- Tom Luginbill, ESPN Staff Writer
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Oklahoma currently heads into signing day with the best class in the Big 12; landing highly-coveted wide receiver Julio Jones (Foley, Ala.) on signing day would push its current No. 6 national class toward the top. The Longhorns are right behind them and have continued to pluck up the fertile state of Texas' best players. Despite turbulent seasons, both Oklahoma State and Texas A&M have put together solid recruiting classes; Mike Sherman could make a late push for some in-state sleepers. Here's a look at each class:
Schools in order of 2007 finish
Signing day storylines: Oklahoma does just about everything right on the field -- consistent nine-, 10- and 11-win seasons, it overcome injuries, suspensions and officiating calls (remember Oregon in 2006?) and in 2007 fielded one of college football's most complete teams. The problem is it can't seem to perform up to standard when bowl season rolls around, dropping four of its last five.
However, while this may be frustrating to Oklahoma fans and maybe even the administration as Bob Stoops and others work to find answers, we do not believe this is something that has or will affect recruiting in a negative way. Prospects are enamored with winning, going to bowls, the prestige of the program, national title contention, depth chart and long-term success, all of which Oklahoma can provide and has for many, many years. The fact is that recruits are going to look at 11-3 in 2007 and the program as a whole, not just one game or even two BCS Fiesta Bowls. They are in BCS games and compete for the national title -- and that is what counts. Also, keep in mind Oklahoma is likely to open the 2008 season ranked among the top two or three teams in the country.
One of the biggest recruiting tools Oklahoma has is its roster is set up right now to compete for the BCS national championship for years to come. So when Bob Stoops goes into the home of prospective student-athletes, he can walk the walk, not just talk the talk. There are only about 5-7 teams across the land capable of that.
Top prospect: Right now we believe RB Jermie Calhoun (Van, Texas) is special and has the opportunity to join an already outstanding stable of Sooner running backs and contribute. However, DE R.J. Washington (Keller, Texas/Fossil Ridge) is right on his heels as the premier player in this class. Calhoun's versatility and big-play ability was put to the test as a senior as Van head coach Brady Pennington committed to the spread offense with hopes of opening up lanes for Calhoun and getting him into space. As a result, Calhoun proved his worth. He often took the direct snap out of the shotgun and played as the team's quarterback, rushing for 1,908 yards and 30 touchdowns. Not having to face consistent eight-man fronts certainly enhanced Calhoun's productivity. His blend of size, power and speed coupled with outstanding ball skills as a pass catcher will provide some thunder to the Oklahoma running game.
Class highlights: As February 6 approaches, Oklahoma is sitting pretty with this class as almost half (8) of its 17 verbal commitments are in the ESPN 150. There is going to be no shortage of playmaking wide outs in Norman anytime soon. WR Josh Jarboe (Ellenwood, Ga./Cedar Grove) made a statement throughout the week at the Under Armour All-America Game as a serious competitor with huge upside and caught the attention of every player on his roster. Jameel Owens (Muskogee, Okla.) is a big, physical player who is very difficult to handle in the open field.
Calhoun will be joined in the backfield by RB Justin Johnson (Gilmer, Texas), a smooth, gliding runner with good speed. ILB Daniel Franklin (Clarkesville, Ga./Habersham Central) is going to remind Sooner fans of Rocky Calmus. The Sooners are adding depth along the offensive line with Stephen Good (Paris, Texas) as well.
QB Landry Jones (Artesia, N.M.) is getting a head start by enrolling early at Oklahoma, which will help prepare him for the jump in competition he will face and experienced at Under Armour Game. Keep an eye on TE/WR James Hanna (Flower Mound, Texas), an explosive H-back type who has flown under the radar a bit.
Oklahoma is adding depth at just about every position, leading us to believe there will not be a void of talent in Norman anytime soon.
Could see the field in 2008: RB Calhoun (in some role), DE Washington (situational duty to start out), possibly wide receivers.
