Photo credit: Nick Lucero/Rivals.com
Nick Lucero/Rivals.com

Penn State adds surprise addition with four-star safety Tariq Castro-Fields

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National Signing Day went smoothly for Penn State, and then got a little better with a late addition. With all 20 players expected to sign officially locked in without any hassles on Wednesday, Penn State added one more piece to the roster with the late addition of four-star safety Tariq Castro-Fields from Maryland.

Rivals ranked Castro-Fields as the 26th best safety in the country and the fourth-best player from the fertile state of Maryland. Maryland was among those hoping to get good news from Castro-Fields on signing day. The Upper Marlboro, Maryland recruit checks in at 6′ 2″, 173 lb. At Penn State, he will join former high school teammate Zechariah McPhearson, a cornerback who committed to Penn State in the Class of 2016. The addition of Castro-Fields helps solidify the depth in the defensive secondary for Penn State and allows some mixing around in the backfield.

Penn State seemed to get off to a sluggish start on the 2017 recruiting cycle, but as the Nittany Lions roared their way to a Big Ten championship and a thrilling Rose Bowl performance (albeit a loss to USC), it seemed James Franklin and his staff benefitted from a renewed sense of confidence around the program in recruiting efforts. Among the talented players to commit to Penn State since the Big Ten championship game victory over Wisconsin include five-star defensive back Lamont Wade, four-star defensive back Donovan Johnson, four-star linebacker Ellis Brooks., and four-star wide receiver Kahlee Hamler.

Ohio State and Michigan may continue to set the pace for Big Ten recruiting, but Penn State continues to perform admirably under Franklin’s leadership. With a Big Ten championship under his belt and another solid recruiting class coming in, the future continues to look bright for the Nittany Lions. Penn State looks to have locked in a top 15 recruiting class and could be on the fringe of a top 10 finish, although this may be all for this year’s recruiting class.

Baker Mayfield, J.T. Barrett, Lamar Jackson and Sam Darnold among 2017 Heisman Trophy favorites

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 10:  Quarterback Lamar Jackson of the Louisville Cardinals poses with the trophy after being named the 82nd Heisman Memorial Trophy Award winner during the 2016 Heisman Trophy Presentation at the Best Buy Theater on December 10, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Todd Van Emst - Pool/Getty Images)
Photo by Todd Van Emst - Pool/Getty Images
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The new college football season may still be a long way away, but it is never too early to place your bets on who you think will win the Heisman Trophy in the 2017 season. The very early favorite, according to odds released by Bovada on Monday, is Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield.

Bovada gives Mayfield 11/2 odds to win the Heisman Trophy this fall. He is followed by Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett (6/1), which sets up a nice Heisman Trophy showdown in September when the defending Big 12 champions head to Columbus for the second game in a home-and-home series that was won by Ohio State in Norman in 2016. Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner, is listed with 7/1 odds, with USC’s rising star quarterback Sam Darnold listed at 9/1.

Penn State’s dynamic duo of running back Saquon Barkley and quarterback Trace McSorley each have 10/1 odds, along with Washington quarterback Jake Browning.

Looking back to the early odds from last January, Barrett and Mayfield each had 10/1 Heisman odds. Louisville’s Jackson was not on the radar.

A Look Ahead: CFT’s Way-Too-Early 2017 Top 25

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 02:  Quarterback Sam Darnold #14 of the USC Trojans passes the ball against the Penn State Nittany Lions during the 2017 Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual at the Rose Bowl on January 2, 2017 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The last bit of confetti has barely settled onto the Raymond James Stadium turf and the carcass of the 2016 season isn’t even cold yet, and we’re already rolling out a way-too-early Top 25 for the 2017 season? Yep. Because that’s how we roll. Or something.

In our role as preseason Nostradumbass, the first 10 of CFT’s Top 25 consisted of No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Florida State, No. 4 Clemson, No. 5 LSU, No. 6 Notre Dame (ouch), No. 7 Washington (yeah us!), No. 8 TCU, No. 9 Michigan State (whoops) and No. 10 Tennessee. A little over 4½ months later?

Three of the four playoff participants were in our Top 10; the fourth, Ohio State, was just outside at No. 11. While not No. 1, Oklahoma came into the postseason ranked seventh in the College Football Playoff Top 25, and will likely move up thanks to the 16-point Sugar Bowl win over No. 14 Auburn (not in our preseason Top 25). Florida State (No. 11), LSU (No. 20) and Tennessee (No. 21) were all ranked at least eight spots lower when the postseason began, but all three won their respective bowl games.

On the flip side, TCU, at 6-6, earned a bowl bid… and subsequently lost to finish under .500. And then there was Notre Dame and Michigan State, which combined to win a total of seven games so let’s just forget about that and move on.

