From the archives: January 2009
If you thought last year's recruiting soap opera surrounding Terrelle Pryor was mind-numbing, get ready for this year's even more bizarre chase du jour.
The 2009 blue-chipper-of-intrigue is prized Wichita tailback Bryce Brown.
Nutshell: Brown is the younger brother of Miami linebacker Arthur Brown, one of last winter's top recruits. Bryce Brown committed to play at Miami last February. "Honestly, I wasn't in a rush. It was more of a spiritual thing, but this hopefully will keep it from being too crazy," Brown told Rivals.com at the time, adding that he did plan to take all five of his visits.
Turns out things have gotten a little crazy. Bryce Brown, who graduated high school a semester early, is currently on vacation with an uncle in Nebraska and now reportedly won't announce his college choice until well after signing day. Almost every story you read about the Browns mentions their advisor or mentor, Brian Butler, who has become quite a presence in the recruiting world of late.
So on Thursday morning I spoke to Butler to try and get a better sense of his organization, Potential Players, the recruitment of Bryce Brown and a lot of the rumors that swirled around all of the above.
It was one of the more unusual interviews I've had in a while. We actually talked about nine different times over the course of a 90-minute span due to his cell phone cutting out and some spotty connections on his landline, which he explained was a product of him switching phone services.
This is what I knew of Butler thanks to a Wichita Eagle story posted on his Potential Players website from 2007. He's in his mid 30s and was managing a Wichita T-Mobile call center. And he is a minister, who in 1999 had an epiphany to help children "get closer to God."
Butler says he turned his business into a "legitimate non-profit a couple of years ago." Asked how one does that, he explained by doing paper work through the state and the IRS. He says he has worked with around 50 kids over the years and the main purpose is education. "I'm educating them on what it takes to be a successful high-school athlete and what it takes to be successful in college and then to be successful as a man, husband and father."
Butler first learned of the Browns from a friend who was a substitute teacher at the junior school Arthur Brown was attending. Two years later, Butler was coaching in high school at Wichita South, and his team's final game of the season was against Arthur Brown's team and the then-freshman was a rising star. Butler and a friend approached Brown's parents about training their sons and to work with them to become faster. There was also the appeal of developing big-time talent that Butler believed would help lure other college coaches to the Wichita area and expose them to more of his players.
"Mr. Brown listened to us and was very open," Butler recalled.
The plan was to train their young athletes three to four times a week. Butler says he charges $15 to $18 per training session. The work has paid off quite well it seems.
Fast forward to 2009 and Potential Players has eight senior football prospects in its program, and Butler says five will be going to play major college football. This also is no small feat given that most of the prospects Butler works with do not come from the Wichita public schools system, where Butler says territorial coaches have kept him from working with their players. Instead, all but one of Butler's protégés (Bryce Brown) come from many schools that are producing their first 1-A high school athlete.
The plum of Butler's program is Bryce Brown, the local Wichita public schools product. And as Brown's recruitment has intensified, word has gotten out about Butler's latest idea: charging $9.95 a month for a service in which fans or coaches can subscribe to the latest updates on Brown or any of Butler's players. It would also allow a place to watch video of the athletes.
It is an idea that -- on the surface -- feeds into the suspicion many people have about "advisors" and blue-chip recruits. Many cynics come away wondering the same thing: What is the end game here? Sure, other entities often charge a fee for recruiting coverage, but do they also work on behalf of those same kids they're writing about?
As of Thursday morning, Butler says the last time he had checked, only three people have signed up.
Asked how such a service can mesh with running a non-profit, Butler replied, "I don't do it for the non-profit. I have two businesses."
Then his phone cut out.
After I called back, he says his other business is Life Training, which focuses on aiding the recruiting process as well as physically training athletes. He explained that Potential Players deals with more of the spiritual side and a summer tour he takes the players on. "People get confused," he said.
Right or wrong, it's easy to see why. The lines are getting really blurred here.
He says he patterned his summer tour off the programs Ted Ginn Sr. has done in Ohio. In the past two years, he has taken 25 of his protégés on two week-long tours in a rented 15-passenger van to some 20 states. Butler then spoke about the major impact he's had with his program (or is it programs?). "[It] is being on the phone with college coaches and giving them a true evaluation" of how good a prospect may be.
Bryce Brown is his case study. Butler goes on to talk about a recent call he got from a college coach who praised him on his work with the running back because, as the coach said, the toughest thing to do is to make a fast kid faster.
Butler adds the 215-pound Brown has gone from clocking a 4.43 40-yard dash to a 4.28. The running back also is trying to keep a low-profile at this point. "He's just chillin' right now," Butler says. "Just clearing his head and evaluating schools."
I asked if Butler checked with the NCAA or any other agency to make sure setting up the subscription service wouldn't put his players at risk of some eligibility issues. "I'm not worried about anybody saying anything," he answered. "The kids are not receiving any dollars from it. I'm not a kid. I'm the one benefiting. "Everything you do is criticized and scrutinized. You can't worry about that. I just worry about doing the right thing and making the right choices."
The sad reality of the boom in college recruiting is that street agents and talent brokers have sprung up all over the country in both basketball and football. Some are getting exploited and manipulated. Then again, some may also be exploiting and manipulating the system. It is confusing.
"People are just naturally suspicious," Butler says, before conceding that there have been some "bad apples" that have operated in youth basketball and football.
Can Butler operate his organization which, as he puts it, strives to get them to go FBS rather than to the county jail or the penitentiary, while also making some financial gain for himself? He then asks what is the difference since everyone else is profiting off the kids? The radio stations are. ESPN is. "There are numerous web sites who charge," he says, after they have interviewed him or his players. "I'm the one that does the work. I'm the one that's typing the stories. Obviously, I'm the one that should be getting paid."
He says people in California and Florida have been doing similar things for years, only he's just wearing five hats instead of two. He's also been getting a lot of calls from individuals looking to try and set up similar operations in their communities.
Random Stuff• Jerry Rice Jr. will be visiting UCLA this weekend with the possibility he might become a walk-on receiver, Brian Dohn reports: "The son of the NFL's all-time leading receiver, Jerry Rice, had a team-leading 23 catches for 379 yards and three touchdowns as a senior. He also ran the ball 24 times for 217 yards and four touchdowns. The 5-foot-10, 175-pound Rice Jr. does not have any offers from Pac-10 schools, and also is considering walking on at California. By the way, he also has grades. He is also looking at several Ivy League schools, including Yale."
• Clemson QB/baseball standout Kyle Parker is ready to get back on the diamond, as Heather Dinich writes:
This year, there will be a bit more emphasis on spring football, as the graduation of quarterback Cullen Harper leaves the position wide open -- and Parker at the heart of the competition. "To be able to compete for the job, he's gotta be there," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "Obviously football is paying the bills, but he's here to do both. It's in my and [baseball] coach [Jack] Leggett's best interests that we work out a good schedule for him, and I'm real comfortable with what we've got resolved."
Parker isn't the only ACC quarterback who will be pulling double duty with baseball this spring. It's no easy feat considering how strong the conference is (North Carolina, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Florida State are all ranked among Baseball America's preseason Top 25, and Miami and NC State are both consistent championship contenders). The three quarterbacks playing both sports are each at different points in their career. NC State's Russell Wilson is a returning starter at quarterback and a second baseman for the Pack, while Florida State's D'Vontrey Richardson was a backup quarterback last year but moved to safety recently and is an outfielder for the Noles.
• Top WR recruit Reuben Randle got quite the treatment on his visit to LSU, including a tour of the capitol by the governor's top aide, as reports Michelle Millhollon.
State Sen. Mike Walsworth, who visited with Randle during the tour, said he and Randle's family talked more about Bastrop's economic problems than about football. International Paper announced late last year that it was closing its Bastrop mill, an economic driver in the northeast Louisiana town. Walsworth, R-West Monroe, said he was careful to avoid violating any recruiting rules.
"I just said, 'Look we would love for you to stay in the state of Louisiana.' That's all I said," Walsworth said.
• According to Greg Biggins, Arizona State is making a run at USC LB commit Vontaze Burfict.
Burfict was an early commitment to USC. He announced last February, just a few weeks after signing day. ASU has recruited the linebacker heavily all year, and Burfict visited the two Pac-10 schools in the past two weekends.
"He loved both visits," Husky coach Matt Logan said. "After his visit to ASU, I think he was leaning there a little. Then after he visited SC this past weekend, I think he leaning back to USC. These coaches do their job and really sell their program well, which is why I always tell my kids not to commit on a visit so it's not an emotional decision. Now that he's a few days removed from his visit to USC, I think he has both schools basically even right now. Both schools will be coming by this week for one last chance, and he's going to make his decision on Friday. We don't have anything set up like a press conference or anything, he's just going to call the coaches from both schools and let them know where he's going."
• Boise State nabbed a player with a cool name. Defensive tackle Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe, a 6-foot-4, 295-pound prospect from Senior (Boise, Idaho) has pledged to Boise State. Originally from the Netherlands, Tjong-A-Tjoe played his final year of high school in Boise.
• The battle for stud DE Sam Montgomery is heating up, writes JC Shurburtt:
"Should Montgomery ultimately end up at North Carolina, then it would be the second straight recruiting cycle that Butch Davis and Tar Heels defensive line coach John Blake nabbed one of the top defensive line prospects from the Palmetto State. Last year, the Tar Heels inked Robert Quinn (North Charleston, S.C./Fort Dorchester), turning him from Auburn on signing day. Quinn saw significant snaps as a true freshman this year in Chapel Hill."
I like Randy Shannon's move, hiring Mark Whipple to be Miami's new offensive coordinator. The only thing Canes fans should regret about it was that UM couldn't have hired him two years ago when it brought in Patrick Nix.
I spoke with two coaches who have worked against Whipple, and the way they rave about him is reminiscent of the big buzz in the coaching world about Chip Kelly when Oregon hired him. It'll be fascinating to see if Whipple has an impact on whether Miami can keep top RB recruit Bryce Brown. The Kansas back, who is widely considered the top back in this recruiting class, is expected to hold off on announcing his college choice until after signing day.
Whipple's first stop is to Wichita to recruit Brown, although the running back won't actually be there. (He already graduated from high school and will be in Nebraska with an uncle on vacation.) But Whipple will meet with Brown's father and Brian Butler, his mentor. Butler, who will conference Brown in via phone, apparently wants to sit down with the new Canes offensive coach and hear a detailed plan of how Miami will use the running back and get a better understanding of his offensive philosophies.
The timing of Whipple's hire is big in that UM also will be hosting blue-chipper Sheldon Richardson -- a nimble 6-foot-4, 280-pounder committed to Mizzou -- this weekend on an official visit. Many recruiting sites have pegged Richardson as one of the top DT recruits in the country, but apparently he is intrigued by playing tight end in college and he might get that chance at Miami, especially since the status of starting tight end Dedrick Epps is up in the air as he tries to recover from a late-season ACL injury that could sideline him for all of 2009. The Canes suddenly are extremely thin at tight end.
"Well, my father is just leaving the decision up to me, and my mother wants me to stay close to home," Richardson told InsidetheU.com. "My brother said it depends on what position I want to play. If I want to play tight end I could play tight end in Miami because Miami would be a better fit. I just don't know yet what position I want to play, so that's what else makes the decision so hard, because my body weight fluctuates up and down."
