It seems like my email in box for the BLITZ column gets bombarded each day with questions on the top four prospects in the nation; linebacker Arthur Brown (Wichita, Ka.), wide receiver Julio Jones (Foley, Ala.), quarterback Terrelle Pryor (Jeanette, Pa.), and running back Darrell Scott (Ventura, Calif.).
I did address Brown and Jones in last week's edition of the BLITZ. I will once again but I want to first talk about Pryor. First, he is a dazzling recruit on both sides of the ball and in basketball. Pryor contends that he wants to play both football and hoops at the next level. For those football programs that said no to Pryor on being a two sport athlete they were quickly eliminated. Things are down to basically six schools; Ohio State, West Virginia, Penn State, Oregon, Tennessee and Florida.
Ohio State has been his lone official visit thus far. He has a very good relationship with many of the Buckeye commitments, Jim Tressel (and the rest of the staff) as well as the basketball coaches in Columbus. Pryor has recently stated that he's a little concerned about Ohio State's offense and what they do. Pryor will want two things in the end. First, he wants to play quarterback in a system that utilizes all of his skills, meaning he wants to have the chance to both run and throw the ball. So a spread offense or a version of something like that would appeal best to him. Second, he wants to play basketball.
What Pryor needs to understand is that Tressel will build his offense around the skill sets of his players. The Buckeye offense was different with Troy Smith compared to how things were done this past season with Todd Boeckman. Certainly if Pryor were to choose Ohio State then they would run more of what we saw with Smith at the helm. But will Pryor be convinced enough to select the Buckeyes in the end?
Penn State, to me, is the dark horse with Pryor. Why? They are the home state school that he is very comfortable with. Pryor has taken many unofficial visits to Happy Valley. He also really has a good relationship with Tom Bradley. Like Ohio State, how their offense would evolve with Pryor at the helm concerns him because they don't run the spread. Again, like Ohio State and Troy Smith above, you can say the same thing about former quarterback Penn State Michael Robinson. Robinson was an athletic quarterback for the Nittany Lions.
Tennessee is a team that would really have to change up their offense to fit Pryor. Would that happen? Knowing Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, he would at least put in multiple packages that would be very conducive to Pryor and what he brings to the table, especially after seeing first hand how Florida's spread offense has blossomed under Tim Tebow. Pryor is also impressed with Cutcliffe in the work he did with Peyton and Eli Manning. Again, like Penn State and Ohio State, Tennessee would have to alter some things and there's a concern here. One other thing to consider will Cutcliffe be at Tennessee or will he get a chance at the Duke job?
West Virginia is another story. Here's an offense that everyone has seen light up the scoreboard with quarterback Pat White and running back Steve Slaton. White has obviously been marvelous running that offense and showcasing his running and passing skills. What makes them so dangerous and explosive is the White/Slaton tandem. Sure Slaton will be gone but there are other running backs there like Noel Devine, who showed some good things this past season as a true freshman.
The same can be said with Oregon, where quarterback Dennis Dixon really came into his own this season for the Ducks. Teamed with running back Jonathan Stewart, Oregon put up big numbers in '07. In reality though will distance hurt the Ducks? It could in the end.
There's still Florida out there and the Gators are probably the least talked about team with Pryor. Obviously like Oregon and West Virginia the Gator offense would suit Pryor but I think UF is a long shot at this point.
So where are things at with Pryor? First, he has the state championship game to play in this weekend. Then, he jumps right in to basketball season. Pryor is also playing in the U.S. Army All-American Game. He has only taken one official visit thus far. We know he will visit West Virginia next month for sure. But between hoops, the all-star game, and a West Virginia visit, Pryor will be hard pressed to be able to actually make all five official visits.
Then again, he may not need to. He has been to Penn State enough to know what the Nittany Lions have to offer, leaving potential visits to Knoxville, Eugene and maybe Gainesville. Now I am not saying that he will not visit Joe Paterno and Penn State. I am merely speculating that if time is of the essence, he may not have to and want to see someone else instead.
There is something else to consider here. He doesn't have to sign on National Signing Day. He could extend this thing and even take some visits after February 6th. Former two-sport (football/basketball) sensation Ronald Curry did just that. In fact, he didn't make his decision until the spring (he signed with North Carolina). Pryor contends though that he will make his decision on National Signing Day.
What will Terrelle Pryor do in the end? I don't know. From the outside looking in I think distance will play a factor. Obviously the offensive scheme, basketball and relationships will also dictate his decision. Many think it will be Ohio State. Many think it will be West Virginia or Penn State. I don't know what he will do and I don't think at this time Pryor knows either.
What school will the nation's top running back decide to pick? Right now I think Colorado has the lead followed closely by some others, in particular Florida. I have thought since last January that the Buffalos would have a great shot at landing Scott. A big reason why is that they signed his uncle, Josh Smith, this past February. Smith played well at receiver as a true freshman this past season. These two are very close and more like brothers than uncle and nephew. Last January Smith told me there would be a good chance that Scott could end up at the same school as he. Scott visited Colorado last month and walked away impressed and calling the Buffalos his leader. He has since backed off that but I think they are the team to beat right now.