Signing day storylines: While some may think Texas' 2007 season was a bit of a disappointment considering it did not win the Big 12 title, our view is that this team overcame some real concerns on the offensive line in the early going and no semblance of a consistent running game, both which put a lot of pressure on QB Colt McCoy. After stumbling in back-to-back weeks with losses against Kansas State and Oklahoma after starting the season 4-0, there was no sign of panic. They went on to win six of their final seven including a dismantling of Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl. Needless to say, big things are expected from this team in 2008.
As far as Texas recruiting is concerned, there may not be another situation like it in college football. With a recruiting base allowing it the luxury of never having to leave the state and players growing up dreaming of being a Longhorn, it isn't exactly a hard sell for one of college football's premier recruiters in Mack Brown. There also may not be a more productive camp for recruiting than Texas' summer camp program; you will rarely see a player signed who has not come up the ranks of attending Texas' summer football camps at least once or twice during their high school career.
To make matters worse for the rest of the Big 12 in regards to the recruiting trail, Brown was able to lure former Longhorn QB Major Applewhite back to Austin as the running backs coach, convincing him to leave a coordinator's position with Alabama, one of college football's most storied programs. Applewhite's deep-rooted tentacles within the state only enhance Texas' stature among high coaches and players.
Top prospect: This is truly a toss-up among four to six players in this class, but we'll stick with rising prospect WR D.J. Grant (Austin, Texas/LBJ) just a smidgen over WR Dan Buckner (Allen, Texas) because of the difference in pure speed. We are still trying to figure out how nobody caught onto Grant even though he was injured during most of his junior year. Texas must have conducted one heckuva covert operation to keep his existence quiet for as long as they did. Case in point -- we graded and wrote evaluations on 278 wide receivers in this class and did not see Grant until early December. Obviously we immediately invited him to the Under Armour All-America Game, where his leaping grab down the seam for a touchdown was acrobatic enough to be the No. 2 play in SportsCenter's top 10. His raw speed, size and athleticism will only be heightened with coaching and technique at the next level, so keep an eye out for him.
Class highlights: This is one of those classes where there is no clear-cut guy separating himself from the rest of the pack. They are all good and up to Texas' high standards. Both Grant and Buckner have virtually the same grade, and just a slight notch below them three other players share the same grade (82) including DT Jarvis Humphrey (Cedar Hill, Texas). Just below that, another three players share the same grade (81), as WR DeSean Hales (Spring, Texas/Klein Oak) headlines this group. All are members of the ESPN 150 and almost half (nine) of the class' 20 verbal commitments are in the 150. Business as usual, I guess, for the Longhorns.
One of the things separating a Texas recruiting class from many others is the bottom half is always loaded with quality and sometimes even upper-echelon players that Texas is able to keep away from some of the up and comers in the conference, like Missouri and Kansas. Geez, can you imagine Texas if they still were allowed 95 scholarships instead of 85 as it is now?
Keep an eye on S Blake Gideon (Leander, Texas), who was First team All-State in 5A this year and could develop into the true quarterback of the defense in time. Great instincts coupled with football awareness make him a coach's dream.
If they land RB Darrell Scott (Moorpark, Calif./St. Bonaventure), it could be the icing on the cake for this already impressive class.
Could see the field in 2008: WR Buckner (might be a little more polished right now than Grant), WR Hales (possible return man).
Signing day storylines: Texas Tech sure knows how to make things exciting. For the second year in a row it managed to come from behind in its bowl game and gut out an improbable win to help prove it is not just a fancy offense and a high-flying circus act. The fact is Texas Tech is good enough to win nine games a year with a favorable non-conference schedule, but it has been a much tougher row to hoe to reach the pinnacle of the Big 12 South -- a 4-4 four record in conference seems to be where the Red Raiders are stuck.
After posting a 9-4 record in 2007 with a freshman wide receiver in Michael Crabtree, who hauled in an amazing 134 passes, and a QB in Graham Harrell who posted more than 5,700 passing yards, the Red Raiders are poised for a top 15 preseason ranking in 2008 with eight starters back on defense and maybe, just maybe, they will finally challenge Texas and Oklahoma for the crown.
