The race for number one; it’s a marathon not a sprint as college football teams across the country recruit the nation’s best high school football players to replenish their talent at home. Common sense says recruiting is about filling positional need areas for your football team but there is more to it then that.
You see this is where it’s all about perception or the need to finish high in the team recruiting rankings. Coaches will say they don’t care where a kid is ranked or where their program is ranked.
Everybody cares. Coaches care; players care; and certainly the fans care.
The game is now on, as the race for the mythical recruiting National Championship rounds third and heads home. We are in the finals days, eight to be exact, until National Signing Day. At some point towards the end of February 6th someone will be declared the recruiting champion. Who will it be?
Amazingly, the Fighting Irish have led the Scout.com National Team Recruiting Rankings from wire to wire. It’s amazing because they had a disastrous 3-9 season. Before the ’07 season ever kicked off Notre Dame had a makings of a stellar group and they still do. We were waiting for this class to implode but it never did. It was the most popular team recruiting question: who would de-commit from Notre Dame? Sure they lost one big one in defensive tackle Omar Hunter (Buford, Georgia) but the Irish also added wide receivers like Michael Floyd (St. Paul, Minn.) and Deion Walker (Christchurch, Va.). The implosion never happened and the Irish have always been No. 1.
This is the kind of class you expect if you cheer for Notre Dame. Fighting Irish Head Coach Charlie Weis has not had very much trouble while in South Bend recruiting offensive players. It’s on the other side of the ball where they have struggled. More times than not Notre Dame would finish second and you win nothing for second place in recruiting. Defense and defensive prospects is what separates this class from previous Notre Dame recruiting classes. They finally landed players at all defensive positions with speed and athleticism led by Ethan Johnson (DL), Sean Cwynar (DL), Darius Fleming (LB), Steve Filer (LB), Jamoris Slaughter (S), Robert Blanton (CB) and Dan McCarthy (S). This class has balance and many will have a chance to make immediate contributions in South Bend.
Can the Fighting Irish hold off Alabama, Georgia, Miami, Texas A&M, LSU, Florida and others? It’s unlikely because they are just about done.
Currently, Alabama is sitting at No. 2 and Miami is at No. 6. I think these are two teams that could make a huge run at No. 1 before it’s all said and done on Signing Day. Why the Tide and ‘Canes? First, right now, today, they have super recruiting classes that have both quantity and quality. Second, both Miami and Alabama are awaiting the decisions on many prospects.
Getting WR Julio Jones could be the difference for Alabama getting the top class.
What is there not to love about this class as Alabama signed a slew of versatile athletes and top notch prospects at just about every conceivable position. They wanted an athletic quarterback and got Star Jackson. They needed big time play makers at wide receiver and got Melvin Ray, Chris Jackson and Destin Hood. Burton Scott could star on either side of the ball at receiver or cornerback. Mark Barron could star at receiver, safety or grow into a linebacker. Devonta Bolton could play either receiver or linebacker. The Tide did well in the trenches with a great one in Tyler Love (OT). On the other side of the ball they have committed seven defensive linemen, including 385 pounds tackle Junior College transfer Terrance Cody as well as some athletic ends in Courtney Upshaw, Michael Williams and Dont’a Hightower. Damien Square has a chance to be an outstanding outside linebacker and Robby Green is a gem at cornerback.
Incredibly, Alabama is still waiting on signing day decisions from Julio Jones (WR), Jerrell Harris (LB), T.J. Bryant (CB), Alonzo Lawrence (CB), Robert Quinn (DE), Mark Ingram (RB), and Marcel Dareus (DT). Jones could be the difference in Alabama finishing one, two or three.
Aldarius Johnson is one of many IMPACT players the 'Canes are bringing in.
Meanwhile down south in Miami, the Hurricanes have landed their best class in years. This group of incoming freshmen should not only make a big impact next season but they should be the nucleus behind a Miami resurgence back to college football dominance. Most of this class is from their backyard; Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. The Hurricanes need immediate help at quarterback and they are bringing in three signal callers; Jacory Harris, Taylor Cook and Cannon Smith. All should push red-shirt freshman Robert Marve, although they are likely fighting to be his backup. Aldarius Johnson will see early playing time and could be in the starting lineup early in the ’08 season. In fact, all the receivers have a chance to see early playing time. Both fullbacks, Patrick Hill and John Calhoun, should see the field early as well. On the other side of the ball, watch out. Marcus Forston (DT) is one of the nation’s top prospects regardless of position while Arthur Brown (LB), Sean Spence (LB), Jordan Futch (LB), and C.J. Holton (S) all can get to the football in a hurry
Will it be Clemson, Illinois, FSU or Miami for RB Jamie Harper?
