Recruiting 2011 - What Really Mattered?
Auburn head coach Gene Chizik
Auburn head coach Gene Chizik
Posted Feb 3, 2011

TCU came up with one of its best classes ever, Texas quietly came up with another outstanding haul, and Oregon proved its among the elite of the recruiting elite, but the biggest story was the SEC as Gene Chizk and Auburn led the way with a great class that could become a whole lot stronger with one more very big signature. Here are the storylines that matter from Signing Day 2011.

Recruiting 2011 

Storylines That Matter

Go to for the best recruiting information and inside news. Here are the CFN lists of the top prospects for the 2011 recruiting season that we work off of with the top 300 prospects and top players at each position.

CFN Top Prospects for 2011
- No. 1 to 50 | No. 51 to 100 | No. 101 to 150
- No. 151 to 200No. 201 to 250 | No. 251 to 300
- Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Receivers
- Tight Ends | Off. Tackles | Guards & Centers 
- Def. Ends | Def. Tackles | Linebackers | Corners | Safeties 
- 2009 CFN Top 150 | 2010 CFN Top 200

- Recruiting 2011 | 2010 - Storylines That Matter 

By Pete Fiutak

1. The SEC

Remember, college football is a sport based on perception.

Obviously, there isn't a playoff and there isn't a way for a No. 6 seed, like the Green Bay Packers, to suddenly find itself in the championship. While there aren't any cheap college football national titles, there are always going to be some question marks and second-guess, what-if speculation as long as the BCS is in place. And as long as the BCS is in place, the SEC is going to get the benefit of several hundred doubts.

Fair or not, the SEC is seen as the far and away best conference in college football, and while winning several BCS Championships in a row will do that, the day will soon come when the weight of all the talent and all the stress and strain of the offseason will create one season when everything collapses. Considering all 12 SEC programs finished among the Scout top 45 recruiting classes, every team got better to feed the idea that every week in the SEC is a bear. For the Boise States and TCUs of the world who are striving for a break when it comes to the national title debate, you're not going to get it when it comes to respect from the SEC crowd.

The 2011 recruiting season only confirmed what everyone already sort of knew. There are three seasons in the South: football season, Spring Football, and recruiting. Others might be trying to get in on the fun, but the SEC has taken the acquisition of talent to a whole other level.

2. Can Clemson's Talent Translate?

Haven't we seen this movie before? Didn't we all assume that Tommy Bowden was going to make Clemson into a superpower after bringing in talent after talent? After a down year following an appearance in the ACC Championship, Clemson and head coach Dabo Swinney came out roaring with a terrific haul of top-flight prospects highlighted by outside linebacker Stephone Anthony out of North Carolina and middle linebacker Tony Steward, who was all but fitted for a Florida State helmet throughout the recruiting process. Throw in Lateek Townsend, a top linebacker prospect who was glossed over after the Signing Day fireworks, and the Tigers have the makings of a defensive brick wall. But will the upgrade at linebacker, the addition of top receivers Sammy Watkins, Charone Peake, and Martavis Bryant, and running back Mike Bellamy bring an ACC title?

If the great class can be a part of the mix right away, it might be enough to make Clemson a player in the conference title chase. Of the seven losses, five were by six points or fewer, one was in overtime against Auburn, and one was a battle against Miami two weeks after the hard-hitting loss to the Tigers. Now the pressure is on Swinney to show that he can coach, and while he'll get a year to let this class mature a bit, he won't get two.

3. Shhhhhhh, Texas.

While most of the top coaching staffs were biting their nails waiting for the fax machine to ring, the Texas coaches got to take a nap. Anyone who showed up this recruiting season on February 2nd probably assumed that Texas wasn't a part of the fun. While Auburn, USC, and Clemson provided the splashy storylines, Texas had already gotten its work done getting pretty much anyone it wanted well in advance. Coming off an epic 2010 recruiting class, the Longhorns loaded up once again with Malcolm Brown possibly being the running back the offense has been desperately looking for, and middle linebacker Steve Edmond, defensive tackle Desmond Jackson, and receiver Jaxon Shipley upgrading an already loaded team. Losing season, schmosing season; Mack Brown gets anyone in Texas he wants.

4. Fear the Duck

Oregon has been plucking away a few nice talents here and there for years now, but it hasn't been a megafactor in recruiting on a regular basis. That has all changed over the last few years. There was always the underground belief from coaches across the country that it was over whenever a prospect made the trip to Eugene (remember the Ohio State panic alert over Oregon's push to get Terrelle Pryor?), and now the fears have become reality.

With the Nike-infused uniforms, the elite, second-to-none facilities, the big-time atmosphere, and the high-energy offensive style and attacking defense, Oregon is now considered the cool program. USC might have come up with the better overall class, but the 11th hour loss of top corner DeAnthony Thomas to Eugene showed that Oregon is one of the Pac 12's biggest players and it's here to stay. Now the NFL-talent is coming in to match the scary-good systems. In other words, look out.