Top prospect: Oddly enough, we feel Tech's best prospect to this point is a defensive player, very important to Mike Leach's program because defense is what is going to give them a title shot. We have seen against elite competition, the offense isn't quite enough no matter how dazzling it may be. DE Joey Fowler (Oklahoma City, Okla./Westmoore) is a high-motor guy with a great frame and good bulk. He is explosive and bounced back from an injury- and illness-riddled junior year to perform well as a senior. An edge rusher is a coveted commodity for any team competing for a conference championship and Fowler could develop into that guy.
Class highlights: The Red Raiders have 15 total commitments including five JUCO players, three of which are currently signed. They have to compete not only against Texas and Texas A&M for the state's best players, but also Oklahoma and on-the-rise Missouri and Kansas, so there is always a lot of work to do. Eight of their commitments/signees are on defense, including S Cody Davis (Stephenville, Texas) who fills a need.
More defensive line help is on the way with DE Ryan Haliburton (Wolfforth, Texas/Frenship) as well as three JUCO defensive lineman, but the concerning position we see lacking here is outside linebackers. 2007 starters Kellen Tillman and Chad Hill are both seniors and Blake Collier may move to safety at some point. Inside linebacker needs help too, as Tech lacks depth and didn't sign any linebackers in the 2007 class.
Could see the field in 2008: Any of the five JUCO prospects should be expected to contribute or star right away.
Signing day storylines: We know one thing, the Cowboys are coached by a man! I know it is old news, but it is still worth a laugh every now and then. With QB Bobby Reid leaving the program for Texas Southern, the subject of Mike Gundy's "man" speech is now history. All in all, 2007 was probably considered a bit of a disappointment. Oklahoma State entered 2007 with very high expectations only to show great flashes sometimes and poor play at others.
Despite going just 7-6 with an impressive bowl win over upstart Indiana, Gundy got a contract extension. With what will end up being the country's premier football facilities to be completed shortly, along with the highest paid assistant coaching salaries in the nation, sooner rather than later the Cowboys are going to be expected to make that leap into the upper echelon of the conference -- patience will wane quickly. Simply put, Oklahoma State has to get over the hump and become a consistent eight- and nine-win team.
The good news is, it has recruited well and with the facilities upgrades, the program will become even more attractive.
Top prospect: RB Kye Staley (Guthrie, Okla.) has a chance to be very good and it may be at running back or even safety depending on what the coaches want to do with him. In high school, he was a direct-snap guy in the spread at QB, much like what Arkansas did with Darren McFadden. He can be very explosive and sudden, but when he was at the Under Armour Game, he showed some surprising power and ball skills as well. The one thing Staley must be careful of is his weight becoming a factor. He has ballooned up a bit and is better suited being lighter rather than heavier. He doesn't want to lose that quick-twitch, slashing style he has shown. Nonetheless, Staley is an excellent all-around athlete.
Class highlights: This is a large class already with eight JUCO prospects joining to bolster both the offensive and defensive fronts. The Cowboys could be close to being done with this class depending on whether or not they expect to grey shirt or place prospects who may not make it academically.
This class also added depth to just about every position on the field. S Markelle Martin (Wichita Falls, Texas/Rider) is tall and rangy with excellent diagnostic skills. DE Jeremy Gray (Sherman, Texas) at 6-foot-6, 235 pounds is only just beginning to fill out his frame and could be a nice addition to young Derek Burton or Richetti Jones along the front.
Only two or Oklahoma State's high school commitments are from the state of Oklahoma. The rest are from Texas and one is from Georgia, so obviously Gundy realizes where the best players are.
Could see the field in 2008: Not sure there are any at this point. This class may be one that needs to develop.
Signing day storylines: This was a very turbulent season in College Station and the heat was on coach Fran and the Aggies the minute the 2006 season concluded -- the hopes for a Big 12 championship game appearance seemed realistic for 2007. However, the Aggies underachieved, played poorly on offense and instead of taking that next step, the season got wrapped up in coach Fran's "website" scandal, eventually leading to a 7-6 season and the dismissal of a coach who once called it his "dream job."