Scott has already visited Texas and he will visit Florida next month. There is some speculation he could end up in Gainesville, where Florida head coach Urban Meyer is looking to sign a big time running back. Scott has ties to the Sunshine State, as he was born in Tallahassee. Don't underestimate Mack Brown and the Longhorns either. He was very impressed with the Texas program, tradition and facilities.
For most of the recruiting season I figured Julio Jones was pretty much a lock for Alabama. Then the Crimson Tide struggled down the stretch on the field. This allowed both Oklahoma and Florida State to make up ground with Jones. He visited Alabama officially this past weekend and he will trip to FSU, Florida, OU and possibly Texas Tech in January. I still contend Alabama is in the lead with the Sooners and Seminoles closing fast.
It seems like you could make a case for all five (North Carolina, Florida, Miami, USC and LSU) of his finalists for Arthur Brown. In all my years of covering recruiting this may be the best kept secret, Brown's ultimate decision. All of his visits are in the books and we will all learn of his decision on Monday (12-17) at 3:30. Last week (in this column) I thought Miami had the edge over North Carolina. This week I am leaning towards Tar Heels. The Brown camp still insinuates that a decision has not yet been made.
Let's speculate for a moment. Here's what we know. Brown visited only one school twice, Alabama. They were eliminated. Everyone thought he was headed to Oklahoma. They were eliminated. Brown and Brian Butler (Brown's Strength and Conditioning Coach) always said that all the teams he could see himself playing for would get either an official or unofficial visit. That held true, as he officially visited four of his five finalists. Florida was the lone school that didn't get an official visit, though he was in Gainesville for Friday Night Lights. Butler did attend the Florida/Tennessee game without Brown this past season. The Gators were scheduled to get the last in-home visit last night but it didn't materialize.
He loves Miami (LB) assistant coach Michael Barrow and the fact that Barrow played in the NFL. Brown also loves North Carolina defensive coordinator John Blake and the opportunities in Chapel Hill. UNC was also the only visit his parents made with Brown. They were supposed to make it with Brown on his official visits to USC and LSU, but due to a death they were not able to attend (I incorrectly reported this last week). Brown likes the tradition of USC , the staff there and they are going to be losing some linebackers. LSU was a great trip for the nation's top rated linebacker, as he soaked in the great game atmosphere (LSU/Auburn) in Baton Rouge and likes the support system in the program. How will Bo Pellini's (LSU defensive coordinator) departure to Nebraska impact his decision with the Tigers? With the Florida he likes the staff and school environment.
We will all find out on Monday afternoon.
So were does that leave things? The Brown camp would like to shut things down between now and Monday's decision. There is some speculation USC Head Coach Pete Carroll may get one more crack on the phone with Brown. Regardless, know one really knows what he will do come Monday. And why would anyone because this is the best kept recruiting secret in some time.
Do you see Florida State naming Jimbo Fisher as Bobby Bowden's successor a positive or negative for FSU on the field and in recruiting?
Staying in the ACC, how many programs would have gone the pro-active route like the one Florida State made? Sure there are not many schools in that situation unless you are Penn State. But giving legendary head coach Bobby Bowden an extension and naming Jimbo Fisher his successor is a super move. First, Fisher is one of the rising stars in the coaching business. Certainly he would have had a great opportunity somewhere (Georgia Tech or Arkansas) to become a head coach over the past two weeks or so. FSU had to tie him up and keep him.
Smart move Seminoles.
Over the past few seasons, it has become increasingly difficult for the Florida State coaches to answer the "Bowden" question when talking to respective recruits, their parents and coaches. Opposing teams would hammer them on the uncertainty in Tallahassee with the Bowden, his impending retirement and who ultimately would be his successor. Now those questions are answered. Bowden can coach as long as he wants and Fisher will be in place when he decides to step away. That will certainly help the ‘Noles in terms of recruiting.
Looking back, had Florida State not gone by this path, they would have likely lost Fisher and this great recruiting class would have taken some hits. To make matters worse, FSU would have had to start all over with a new offensive coordinator and they would face the same old questions about coach Bowden, the offense, their future, etc.
Now they don't have to. I expect drastic improvement in year two with Fisher and their recruiting should continue on the upswing.
How do you think new Head Coach Paul Johnson will recruit at Georgia Tech?
On to Georgia Tech, where they have hired Paul Johnson away from Navy. All Johnson has done at both Georgia Southern and Navy is win. At Georgia Southern, Johnson was 62-10, including two National Championships (1999-2000), five consecutive Southern Conference titles, and was named 1-AA National Coach of the Year for four straight seasons (1997-2000). Johnson took over for Navy in 2002 and inherited a Midshipmen program that went 1-20 the previous two years. His first season, Navy went 2-10. In six years at Navy Johnson finished with a record of 45-29. In 11 seasons as a head coach Johnson's record is 107-39.
When you are at one of the service academies you must recruit on a national basis. Johnson did that and won there. So you know he has strong ties nationally. Johnson is also very well connected in the Peach State from his days in Statesboro as the Georgia Southern Head Coach.
