Which Teams Could Top Texas for 2011's Best Recruiting Class?
If Signing Day were tomorrow and the Texas Longhorns held onto all 22 of their current commitments, they would, without a doubt, have the top recruiting class in the country by a mile.
Lucky for us, signing day isn't for a long time. But any team hoping to compete with Texas for the top class overall has their work cut out for them.
Which classes have a realistic shot at overtaking the Longhorns for No. 1 overall? I've evaluated nine teams who either have some great commitments now, but lack the depth, or have a lot of depth, but require a few more blue-chips to get them over the hump.
Check them out.
Chuckle all you want, but right now, Stanford has the second-most commitments for 2011 (20), right on the heels of Texas's 22.
The Cardinal reached across the country for four-star outside linebacker and Tucker, GA native James Vaughters, who also held offers from Bama, Ohio State, Georgia and Georgia Tech. Ditto four-star linebacker Anthony Sarao (Absecon, NJ) and four-star DE Charlie Hopkins (Spokane, WA).
Four-star tackle Brendon Austin, QB Evan Crower and RB Amir Carlisle make up a great troika of talent. Add in an elite receiver (Kasen Williams? George Farmer?), and you have the nucleus for a Pac-10-leading offense.
Jim Harbaugh believes that Stanford can recruit at the level of the elites. Even if he expresses that belief in an odd way, it's coming true in 2011. Whether it's enough to catch up to Texas we'll leave to the next few commitments to decide.
It's been an up-and-down year for Notre Dame's recruiting.
The Irish started off white-hot, securing big-time commitments from three touted offensive lineman (Conor Hanratty, Matt Hegarty andTony Springmann), a five-star tight end (Ben Koyack) and a four-star linebacker (Jarrett Grace) after their spring game.
May went by without a verbal, and June started rough when the Irish took second for touted QB Bubba Starling, who verballed to Nebraska instead.
Then ND hit their stride again, grabbing DE Clay Burton, four-star DB Eilar Hardy and fringe four-star LB Ben Councell in the space of ten days.
They recently missed out on QB Justin Worley to Tennessee (he was bound for UT for some time).
But I could see the Irish, after lagging a little, post a solid August. Kelly did well in bringing recruits to practice and showing off his system this spring, and he could do it again for fall camp.
With some big-time games at home against Purdue, Michigan, Stanford and Pitt, plus the intriguing Army game at Yankee Stadium, Kelly will have a great opportunity to load up on visiting recruits for each.
As ever, success is the greatest recruiting tool, but Kelly will have a grace period with recruits and a chance to sell them on the reloading effort.
Charlie Weis never had trouble selling the ND brand even in the midst of abject failure. Could Kelly, destined as he is to succeed, match Weis's legendary success in his first year? If ND can recapture the momentum of the spring game, I'd give them an outside shot.
The Buckeyes have a score to settle with Texas on the recruiting trail after Ohio linebacker and five-star recruit Jordan Hicks chose the Longhorns over Ohio State in the 2010 class.
This year, OSU isn't directly battling Texas for any recruits. But they have put together a top five class that I consider in the running for best overall, headlined by five-star QB commit Braxton Miller and the top defensive line group for 2011.
Problem is, the Buckeyes may not be in on enough top-100 recruits to match Texas's firepower. Safety Ron Tanner, who committed this past Friday, is a pedestrian three-stars (though he deserves much more credit than that).
Four-star in-state linebacker Trey DePriest is still talking Buckeyes, but he's rumored to be a silent commit to Alabama, and even he checks in at an underwhelming No. 93 in the Rivals 100 (again, unfairly).
Five-star tight end Nick O'Leary isn't favoring OSU anymore, and even top in-state corner and five-star recruit Doran Grant seems to be looking outside the Midwest after basically reinventing his recruitment back in May.
Like I said, I think the Buckeyes' class is being unfairly discriminated against, but no one listens to the guy raving in the stands after the game has been played. What's transpired on the field so far doesn't give me a lot of hope for OSU's chances in the fourth quarter.
The prestige of Clemson's current class hangs on four solid offensive commitments: wide receiver Charone Peake; OT/TE Eric MacLain; and running backs Marlin Lane and Mike Bellamy, the top RB positional group in the 2011 class.
Plus, if QB Kyle Parker leaves to play for the Colorado Rockies, the Tigers should have a chance to go after one of the better QBs in the class.
But it's on defense that Clemson has the best shot of unseating Texas for the top spot.
Top 2011 prospect DE Jadeveon Clowney and five-star middle linebacker Tony Steward have each named Clemson to their top list at one time or another. Four-star DB Sammy Watkins visited Dabo Swinney's camp and came away with a favorable impression. And Ray Drew, Rivals' No. 2 weakside end, has mentioned Clemson among the schools recruiting him hardest.
Grabbing a verbal from any of them would put Clemson in the running. From more than one, the race could be on.
Technically speaking, USC's 2010 class beat out Florida's monster effort based on star average.
Though Seantrel Henderson's possible transfer to Miami will potentially put an end to that, Florida also lost a big-time signee in four-star ATH Travon Van, who did not qualify academically, so the average might still favor the Trojans.
In any case, USC beat Florida (and Texas) by signing a small, tight class of highly-touted players and almost no so-so commitments.
