Recruiting Analysis: Observations from a 12-month perspective
By Travis Stewart/Staff Writer
Keeping my Recruiting Blog up to date is beginning to feel like a full-time job. When you’re this close to national Signing Day (Feb. 4th), predicting and following the minds of 17- and 18-year olds is like trying to transport a colony of roly-polys with chopsticks — time-consuming, confusing and it usually leaves you wondering if there’s a better way to do things.
But putting each of those blogs together over an entire year gives you an interesting cross-section of the state of flux the recruiting world exists in — youngsters are constantly adding and subtracting schools from their lists based on coaching changes, on-field performance, transfer situations and a number of other factors that always seem to turn the entire recruiting world upside down in its final seven days.
This year was particularly interesting, and I’ve tried to keep track of a few scenarios that have caught my eye over the past 12 months. I’ve listed them here, but there’s a caveat: All of what you’re about to read may change in about nine seconds, the standard time frame for stability in the recruiting world.
Michigan Wolverines: No one in their right mind would ever question Michigan’s history. But some of us are beginning to whisper about its reality, and that’s an important distinction. Despite its long-standing legacy of elite athletics and sterling recruiting efforts, the Wolverines’ recent struggles are reflected in more than just this year’s class. Have you noticed Michigan’s top Texas recruits out of both its past classes have already transferred?
RB Sam McGuffie, a headliner signee out of Cy Fair in 2008, has left and signed with Rice, a far cry from one of the winningest programs in the country. Texas High’s Ryan Mallett, one of America’s top QB’s in 2007, has also already left Michigan — he’ll be eligible at Arkansas starting next year. As for the Wolverines’ only two Texas recruits for 2009? They’ve both gone another direction as well — Wichita Falls Rider QB Shavodrick Beaver has changed to Tulsa and South Grand Prairie WR Dewayne Peace decided he didn’t want anything to do with Ann Arbor either. There are still several Texas natives on the Michigan roster, sure — Terrence Robinson (Klein Oak), Darryl Stonum (FB Dulles), Brandon Herron (FB Dulles), Troy Woolfolk (FB Dulles) and Mark Ortmann (Klein) are all still there. But see a trend? Three are from one school (we call that a pipeline) and the other two are from the same school district.
But Michigan is a tough sell right now; it’s still sorting out a new coach (former WVU coach Rich Rodriguez) and it’s recent on-field production has been far below par. If the Wolverines want to mine Texas’ recruiting gold to the same effect it has in the past, it needs to right its little tailspin quickly. At this pace, 2009 will be just the second time since 2005 that the Wolverines have come up empty handed in the Lone Star State.
Photo by Josh Bowerman
Iowa State Cyclones: At one point this season, Iowa State — a long suffering program in the Big 12 — actually looked to be doing quite well; it had roped in a number of BCS-quality recruits that had at least been offered by schools with more successful track records. But after head coach Gene Chizik departed for Auburn in late 2008, things unraveled quickly — Denton Ryan WR D.J. Beshears, who caught 21 touchdowns and nearly 1,500 yards worth of passes in 2008, opted for Kansas; Rockwall-Heath LB Ryan Mosby found sunnier skies in Kentucky; Cedar Park Vista Ridge QB Taylor McHargue dropped the Cyclones for Houston (and in turn dropped the Cougars for Rice); and Royse City OL Brock Wempa, a Texas Top 300 selection, decommitted and reopened his recruiting.
For any program, that’s a tough pill to swallow. But for a school that has finished above .500 just twice since 2002 and has only nine wins over the past three years, that’s a devastating blow to what had been shaping up to be a surprisingly stout recruiting class. Though Cy Ridge LB Princeton Jackson, Allen CB Jeremy Reeves (pictured above) and Dallas Skyline ATH James White are all still planning on moving to Ames, there’s just no way to make up for the loss of four quality players who all played different positions. Though Chizik’s move to Auburn was met with rolled eyes nation wide — his performance at ISU was tough to defend — it’s going to leave a real scar for the next two or three years for a team that’s already on life support.
Photo by Stephen Cook/StephenCook.us
The RG3 Effect: Sometimes all it takes for a program to suddenly find the recruiting fountain of youth is one stroke of luck (or brilliance), and Baylor may have found that in QB Robert Griffin. Originally committed to Houston, the Copperas Cove standout switched to Baylor along with coach Art Briles and immediately blossomed into a Sporting News freshman all-American in his first year on campus.
Well, his successes did not go unnoticed, and as Baylor puts together one of its best recruiting classes in recent memory, a number of its soon-to-be-student athletes are citing the green-and-gold godsend as a primary reason they settled on Waco. It’s not a short list — Darius Jones, a Marshall ATH who was originally committed to OU, mentioned Griffin by name when interviewed about his move by the Waco Tribune-Herald. Skyler Scott, a WR from Lancaster, gave a late verbal to Baylor with this to say to the T-H: “Im looking forward to playing in the spread offense and playing with (quarterback) Robert Griffin. And Houston Lamar WR Josh Gordon? He told the T-H: Coach (Art) Briles was persistent and stayed in contact with me, and showed the most interest. Baylor has a great quarterback in Robert Griffin.
Face it — there’s no questioning the kind of impact one player can have on the perception of a program. As the 2007 season started, the Bears were somewhat of a Big 12 afterthought; now, after an oh-so-close 2008 campaign, no team in the entire Big 12 looks as promising as Baylor. Part of it is Briles, a born-and-bred Texan with a knack for recruiting. Part of it is WR Kendall Wright, who also had a breakout year last season. But nothing changed things like Griffin. The RG3 effect is very real.
Photo by Stephen McClung
The 5A Classification: For the most part, Texas’ 5A classification produces the largest and deepest group of high school recruits on a yearly basis. There’s plenty of reasons for that — it has the most students, the most money to spend on coaching and equipment, etc. — but usually 5A is a safe bet to produce somewhere between 100 to 120 kids worthy of DI offers. But this year’s positional Top Ten — as listed in DCTF’s 2009 Winter Edition magazine — shows some interesting trends. I’ll give you two bits of trivia, and then you can spend the rest of this paragraph thinking about the answers. Question One: Which position only had one 5A player listed in its Top Ten? Question Two: At which position in the Top Ten did 5A come closest to shutting out its competitors? Start thinking while I move on to other things.
The offensive-defensive breakdown in this year’s Top Ten was intriguing: on the offensive side of the ball (which includes ATHs), 5A players accounted for just 40 percent of the 60 players ranked. But on defense, that number jumped all the way up to 66 percent … that’s a pretty big difference. 2007 was far more temperate — the Top Ten offense was 55 percent 5A and the defense clocked in at 56. I’m not entirely sure what this means — got any ideas? — but I’m pretty sure it means something. Perhaps the popularity of spread offenses in all classifications is inflating passing and receiving numbers enough that 1A, 2A and 3A sill players are becoming attractive options. I just don’t know. But I do know that this will likely go down as one of the best years for 1A football in recent memory — as of right now, there are five 1A players committed to DI institutions, and assuming Evant ATH Aaron Doyle signs somewhere (which he should), than that number would grow to six … which is exactly six times what it has been the past two years. That’s a pretty big jump.
OK — ready for your trivia answers? The answer to the first is quarterbacks — there is only one 5A quarterback in this year’s positional top ten, Arlington Bowie’s Christian Matthews. As to the second question … well, that was a trick, since either defensive tackle or linebacker would have been correct. Both sets of rankings had only two 4A players — like Rockwall-Heath LB Austin Moss (pictured above) — and the rest were all 5A.