Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Feldman [Print without images]

Monday, January 26, 2009
Recruiting derby heats up


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: 1. Nike
2. ESPN.

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."