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Seven National Signing Day Takeaways from the Class of 2017

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The T’s are crossed, the I’s are dotted and the Class of 2017 is in the books for college football programs across the country. What did we learn as National Signing Day came and went on Wednesday? Here are seven takeaways from the day that was as the calendar can officially flip forward and take us full steam into the upcoming season.

1. Illinois State won National Signing Day

Yes, tiny FCS program Illinois State was the biggest winner of National Signing Day bar none. Why? Simple, the Redbirds announced they had signed superstar All-Name first-teamer Kobe Buffalomeat. Yes, you read that right, his name is Kobe Buffalomeat. Soak up all that attention and more kid, you’ve earned it.

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

2. Alabama dominates once again

Ho-hum, Alabama rolled to their seventh straight recruiting national championship. At this point, Nick Saban isn’t even reloading even more in Tuscaloosa — he’s refilling, refreshing and restocking the Crimson Tide shelves twice over. When you don’t even have enough room for a bleeping top 100 recruit who committed in a video from France, you know things are at just a different level than everybody else.

MORE: SEC National Signing Day recap: Alabama reigns supreme but Georgia isn’t far behind

3. Meyer, Harbaugh are waging Ten Year War on the recruiting trail too

As good as Alabama was in putting together their class, the Big Ten was no pushover thanks to the league’s two powerhouses and their two big name head coaches at Ohio State and Michigan. Urban Meyer assembled a class that was right there with any in the SEC and actually out-paced the Tide when it came to average star rating, finishing just a tick behind Saban and company thanks to a smaller number of scholarships. The Buckeyes wound up with five five-stars in all and the top rated player at three different position and the No. 2 player at six others. The OSU head coach was basically searching for flaws and having a hard time coming up with negatives. His opposite number up North was no slouch either, as Jim Harbaugh dipped into the heart of the SEC to grab a top defensive tackle and fanned out across the country to pull talent to Ann Arbor. There’s been a lot of talk of a new Ten Year War between the two rivals given their head coaches and we certainly are in for one given the way they recruit.

MORE: Big Ten National Signing Day recap: Ohio State lands historic class, Michigan not far behind

4. USC continues to recruit itself

We’re to the point where it’s safe to say that no matter what, USC is going to land a top five recruiting class on Signing Day. At least it seems that way after the Trojans once again closed in impressive fashion to dominate the headlines out west and even draw a few eyebrow raises from the southeast. Whether it was locally in Southern California or across the country in places like Utah, Arizona or Florida, the cardinal and gold was typically on the head of many top recruits during announcements. In a way, the strong push across the line with the Class of 2017 was fitting given the job Clay Helton did this past season. Those calls for a new coaching staff in Los Angeles seem so, well, five months ago.

MORE: Pac-12 National Signing Day recap: USC surges late once again but don’t sleep on Stanford

5. Programs deal with scandals in different ways

Every college football team goes through ups and downs but dealing with off the field scandals can sometimes affect programs in unexpected ways. We saw that play out a little bit for a few folks on National Signing Day. One the positive side, Matt Rhule and the new staff at Baylor did a mighty fine job shrugging off all the negative publicity from the sexual assault scandal (and seemingly daily headlines) to land a top 40 class. That’s far better than most predicted just a few weeks ago and was one spot behind Big 12 rival Oklahoma State, which nearly won the league title. The flip side was Ole Miss, a mainstay in the top 10 the past few years that had suddenly found itself at No. 30 overall — one spot behind Kentucky (and yes, it’s football we’re talking about). Head coach Hugh Freeze seemed fairly grumpy about NCAA sanctions hanging over the Rebels and that was clearly reflected with the less than stellar group he signed.

MORE: Big 12 records worst signing day in conference history

6. Awful season? Wouldn’t know it at some programs

All good things must come to an end and there were a number of teams that took a drastic step back in 2016. Among those that would rather forget last season were Notre Dame, UCLA, Oregon, Mississippi State and Michigan State. Nobody from that group ended up making a bowl game, the Ducks ended up hiring a new head coach while the others all made significant staff changes. Despite all that, the Irish landed a top 12 class on Wednesday, the Bruins secured the No. 1 overall recruit, Oregon and MSU found themselves in the top 25 of the team rankings while the Spartans managed a pretty solid haul.

MORE: ACC National Signing Day recap: Florida State, Clemson impress once again

7. It was a relatively drama-free day but there were still some surprises

Despite there being more attention than ever on recruiting, this seemed like one of the most drama-free Signing Days in a long, long time. Part of that had to do with so few uncommitted players heading into the week — and only one major decision really going against conventional wisdom when top-rated DT Marvin Wilson committed to Florida State. Despite the lack of drama, there were still a few surprises like Maryland finishing with a top 20 class that was eight spots better than Texas, Clemson not ranking as high as you would expect because of their super small class, Florida’s late surge toward a respectable top 10 group, Lane Kiffin stealing a commit and the Big 12 looking very lackluster outside of Oklahoma.

Lane Kiffin pushed back against wearing bulletproof vest in return to Tennessee as Alabama OC

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College football, y’all.

Suffice to say, Lane Kiffin‘s departure from Rocky Top after one season as head coach at Tennessee for the same job at USC left a bad taste in the mouth of many members of Vols Nation.  How bad of a taste?  From ESPN.com in January of 2010:

But the real trick for Kiffin was figuring out a way to leave the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center late Tuesday night in one piece.

Groups of angry students and fans began surrounding the football complex after the news leaked that Kiffin had taken the USC job. Eventually, it evolved into a mob-like scene, with police moving in and barricading Johnny Majors Drive in front of the football complex.

