National Signing Day 2010: The 15 Biggest Questions Facing The Top College Football Programs
Today, it feels like a David Lynch movie. You go into it asking a few questions, and you walk away asking a lot more questions.
But there are a few questions we can answer once Wednesday wraps up, a few concrete decisions that will be made, cut and dry.
Where will Seantrel Henderson go? Will the Irish actually be missing Charlie Weis? And will we feel the final tremor rumble in the wake of Pete Carroll's departure?
Before I get ahead of myself, let's begin the 15 questions the top college football programs have heading into National Signing Day.
Where Will Recruit X Go?
Which Classes Will Finish Strongest?
The candidates are many for this award. Texas, Michigan, Stanford and Louisville are heading into Signing Day with a head full of steam.
Meanwhile, Florida, UCLA, Penn State and Georgia have felt the bite of major decommitments to close the season.
There are still three more days left, and a load of final pitches to be made. He who finishes strongest laughs last. We'll see who's laughing after Wednesday.
Who Will Spring SIgning Day Surprises?
My predictions are on the record. But it wouldn't be a surprise if we all saw it coming would it?
History suggests we'll see at least a few late-game steals, some to schools that weren't even on the radar.
Tennessee, USC, Florida and Michigan are just a few schools who have pulled surprises out of their hat on NSD in the past. All are capable of wreaking more havoc this year.
The next three days should be interesting, to say the least.
How Will Brian Kelly Close His First Class At Notre Dame?
I'm on record saying it won't matter—there's already enough talent at Notre Dame for Brian Kelly to win the dang Super Bowl, frankly.
But it still matters immensely to the Notre Dame fanbase that the Irish crack the top 20 recruiting class list year after year. It was perhaps the only part of college coaching where Charlie Weis wasn't a total failure.
For Kelly, that will mean landing one or more of the big boys still on the list—OT Seantrel Henderson, Christian Jones, DT Ego Ferguson, OT Matt James and/or Dietrich RIley—as well as securing the commitments of the players still on the board.
That also means no more big-name defections like the loss of Blake Leuders to Stanford or Chris Martin to Cal. And landing Bruce Heggie and Derek Woback, solid but unspectacular players, won't be enough.
Those of us familiar with Kelly's system can see it takes little innate talent to succeed—Cincy WR Mardy Gilyard, who just tore up the Senior Bowl, was a two-star RB in Kelly's 2006 class.
But a little love from the recruitniks would help keep those jackals from the South Bend Tribune off Uncle Kelly's back, at least for one summer.
Will Florida Be Able To Land Any More Commitments, or Will Their Class Shrink In Size?
The Gators are already fielding one of the greatest recruiting classes of the decade, with three future All-Americans on the D-line and two more in the defensive backfield, to say nothing of OT Ian Silberman and WR Chris Dunkley.
And the Gators are in the running to land a few more all-stars to close the class.
But they also may have run out of space, and could suffer a few late setbacks as the week heats up. This is the SEC, after all.
Exhibit A: Demar Dorsey's bizarre decommitment this past week. No one can say for sure which side lost interest in the other. Some suggest Dorsey's visits to Michigan and Florida State upset the Gators' coaching staff, others say those visits convinced Dorsey that Florida wasn't right for him.
Either way, the recruiting season still has a few days to develop entirely, and schools have to hope that Urban Meyer's retirement/reinstatement hasn't been forgotten entirely.
If Meyer holds onto what he has despite the late-game ploys, it will almost certainly be the greatest recruiting selljob the sport has seen so far.
Will Lane Kiffin Work Some Late Magic For USC?
For being a fiendishly good recruiter backed by one of the very best, Lane Kiffin and Ed Orgeron haven't had too much success recruiting for USC so far. They did good in resecruing the commitments of Dillon Baxter, Kyle Prater and Xavier Grimble, but they haven't landed a new player since rolling into LA two weeks ago.
But that's not saying they're not in the hunt. They're in position to wrest Sean Parker from Michigan's clutches after a stellar on-campus visit. And it looks like WR Markeith Ambles is set to drop at any minute.
I still maintain that, with their past rate of attrition and their scary, out-of-sorts play on defense this year, the Trojans needed a much larger class to address lack of depth, particularly in the defensive backfield.
But the concentration of talent in this class is no joke. At the rate they're going, the Trojans will end up with at least five, and maybe more, five-star players.
And given both Kiffin's flair for the dramatic and his callous disregard for prior commitments, they'll probably be on the receiving end of a few of the surprises on signing day.
The Kiffykids are alright.
Will Tennessee Bounce Back Under Derek Dooley?
I had a little flair for the dramatic myself following Kiffin's departure to USC, charting the fallout from the slimiest and highest-profile job switch of the offseason, and eulogizing Tennessee's 2010 recruiting class in the process.
But if I've learned anything on this beat, it's that you're never doing as good or as bad as you think you're doing. And that's certainly true of Derek Dooley's first few days at Rocky Top.
Sure, there were the defectors. Markeith Ambles, Brandon Willis, Michael Taylor, Delvin Jones and Ahmad Dixon had committed themselves more to Kiffin than to the program, and departed UT's graces along with him.
But the early enrollments of Corey Miller, Jawuan James, Jacques Smith and Matt Milton and the sustained interest from Tyler Bray, Zach Fulton and Marques Dixon helped the Vols maintain the core of the class.
Since then, Dooley has done a bang-up job, adding bodies to make up for the departees, and landing a few headliners of his own.
He lifted four-star WR Justin Hunter from LSU and landed QB Nash Nance, who could end up as a package deal with Da'Rick Rogers. Rogers, Georgia's best recruit at wideout, has reopened his recruitment since Nance's commitment and seems to be leaning towards Tennessee after a visit.
