In the most recent recruiting cycle, we learned that no matter how many players a school signs, there's always one must-have recruit.
This is the kid whose high school highlight reel plays over and over in the fanbase's collective mind, whose televised commitment closes schools an hour early, whose every visit is carefully tracked and every reaction meticulously weighed.
We saw some schools land these kids in the last recruiting cycle and feel fulfilled, while others, with perfectly talented classes, came up short and felt empty.
It's still early and somewhat dramatic to say, but for the 20 programs featured here, landing these recruits could make or break the 2011 class.
Missing out on them will sour the entire offseason (as if it wasn't bad enough already).
Simply put, Braxton Miller is a must-get for the Buckeyes.
Ohio State suffered the transfers of Antonio Henton and Robby Schoenhoft last two years ago, which robbed the QB position of depth, and missed out on backup QB prospects the last few years, preventing them from developing the young talent necessary for an unbroken series of starts.
They're banking on a healthy Terrelle Pryor to get through 2010, but I'd be willing to bet Pryor's sure-to-be-outstanding season will also mean he leaves a year early for the NFL.
That leaves Taylor Graham, who committed this past year, and a few other no-names for the Bucks' depth chart at QB. Miller will be the top QB prospect in the country, and maybe the top prospect in the nation, out of high school. Time will tell if OSU's staff can land the No.1 athlete all over again.
There's a whole host of talented Texas running backs in the 2011 class.
I liked Aaron Green as the one that could revolutionize Texas' offense, using his speed in the open field and wild cutting ability to shore up Texas' prospects on the ground.
Already at 13 commitments after a bounteous Junior Day and with more inevitably coming, the Longhorns' class needs only about 300 more days to be complete. Signing Green would add a much-needed running back and continue the proud UT tradition of all but locking down the top in-state talent.
But Green's signature would do more than just raise the Longhorns' star average. His talents would be impossible for offensive coordinator Greg Davis to ignore or undermine.
He would bring an element of speed and breakawy ability to the Longhorns' offense that would demand to be utilized on more than just an occasional draw play.
Most of all, Green would be a top impact freshman in a year when the Longhorns, with a junior five-star QB and a stacked defense, have fully reloaded and are looking for one more piece to add to another national championship puzzle.
For all those reasons and more, he's a must-get.
I know Notre Dame fans might want to talk about Braxton Miller, or DeAnthony Arnett, or Christian Westerman.
But I think that after whiffing on S Dietrich Riley and ATH Anthony Barr, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly will focus his attention on defense, and specifically, on top defensive target Wayne Lyons.
Lyons is currently compiling a host of offers, and could be contend for top safety in the country.
He has no early leaders, but says that academics and graduation rates are huge factors, both of which make the Irish serious contenders.
The Irish of course need defenders, and lose strong safety Kyle McCarthy after this year.
Raiding Florida won't be easy, but all the same, Lyons would be a great kid for Brian Kelly to land as his first blue-chip commitment as Notre Dame's head coach.
Boise State has already turned the college football world upside-down (multiple times) with upset BCS wins and unbeaten seasons.
Their winning tradition is one of the many reasons the college football world faces massive conference realignment as we speak.
What's more, they're a preseason top five team in almost every 2010 preseason poll, and could contend for an unprecedented national championship run next year.
In light of that, is it really so out of the question for them to land Scout's No. 1 wide receiver overall?
Kasen Williams, an Issaquah, WA, native, holds an offer from the Broncos, and plays not too far away from the blue turf. Stranger things have happened...I think the Broncos have as good a chance as any.
Not only would Ohio's Trey Depriest be an absolute steal for Alabama—which has yet to raid the Buckeye State's talented coffers—but his commitment might sway QB and teammate Braxton Miller to join Alabama as well.
Miller would be a great insurance policy for a team that just landed its quarterback of the future in Phillip Sims.
The Tide will never say no to the next great outside linebacker in college football, and that's exactly what Depriest projects to be. He's an outstanding lateral defender and a hard hitter, and he'll bolster an Alabama unit that could struggle after replacing nine of its eleven starters this fall.
The Ohio prospect has already visited Alabama unofficially, and his interest in the Tide appears to be genuine. His final three could be Ohio State, Michigan, and Alabama, with Miller's choice being the final factor in his decision.
Alabama's coaches consider the QB/LB tandem a must-get to remain at the top of the recruiting rankings for a fourth consecutive year.
I like Oregon's depth at quarterback after Jeremiah Masoli, and, despite what happens with LaMichael James, think Lache Seastrunk will pick up the slack at RB next year.
But I have yet to see a really great performance from an Oregon wide receiver, both because the nature of the spread n'shred and because I don't think the talent is there or has matured enough yet.
In light of that, I hope Scout's No. 2 WR, George Farmer, commits to the Ducks. Having a big, consistent, game-breaking threat on the outside would move defenders out of the box and make Oregon's ground game that much scarier and more difficult to defend.
The Gardena, CA native is a long shot—Scout lists his interest in Oregon at Medium, while Rivals omits the Ducks entirely.