Todd Bankhead, who was Whipple's former QB when they won the 1-AA national title at UMass in 1988, spoke to a UM blog and offered some perspective on his former coach: "One thing is for sure, you wouldn't classify Whipple as being conservative," he told Anton Azucar. "Definitely fun to play for and fun to watch. The thing I liked most about his offense, it wasn't overly complicated for the players to pick up (his plays weren't a paragraph long with hundreds of variables for each player to read on the fly), but it was very tough for defenses to defend against."
One other UM point: Canes fans should be hoping Bill Cowher loves being in the TV studio, because word is Whipple would be his first call if the former Steelers coach opts to come back to coaching in the NFL down the road.
• I talked to Bobby Massie's high school coach Frank Rocco on Wednesday morning about the huge OT now at Hargrave Military Academy. "He's grown by leaps and bounds," Rocco said, speaking more about Massie's psyche. "As a younger player, he lacked self-esteem and confidence, but now he is very well-prepared."
Massie, whom some regard as the one of the top overall lineman prospects available this year, is scheduled to take his final official visit this weekend to Georgia. Rocco, who still talks to Massie, said he thinks the 6-7, 330-pounder is still very much undecided, although he added that Massie is a small-town guy at heart. "I know he really liked Ole Miss, and he just visited Alabama and he really liked it there and he felt very comfortable there."
• Tahj Boyd, the nation's No. 5-rated QB prospect, committed to Clemson over Oregon and Ohio State. The news isn't quite what ESPN's Tom Luginbill expected: "We must say this is a very surprising pick to us, and Clemson is now clearly stocked at QB for the near future. With Willy Korn and Kyle Parker both young and well-armed, the QB race at Clemson is sure to heat up for years to come now that Boyd is on board."
"Boyd is the ideal guy for this offense as he would have been had he picked Oregon as well. He is intelligent, a man of high character and has excellent upside as both a passer and runner. We don't feel Boyd gets the credit he deserves as a passer. He's not just an athlete playing QB; he's a true QB that is also a very good athlete. He isn't very tall, but he'll fit right in with Korn and Parker; both of them are right about 6 feet tall, too."
• Speedster Nyshier Oliver dropped his commitment to Notre Dame in favor of Tennessee, Josh Ward reports.
• USF landed another touted LB prospect. This time it's the nation's No. 13 ILB recruit DeDe Lattimore, who reportedly picked the Bulls over, among others, Auburn and Louisville.
• Florida standout Lamar Scruggs, the nation's No. 21-rated WR, has picked South Carolina over Ole Miss, according to TheBigSpur.com.
"Scruggs could become a go-to type of guy and has excellent measurables," says ESPN's Tom Luginbill. "He is the type of kid that could come into the situation at South Carolina and be a factor quickly. Their receiving corps is young; they lose Kenny McKinley and they don't yet have any established threats, but lots of ability to be very comparable to."
Sources say the 6-3, 215-pound Scruggs was one of three big targets the Rebels felt like they had a very good shot to land. The other two are 6-5 Marlon Brown, the nation's No. 3 WR and 6-3 Patrick Patterson, the No. 14 wideout. Patterson, a small-town guy, is rumored to be leaning toward Ole Miss.
• Orson Charles, the speedy tight end prospect from Tampa, is expected to not announce his college choice till after signing day, and that's apparently no problem for UGA coach Mark Richt, who also doesn't seem to mind saving the No. 7 jersey for him, according to this AJC story:
"Coach Richt said he will wait and what was really neat is that he said he would hold my No. 7 jersey for me, even if there is another player they're recruiting that wants it and that guy is [deciding] on signing day," Charles said. "I was really surprised and impressed with the way [Richt] was talking about everything. Georgia knew before I visited there that I wasn't going to commit, and they never pressured me, or really even brought it up. It was a relaxed situation, a lot of fun."
The No. 7 jersey was worn by quarterback Matthew Stafford last season. Charles, who is also considering USC, FSU, Tennessee and UF, could probably get the No. 7 at SC since DB Cary Harris was a senior this year and Vidal Hazelton left the program . Tight end Cornelius Ingram wears No. 7 for UF. It's doubtful Charles gets that jersey at FSU, since that's the number worn by QB Christian Ponder. He might be able to wear it at Tennessee, since DB Dee Morley wears No. 7 for the Vols but no one has it on offense.
• Big get by Duke landing onetime Virginia recruit Tyree Watkins, a speedy New Jersey product. He is an explosive wideout, something the Blue Devils simply didn't have.
• Last year Southern Miss landed a dynamite big receiver in DeAndre Brown, and now the Golden Eagles might have found an ideal counter in JC transfer Justin Jordan, as Kevin Hageland reports.
Jordan had been clocked at 4.41 in the 40-yard dash, and the former Wildcat received offers from California, which he visited in November, Arizona, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Utah before choosing Southern Mississippi.
• Justin Thompson has been a highly touted defensive-line recruit for, it seems, years. The JC transfer signed with Oregon last year, but failed to qualify and didn't play in 2008. Thompson is expected to be on the field in 2009, only it'll be for the Memphis Tigers who need the help, as they're trying to replace three solid D-linemen.
According to Phil Stukenborg, Thompson said he chose Memphis for a variety of reasons, among them a schedule that has the Tigers playing Ole Miss and Tennessee in 2009 and the presence of former high school and junior college teammate Greg Ray on the Tigers roster.
"Me and Greg went to high school together (in Los Angeles) for all four years, and he and I went to the same junior college," Thompson said. "We only lived about 15 minutes from each other in Los Angeles. He is one of my closest friends."
The Tigers have actually been bringing in a bunch of hyped former big-name recruits. Also coming to Memphis is Miami wideout Jermaine McKenzie, who is transferring in with his twin brother Tremaine, a DB who comes from a California JC. Tight end Dajleon Farr, another ex-Hurricane, transferred last year and will become eligible this fall. Tigers defensive coordinator Tim Walter, a former Miami assistant, is a big reason why the school has been able to bring in some former Canes. LSU transfer Derrick Odom and former Wisconsin RB Lance Smith also become eligible in '09.
• FIU is coming off a breakthrough season and is on the rise. Last year, the program, which opened its charming new stadium in September, showcased a gem of a rookie in receiver T.Y. Hilton, who went on to become the Sun Belt Freshman of the Year. As Pete Pelegrin writes, more big things are coming for the program: "In July, FIU will inaugurate a state-of-the-art fieldhouse that includes a 14,000-square-foot weight-training center, the FIU locker room, coaches offices, meeting rooms, injury-rehab center and six additional club suites, with a patio overlooking the field from the west end zone.
" 'FIU is turning into big-time football,' said Archbishop Carroll defensive back Terrance Taylor, who decommitted from Rutgers to join FIU. 'That weight room is going to be big, and I'm going to be big in it. This is no longer the FIU people once thought it was. This is a new and improved FIU.' "
Two other guys to keep an eye on are FIU commits Darian Mallary, a shifty, undersized back who ran for more yards than anyone in Dade County last season and linebacker Kenny Dillard, the county's leading tackler (138 tackles, 10 sacks), a speedy 6-0, 195-pounder who comes from local powerhouse Northwestern High.
• Texan Dewayne Peace, who had been committed to Michigan, but had been reportedly told by the Wolverines staff they wanted him as a DB, has switched his choice to Arizona, the (Tucson) Arizona Daily Star reports.
"As soon as I took my visit, I knew I wanted to go to Arizona," said the nation's No. 134-ranked wideout prospect. "It was beautiful. The climate is wonderful, the mountains it's something I had never seen before. It was overwhelming."
• With the Boston College staff in a bit of transition, Georgia OT Nick Klemm is wondering about his verbal commitment to play for the Eagles, and Maryland might snatch him away, writes Glenn LaFollette:
"Klemm -- a 6-foot-6, 280[-pound] tackle -- was 100 percent committed to BC but that was before offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. took a job with the Giants. The Wheeler standout went on an official visit to Boston College on Dec. 12. After just returning from an official [visit] to Maryland this past weekend, Klemm's recruitment status now comes down to a two-team race between Boston College and the Terrapins.
"It's pretty tough to deal with something like this," Klemm said. "It's very hard to buil[d] relationships in a short amount of time. Boston College hasn't named an offensive line coach yet, and that's someone you want to know. You'll be with that person throughout your college career. So that's important to me."
• Updating the Yogi Roth Journey -- Day 4 - Easter Island:
"I landed to the sound of the ocean all around me and a flower [lei] being placed over my shoulders in front of a crowd, as landing is an event on this island as a plane arrives only three times per week. From there, it was straight to the hostel and then the town's center, or one road with a few small shops. But the shops were not the attraction; rather, it was the picture-perfect surf coming barreling down at me from the south side of the island. So into the water I went and it was as fun as you are imagining right now while sitting in your chair. Which brings me to a question; what would happen if you left your chair today? Other than the impending argument with your partner and the bills left unpaid, how would your co-workers remember you?
The reason I'm asking is because this small beach community reminded me of a retreat our staff had last off-season in a small beach town north of Los Angeles. There, during our meetings, a member of our staff asked Coach Carroll a question regarding how we want our players to leave USC: Do we want them to leave as good citizens, All-Americans, Heisman Trophy winners, graduates, etc? A great question and one that all of us were excited to hear the answer to. It was there when Coach Carroll turned to that unnamed staff member and said, "Well, what do you want them to leave as?"
Carroll then continued to ask us to write down the very first thought that came to our minds regarding what we wanted our individual players to leave the program as. At the same time he was beginning what is the first step in the Win Forever philosophy finding out who you are. He asked me what I thought and immediately, I reframed my initial response to a more academic, coach-speak answer. "Well, Coach, I would like them to be worldly, good men, smart quarterbacks."
He thankfully stopped me with a laugh and bluntly asked, "Yogi, what was the first thing you wrote down?"
And then, as I looked toward my notepad for no apparent reason, I smiled, as I knew in my heart what I wanted the players I coached to leave USC with. I wanted them to leave as "dreamers." To leave knowing that they can achieve anything they dream up in their analytical quarterback head.
The point is, whatever you want your players to leave the program with they will leave with, because you cannot hide who you are, and the same is in life. We can't hide who we are! Thus, as I am sitting in an Easter Island hostel chair in pain from sunburn on my now-leathery neck. I guess I'll ask you what you would want your players, children, life partners, co-workers, or friends to take away from you if you ever moved on?
Think rivalries end once the season wraps up?
Hardly. Often times, the most venomous stuff between rival programs spews out in the heat of recruiting season.
No region in the nation seems to have more bad blood than the SEC, where there are dust-ups virtually everywhere you look.
Case in point, check out the spice that has been added to the Tennessee-Alabama rivalry as detailed here by the Wiz of Odds after blue-chip quarterback A.J. McCarron, who has given a commitment to Alabama, was told by Nick Saban not to take a recruiting trip to Knoxville.
