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Battle for Florida a close one

11/18/2008

The holidays are quickly approaching so before holiday greetings take over and things get too crazy, we wanted to dip into the mailbag. In this edition, we look at who might come out on top in the recruiting wars in Florida, debate another possible tool to evaluate high school prospects and consider whether Cierre Wood is getting a raw deal in the rankings.

As always, thanks for the questions and keep them coming. Also, be sure to tune into the Recruiting Insider on ESPNU as we may also answer your questions there. Thanks and have a good and safe holiday.


Who do you think will get the best recruiting class out of the state of Florida?
-- Scott, Cape Coral, Fla.

Scott, that is a good question. While we still have a good 2½ months until signing day, the battle between the programs in the Sunshine State is tight. Florida is home to four BCS programs and all are assembling classes of top-20 caliber. We'll start with South Florida, which is doing a wonderful job and currently has a class that isn't far out from the top 15. The Bulls have been very successful in-state and continue to nip away at the cushion the big three programs in the state have enjoyed over the years. South Florida has 13 prep commitments, six of whom rank among the top 35 at their respective positions, including ESPNU 150 athlete Victor Marc (Hallandale, Fla.). The Bulls also sport two Under Armour All-Americans in Marc and his high school teammate, cornerback Ricardo Dixon (Hallandale, Fla.). Jim Leavitt is on his way toward assembling his first top-25 class, but at this point it does not look like the Bulls will do enough to pass any of the big three schools in Florida.

The race is very tight among Florida, Florida State and Miami right now. They currently sit in the Nos. 8, 9 and 10 slots, respectively, so all have a shot at finishing first in the state. But looking ahead in trying to take a stab at how things may finish, I believe Florida State will finish third among the four Florida BCS schools. The Seminoles currently have the No. 9 class and three ESPNU 150 prospects, led by the nation's No. 1-ranked defensive tackle, Jacobbi McDaniel (Greenville, Fla. / Madison County). This Florida State class is marked by strong additions to the defensive line and wide receiver. There is still some work to do for Florida State, like trying to land nearby talent like safety Jawanza Starling (Tallahassee, Fla. / Lincoln). History has proven that Bobby Bowden is an excellent closer, but recently the Seminoles have assembled strong classes more quickly and haven't closed as well as they have in the past. I think Florida State will still finish in the top 15, but may not do enough to jump Florida or hold off Miami.

The Hurricanes are the defending national champions of recruiting, and if you have seen the production they have been getting from true freshmen this year, it is easy to see why. I think Miami is following up that top-ranked class with a very good effort, but a repeat is highly unlikely. In the end, I don't think the Canes will even win the state this year. Miami boasts five ESPNU 150 prospects, led by running back Bryce Brown (Wichita, Kansas/ East), and is doing a good job of adding talent to the defensive line and secondary. But Miami needs to hold onto Brown -- I think it will happen despite the fact he has looked around a little bit -- and the Canes have a good shot at athlete Ray Ray Armstrong (Sanford, Fla. / Seminole) and defensive tackle Antwan Lowery (Miami, Fla. / Columbus). In the end, I think Miami will do enough to leapfrog rival FSU, but not enough to pass Florida.

Florida recently burst into the top 15 with the No. 8 class. The Gators don't have great quantity, but do have very good quality. Of their 12 high school commits, six are in the ESPNU 150. I think down the stretch the Gators will do enough to fend off Miami and Florida State. Urban Meyer is now taking over the reigns from Bowden as the top closer in the state. There's not a lot of room left, but the Gators just hauled in top-20 defensive end prospect Nick Kasa (Broomfield, Colo. / Legacy) -- an addition that has come just after the release of the latest rankings -- and still have a good shot of landing talent like wide receiver Andre Debose (Sanford, Fla. / Seminole), defensive end Ryne Giddins (Seffner, Fla. / Armwood) and offensive tackle Xavier Nixon (Fayetteville, NC / Jack Britt).

We will see how it plays out as there is still plenty of time left, but right now I see Florida being on top in the Sunshine State.


Hello Craig! I have a question regarding the recruitment of high school football players. What if a test similar to the Wonderlic test is provided to these highly recruited football players. Do you feel that recruiters will take this test seriously or simply disregard it?
-- Jamel, Stone Ridge, Va.

That is an interesting question, Jamel. Football fans who follow the NFL draft know of the Wonderlic test, but for those of you who are unfamiliar with it, let me quickly explain it. The Wonderlic is a written test of problem-solving ability. There are 50 questions and prospects have 12 minutes to answer as many as possible. It is used to gauge how quickly a prospect can take in and assess information, and teams like to see certain positions score in certain ranges. How quarterbacks score is of particular interest because there's a school of thought that a quarterback who scores poorly on the Wonderlic will struggle in the NFL, considering how much information they have to process with little time to react.

It could be interesting to see how a high school prospect might perform on such a test. It could give coaches some insight with prospects, but ultimately it is not needed. Recruiters have plenty of information to gauge a prospect's learning skills, such as the SAT, ACT and class transcripts. A recruiter can get good insight from those tests -- whether a player is a good student and a good learner, or whether a kid may struggle and need extra help and guidance in the classroom and on the field. I doubt college coaches would want any further obstacles that could make it tougher to get kids eligible.

I think some would take it seriously, though, because some coaches like to leave no stone unturned and will take any information available. But overall, I think most feel it would be unnecessary. In the NFL, each player can mean millions of dollars to a franchise, so the checks and balances are pretty severe. While college football is big business, there isn't anything close to the same amount of money hinging on each player. College coaches have enough information available, and I seriously doubt you will hear any calls for an additional test like the Wonderlic to be used to assess prospects.


Craig, I have a question for you. You knock Cierre Wood for the competition he plays yet do not penalize Manti Te'o for his level of competition even though you admitted it is not great either. This does not make sense. Can you explain why you guys do this and what is the difference?
-- Chris, Albuquerque, N.M.

Chris, competition level is one factor that we take into account when evaluating and grading prospects. You are correct in saying we have referred to the level of competition for both Wood (Oxnard, Calif. / Santa Clara) and Te'o (Honolulu, Hawaii / Punahou). Neither has played consistently against great talent or faced a lot of players at their level of ability. When projecting, that can be a concern as it could slow the adjustment period or expose prospects for not being as good as they seem when the talent gap closes. Now in the case of Te'o and Wood, both are very good prospects, and when it comes down to it, not much separates these two. You may feel that Wood is getting a raw deal, but they are both top 25 prospects nationally. I could see your point more if Te'o was No. 4 and Wood was in the hundreds or lower, but the Notre Dame commit is at No. 23 out of thousands of prospects.

While Te'o dominates his high school competition a little more, the slight difference for me stems less from level of competition and more from that Te'o, pound for pound, is a slightly better player. He is a very talented linebacker who could project as an inside or outside linebacker in college. With his skill and ability, he is an ideal prospect for his position. Now, we like Wood also, but we're not as sure how he would best fit at the next level because he's a bit of tweener in terms of position. You will notice he is listed as an athlete. Some think he is a college running back, but we are not sold on that yet. He is talented and very athletic, but we don't feel he is an every-down college back and could struggle to run between the tackles. We actually feel he may be better suited as a college safety.

So in the end, we like both very much, and that's represented by their lofty rankings. While neither plays against the strongest competition, we do recognize that both are fine prospects. The 19 spots separating them just means that if we had to pick one, we'd pick Te'o, but Wood isn't that far behind.

Craig Haubert is recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. Drop Craig a line in his mailbag.