National Signing Day is just a few days away. This Wednesday, 18 and 19-year-old young men will be shown pulling Florida Gators hats out of bags, standing in pastures next to Longhorns, and humming the Michigan Fight song live on ESPN .
There is a pretty good chance that BCS’s red-headed stepson, the Big East, won’t be mentioned at all.
Perhaps that is fair. After all, it appears that only two of the ESPNU 150, ESPN’s ranking of the top 150 high school senior recruits in the nation, are headed to the Big East.
Despite falling short in the recruiting battle, the Big East continues to remain competitive on the national level, Florida’s thrashing of Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl aside. In fact, Big East teams split their 18 games with teams from other BCS conferences last season.
So how does the Big East remain competitive with the other BCS conferences if they aren’t pulling in the same quality recruits? By finding players that fit their system, uncovering the hidden gems, and polishing those hidden gems once they arrive on campus.
The Big East won’t ever lead the nation in recruit quality, but they always lead the nation in recruiting savvy.
Let’s take a look at this year’s Big East recruiting classes. They have been ranked against one another based on overall quality of the class.
Cardinal’s new coach Charlie Strong has done an excellent job in recruiting since taking over the reigns in Louisville. He and his staff were able to maintain recruits that committed to play for the Cardinals before his arrival, and have brought in new names to a roster that was lacking in both numbers and talent. The Cardinals are the only Big East team to secure more than two four-star recruits, and best of all, all three of their four-star guys were poached from Florida, a trend Strong will look to continue in the future.
Louisville’s trio of Floridians, DE B.J. Butler from Kissimmee-Osceola H.S., and high school teammates OG Torrian Wilson and WR Michaelee Harris out of Miami Northwestern H.S., highlight the best recruiting class in the Big East. Butler’s size and quickness could allow him to have an immediate impact. Wilson, at 6’4” 300 pounds, is a big guard who may also have an immediate impact. Harris projects as an all-conference performer down the road. Strong’s first recruiting class shows a lot of promise for the future.
Hidden Gem: QB Luke Woodley from Highland Park H.S. in Dallas has the potential to one day be the starter in Louisville. He is a good pocket passer with a strong arm.
2) South Florida
Remember those two ESPNU 150 players I mentioned above? Both are headed to South Florida. New coach Skip Holtz has been able to hold onto the conference’s best recruit, DT Todd Chandler. Chandler, out of Northwestern H.S. in Miami, could be an impact player immediately. However, rumors are that he is still listening to the chatter of Miami and perhaps some other Florida based school, and that a last second change of mind could occur.
The Bulls also pulled in ESPN U 150 CB Terrence Mitchell from Hillsborough H.S. Mitchell, who decommitted from Florida State to join the Bulls, another top notch talent who could develop into a shutdown corner. QB Brion Carnes and S Mark Joyce are two more names to watch in a strong South Florida class that contains nine three-star plus recruits. The Bulls continue to reap the rewards of being the only Big East school with substantial pull in the recruiting hotbed that is Florida.
Hidden Gem: RB Marcus Shaw has great instincts, but seems to lack break-away speed. He could develop into the feature back at South Florida.
Dave Wannstedt is perhaps the best recruiter in the Big East, and he has again done a wonderful job in 2010. The Panthers class is extremely deep, with 18 three or more star recruits set to play for Coach Wannstedt. Their success on the field is also impacting Pitt’s ability to compete with other Big East school and even Penn. St. on the recruiting front. Wannstedt and his staff have also done a fantastic job filling in positions of need with quality talent.
The class is highlighted by ATH Anthony Gonzalez , who recently tore a meniscus, but should be ready for camp. Where Gonzalez, out of Liberty H.S. in Bethlehem, PA, plays is really up in the air. He has the skill set to play a number of positions at the college level, and some even think he’ll end up being an impact quarterback. Wherever he plays, Gonzalez will be an important piece of the Panther’s future. In addition to Gonzalez, the Panthers have another four-star ATH Todd Thomas , huge OT Matt Rotheram who measures 6’6” 318 pounds, and big WR Andrew Carswell who is listed at 6’4” 204.
Hidden Gem: Pittsburgh’s own Aaron Donald is small defensive tackle who makes up for his lack of size with explosiveness, toughness, and heart. Time will tell if he can put on some pounds and develop into a star for the Panthers.
4) West Virginia
The Mountaineers have made a habit of bringing in talented, athletic, fast skill players. The 2010 class is no exception. The Mountaineers did take a big hit when WR Darius Millines took off for Marshall when Doc Holliday took the Thundering Herd head job, but West Virginia was able to hold onto QB Barry Brunetti and WR Deon Long . However, the loss of Millines is bad news for coach Bill Stewart and his staff. Holliday is a renowned recruiter who will certainly persuade more recruits across the state to Marshall in the future.
Brunetti, who attended Memphis University School, is the Mountaineers' quarterback of the future. He has fantastic arm strength and pocket awareness, but still maintains a fantastic touch. The only question is his size, 6’0” 200 pounds. Long, from Washington D.C., is a downfield threat that plays with a chip on his shoulder. He has tons of big play ability. This year’s West Virginia class lacks a Noel Devine , Tavon Austin or Logan Heastie quality talent, but it certainly provides enough quality to make Mountaineer fans happy.