The point of this whole review-before-we-look-ahead exercise? Preseason polls are meaningless — but not nearly as meaningless as polls produced nearly eight months ahead of the start of a new season. With that in mind, enjoy this way-to-early Top 25 that will put the “mean” in meaningless. And the “less” in it, for that matter.

Oh, and as always, feel free to complain/whine/moan/bitch away in the comments section below.

NO. 1 USC
WHY? As a redshirt freshman, Sam Darnold emerged as one of the most electrifying playmakers at the quarterback position in college football, and should, to the chagrin of opponents, get even better with a full offseason as the man at the position.  Winning nine straight to close out the season doesn’t hurt either.
WHY NOT? There’s always at least one team that’s way overhyped — hello 2016 Notre Dame — and the hoopla and attention proves to be too much for the young Trojans to bear.

NO. 2 ALABAMA
WHY? Nick Saban + top-ranked recruiting classes year-in, year-out + a burning desire to be the greatest there ever was at this level = a permanent spot inside the Top 10 as long as The Nicktator resides in Tuscaloosa.
WHY NOT? An NFL team (finally) entices Saban to go back and finish what he started — and abruptly ended — in the big boy league of football.  It’s not going to happen, of course, but that’s about the only thing that could derail the Crimson Tide juggernaut — well, that and a Tiger named Deshaun.

Clemson v Florida StateNO. 3 FLORIDA STATE
WHY? The Seminoles are once again loaded with top-flight talent on both sides of the ball and at every positional unit, with Deondre Francois showing flashes in his first season as the starter of being one of the best young quarterbacks in the sport.
WHY NOT? They face Alabama on a (ahem) neutral field to open the season, then travel to Gainesville to face Florida in the regular-season finale.  In between, there’s a trip to Death Valley for their annual ACC Atlantic grudge match with Clemson.

NO. 4 OKLAHOMA
WHY? With Baker Mayfield returning, and the rest of the conference still trying to play catch-up, the Sooners are clearly the cream of the Big 12 crop.
WHY NOT? The twin backfield loses of Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine can’t be overcome and Mayfield has to shoulder too much of the offensive burden. Plus, the road trips to Ohio State, Baylor and Oklahoma State for Bedlam.

NO. 5 WASHINGTON
WHY? They have a talented arm in quarterback Jake Browning, a very staunch defense and a schedule that’s very favorable, with the toughest road game being the trip to Stanford.
WHY NOT? They are losing a significant amount of talent that helped get them to the College Football Playoffs.

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Ohio State v ClemsonNO. 6 OHIO STATE
WHY? Given the personnel losses after the 2015 season, 2016 was thought to be a rebuilding year but turned into another playoff appearance.  The target was always the 2017 season for this young Buckeyes team, and a squad loaded with this much talent will be a factor throughout.
WHY NOT? J.T Barrett continues to regress as a quarterback despite Urban Meyer shaking up the top of his offensive coaching staff, and none of the other young quarterbacks are quite ready for prime time.

NO. 7 CLEMSON
WHY? Despite losing a couple of pieces, Brent Venables‘ defense will once again be one of the best in the nation.  The Tigers won 10 or more games in each of the three seasons prior to Deshaun Watson‘s arrival, so it’s far from a one-man show that Dabo Swinney has built.
WHY NOT? Losing Watson, a three-year starter at quarterback, proves to be too much as his replacement simply can’t handle the burden.

NO. 8 MICHIGAN
WHY? For all of his well-publicized off-field antics, Jim Harbaugh is simply one of the best head coaches in the sport and will settle for nothing less than getting his beloved Wolverines back into the national title discussion on an annual basis.  Wilton Speight was a breakout star in 2016 and should flourish despite the loss of his quarterbacks coach, while Don Brown continues to be one of the best defensive minds in the game.
WHY NOT? Too much talent was lost to the NFL, and Harbaugh simply hasn’t gotten the requisite time to completely restock the cupboard in Ann Arbor to compete with the Ohio States of the college football world.

Oklahoma State v BaylorNO. 9 OKLAHOMA STATE
WHY? One of the best quarterback-wide receiver tandems in the country, Mason Rudolph and James Washington, eschewed an early shot at the NFL and returned for one more season in Stillwater.
WHY NOT? A defense that was 53rd in scoring as it was loses nearly half its starters, plus OSU will have to play at Pittsburgh, Texas and West Virginia.

NO. 10 PENN STATE
WHY? They return a bunch of talent from their Big Ten-winning squad, including Heisman contenders in quarterback Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley, and get Michigan, Nebraska and Pittsburgh in Happy Valley.
WHY NOT? They lost a very talented wide receiver in Chris Godwin and have to play at Iowa, Michigan State and Ohio State.

