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January 31, 2012
National Signing Day: Top storylines
National Signing Day arrives Wednesday and Rivals.com will have every twist and turn, hat-donning antics covered throughout the day. Rivals.com analysts look at some of the top stories in each region, both hot topics that played out prior to Wednesday and others still to come.
Still No. 1?
Alabama has finished with the top overall class nationally three of the past four years. Can the Tide make it four out of five? Right now, Alabama is poised to push for the top spot. In fact, that's where it currently sits thanks largely to the fact it has three five-stars and 12 four-stars committed. And the Tide might not be done. It wouldn't be a shock to see Nick Saban's program score another big-name talent on Wednesday. Who could challenge for No. 1? Texas is right on Alabama's heels, but watch for Florida, Florida State, Ohio State and USC. With an exceptional finish by any of these programs, things could get interesting. Regardless, Bama has done quite well. Again.
The big flips
In Alabama, five-star running back T.J. Yeldon of Daphne, was committed to Auburn for months. And every now and then, when rumors popped up that he was considering the Tide, he shot them down by insisting he was firm to Auburn. Even at the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic in early December, he claimed he would sign with Auburn. But on Dec. 18, Yeldon switched to archrival Alabama. The flip heard 'round Dixie sent shockwaves through the state. Meanwhile, five-star quarterback Gunner Kiel also pulled a switcheroo. First, he was headed to Indiana. Then, he committed to LSU. Finally, he landed at Notre Dame. To the Tigers, losing Kiel, who backed off his LSU pledge - largely because he wanted to play closer to his home in Indiana - at the 11th hour was a significant blow. Just two weeks earlier, they were edged by rival Alabama for five-star safety and Louisiana native Landon Collins, who lives less than an hour from Baton Rouge.
Tar Heel State-Ment
Several out-of-state programs raided North Carolina for talent, landing the state's very best in the class of 2012. Florida and Georgia were the biggest winners. The Gators landed a pair of five-star recruits in offensive tackle D.J. Humphries and defensive end Jonathan Bullard along with a couple of three-star talents. The Bulldogs secured verbals from four-star Rivals100 running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. Clemson and South Carolina also landed two top-10 players each from the state. Only one top-10 Tar Heel State product is staying at home - quarterback James Summers, who is headed to Chapel Hill.
In Nashville, Vanderbilt is on the verge of putting together arguably its best class of the modern era. Right now, the Commodores are No. 23 in the team rankings, ahead of programs such as Nebraska, Oklahoma State, TCU and Wisconsin. All 22 Vanderbilt commits have a three-star rating or above, something no other team in the SEC East can boast. Included in that group is a pair of Rivals 250 prospects - running back Brian Kimbrow and defensive end Caleb Azubike - both Volunteer State products.
Big bang or flat finish?
Several teams in the region have the potential to close strong, notably Auburn, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee. If the Gators surge on signing day, a jump to the top is possible because they're in the hunt with a handful of five-stars. Georgia also is in position to make a jump. Ditto for Auburn and Tennessee. But the truth is, it's almost impossible to predict how these four will finish because so many of their top targets are complete tossups.
- Keith Niebuhr
Anticlimactic signing day
Were it not for the actual exercise of signing letters of intent, the first Wednesday in February would not look much different than any other day at Midwest high schools this year. Of the 43 four- and five-star prospects in Midwest states, only one - Chicago Simeon offensive tackle Jordan Diamond - remains uncommitted, most having made their college selections months ago. Although committed to Wisconsin, four-star offensive tackle Kyle Dodson will revisit his decision, giving us at least one more National Signing Day battle to discuss.
Gunner Kiel's Odyssey
At the beginning of this class, Gunner Kiel was no one's pick to have the strangest recruiting ride. A Midwest kid who had two older brothers already go through the process, Kiel looked destined for a straightforward recruitment. Two decommitments later, Kiel wound up enrolling at Notre Dame - the school everyone expected him to pick in the first place - the week classes started for the second semester in South Bend.