So, as we hit the sprint portion of the race to national signing day, here are the 10 most compelling recruiting derbies:
1. Manti Te'o, linebacker: USC vs. UCLA vs. Notre Dame: The hard-hitting linebacker with the great grades was the main reason why so many recruiters headed to Hawaii this year. Te'o is the nation's No. 2-rated prospect and apparently just whittled his list down to a top three, dropping Stanford and BYU. His decision not to go to BYU has stunned many in recruiting circles and isn't sitting too well in some parts as this Darnell Dickson story shows: "USC, I understand. But UCLA? BYU beat the Bruins 59-0 in September. Notre Dame? The Irish have made a bit of resurgence but are a shell of what they used to be. Te'o told Total Blue Sports he eliminated BYU because he thought he could make more of an impact at the other schools and be a representative of the LDS Church. Don't know if I believe him. The real reasons? Only Te'o knows. One thing the three schools have in common is the spotlight. USC is a national championship contender every season. UCLA is in Los Angeles, the entertainment capital of the world. And Notre Dame has its own television contract with NBC. It appears Te'o is looking for maximum exposure."
Te'o is a huge chip. UCLA and Notre Dame desperately need play-makers on defense. As for USC, Te'o plays a position where the Trojans are losing four standout linebackers to the NFL. He fits everywhere. The interesting subplot here is that USC goes up against its two biggest rivals for him. And former Trojan assistant Norm Chow is from Hawaii and a member of the Latter Day Saints -- like Te'o.
2. Bobby Massie, offensive tackle; Georgia. vs Alabama vs. North Carolina vs. Ole Miss vs. Miami: Every year Virginia's Hargrave Military Academy cranks out a bunch of blue-chippers and the 6-foot-7, 335-pounder is the bluest of all this winter. Coach Robert Prunty had both Jared Gaither and Branden Albert (a couple of nimble giants who won starting left tackle jobs early in their NFL careers), and he says Massie is "way ahead" of both of them at this same stage. "He could be the first player chosen in the draft," Prunty says of Massie. "He's humble, team-oriented and runs like a tight end. It's been a zoo around here with all these coaches trying to get him." This past weekend, Massie visited Alabama and word has it that he was very, very pleased by what he saw and is excited about the chance to work with veteran O-line coach Joe Pendry. One more official visit remains: Georgia.
3. Reuben Randle, wide receiver; LSU vs. Alabama vs. Oklahoma vs. Auburn: Considered the No. 1 wideout in the country, Randle is also the top-rated player in the state of Louisiana, and that means it's going to be tough for anyone to get him away from LSU. Last week, Tigers beat writer Glenn Guilbeau wrote a column about why he thought Randle is needed more in Baton Rouge than Tuscaloosa, which I assume didn't sit well with Tide supporters:
"If Randle goes to LSU, he could be Julio Jones all over again if he's that good. LaFell will be the man, but after LaFell at the moment there is not much else at receiver for the Tigers. LaFell was the only elite receiver at LSU last season. Demetrius Byrd never equaled his 2007 promise, and 2008 was his senior year."
Of course if you look at from a Sooner fan's perspective, it's hard to argue that Randle could find a better QB than Sam Bradford to catch passes from in 2009.
4. Greg Reid, cornerback; Alabama vs. Georgia vs. Miami vs. FSU: A few months ago, the Valdosta, Ga. product, the country's No. 2 ranked CB prospect, was committed to be a Florida Gator. But that all changed earlier this month, and then it was rumored to shape up as a FSU-UGA battle for his services. Then, Alabama jumped into the mix, followed by Miami, with news that Reid is being recruited by UM recruit Jamal Reid, who recently learned the two are cousins. JC Shurburtt sizes up the Reid sweepstakes: "Saban has an extensive background coaching and developing defensive backs and really sells that to the players he recruits in the secondary. The Seminoles have come fast and furious and Tallahassee is not very far from Valdosta. Florida State's Jimbo Fisher and Mickey Andrews have made a great personal connection with Reid and his family and have continued to build on that. Florida State jumped into the lead for Reid before his trip to Alabama. Georgia was considered the team to beat after Reid decommitted from Florida during practice leading up to the Under Armour All-America game earlier this month. He hung out with several of the Bulldogs' commits and Georgia has the last official visit with him this weekend."
5. Marlon Brown, wide receiver; Florida vs. Georgia vs. Tennessee vs. Ole Miss vs. Ohio State: The smooth 6-foot-5, 205-pound wideout from Memphis is the best player in the state of Tennessee. Some have called Houston Nutt a favorite because the Rebels are touting the chance to catch passes from rising star QB Jevan Snead and he can also play basketball for Ole Miss. A juicy potential subplot here is the battle between Tennessee recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron and his old school, Ole Miss. Tennessee, which seemed to make Brown its top priority when Lane Kiffin was announced as the Vols new head coach, gets the last official visit this weekend.
And, as Chris Low reports, Kiffin isn't shy about stepping on anyone's toes.
6. Devon Kennard, defensive end; USC vs. Texas vs. Cal: The nation's top defensive end prospect won't keep folks waiting much longer. Kennard, the son of former Dallas Cowboys O-lineman Derek Kennard, is slated to announce his choice Tuesday morning. Some observers think Texas has the inside track here because Kennard had been recruited for USC by former Trojans defensive coordinator Nick Holt, but he has now moved on to Washington. New USC defensive line coach Jethro Franklin and Rocky Seto, the secondary coach who was elevated to DC, have worked hard to reel Kennard in. Reportedly Cal would play Kennard as a strongside linebacker in its 3-4, not as an end. If he chooses Cal, it would likely be the biggest out-of-state pick-up the Bears have had in the Jeff Tedford-era.
7. Jelani Jenkins, linebacker; Penn State vs. USC vs. Florida vs. Notre Dame vs. Stanford: Another swift linebacker with strong grades, the Maryland native has visited Penn State and Florida and is said to like the idea that Gators star Brandon Spikes will be back to lead the UF defense in 2009. Jenkins is expected to announce his decision on signing day.
8. Orson Charles, tight end; Florida vs. Georgia vs. FSU. Vs USC vs. Tennessee: Some might recall Charles as the Tampa native who once dropped the Florida Gators national title trophy, but it seems Urban Meyer still loves the kid.
So does just about every other coach. The Dawgs had hoped Charles might commit on his visit over the weekend after being swayed by the chance to play with his old high school QB Aaron Murray, who is already enrolled in Athens. Charles, though, isn't in a hurry to make his decision. According to the AJC, Charles said his plans "could change at any time," but he will likely wait until after taking an official visit to Southern Cal on Feb. 13 to announce.
Charles has rated his trips to FSU, UGA and UF all as "10s."
9. Tajh Boyd, QB; Oregon vs. Clemson vs. Ohio State: The versatile Virginia native, the country's No. 5 QB prospect, has had quite a rocky road to signing day, having previously been committed to WVU and to Tennessee.
He seems to fluctuate among his three finalists every few hours. We won't have to wait too much longer since he's supposed to announce his decision Tuesday afternoon.
10. Tyrece Gaines, wide receiver; Oklahoma vs. Oregon vs. Arkansas vs. Ole Miss: A Georgia native, who shined this season at Butler CC in Kansas, Gaines is a 6-foot-2, 220-pounder with good burst and a lot of toughness. Word is the Ducks might be the team to beat here -- although don't count out Oklahoma, which just beat UGA for another JC wideout originally from Georgia, Cameron Kenney.
Random Stuff• Speaking of the Ducks, they could have a nice little in with rangy Adam Hall, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound wideout/DB from Tucson, as Greg Hansen reports:
"At Oregon, [I would be studying for] a sports marketing degree, maybe with an internship at Nike," Hall said. Therein lies the greatest recruiting resource in Pac-10 football. It trumps even USC's tradition and national appeal. The two most cool things in sports, in the mind of a teenager, are:
The Ducks work the Nike angle aggressively, and they should. But the reality is that only a handful of Oregon athletes actually get those coveted Nike internships or find post-college employment in Phil Knight's empire."
• Interesting column by Teddy Greenstein about whether the Big Ten could be losing the recruiting race:
"So why doesn't America's elite want to play in a conference that remains arguably the nation's most popular, if you go by attendance and TV ratings [four of the seven highest-rated bowl games]? In other words, why are the rankings so low?"
• Despite massive shifts on his coaching staff, Steve Spurrier appears to be in line to put together a highly-touted signing class. As Joseph Person writes, there are still some big maybes in this class, especially surrounding three in-state plum prospects.
"USC is pushing hard for three in-state players before signing day -- Calhoun County receiver Alshon Jeffery, Timberland offensive lineman Quinton Washington and Greenwood defensive end Sam Montgomery."
• Auburn's working hard to snag a top commitment from Southern Miss, Jamar Travis, the nation's No. 11 DT:
According to Auburnundercover.com, Travis switched to Auburn.
• Texas Tech reeled in a big JC defensive tackle in Myles Wade. As Don Williams reports, the 320-pounder, a former Oregon signee, picked Tech over Washington.
• New Illinois OC Mike Schultz has QB Juice Williams all fired up to be turned loose, writes John Supine: Directing a TCU offense to school records with 420 points and 54 touchdowns this past season, Schultz used multiple formations and motions to gain an advantage with numbers and angles, he said. Schultz also likes to spread defenses. "My first take on him is I see him as a competitor, a guy who wants to be great, a guy who comes from a great system at TCU," Williams said. "[Schultz's experience] gives us confidence by letting us know that he knows what he's talking about."
• Big moves on the recruiting front for Iowa football, reports Marc Morehouse.
• The Boucher twins from Ohio will be playing their college ball together, writes Bill Kurelic:
Austin had made an early commitment to Toledo, but after the resignation of coach Tom Amstutz, opened the recruiting process up again. Austin and Collin then made official visits to Miami of Ohio over the weekend and committed. "At the beginning of the recruiting process we thought it would be ideal going to the same school," Austin said. "But we didn't think the odds of someone needing both a linebacker and quarterback were good. Then Miami offered Collin about a month ago and he knew he wanted to go there. We visited there this weekend. First I was going to Toledo. Then they changed coaches, and I visited Miami and everything fit together just right."
Lots of feedback from the Monday preseason top 10 list to lead this week's mailbag:
From Justin in NYC: How could you possibly leave the Irish out of your way too early top 10 for 2009? Did you not watch the Hawaii Bowl? The Irish might have eight No. 1 draft picks on their starting line-up and Weis finally got rid of [offensive line coach John] Latina, the guy who had been holding everything back.
Feldman: I don't think it's so outlandish to leave a team that has gone 10-15 the past two seasons out of the preseason top 10. I did like what I saw in the Hawaii Bowl, although it wasn't like they blew up the scoreboard on USC or even BC in that game.
As I've said many times over the past year, I really like ND's receivers. That said, I'm not sure what you're basing the No. 1 picks thing on. I could envision freshman WR Michael Floyd and TE Kyle Rudolph eventually becoming first-rounders, but it's still a long way off, and on defense there just weren't any special players, although maybe some will emerge. As for John Latina, it obviously didn't work out with Weis in South Bend, but the guy had a pretty impressive track record for developing talent (Terrence Metcalf, Todd Wade, Marcus Johnson) before he came to ND.
I did give the Irish some consideration, though, because of the firepower on offense and because their schedule in 2009 is extremely favorable and schedule is a key factor. They play only four true road games. They get USC at home, and their next-toughest game is probably against Stanford. Plus, they face the two worst teams from BCS conferences, Washington State and Washington. If the Irish can improve their ground game and Clausen can become more consistent, it's hard to imagine they won't win at least nine games and probably 10 games. Then again, I never imagined they could lose to Syracuse at home, and I thought they'd win at least eight games in '08, too.
