- Craig Haubert, ESPN Staff Writer
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Times are getting tough out there, so it seems like the perfect time to dip into the ol' mailbag and take some recruiting questions. No matter how bad things may get out in the real world, we all know talking a little college football and recruiting can put a smile on our faces.
In this mailbag, we will look at the possibility of the defending recruiting champs to make another run at the top, which new head coaches in 2008 are doing the best on the recruiting trail and Michigan's potential recruiting impact in the Sunshine State. As always, thanks for your questions and please keep them coming.
Also big breaking mailbag news: We now answer your questions weekly on the Recruiting Insider on ESPNU. That's right, Haubert's Mailbag has gone prime time -- kind of. Check your local listings for the Insider on Thursdays and Fridays; we may just answer your question on TV. Two ways to access Haubert's mailbag -- now that is something to smile about! Let's grab the letter opener and get started.
Chris in Lakeland, Fla.: Can Miami get a second straight top five class?
Absolutely. The Hurricanes are coming off a 2008 class that was ranked No. 1 in the nation, and they are seeing good production from that class. I know the win total might not be what Hurricanes fans were hoping to see -- they are 3-3. Still, in watching them play, you have to feel good about the future; several true freshmen, such as Miami Northwestern's Sean Spence and Aldarius Johnson, have stepped up.
Randy Shannon and his staff have the tough task of following up that top class with another strong effort on the recruiting trail. At this point, a top-five finish is in sight: The Hurricanes currently are hanging around the fringe of the top 10. This 2009 class is very good, and it got stronger this past week with the addition of ESPNU 150 running back Lamar Miller (Miami / Killian). With Miller on board, Miami arguably has the best group of running backs in this class when you add No. 3-rated back Bryce Brown (Wichita, Kansas / East) and Mike James (Davenport, Fla. / Ridge Community) to the mix. The Hurricanes have also made moves to add some much-needed youth to their secondary with the commitments of players such as No. 3 corner Prince Kent (Norcross, Ga.) and talented athletes Brandon McGee (Fort Lauderdale, Fla. / Plantation) and Jamal Reid (Mayo, Fla. / Lafayette). Right now, Miami has five ESPNU 150 prospects and seven who rank among the top 20 at their respective positions. But if the Canes want to crack the top five, they still have some work to do.
Miami seems to still be in serious contention for some good prospects who could give this class the boost it needs to make the jump toward the top of the recruiting rankings. In-state, some key prospects include No. 8 defensive tackle Antwan Lowery (Miami/ Columbus), safety Tevin McCaskill (Miami / Northwestern), tight end Orson Charles (Tampa, Fla. / Plant), and the Seminole High trio of Ray Ray Armstrong, Andre Debose and Dyron Dye.
Although Shannon has proven to do well in Florida, it is some big-time out-of-state prospects who could eventually propel this class toward a second straight top-five finish. Although it is very tough to get good prospects out of Louisiana when LSU has its sights on them, the Hurricanes do have a shot with No. 1-rated wide receiver Rueben Randle (Bastrop, La.). Some other key out-of-state prospects Hurricanes fans need to keep an eye on include No. 2-rated defensive end Sam Montgomery (Greenwood, S.C.), offensive tackle Xavier Nixon (Fayetteville, N.C. / Jack Britt), big defensive end Craig Drummond (Chicago / Morgan Park) and lineman William Campbell (Detroit / Cass Tech). It will be a battle to land any of these prospects, but Miami is in the hunt.
Stanley, Houston: Of the new head coaches this year, which are recruiting the best right now?
Good question, Stan. There are 16 new head coaches leading teams in 2008. Although they are busy trying to post wins, they also are trying to assemble their first full classes. It is pretty simple who leads the way: Rich Rodriguez at Michigan is doing the best job of the new coaches. This is no surprise, though, because Michigan is a school with tons of history and tradition. Although the 2008 season may be filled with some serious highs and lows for Wolverines fans as far as wins and losses go, they can at least take solace in the fact that Rodriguez is putting together a good class and getting some of the pieces he needs to try to return Michigan to past glory. The most glaring need for Michigan is at quarterback -- the Wolverines do not have the player needed to run Rodriguez's scheme. They have addressed this need in recruiting. The Wolverines have commitments from Tate Forcier (San Diego, Calif. / Scripps Ranch) and Shavodrick Beaver (Wichita Falls, Texas / Rider), both of whom are athletic quarterbacks who appear to be good fits. The class also boasts a talented wide receiver in Bryce McNeal (Minneapolis / Breck) and a trio of good defensive ends led by Craig Roh (Scottsdale, Ariz. / Chaparral). Right now, Michigan is in that top-15 range nationally, but Rodriguez is at the top among the new coaches.
I want to point out two other new head coaches who are doing a good job with their first full classes. One is Arkansas' Bobby Petrino, who we felt did a good job with the 2008 class despite limited time and tough circumstances. His first full class at Arkansas is not bad either; he has done well keeping in-state players such as No. 2 corner Darius Winston (Helena, Ark. / West Helena Central), guard Colby Berna (Fayetteville, Ark.) and running back Turrell Williams (Helena, Ark. / West Helena Central). Petrino has also supplemented the class with some good talent from Texas and Oklahoma, with players such as sleeper running back Knile Davis and No. 10 corner David Gordon (Tulsa, Okla. / East Central).
The other new coach I want to point out is Mike Sherman at Texas A&M. Now, I am aware it has not been very pretty on the field for the most part, but the Aggies have recruited well. The class does not have any ESPNU 150 players, but it's deep with 23 prep commitments and some solid prospects in guys such as Chris Henderson (Dallas, Texas / Carter) and cornerback Steven Terrell (Allen, Texas).
Some other new coaches doing a solid job include Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson, Houston's Kevin Sumlin and UCLA's Rick Neuheisel -- though there is still plenty of work to be done on the recruiting trail if the Bruins want to try to close the gap with crosstown rival USC.
Abram in Flint, Mich.: Do you think Michigan will become a major player in the state of Florida for top recruits this year and in years to come?
I think Michigan will have more of a presence and success in Florida under Rodriguez than it previously had. Still, I don't think the Wolverines will be a major player in the Sunshine State.
Michigan is a program that can recruit nationally, but its recruiting base is in the Midwest, and it can be tough to go into Florida and tangle with the likes of Miami, Florida, and Florida State as well the other ACC, SEC and Big East programs that recruit Florida hard. The 2006 and 2007 classes under Lloyd Carr had only one signed player from Florida. But in the limited time Rodriguez had to work with the 2008 Michigan class, he hauled in three Florida prospects late.
Thus far, the 2009 class has four prospects committed from Florida, led by Brandin Hawthorne (Pahokee, Fla.). The Wolverines are also in the hunt for more Floridian talent, with prospects such as athlete Denard Robinson (Deerfield Beach, Fla.) and linebacker Mike Marry (Largo, Fla.). Rodriguez did land key players from Florida like Noel Devine and Jock Sanders while at West Virginia, so it is possible, especially at a more traditional power like Michigan, that Rodriguez will have some success recruiting Florida.
Craig Haubert is a recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc.