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Recruiting Rumor Mill: Latest on Walter Nolen, J.T. Tuimoloau, Elias Ricks

Walter Nolen
Walter Nolen (Nick Lucero/Rivals.com)

The Recruiting Rumor Mill is back this week with an updated look at 2022 and 2023 prospects and some of the latest news from the transfer portal.

MORE: Is Tennessee a top 10 job? | Five-star countdown

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Five-star Nolen still looking at Vols despite turmoil

There is a lot of turmoil at Tennessee right now, but the chatter is that Jeremy Pruitt’s dismissal will not stop five-star defensive tackle Walter Nolen from seriously considering the Vols. His high school coach is former Tennessee linebacker Marlon Walls, so that will help (as long as Nolen stays at Cordova (Tenn.) St. Benedict, which is not a guarantee) and if the right coach is hired it could actually help the Vols. Ohio State and a host of SEC powerhouses are also involved.

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Michigan transfer Charbonnet down to pair of L.A. schools

After a breakout freshman season at Michigan, Zach Charbonnet looked like the next big-time running back for the Wolverines but then as a sophomore he was in a by-committee approach and his stats dramatically dropped. He’s now in the transfer portal and the former Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian standout is rumored to be down to UCLA and USC. Both sides seem guardedly optimistic about their chances but the Bruins could have the best shot.

Pair of elite Texas QBs narrow their focus

With five-star quarterback Quinn Ewers committed to Ohio State, the next best quarterbacks in the state of Texas are Conner Weigman and Cade Klubnik and it looks like their recruitments are starting to take shape as well. New Texas coach Steve Sarkisian has talked with Klubnik two or three times while Weigman has chatted with Texas QB coach AJ Milwee. Klubnik could be more in focus for the Longhorns at QB while Weigman said Oklahoma and Florida have been showing him the most attention.

LSU's Ricks staying out of transfer portal for now

It’s a great sign for LSU that star cornerback Elias Ricks did not put his name in the transfer portal over the weekend or as of this writing Monday night. But there have been plenty of rumors that the former five-star cornerback, who had a terrific freshman season, has considered leaving and his destination almost definitely would be Ohio State. The Buckeyes finished second in his recruitment out of high school. This could still happen according to sources and it could influence five-star Michigan DB Will Johnson’s final decision.

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Lincoln Riley targeting 2023 California QB

Malachi Nelson
Malachi Nelson (Nick Lucero/Rivals.com)

Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley held a Zoom call with top 2023 quarterback Malachi Nelson and his family this week and it’s a sign that he’s going to be a top target for the Sooners. The word is that the Los Alamitos, Calif., standout who has five-star potential is very serious about Oklahoma early on and that its recent offer to him is a game-changer. Watch out for Ohio State early on as well and Penn State has a chance if it loads up on skill players in 2022.

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Tide has upper hand in Alabama-Auburn battle for RB

Four-star running back Emmanuel Henderson is committing on March 13 and all signs point to Alabama beating out Auburn and many others for his services. The Hartford (Ala.) Geneva County standout has a top 10 but the in-state schools have mainly been battling it out for him.

If Henderson does pick the Crimson Tide as expected, it will be interesting to see if that dissuades four-star RB Jaydon Blue from going to Alabama as well (which had been rumored) or if Texas and others then surge for the Houston (Texas) Klein Cain recruit.

Former Tennessee commit still looking around

Three-star Colby Smith was committed to Tennessee for months and probably would have ended up with the Volunteers, but all the coaching turnover and turmoil within the program put him back on the market. Auburn is definitely a school to watch out for and might be the team to beat as new coach Bryan Harsin looks to beef up on the offensive line, but Louisville is another school to watch as Smith figures out his next step. Tennessee might not be out of it completely, either, at this point but it’s probably unlikely he ends up back in Knoxville.

Alston changes course after staff change at UNC

North Carolina was in strong shape with College Park (Ga.) Woodward Academy four-star running back Damari Alston, but with the news that position coach Robert Gillespie is off to Alabama, the Tar Heels could be fading in his recruitment. And Alabama could be shooting up Alston’s list - that’s how important Gillespie is to this decision. Ohio State, Auburn, Penn State and Florida are also high on the list with North Carolina now having to make up ground.

Oregon-Alabama battle for Tuimoloau?

There could be some disagreement on this depending on who you talk to but the feeling around five-star defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau is that Oregon would be his spot if he decides to stay close to home and Alabama would be the destination if he wants to leave the Pacific Northwest.

Many still feel that Ohio State is a serious contender and USC also feels like it could have a real shot because Tuimoloau and his family have a strong relationship with position coach Vic So’oto. In the end, though, this could be an Oregon-Alabama come signing day.

Five-star Johnson pumps brakes

Will Johnson said he wanted to visit USC and then should have a commitment made within weeks, but now the five-star cornerback from Grosse Pointe (Mich.) South wants to pump the brakes and slow it down. There are numerous reasons for this: The word is that Johnson likes a lot of the Michigan assistant hires especially defensive backs/co-defensive coordinator Maurice Linguist from the Dallas Cowboys. He also wants to see how things play out at Ohio State (basically, if Ricks leaves LSU for Columbus) and then he has to review USC as well. If a decision was right around the corner, it probably isn’t any longer.

Stanford, ND push into picture for California LB

Four-star linebacker Niuafe Tuihalamaka had been committed to USC for nearly a year but in the last few days the Mission Hills (Calif.) Alemany standout backed off that pledge. The Trojans are still involved and could get Tuihalamaka back in the mix but the rumor is now Stanford and Notre Dame lead the way in his recruitment with Florida and Oregon also high on the list. Only days after the Irish offer, Tuihalamaka backed away from USC.

Down the stretch, Georgia emerges for Arnold

Terrion Arnold
Terrion Arnold (Rivals.com)

The chatter around Arnold in the closing days before National Signing Day is that if he had to choose right now, Georgia would be the pick. Florida is a very close second and Alabama is trailing. That could be big for the Bulldogs, who are looking to load up in the secondary, and also because the Crimson Tide feel like Arnold is one of the top defensive backs in the entire class.

Oregon West Coast leader for To'oto'o

Henry To’oto’o has put his name in the transfer portal after all the upheaval at Tennessee and the rumor is that if he heads back West (he went to high school at Concord (Calif.) De La Salle) then Oregon would be the pick. If he doesn’t go back there then Florida and Ohio State would be two serious contenders. Washington was the school To’oto’o liked a whole lot in high school but with defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski leaving the Huskies for Texas, that move is unlikely. Alabama should not be counted out, either.

Eric Gray visits Texas

A visit to Texas is definitely interesting for Eric Gray, who rushed for 1,311 yards and eight touchdowns in two seasons at Tennessee before entering the portal. The Longhorns are looking for running back depth and if Sarkisian could get Gray in the fold that would be huge. Texas could be the frontrunner at this point but Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are also going after him along with USC, UCLA and Wisconsin.

Five-star Miami OL likes Alabama, LSU

Since early in his recruitment, Florida State and Miami have been the two schools most closely associated with five-star offensive lineman Julian Armella. But the rumor is that neither is in his top two as Alabama and LSU stand out most to the Miami (Fla.) Columbus standout. That lead could be widened even further once Armella is able to take some visits and he recently said LSU position coach James Cregg is really making an impression.

Bulldogs have eye on in-state tight end

Since the beginning of January, Oscar Delp has loaded up with major offers and many others have come for the four-star from Cumming (Ga.) West Forsyth. Oklahoma is the latest offer and that will be a school to watch possibly but the rumor is that Georgia, Florida and Clemson in that order stand out the most. A lot can still change since more offers keep pouring in all the time but this looks like a Southeast battle for one of the nation’s best tight ends.