NO. 11 STANFORD
NO. 12 AUBURN
NO. 13 TEXAS
NO. 14 LSU
NO. 15 WISCONSIN
NO. 16 LOUISVILLE
NO. 17 GEORGIA
NO. 18 WEST VIRGINIA
NO. 19 SOUTH FLORIDA
NO. 20 FLORIDA
NO. 21 KANSAS STATE
NO. 22 COLORADO
NO. 23 WASHINGTON STATE
NO. 24 SAN DIEGO STATE
NO. 25 OREGON

Penn State defensive lineman Garrett Sickels to enter NFL Draft

UNIVERSITY PARK, PA - NOVEMBER 26:  Penn State Nittany Lions fans celebrate during the first half against the Michigan State Spartans on November 26, 2016 at Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images
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Get ready to see another Penn State defensive lineman be picked up by an NFL team in the NFL Draft. Redshirt junior Garrett Sickels has announced he will be entering the NFL Draft this year, thus passing on the final year of eligibility he had with the Nittany Lions.

The All-Big Ten selection is coming off a season with a career high in tackles (47) and sacks (6) and proved to be a dominant force up front off the end of Penn State’s defensive line this season.

“This journey has been an amazing ride from my commitment to Penn State in 2012 to this past Rose Bowl game,” Sickels said in a statement released on Twitter. “I have made friendships and bonds that will last a lifetime. I’m so unbelievably proud to call myself a Penn Stater. I take great pride in knowing me and my fellow classmates of the 2013 recruiting class have left Penn State in a much greater place then when we arrived.”

Sickels was one of the key recruits in Penn State’s Class of 2013 that remained committed to the program immediately after the program was slammed with NCAA sanctions at the time. That same class brought quarterback Christian Hackenberg, wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton, linebacker Brandon Bell and tight end Adam Breneman (who just finished off a stellar season at UMass), among others.

The loss of Sickels means Penn State will replace both starters at defensive end in the fall, although the Nittany Lions have some young options that have been waiting to get in the mix, including four-star addition in the Class of 2016 Shane Simmons, who redshirted this past season.

Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett says he will be back with Buckeyes in 2017

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 31:  Quarterback J.T. Barrett #16 of the Ohio State Buckeyes drops back to pass during the Playstation Fiesta Bowl against the Clemson Tigers at University of Phoenix Stadium on December 31, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Tigers defeated the Buckeyes 31-0.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
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On the same day Ohio State linebacker Raekwon McMillan announced his departure from the program in pursuit of the NFL Draft, Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett says he is not ready to leave just yet. Barrett announced with a very brief statement on his Instagram account he will return to play quarterback for Ohio State in the 2017 season, his final year of eligibility.

“I’m coming back for my senior year,” Barrett said in his Instagram post. “Much love to Buckeye Nation and thank God for the blessings.”

Barrett was named a recipient of the Chicago Tribune Silver Football in 2016, sharing the unofficial Big Ten MVP award with Penn State running back Saquon Barkley. Barrett was a First-Team All-Big Ten player in 2014 and 2016 and a third-team AP All-American in 2014 after stepping into the Ohio State offense for what would turn out to be a national championship season (although Cardale Jones replaced an injured Barrett for the postseason run). Barrett has also been named the Big Ten’s quarterback of the year twice, in 2014 and again this past fall.

Barrett’s legacy at Ohio State is already pretty solid, but coming back for one more season means he could further etch his name in the Ohio State history books. Barrett will start the 2017 season just 1,166 yards shy of the Ohio State career passing record and is 917 rushing yards away from cracking the top five rushing leaders, which is quite a feat given the history of Ohio State rushers. Barrett will also (extremely likely) be the first three-time captain in Buckeye history, and he will look to become the first Ohio State quarterback to beat Michigan four times.

There is some unfinished business for Barrett, who has yet to lead Ohio State to a Big Ten championship (he was injured the only time Ohio State has played for a Big Ten title since his arrival) and there is probably a sour taste in his mouth after how the 2016 season ended with a shutout loss in the College Football Playoff semifinal game in the Fiesta Bowl against Clemson. With Barrett back on the field in 2017, Ohio State will have the most experienced quarterback in the conference looking to take the final steps in his progression to lead Ohio State in another chase for the Big Ten title.

With Barrett coming back, the debut for highly-rated incoming Class of 2017 quarterback Tate Martell will clearly be on hold for at least one season. Class of 2016 addition Dwayne Haskins will also have to wait a year to get a crack at the starting job as well.