10 Up-And-Coming College Football Recruiting Schools
Perhaps it's my Midwestern roots, but I've often felt America is an underdog-loving country.
The Butler Bulldogs, the Mighty Ducks, short guys, eight seeds and 16 seeds and penniless athletic departments, all are near and dear to America's heart.
Our love of shortcomings surely applies to the world of college football recruiting, where these 10 up-and-coming programs have been making a killing of late.
Click through and see which former underdogs are, in my mind, becoming more regular-sized dogs on the recruiting trail.
Butch Davis heard the talk that North Carolina was always going to be a basketball school, and put together one of college football's 10 best defenses last year, and one of its strongest defensive lines for 2011.
The talent in and around North Carolina, normally a feasting ground for more traditional football schools, has taken notice.
Bryn Renner, one of 2009's top pro-style QBs and a Virginia native, signed with the Tar Heels two classes ago and is waiting to break out. So did Scout's No. 3 tackle, James Hurst, and former Tennessee four-star DT commit Anthony Willis.
That the Tar Heels could be putting it all together on the field just as their recruiting heats up could create a perfect storm that makes UNC rumble for the next few years, particularly in the power vacuum of the ACC. As long as Butch Davis is around—and that's no guarantee—I'd bank on it.
Despite battling one of the more ornery compliance departments in the country—one that likely contributed to Stanford's whopping 17 decommitments, Jim Harbaugh's never-say-die attitude landed the Cardinal a top 20 class last year.
Headed by QB Brett Nottingham, a defection from UCLA; DE Blake Leuders, a steal from Notre Dame; and RB Anthony Wilkerson, Scout's No. 18 at the position, the Cardinal showed they'll be bringing the fight to the Pac-10 on and off the field.
Already, Stanford has gained 11 verbals, including one from Scout's No. 6 QB, Evan Crower, and RB Amir Carlisle, one of the top 10 RB talents in the class in my opinion.
And that's at positions where they have depth. Imagine what Harbaugh can promise to 2011's best safeties—like Wayne Lyons, who has discussed a Stanford interest—or corners or offensive linemen.
I'm not the first person to say it, but I'm happy to echo it: As long as Harbaugh is at Stanford, the Pac-10 is under siege by a Pete Carroll act-alike. Sorry, Jim, I hope I don't see you in Maize and Blue any time soon.
After landing one of 2010's most underrated recruiting classes—one that laid down a foundation for the Terrapins to stage an ACC comeback—Maryland's Ralph Friedgen (and likely, his replacement-in-waiting, offensive coordinator James Franklin) have landed an encouraging 11 commitments for next year.
Highlights from the group include under-the-radar WR Marcus Leak, Raleigh, NC WR Nigel King, and Dematha HS middle linebacker Delonte Morton.
The connection to Dematha is important, as it helps Friedgen and company court 2011's top offensive tackle, Cyrus Kouandjio, who also attends Dematha.
Kouandjio has dropped in on a few Maryland practices and kept his interest in a variety of ACC, SEC, Big East and Big Ten schools open.
Landing Kouandjio wouldn't just be laying a foundation, or guaranteeing Friedgen a more peaceful retirement. It would make Maryland a contender, and a must-look school, for the foreseeable future.
The Scarlet Knights closed 2010 on a high note. I took notice of them when they gained a verbal from CB Rashad Knight, whom Michigan was chasing. They also signed S Jeremy Deering, a highly-sought safety out of Tampa.
For their next trick, Rutgers will try to be another school with an inside track on top OT Cyrus Kouandjio. The Scarlet Knights took Dematha safety Lorenzo Waters in last year's class. That was enough to get Kouandjio on campus for a visit.
Despite giving up their best offensive tackle, Anthony Davis, a year early to the draft, the Scarlet Knights have shown a path to the pros can lead through New Jersey. That was enough to land Scout's No. 27 MLB, Andrew Campolattono, for 2011.
Will it be enough for Kouandjio? A positive answer would, in my mind, push Rutgers from an up-and-coming program to one that is already here.
So far, he's hit his targets, two of which are from Dematha High School. Jordan Lomax, a safety, and Kelby Johnson, a monster offensive tackle, probably precipatated Cyrus Kouandjio's surprise visit—a very encouraging sign for a school with all of three wins last year.
Other commits include DE Diamonte Bailey, who was drawing interest from Virginia Tech; Ross Burbank, a monster offensive guard from Virginia Beach; David Dean, a defensive tackle with offers from West Virginia and Louisville; and Clifton Richardson (a soft verbal) a speedy athlete with great size who could crack Rivals top 250 once its finally released.
London has a reputation as a terrific recruiter. Anyone who was wondering how long it would take for that talent to kick in has their answer.
On a smaller scale, new Kentucky coach Joker Phillips experienced what went down at Florida State once Jimbo Fisher took over for the aging Bobby Bowden, opening 2011's class with two solid commitments in TE Jon Davis and OT Darrian Miller.