5. Uhhhhhh, Big Ten?

Wisconsin and Iowa always hover around the midrange of the recruiting rankings by design, and Penn State's recruiting classes all always under-the-radar because Joe Paterno wants it that way, but the Big Ten didn't exactly make much of a statement. Ohio State was Ohio State, and Nebraska did a decent job, but only the Buckeyes (No. 3) finished in the Scout top 20 and the Huskers were next at 23. Only four teams finished in the top 30 while Indiana, Northwestern, Minnesota and Purdue finished well out of the top 50. While this might not matter all that much considering the way most of the Big Ten programs recruit, it's not a plus in terms of national perception when most of the teams finished lower than Vanderbilt, Cincinnati, and Kansas. Part of the problem was …

6. Michigan's Woes

It's a double-barreled problem for Brady Hoke. First, he had about ten minutes to work, and spent most of his time trying to keep the players he was supposed to inherit, and second, Ohio State got even further ahead in the rivalry with a top three recruiting class. While being in a separate division from the Buckeyes will help the cause, Michigan didn't get any closer to the national championship with a good class, but not a great one. While recruiting rankings are hardly a be-all-end-all measure of future success, Michigan still isn't Michigan when it comes to getting the top talents. Hoke didn't bring in any player, outside of kicker Matt Wile, who ranked higher than 12th in the position rankings. Of course, it's only fair to start judging the Hoke recruiting skills with a full cycle to work, but this class only means it might be that much longer before the Wolverines are among the elite of the elite again.

7. The Nebraska Shift

The plus: Nebraska is in a bigger, better conference that'll provide more national exposure, a stronger academic reputation, and a new recruiting base with the selling point of playing in THE BIG TEN. The minus: The Huskers are losing Texas.

Nebraska likes to make a big deal out of how its foundation is built on in-state, hard-working talents, but the only chance of playing among the elite of the elite is to get the stars from elsewhere. The problem is that the move from the Big 12 to the Big Ten has all slowed the flow from the Texas pipeline with just five recruits from the Lone Star State in each of the last two seasons. The Huskers brought in eight prospects from Texas in 2009, nine in 2008, and seven in 2007.

So now Nebraska has to get even more national than before, while also battling a bit harder against Iowa, Wisconsin, and even Minnesota for the same local pie. Bo Pelini and the coaching staff can't stop working Texas, but it can't count on a regular influx of talent. That's a problem considering the three of the team's top four recruits, RB Aaron Green, CB Charles Jackson, and QB Jamal Turner, are from there.

8. Brian Kelly Can Recruit

No, Notre Dame doesn't have the national prestige it did 20 years ago, but the Irish head coach can get in the door with any top recruit from any Catholic high school in America. With a full season to work, Brian Kelly showed he can get some other top prospects, too, and he showed that his staff won't just lean back on the Notre Dame name and isn't afraid to hustle.

Top defensive end Ishaq Williams was in the mix to go to Penn State, but Notre Dame was there on the day he was supposed to make his visit to Happy Valley, and the deal was done. The Irish got DE Stephon Tuitt out of Georgia and away from all the SEC powerhouses; DE Aaron Lynch out of Florida and away from Alabama, Florida, Florida State, LSU, and Ohio State; OT Troy Niklas was stolen away from USC, Oklahoma, and Nebraska; and USC, LSU, Ohio State, and Oklahoma lost in the battle for No. 1 ranked tight end Ben Koyack.

Kelly's first go-round with time to work all but ended the fears that he couldn't go out and get the top talents to come to South Bend, and while it's asking too much for this one class to make Notre Dame a national superpower again, the future looks bright.

9. Cyrus Kouandjio

There are always a few bizarre and strange recruiting stories every Signing Day, but this one is an all-timer.

Cyrus Kouandjio, the nation's top offensive tackle prospect, would've been the crown jewel of Auburn's loaded 2011 class, and he still might be. On national television, Kouandjio broke the hearts of Alabama, Iowa and New Mexico coaches by saying he was going to Auburn because that's where his "heart said to go." The problem was that 1) he looked like someone just told him his dog died and 2) he didn't actually sign and send in his letter of intent.

Immediately, fans and recruiting mavens were speculating wildly about what the NFL-ready tackle might do next. It was assumed that the issue is his family, which reportedly wants him to go to Alabama because they like the coaching staff and they want him to join his brother, Arie. However, Kouandjio's dad has come out and said he wants his son to make his own choice and will support and be behind whatever decision is made, and the high school head coach, Bill McGregor, while surprised, said he wasn't steering the star one way or another.

However this turns out, he'll be an archenemy for either the Tide or the Tigers unless he bails altogether to get away from the drama and picks Iowa, USC, or even New Mexico. And it has already started. One jilted and really, really angry Alabama fan wrote in joking that Kouandjio had delayed sending in his LOI to Auburn until the check cleared … and that was the tamest of the unfair barbs aimed at a clearly confused, extremely stressed kid trying to make the biggest decision of his life.

10. TCU

TCU was 63rd in the 2010 Scout recruiting rankings, 54th in 2009, 114th in 2008, 73rd in 2007, and 73rd in 2006 (with Andy Dalton the 73rd ranked quarterback in 2006, Rimington winner Jake Kirkpatrick an unranked offensive line prospect, Jerry Hughes an unranked running back, and Tank Carder an unranked linebacker). Considering the Horned Frogs were within a hiccup of playing in each of the last two BCS championships, it's fair to say that no one has done more to debunk the recruiting hype more than head coach Gary Patterson. Now he gets to show what he can do with some real, live top-shelf prospects.

Armed with the success of the last few seasons and with next year's move to the Big East to sell, Patterson and his staff did a phenomenal job with 19 recruits ranked three stars or higher compared to nine in 2010, 12 in 2009, just two in 2008, and just six in 2007. Jeremy Kerley was a four-star prospect a in the 2007 class, and he was considered a huge get for the program that never gets players of that caliber. The 2011 class welcomes in three four-star receivers in Ladarius Brown, Brandon Carter, and Cameron White.

Patterson will still work his magic with the unsung prospects that few others want, but it'll be worth watching if the supposed David can handle the role of Goliath now that it's armed with a few bigger stones.