Urban Meyer saves the day
Years of enjoying the view from the top of the recruiting world came crashing down on Ohio State when impending NCAA sanctions forced the dismissal of head coach Jim Tressel in May. In the aftermath, rival Big Ten programs Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin were beating the Buckeyes for top talent in their own backyard. But on Nov. 28, Urban Meyer stepped into the void in Columbus and nine Rivals250 commits later he has the Buckeyes right back on top of the recruiting world again.
Glenville drama, part II
Cleveland's Glenville High School has been the site of some signing day drama in recent years, most recently in 2011 when four-star offensive tackle Aundrey Walker spurned Ohio State for USC and four-star linebacker Andre Sturdivant eschewed BCS offers to sign with Toledo. Glenville is once again the place to be on signing day in the Midwest, mainly because few other schools have uncommitted prospects announcing. Cornerbacks Sean Draper and V'Angelo Bentley, along with defensive tackle Willie Henry, remained uncommitted at the start of the day Tuesday.
Nebraska's big finish
While most of its Big Ten brethren waits on decisions from just one, or zero, recruits, Nebraska has five big signing day announcements they are still in on … and there is a legitimate shot they land all five. Expectations are the Cornhuskers sign five-star offensive tackle Andrus Peat, four-star athlete Alonzo Moore and three-star defensive tackles Aaron Curry and Vincent Valentine. They also have a halfway decent shot with four-star cornerback Devian Shelton. Even if they do not bat 1.000, the Huskers should make a big jump in the national team rankings.
- Josh Helmholdt
The No. 1 storyline in the country is where the nation's No. 1 recruit will end up. Dorial Green-Beckham hasn't done a recruiting interview in close to a year and those around him have remained tight-lipped as well. Arkansas was thought to be the favorite but Missouri now seems to have moved into the driver's seat. Nobody will really know anything until signing day when he makes his decision on national television. Even Oklahoma and Texas remain somewhat cautiously optimistic.
A&M vs. Oregon
With few uncommitted top recruits left in the state of Texas, many eyes will be on wide receiver Thomas Johnson on signing day as he chooses between California, Oregon, TCU and Texas A&M. However, the Aggies and Ducks have another battle brewing as longtime A&M pledge Bralon Addison is strongly considering switching to Oregon. The U.S. Army All-American will make his ultimate decision known on signing day.
Mack the man
Texas usually has its class completely full by the summer, if not even by the end of February. However, head coach Mack Brown took a different approach this year and it paid off with the Longhorns' best late haul in years. Texas flipped Kendall Sanders from Oklahoma State, Daje Johnson from TCU, Adrian Colbert from Baylor, Dalton Santos from Tennessee, Bryce Cottrell from Oregon and Marcus Johnson from Texas A&M all relatively late in the game.
LSU is used to having top 10, if not top five, classes so it is a bit of a surprise this year to see the Tigers struggling. They do not have a single pledge from a Rivals100 prospect and lost in-state five-star safety Landon Collins to Alabama. The Bayou Bengals have had a string of bad luck as well with five-star quarterback Gunner Kiel having a last-minute change of heart and four-star offensive tackle Patrick Miller switching to Auburn due to not being able to enroll early in Baton Rouge.
A new rivalry
With Missouri and Arkansas both battling for the services of Green-Beckham, it is not a new theme to see the two SEC schools going head to head. Landing Green-Beckham would be payback as the Razorbacks have stolen two Tiger commits in Jonathan Williams and Will Hines. Missouri has actually struggled to hold on to a number of pledges, also losing Simon Goines to UCLA and Donald Hopkins to Houston.
- Brian Perroni
Cal's coaching changes
After defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi and wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau left Cal for Washington in recent weeks, there has been turmoil among many top prospects in the Golden Bears' class, including the most recent - five-star Shaq Thompson flipping to Washington. Players that seemed locked in are starting to look around, take visits and it seems as if some will be headed to other schools. But how many will leave? Bryce Treggs is considering UCLA (USC is out of the picture), Jordan Payton is looking at Washington, Cedric Dozier is thinking about Washington State and Kenneth Walker is considering Washington and UCLA. It could be a wild signing day for Cal's recruiting class.
