- Tom Luginbill, ESPN Staff Writer
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The hay is almost in the barn with this 2008 recruiting class, although, if you happen to be in the Terrelle Pryor (Jeannette, Pa.) sweepstakes, you might have to wait just a bit longer. The wait undoubtedly will have a trickle-down effect not only on the team Pryor decides to sign with, but on others, too. Do you hold the scholarship or give it to someone else to close out your class and move on? These are decisions that might have to be made Wednesday.
This class as a whole has been intriguing. Every year, one or two positions rise or fall in terms of depth and talent, and in 2008, the massive crop of wide receivers will leave just about every team in the top 25 classes with two premier playmakers on the perimeter. Conversely, this class is not strong at cornerback, which always is the toughest position to evaluate and has "converts" from other positions.
Big, tall wide receivers always have been popular choices, but the newest trend is recruiting undersized defensive ends and linebackers, with which this class is loaded. Outside linebacker Arthur Brown (Wichita, Kan./East) is 210 pounds if he is lucky, and OLB Sean Spence (Miami/Northwestern) weighs in at about 200 pounds on a good day. Florida commit defensive end William Green (Birmingham, Ala./Spain Park) is about 215 pounds, and Alabama commit DE Courtney Upshaw (Eufaula, Ala.) is about 220 pounds.
The reason for this shift in philosophy is the influence of the spread offense that dominates the college football landscape; speed, athleticism and the ability to play in space are at a premium. The offensive skill players have become so good defenses cannot afford mismatches.
The top dogs in recruiting still are the usual suspects this year -- USC, Florida, Texas and Georgia -- but some new blood has infiltrated the scene, with teams like Alabama and Clemson making huge splashes and hoping to catapult their programs to new heights. The real surprises heading into signing day are Minnesota, where Tim Brewster, fresh off a 1-11 season, has recruited like he went 11-1, and Colorado, which currently holds two ESPN 150 commits and would have a third if OG Max Tuioti-Mariner (Corona, Calif.) had not gotten injured his senior year.
And while Miami is still Miami, its class comes as somewhat of a surprise after its 5-7 season. It lured 10 ESPN 150 prospects into the fold, including seven who rank within the top 10 of their respective positions. And the Hurricanes might not be done yet.
Schools to watch
17 verbal commitments, two ESPN 150 prospects
The Buffs have put together a quality class with linebackers Lynn Katoa (Salt Lake City/Cottonwood) and Jon Major (Parker, Colo./Ponderosa), as well as OG Ma Tuioti-Mariner (Corona, Calif.). But they aren't done yet. One big one looms on the board, No. 2-ranked RB Darrell Scott (Moorpark, Calif./St. Bonaventure). This would be a huge coup for Colorado, and it has a legit shot. OG Hamani Stevens (Hemet, Calif.) would be another nice addition.
28 verbal commitments, four ESPN 150 prospects
This is, without a doubt, the best class Alabama has had going into signing day in the past five years, but it also helps to be back up to full scholarship levels. The prime target here is Julio Jones (Foley, Ala.), but even if the Crimson Tide don't get him, they will have four wide receivers committed in this class. Signings from uncommitted prospects OLB Jerrell Harris (Gadsden, Ala.) and DE Robert Quinn (North Charleston, S.C./Fort Dorchester), as well as stealing CB T.J. Bryant (Tallahassee, Fla./Lincoln), could push them to a top-five class.
20 verbal commitments, five ESPN 150 prospects
Outside of all the Terrelle Pryor hype, things have been very quiet on the recruiting front at Michigan. Rich Rodriguez and his staff have been evaluating their new roster and the verbal commitments already in tow. Expect them to nail down a few more kids, but don't necessarily expect them to be big names. Don't be surprised if they are slightly undersized but quick, agile and speedy, beginning the process of what this roster will look like in the next couple of years.
24 verbal commitments, four ESPN 150 prospects
This class already is loaded at the top with some premier prospects, yet this is one team that could make a serious jump come signing day. Safety Karnell Hatcher (Delray Beach, Fla./Atlantic Community) is one the Tigers need to nail down. Of course, CB T.J. Bryant (Tallahassee, Fla./Lincoln) also would be a nice addition opposite CB Patrick Johnson (Pompano Beach, Fla./Ely). Don't be surprised if LSU snags a few kids away from their previous commitments when it comes to signing on the dotted line Wednesday.
Top remaining uncommitted prospects
Many of these players will be announcing with us on signing day on ESPNU. Lots of big talent from the ESPN 150 and beyond still is on the board.
WR Julio Jones (Foley, Ala.)
