The Top Ten Storylines
1. Florida’s dominance
Any and all concerns about Urban Meyer’s health were either ignored, blown off, or not considered a big deal by top recruit after top recruit in one of the best-ranked recruiting classes of all-time. Forget about restocking the shelves for 2013, considering that most recruiting classes can’t be honestly judged for a few seasons; this is a class built for right now.
Meyer, beyond being a tireless recruiter, has done a great job of building an atmosphere and a program that blows off the depth chart and creates competition at every spot. If you’re the best player for a position, you’ll play, and with a team with so many top players off to the next-level, or simply done with their Florida careers, the opportunities will be there for several of the tremendous recruits from defensive tackle Dominique Easley to running back Mack Brown to start right away. The Gators brought in 15 players who’d be the crown jewels for almost any other program, and they’re all Meyer’s.
So how did this happen? How did Meyer and his staff pull this off? Call it a perfect storm of recruiting that brought the wave to talent to Gainesville.
1) The Notre Dame job was filled. Now that Charlie Weis is out and Brian Kelly is in, all rumors and speculation about Meyer ever leaving to what was once thought of as his dream job can be put to rest.
2) Alabama didn’t need a top class. The Tide got more than its share of star prospects and signed 29 players, but there weren’t as many immediate job openings as there were at Florida and a phenomenal Tide class is expected to come in next year. Throw in a young LSU team, and the coaching change at Tennessee, and Meyer and Florida were able to have a wee bit easier of a time bringing in so many key stars.
3) Meyer was able to spin his health issues to his advantage. He was able to tell recruits that he was more committed to Florida now than ever before, and with a little bit of time off he would be rejuvenated and fresh. It also helps that there’s really nowhere else for him to go now. He’s not an NFL head coach, Notre Dame is filled, and Ohio State, the one likely spot he could ended up taking off for, isn’t going to have a job opening any time soon.
4) So many key players are gone from last year’s Gator team. When Meyer told recruits that’d have an honest shot of starting right away, he was able to truly mean it.
It all added up to a monster class that should keep the Gators in the national title hunt for the next several seasons.
2. Seantrel Henderson
Most of the top names had locked in before Signing Day making Henderson, a mammoth, athletic offensive lineman from St. Paul, the big Wednesday prize. USC was having a solid recruiting season to begin with, but to bring in the consensus top-rated blocker on the board gave Lane Kiffin his cornerstone tackle for the next few seasons
... maybe. Henderson wants to be a Trojan, but he's
waiting to sign until he finds out what the NCAA is
going to do to the football program for all its past
sins. On the field, he needs to find a meaner streak in him and he has to become the type of blocker who wants to bury defenders on a regular basis, but there’s no questioning the NFL talent and there’s no questioning that Kiffin is keeping the recruiting pipeline open with this
There was plenty of talk that the door was open for the rest of the Pac 10 to make a big jump by taking advantage of the issues at USC. From Pete Carroll leaving, to a disappointing 2009, to the potential NCAA sanctions, there was plenty of ammunition for the rivals to use. UCLA, Oregon, and California were able to get their hands on a few prospects who might have gone to USC had Carroll been in place and if the Trojans were coming off a Rose Bowl season, Kiffin did more than fine.
Besides getting Henderson (at least the verbal), snagging top WR Markeith Ambles out of Georgia was a nice pickup while keeping sure-things like corner Nickell Robey out of Florida to go along with top-shelf wide receivers Kyle Prater out of Illinois and Robert Woods out of Gardena, California showed that the loss of Carroll wasn’t that big a deal. For all the great things the rest of the Pac 10 did, USC’s recruiting class was still the best in the league. However …
4. UCLA made a huge dent
Bruin head coach Rick Neuheisel has wanted to butt heads with USC for every top recruit from the start, and this year he won several mega-battles starting with the signing of defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa out of Oregon. Many thought the star pass rusher’s choices were down to Nebraska and USC, but he’ll get a shot to be the top lineman from day one at UCLA and will be the cornerstone of a tremendous recruiting class. Odighizuwa was the crown jewel for Neuheisel, but getting safety Dietrich Riley out from USC’s clutches and signing corner Anthony Jefferson might turn out to be just as important. Throw in linebackers Josh Shirley, Aramide Olaniyan and Jordan Zumwalt, and UCLA will have one of the nation’s most promising defenses in the near future.