Big men stay in Pac-12
Two of the biggest players by sheer size - five-star offensive tackle Zach Banner and four-star defensive end Arik Armstead - have decided to stay in the Pac-12 and that is notable for many reasons. First, schools from across the country were recruiting both players, including SEC teams, Notre Dame and others. But Banner committed to USC over Washington and Oklahoma on Monday and Armstead picked Oregon instead of Auburn, Notre Dame, Cal and Washington on Sunday. Both are tremendous pickups not only because they have great size but also because they could become immediate impact players on the college level. Both are gargantuan prospects who would look imposing on a college field right now.
The Shaq Thompson roller-coaster recruiting ride apparently has come to an end when the five-star safety from Sacramento (Calif.) Grant said he would go to Washington. Then again, he was committed to Cal twice in the past. Thompson is such a game-changer, and such an addition makes any defense better in the secondary.
USC already has two five-stars in its class in Banner and offensive guard Jordan Simmons, the top-rated player at his position, and more could be on the way. Or they could be headed to Stanford. Or they could be going someplace else. It's still too close to call for offensive tackles Kyle Murphy and Andrus Peat, along with wide receiver Nelson Agholor and defensive end Aziz Shittu. It's unlikely that USC will get all four but even one, or two, would make the Trojans' class even more solid. Stanford is clearly in the running for Murphy, Peat and Shittu - Agholor is probably going to pick USC or Florida - so the Cardinal could be in for a signing day bonanza as well.
Credit first-year coach Jim Mora and his excellent assistant coaches - along with some lucky breaks in the Pac-12 - for having UCLA ranked second in the Pac-12 recruiting rankings as of Tuesday afternoon. The Bruins have done an excellent job in recent weeks flipping five-star defensive tackle Ellis McCarthy from Cal, getting four-star defensive end Jeremy Castro to flip from Oregon and landing four-star athlete Devin Fuller out of New Jersey. Keeping four-star linebacker Aaron Porter, who was being pursued by Oklahoma, was also a big deal. If UCLA can steal four-star Bryce Treggs or even three-star Kenneth Walker from Cal's class then that would be huge.
- Adam Gorney
It would be difficult to bring up anything college football-related over the last few months without mentioning the Penn State situation. When it comes to recruiting, it obviously caused a chaotic recruiting situation in Happy Valley, but Penn State is not the only area school that had to deal with coaching turmoil. Pittsburgh had to deal with the sudden departure of coach Todd Graham to Arizona State, which was the third coaching change at Pitt in a little over a year. Then Rutgers was blindsided by the departure of coach Greg Schiano to the NFL only six days before National Signing Day. All three of these coaching situations kept recruiting in the area very combustible, with recruits and coaches heading in several directions.
Pennsylvania always is a deep state in the region when it comes to recruiting. With that said, Penn State and Pittsburgh did not take advantage with the class of 2012. Coaching changes mentioned above certainly did not help and can be blamed for some of the disappointment, but improvement is definitely needed with the 2013 class. The state currently is being raided for its talent, of which there is plenty.
The year of Bosco
For any high school football fan in the region, Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, N.J., is a known entity. In the 2012 class the Ironmen had four players in the Rivals250 (and four U.S. Army All Americans), plus two others also commit to BCS programs. A few recruiting surprises also made things interesting. Yuri Wright, after a much publicized situation on Twitter, surprised many by committing to Colorado, Elijah Shumate spurned his supposed early favorites, Rutgers and South Carolina, and committed to Notre Dame at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, and Leonte Carroo was left in limbo after the departure of Greg Schiano at Rutgers. Five-star Darius Hamilton, long considered a Rutgers lean, is now looking more at Florida and Miami as well. It's doubtful one school in New Jersey will ever have another recruiting year like this one.
