Oregon Football: Why Chip Kelly Must Step Up His 2013 Recruiting Game
It's too early to panic, but Ducks fans can't help but be concerned at the pace of Oregon's 2013 recruitment.
Last year at this time, the Ducks had 13 verbal commitments and ended up with 21 signed recruits. As of today, Oregon has 11 verbals—10 prior to December and only one this month.
While it would appear that the Ducks are only slightly behind last year's class, there are some troubling markers.
Let's analyze exactly where Oregon is with only 50 days to go until February's National Signing Day, and what Chip Kelly needs to do about it.
Comparison to Previous Years
In 2010, Chip Kelly signed more recruits (13) after December than he did before (11). However, in 2011 and 2012—years where the Ducks were really hot and highly visible—Oregon signed more recruits prior to December than after.
So, if the Ducks are hotter than ever—which they are—why does Oregon have fewer verbal commitments than usual?
One could make the case that Chip Kelly and his assistants are being extremely picky this year in who they offer scholarships to. Where the Ducks were thrilled to get 3-star prospects a few years back, now they are tossing their lasso further afield and targeting the cream of the crop.
When you compete with the best, you are going to lose a few kids.
The Ones That Got Away (Maybe)
Oregon has gone after some top-rated players, but guess what? There are plenty of other good teams with good stories to tell who are also after the best kids.
I know you, dear Ducks fan, can't imagine why a recruit would possibly choose another school over Oregon, but there are lots of reasons: childhood loyalties to a program, might not like rain, wants to stay close to mommy, likes ugly uniforms, etc.
The Ducks made offers to 5- and 4-star prospects, many of whom have verbally committed to other schools. Defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III, defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes, linebacker Michael Hutchings, athlete Ricky Seals-Jones and wide receiver Robert Foster were all disappointments.
Safety Max Redfield and the nation's No. 1 prospect, defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, are not committed, but the Ducks don't appear to be in the running.
Running back Terrell Newby still has Oregon on his interest list. The Ducks are also still on 5-star safety Leon McQuay III's list, but he is said to be leaning towards Florida State, USC or Vanderbilt.
The point is that once the Ducks offer a 4- or 5-star prospect a scholarship, there is a natural time lag while the recruit considers all his options. I would imagine that if you believe you have a shot at a "can't miss" kid, you are not going to offer all your scholarships to the guys further down your list.
If you still might land Leon McQuay III, for instance, would you be silly to give away a scholarship to a player who might not have McQuay's potential?
How Long Do You Wait?
The tricky part in this recruitment game, if you're Chip Kelly, seems to be deciding exactly how long you wait before you call the next kid on your wish list.
If the cheerleader in your high school class wouldn't give you a firm commitment on going to the prom with you, and you waited until the last day to ask another girl, you ran the risk of not having a date.
That's what this process feels like. Do you hold out for the one you really want, or do you settle? And how do you know when it's time to settle?
This 2013 class feels especially wishy-washy to me with players committing and then waffling. Maybe it's always like this, but it seems to be more unsettled than usual.
My gut feeling is that Kelly is deliberately playing a waiting game because he thinks Oregon might still turn around some of the top gets.
Maybe Chip Kelly knows more about recruiting than me—ya think? And this "wait and see" strategy is the way to play it.
But someone needs to tell him that Oregon is falling behind, especially to Pac-12 Conference competitors.
Of the Top 200 prospects according to Rivals.com, Oregon has commitments from ten, which is terrific.
However, you all know that USC has a zillion of those kids—although, some of their verbal commitments have gone from "solid" to "soft" recently. The scarier news is that several Pac-12 schools are doing very well with this Top 200 group.
Washington, for instance, has eight commitments from Top 200 kids. UCLA has seven. Arizona and Cal—good grief—have five each. And they, along with Oregon, are still in the running for several undecideds in this elite group.
Could Washington and/or UCLA end up with stronger recruiting classes than Oregon?
Let's not forget that we are talking about 17- and 18-year-olds. Their decision-making is not fully developed. They change their minds. They are easily swayed by family, friends, helmet design, even TV announcers.
Born-and-bred Oregonian Thomas Tyner, the 5-star running back from Aloha High School, has already done one about-face. Thankfully, it was short-lived, but it made the hair on the back of Oregon fans' necks stand up.
And now, there are rumors about 4-star RB Dontre Wilson from DeSoto, TX being fiercely wooed by Ohio State and Texas, among others. Wilson has addressed the issue of other teams visiting him, but insists that he will sign with Oregon.
Chip Kelly and Co. need to hold onto the verbal commitments they have, as well as continue to court other top prospects.
Fiesta Bowl Bounce?
The Fiesta Bowl between Oregon and Kansas State promises to be one of the best and most-watched of all the bowl games this season.
Because this BCS bowl is the only game on the docket for Thursday, Jan. 3, one would assume that every high school football player in America will be watching unless his Aunt Etta and Uncle Theo make him come over and take down their Christmas tree that evening.
It's crucial for Oregon's recruitment efforts that the Ducks are creative, look good, win big and appear to be having the time of their lives. In other words, be themselves.
Do so, and Oregon should experience a powerful recruiting bounce from the Fiesta Bowl that will allow it to finish strong.
Fast. Hard. Finish.
When the topic is the 2013 recruiting class, it's too late for the Ducks to be "fast."
From everything we hear, we know Chip Kelly and his assistants are hitting it "hard."
But will they be able to "finish?"
A lot needs to happen in a short period of time for Oregon to "Win The Day" on Wednesday, February 6, 2013.
Kay Jennings is a member of the Football Writers Association of America.