5. The very, very, very quiet monster class was brought in by …
Oklahoma. While Texas got some splashy top-ranked prospects like DE Jackson Jeffcoat and LB Jordan Hicks, Oklahoma might have come up with a stronger overall class. The rumors of Bob Stoops leaving for Notre Dame were untrue and the controversy allowed the coaching staff to show why they’re more committed to Oklahoma than ever. The Sooners loaded up with offensive firepower highlighted by QB Blake Bell and receiver Justin McCay from out of Kansas and WR Kenny Stills from California. But the big move was being able to steal Corey Nelson, a speedy safety/linebacker hybrid out from Texas A&M. Nelson had originally committed to the Aggies, but changed his mind on Signing Day in one of the biggest decommitments of the recruiting season. OU didn’t get Florida’s recruiting class, but it isn’t far off.
6. Notre Dame
Brian Kelly’s first class wasn’t a clunker by any means, but there’s no Manti Teo, Sam Young, or Jimmy Clausen to indicate that the superstars want to be in South Bend … yet.
Kelly’s No. 1 job was to keep the Charlie Weis recruits, and he did a strong job of that while getting a little bit of a break with a few prospects like DT Louis Nix from Jacksonville wanting to go to Notre Dame no matter what. Christian Leonard might be the nation’s top guard prospect and Matt James is a strong tackle who’ll eventually be a cornerstone for the outside, but this class was a holding pattern for a staff that had no time to work. However, it’s not a bad class with enough top prospects to plug in some immediate holes while also looking toward the future. A ready-made quarterback wasn’t brought in if Dayne Christ isn’t healthy and ready to go, and next year needs to have a little more star power, especially at the skill positions.
7. Succession, succession, succession.
Recruits like a plan and they don’t like uncertainty. Texas and Mack Brown were able to do a great job of selling all the stars they brought in that the coaching situation is stable and that the head man isn’t going anywhere any time soon, but if something does happen, Will Muschamp will keep the train moving. Worrying about coaching instability didn’t affect USC or Florida, but it was a big help in Texas and a bigger help for Florida State.
It’s not like players weren’t going to come to Tallahassee if Bobby Bowden was still in place, but now that it’s Jimbo Fisher’s program, it was easier for there to be some semblance of stability in place. Fisher kept the Bowden tradition of last-minute Signing Day magic alive while bringing in one of the program’s best all-around classes in years. The coaching change solidifies the commitments of linebacker Jeff Luc and corner Lamarcus Joyner, while the Noles came up with two tremendous Signing Day gets in receiver Christian Green and linebacker Christian Jones, along with German defensive end Bjorn Werner.
8. The Big East
The Big East signed a mere 18 prospects rated four stars or higher by Scout, compared to 94 signed by the SEC and 67 by the Pac 10. Pitt came up with another good class under Dave Wannstedt highlighted by interesting QB Anthony Gonzalez and stud defensive ends T.J. Clemmings and Bryan Murphy. West Virginia came up with a major score getting receiver Ivan McCartney out of Florida and Charlie Strong did a fantastic job as the new Louisville head man, but the overall star power isn’t there across the Big East board. That’s not to say that teams like Connecticut, Rutgers and West Virginia won’t be fine, they do good jobs fitting the players into the mix, but compared to the rest of the BCS conferences, this wasn’t exactly a big recruiting season.
Alabama is coming off a national championship, Nick Saban is getting just about every key recruit he needs, and the tide has turned in the Iron Bowl rivalry with all the momentum on the Crimson side. And then came this year’s Auburn recruiting class.
Gene Chizik came up with a whopper highlighted by the Signing Day pickup of top defensive end prospect Corey Lemonier out of Florida to go along with key commitments from offensive tackle Shon Coleman, defensive tackle Jeffrey Whitaker, and 6-6, 245-pound JUCO transfer Cameron Newton, who might make a big push to be the starting quarterback right away. Throw in Michael Dyer, a franchise running back who should be the perfect fit for the Gus Malzahn offense, and receiver Trovon Reed, and the Tiger attack should explode. In other words, don’t just hand the West to the Tide for the next few seasons.
Steve Sarkisian worked his magic with a talented and diverse class that built on the success of his rookie season. The quarterback succession plan is in place with Nick Montana, yeah, the son of thatMontana, almost certain to take over once Jake Locker is done. The lines have been beefed up with two rock-solid prospects for the offensive interior in Erik Kohler and Colin Porter, while Micah Hatchie should be a fixture at tackle. The defensive side wasn’t ignored with an NFL defensive tackle in Sione Potoae, a speedy linebacker in Chris Young, and a big-time defensive back in Sean Parker who pulled one of the shockers on Signing Day by choosing the Dawgs. No, don’t put Washington in the Rose Bowl quite yet, but the dormant powerhouse might not be that far off from getting back to the level it was at 20 years ago.