On national signing day, 5-star outside linebacker Matthew Thomas committed to the Florida State Seminoles. However, according to a report by Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald, Thomas has asked the Seminoles to release him from his scholarship in order to play for either Georgia or Southern California.
Whether Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher and Co. ultimately grant Thomas his wish remains to be seen, but they probably should if their prized recruit doesn't really want to play in Tallahassee.
Thus, it is worth examining the pros and cons of both new prospective destinations for the former Booker T. Washington High School star, who is the No. 8 prospect overall and the second-ranked OLB by 247Sports.com.
Beginning with Georgia, there is a palpable benefit to attending the university in Athens—mostly due to the Bulldogs' recent success in grooming stud linebackers.
Jarvis Jones led the nation in tackles for loss and sacks this past season and went in Round 1 of the recent NFL draft to the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 17 overall. Despite off-field issues, Alec Ogletree led the team in total tackles and was snagged by the St. Louis Rams with the 30th overall pick (h/t NFL.com).
Since those two stars have moved on, a realistic opportunity to play and thrive immediately has to be enticing to Thomas, who alluded to the fact that Georgia needs linebackers in Navarro's report.
Another benefit to joining the Bulldogs program is that Thomas has family in Georgia, which he cited as a major influence on his decision to commit to FSU in the first place:
Per Navarro, though, perhaps the influence of his family is the reason Thomas is mired in this sticky situation:
What happened was on Signing Day [was] I wasn’t sure who I wanted to sign with. I had issues with different schools. But when I told my mom I didn’t want to sign with anybody and wait and give it a few days she said I couldn’t do that. She said, ‘FSU is a good school – pick them. It’s close to home.’ I wasn’t agreeing with it. But I felt like I was being disrespectful to her if I didn’t sign. So I made her happy.
I'm no psychoanalyst, but judging from Thomas' demeanor when he announced he would attend Florida State, he didn't exactly seem enthused. Making a decision on which college to attend is tough enough, much less when the stakes are this high for an extraordinarily gifted teenage football player.
Given the quality of the Southeastern Conference and the hype surrounding Thomas, expectations aren't going to be curbed at all during his freshman year.
Playing in Athens may not be in his best interest. Thomas is a freakish athlete who could be a dynamic edge-rusher in the mold of Jones. But at just 6'3" and 210 pounds, he needs to put on significant strength and thickness to hold up against the level of competition he'll be facing each week.
As for his prospects with the Trojans, recent history doesn't exactly bode well for that program.
USC was the preseason No. 1-ranked team in 2012, coming off of NCAA sanctions that included a two-year postseason ban. As it turns out, that label was fraudulent, and the Trojans went on to finish with a measly 7-6 record, including losses in five of their last six games.
ESPN Stats & Info documented just how bad the damage was when all was said and done:
With its loss in the Sun Bowl, USC is 1st AP preseason No. 1 to finish season with 6 losses.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 31, 2012
That has to be at least somewhat discouraging for Thomas. New defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, though, will switch back to a 3-4, where Thomas can utilize his abilities with his hand in the ground at defensive end or coming off the edge as a rusher. His skill set would give Pendergast schematic flexibility in the form of hybrid fronts.
Where should Matthew Thomas play college football?
There are clear positives and drawbacks for each alternative school should Thomas not attend Florida State. Both Georgia and USC run 3-4 defenses, which suits Thomas' game. Though the Seminoles plan to run hybrid fronts under new DC Jeremy Pruitt, the base will be 4-3, which doesn't help their case in retaining the linebacker.
Wherever Thomas decides to play, his upside and explosiveness should translate to a productive collegiate career and set up a shot for the pros.