Miami is waiting on decisions from Jamie Harper (RB), Tommy Streeter (WR), Tay Odoms (WR), LaRon Byrd (WR), Brandon Harris (CB), Alonzo Lawrence (CB), T.J. Bryant (CB), Benjamin Jones (OT), and Corey Liuget and others.
Who will close better between Alabama and Miami? It’s hard to say as they both should land their share. Regardless, it appears both team should pass the top ranked Irish. The question is who will finish at the top? It’s too close to call but I would give a slight edge to ‘Bama.
UGa has a great one headed to Athens in WR A.J. Green
Returning to the current top ten, Georgia comes in at No. 3. They have been arguably one of the most consistent teams in terms of recruiting for a while now and this season is no different. The Dawgs nailed it at just about every position but quarterback and that’s okay. A.J. Green (WR) is one of the nation’s finest prospects and he should make a big, early splash in Athens. So to could Tavarres King (WR), who is a big time playmaker. UGA hit the mother lode at running back with Richard Samuel, Carlton Thomas and Dontavius Jackson. Georgia always seems to do well at the line of scrimmage and this class is no different. Cordy Glenn (OT), A.J. Harmon (OT/OG), Ben Jones (C), DeAngelo Tyson (DT), Cornelius Washington (DE), and Toby Jackson (DE) are as solid as they come. The back seven is talented too led by Marcus Dowtin (LB), Brandon Boykin (CB) and Baccari Rambo (S). If Georgia had more scholarships for this class they would make a serious run at No. 1.
Who is the big surprise in the top 10? Well, there are three? If someone would have told you that Texas A&M and Washington would have top 10 classes and that USC was sitting at No. 18 you would have thought they were crazy… right? I know I would have. In fact, I thought the Trojans would make their annual pilgrimage to the top the rankings. It hasn’t happened. They are actually sitting at No. 4 in the Pac 10, behind Washington, UCLA and Arizona State.
UW turned Chris Polk away from USC
The Huskies are at No. 8. Washington will sign a big name recruit at just about every position with Chris Polk (RB), Jermaine Kearse (WR), Kavario Middleton (TE), Senio Kelemete (OT), Alameda Ta’amu (OG), Everette Thompso (DE) and Craig Noble (DT). They are bringing in a ton of skilled players; three quarterbacks, four running backs, three receivers and a tight end. Washington also has committed six offensive line prospects. Defensively, the Huskies are getting help in the secondary with six defensive backs headed their way. Who would have thought that the University of Washington would have the top recruiting class in the Pac 10? What is this, 1990?
RB Cyrus Gray is a great one headed to A&M
Kudos to new Texas A&M Head Coach Mike Sherman and his staff for a job well down. Anytime you have a short recruiting window like he and his staff have had and finish in the top 10 overall you did an amazing job. Tommy Dorman (QB) is a signal caller that can beat you with his arm and legs. Cyrus Gray (RB) is one of the country’s top backs who has great quickness and speed and is deadly in space. Jeffrey Fuller (WR) is one of the most coveted wideouts in the Southwest. He is blessed with outstanding size and versatility. So is Sedrick Johnson (WR). You have to love what A&M did both sides of the lines of scrimmage with Joe Villavisencio (OT), Briant Thomas (OG), Rod Davis (DT), Adren Dorsey (DT), Kapron Lewis-Moore (DE), Tony Jerod (DE) and others. They are bringing in 12 linemen. Kyle Mangum (LB) leads the linebacker corps while Keon Furtch (S), Trent Hunter (S), and Jordan Fields (CB) are all standouts in the secondary.
Texas A&M is still waiting on a few big names to make it official with Aundre Dean (RB) and Aaron Boyd (WR). A&M is ranked No. 4, with the top class in the Big 12 ahead of both recruiting powers Texas and Oklahoma.
