Friday Mailbag 

February, 13, 2009
I've still been getting a lot of e-mails about recruiting so I'm going to lead this week's mailbag with the topic that has generated the most stuff, blue-chip recruit Bryce Brown:

Scott in L.A.: A question for you about Bryce Brown: I'm not sure how well you know him (if at all), but how high of a risk is he from a violation perspective? Any high school kid who has someone in his life acting as a manager is a HUGE red flag to me and gives me the impression they are only interested in getting to the next level, regardless of the cost. Therefore I have NO interest in him coming to USC. Are my concerns valid?

Feldman: I don't know Brown, and to be honest, even if I'd spoken to him two or three times, I'm not sure how well you can really get to know someone in that regard. Maybe some of these recruiters who have invested more time have a clearer picture on him. Obviously there's been a lot written about him. And, fair or unfair, much of that attention has come because of his mentor/trainer Brian Butler and his handling of the situation.

Would Brown have blossomed into an all-everything recruit without Butler's guidance? Obviously we can't say for certain. Most people I talked to think the running back would still have proved to be a prodigious talent, but maybe his focus wouldn't have been the same? I do know that he wouldn't have gotten as much publicity if Butler hadn't broached the idea of the subscription service. That said, let's be realistic. Many, if not most blue-chip recruits, are only interested in getting to the next level. If that's indeed Brown's perspective, he wouldn't be alone.

Now would that attitude cause problems in the locker room? I spoke to some coaches who have recruited Brown and asked if they worried whether he was actually worth the trouble, and across the board, the coaches said they are comfortable with him. They also said they believed he was THAT good of a back. One pointed out that it wasn't Brown who started the whole business of picking a hat or staging news conferences.

My feeling is it seems like more often than not, the kid whose recruitment turns into a soap opera and appears to get caught up into the hype doesn't pan out, but I'm basing it off anecdotal evidence. Willie Williams immediately comes to mind. Stephen Garcia's certainly had his issues, although it's too soon to write him off. You can even look at a guy like a Vidal Hazelton, whose recruiting process got very chaotic at the end. So far that hasn't turned out so great for him. Kellen Winslow II was one guy who proved to be worth the drama as his talent definitely backed it up, although he sure had his moments.

From Leah in Anaheim, Calif.: Is this delayed signing going to be the new trend in college football?

Feldman: My hunch is yes. We saw it a little in the past. Winslow's recruitment lingered as did a few others. Terrelle Pryor got a lot attention last year, although it should be noted he got delayed some because his basketball schedule had some impact. This is a different deal though, and it's not just Brown. You have a handful of other blue-chippers still out there: Orson Charles, David Oku, Rolando Jefferson, DT-OT Kwame Geathers and LB Eric Fields (although I think he is headed to Northwest Miss. CC, according to this Oxford Eagle story).

The coaches I've spoken with in the past week say they expect more and more kids to delay their decisions, and it really could become a problem for a lot of programs because it'll interfere with their preparation for spring practice as well as dealing with their current players, not to mention recruiting juniors. Expect to hear some talk about how college coaches would like the NCAA to have a tight 48-hour window around signing day so this doesn't turn recruiting into another hot stove league.

From James in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.: I'm sure you can get your crack staff of interns on the case. Is the Hurricanes' 4 game stretch against #23 FSU, #13 Georgia Tech, #5 Virginia Tech and #2 OU the toughest 4 game opening stretch ever? For reference, I used ESPN's Schlabach's way-to-early top 25.

Feldman: It's certainly up there. I started digging around and looked at some of the tougher beginnings over the past seven years and none was quite as rough as the one UM is about to take on. Checking back to 2002 to see what teams have faced the most ranked teams in their first four, the ones that jumped out most to me were these:

In 2008, Washington opened up at No. 21 Oregon, then hosted No. 15 BYU and No. 3 Oklahoma and then Stanford. In 2004, Houston played at a No. 2 OU and at No. 4 Miami, but that was mixed in with hosting Rice and Army. Also in '04, Arkansas St. opened with three ranked teams: at No. 18 Mizzou, No. 6 LSU and then hosted No. 25 Memphis before going to ULM. In 2002, USC hosted unranked Auburn and then went to No. 18 Colorado and then to No. 25 K-State before hosting No. 23 Oregon State. (The Trojans lost only to KSU.)

Friday morning I checked in with ESPN research guru Brad Edwards, who came back with one that I do think trumps the upcoming Miami slate: In 1968, Northwestern opened up with five games against top-20 competition. Ironically enough, NU's opener was at Miami, then No. 19. That was followed by a visit from No. 3 USC and then a visit from No. 1 Purdue before the Cats went on the road to face No. 5 Notre Dame and then to No. 2 Ohio State. Northwestern lost all five and by a combined score of 167-48.

Brenton in Baton Rouge, La.: I was someone surprised to see LSU left off your latest top 10 list, though I'm obviously biased. But when you consider that LSU had the most lopsided bowl win of anyone, seems to have found a QB in Jordan Jefferson, completely overhauled (and upgraded) the defensive coaching staff, and signed the #1 (according to ESPN) recruiting class in the nation which included Russell Shepard who is one of six incoming freshman already enrolled and able to take part in spring practice, it's hard to fathom that LSU wasn't somewhere in that list. With all that's happened in the past month with the LSU program, 8-5 seems a long time ago.

Feldman: Those are all good points. LSU was a team I considered for that list, but after talking to some coaches who had tried recruiting some of the junior college players who ended up at Oregon, I shifted the list around some and bumped the Tigers.


• What are the top college sports towns in the country? Forbes' Matt Woolsey begins his story talking about Ann Arbor.

My three cents on most appealing college sports towns (and this isn't solely from a football perspective): Chapel Hill, N.C.; Eugene, Ore.; Palo Alto, Calif.; and Athens, Ga. I'd try and sneak Austin, Texas, in there, but with it being the capital, I think it doesn't quite qualify.

• College coaches are always tweaking their approach to recruiting. Miami's recruiting coordinator, Clint Hurtt, who is rapidly emerging as one of the better guys in his field, has made an interesting change to the Canes' recruiting plan: Going into every school in the state and making evaluations much earlier than previous UM staffs did aren't the only changes Hurtt has made as recruiting coordinator, writes Manny Navarro. In an effort to make sure the staff no longer wastes its time on high-level, out-of-state recruits UM has long odds of getting, Hurtt said he's implemented a rule.

"I call it the one-hour rule," Hurtt said. "If the kid lives more than an hour from a major airport, we really aren't going to bother because it's probably not worth it. Most parents aren't going to drive very far to then got on two flights to come see their kids play when they've got a bunch of other schools closer to them. That doesn't mean we won't go after a special kid who we might have a connection with. In recruiting nowadays, it's just so important to eliminate mistakes in a signing class. You can't make mistakes or it will set you back big time. You got to go after the best players, but the guys who fit your system, fit the character you want. You need to give those guys the attention instead of spreading yourself thin."

One of the few exceptions to Miami's distance rule was when the Hurricanes chased Texas TE Bubba Franks.

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