If you're like me, the grim reality that came at the end of this college football season hit you like Cam Newton putting his head down to pick up a 3rd and short. Especially since this winter comes with so much uncertainty regarding the NFL's collective bargaining agreement. Do you guys realize there's a real chance that we wont have an NFL season in 2011?
College football may be our only pigskin option for the time being, and on the heels of Auburn Tigers 22-19 victory over the Oregon Ducks in the BCS National Championship game, we can gently look ahead to national signing day on February 2nd. On that date, the best high school players in the country will pledge their service to programs around the country.
Sure, it's early. And yes, 18-year old kids reserve the right to change their minds (and they often do), but I had a chance to chat with Senior Educational Speaker for NCSA Athletic Recruiting, Coach Randy Taylor. We touched on which programs might be turning it around, a few early commitments to watch, and when, if ever, Notre Dame's fans can expect their beloved Irish to return to national prominence.
Here's a hint for the Golden Domers: don't hold your breath.
MF: Give me one traditional power that's fallen out of the national discussion and seems to be on the way back, thanks to recruiting.
Taylor: Florida State has jumped up from what it's been in the last couple of years. They've always had talent, but this year, they're competing for a top-5 recruiting class. They haven't signed anybody yet, but they have gotten some commitments from some top kids.
Two I like in Florida State's class are coming in early, Cornelius Carradine from El Dorado, KS (Butler County CC) (ED NOTE: The #2 ranked JUCO player in the country) and Jacob Fahrenkrug from Wahpeton, ND. Carradine is a DE, and Fahrenkrug is an O-lineman.
Getting James Wilder, the junior, is a heck of a deal. He's from Tampa, he's an athlete, the son of the running back, David Wilder from Tampa Bay. He played running back at the U.S. Army game, and he is a physical specimen, but he's a kid that can play LB too. He is a true athlete.
Then another kid I really like is Karlos Williams out of Davenport, Florida. He's a defensive back that runs well, but he's 6'2, 200 lbs.
If you're in Florida, you should never have a problem.
MF: What about schools like Stanford and Cal. Both have tough academic standards, so how are they able to keep talent coming in?
Taylor: I think Cal has the ability to recruit with anybody. They do have a good academic program, but they bring in what I call risk kids that are minimum qualifiers. They've been able to do that for years. They've got a pretty good staff, and location is great.
Stanford can't start looking at kids unless they have a 3.0 or a 3.2 GPA and a 1000 SAT, where other schools are able to start with a 2.5 GPA, and an 825 SAT, so that's a huge difference.
What used to happen with a school like Stanford is they'd be good when a lot of their kids became red-shirt juniors and seniors. They'd have them in the program for a while, and they understood the system. Now, we'll have to see how the coaching change works out. Stanford has to hang on.
MF: Are any schools that have been complete surprises for you in this class?
Taylor: One school that's kind of jumped up is Virginia. There are a couple others, but Virginia has done a better job of recruiting than maybe some have seen in a while. They're in a talent-rich area again, but I think they've just doing a better job of recruiting, overall.
What they've been able to do is get a bunch of quality depth. They've kept some of the kids in Virginia that they needed to keep. And they went out to Maryland and got a really good player, Brandon Phelps, from Damascus, MD.
If you have talent in your state, and you can keep most of them home, you can have a pretty good recruiting class.
One other team that's surprisingly good is USC, especially because of everything they've had to overcome. I think with the loss of scholarships and everything else, they're really going to have a tough time recruiting, with the sanctions and not being able to play in bowls, things like that. I think they're one to watch.
MF: Will Notre Dame ever return to a position of national prominence, or are the fans in denial about the trends in college football?
Taylor: I think the fans are in denial. Even though Notre Dame has great name recognition, they're in the Midwest, and they have to recruit nationally. Even with all the things that they have going for them, they don't have the talent base in their neighborhood quite like Texas does, or even like Clemson does. If you look at Notre Dame's list, and you're talking about California, Michigan. Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Connecticut, - it's a very wide range that they need to go recruit. You go in the states and get some of those top kids that may go to your Texas, your Florida or those schools, I think they're biggest problem is it's not like the days where they can get anybody they wanted. It's just a different world.
MF: How do Boise and TCU, two schools that have become powers but don't play in power conferences right now, continue to have success in recruiting?
Taylor: Boise will do what they always do, they'll get kids that aren't top 5 or four stars on everybody's list, and turn those kids into top players that fit their system. That is what they do every time they go out. There are kids who played for those schools that are playing in the NFL, because they're late developers.
Now TCU, being from Texas definitely helps. That's such a great school, and coach has done a great job recruiting. They have that system, and those guys fit into that system. They coach really well and develop players really well. That's key for programs like that.