ESPN 150 rank: 2
Considering: Alabama, Oklahoma
It now appears to be a two-horse race for Jones, and one of the biggest mysteries in college football recruiting will be revealed live on national signing day on ESPNU. Alabama and Oklahoma are jockeying for position down to the wire, and with Alabama having just hired offensive coordinator Jim McElwain last week, it has some work to do to keep this young man at home.
We believe it could come down to a couple of points. First, how badly does he feel the need to be the focal point of the offense right off the bat? With that responsibility comes pressure, and we believe much more will be placed on him at Alabama. Second, the offensive scheme and success of the team in its current stage would lead one to believe Oklahoma has a clear edge. If Jones wants to be on a national title contender right now with more time to develop into his role, he might choose Oklahoma. If he wants to be part of building something special and be counted on early like Arrelious Benn at Illinois, Alabama might be the spot.
QB Terrelle Pryor (Jeannette, Pa.)
ESPN 150 rank: 4
Considering: Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Oregon
OK, here's the deal. Pryor is, to say the least, conflicted. His hectic schedule of basketball, media commitments, phone calls, text messages and, worst of all, outside influences have not allowed this young man one minute to sit down and digest everything. He needs to think it through and make an educated decision alongside those who truly have his best interests at heart.
Therefore, there is a good chance he will hold off, and everyone will find out when Pryor makes his announcement to open our signing day show on ESPNU. The real issue here is Oregon and the fact that his schedule has not allowed him to make the trip to the Pacific Northwest. He likes the Ducks enough that he feels making a decision without seeing Eugene might be unwise. In our opinion, Pryor making a trip to Oregon would be smart, but it would be a trip Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State would not like to see happen. He is a perfect fit for the Ducks' scheme and a mirror image of Dennis Dixon, and their facilities are outrageous.
RB Darrell Scott (Moorpark, Calif./St. Bonaventure)
ESPN 150 rank: 9
Considering: Texas, Colorado, Florida
The thing that most improved Mack Brown's chances of coaxing Scott to Texas was Jamaal Charles' decision to declare for the NFL Draft. There now is a void for an elite load carrier in the Longhorns' backfield, but Brown still has to contend with Scott's family connection to Colorado (his uncle Josh Smith is on the roster) and young, athletic Florida, which is starving for a bona fide running back to team up with Tim Tebow. For our money, Texas is in the lead in this one.
RB Jamie Harper (Jacksonville, Fla./Trinity Christian)
ESPN 150 rank: 12
Considering: Clemson, Miami, Illinois
Harper is going to be tough to lure away from Clemson, but we believe Miami and upstart Illinois have the best shots. The Canes are hot on the recruiting trail, and Randy Shannon has proved he can secure commitments. Illinois now has a void in its backfield, and Harper is another Rashard Mendenhall, only faster and with better moves. Harper's biggest priority is not having to play right away. Therefore, the depth chart is not the most important thing to him, which should allow him to make the best educated decision based on all important factors.
CB T.J. Bryant (Tallahassee, Fla./Lincoln)
ESPN 150 rank: 25
Considering: LSU, Florida State, Florida, Miami, Alabama, USC
There is more than one physically talented cornerback in this 2008 class. Bryant might be our No. 2 corner behind recent LSU pledge Patrick Johnson (Pembroke Pines, Fla./Ely), but he is just as coveted. With six schools still in the mix, the dark horse here is Alabama, since Nick Saban coaches the secondary and Bryant is close with Alabama WR commit Melvin Ray (Tallahassee, Fla./North Florida Christian), who certainly is whispering in his ear. FSU has been stagnant on the recruiting trail, but it is the home team and has had a host of Lincoln players succeed in its program. USC is USC; the tradition and reputation for producing NFL first-rounders is attractive. Don't count out LSU just because Johnson joined the Tigers' class.
CB Brandon Harris (Miami/Booker T. Washington)
ESPN 150 rank: 28
Considering: Miami, Ohio State
When all is said and done, Harris could end up being the best of all the corners in this class. Either Miami or Ohio State is going to find out firsthand. We have a hard time believing the Miami-born Harris would leave South Florida for the cold winters of Columbus, but stranger things have happened. This would be a huge get for either program, since cover corners do not grow on trees, and certainly not ones as versatile and tough as Harris.
WR T.J. Lawrence (Lakeland, Fla./Kathleen)
ESPN 150 rank: 49
Considering: South Carolina, Florida
Lawrence is without a doubt one of the best lesser-known wide receiver prospects in this class, and given time, either South Carolina or Florida will have a great on its hands. This kid catches everything and is well-versed on defense, so he has huge value and football awareness. He is a prime example that it doesn't matter how many offers you have in the spring of your junior year; what matters is how you play in your senior year. Eventually, coaches take notice. This kid has proven himself time and time again.
Tom Luginbill is the national director of recruiting for Scouts Inc. He also is a college football and recruiting studio analyst for ESPNU.