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Independents and Group of Five National Signing Day Recap: Irish bounce back, Memphis tops AAC

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Outside of the Power Five conferences, recruiting went about as expected in 2017.

Notre Dame continued to pound the national trail and landed a top 12 class full of players who will be expected to play early. BYU managed another impressive group that was one of the most diverse out there. The schools with a talent-rich backyard to draw on did well in the AAC.  Boise State was once again tops in the Mountain West and did better than a few peers in the region. And yes, Lane Kiffin earned that recruiting reputation by pulling in the best class of Conference USA.

Though there wasn’t much drama outside the top schools, there nevertheless was plenty of action for many programs on National Signing Day.

Top recruits (all rankings via 247Sports Composite): No. 67 overall Brock Wright (TE, Notre Dame), No. 154 overall Chaz Ah You (DB, BYU), Aisa Kelemete (DE, Boise State), Nick Robinson (TE, Memphis), Nicholas Sims (RB, Toledo)

Top classes: Notre Dame (No. 11 overall), Memphis (No. 58 overall), Boise State (No. 60 overall), BYU (No. 65 overall), Florida Atlantic (No. 71 overall), Toledo (No. 74 overall), Texas State (No. 87 overall)

Biggest storyline: Irish still land solid recruiting class

Despite the worst season in South Bend since Charlie Weis and a nearly brand new coaching staff, Notre Dame still managed to cobble together a top 12 class on Signing Day. Tight end Brock Wright was the highest rated player and should see early playing time but the number of quality offensive linemen was really evident in the group Brian Kelly signed. Will it be enough to help with a big turnaround? We’ll see.

Biggest surprise: Memphis runs away with things in the AAC but new coaches still fared well

Given all the turnover in the American this year, it should probably come as no surprise that the Tigers pulled the top recruiting class in the conference. That’s a testament to what Mike Norvell is building with the program and the fact that they don’t have to go far for players. Many of the same factors played a role in Scott Frost landing the second-best class at UCF. It was also pretty impressive what Luke Fickell did on the recruiting trail at Cincinnati and Charlie Strong did at USF given those two didn’t have a ton of time to get things lined up.

Don’t sleep on: Boise State, Colorado State

The Broncos were once again the class of the Mountain West on the recruiting trail and fended off several Pac-12 schools for prospects. That will put them firmly in the mix to win the league again in 2017 but don’t overlook another good job by Mike Bobo and staff at Colorado State in landing 17 three-star players.

We’ll see about: Everybody else

Iowa State QB Kyle Kempt petitioning for extra year of eligibility

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Iowa State quarterback Kyle Kempt was a senior in 2017. If it’s up to him, he’ll be a senior again in 2018.

Kempt is attempting to apply the “run off” rule to gain an extra year of eligibility, in which the NCAA grants additional years to players who are “run off” from their original four-year schools. He signed with Oregon State out of Massillon, Ohio, but did not play in his two seasons there. “They told me I wasn’t going to play there,” Kempt said last month, according to the Des Moines Register.

Kempt spent the 2015 season at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas before joining the squad at Iowa State. He was the Cyclones’ Scout Team Player of the Year in 2016 before bursting on the scene this season, famously hitting 18-of-24 passes for 343 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in a 38-31 win at No. 3 Oklahoma. He had not thrown a single major college pass before that. Kempt finished the year hitting 66.3 percent of his throws for 1,787 yards with 15 touchdowns against three interceptions.

Iowa State closed the year at 8-5 with a win over No. 25 Memphis in the Liberty Bowl. It was Iowa State’s best season since 2000.

“It’s a really fluid situation right now,” Campbell told the Register. “The percentages continue to go back and forth — yes, we think Kyle will be back, no we don’t think he’ll be back, and yes he will.

“It’s a little unsettling, but we have to prepare as if Kyle wouldn’t be coming back.”