At any school you have to be able to recruit your home state well. Sure the University of Georgia mostly dominates in-state recruiting but they all can't go to UGA. The Peach State has really exploded over the last decade or so and now produces so much talent for the 1-A level. That's why so many out of state programs recruit Georgia. Johnson will help anchor things a bit better in-state for the Yellow Jackets. And with Georgia Tech having more stringent academics they have to recruit all over the country and find prospects that meet their needs both on the field and in the class room. Having spent time at Navy will certainly help Johnson and his staff.
But as a head coach you can only recruit as well as the staff you surround yourself with. Sure you must have assistant coaches who can coach. But you also have to have coaches that can go out and recruit, especially when you are smack dab in the middle of the South, where college football in king and recruiting is cut throat. Retaining good coaches that have the great ability to recruit is paramount. That's why it's very important for Johnson to pull all the stops to retain a coach like Giff Smith. Smith, who was the GT recruiting coordinator and DL coach under Gailey, is widely regarded as one of the nation's best recruiters and recruiting coordinators. But Smith would love a shot to be a defensive coordinator some where. Will he get his shot this season, could he be elevated at Tech or will he stay in the same capacity? Smith played his college football at Georgia Southern (before Johnson arrived there).
Time will tell and Smith would be one of the key cogs in the Georgia Tech/Johnson recruiting machine. We will all know shortly if he will be part of this staff as well as the others. Whatever happens in that regard it looks like GT got a good one who knows how to recruit the Peach State and beyond.
Jamie, do you see Coach Ed Orgeron catching on somewhere, even as an assistant?
What will Ed Orgeron do? The former Ole Miss Head Coach is one of the nation's top recruiters and one heck of a defensive line coach. Orgeron has four National Championship rings (two with USC, two with Miami) and will be coaching for someone next season. He is too good of a coach and recruiter to be sitting home. Coach O would like to stay in the South but chances are he heads back west (with USC and Pete Carroll). Perhaps he could end up at UCLA, if Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Norm Chow does get that job. But his loyalty to Carroll runs deep. Or perhaps he gets to the NFL?
What will be interesting with Orgeron is that he really wants to be a defensive coordinator somewhere. The question is will he have that opportunity and if so, would he jump at it? My guess is that it would depend on the situation and the right fit. Does he have a shot at going to Columbia with Steve Spurrier? Perhaps Arkansas with Petrino? Maybe LSU with Miles? In our industry, the college football recruiting industry, it will be real interesting to see where Coach O ends up because he's such an excellent recruiter.
How come Hawaii gets punished for playing in a weak conference and Ohio State does not? Is it because the WAC is weak most every year? And the Big 10 just had a bad year?
I don't understand how Hawaii got punished? They fought their way in the BCS and get a chance to play Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. Hawaii is the only unbeaten team and they should be thankful they have been given this opportunity.
Trust me when I say this, I am not trying to beat down Hawaii, their players and coaches and what they have accomplished this season. I know this is a good football team with an excellent quarterback. I do think the Bulldogs will have their hands full in New Orleans because they are going to be a tough match up. Heck, the way they throw it around the yard Hawaii would be a tough match up for anyone in the nation.
Where Hawaii is somewhat deficient is on the other side of the ball, especially after they lost Defensive Coordinator Jerry Glanville (Portland State) after last season. Glanville was brilliant on the island, teaming up with Head Coach June Jones. Their kids play hard and are scrappy but they will have a tough match up against the overpowering Dawgs, especially up front. Hawaii doesn't have a full compliment of scholarships like they do in Athens, L.A. or Austin.
But somehow Jones and his staff have gotten the job done and they have done it well. Granted the WAC isn't the SEC. The WAC isn't even the Big 10. Sure Boise State and Fresno State are good programs but that's where it begins and ends for the WAC (along with Hawaii). Nevada, Louisiana Tech, San Jose State, Utah State, New Mexico State and Idaho compromise the rest of the league. That doesn't compare to Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Penn State and the rest of the Big 10.
This is why Ohio State shouldn't be punished. Maybe the Big 10 is down but the Buckeyes went 11-1. Who is to say someone else deserves a shot at the title over them? Do I believe they are the best team in the nation? No I do not.
As I said last week in this column I think the top three teams (in order) at the end of this season were USC, Georgia and Virginia Tech. But Bulldogs didn't win their side of the SEC, the Hokies got blown out by LSU early and the Trojans lost to Stanford. I don't pity any one of them because they didn't play their way in. It is what it is in the current set up of college football and the bogus BCS.
If we had a true playoff it wouldn't matter because Hawaii would get in. So would Ohio State, as would Georgia, USC and Virginia Tech. But we don't and all the great and passionate college football fans across the country have to live with that.
In the meantime, the BCS will face another mess in early January if Hawaii can upset the Bulldogs. In this case there will certainly be a number of voters that will vote Hawaii as the top team in the country. The mayhem will continue if this happens, regardless of the outcome of the Championship Game between LSU and Ohio State.