From Eric in Columbus: Aren't the Buckeyes missing or is this more anti-OSU bias coming from the media?
Feldman: I think OSU handled themselves pretty well against Texas, but the Buckeyes are losing so much to the NFL with their best two defensive players in James Laurinaitis and Malcolm Jenkins (along with LB Marcus Freeman), not to mention Beanie Wells' and both receivers' leaving. The O-line will be pretty green. Terrelle Pryor still is very raw as a passer, and working with inexperienced wideouts won't be easy. Top 25? Yes. Top 10? I'm not seeing it.
From John in Las Vegas: At South Carolina, hasn't it always been Stephen Garcia or bust? Chris Smelley has never proven to be much. And it doesn't really make a ton of difference if they can't get a line to block or a running game that ranks in the top 75. As coach Spurrier said during last season, Garcia gives us hope. But a competent running game would probably give Garcia hope.
Feldman: I agree with that to a certain extent, but from what I've been told, Spurrier has really no other viable options aside from Garcia this time around. There are no guys who have been in the program three or four years who know the offense. It's just Garcia, and considering how many quality players from their defense jumped to the NFL and that they're losing standout WR Kenny McKinley to the pros as well, that's a lot to put on a guy who has been very shaky.
From Kit in Billings, Mont.: What about Shonn Greene not making the top 10 list for bowl performances as he ran all over South Carolina for 121 yards and three scores and was the only player to eclipse 100 yards in all 13 games. Isn't that worthy of consideration?
Feldman: It is, and Greene had a great year. He got my vote for the Doak Walker Award. Still, I thought there were more noteworthy performances, and the guy I came closest to adding was UNC receiver Hakeem Nicks, who was spectacular against WVU, catching eight passes for 217 yards and three TDs, including the best catch of the bowl season.
From Sally in Charlotte: Why wasn't Riley Skinner included on the list? His 100% completion rate in the Eagle Bowl didn't qualify as a top performance? I'm sure it's because you don't consider that a "real" bowl or Wake a "real" football team. That's fine with us because we know Wake's team is much better than Notre Dame and Riley is significantly better than Jimmy Clausen, but the media will never admit that any more than they'll stop ranking the Big Ten.
Feldman: Skinner obviously was very sharp. I think Clausen's hitting on a lot more deep balls to me was even more impressive, though I see your point. And I do think Wake is a real team and I think even the most die-hard Notre Dame fan would concede that Wake was better than the Irish in 2008. Wake did beat a ranked team on the road (No. 24 FSU). Skinner also has been more consistent than Clausen, although the Wake QB is also 11 months older, and I suspect the Irish quarterback should have a big 2009 given the receivers he's throwing to and the aforementioned schedule he's facing.
From Donnie in Belpre, Ohio: Pat White was the finest HUMAN BEING ever to wear a WVU uniform. The fact that he was also the greatest player in the school's history is secondary. I wish Pat all the success in life that he deserves. I personally feel he will find success like his friend Steve Slaton, but if not, he has all the tools to do great things.
Feldman: I watched some of the Senior Bowl practices this week, and it looked like White acquitted himself pretty well as a QB. I suspect he will be drafted fairly high in April and someone will give him a chance to make plays for their offense as a change-of-pace quarterback/receiver/wingback.
From Michael in Los Angeles: To take you away from menagerie of football questions you're probably receiving, which school's pressbox would you say provides reporters the best spread (food) and which one have you attended where you've left and said "chips?" Food is almost as important as internet access to reporters.
Feldman: I did a little survey on this with about 15 college football writers who have traveled around quite a bit to weigh in on the food question. The school that got the most votes for good press box food was Texas, which has a local Tex-Mex place cater some quality fare. The brats served up at Wisconsin's Camp Randall Stadium also are a hit, as are BYU's Brazilian-cooked meats and the University of Memphis' BBQ.
The three schools that got the most votes for the worst: Iowa, Texas A&M and Notre Dame, although the Irish also got one vote for best food too.
• Dan Mullen's new staff at Mississippi State is cleaning up locally on recruits, reports David Paschall.
"Mullen was hired Dec. 11 and pledged to blanket the state, pointing out Mississippi is unmatched when it comes to per capita production of NFL players. 'Our top priority is taking care of these high-school coaches and junior-college coaches in the state to where they know they have an open-door policy here for full access to our program,' Mullen said. 'We will get in every high school in this state before we even worry about going anywhere else. We have to make sure those players know they have a home here and they have a place where they can represent their state university.'"
My three cents: Of ESPN.com's 15 top-rated players in-state, the only one committed to Ole Miss is kicker Andrew Ritter. Eight are committed to MSU, although the Rebels did get standout lineman Bo Tillman, a 6-7, 275-pounder who committed to Southern Miss last winter but didn't qualify and is expected to get cleared for 2009. Also, look for former blue-chip DB-RB Tig Barksdale, now at Hargrave Military, to end up in Oxford if he makes the grade academically. I'm curious to see how well Ole Miss closes in the next two weeks, given that the Rebs are coming off a great finish to a 9-4 season and they have one of the nation's best young QBs (Jevan Snead) to sell to young offensive prospects. That is a big chip to play. Word is they're in the mix for three very promising big wideouts in Marlon Brown, Patrick Patterson (he of the world's biggest hands) and Lamar Scruggs. Don't be surprised if they get Patterson and Scruggs.
• What is up with Devon Kennard, the nation's top-rated DE prospect and the son of former Dallas Cowboys OL Derek Kennard? The standout from Arizona assesses the pluses and minuses of his top three choices to WeareSC.com:
"I felt a real good home environment from Texas, it's a big program, a big state and it's an awesome opportunity. But if I went there, I would be leaving the Pac-10 and it's a little farther from home. That's pretty much the only negative there."
On USC, "It's very similar (to Texas), but it's closer to home. They have a really good coaching staff and a really good winning program. But you have to look at the coaching attrition and things like that."
And on Cal, "I really feel like I have a good relationship with the coaches at Cal. It's a good situation for me to walk into and the education there is obviously the awesome. All three schools offer a great education, but I think it's fair to say Cal has the best education system. But they want to alter my position to a 3-4 defensive end/linebacker type of deal. Cal is the only school to say I'm a 3-4 guy."
• There were lots of happy high school coaches in the northeast when BC elevated longtime assistant Frank Spaziani to head coach. Spaziani has epitomized to many of them what a great teacher was all about. He also made time for many of them who wanted to pick his brain in clinic settings. Adam Kilgore has more on him here in a story definitely worth checking out:
"For almost 40 years, Spaziani had been comfortable working in cramped assistant coaching offices, adhering to what a coach told him long ago: Do your job, do your job, do your job, and something good will happen. Most people get what they deserve. Spaziani recalled those words often. It was the first thing he thought after he became the head coach at BC Jan. 13, the position he wanted more than anything else.
"His new surroundings, if unfamiliar, signify the conclusion of a coaching odyssey for Spaziani, the 61-year-old son of blue-collar, first-generation Italian-Americans, the hollering, mustachioed coach who has prowled the Eagles' sideline wearing a visor, sunglasses, and a yellow towel draped over his left shoulder for the last 12 seasons. Spaziani could have left BC two years ago, figuring the school owed him the head coaching position after 10 years of service, figuring he had ably replaced Tom O'Brien as interim head coach and rallied the Eagles to a bowl victory, figuring a man deserves something more after he's coached at four colleges and in two countries."
• Perhaps there was a little backwash in the move of Auburn LB coach James Willis to archrival Alabama, writes Ray Melick:
"It's not likely Willis will be on the priority guest list for any Auburn alumni meetings any time soon. He may have a very good reason for crossing that very big divide that runs through this state, but even the Auburn people who agree that Willis was wronged by his alma mater aren't likely to forgive. According to several people close to the situation, a dispute arose when Auburn athletics department officials asked Willis to return the severance pay he'd received when Auburn fired him last month. Apparently the bean-counters didn't get Athletics Director Jay Jacobs' message that money would be no object in putting together Gene Chizik's new staff. Someone believed that when Willis was re-hired by Chizik after being fired along with the rest of Tommy Tuberville's staff that Willis should return the severance that was owed him under his prior contract.
"Willis didn't agree, believing that his being fired by Chizik and his being rehired several weeks later were isolated incidents, two separate contracts that were not related. It is difficult to believe that Auburn would risk losing Willis over an amount in the neighborhood of $50,000 to $80,000. Surely if Chizik really wanted Willis to stay, the two sides could have worked something out. While $80,000 is a lot of money to ordinary people, in the world of college athletics these days, anything less than $100,000 is treated like petty cash."
• With ace WR recruit Reuben Randle in Baton Rouge, this is a huge recruiting weekend for Les Miles, Glenn Guilbeau writes.
"Randle, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound prospect who could immediately impact the suddenly thin LSU receiving unit, leads a band of 14 prospects visiting LSU today through Sunday in the last major visit weekend for the class of 2009. Signing day is Wednesday, Feb. 4. Miles is so happy with his class that he performed the following gush last week after introducing his three new defensive coaches. 'This potentially has the opportunity to be an historic class -- one of the greatest classes ever,' he said. 'We think we have a class that can win a national championship, and certainly that's our intent. That's where we're headed. That's how we're approaching the back end.'"
Among the other visitors is fast-rising DE Sam Montgomery from South Carolina, who has been rumored in some circles to be a silent commit to Butch Davis and UNC.
• Oregon State seems to be doing very well in recruiting this winter, as it has landed Arizona wideout Markus Wheaton, who had been leaning to Oregon before the Ducks made some staff changes, reports Greg Biggins:
"'The two coaches that were recruiting me from Oregon were both let go,' Wheaton said. 'Coach Pfugrad was the receiver coach and Coach Gray was the one recruiting me. They were both let go and those were the guys I was really comfortable with.
"'Oregon State was always right there and it just felt good being there. I like that it's a small town and I love Coach Riley and the rest of the coaching staff. It's hard to explain but it just felt right at Oregon State. Like you get that special feeling about a school and that's what it was for me at Oregon State.'"
• DeWayne Walker couldn't get many JC transfers at UCLA, but he's going to have to load up this year at New Mexico State:
"'My strategy is to oversign,' Walker tells Graham Watson. 'And what that means is that if you have 18 scholarships, you sign 23 guys and out of that, those five extra scholarships are high school kids. So, if I sign 23, those five high school kids will have to sit out one semester. That's a way to catch up and to balance out your team with high school kids and then the advantage, too, is that now those kids get to participate in spring ball. And even if you need to redshirt some of them, you can have a greyshirt year and a redshirt year. So it's almost like a guy going on his mission. They get more experience and you can build your team gradually with high school players.'"
• Miami might get a visit this weekend from standout DB Greg Reid, who just recently learned he's actually related to another Canes recruit -- cornerback Jamal Reid, who is recruiting his relative, reports Manny Navarro:
"'We actually found out in late November that our granddaddies were brothers,' said Jamal Reid, who played against Greg Reid in the Under-Armour Game. 'Our families are originially [sic] from Jasper and we never knew it. Ever since then, we got each other's cell phone numbers and have been talking to each other. I'll call him every now and then to tell him he should be a Cane with me. I was supposed to be visiting Miami this weekend, but I changed it so we could come together on the 30th. Hopefully, he can come with me.'"