The unlikely hiring of Houston Texans offensive coordinator and former Aggie assistant Mike Sherman raised some eyebrows, but there is now a new outlook on the program. This is especially true from an offensive standpoint, where A&M needs to make the greatest strides in providing some excitement once again. Expect the offensive skill players to increase in talent a lot under this new regime.
It doesn't help that its best offensive playmaker TE/H-back Martellus Bennett decided to skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft.
Top prospect: Speaking of better offensive skill players coming to College Station, ATH Derrick Hall (Beaumont, Texas/Central) is a good start. The speedy, shifty running back could also play defense, but he is versatile as both a runner and pass catcher with some game-breaking ability. He is excellent in the kicking game and takes a lot of pride in his performance every time he is on the field. This guy didn't receive a lot of attention going into his senior year as he missed considerable time in 2006 due to a fractured ankle.
Class highlights: If you assumed with a sub-par 2007 season, a coaching change and rival Texas dominating the recruiting landscape the Aggies would be suffering on the trail, you would be sorely mistaken. This is one of the few classes to not be affected by whirlwind changes. In fact this is a very good class with some prospects any new coach would be glad to sign in his first season at the helm.
They have three ESPN 150 prospects in Hall, underrated CB Jordan Fields (Paris, Texas) and DT Rodrick Davis (Houston, Texas/Eisenhower), an Under Amrour All-American. However, with 26 verbal commitments to this point, the class as a whole impresses with nine grading 79 or higher; six of them rank in the top 20 of their respective position nationally.
I mentioned the need for offensive playmakers, and A&M has three very impressive wide outs. Lamar Harris (Gilmer, Texas) may be tall, but he has moves like a smaller player making him dangerous after the catch. Jeff Fuller (McKinney, Texas) is a load in the red zone at 6-4, 205 pounds, and underrated 6-4 Sedrick Johnson (Arp, Texas) may be raw, but he has tremendous upside.
This class has filled needs, despite not anticipating Bennett's departure by recruiting a top-flight tight end. It has hit the mark at cornerback with Fields and defensive end with DE Andrew Woolridge (Lexington, Texas), a high-motor kid with the ability to be disruptive.
Could see the field in 2008: Possibly the wide receivers.
Signing day storylines: Anyone else wondering why Art Briles left a Houston program he built into a winner and would have gladly scheduled Baylor for homecoming? Money talks, I guess, and the bottom line is that Baylor has been at the bottom for quite some time now. Regardless of who the coach is, it has its hands full.
The good news is it has nowhere to go but up. Briles's style and risk-taking approach will buy him some time and his offensive system should help lure some quality offensive personnel to Waco, but it sure won't be easy as Kansas actually has more to offer in this conference on the gridiron than Baylor does.
This may very well be the single biggest rebuilding job in all of college football.
Top prospect: More good news Bears fans -- QB Nick Florence (Garland, Texas/South Garland) is a good player under center, and while he may be a late bloomer, he has tons of upside and could be the guy Briles eventually builds his offense around. He is a good athlete who can move around and buy time, and when he gets into a rhythm and gets hot, he can be dangerous. He must work hard in the weight room to fill out his frame and bulk up, but that will also come with maturity.
Class highlights: Surprisingly, there are some quality prospects in this class and while it is not very large at this point, there are building blocks in place here. There are 16 verbal commitments, including JUCO prospects and Miami QB transfer Kirby Freeman.
S Chris Scott (Baton Rouge, La./Southern Lab) is an unknown sleeper in this class and a great tackler from his centerfield position. ATH Lester Ward (Brenham, Texas) may line up at running back in high school, but he will end up as a safety or wide receiver in time. Another QB, Robert Griffin (Copperas Cove, Texas), was Briles's first coup, as he followed him to Baylor after previously being committed to Houston. Griffin is a great athlete with a big arm who is raw and needs to learn how to be a passer who can also run and beat you with his legs.
Could see the field in 2008: The quarterbacks and any player who comes in and proves they are worthy of seeing the field. As we mentioned above, there is nowhere to go but up, so I'm sure Briles is looking for new blood to invigorate his roster.
Tom Luginbill is the national director of recruiting for Scouts Inc. Luginbill is a college football and recruiting studio analyst for ESPNU.