in-state rival Ole Miss for his signature. The Rebels and Auburn have hosted Patterson on campus several times and provide Mississippi State with serious SEC competition.

    Patterson kept those three teams in the mix, along with Florida and Alabama when he released a top-five list in May.

12. Miami

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Top Target: 4-star wide receiver Da'Vante Phillips (Miami, Florida)

     

    Why He’s So Important

    The 6'2", 204-pound pass-catcher is the latest offensive weapon to emerge at Miami Central High School, which produced Hurricanes freshman running back Joseph Yearby. Phillips posted career highs as a junior, catching 47 passes for 872 yards and 10 touchdowns in a predominately run-heavy offensive attack.

    He has the skills to excel early for the Hurricanes, who hold a pair of 3-star pledges at receiver in this class. Phillips would be an instant factor for Miami, which is already set to welcome a strong collection of in-state offensive prospects next summer.

     

    247 Crystal Ball: Florida State leads (100 percent)

    High school teammate Dalvin Cook, who split carries with Yearby, was a 5-star signee with the Seminoles in February. Phillips, a former Florida commit, visited Auburn in April, but this is ultimately a Sunshine State showdown.

11. LSU

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Top Target: 5-star cornerback Tarvarus McFadden (Fort Lauderdale, Florida)

     

    Why He’s So Important

    The American Heritage High School star would give LSU a dream duo at cornerback for years to come. The Tigers already hold a commitment from fellow 5-star Florida cornerback Kevin Toliver.

    Like Toliver, McFadden is a long defender who can cover a variety of receivers. The 6'3", 198-pound prospect would be the team's third 5-star commit of this cycle and help solidify the LSU secondary as one of the country's most promising defensive backfields.

     

    247 Crystal Ball: Florida State leads (82 percent)

    LSU trailed only the Seminoles atop McFadden's top-nine list in late May. The Tigers face steep competition from his favorite in-state option, but you can expect him to keep LSU under consideration until a commitment is announced.

10. Florida State

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Top Target: 4-star quarterback Deondre Francois (Orlando, Florida)

     

    Why He’s So Important

    Florida State will want as many talented passers on the roster as possible when Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston heads to the NFL. Francois, who recently transferred to IMG Academy, possesses a powerful arm that rivals any in America.

    He has significant development ahead of him, but the 6'1", 195-pound prospect appears capable of blossoming into a dynamic playmaker at the next level. He's an above-average rusher who threw for 3,200 yards and 28 touchdowns during the past two seasons, per the Orlando Sentinel.

    Francois' high school coach is former Florida State star Chris Weinke, who won a Heisman Trophy with the Seminoles.

     

    247 Crystal Ball: Florida State leads (87 percent)

    Francois trimmed his list to three finalists in June, announcing Florida State, Oregon and Auburn as the teams still standing. Oregon landed 4-star quarterback Travis Waller since then, which probably eliminates the Ducks.

    This comes down to Florida State versus Auburn, with each team expected to host Francois for a campus visit before his decision later this month.

    "These are very important, very crucial," Francois told Josh Newberg of 247Sports (subscription required). "These remaining visits are the bread and butter of my (recruitment) right now."

9. Georgia

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Top Target: 5-star defensive tackle Trent Thompson (Albany, Georgia)

     

    Why He’s So Important

    Georgia aims to capitalize on a tremendous in-state class, and that effort starts with Thompson, who is rated the No. 1 overall prospect in 247Sports' composite rankings. The 6'4", 292-pound Westover High School product picked up a Bulldogs offer as a sophomore before his recruitment really blew up.

    The team has made him a top priority throughout this cycle, and he would perfectly complement an impressive crop of young pass-rushers, including two 4-star defensive ends in this class. Simply put, no recruit in the country means more to Mark Richt right now.

     

    247 Crystal Ball: Georgia leads (98 percent)

    Thompson has always been viewed as Bulldogs lean but continues to consider other options. He's visited Auburn multiple times, and Clemson is a contender.

    USC hosted him on campus in late June, where former Georgia defensive line coach Chris Wilson currently works. Though there have been times it appeared he was on the verge of becoming a Bulldog, Thompson remains on the open market.

    “Last summer I asked Coach Richt 'how can I commit?'” Thompson told 247Sports' Kipp Adams in March. “He said all I have to do is tell him I want to be a Dawg.”

    Richt is still waiting.

8. Notre Dame

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Top Target: 4-star quarterback Jarrett Stidham (Stephenville, Texas)

     

    Why He’s So Important

    Notre Dame seemingly had its quarterback situation sewn up in the 2015 class until Blake Barnett  decommitted in early June and pledged to Alabama two weeks later. The Fighting Irish responded swiftly, extending offers to Stidham and Travis Waller.