But in an ideal world, the four-star WR would spread the wideout wealth around the Pac-10, rather than (God forbid) committing to USC, where he would ride the bench for two and a half years behind the Trojans' epic 2010 haul at wideout.
I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Farmer will add that other dimension to the Ducks offense. And I hear there's a recent vacancy. Just a word to the wise: deactivate your Facebook account, guy.
Wasonga is one of the best running back prospects to come out of the state of West Virginia in some time.
He's ideally suited to the Mountaineers' spread-run game, and would enroll in Morgantown just as Noel Devine, a back of similar talent and build, is out the door.
That means the pressure doubles on Bill Stewart and co. to get him.
Even if the need for RBs is not as immediate as at it is for defensive linemen or safeties, losing Wasonga to Michigan, Pitt, Syracuse or Penn State would be another major blow to the perception of the Mountaineers' ability to close the deal.
His will be an interesting recruitment even if he doesn't make any of the top positional lists.
The Nittany Lions have fielded solid front sevens the past few seasons. But in big games, their secondary has been victimized, and as of 2012, there wouldn't be any players on Penn State's roster to fill the holes in the secondary if the concerns aren't addressed.
Worse, despite a top-shelf 2010 class, the Nittany Lions won't be welcoming any true defensive backs to the fold this fall.
That means top safety prospect Sheldon Royster (no relation to Evan) is a must-get for the Nittany Lions in 2011. The PSU staff has already offered, and Happy Valley is an appealingly close locale on the New Jersey prospect's offer sheet.
A true buster like Royster in the secondary has never been a staple of a PSU defense, but there's no time like the present to add to the many threatening Penn State defensive traditions.
Down to the smile, Malcolm Brown reminds me of former Oklahoma RB and current Minnesota Viking Adrian Peterson.
He's a juker who can truck defenders, with elite size and speed and, if I may say so, better balance then Peterson had.
Oklahoma fans think he's a holy lock for the 2011 class. If so, the Sooners would have an instant replacement for Demarco Murray, and maybe the impact recruit in the country.
I like Brown to be the top running back in the class, and I think he could contend to top Peterson's freshman running records. They better land him first.
It's no secret that defensive end JaDeveon Clowney is the Gamecocks' top target for 2011.
He's visited SC's campus for junior day this past weekend, and says South Carolina is recruiting him hardest among all schools.
The effort has paid off, and Clowney has reciprocated by indicating that Steve Spurrier's team leads.
He'll almost certainly end up the state's best prospect, and might even be the nation's top defensive end.
If the Ole' Ball Coach lands the top in-state prospect two years in a row against a damn good recruiter in Clemson's Dabo Swinney, it would do wonders both for his job security and for the 'Cocks burgeoning momentum in the SEC East. If Clowney drops any time soon, the priority will be to keep him in the fold for that long, brutal stretch to signing day.
Just in case the cupboard is even barer than we all think, and Louisville is facing another trainwreck year in 2010, Charlie Strong better go safe and land Scout's top offensive center in Ryan Kelly.
The center is the most important position on the field, and the Cardinals would be landing a good one in cousin Kelly, who hails from the same Ohio school as five-star linebacker Jordan Hicks.
Kelly already has his Louisville offer in hand, and its evident he's the Cardinals' top target for 2011. He'll anchor the rebuilding effort on the offensive line as long as Strong and company can lock him down.
If Clowney is indeed a lost cause, the Clemson Tigers will turn their in-state eye on OLB Stephone Anthony.
Don't let the uniform fool you, Stephone Anthony isn't a Tiger...yet.
But the Tigers did already sign one of his teammates, ATH Brandon Ellerbe, and are in Anthony's top two along with the Gamecocks.
It's too early to say definitively, but most signs point to a Clemson commitment from Anthony.
Anthony's verbal would almost definitely put Clemson's 2011 class in an early top five in the country, but they have to make sure its secure. The Gamecocks blew the Tigers out in the rivalry game and renewed that rivalry in the offseason by fielding what I felt to be a more explosive recruiting class.
The war for South Carolina's terrific talent is in full-on, shots-across-the-bow hostility, and 2011 will be another great battlefield to watch.
The USC line was not the biggest liability of the 2009 defense—that would be the secondary—although it may have been the youngest.
Still, adding a five-star defensive tackle from Sacramento, California is a must for the Trojans and Ed Orgeron.
Why? Because think of all the innocent Fruit of the Loom V-necks who would be torn to pieces if he didn't.
Michigan has its quarterback, a host of tailbacks, wide receivers, defensive backs, and even an end or two.
Now, after falling short on a good crop of in-state offensive linemen for 2010, the Wolverines are looking for the next great Michigan tackle in 2011.
The Wolverines' line is young and untested on the outside—OTs Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield will be names to watch out for this year. But tackle has the highest bust rate of any position in football, so it never hurts to take a blue-chipper like Westerman who has little chance of not panning out.