• Thanks in large part to the efforts of assistant Glenn Spencer, a Georgia native who spent more than a decade coaching in his home state, Oklahoma State is doing very well in the Peach State.
According to Scott Wright, OSU just landed D-lineman Ryan Robinson out of Georgia.
Robinson joins LeRon Furr and David Paulsen heading west from Georgia.
• With the commitment of tiny blazer Derrick Hopkins, USF keeps getting faster, writes Greg Auman:
"And yes, Hopkins has run against Florida freshman Jeff Demps -- they went head-to-head at last year's Florida Relays in Gainesville. 'I had him up until about 65-70 meters, and then he hit another gear,' said Hopkins, who ran a 10.43 that day; Demps ran a ridiculous 10.17 seconds."
• One-time Ohio State commitment Bradley McDougald, a safety from Dublin, Ohio, is set to play for Kansas.
• Kyle Whittingham's nephew Jason, a linebacker from Provo, has committed to stay close to his family and play for the Utes and is one of two guys with family ties to head to Utah, reports Lya Wodraska.
Yogi Roth is definitely unique among the people I've come across in covering college football over the past decade. Roth, a 27-year-old former University of Pittsburgh wide receiver, has spent the past four seasons working a variety of jobs for USC football. The last two years Roth has been a graduate assistant who worked with the Trojans' QBs, and apparently he's made quite an impression on Pete Carroll and his staff.
Lane Kiffin once tried to hire Roth as an assistant wide receivers coach for the Oakland Raiders. A few weeks ago, new Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, a former USC offensive coordinator, wanted to hire Roth as the Huskies' QB coach. The offers speak to the impression he has made inside the Trojans' program, but aside from apparently being a pretty sharp young coach, the guy approaches life in a truly inspiring way. Most of the people I know are so cynical and suspicious by nature, and Roth is the complete opposite.
While at Pitt, he became an intern to the mayor and to a state representative. Later, he interned at a law firm and worked as a substitute teacher. At one point after graduation, he worked as a sideline reporter for the Panthers' football games. He also relocated to Australia, where he became an avid surfer and did things like scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef and hiking through Tasmania and into the Outback. He has surfed in Bali and lived in a beach hut, as well as lived with a family on the Fiji Islands and slept on a dirt floor in a home with no running water or power.
He says that he has enjoyed everywhere he has experienced, but that Los Angeles has become home. Pete Carroll proved to be the ideal mentor, and the two often engaged in big-picture philosophical discussions long past midnight around the Trojans' football offices. Anyone who watched the recent "60 Minutes" piece on Carroll and his efforts in the inner city got a sense of the coach's spirit, and it's one Roth is trying to carry forward.
Roth, who lives about 100 feet from the ocean out here, declined both the Raiders job and the chance to be a receivers coach in the Pac-10. He would've loved to get the USC QB coaching job, but Carroll wanted someone with more experience and a play-calling background. (Earlier this week, Carroll hired former Broncos coach Jeremy Bates.) Roth says he'd still love to coach but for now is embarking on another journey -- this one to South America, where he is trying to spread a grass-roots message of Carroll's "Win Forever" philosophy, bouncing from Santiago, Chile, to Easter Island, Buenos Aires and Brazil for Carnival.
After landing in Chile, Roth sent back this dispatch to explain what's going through his mind as he begins his journey:
"Day 1: As I sat on the plane today heading for Santiago, I wondered what it was that made me want to travel all these years. Was it something in my childhood that led me in this direction? A book? A film? What was it? I'm sure it was a combination of my grandparents immigrating from Israel after the Holocaust, my great, great, great grandfather sailing around Cape Horn and receiving his passed-down journal when I was eight years old, my grandmother taking her grand-children around the world when we were young and my general childlike curiosity. But I also feel it is my strong yearning to understand how this world operates.
"For the majority of my life I've had this belief that there is a language of the world and that it is peace. Meaning, cultures are naturally positive and willing to aid all walks of life and they are taught to hate and groomed towards negativity. Thus, I set out a goal every time I leave LAX to seek this language of the world in various cultures such as Australia, Bali, Fiji, Peru, Chile, Israel and others. And every time it has proven true. Also, during the past four years I've had the opportunity to be exposed to Pete Carroll's Win Forever philosophy, and like a surfer and the North Shore, I was drawn to it.
"It is a basic approach to life that focuses on actualizing your own potential. As coach Carroll has proven by winning Pac-10 Championship after Pac-10 Championship, Winning Forever has to do with the obvious, but it has more to do with becoming the best at whatever you are doing. For instance, becoming the best coach you can be, the best father, the best husband, or the best friend. This approach proves that to be great, one only has to dream it, make an affirmation regarding their goal, and simply compete to achieve it. Then, you will maximize your potential and Win Forever.
"So this trip is about taking this Win Forever approach to life and seeing how far it can spread to the world. I want to expose others to a philosophy that coach Carroll engrained in a team, university, culture, city, and nation that goes beyond football as well as the one my parents integrated in me.
"Thus, I will begin the search to know what Winning Forever means to a 14-year old soccer player in Santiago, a local fisherman in Easter Island, a cab driver in Buenos Aires, and a dancer during Carnival in Brazil. And if they are unaware of what this basic concept means to them, then maybe I'll be able to do what I've done for the past four years at USC teach. Educate others on the process of finding out who they are, what they stand for, and ultimately, realize their potential. A tall task and relatively outlandish for a 27-year old I'm sure, but what better time to try it and what better place than South America during their summer."
I'll check in with Roth more as he continues his journey in the coming weeks.
• The coach at Tucker High in Atlanta has banned South Carolina, and AJC blogger Michael Carvell said it was the right move, considering how recruit Jonathan Davis was treated:
"Davis committed to South Carolina last month, and then had his scholarship yanked away last week. What happened? South Carolina is not allowed to comment because of NCAA rules. But the Charleston Post and Courier reported that ex-Gamecocks assistant Ron Cooper offered Davis and accepted his commitment against the wishes of the South Carolina staff. Then when Cooper took a job with LSU, he wasn't around to fight to keep Davis on the recruiting board. Steve Spurrier accepted blame and said it was confusion among his assistants, according to Stephens. And Cooper is the easy scapegoat. He's gone. But the responsibility is with Spurrier, who is in charge of the program. All things South Carolina fall under his domain. Spurrier is one of college football's greatest coaches because of his tough personnel decisions. But Spurrier should have handled communication of this decision better."
• Syracuse's new staff is working hard to chase some big-time line recruits, reports Donnie Webb.
"One of them is DE Craig Drummond from Chicago. Another is offensive tackle Andrew Tiller (6-5, 320) of Nassau Community College. Tiller has visited Syracuse, but wants to work in a last-second visit to Miami. He's being recruited in Miami by former SU assistant Jeff Stoutland. There's danger Will Robinson, but based on Tiller's relationship with John Anselmo, the former Nassau head coach hired by Doug Marrone to coach the Orange defensvie [sic] backs, Syracuse is the team to beat."
• With former Tennessee QB Tee Martin's becoming the New Mexico QB coach and not taking the Oregon receivers coaching position, the Ducks now have two slots on their staff open, wide receivers coach and D-line coach, reports Rob Moseley.
Marshall DL coach Jerry Azzinaro is considered the favorite to get one job, since he worked with Ducks head-coach-in-waiting Chip Kelly at New Hampshire and is well regarded from his days at Syracuse. A possible option for the receivers-coach job is Boston College wide receivers coach Ryan Day, a New Hampshire guy. Kelly recently told me he believes Day will make a great college head coach sometime down the road.
• If you think it's been musical chairs among SEC coaching staffs, you're right, as my colleague Chris Low details here.
• The shift of former Auburn linebackers coach James Willis to Alabama probably assures blue-chip LB Petey Smith will join the Tide.
The massive Smith, a surprisingly nimble guy so squat he makes Rey Maualuga appear lanky, told CrimsonConfidential.com: "I'm going to Alabama. Alabama is just a better school, and that's where I want to go."
Smith has a close relationship with Willis, who was recently lured by Nick Saban from Auburn.
• Good breakdown of Big East recruiting by former Ohio State recruiting coordinator Bill Conley.
"Right now, it looks like Rutgers and South Florida are in the lead for the top class. Watch out for Bill Stewart's West Virginia Mountaineers to close hard and challenge the Scarlet Knights and the Bulls for the best class."
• How is Jake Locker's rehab coming? Ted Miller has an update.
"The broken thumb, which sidelined Locker for four months, is mostly better. He's throwing again and is shooting to be 100 percent before spring practices begin. While he doesn't yet have a finished playbook -- Sarkisian and offensive coordinator Jim Michalczik are still working out the details -- Locker knows his days as a glorified running back leading a spread-option offense are over. Sarkisian runs a pro-style offense, which means the Pac-10's best running quarterback now needs to be a pass-first quarterback. He'll line up primarily under center, instead of the shotgun, and he'll be asked to use play-action instead of the read-option. The new scheme will help prepare him for running an NFL offense in the future, but he'll need to improve his 48.7 career completion percentage to make that happen.
"'I think it could help develop me in that aspect,' he said. 'It's more set around a drop-back pass theme.'"
Onetime UF commitment Greg Reid, the nation's No. 2 cornerback prospect, announced Tuesday night that he has eliminated the Gators from his list of possible suitors, reports Scott Campbell.
"Reid had been committed to Urban Meyer for nearly a year before de-committing from the Gators a few weeks ago during the week of the Under Armour Game in Orlando. Although he removed his name from UF's commitment list, many speculated that he would reaffirm his commitment to Florida on his official visit this past weekend. However, the visit proved to be disastrous. Consequently, the nation's No. 15 player dropped Florida all together. With UF out of the picture, many speculate that it is now a two team race between Florida State and Georgia, with Florida State having the early lead. Seminole head coach in waiting Jimbo Fisher dropped by Lowdnes High School for a visit earlier this week, and he was accompanied by defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews. With FSU putting the full-court press on the Under-Armour All-American, Georgia has made sure to equal the effort. The Bulldogs plan to visit Reid sometime this week before his next official this weekend. The 5-foot-9 defensive back was originally scheduled to visit Alabama, but it appears that Bama may be pushed to the side, and the playmaking defensive back will likely officially visit new Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin in Knoxville, instead. Reid is expected to make his decision on signing day."
• Move over, BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Here comes UCLA DB recruit Stanjarivus McKay, who apparently is just called "Stan" by his friends.
• Kansas City/Rockhurst QB Nathan Scheelhaase is working hard at recruiting for Illinois, writes Bob Asmussen.
• Here's an interesting quirk: UVa could have three southpaw QBs next year, as Doug Doughty writes:
"UVa has told recruit Quintin Hunter from Orange County that he will get a shot at quarterback, which means that the Cavaliers will have three left-handers among their quarterback candidates next year -- Hunter, fellow recruit Ross Metheny and Jameel Sewell, who is back in school after a year's academic suspension."
It's always amazing to me around this time of year when you start hearing about who the best NFL prospects are. Invariably there will be some huge buzz brewing about a few players who were hailed as good college players, but then when they get under the NFL microscope, we learn that for whatever reason, they may have been undervalued in college.