Every time a car moved anywhere in the vicinity of the complex, the mob ran in that direction, shouting and chanting, “F— you Kiffin!

Fast-forward nearly five years, and Kiffin made his return — a triumphant, winning return as it turned out — to Neyland Stadium as the offensive coordinator at rival Alabama in October of 2014.  Ahead of that return, security was fearful for Kiffin’s life.  So fearful, in fact, that they wanted the former Volunteers head coach to wear a bulletproof vest into the famed stadium.

At least that’s what the current Florida Atlantic head coach claimed on Marty Smith‘s podcast, by way of 247Sports.com:

It’s crazy. They were literally talking about like — from the bus in — a bulletproof vest. I’m like, ‘Come on, guys. This is football.’ They said, ‘No, really.’ They had security with me the whole way, even walking on the field and stuff like that,” Kiffin said. “I’m just like ‘I’m not wearing a vest, guys. All right?’ That’s a little bit over the top. It was all in fun. There was a lot of mean words said — four-letter words. That speaks of Tennessee’s fans, just how passionate they are. I think Phillip Fulmer said it the other day, ‘We have the most passionate fans in the country.

Of course, all that angst and anger had waned by the time UT’s next search for a head coach kicked off as a small but very vocal portion of the fanbase actually wanted the one-time Knoxville pariah to replace Butch Jones late last year.  Hell, it was even reported that, in the midst of what was a circus of a search, “Lane is definitely on board if Tennessee gives him a call” about returning as head coach.

Ah, what could’ve been…

Nebraska transfer QB Patrick O’Brien officially lands at Colorado State

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In mid-April, Patrick O’Brien took to social media to announce his decision to transfer from Nebraska.  Earlier this month, the quarterback announced his new college football home.  Wednesday, said new college football home confirmed O’Brien’s addition.

In a press release, Colorado State acknowledged that O’Brien has indeed joined Mike Bobo‘s football program.  Because of NCAA transfer rules, the 6-4, 230-pound O’Brien will be forced to sit out the 2018 season.

However, beginning with the 2019 season, he will have two years of eligibility that he can use moving forward.

A four-star member of the Cornhuskers’ 2016 recruiting class, O’Brien was rated as the No. 10 pro-style quarterback that year.  It’s that pro-style of play that led him to transfer away from Scott Frost and Nebraska after the new regime’s first spring practice came to an end earlier this offseason.

As the primary backup to Tanner Lee last season, and after redshirting his true freshman season, O’Brien completed 18-of-30 passes for 192 yards and an interception.  He also ran for four yards on 14 carries.

Oregon student charged in death of former Ducks LB Fotu Leiato

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An arrest has been made in connection to the death of a former Oregon football player, the Eugene Register-Guard and The Oregonian are reporting.

Ex-Ducks linebacker Fotu Leiato was found dead early Friday morning as the result of what was described as a single-car accident. Pedro Chavarin Jr. was the driver of a vehicle that rolled over and crashed in Eugene; at the time, the 22-year-old UO student told police that he was the only occupant of the vehicle.

While Chavarin was initially charged with DUII, one count of first-degree manslaughter has since been added as Leiato’s body was found hours after the crash.  According to police, the 21-year-old Leiato had been a passenger in Chavarin’s Kia sedan at the time of the wreck.

According to The Oregonian, Chavarin faces a minimum of 10 years in prison if convicted of first-degree manslaughter.

Leiato played in 37 games the past three seasons for the Ducks.  He was dismissed from the football program in April after the second of his two arrests this offseason.

“We are saddened to learn of the passing of Fotu, and our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time,” a statement from the university at the time of Leiato’s passing began. “He will be remembered and missed by all who knew him.”

Rice’s Blain Padgett died from effects of drug designed to be elephant tranquilizer

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An already tragic story has taken an even sadder turn.

In early March, Rice defensive end Blain Padgett was found dead in his apartment after he failed to show for a football workout and a wellness check was performed.  This week, the Harris County Medical Examiner’s Office determined that the 21-year-old’s death was caused by the “toxic effects of carfentanil, which is an analog of the synthetic opioid analgesic fentanyl,” KTRK-TV in Houston wrote.

From the television station’s report:

Dr. Richard Pesikoff, a Baylor College of Medicine employee, said carfentanil is a dangerous opioid that was designed to be an elephant tranquilizer.

It’s 10,000 times more potent than morphine, and 100 times more potent than fentanyl.

Dr. Pesikoff said carfentanil is deadly because it causes the brain to suppress breathing.

“It’s a dangerous recreational drug,” Dr. Pesikoff said. “Probably the most dangerous. Maybe LSD is equally as dangerous because it comes in micrograms and just the tiny bit that you touch go through the pores in your skin.

In 2016, the 6-5, 250-pound Padgett was second on the team in tackles for loss with 5½ and led all Owls defensive linemen with 41 tackles.  He played in just three games this past season, while also playing in eight games as a true freshman in 2015.

In response to the cause-of-death report, the university issued the following statement:

The Rice community was deeply saddened by the loss of Blain Padgett. Out of respect for Blain and his family, we will not discuss personal or private matters. His family, teammates and friends continue to have our deepest condolences.

The drug involved in his player’s death led head coach David Bailiff to state that “[i]t makes you evaluate again as a man is there something else you could’ve done? Is there some other outreach that we could’ve lead to?” The family’s question as it pertains to the findings is a poignant one as well.

“We would like to know how Blain got his hands on this drug that seems very difficult to get,” Mical Padgett, Blain’s father, said. “That’s our main question. How did he get it and why did he take it?