With less than four weeks to go until National Signing Day and the All-Star games all wrapped up, the recruiting season is hitting warp speed. As we’ve seen with the success of Alabama, Notre Dame, and so many others, success during the season is closely tied to how well the teams do on Signing Day.
Recruiting is unpredictable with regards to where the top prospects end up, how they end up there, and how they turn out. The last two Heisman winners have been unexpected treasures, as Johnny Manziel was rated the #14 dual-threat quarterback in the Class of 2011 and Robert Griffin III was the #42 ranked player… in the state of Texas for the Class of 2008.
Even the top prospects are not “sure bets.” Last year, the nation’s top prospect, Dorial Green-Beckham (pictured), was heralded by some as the next Randy Moss and chose home-state Missouri over Alabama, Arkansas, and Missouri on National Signing Day. He had a lackluster freshman season with only 395 yards receiving and had some off the field troubles. However, the previous year’s top prospect, Jadeveon Clowney was arguably the best player in college football outside of “Johnny Heisman,” and chose the in-state Gamecocks over Alabama nearly two weeks after Signing Day 2011 (can you imagine if Clowney had chosen Alabama???).
The future of college football’s top programs and their million dollar coaches hinges, at least in part, on how well they do with the elite prospects on their board over the next few weeks. Which hat these kids choose and where the send their fax will have elite coaches loosing countless hours of sleep and dedicated fans to devoting much of their work day to following the Twitter accounts of high schoolers and refreshing the message boards of their favorite teams. While the whims of 18-year-olds are always difficult to predict, here’s our breakdown of the top storylines heading into February 6, 2013:
Where do the top prospects end up?
Consensus #1 Defensive End Robert Nkemdiche, as well as 5-star prospects Defensive Tackle Montravious Adams, Linebacker Reuben Foster, Wide Receiver Laquon Treadwell, Offensive Tackle Laremy Tunsil, and Running Back Derrick Green are just a few of the elite prospects still undecided about their college destination.
Who switches their commitments at the last minute?
Top prospects including 5-stars Defensive End Carl Lawson (Auburn), Defensive Tackle Dee Liner (Auburn), Defensive Back Jalen Ramsey (USC), and 4-star Running Back Altee Tenpenny (Alabama) are just a handful of committed blue chippers whose fans won’t rest easy until the faxes come in.
Which teams should we watch most carefully?
I will certainly be watching how Texas A&M closes as they are becoming the trendy leader for a number of prospects but already have an astounding 34 players committed or signed. Seeing how they fill the remaining spots should be interesting, and, at the other end of the spectrum, the Texas Longhorns, known for filling up early, only have 13 commitments so far. Lane Kiffin and USC have had a number of defections but are still holding strong, and Arkansas and Tennessee have new coaching staffs that have some players interested.
However, the two teams that are the biggest wild cards going into Signing Day are Auburn and Ole Miss. Auburn was sitting pretty with an elite class until a 3-9 season and the firing of Gene Chizik caused them to lose Reuben Foster and now has them struggling to hold onto Carl Lawson, Dee Liner, and 4-stars Jordan Wilkins and Tashawn Bower. However, Auburn could conceivably hold onto each of those commitments. Plus, Gus Malzahn and the strong staff he has put together (led by former UGA Recruiting Coordinator Rodney Garner and former FSU Recruiting Coordinator Dameyune Craig, both Auburn alums) have Auburn in the hunt to bring Reuben Foster back in the fold and contend for the signatures of 5-stars Montravious Adams, Derrick Green, and Jalen Ramsey as well 4-star prospects including Cornerback Mackensie Alexander, Safety Tony Connor, and Junior College Defensive Tackle Toby Johnson.
Ole Miss has also become a recruiting nightmare for bigger schools not used to having competition from Oxford. The five-win improvement the 7-6 Rebels experienced under first year coach Hugh Freeze has also caught the attention of the nation’s elite prospects. Ole Miss is considered the leader for Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell, and Tony Connor and is very much in the race for Carl Lawson, 4-star Wide Receiver Stacy Coley, and will get a visit from 4-star Auburn commit Jeremy Johnson.
Which Team finishes Number One?
With Notre Dame sitting atop the Team Rankings according to Rivals.com, Alabama still appears to have the inside track to overtake the Irish. With only 20 commitments, Alabama has several spots to fill and is in the thick of things with Auburn commit Dee Liner and 5-star Texas commit Defensive Tackle A’Shawn Richardson as well as uncommitted prospects like Laremy Tunsil, Montravious Adams, 5-star Linebacker Matthew Thomas, Tony Connor, and 4-star Defensive End Tim Williams. Plus, with the exception of Altee Tenpenny who may be giving in-state Arkansas a second look, Saban’s commitments are unlikely to head elsewhere.
Notre Dame has a large enough lead over the field that they could hold on if they close strong, but Florida is another team that has the potential to leap frog the Irish. LSU, who is in on a number of prospects, USC which always seems to close strong, and Georgia which is hard after Laremy Tunsil, Montravious Adams, Reuben Foster, and Toby Johnson could be the dark horse candidates for a top finish.
What were the biggest storylines coming out of the All-Star games?
The biggest question going into the All-Star games was whether any player would cement a claim for the top spot. Nkemdiche certainly did well and may hold on, but Carl Lawson, Reuben Foster and others certainly provided a push while Montravious Adams was sidelined with injury. Max Browne’s modest showing in the Army All-American Bowl certainly removed him from consideration.
In addition to those players fighting for a top spot a lot of positive buzz surrounded the performances of A’Shawn Richardson, Derrick Green, 4-star Defensive End Frank Herron (LSU), 3-star Defensive End Chris Jones (Mississippi State), and Laquon Treadwell. 5-star Defensive Backs Kendall Fuller and Jalen Ramsey stuck to opposing receivers like glue and 4-star Quarterback Jeremy Johnson (Auburn) also improved his stock.
While there didn’t seem to be as many commitments made during the games as in years past 5-star Safeties Leon McQuay and Max Redfield made news by picking USC and Notre Dame respectively. Ohio State picked up a couple of elite Linebackers in 4 stars Mike Mitchell and Trey Johnson, and LSU’s recruiting victory over Alabama with 4-star Athlete Kendall Beckwith’s decision was huge for the Tigers.
Which player will be Number 1?
Robert Nkemdiche is currently ranked the #1 player in the nation by Rivals.com, Scout.com, ESPN.com, and 247Sports.com, and he did nothing over the course of the season nor in the All-Star week to lose that spot. But, did others do more. On Friday, we will release the Breitbart Sports 25, breaking down the top 25 players in the country. Check back Friday to see who has the top spot, and whether your team has a chance at landing the nation's best.
*** Note: All rankings, unless specifically designated otherwise, come from Rivals.com.