Recently, he landed JUCO DB Dave Clark, a major target of his while at Louisiana Tech.
If Dooley can hold serve on the current class, the Vols will at least be top 25, a remarkable feat given the chaos of only a few weeks ago. Landing Da'Rick or some other talent will be the icing on the cake. Fallout, obviously, was overstating the matter.
Which School Will Field The Best Class Off of the Worst Season(s)?
It always amazes me when schools can recruit despite a terrible year, or several terrible years, on the field.
I'll wait until after NSD 2010, but the tentative candidates for best class coming off the worst season(s) are Michigan, Florida State, Notre Dame, Texas A&M and Louisville.
Three of those programs are under different head coaches, and two are completely new to the program, giving them an even steeper hill to climb.
Should be a great award ceremony when all is signed and sealed.
Which Class Will Field the Most NFL Talent?
As college football recruiting grows in popularity, efforts to put it into a historical context become more and more intriguing.
Case in point, CNN-SI's Top 15 recruiting classes of all time, which charted the most talented and successful classes in history.
Down the road, it will be fun to gauge which of these classes panned out the best as students as well as pros.
It will be hard to say Florida isn't the leader here, given how good their defensive linemen and safeties are—for whatever reason, I feel like DLs and safeties pan out better than offensive players.
But I don't rule out Longhorn defenders like Jackson Jeffcoat and Jordan Hicks, and WR Darius White could be what Roy Williams always should have been. Florida State has some great safeties and middle linebackers of its own. Check back in ten years for an assessment.
Will A Recruiting Class Put A Coach On/Take A Coach Off The Hot Seat?
Piggybacking off that last point, will any of these recruiting classes save or cost a coach their job?
Michigan's Rich Rodriguez and Texas A&M's Mike Sherman are recruiting with a vengeance, particularly on defense, where their teams have struggled mightily this past season.
Meanwhile, Mark Richt let the defensive coordinator position remain open a little too long, costing him a few good defensive players. And Illinois' Ron Zook is bleeding players. Without recruiting, who exactly is Ron Zook?
Great recruiting couldn't save Charlie Weis, but his top ten classes certainly forestalled his termination by a season or so. If these coaches want their fans to believe winning is just going to take time, signing the right players in the right numbers will definitely help.
Who Will Be The Breakout Freshmen This Coming Fall?
Another exciting prediction to make is which of these players will be freshman all-americans next fall.
Players like Pitt's Deon Lewis remind us that stars and hype don't necessarily equate to automatic success. Lewis benefited from an outstanding Pitt line, but he also fought for every yard after contact and proved elusive against the better defenses in the country.
Then there are players like Matt Barkley, Vontaze Burfict and Trent Richardson, who are so obviously talented coming out of high school that they can't avoid looking every bit as good as advertised.
Circumstances can help a player immensely, but the best players stand out regardless. I'm looking forward to crowning next year's freshman All-Americans, and am currently accepting applications for this fall.
Will The Big Ten Be Able To Capitalize On Their Bowl Momentum?
Much was made of the Big Ten's redemption this bowl season. Four of the top five programs beat their ranked opponents, three as underdogs.
The question now becomes, can the Big Ten carry over any of that momentum into the recruiting season?
So far, the returns aren't positive. The Big Ten was on the outside looking into many of the top commitments—WR Kenny Stills, OLB Jordan Hicks, ATH Latwan Anderson and DT Sharrif Floyd.
The conference also suffered decommitments from some other top players, like DE Dominique Easley, an Under-Armour MVP who left Penn State for Florida.
The Big Ten can close strong if Ohio State can spear OT Seantrel Henderson or Michigan can entice S Demar Dorsey. If the conference whiffs and the talent continues to flow south, all that positive momentum will have been for naught.
Will Coaches With Particular Offenses/Defenses Fulfill Their Needs?
A few years ago, it was Rich Rodriguez putting in his players at Michigan (a job that, at least on offense, is close to complete).
This year, Lane Kiffin, Brian Kelly, Turner Gill, Derek Dooley, Sonny Dykes (La. Tech), Larry Porter, Skip Holtz and (to a lesser extent) Tommy Tuberville need to find the right players to fit their visions as new head coaches.
And as head coaches who lead defenses and not offenses, Virginia's Mike London and Louisville's Charlie Strong will hope to land players that will help their programs earn respect on the other side of the ball again.
Will The Pac-10 Continue To Resemble The SEC?
Throughout the year, the argument was that the Pac-10 had become what the SEC used to be—a conference that is competitive from top-to-bottom, with no clear frontrunner and no flagship program, only a frontrunner that shifted from week to week.
This offseason, we've seen battles on the Pac-10 recruiting trail that mirror the competition the SEC schools routinely go through for their players.
Pete Carroll's departure opened the door for Stanford, Cal, UCLA and Washington to land talent-rich classes, and the Arizona schools haven't been far behind, either.
Lane Kiffin's presence in LA is sure to muck up the purity of that plan. But as the Pac-10 competition continues to heat up on the field, the drive for parity and the division of its best athletes continues off of it.
Who Will Wind Up With The Top Class?
This, in the end, seems to be the biggest question, the culmination of several years' hard work, the classic male search for the biggest, greatest, best.
The Gators looked to have the lead position on lockdown for most of this year.
But Jordan Hicks and Jackson Jeffcoat committing to Texas put the Longhorns on the doorstep.
This is a reminder to all of us that the top teams are really only separated by a few warm bodies and a little spin on team needs.
With that in mind, any one of the eight to ten teams near no. 1 could be crowned the leader if the right chips fall.