Today most college football programs are so far ahead of where they used to be. You better be evaluating prospects in the classes of 2009 and beyond or you will get left behind. And the earlier you start the better because getting out the early offer and getting the early verbal commitment is more popular than ever.
Signing Day 2008 is recent history and old news. It's time to focus on '09 and there are certainly some major college football programs already off to hot starts in terms of commitments. USC is sitting on nine, while Texas, North Carolina and Ohio State each have seven. Texas A&M, Georgia and Florida State have six, five and four commitments respectively.
Sure the numbers are impressive but so is the quality of these prospects. Look at the Trojans. Southern Cal's '09 class is led by the nation's top prospect in quarterback Matt Barkley (Santa Ana, Calif.). He committed to the Trojans two weeks before Signing Day ('08). In fact, eight of USC's nine commitments committed before February 6th including safety T.J. McDonald (Fresno, Calif.), offensive tackle Kevin Graf (Agoura, Calif.), tight end Morrell Presley (Carson, Calif.) and linebacker Marquis Simmons (Compton, Calif.). They had five commitments before Christmas.
"I think USC is really reacting to what UCLA did last year," said Allen Wallace of Scout.com. "I think the Bruins caught Southern Cal off guard. In a three day span in March they got eight commitments. This is different for USC because they like to really take their time in evaluating players, especially Pete Carroll. It has worked for him. Also, if you look over the landscape of college football, coaches no longer have the luxury of waiting. Carroll and USC are just adjusting."
No team has dominated the early commitment like the University of Texas. As a matter of fact, the Longhorns are the team to blame for this new trend in college football recruiting. This decade, they have consistently recruited as well as anyone. Amazingly, Texas is just about done by June and I mean every June. This allows the Longhorns to look ahead towards the next class and get a huge jump on everyone. Then, after Signing Day, they roll out their scholarship offers for their next crop of kids and the commitments start rolling in. At the time of this article Texas is sitting on seven commitments and you can bank on the fact that UT will be close to done with their '09 class by sometime in May.
True to form, Texas got their first commitment the day after Signing Day from a super quarterback in Garrett Gilbert (Austin, Texas). Since Gilbert's big decision the Longhorns have picked up a half dozen more including offensive tackle Thomas Ashcraft (Cedar Hill, Texas) and running back Chris Whaley (Madisonville, Texas). There will be a junior day in Austin this weekend so don't be surprised if Texas picks up at least three more commitments this weekend.
"It all started with Mack Brown at Texas," said Alan Zepeda of Scout.com. "Five or so years ago they started offering players real early so now A&M and everyone else has to do it. The standard was set. If you want one of the top end kids from the state of Texas you better offer in February."
Former Texas A&M Head Coach Dennis Franchione also set a blistering pace for his Aggies with the early offer/verbal commitment. New A&M Head Coach Mike Sherman will get on prospects early but not quite at the same pace as his predecessor. Still, Texas A&M has five commitments (six including a grey shirt in kicker Randy Bullock) led by running back Christian Michael (Beaumont, Texas). You can bet the new Aggies regime will be very active over the next three months, heading into the summer.
Like the programs already mentioned Ohio State is off to a very hot start for their Class of 2009. The Buckeyes lost the past two national championship games but they still got there and kids understand that. The bottom line is players want to play for championships, especially the top end prospects in your backyard.
"I really think that playing for the last two national titles has helped Ohio State," said Bob Lichtenfels of Scout.com. "These kids want to play at winning programs and Ohio State has been very aggressive."
Six of the seven Buckeye commitments are from the state of Ohio. This group is led by defensive tackle Johnny Simon (Youngstown, Ohio) and linebackers Storm Klein (Newark, Ohio) and Jordan Whiting (Louisville, Ky.).
Perhaps the surprise of the early commitment barrage is North Carolina and Butch Davis. Sure we know Davis and company will recruit well but this season they are off to a super start. The Tar Heels have seven commitments over the last two weeks. Wide receiver Joshua Adams (Cheshire, Ct.), running back Ray-Ray Davis (Monroe, N.C.) and cornerback Taylor Sowell (Spartanburg, S.C.) lead the way.
"They just jumped on some key guys early and were first to offer' said Miller Safrit of Scout.com. "It's interesting because it's different than last season and last year they were low on numbers."
The Bulldogs are sitting on five commitments and they secured those all before this past National Signing Day. Headed to Athens are quarterback Zach Mettenberger (Watkinsville, Ga.) and a super running back in Washaun Ealey (Twin City, Ga.). Georgia could be a team that could be close to being done by June 1.
"This is what UGA has done the past few (recruiting) seasons," said Safrit. "They were done early last year and were able to make a big move of this year's guys. Anytime you win on the field and close hot like Georgia did last year and everyone is picking you No. 1 this season will also help tremendously."
One program that completely changed their recruiting tactics is Florida State. The Seminoles, along with rivals Florida and Miami, were all known for how they closed late in the recruiting process. But things have changed with the team from Tallahassee. After Bobby Bowden made his sweeping coaching changes a little over a year go, FSU changed up their recruiting philosophy. Led by offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher the ‘Noles got out and offered early and got a bunch of early verbals.
"There is a new philosophy and new wave of things in recruiting that we started to see a few years ago," said FSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher. "Things are changing fast. Kids today are more familiar with teams because there is so much more information out there and info at their finger tips with the internet. These guys know where they want to go. You just need to get on right kids early and finish up strong and that's what we are trying to do at Florida State. Things have drastically changed and we have adjusted to the times. Hopefully teams are chasing you and that's what we want once again at FSU."
This season is no different. Over the past two weeks linebacker C.J. Mizell (Tallahassee, Fla.), safeties Willie Downs (Tallahassee, Fla.) and JaJaun Harley (Tallahassee, Fla.) and defensive tackle Jacobbi McDaniel (Madison, Fla.) all committed to FSU. That's a mighty impressive four and a great start for Florida State.
The early trend is interesting to watch unfold, the early verbal commitment. What's just as interesting within this trend is where these kids are from. Take the seven schools in this story (USC, Texas, Texas A&M, North Carolina, Ohio State, Florida State and Georgia). Between them, they have a total of 45 commitments. Only four (of the 45 commitments) are from out-of-state. This means that these football powers are keeping the kids from their respective backyards.
"If you have a winning program or are going in that direction, why would you want to leave your state," said Lichtenfels?
The bottom line is that the trend of offering scholarships earlier and getting the early verbal both continue to spiral upwards. USC, Texas, Ohio State. Georgia, FSU, UNC and Texas A&M are all off to great starts even though Signing Day '09 is 50 weeks away. The question is will a bulk of the elite schools have a bulk of their recruiting finished by the summer? If this trend is any indication then the answer is yes, as we get closer to that each recruiting season.