Maybe the player needed to get in better shape. Maybe he was used in a scheme that didn't quite showcase his ability. Or maybe we in the media missed the boat on him. Or a combination of all the above. From talking to two scouts who are down in Mobile for the Senior Bowl, Boston College's massive DT B.J. Raji is rocketing up draft boards and is looking like a top-10 pick.
Raji did earn first-team All-ACC honors this past season, although he struggled with some conditioning issues at times while at BC. He's also a guy who has been under the radar for much of his career, and his story is one folks should keep in mind over the next few weeks as we get closer to national signing day. He arrived at Boston College without any hype at all. The New Jersey native chose BC over Rutgers. On Wednesday morning, after watching Raji dominate some of the most celebrated college linemen in the country, I called former Rutgers assistant Darren Rizzi, who recruited the 300-pounder for the Scarlet Knights, to find about what his backstory was.
"It was basically just us and BC, and we were amazed by that," Rizzi said.
Back then, Raji was a 310-pounder playing at Westwood High, a small Group 2 high school about 40 miles from the Rutgers campus. Westwood also happened to be just five minutes from the town where both Rizzi and Billy McGovern, the Boston College linebackers coach, grew up.
Rizzi says Westwood is probably not a school a lot of college coaches stop by when they swing through New Jersey, but RU had been recruiting Ramel Meekins (an outstanding wrestler and slightly undersized DT who would later become a standout for the Scarlet Knights), and the coach there told Rizzi about Raji, a great junior lineman they had to look at.
"He had great size, great feet," Rizzi says of the time he and the Rutgers staff watched film of Raji. "He was never on the ground, which is rare for big high school linemen, and he had exceptional change of direction. We were like, what's the problem here?"
Still, as great as Raji looked on film, he wasn't on many people's recruiting radar, and there was zero hype around him. "There was a list of the top 100 juniors in the state of New Jersey, and he didn't even make the list," Rizzi recalls.
Ultimately, BC beat Rutgers for Raji, who became a starter by his second year in the program. "He was an awesome kid, and it's great to see him having the success he's having now," Rizzi says.
• BYU potentially could sign a highly touted class if blue-chip LB Manti Te'o and offensive lineman Xavier Su'a-Filo commit to play for the Cougars. The class already is getting a lot of hype, and there are some intriguing subplots in play, as Jay Drew writes:
"Because of some of the players that BYU has already landed, including Timpview safety Craig Bills, Spanish Fork tight end Richard Wilson and a four-star recruit that Utah recently snared by the name of Latu Heimuli, experts say this is arguably the best crop of LDS players ever. Bronco Mendenhall acknowledged that is important to LDS Church-owned BYU, but downplayed the significance of landing, or the potential negative aspects of not landing, a player such as Te'o. 'My hope is that every young man who wants this experience comes to BYU. The only time I am disappointed, or agonize over it, is if a young man sees this experience, knows it will be the best thing for him and then chooses something else, possibly because of a name or a title or possibly even a reputation of, let's say, USC or something like that,' he said in a recent one-on-one interview with The Tribune.
"'To see them know that this is where they are supposed to be -- because you can see it -- and then choose something else, that is probably the one time that I become saddened by things like that.'
"Later, Mendenhall added: 'There is not a kid in the country that is make-or-break. What I do think is at stake is a young man can have the very best experience to shape his life, be a part of a fantastic football program, obtain an education based on faith that is perfectly suited to him, and then be surrounded by young men that have similar ideas and beliefs. But in terms of our program ever hinging on a given player, or coach, I hope that's not the case.'"
• Rizzi, now the head coach at Rhode Island, is excited about a quartet of transfers from his old school, Rutgers. The headliner is QB Chris Paul-Etienne, a gifted Miami product who is ideal for URI's spread offense. Paul-Etienne, who had to overcome a knee injury early in his career at RU, is a 6-3, 195-pounder who is back running in the high 4.5s and has two seasons of eligibility remaining. "His arm strength is phenomenal," Rizzi said. "We're very excited about him."
• Arizona needs to replace LT Eben Britton, who jumped to the NFL, and hope 19-year-old Shasta College transfer Shane Zink, a guy who grew up hoping to play basketball for Lute Olson, might be the answer. According to the Arizona Daily Star, Zink's recruitment happened very, very fast:
"Coaches first contacted Zink two weeks ago about playing at the UA. He visited Tucson last week before making up his mind."
• Baylor keeps reeling in coveted prospects. One of the biggest pickups came this week as Darius Jones, the nation's No. 77-rated prospect, decommitted from Oklahoma to Baylor.
The 5-11, 175-pounder, who was a QB in high school, probably moves to corner or wideout. "Regardless of what position Jones ends up playing at the next level, he is a definite upgrade to Baylor's overall skill set," ESPN's Tom Luginbill says. "For Baylor to lure away a Texas kid from a team that just played for the national title is a testament to Art Briles and their staff."
Baylor also is getting former Houston Cougars running back Terrance Ganaway, who is reuniting with Briles. Ganaway played for Briles at Houston during the 2007 season, rushing for 550 yards and scoring six touchdowns as a true freshman. According to John Werner, Ganaway transferred to Texarkana College last fall and plans to earn his associate's degree in May. He plans to begin attending summer classes at Baylor in June, and will have three years of football eligibility remaining beginning in the 2009 season.
• Don't be surprised if Randy Shannon goes after Rutgers offensive coordinator John McNulty again to fill his vacant offensive coordinator spot. There are rumors that Shannon also interviewed former K-State coach Ron Prince on Tuesday. I've heard that former Jets assistant Noel Mazzone has tried to make a run at the job as well. Mazzone is close to UM tight-ends coach Joe Pannunzio and also has the support of Federal Express founder Fred Smith, a potentially big Miami booster who is also the father of backup Canes QB Cannon Smith.
• Nice pickup for Western Kentucky in Courtney Dalcourt, the nation's No. 43-rated QB.
Dalcourt reportedly had offers from a bunch of BCS-conference schools, including Stanford, Georgia Tech, Kentucky and Louisville. I had seen Dalcourt last spring when I was visiting Stanford and he was on campus for an unofficial visit.
Now that the deadline for underclassmen declaring for the NFL draft has passed, I figured I'd go with my way-early top-10 list for 2009.
1. Florida: I would have had the Gators #1 as long as Tim Tebow came back, but the fact that LB Brandon Spikes, the leader of the Gators' D, returned too makes this even more solid.
2. Texas: Colt McCoy is coming off a superb season, and he gets to throw to his pal Jordan Shipley, who returns for a sixth season. UT still needs to establish its ground game more, but the young secondary should be much better, and having LB-DE Sergio Kindle back will spark the pass rush.
3. Oklahoma: No one came out better after seeing who didn't leave for the NFL. It starts with QB Sam Bradford and DT Gerald McCoy, who will anchor the D. I give UT the slight edge here, because the Sooners lose a bit more on the offensive line.
4. Oregon: Whether it's Mike Bellotti running the show or coach-in-waiting Chip Kelly, this team will pile up points, and I'm going with a hunch that it's going to be a good year for the Ducks. They might not have a bunch of guys who were listed as starters returning (only nine), but they do have a lot of players with plenty of game experience and an exciting strong-armed QB in Jeremiah Masoli. Defensively, the secondary could be a concern, but if they can survive a tricky start to the schedule, they get USC in Eugene. Given all that the Trojans have lost, this could be the year the Ducks unseat Pete Carroll.
5. Virginia Tech: The Hokies' backfield looks dangerous with rising star Tyrod Taylor and RB Darren Evans, and you know Bud Foster will field a salty defense. They open in Atlanta against an Alabama team that will be breaking in a new QB, and they get Nebraska at Lane Stadium. Both would be nice out-of-conference wins.
6. Ole Miss: Jevan Snead has shaken off the rust. He will be one of the top-10 QBs in the country and should put up big numbers throwing to Dexter McCluster, Shay Hodge and Lionel Breaux. The Rebels do have to replace the great Peria Jerry, but there are a ton of talented D-linemen coming back, starting with pass-rushing terror Greg Hardy. The Rebels also get Alabama and LSU in Oxford in 2009.
7. USC: Losing QB Mark Sanchez stings a little for an offense that still should be quite potent, led by a good emerging O-line and star WR Damian Williams. The defense needs to be almost completely rebuilt in the front seven, but getting monster safety Taylor Mays back is a huge plus.
8. Alabama: The defense should be nasty, as many of Nick Saban's recruits are coming of age, but breaking in a new QB has to be a big issue for the Tide, who also have a few big holes to replace on the O-line.
9. LSU: If QB Jordan Jefferson plays anywhere near as well as he did against Georgia Tech in the bowl game, the Tigers have the talent to compete for a national title. However, the defense needs to become much more consistent under new D-coordinator John Chavis. I'll give Bama the slight edge over LSU, because they'll meet in Tuscaloosa.
10. Oklahoma State: This could be the most dynamic offense in the Big 12, which is saying something. The Cowboys' defense, though, is still a big concern.
• Former Carolina Panthers assistant Sal Sunseri is expected to be named Alabama's new assistant head coach and linebackers coach, sources say. Sunseri was the Panthers' D-line coach, but was a star linebacker at Pitt in the early '80s. He had come to Pitt as a walk-on and went on to become a team captain and consensus All-America selection as a senior in 1981. He actually worked under Saban for one season in 2000 at LSU, where he coached linebackers and was the Tigers' special-teams coordinator.
• Onetime USC assistant Carl Smith, whom Pete Carroll had hired after offensive coordinator/QB coach Steve Sarkisian got the Washington head-coaching job, is not going to be coaching the Trojans after all. Sources say Smith is accepting a job with the Cleveland Browns.
• Oklahoma State snared top RB recruit Dexter Pratt from LSU. The nation's #15 RB is a 225-pound bruiser. "Pratt is a big land for Oklahoma State, as the Cowboys do not have a committed 2009 class indicative of its strong season and national exposure," ESPN's Billy Tucker says. "It appears the switch from LSU may have initially stemmed from an off-the-field academic issue; either way, the Cowboys have just greatly improved their future roster with the addition of Pratt. The ESPNU 150 prospect has a really good size-to-speed ratio as a back and overall prospect."
• Credit Robert Griffin with helping Baylor land coveted Texan Skylar Scott, the nation's #52-rated WR, over Kansas, Colorado, Missouri and Nebraska. "Baylor is close to home, and I really like the coaches. I'm looking forward to playing in the spread offense and playing with [quarterback] Robert Griffin. I really feel like they've got a whole new thing going there," Scott told the Waco (Texas) Tribune-Herald.
• Oregon picked up a nice commitment for the 2010 class when it landed one of the fastest players in the country in running back Ethan Grant from South Florida's North Broward Prep, reports Larry Blustein.
• Jamaal Green was a good player on the great 2001 Miami national-championship team. Green, a tough defensive end from New Jersey, went on to play for the Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago Bears and Washington Redskins, but that was never his childhood dream. As Adriana M. Chávez reports, Green is now fulfilling his dream, working in law enforcement. His dream became a reality Feb. 17, 2008, when he became a U.S. Border Patrol agent in the El Paso area.
• The fastest recruit in the state of Florida isn't going to Florida, Miami or FSU this year, apparently. Instead, running back Lindsey Lamar of Tampa Hillsborough High, a 10.35 100-meter man, is heading to USF. Lamar and DE Ryne Giddins are two of Jim Leavitt's big pick-ups in the past few days.