Judging by the almost favorable reaction of recruits to the pending sanctions, I'm not sure USC won't do the exact same thing this year.
The Trojans have already gained verbals from not one but two stud QBs, a four-star wide receiver, a five-star RB/cornerback, two four-star defensive lineman and the top kicker in the class.
However, at least one of those top commits, QB Max Wittek, had to shoot down rumors that he was wavering. OL commit Marcus Martin, though huge, is not at the elite level the Trojan fanbase is used to seeing. Plus, the Trojans will spend a scholarship on a long snapper, which will affect their star average (unless he's the be-all end-all of long-snapping, which I wouldn't doubt).
If the sanctions take effect this class, the Trojans, at 10 verbals, have only five more schollies to give. One should go to five-star receiver George Farmer, who has been on the brink of verballing to USC for some time. Past him, uncertainty reigns in the Coliseum.
Oklahoma typically gives Texas a fight for the top prospects in their respective states, but 2011's battle has been more one-sided than usual.
The Longhorns bested OU for Josh Turner, a five-star corner and the top prospect in the Sooner State for 2011. Plus, they won the head-to-head for four-star DT Quincy Russell (who briefly committed to Texas before decommitting and recommitting) and OL Garrett Greenlea.
Oklahoma pushed back with a commitment from four-star DT Marquis Anderson, a teammate of five-star RB and Texas/OU target Malcolm Brown, as well as the commitment of four-star DE/LB Nathan Hughes and four-star OL Dylan Dismukes.
Those verbals put Oklahoma's class at or near the level of Texas's at the start of June, but the Sooners lost major, perhaps irredeemable ground with the Turner commitment.
The best chance they have of beating Texas on the trial, or at least dealing them a serious blow, is to pull off a major upset by grabbing five-star RB Malcolm Brown. Most, including B/R writer Michael Pinto and I, have chalked the top running back in the 2011 class to Texas for some time. But even the ironclad commitments of summer can melt if the right team turns the heat up.
How well both teams perform this fall, independently and against each other, could change things for Brown, Turner, and any other prospects the two schools battle over. This isn't Bob Stoops' first rodeo, after all.
The Tide are off to a pretty good start with commitments from four great wide receivers, two stud linebackers, a four-star defensive end and a good prospect at strong safety, but the big verbals are yet to come.
Alabama could deal a direct blow to Texas's class if they did the unthinkable and flipped five-star running back Malcolm Brown to their side. Brown is reputed to be a big lean to Texas, but Alabama has been a strong candidate for second.
Another recruit both teams are fighting over is Louisiana defensive end Jermauria Rasco, one of the few recruits left with a bona fide Texas offer. Rasco is reported to be down to Texas, Bama, LSU and Florida State.
Even if Brown does decide for Texas, Alabama could call that bid with a verbal from future five-star RB Isaiah Crowell out of Georgia. And they could raise it by landing five-star defensive end and top 2011 recruit Jadeveon Clowney (who visited Tuscaloosa back in June) or five-star DT Viliami Moala out of Sacramento, CA (who is reportedly enjoying the Tide's attention).
Bama's start may not be as decorated as Texas's, but they're never one to count out for an individual recruit or a run at the top class. Don't forget that they were the victors in the national championship game. Aside from seeing a slight bump in their recruiting rankings as a result, that win should and will be a factor in every head-to-head they face, not just with Texas.
LSU was actually keeping pace with Texas early in the recruiting season. The Tigers had four four-stars (Kenny Hilliard, Anthony Johnson, Corey White and Jeremy Hill) and a five-star (La'El Collins) in the fold before 2010 even began.
But things have slowed down since. LSU went without a commitment for the month of June, and landed only two for April and May.
They have a fight on their hands for in-state four-star DE Jermauria Rasco, and there were early reports that four-star WR Jarvis Landry was wavering and may look around (although, to be fair, it's been a while).
I think the effects of negative recruiting about Les Miles' job instability and the failure to develop NFL talent (however legit or bogus both may be) could be having an effect. In the Cutthroat Conference, you better believe recruiters leave no stone unturned, however slimy it may be.
Who they look for at QB, CB and S are of particular importance. High-profile vacancies at each position (assuming 2010 QB commit Zach Lee chooses baseball over football, which is not a given), could make LSU attractive for a late-season switcheroo.
With a solid 2010 season and a good bowl platform to build from, LSU could close as strong as they did last year and, in so doing, pull off the upset for the top spot at the last moment.
After titillating us for a few months by keeping a low recruiting profile, Florida is on a roll, picking up six great commitments in the past three weeks.
Four-star OLB Ryan Shazier, four-star OT Tommy Jordan, four-star WRs Javares McRoy and Ja'Juan Story, top fullback Hunter Joyer and kicker Kyle Christy, the second-best in the class, have all signed on to play for the Gators since June 11th.
The Gators should close the summer with top athlete James Wilder in the class. Wilder visited Gainesville last month and came away feeling like he knows where he fits in on Florida's retooling offense.
It may seem obvious that the Gators would challenge Texas for 2011's top class after narrowly edging the Longhorns out for tops overall in 2010. But I assure you, Florida's status among the recruiting elites was in doubt, and could still be with a bad year. The rise of Alabama, a good year for Georgia and Auburn, and other complications are taking their toll, and Meyer's absence isn't helping.