Michigan has a bit of an inside track on Westerman—he's acquaintances with two UM commitments out of Arizona, end Craig Roh and Lewan. As well, Lewan's father is a big fan of the program and knows Westerman's family, so it looks like the Wolverines will have Westerman's attention.
After that, it'll be up to the Maize and Blue current to field a better season and show Westerman that Rich Rodriguez is turning things around heading into year three. I think Big Blue's chances are as good as anybody's, and he's a must-get for an offense that is on the verge of gelling.
Despite the sudden wealth of dynamic talent at the QB position, I don't see Nebraska turning into a sling-'em team like some of their other brethren in the Big 12.
That means Nebraska will be looking to shore up their prospects on the ground. And while Braylon Heard was an elite tailback in the 2010 class, I think the Huskers will aim for another in 2011 whether or not he pans out.
And despite my belief that a spread-set system suits him, RB Herschel Sims out of Abilene, Texas, is an outstainging recruit for the Huskers to make a top priority.
Sims is a speedy scatback whose strength is in breaking containment, so that other dimension will definitely help Nebraska's solid, but staid, straight-ahead style.
Roy Helu, Jr. will be graduating after next year, and Rex Burkhead looks more suited for the Wildcat package than as an every down back. Even if Braylon Heard had a great season, I think Nebraska ought to throw everything they have at luring Sims out of Abilene to bolster their prospects on the ground.
Adding him to the class of watch-list linemen the Huskers already assembled would put Big Red in immediate contention for best class of the Big 12 North, and possibly of the entire conference.
Yes, his brother goes to 'Bama, and yes, he could be the top OT prospect in the country by the time the stars and grades are given out.
But Rutgers is pursuing Kouandjio just as hard as anybody. And they landed his teammate, Lorenzo Waters, in the 2010 class, so they have strong recruiting ties to his Hyattsville, MD school.
In fact, the Scarlet Knights closed the 2010 recruiting cycle as strong as or stronger than most schools in the country, and are sending a first-round draft pick on the offensive line into the NFL in Anthony Davis.
The Knights are daring to ask, why not? We'll see if Cyrus feels like asking the same question.
You'd think that after the epic defensive haul the Gators just signed, they could cool it on the defensive line.
But that just ain't how Urban Meyer roll. Not to mention Florida's immediate defensive line depth took a serious blow when DT Greg Brown was kicked off the team this past weekend.
Brown was the country's No. 3 DT out of high school, so his talent will be sorely missed as the Gators toe the line between reloading and rebuilding on defense. PA DT Sharrif Floyd can hopefully step in early, but the Gators will need as much dynamic on the D-line in the next class as in this way.
Enter Jernigan, Florida's, and possibly the nation's, top DT per Rivals. If being the top tackle isn't enough to intrigue Urban Meyer, Florida's urgent needs definitely will be.
Jernigan is compiling offers like mad, but Gators fans are, shall we say, optimistic about their chances, and with good reason. This ain't Urban Meyer's first rodeo.
After they lose all-Big Ten linebacker Greg Jones to graduation, they'll have the need for a middle linebacker as good as Thomas.
And after landing Thomas' teammate, William Gholston, over the flashier national suitors in 2010, the Spartans also have the close ties with his high school.
Landing No. 1 middle linebacker recruit Lawrence Thomas will add fodder to the arguemtn Spartans are making that they are recruiting the state of Michigan better than their rival Wolverines.
However, their grip on Thomas is rumored to not be as tight as it was on Gholston. While Gholston lived with his high school coach and was shut off from contact with the Wolverines and Crimson Tide, Thomas has been able to pay a visit to Ann Arbor, and is also planning on seeing Alabama, USC, and others this summer.
That said, MSU is his leader, without question.
The Spartans have set up a reliable pipeline to his school; the only question is, is Thomas too big of a talent to fit through it?
The Tigers will try for an epic near-sweep of Louisiana talent in trying to land DE Jermauria Rasco, a sure-fire top-level defensive end from Shreveport.
Adding Frank Wilson to the LSU staff has already worked wonders for LSU's in-state recruiting, although there have been some unpleasant softenings of LSU commits as of late.
Rasco remains LSU's top prospect, an immediate impact defensive end who will remind many of a lighter version of Jackson Jeffcoat.
Wilson will do all he can to zero in on Rasco, who is already a heavy LSU lean. I would expect his commitment to drop before kickoff this fall.
Tight end Ben Koyack would be a great get for Dave Wannstedt, an above-average recruiter who always finds a gem for each of his classes (whether we know it at the time or not).
Koyack is a superior talent in pass-catching and would benefit hugely from Pitt's terrific offensive line coaching to make up for some so-so blocking skills.
Pitt gets the most out of many of its players, but it never hurts to land a athlete of Koyack's game-breaking ability.
If he enrolled, Koyack would join the Panthers diuring Dion Lewis' junior season with a second-year quarterback at the helm. He'd have an excellent chance to step in immediately and help the Panthers contend for a Big East title run and another shot at a BCS game.