Lamar, a 5-foot-9, 165-pounder, averaged 11 yards per carry in 2008, rushing for 1,336 yards on 121 carries and 18 touchdowns.
Giddins, a 6-4, 230-pound pass rusher, is the nation's #5 defensive-end prospect.
• Ball State hired former BSU QB Joey Lynch to coach receivers on the staff of new head coach Stan Parrish, reports Doug Zaleski:
Lynch started the first four games his senior season, then was replaced in the starting lineup by Nate Davis. Instead of sulking, Lynch tutored Davis on the intricacies of the position. Davis went on to break nearly every school passing record in three seasons. In the press release announcing he would give up his senior season in order to enter the NFL early, Davis singled out two teammates, Lynch and Dante Love, for special help. "I will never forget the way Joey Lynch treated me during my freshman season," Davis said in a statement.
At 5 a.m. Wednesday morning I drive from Nashville to Knoxville to check on the new Tennessee staff. Having spent two years around UT recruiting coordinator/defensive line coach Ed Orgeron when he was coaching at Ole Miss as I worked on "Meat Market," it feels like déjà vu. Only now he's bouncing around a football office wearing this impossibly Day-Glo orange Vols fleece; the war room is three times bigger and legendary defensive coach Monte Kiffin is sitting at the table. Oh, and there are no Red Bulls or Slim Jims in sight.
On this day, Orgeron is running the show, since he is UT's recruiting coordinator and we're in prime recruiting season. Plus, new Vols head coach Lane Kiffin is with his wife, who on Tuesday night had given birth to an 8-pound, 8-ounce boy named Monte Knox Kiffin. (They're calling him Knox, and I suspect that is playing well on the UT fan boards.)
The staff meets at 10 a.m. to update where they are for this weekend's list of official visitors. There are 10 prospects coming in. Orgeron asks the staff about each recruit to make sure they have the details: What is the guy's intended major? Are some family members coming along? What are the names of those people? How do you spell Grandma's name? Getting a handle on the player's personality is another assignment he has for the coaches who have visited with the prospect.
At 10:28 a.m., four men from a recruiting service come into the Vols' war room toting a fancy red laptop and begin to make their presentation to Orgeron and the rest of the UT staff, showing a host of recruiting videos while explaining their system. The company is one of many that try to cater to major college staffs by selling high school game footage and player cut-ups. These businesses are different from the online recruiting services that most fans surf to find out which blue-chipper might be visiting their favorite school every other weekend. As one of the men explains, they are not in the reporting business.
After a few players are shown, Orgeron, UT offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and assistant coach David Reaves clearly aren't impressed by the talent level.
"O.K., lemme back up," Orgeron says, without turning back to face the recruiting guys running the video from the back of the room. "We are at Tenn-uh-SEEEE! We wanna see TOP players."
I recognize this tone. Orgeron doesn't actually raise his voice, but you can tell his patience is waning. At this moment, I'm rooting for the recruiting guys to put on some Ray Lewis-type prospect.
Instead, it's a small running back who is supposedly a track guy. He appears to be a better prospect, but judging from the reaction of the room, not what this Tennessee staff should be chasing.
The film session lasts for almost 90 minutes before Orgeron thanks his guests for coming. The Vols' staff does get to observe a handful of blue-chippers, although they are all for either the 2010 or 2011 classes.
Later, Orgeron, Reaves, Chaney and line coach James Cregg watch film of several top QBs and running backs from the 2010 class. One of the backs we see might just be the top tailback recruit in the country next year, Reaves suggests. I am blown away by the film of another one of the backs, who makes you say "Wow!" on three successive plays by showcasing a speed burst that makes everyone take bad angles as he tight-ropes the sidelines. It is also very interesting to hear Chaney -- the former Purdue assistant who helped groom Drew Brees -- evaluate the quarterbacks, dissecting whether a guy pushes the ball or throws it, as well as who is completing passes well downfield and who is throwing tail-draggers.
There is so much work to do, Orgeron later explains. There are several prospects on the Vols' recruiting board that he told he was going to offer two years ago when he was at Ole Miss. Most of the players Orgeron covets have been committed to other powerhouse programs for months. It's almost impossible to get back in on most of them. The operative word there being "almost." Lord knows he and the Kiffins are going to try. It also helps that Reaves, a former South Carolina assistant, has a strong rep as a recruiter as well, and more ace recruiters are expected to be named to the UT staff soon. (Lance Thompson, Alabama's linebacker coach and arguably the top recruiter on Nick Saban's staff, met with the UT brass Monday night in Nashville.) Whether the Vols can put together an elite recruiting class remains to be seen. Overcoming a coaching change is never easy for a college program. In many ways, this staff is playing catch-up on the 2010 crop, next year's class, so expecting wonders for 2009 isn't realistic. There are, however, a couple of slightly under-the-radar gems they think they're in on, and a few big names seem intrigued.
The challenge now is to get back in the chase while also overhauling a Tennessee recruiting system that is very different from what Kiffin and Orgeron want.
The year away from the college game only seems to have made Orgeron hungrier. I listen to him talk about being on the road in the Deep South with Monte Kiffin, and he is as fired up as I've ever seen him. The guy who loves The Chase more than any person I've ever met has been invigorated. Still, the landscape of the SEC has changed quite a bit in the past three years. Florida is flying higher than ever. Nick Saban has Alabama soaring, too. Auburn and Tennessee are rebuilding. The team Orgeron had just built, the Ole Miss Rebels, might be a preseason top-10 squad come August. Can the Kiffins and Orgeron get the Vols back to the mountaintop? I'm fascinated to see this thing play out. I know this: One way or the other, it won't be boring.
• I am glad to be home in L.A. The last part of my trip was in Tennessee, where I spent most of my time in Nashville at the football coaches' convention, at which there are intriguing stories all over the place.
• Few college players have the juice to ever sit in on a job interview, but that just goes to show the depth of Tim Tebow's imprint on the Florida program. Sources say the junior QB sat in for as much as six hours of the interview process when Urban Meyer met with potential quarterback coaches a few weeks ago. Tebow's gym-rat persona and intelligence, I'm told, wowed the interviewees.
• There is a lot of pressure on former blue-chipper Stephen Garcia in 2009. It's basically "Garcia or bust" for Steve Spurrier this year, apparently. Tommy Beecher isn't coming back to the program, Chris Smelly has transferred to Alabama and will play baseball there, and the two young QBs whom South Carolina redshirted this past season are said to be a long way from being ready to play in the SEC.
• Don't be surprised if Auburn coach Gene Chizik doesn't try to hire Colorado O-line coach Jeff Grimes, whom I heard the new Tigers coach is very impressed with.
• The Penn State D-line could be decimated. Not only does JoePa lose Aaron Maybin and Mo Evans to the NFL early, but coach Larry Johnson might end up at Illinois, reports Jeff McLane:
"With Evans and Maybin gone, the Lions will have to rely on some untested underclassmen to fill their shoes. Jack Crawford and Kevion Latham are the leading candidates, along with senior-to-be Jerome Hayes, who is recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Their guidance could come from another source as Johnson is flirting with Illinois. Penn State's top recruiter, the 57-year-old is reportedly being offered the defensive coordinator position with the Illini and a significant raise."
• I had a chance to visit with Oregon offensive whiz Chip Kelly in Nashville and will have more on his QB Jeremiah Masoli in the next few days in the blog, but saw this post from colleague Ted Miller about the Ducks' QB as a Heisman hopeful in 2009 and thought it was cool.
• Could Luke Fickell, the Ohio State D-line coach, end up at Notre Dame? Doug Lesmeries throws it out.
• Former UF QB Cam Newton, whose legal issues over possession of a stolen computer should be cleared up in the next few weeks, is headed to Blinn JC in Texas, writes David Jones.
I've heard one possible scenario Newton is considering is spending one season there in Texas and then reuniting with former Florida OC Dan Mullen and running the Mississippi State offense.
• To answer a question from a reader on the over/under of how many Chick-fil-A trips were made over the past month: It was well under eight. I think it was only three.
It was a wonderful season of bowl games with some eye-popping individual efforts. Here are my top 10 bowl performances from the past month:
1. Pat White, WVU, QB: This isn't just some lifetime achievement award. I love everything about what White did in the Meineke Car Care Bowl against a tough UNC team (32nd in the country) that is very good at forcing turnovers. The most prolific running quarterback in college football history had the best passing game of his career, hitting on 26 of 32 passes for 332 yards. White, who got WVU off with a blistering start by hitting on 14 of his first 15 passes, also ran for 55 yards. Better still, White's performance in the postgame celebration was equally memorable. Asked what his performance might've proved, which most players might have taken as an invite to say something about showing the skeptics and scouts that he is NFL ready, White without hesitation brought it back to the WVU program and the spirit of the Mountaineers, showing himself as the consummate team guy.
2. Brian Johnson, Utah, QB: You could also make a case for a few guys on the Utes' defense for the way they swarmed the Alabama offense, but I'm going with the quarterback who lit up the nation's No. 3 defense in a hostile environment. Johnson, who threw for 336 yards and three touchdowns, seemed to have all the answers for Nick Saban and was able to hit key throws even after Bama tried to make a rally from 21-0.
3. Mark Sanchez, USC, QB: The son of an Orange County firefighter was smoking hot in the Rose Bowl, abusing the vaunted Penn State defense all day. Sanchez carved up PSU zone's deep downfield and made the Nittany Lions seem helpless as they never were able to adjust. The Trojans scored four touchdowns and a field goal on five consecutive first-half possessions to build a 24-point halftime lead against a team that allowed only 12 points per game during the regular season. Sanchez's 413 passing yards against Penn State were the second most in Rose Bowl history. He also completed 28 of 35 passes, setting the Rose Bowl record for completion percentage.
4. Gartrell Johnson, Colo. State, RB: Some scouts wonder if Johnson, who averaged 99 yards rushing per game in the regular season, has enough speed to be a feature back in the NFL. One-time NFL assistant Pat Hill might give the Miami native a pretty glowing recommendation after the way Johnson ran all over the suspect Fresno State defense for a career-high 285 yards in the New Mexico Bowl.
Johnson also proved to be quite a force as a receiver, adding another 90 yards on receptions.
5. Quan Cosby, Texas, WR: Ohio State has some very touted players on its defense, but none of them could slow Cosby down as he slashed his way though the Buckeyes for 14 catches for 171 yards, including the game-winning TD catch-and-run with 16 seconds left to give UT the win. On the touchdown, Cosby caught a short pass, ran through a would-be tackle and dashed toward the goal line before diving into the end zone. "He made a play. I gave him a good ball," QB Colt McCoy said. "I can't explain the feeling that we have right now. To have the faith and confidence in each other that we do, man, that was awesome."
6. Zack Follett, Cal, LB: With all of the great players on the USC defense, it's easy for some standout players in the Pac-10 to get lost in the shadows. Follett is one of those big-time players who probably would've gotten a lot more hype if his team had been up in the rankings. From start to finish, he made big plays in the Emerald Bowl against Miami, including the game's most significant play, where he stripped UM freshman QB Jacory Harris of the ball with the game tied at 17-17 and forced a fumble deep in Canes territory, setting up the game-winning TD.