    Waller committed to Oregon over Notre Dame on July 1, eliminating another target for Brian Kelly. Stidham, who joined Texas Tech's class in March, appears content to move forward with the Red Raiders, but expect Notre Dame to maintain communication in an attempt to steadily build rapport.

    He passed for 2,613 yards and 30 touchdowns in 2013, his first year as starter at Stephenville High School. The 6'3.5", 190-pound prospect also rushed for 821 yards and 14 scores.

     

    247 Crystal Ball: Texas Tech leads (86 percent)

    Nearly four months into his commitment, Stidham doesn't seem to be wavering on his decision. Notre Dame is likely considering which quarterbacks to offer next but won't give up on the Texan unless he makes it clear the interest isn't mutual.

7. Tennessee

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Top Target: 5-star athlete Torrance Gibson (Fort Lauderdale, Florida)

     

    Why He’s So Important

    The Volunteers didn't take a quarterback in the 2014 class, and 2013 signee Riley Ferguson is expected to be on a different campus next fall. Tennessee picked up a pledge from 3-star Texas passer Quinten Dormady in June but would love to add a second option into the equation.

    Gibson, a 6'4", 200-pound playmaker for reigning state champion American Heritage High School, spent time in Knoxville twice since March and has Volunteers fans frenzied about the possibility of his commitment. Though he is listed as an "athlete," the dual-threat talent will start his collegiate career behind center.

    He accumulated 2,800 total yards and 29 touchdowns in 2013.


    247 Crystal Ball: Auburn leads (45 percent)

    Gibson initially named Tennessee and Auburn "co-leaders" in his top seven. However, he gave an edge to the Vols following his most recent trip to campus.

    "After the visit I would still have to say that Tennessee is the leader for me right now," he wrote on his USA Today blog in late June.

    LSU, Oklahoma, UCF, Miami and Ohio State also survived the cut when Gibson trimmed his list to seven teams.

6. South Carolina

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Top Target: 4-star running back Jordan Scarlett (Fort Lauderdale, Florida)

     

    Why He’s So Important

    South Carolina didn't sign a big-time rusher in February and remains on the hunt for one during this cycle. Scarlett, fresh off his decommitment from FAU, is now in the cross hairs.

    He told Ryan Bartow of 247Sports the Gamecocks are "coming after me hard." His former high school teammate, linebacker Skai Moore, was a heralded member of South Carolina's 2013 class.

    The 5'11", 210-pound running back recently transferred to St. Thomas Aquinas High School. Scarlett rushed for 930 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, averaging nearly eight yards per carry.

     

    247 Crystal Ball: Florida State leads (95 percent)

    Seven months after his surprising pledge to FAU, he told Bartow that South Carolina, Ohio State, Miami and Florida State are his top options. The Hurricanes already have two 4-star commits at the position, while the Seminoles signed 5-star prospect Dalvin Cook in February.

    He has yet to visit Columbia, but Steve Spurrier and company will do their diligence to coordinate one. Scarlett doesn't anticipate another commitment announcement until potentially January, so this process likely has a long way to go.

5. Auburn

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Top Target: 5-star defensive tackle Trent Thompson (Albany, Georgia)

     

    Why He’s So Important

    Well, to start, Thompson is the top-rated prospect overall in 247Sports' composite rankings. He's an incredibly rare interior lineman who flies around like a linebacker and bullies opponents with a 6'4", 292-pound frame.

    His production includes 148 tackles and 17 sacks during the past two seasons, featuring a career-high 83 takedowns in 2013. He commands constant double-team blocking schemes and is the kind of player who can change the complexion of a defense.

     

    247 Crystal Ball: Georgia leads (98 percent)

    Auburn has plundered the Peach State during this recruiting cycle, securing commitments from seven Georgia prospects. Thompson is the big fish for a lot of teams, but Auburn is one of just a few that appear in position to reel him in on national signing day.

    The Tigers have hosted him multiple times this year. Georgia is still the team to beat, Clemson is a strong contender to the north, and USC has suddenly emerged as a contender after his recent campus visit.

    His respect for the coaching staff is crucial.

    "I like Auburn a lot because Coach (Gus) Malzahn put them back on the map," Thompson told AL.com writer Wesley Sinor. "They won the SEC Championship. That meant a lot."

4. Penn State

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Top Target: 4-star offensive tackle Matthew Burrell (Woodbridge, Virginia)

     

    Why He’s So Important

    First-year head coach James Franklin is attempting to rebuild a roster left thin as a result of severe scholarship sanctions. The offensive line must be addressed, and Burrell is a building block who could challenge for playing time as a freshman.