USC Head Coach Pete Carroll
So what has happened to USC? First, I think all the talent they have acquired over the last five recruiting seasons has finally caught up with the Trojans. They finished No. 2 (2007), No. 1 (’06), No. 6 (’05), No. 1 (’04) and No. 1 (’03). That is an absolutely extraordinary run that I have only seen one other time in 16 years of covering recruiting (FSU is the 90s). These prospects realize that USC is just too loaded and will have to wait their respective turns for playing time. It still doesn’t stop many but it has slowed the Trojans down just enough. Second, you wonder how much the “Reggie Bush” stuff is affecting USC. You would have to imagine that Trojan coach Pete Carroll would love some closure here. Thirdly, as good as USC has been this decade it gets tougher and tougher to recruit (many for the reasons already mentioned), especially considering the staff changes he has gone through over the years. Carroll has not only lost some great coaches but some great recruiters and that is catching up with USC. Lastly, the Pac 10 as a whole is just getting better; better teams, better coaches, therefore recruiting becomes more competitive.
Coming in at No. 5 and No. 6 are the two teams that have won the last two National titles – LSU and Florida.
LSU Head Coach Les Miles
What does LSU do to follow up their Championship season? They reel in one of the country’s finest recruiting classes. Jordan Jefferson (QB) is a terrific quarterback prospect that is athletic and raw. He has great upside and has a chance to develop into something quite special for Les Miles. Kellen Theroit (FB) is the nation’s top fullback prospect. The Tigers will sign some home grown talent at receiver with Chris Tolliver, Timothy Molton, DeAngelo Peterson, and Jhyryn Tylor and tight end with Lavarr Edwards, Tyler Edwards and Matt Branch. LSU is bringing in some mammoth tackles on the offensive line and two athletic ends in Chancey Aghayere and Chase Clement. Ryan Baker (LB) and Kyle Prater (LB) run as well as anyone. The secondary will get a big boost from Karnell Hatcher (S), Rocky Duplessis (S), Patrick Johnson (CB) and Brandon Taylor (CB).
The Tigers are still mainly waiting on DeAndre Brown (WR) and T.J. Bryant (CB). But there are some others they could certainly fall back to as well.
UF hoping that S Will Hill can have the same impact Eric Berry had at UT.
Florida hit all their needs, although the Gators failed to land a big time running back again. Secondary was a huge priority and UF Head Coach Urban Meyer is bringing in the nation’s top safety in Will Hill. Hill has fantastic range and will light you up. He should make an immediate impact at free safety in Gainesville. Dee Finley (S), Janoris Jenkins (CB), Jeremy Brown (CB), and Adrian Bushell (CB) will all have a chance to push for quick playing time as well in the Florida secondary. The linebacker position got a dose of speed with Ramon Buchanan and Lerentee McCray while Brandon Beal is a guy that plays with a ton of aggression. Up front Earl Okine (DE), Omar Hunter (DT), and Troy Epps (DT) all bring something different to the table. Hunter should get a chance to work his way into the tackle rotation from the get go. Byron Jones and Sam Robey could play on either side of the ball while Matt Patchan (OT) could begin his career for the Gators first playing defensive end. The offense is also getting their dose of speed with Jeff Demps (RB/WR), who just may be the fastest player in the nation. Carl Moore (WR) is a physical wide out with size while T.J. Pridemore (FB/LB) could be the next Billy Latsko (former UF FB) for the Gator offense. This is Meyer’s third big time recruiting class in a row.
The Gators are waiting on William Green (LB), T.J. Bryant (CB), Brandon Harris (CB), Julio Jones (WR), T.J. Lawrence (WR), and David Young (OL).
QB E.J. Manuel should have a bright future in Tallahassee
Staying in the Sunshine State, Florida State finds itself at No. 9 at this point. The ‘Noles needed an influx of talent at the skill positions and that’s exactly what they have done. The gem of this class is E.J. Manuel (QB), the nation’s No. 2 rated signal caller. Manuel has all the makings to be an outstanding quarterback at the next level. Just be patient with him if you love the garnet and gold. Manuel is surrounded by plenty of weapons in running backs Jermaine Thomas, British Footman, wide receiver Corey Surrency and Avis Commack and tight end JaBaris Little. Florida State is also addressing their offensive line needs with some mammoth (4) offensive tackles averaging 6-6. Defensively, FSU has always recruited well and this class is no different. This group is led by Moses McCray (DT), Anthony Hill (DT), Everett Hawkins (DE), Nigel Bradham (LB), Nigel Carr (LB), Vincent Williams (LB), Travis Arnold (S), Nick Moody (S) and Terrance Parks (CB).