"We couldn't let them come across the country and beat us in our backyard," said Follett, the defensive player of the game with nine tackles -- four for losses -- and two sacks. "I came to this park when it was first built. All my heroes in baseball as I was growing up played on this field -- Barry Bonds, all of them. I can wear my [championship] ring with pride."
7. Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame QB: What a way to go into the offseason as the 21-year-old soph burned Hawaii for 401 passing yards and five touchdowns in a 49-21 romp to give the Irish their first bowl win since 1994. Like Johnson, Clausen would be higher up on the list if his performance came against a tougher defense than 83rd-ranked UH.
8. Stephen Paea, Oregon State, DT: I though of having DE Victor Butler on here. After all, the guy did have four of OSU's five sacks, but let's give some credit to the 6-1, 295-pound former rugby star for being such a disruptive force in the Sun Bowl. His stats (four tackles) don't reflect the impact he made in this game, and anyone who sat through the Sun Bowl knows how tough and explosive Paea is. With him causing all kinds of havoc in the middle of the line, the Beavers were able to completely dismantle the Pitt game plan and limit LeSean McCoy & Co. to just 178 yards of total offense.
9. Jordan Jefferson, LSU, QB: The speedy true freshman QB came flying out of the gate against a terrific Ga. Tech D-line. Jefferson hit on his first nine passes as the Tigers blew Tech off the field. "He wasn't a freshman tonight," Tigers RB Charles Scott said. "He was poised. He was smooth. He grew up a lot tonight. When he called my number, I had no hesitation."
10. Graham Gano, FSU, punter: How does a punter make this list? By dominating the field position game, allowing his team to build momentum and get its footing. Gano, the Lou Groza Award winner as the nation's best kicker, averaged 48.2 yards on five punts and had three downed inside the Badgers' 4-yard line and two at the Wisconsin 1 to earn game MVP.
Wisconsin did sustain two fairly long drives after a couple of those kicks, but had to travel so far the Badgers could only get field goals. "What if he didn't kick them out?" Bobby Bowden said. "Those would have been touchdowns. This guy [Gano] kept us in it."
• I'm in Nashville for the coaches convention, which is a great place to connect with a lot of coaches from all over the country. Tons of rumors out here swirling around as guys jockey for whatever vacancies are out there.
• Good pickup for Gene Chizik at Auburn landing Ole Miss D-line coach Tracy Rocker. The former Tigers star, an Outland Trophy winner, comes back to Auburn, which should please a lot of alums and also aid some of the team's young linemen at a position that has been hit hard by attrition. Rocker did a good job with some outstanding talent in Oxford this past season. The Rebels will miss Peria Jerry and DE Greg Hardy is expected to jump to the NFL, but a lot of talent still remains there for the next D-line coach.
• Larry Johnson, Penn State's fine D-line coach, is considering joining the Illinois staff, Herb Gould reports:
"Johnson is weighing an offer to become Illinois' defensive coordinator at an annual salary of at least $400,000, nearly twice his current salary, after meeting Saturday in Champaign with Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther."
That'd be a tough hit for PSU. Johnson has developed a ton of quality linemen over the years.
• Good news for Dan Hawkins. Colorado, which seemed to be missing out on all of the top in-state prospects this winter, has swayed arguably the most coveted recruit in the state, DE Nick Kasa, who had been committed to Florida.
The nation's No. 17 DE also reportedly has offers from Notre Dame, California, Oregon, Miami (Fla.), Nebraska, North Carolina, Iowa State, Utah, Colorado State and Kansas State.
"Kasa has displayed the tools that make him a player worth fighting to keep close to home," says ESPN recruiting analyst Craig Haubert. "He is tall and lean, but plays with good leverage and runs well. He should be able to add good bulk as he physically develops. He plays the run well and can provide pressure off the edge, especially as he develops pass rush moves and uses his reach to his advantage. Kasa was a big get for Colorado and shoots to the top of the Buffaloes' 2009 class."
The Buffs also snared California DT Edward Nuckols, the nation's No. 14 DT in the past week.
• Nice job by Philadelphia Eagles DT Mike Patterson helping stuff the Giants' potent ground game yesterday. Patterson was one of my favorite people to cover back when he was at USC. If you talk to coaches on the Trojans' staff, they'd tell you he was one of the two or three best players of the Pete Carroll era. He was also one of the most humble and likable players I've been around.
Lots of good topics in this week's mailbag. I'm leading with a big-picture bowl-business question:
From Joel in Pittsburgh: It's obvious that nobody wants to see any of the bowls other than the BCS games. Doesn't this problem get worse and worse with more bowl games and less playoff talk?
Feldman: Actually it doesn't, if you look at some of the early numbers on the bowl games. The Champs Sports Bowl, which was a blowout with Florida State hammering Wisconsin 42-13, drew a 5.2 rating, which is a staggering number. (ESPN's most-watched bowl game ever was the 2006 Alamo Bowl between Iowa and Texas, which had a 6.0 rating.) The game that followed the Champs, the Emerald between Miami and Cal, had the highest rating number of any TV program that night (broadcast on cable), drawing a 4.6. The ratings were also especially big for the Alamo between Mizzou and Northwestern and for the Holiday between Oregon and Oklahoma State.
From Vince in Westerville, Ohio: How high is the ceiling for Terrelle Pryor as a quarterback, factoring in the way he throws the ball right now? He's all-world as a running quarterback, but isn't it true that Jim Tressel doesn't know how to play him yet (runner/thrower)?
Feldman: I think he had a very good first year. People need to remember it is a huge jump from high school to big-time college football, and it's also not like Pryor played in one of the most competitive leagues in the country in high school. Obviously as a passer he needs a lot of work. The biggest criticism I heard of him is that he doesn't have the trust in his reads to hit big throws, meaning he waits until he is sure a man is going to be open before unloading. Great passers have the anticipation to know when things are going to break. Much of that can be developed over time, I'm told, but we'll see how fast he picks it up. Right now, he is very one-dimensional.
My hunch is they've narrowed the gap because of the scholarship restrictions which have spread about more of the talent base; the more wide-open offensive schemes have de-emphasized to some extent power football; and the boom of cable TV and the effect of seeing games on almost every night has enabled programs that were previously off the radar to get some exposure, and that is a boon for recruiting.
From Dee in Columbus: Will the national media now speak of Oklahoma and Bob Stoops in the same light as Ohio State and Jim Tressel? Oklahoma has lost its last five BCS games, yet people give them a pass in comparison to Ohio State.
Feldman: I don't see anyone giving Stoops a pass on this. He is now is 1-8 in his past nine "big" games (1-3 vs. Texas and 0-5 in BCS games.) He and his team did field a bunch of questions about this before the game, and it'll surely follow OU next year.
From Walker in Ga.: If USC is such a good team in such a difficult conference (lol) why don't they schedule some out of conference games against the likes of Florida, Alabama, Georgia, or even some Big 12 teams like Texas or Oklahoma and during the latter part of their schedule?
Feldman: I think you can criticize the power of the Pac-10 if you want (although the league was great in bowl play this year), but I don't know how you can take issue with the Trojans' nonconference scheduling at all. Unlike almost everyone else, they don't play any 1-AA teams. Also, since Pete Carroll arrived, USC has played Auburn, Arkansas, Colorado, K-State, BYU, Va. Tech, Nebraska and Ohio State, among others. That's impressive, and they've gone there to play those teams. From what I've heard, USC brass has also made inquiries to other SEC programs to try and line up home-and-homes but hasn't gotten many positive responses.
Also, you have to remember that now, with the Pac-10 going to a round-robin schedule (playing all nine teams) and with USC/Notre Dame an annual commitment, the Trojans have only two nonconference openings per year.
From Chris in Baton Rouge: Great call on LSU getting blown out. Thanks for the laugh.
Feldman: I got a bunch of these from Tigers fans taking issue with my picks, which left me scratching my head. I'd never had a hotter run of luck picking games than this bowl season, where I ended up 23-11 against the line. But yes, I did miss big on LSU. I think the Tigers' performance last month was one of the most impressive of the whole bowl season.
From Darril in Dover, N.H.: Larry Keech, a former sportswriter for the (Greensboro, N.C.) News & Record, had Utah No. 1, Boise State No. 2, Texas No. 3 and Rice No. 18. Rice? Hmmm, maybe Mr. Keech deserves a little more credit than the relentless criticism he has received since October. Boise probably came within a couple inches of Vinny Perretta's shoe stepping on the white line away from being undefeated and, from what I saw from 10-3 Rice in their bowl game, they sure played like the 18th-best team in college. Maybe his ballot wasn't perfect but instead of ESPN criticizing this guy since October, they should consider bringing him on as an analyst since he obviously knew something you all didn't.
Feldman: Well said. Keech displayed Jim Walden-like vision this year.
• The biggest star of the title game Thursday night was Charlie Strong and his defense. To hold OU -- a team that hadn't scored under 35 points -- to just 14 while overcoming two bad Tim Tebow INTs is very impressive.
• I couldn't believe how loud the stadium was. I don't even recall the Swamp being quite that loud. It really was a Gators home game.
• Check out Mark Schlabach's early early 2009 top 25.
Obviously lots can change especially after the deadline in a week when underclassmen announce whether they're moving on to the NFL. I think the top five looks pretty good, although if Sam Bradford leaves OU, I don't see the Sooners as a top-10 team in 2009, given all the linemen they're also losing. I also think Oregon might be a little low at 17. I could see them in the preseason top 10.
• Intriguing battle shaping up for big Memphis wideout Marlon Brown, the nation's #3 WR.
The 6-foot-4 Brown, who scored on a big catch-and-sprint in the Under Armour All-American game last weekend, has both Tennessee and Ole Miss in his final group of choices, as new UT recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron goes up against his old school, Ole Miss.
According to ESPN affiliate Web site InsideTheGrove.com, Ole Miss beat out LSU for his final-visit date: "I set the visit up [Thursday night]," Brown said. "Coach [Houston] Nutt asked me three weeks ago to come visit and I said no I didn't want to at the time. I changed my mind."
• It's a huge weekend at BYU, where Manti Te'o and Xavier Su'a-Filo headline a stellar group of visitors to Provo, writes Greg Biggins:
"In addition to Te'o and Su'a-Filo, 15 committed Cougars will be on hand ready to recruit as hard as the coaching staff. Te'o has already visited UCLA and Notre Dame and will also check out Stanford and USC. We've always felt this would come down to a BYU-USC battle and as of now, it sounds like the Cougs are the team to beat. Su'a-Filo has visited USC and LSU and will check out UCLA next weekend. The talented lineman has played things pretty close to the vest but those close to him feel LSU and USC have led for most of the year. BYU has a real shot here however and a good visit could go a long way in landing Su'a-Filo. Another big priority recruit will be linebacker L.T. Filiaga (South Jordan, Utah/Bingham). Filiaga was the LB MVP at the NIKE Camp in Provo last June and is one of the most under-rated players in the West. Filiaga will visit Utah next weekend and will likely pick from the two in-state schools following his last visit."
• The prep all-star games have caused some shifting in the ESPN 150, as Tom Luginbill explains.
• Notre Dame has fired its D-line coach Jappy Oliver, Eric Hansen reports.
• If you're a baseball fan I encourage you to check out Rick Cleveland's great new book on former Red Sox pitcher Boo Ferriss.
Cleveland is practically the governor of Mississippi sports and a wonderful storyteller, and this is really a fascinating tale.