With what is shaping up to be a future major in-state presence and emphasis on Florida, Louisville looks to be able to assemble enough talent to compete at the highest level under new head coach Charlie Strong.
It's no surprise that Strong and his staff are able to recruit. Strong was the defensive coordinator at Florida under Urban Meyer, one of the best recruiting head coaches in the country, so he learned from the best.
It's easy to say Strong will be able to recruit well at Louisville, but there is tangible evidence in both the 2010 and 2011 classes.
Since Strong took over, the Cardinals have received 11 commitments for 2010, including pledges from Under Armour All-American offensive lineman Torrian Wilson (Miami/Northwestern), four-star defensive end B.J. Butler (Kissimmee, Fla./Osceola) and four-star receiver Michaelee Harris (Miami/Northwestern).
It could end up being one of the best classes in the Big East this recruiting cycle.
Strong's popularity among Florida recruits and his ability to form relationships with those recruits (something that is paramount for any head coach hoping to succeed in recruiting) has been big.
"The main reason why I picked Louisville is because of Coach Strong himself," Harris said. "I just like the mentality that he has as a head coach. When you talk to him, you can tell that he is very focused and driven. He's used to winning and is even speaking about next year and us winning a BCS championship. We may not do it next year, but that's his mentality."
Wilson picked the Cardinals shortly after returning from an official visit to Memphis this past weekend.
"I had a great relationship with Coach Strong when he was at Florida," Wilson said.
One of the criticisms of former Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe was that he did not recruit the Southeast, Florida in particular, as well as his predecessor, Bobby Petrino. That won't be a problem with Strong, who has zeroed in on the Sunshine State's most talent-rich region.
Harris is one of three Miami Northwestern players who have committed to Louisville (Wilson and running back Corvin Lamb are the other two) and says he thinks Strong will be able to recruit South Florida (Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties) quite well. Meanwhile, Strong is about to add another piece to the puzzle. Miami recruiting coordinator Clint Hurtt, one of the top recruiters in the country, is set to join the staff.
"[Strong is] going to do good because all of the athletes know him from his days at Florida, and all of the players down here have been interested in what they are doing at Florida because of the national championships," Harris said. "He is getting down here and actually recruiting South Florida kids hard, and they are listening."
Recruiting in Florida and having a good first class to build on are important, but perhaps more impressive is the Cardinals' jump on their 2011 class with four prospects from Louisville, which historically is Kentucky's top talent-producing metropolitan region. Quarterback DaMarcus Smith (Louisville, Ky./Seneca), defensive tackle Jamon Brown (Louisville, Ky./Fern Creek), athlete Jerrell Moore (Louisville, Ky./Fern Creek) and wide receiver DeVante Parker (Louisville, Ky./Ballard) all have committed to the Cardinals.
Smith, an ESPNU 150 Watch List prospect, was Strong's first commitment at U of L.
"I did my research on [Strong] when he first got here," Smith said. "I knew I definitely wanted to go to Louisville after what I found out. I found out that a lot of his players liked him not only as a coach but for the type of person he was. He is a person who cares about and wants what is best for his players."
Here are five programs that are candidates to be the biggest finishers on national signing day:
Texas: The Longhorns usually are the fastest starters in the country and are on cruise control by now, but they could land the nation's No. 2 and No. 4 prospects in defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat (Plano, Texas/Plano West) and linebacker Jordan Hicks (West Chester, Ohio/Lakota West) to top off their recruiting efforts.
Oregon: The Ducks feel they have ESPNU 150 running back Lache Seastrunk (Temple, Texas/Temple) in their grasp. He is a perfect fit for their spread offense. They also are warding off Nebraska for Owamagbe Odighizuwa (Portland, Ore./David Douglas), the nation's 17th-rated overall prospect.