If Kempt is not back, Iowa State would go through the odd transition of losing three experienced quarterbacks in a single season. Quarterback-turned-linebacker Joel Lanning graduated and Jacob Park was released from his scholarship. The next most experienced quarterback returning is rising sophomore Zeb Noland, a Watkinsville, Ga., native who threw 66 passes and started one game in 2017.

Ex-Auburn TE Landon Rice transfers to Alabama FCS team

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The latest addition to one FCS team comes with some off-field baggage, to say the least.

Jacksonville State confirmed Monday night that it has added Landon Rice to its football roster.  The tight end had spent the 2017 season at a Mississippi junior college after parting ways with his original Power Five home under a cloud of controversy.

In early September of 2016, Rice left the Auburn football program for what were initially described as “personal reasons.” It was subsequently reported that Rice had been accused of first-degree rape.

A 19-year-old female filed a police report July 27, 2016, accusing Rice of raping her three months earlier at an on-campus residence hall and sought a protective order against him Sept. 12, with a temporary order issued three days later.

The attorney for Rice issued a statement shortly after the accusations came to light in which he labeled the allegations as “false” and that his client has been “vilified” and “unfairly treated” because of them.  In response to that statement, the lawyer for the unnamed 19-year-old allegedly raped by Rice released a series of text messages between the player and alleged victim in which the former apologized to the latter on multiple occasions.

Rice had denied any wrongdoing through his lawyer; while he was never charged in connection with the allegations, a Title IX investigation found him to be responsible for sexual assault and, as a result, he was barred from the AU campus until 2024.  However, those restrictions were rescinded in September of last year, which Landon’s new school alluded to in its statement on the player’s addition to the roster.

Jacksonville State University conducted a very thorough investigation surrounding all of the facts on Landon Rice, just like we do on any of our recruits. After speaking with several officials from Auburn University and getting all of the facts surrounding the investigation, and after meeting with Landon, we decided to allow Landon to enroll at JSU and join our football program.

“On September 26, 2017, all sanctions imposed upon Landon as a result of a Title IX investigation expired and Landon was returned to the status of ‘good standing’ at Auburn University. The matter and all proceedings therein have been concluded, according to a memo dated November 7, 2017, from Kelley Taylor, Director AA/EEO and Title IX Coordinator at Auburn University.

“We have high standards for all of our student-athletes and we do our due diligence on all recruits before they join any of our athletics teams at Jacksonville State and Landon was treated the same. Privacy laws prevents us from releasing more details on the investigation.

A four-star member of the Tigers’ 2016 recruiting class, Rice was rated as the No. 8 tight end in the country.  He was an early enrollee who participated in spring practice and was expected to contribute as a true freshman before the off-field issue derailed those plans.

Ex-Texas QB/WR Kai Locksley commits to UTEP

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Kai Locksley left the state of Texas, but has now found his way back.

The former University of Texas quarterback announced on Twitter Monday night that he has committed to continuing his collegiate playing career at UTEP. The Miners’ new head coach, Dana Dimel, addressed the development on his own Twitter account.

Locksley, whose father Mike is an assistant at Alabama, was a four-star member of the Longhorns’ 2015 recruiting class, rated as the No. 6 player at any position in the state of Maryland. After not attempting a pass or playing a down his first two seasons at UT — he ultimately transitioned to wide receiver — Locksley moved on to an Iowa junior college.

After spending the 2017 season at the JUCO, Locksley was rated by 247Sports.com as the No. 4 dual-threat quarterback at that level of football.

Reports: Auburn losing OL coach Herb Hand to Texas

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Thanks to Tom Herman, Gus Malzahn now has a key hole to fill on his coaching staff on The Plains.

First reported by Brett McMurphy, Herb Hand has decided to leave as the offensive line coach at Auburn and take the same job at Texas.  Additionally, Hand will reportedly carry the title of co-offensive coordinator with the Longhorns.

247Sports.com subsequently confirmed the original report.

Hand spent the past two seasons as the line coach at Auburn.  Prior to that, Hand spent two years with Penn State (2014-15) and four at Vanderbilt (2010-13).