Can the ‘Noles steal Julio Jones (WR) away from Alabama? They are also waiting on Josh Jenkins (OG), Jamie Harper (RB), A.J. Alexander (WR), Leon Mackey (OT), Jarmon Fortson (WR), T.J. Bryant (CB) and others. So there is certainly a chance that FSU makes a big push towards the top five if certain players fall their way.
RB Jermie Calhoun is an explosive back headed to Norman.
Rounding out the current top ten is Oklahoma. Once again the Sooners raided the Lone Star State, getting commitments thus far 10 prospects including big time recruits in Justin Johnson (RB), Jermie Calhoun (RB), R.J. Washington (DE), James Hanna (TE), Britt Mitchell (OT), Stephen Good (OG), and Joseph Ibiloye (S). You got to love what Oklahoma did at receiver, getting Josh Jarboe, Jameel Owens and DeJuan Miller, three outstanding playmakers. Good and Washington led a strong group of both sides of the ball along the lines of scrimmage. Ibiloye is one of the nation’s top safeties. OU also went the JuCo route to get help in their back seven for the Sooner defense.
There are a few teams outside the top 10 that could certainly move up and into the top 10 like Texas and or Ohio State. How will Michigan close? Can USC work their way up into the top 10 or higher? Will Tennessee get out of their funk and make their way into the top 20-25?
Will QB Terrelle Pryor sign with Ohio State, Michigan or someone else?
Then you have the top 10 that will re-shuffle itself when those that have not made their commitments yet finally do. That list includes the nation’s top three prospects in quarterback Terrelle Pryor (Jeannette, Pa.), wide receiver Julio Jones (Foley, Ala.) and running back Darrell Scott (Ventura, Calif.). Pryor will likely pick between Ohio State and Michigan but also claims other schools are still in it like Penn State, Pittsburgh, Oregon and LSU. Jones will likely decide between Alabama and Florida State though he just visited Oklahoma and Florida the last two weekends. It’s Colorado or Texas for Scott.
Will DeAndre Brown sign with LSU or shock the world and go to Southern Miss?
Other Scout.com National Top 300 uncommitted prospects at this time are cornerbacks T.J. Bryant (Tallahassee, Fla.), Alonzo Lawrence (Lucedale, Miss.) and Brandon Harris (Miami, Fla.), defensive ends Nick Perry (Detroit, Mi.), Corey Liuget (Hialeah, Fla.), Quinton Coples (Chatham, Va.) and Robert Quinn (Fort Dorchester, S.C.), defensive tackle Marcel Dareus (Birmingham, Ala.), running backs Aundre Dean (Katy, Texas), Mark Ingram (Flint, Mich.) and Jamie Harper (Jacksonville, Fla.), wide receivers Kenny Tate (Hyattsville, Md.), Aaron Boyd (Lexington, Ky.), Tay Odoms (Pahokee, Fla.), Tommy Streeter (Miami, Fla.), LaRon Byrd (Boutte, La.), T.J. Lawrence (Lakeland, Fla.), and DeAndre Brown (Ocean Springs, Miss.), offensive linemen Benjamin Jones (Miami, Fla.), Antoine McClain (Anniston, Ala.) and Josh Jenkins (Parkersburg, W.V.), linebacker William Green (Hoover, Ala.) and Jerrell Harris (Gadsden, Ala.) and safeties Vaughn Telemaque (Long Beach, Calif.), Herman Davidson (Long Beach, Calif.) and Charles Mitchell (Clarksdale, Miss.)
Obviously, these uncommitted players along with the others still out there, will have a direct barring and impact on the national team recruiting rankings. Most of these prospects are hoping to wait and announce their decision(s) on Signing Day. So in a few short days this marathon will be over. I can finally see the finish line up ahead.
Good luck to everyone. It should be an exciting race to the very end.