Florida State: The Seminoles still feel good about ESPNU 150 linebacker Christian Jones (Winter Park, Fla./Lake Howell) and athlete Christian Green (Tampa, Fla./Catholic). Jimbo Fisher & Co. also have made a ton of progress on Under Armour All-American defensive end Corey Lemonier (Hialeah, Fla./Hialeah). There also may be a few surprises (there always are for Florida State) down the stretch.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes are the favorites to land offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson (St. Paul, Minn./Cretin-Derham Hall) and could add another bookend if they sneak in the back door and swipe Morgan Moses (Fork Union, Va./Fork Union Military Academy) from Virginia.
Florida: The Gators are in the mix for Henderson and Hicks and are looking strong for tackle Chaz Green (Tampa, Fla./Catholic). As impressive as the early part of January was for Florida, a big stretch run would put the finishing touches on the nation's top class.
The hot sell
Florida: The fact that the Gators are in on so many talented prospects and have so few spots left means that they remain in the hot spot this week. If some things break certain ways for a few other programs down the stretch, this could change.
Also considered: Alabama, Florida State, California, USC, UCLA
Can Dooley land Hunter?
One of the first big catches for new Tennessee coach Derek Dooley may well be Under Armour All-American receiver Justin Hunter (Virginia Beach, Va./Ocean Lakes), who backed out of his commitment to LSU on Tuesday.
We spoke with Ocean Lakes coach Chris Scott at the Under Armour All-America Game in Orlando, Fla., about Hunter's commitment to LSU since the departure of receivers coach D.J. McCarthy. At the time, Scott told us he felt Hunter's commitment was solid to the Bayou Bengals but mentioned Tennessee as a school that could make a serious push if the talented pass-catcher truly opened the running back up.
Baxter firms commitment
ESPNU 150 athlete Dillon Baxter (San Diego/Mission Bay) firmed up his commitment to Southern California on Tuesday after it appeared he would take a long look at Florida. This was a good early victory, and likely the first of many, for new Trojans coach Lane Kiffin and staff.
Gators for Green?
Although USC is making a strong push, Florida has to be considered the strong team to beat for offensive tackle Chaz Green (Tampa, Fla./Catholic).
When Kiffin & Co. were at Tennessee, it looked as though the Vols were poised to land the talented tackle, but now the Gators are back in the driver's seat.
Two visits left for Smith
Defensive tackle Calvin Smith (Hialeah, Fla./Hialeah) will make an official visit to Alabama this weekend and plans to visit North Carolina or New Mexico next weekend.
The Tar Heels just got a boost to their defensive-line recruiting last week when former Vols commit Brandon Willis (Duncan, S.C./James F. Byrnes) enrolled at UNC. The ESPNU 150 prospect had strongly considered the Heels during his recruiting process.
The Lobos have been in the mix thanks to Smith's relationship with head coach Mike Locksley.
Like Willis, Smith also was committed to Tennessee before Kiffin's departure.
Mack to Auburn
Under Armour All-American offensive lineman Eric Mack (Saint Matthews, S.C./Calhoun County) decommitted from South Carolina on Tuesday night and is likely heading to Auburn, a decision he is expected to announce Wednesday.
The switch is something that had been suspected for a while, but when Mack declared on Sunday that he was done with recruiting and would sign with the in-state Gamecocks on the heels of his official visit to South Carolina, things appeared to have changed.
Mack was one of the top offensive linemen during the practice sessions for the 2010 Under Armour All-American Game.
Tennessee has offered a scholarship to junior college tight end Mychal Rivera (Santa Clarita, Calif./College of the Canyons). Rivera started his college career at Oregon before transferring. He played high school football at Birmingham High in Los Angeles. Rivera visited Kansas State last week. Class of 2011 ESPNU 150 Watch List defensive tackle Kevin McReynolds (Washington, D.C./St. John's College) said he expects coaches from Oregon and California to check on him at his school this week. Golden Bears ace recruiter Tosh Lupoi is recruiting the 6-foot-3, 274-pounder for Cal. Look out for Class of 2011 ESPNU 150 Watch List receiver Josh Turner (Oklahoma City/Millwood). He has an impressive list of early offers, and coaches in the area think he could be a top-50 prospect in the nation.