Hidden Gem: OG Quinton Spain is a monster. 6’5” 339 pounds. He is extremely athletic for a guy his size, but some question his intensity and assertiveness. He will need to learn to be more tenacious if he wants to become a star.
The Bearcats took a big hit on the recruiting front when Brian Kelly walked out on his team for the head job at Notre Dame. The biggest hit was losing Cincinnati-born DE Jibreel Black . QB Luke Massa , who could be the quarterback of the future for the Bearcats, may also head elsewhere. However, new head coach Butch Jones has been able to hold onto two impact recruits, WR Dyjaun Lewis and OG Clint Shepherd .
Shepherd, out of Eaton H.S. in Ohio, will fit well into the Bearcats spread offense. At 6’3” 273 pounds, he may have to put on some weight, but has the frame to do so. Lewis, out of Pike H.S. in Indiana, is a potential high impact receiver that the Bearcats hope will help ease the loss Mardy Gilyard right away. The Bearcats have a small recruiting class, partially due to the loss of Kelly, but Jones and the Bearcats were able to hold onto a number of intriguing talents.
Hidden Gem: The Bearcats didn’t let ILB Solomon Tentman , another Cincinnati kid, get away. He has great speed for an inside linebacker.
Greg Schiano’s 2010 recruiting class can best be described as decent. With six three-star recruits, but no four-star recruits, the Scarlett Knight’s class lacks any real high end talent. However, the class will fill a lot of needs for Schiano and his staff. The Rutgers class is heavy on skill players, which will help support the 2009 class which was heavier on the defensive side of the ball. Another interesting note is Schiano dipping into Florida for two running back prospects, Jawan Jamison and Marcus Thompson .
Despite being heavy on the offensive side of the ball, Rutgers’s 2010 class is highlighted by S Lorenzo Waters out DeMatha Catholic H.S. in Hyattsville, MD. Waters, who may end up at linebacker, is big, tough, and hits extremely hard. He needs to improve field awareness to emerge as a star. As always, Rutgers has hit their home state hard, bringing in a number of talents from New Jersey who could play a role in the team’s success a few years down the road.
Hidden Gem: RB/S Jordan Thomas from Union-Endicott Central School in Endicott, NY likely will end up a safety and could form quite the duo with Waters. He has great coverage awareness.
Syracuse has a huge class coming in, but the 27 incoming freshman will add more depth than anything to the Orange roster. The Orange sorely need the depth, but Doug Marrone’s haul certainly contains more quantity than quality. Oddly, the Orange are adding four running backs to a roster that already has its share at that position. On a positive note, the Orange are restocking at quarterback with the additions of Jonny Miller and John Kinder.
Miller, 6’2” 197 pounds, rates as the best recruit in the class, and is likely Syracuse’s quarterback of the future. Miller, out of Mullen H.S. in Denver, has an accurate arm and is a good decision maker. Miller will be pushed from day one by Kinder from Cedarhurst, NY. Miller and Kinder appear to be opposites, Miller the accurate pocket passer, and Kinder the strong armed athlete who can runs well, but lacks touch. It will be interesting to see which emerges as Syracuse’s quarterback of the future. To supplement a weak recruiting class, Marrone is bringing in some JC transfers and transfers who could have an impact, such as S Orlando Fisher .
Hidden Gem: CB Jeremi Wilkes has great burst and is an excellent tackler, but at just 5’10” 170 pounds, he lacks size. He plays the run well, but may struggle with physical receivers.
Huskies’ coach Randy Edsall epitomizes the Big East’s principle of uncovering the hidden gems. No one turns someone else’s leftovers into a gourmet dish like Edsall. Therefore, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Huskies’ 2010 class lacks a high profile recruit, even by Big East standards. However, the Huskies’ success over the past several seasons has started to impact their recruiting reach, as they have players signed from Florida, Georgia, Virginia, Ohio, and Maryland.
Who emerges from the Huskies’ 2010 class is hard to predict, because no one stands out. OLB Yawin Smallwood from Worcester, MA will help continue the Huskies’ strong linebacker play in a couple of years. He excels at stopping the run and covers a lot of ground. Mammoth OT Greg McKee , 6’6” 295 pounds, should a be quality lineman during his time in Connecticut. As always, expect Edsall to get more out of his 2010 class than anyone expects.
Hidden Gem: WR Tebucky Jones Jr ., whose father collected a Super Bowl ring with the Patriots in 2001, has the pedigree and hands to become a reliable receiver for the Huskies. However, he already has one arrest and needs to keep his nose clean.
The Big East recruiting class of 2010 lacks star power. That’s nothing new. The Big East doesn’t have the recruiting pull of power conferences like the SEC or Big 12, and thus does not bring in players with the speed, size, explosiveness, and raw skill of the other BCS conferences.
However, what the Big East lacks in star power it makes up for with hard work and dedication to finding the diamonds in the rough and the right players to fit their system.
The Big East doesn’t need the BMWs or Lamborghinis that other conferences drive. Their souped-up Honda Civics get the job done just fine.