FSU invades Maryland
Florida State has long been known as a recruiting power, but Maryland is not one of its regular territories. This changed in a big way this recruiting season as the Seminoles have positioned themselves well with both five-star defensive tackle Eddie Goldman and four-star defensive back Ronald Darby. Goldman has long been considered a Florida State lean, despite also taking visits to Miami, Alabama and Auburn, while Darby came along as more of a surprise. Long committed to Notre Dame, Darby decided to re-open his recruiting process in early January and the Seminoles became one of the more aggressive suitors. After taking his official visit to Tallahassee earlier this month, the Seminoles have become the clear favorites as Darby looks to make his decision on Wednesday.
The Diggs drama
Every year there is usually one high-rated player who takes things past signing day and this year it will be five-star wide receiver Stefon Diggs. Throughout the process as offers continued to roll in and schools were added and dropped from his list, fans across the country continuously checked in. However, it wasn't until the last month or two that everything really got interesting with Diggs. After an early December official visit to California, Diggs has followed that up with January visits to Auburn, Florida and Ohio State. He will finish his official visit schedule this upcoming weekend at Maryland and then will make a final decision on Feb. 10. Without a clear favorite at this time and with only Cal out of the picture among those he visited, you can be sure that there will be plenty of fans eagerly awaiting that decision.
- Mike Farrell
State of Florida
Miami doing well in-state
The Hurricanes have 24 total commitments from the Sunshine State this year, including 15 of the state's top 100 players. Al Golden and company did a good job in South Florida where they landed five-star all-purpose back Randy Johnson from Miami Norland and his teammate, four-star offensive tackle Ereck Flowers. Miami remains in contention for the state's top player in Miramar five-star cornerback Tracy Howard as well.
Alabama steals three top players Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide dipped into Florida and snagged three of the top 11 players in the state, all of whom could end up on the offensive side of the ball catching passes. Panama City (Fla.) Arnold five-star athlete Eddie Williams, Miami Northwestern four-star wide receiver Amari Cooper and Jacksonville First Coast four-star wide receiver Chris Black are all Tuscaloosa-bound. All three have the potential to make an immediate impact for the defending national champions.
Top talent off board
Heading into National Signing Day, the Sunshine State doesn't provide a great deal of intrigue when it comes to top-tier talent as just five of the top 50 prospects in the state remain uncommitted. One of those prospects, Miami Beach four-star wide receiver Ricardo Louis, is almost a certainty to pledge his services back to Auburn. Louis, who recently committed and quickly decommitted from Florida State, was a long-time commitment to Gene Chizik and the Tigers.
Gators make push
While there is not a great deal of talent left to decide in Florida, the Gators could be the big winners of National Signing Day with the top talent that remains. Florida is in the thick of it with five-star cornerback Tracy Howard of Miramar (Fla.) and five-star wide receiver Nelson Agholor of Tampa Berkeley Prep, the top two players in Florida for 2012. Will Muschamp and company are also in the running for Daytona Beach Mainland four-star defensive end Leonard Williams and Palm Beach Gardens four-star offensive tackle Avery Young, who are the Nos. 3 and 4, respectively, remaining uncommitted players in the Sunshine State.
Talent to distribute
In addition to the uncommitted prospects already mentioned, some other talent that remains on the board in the Sunshine State includes St. Petersburg (Fla.) Gibbs three-star cornerback Gary Simon, who is likely bound for Oklahoma, as well as Tampa Berkeley Prep three-star inside linebacker Schyler Miles, who is down to a trio of finalists or Florida, West Virginia and Kansas. Other uncommitted talent remaining on the board includes Vero Beach (Fla.) three-star wide receiver Charlie Miller, who just visited Vanderbilt, and Miami Northwestern three-star defensive end Eric Kinsey, who has mentioned very high interest in West Virginia.
- Chris Nee