    The 6'5", 290-pound C.D. Hylton High School product is rated fifth nationally among tackles in 247Sports' composite rankings. The Nittany Lions would be in good shape to replenish the front five if Burrell were to join 2015 commits Sterling Jenkins, Ryan Bates and Steven Gonzalez, who are each 4-star prospects.

     

    247 Crystal Ball: Ohio State leads (93 percent)

    Burrell has left plenty of options on the table and listed Penn State at No. 11 in his top 15, which he released in early June. He visited Happy Valley in April, so expect Franklin to push for an official visit this fall, when he can let 107,000 fans do the recruiting for him on game day.

    The recruit recently spent time at Ohio State and Clemson, and a busy summer awaits. Burrell tweeted plans to stop by Florida State, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina and Clemson again.

3. Clemson

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Top Target: 5-star defensive tackle Tim Settle (Manassas, Virginia)

     

    Why He’s So Important

    Clemson has built one of the best 2015 offensive line classes in America, headlined by 5-star Georgia tackle Mitch Hyatt. Now the Tigers need to address the talent level in the trenches on defense, where the team already holds pledges from a pair of 4-star ends.

    A dominant defensive tackle is the missing piece, and Settle seems to be Clemson's best bet. The 6'3", 318-pound Stonewall Jackson High School standout finished his junior campaign with 92 tackles, including 37 for loss, per Phil Kornblut of SportsTalkSC.com.

     

    247 Crystal Ball: Alabama leads (27 percent)

    Settle tweeted Clemson as his No. 1 option in early June, but there are several suitors in the mix. Tennessee was a previous leader, while Alabama, Florida State and Texas continue to look like possibilities.

    He visited West Virginia and Penn State in June. Virginia and Virginia Tech both hope to keep Settle close to home.

    Clemson gained ground after he spent time on campus in February for a junior day,

    “It was an amazing visit,” Settle told Kornblut at the time. “The atmosphere, the facilities, the stadium, it’s an up and coming program. Coach (Dan) Brooks is one of my favorite defensive line coaches.”

2. Texas A&M

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Top Target: 5-star linebacker Malik Jefferson (Mesquite, Texas)

     

    Why He’s So Important

    It's no secret the Aggies defense has lagged behind an explosive offense. Texas A&M needs stars on that side of the football, and after landing quite a haul of talented defenders in the 2014 class, Jefferson fits the bill.

    Ranked No. 1 nationally among outside linebackers in 247Sports' composite rankings, the 6'2", 225-pound Poteet High School playmaker racked up 188 tackles, 19 sacks and eight forced fumbles during the past two seasons. He provides a ferocious presence near the line of scrimmage and can settle back smoothly when asked to contribute in pass coverage.

     

    247 Crystal Ball: Texas A&M leads (70 percent)

    The Aggies emerged as an early favorite for Jefferson, but that mindset changed as his recruitment continued to grow nationwide.

    "Honestly I can say that (Texas A&M was) my leading school, but there is no more leading school because something hit me one day and I realized that I needed to take a step back and evaluate everybody else," he told Wescott Eberts of SBNation.com in April.

    Texas is charging hard, viewing Jefferson as a foundational piece for Charlie Strong's defensive unit. Baylor is another in-state possibility, while Ohio State and Alabama are threats to lure him beyond Texas borders.

1. Alabama

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Top Target: 5-star defensive tackle Daron Payne (Birmingham, Alabama)

     

    Why He’s So Important

    Crimson Tide commits will be well-represented in Beaverton (10 invitees), which should come as no surprise since the team is surging toward a fifth consecutive top-ranked class. Expect those players to deliver sales pitches to multiple Alabama targets during the week, but big man Daron Payne is a top priority.

    Nick Saban's latest in-state pursuit takes him to Shades Valley High School, where the 6'2", 330-pound disruptor dominated in 2013 with 65 tackles and two sacks, according to AL.com. Alabama could put him between top-tier edge-rushers, paired up with 4-star Louisiana commit and fellow run-stuffer T.D. Moton.

     

    247 Crystal Ball: Alabama leads (98 percent)

    Alabama assistant coach and super recruiter Mario Cristobal has established a strong relationship with Payne, who attended the team's spring game and visited Tuscaloosa multiple times in June. Auburn aims to pry him away from the Tide's clutches, but Alabama is the team to beat in his home state.

    Payne plans to spend an official visit at Texas and is also high on Kentucky, per Wesley Sinor of AL.com.

     

    Recruit ratings and information courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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