The Wildcats are also leading for top South Carolina WR/QB Shamir Jeffrey, who is expected to drop for UK soon.
Any time a new, young coach takes over in the SEC, I like their chances at making a run at the old guard.
And is it crazy to think UK's successes at basketball—and basketball recruiting—might also help a little as well? These things do tend to go hand-in-hand sometimes.
As much as it pains me to admit it, Sparty is recruiting well both in and, more importantly, outside of the state of Michigan.
First and foremost, the commitments of top defensive end William Gholston of Detroit Southeastern last year, and of top middle linebacker Lawrence Thomas of Detroit Renaissance this year, have Michigan State looking more and more like a Big Ten contender on defense.
They're leading for CB Doran Grant and WR DeAnthony Arnett, both likely five-star talents who are blowing up at combines.
They're also giving Michigan a run for their money for in-state RB Justice Hayes, ATH Valdez Showers and OG Anthony Zettel. Zettel for one was rumored to be a Michigan lock for a long time, but has forestalled committing and appears to be weighing his other offers, including MSU's, seriously.
However, I consider they're gains outside of the state of Michigan to be more crucial to their up-and-coming status. MSU can only get so far in terms of talent and prestige just by recruiting Michigan, and Dantonio knows it.
The Spartans are sending out offers to South Carolina, landing sleeper Georgia athletes like Andre Sims and locking up their QB of the future in Connor Cook, a native of old reliable Ohio.
Cook, for one, came in for his own under-the-radar praise in a recent ESPN recruiting article by Tom Luginbill.
I'm personally resentful every time State lands a recruit and the Free Press declares the battle for Michigan recruiting supremacy over, in favor of the Green and White. We Midwesterners are so damn obsessed with the underdogs sometimes.
But I am willing to concede that Sparty has made things...interesting. I personally am waiting to see how close it is in the fourth quarter.
I'm not surprised Charlie Strong has made a Louisville offer something worth having again. The ex-Florida defensive coordinator was one of the Gators' most valuable assets on the recruiting trail, a guy who according to Lou Holtz.
The Cardinals closed 2010 on a high note, winning out on ATH/QB Dominique Brown over Ohio State and outside linebacker Preston Brown, both Cincinnati kids.
For 2011, the Cardinals have already gained 11 verbals, including from DE Deiontrez Mount, a weakside defensive end who held offers from Auburn, Florida State and South Carolina; WR Devante Parker, a four-star WR on Scout who was gaining interest from Notre Dame and Ohio State; and a pair of speedy corners in Eric Robinson-Berry and Jacquese Kirk.
Strong finished in the positive for decommits despite taking over a program in turmoil. He's getting back into Florida, invading Alabama, locking down the Louisville area and also straying up into Ohio.
In short, he's using Louisville's unique, geographically-centered positioning as a strength, not as an excuse. Once he combines that energetic recruiting with his typical physical play on defense, the Cardinals can start BCS dreaming again.
TCU's claim to fame has been to take Texas' rejects and turn them into hulked-up, revenge-seeking overachievers.
But the Horned Frogs won't exactly turn good players down, either. They signed their best recruiting class ever and, for this class, were in the running for one of Texas' best running backs, Herschel Sims, who just committed to Oklahoma State.
They're competing for top defensive end Greg Townsend, whose father played for TCU and the Oakland Raiders.
Jerry Hughes' success in the NFL draft, coupled with the Frogs' BCS appearance, has made them a contender for those recruits who favor the up-and-coming school over the traditional one. 2011 commits Kolby Griffin, a four-star CB, and MLB Laderice Sanders, Scout's No. 21 MLB, are great examples.
If TCU joins a BCS conference—which it almost certainly will if conference expansion actually takes root—it will only get easier.
Some Michigan fans are still stinging from the loss of Sean Parker, Scout's No. 6 safety and a sure bet to see time in Michigan's embattled defensive backfield.
Parker would be Ann Arbor-bound were it not for the efforts of the Sark, who swooped in in the last month of recruiting and whisked Parker away to Washington.
That monster 31-man class (31 kids! Including early enrollee QB Nick Montana! There's bound to be other finds in there somewhere) restocked the shelves. Now, Sarkisian can play surgeon and recruit more precisely for what the Huskies need most to get back into Pac-10 contention.
He's started 2011 with super-speedy RB Brendan Bigelow, a Fresno native. The Huskies are also in the mix for end Greg Townsend, who mentioned the Huskies in his top five.
If they can keep top 2011 WR Kasen Williams home, the Huskies will have the nucleus of a Pac-10 offense and one of its most promising coaches in one place.
Restocking the defense is another story, but we'll leave that to the 31-man class, and maybe a future stud hire at the defensive coordinator spot, to figure out.