Big East recruiting breakdown
Perhaps more than any other conference, the Big East is the most competitive from top to bottom -- both on the field and in recruiting. While many conferences are dominated by two or three powerhouse programs, the Big East tends to be more balanced. These coaching staffs put a good product on the field and they get the very best out of the talent they bring to their programs.
It looks like it's going to be a race to the finish line in terms of the 2010 recruiting crown. Right now, it appears to be tight between Louisville, Pitt, West Virginia and South Florida for the top position. The Big East's best might not be decided until signing day.
Only time will tell how the departure of Brian Kelly to Notre Dame will affect the Bearcats football program, but one thing for certain is that the new coaching staff needs to close strong in terms of the 2010 class. At this point, there are no four-star players but there are a good number of three-star recruits committed. The defending Big East champs will have to add some numbers, while retaining the top talent in the class in the closing weeks. Even though two tight ends have verbaled to the Bearcats, surprisingly there are no wide receivers committed at this point, and that is a position that has been featured the past few years at Cincinnati.
Top prospect: It's truly a toss-up between offensive guard Clint Shepherd (Eaton, Ohio/Eaton) and defensive end Jibreel Black (Cincinnati/Wyoming) in terms of the best in the class. Shepherd is a solid pass protector who should fit in well with the Bearcats' spread offense, while Black has proven sack potential due to his quickness off the ball along with his disengagement ability.
Don't be surprised if: Black wavers at the end. He was originally committed to the Indiana Hoosiers before switching to the Bearcats in October. The advantage for the Bearcats is the fact Black is a local player.
The Huskies have the most ground to make up by signing day. Even though they have more than 20 commitments, the talent level is not up to par. The staff has done a very good job of scouring the country and the current commitments represent 10 different states. Another big plus is that the Huskies are meeting some key defensive needs in terms of both inside and outside linebackers. The Huskies need to add some more skill and maybe a four-star recruit or two at the end to finish in the top half of the Big East.
Top prospect: The most impressive player is outside linebacker Yawin Smallwood (Worchester, Mass./Doherty Memorial). He is a tall and rangy 'backer that covers a lot of territory in a hurry. He is a very good straight-line, run-support defender who can become a complete outside linebacker once his pass defense skills match his run defense production. Smallwood was Connecticut's first and, at this point, best verbal commitment.
Don't be surprised if: The Huskies pick up some of their best talent from late qualifiers in the class. If the Huskies do not finish strong, they could end up in the recruiting cellar of the Big East for 2010.
Charlie Strong and his staff have hit the road running since arriving in Louisville. Not only have they been able to secure players who were previously interested in the Cardinals, but they have increased the total commitment list. The Cardinals also have the most four-star players than any other school in the conference with three. Put these talented recruits with over a dozen three-stars and Louisville could be headed toward the top spot in the Big East.
Top prospect: Defensive end B.J. Butler (Kissimmee, Fla./Osceola) is the best in a class that has a good mix of skill, athleticism and power. Butler decommitted from Georgia for Louisville and is a versatile athlete that even played quarterback in high school. His blend of quickness and overall size makes him a truly special player for the Cardinals.
Don't be surprised if: Strong keeps invading the state of Florida for talent. The three top players in the 2010 class are from the Sunshine State and look for him to keep using his Florida coaching background to his advantage. Besides Butler, Louisville has also picked up a huge and talented offensive lineman in Torrian Wilson (Miami/Northwestern), who has been in and out of the ESPNU 150 this season and has a chance to be excellent at the next level.
The Panthers have the chance to be as successful in the recruiting battles as they were on the gridiron. They were just an eyelash away from a Big East football championship in 2009 and are putting together an excellent class with 24 total commits and 18 are either four- or three-star quality. The Pitt program's consistency the last few seasons has helped them compete for some of the best Big East talent and they are once again showing some success in-state against the Nittany Lions.
Top prospect: A national top-20 in the athlete category, Anthony Gonzales (Bethlehem, Pa./Liberty), spearheads the 2010 class. Even though Gonzales missed some action this fall with an injury, he has made his mark as a multitalented football player. He could end up at quarterback for the Panthers, but he has the toughness and overall skill level to line up at several different positions until his collegiate niche is found.
Don't be surprised if: The Panthers continue their success on the field due to their recruiting the past couple of years. The 2009 class was solid, but this year's class is even more impressive. Dave Wannstedt and his staff do a very good job of meeting their position-specific needs.
The best way to describe Rutgers' recruiting class at this time is good, but not great. The most impressive thing about the 2010 group so far is the number of skilled athletes already committed. However, this group lacks verbals on the defensive front. Fortunately, the 2009 class had some solid talent on the defensive line, so the need wasn't as great this year. It's interesting to see the staff reaching into Florida for two running backs, but coach Greg Schiano has had some success there in the past. Regardless, the Scarlet Knights need to kick it up a gear down the stretch.
Top prospect: Three-star safety Lorenzo Waters (Hyattsville, Md./DeMatha Catholic) could be the most gifted player in the current class. He is a tall and thick defensive back who plays with aggression and explosiveness. Waters has the frame to get even bigger and could end up as an outside linebacker. The staff loves the way this guy flies around and delivers the wood.
Don't be surprised if: Rutgers adds even more talent at some of the skilled positions because it is one of those programs that normally sprints to the end in terms of recruiting. The Scarlet Knights are still working the East Coast and the South to add depth to their needs, in terms of speed.
Despite a late head-coaching change and a disappointing conference record, South Florida is hanging tough on the recruiting front. As a matter of fact, the Bulls are solidly in the top half of the Big East at this point and arguably have the best player in defensive tackle Todd Chandler (Miami/Northwestern). The advantage that South Florida has over all the other conference schools is the fact they have the best in-state recruiting base from which to draw. The class is shaping up to have a nice blend of skilled players and linemen. With a strong finish the Bulls could be fighting for the top spot.
Top prospect: Chandler is not only an outstanding player, he is the No. 7 defensive tackle in the country and among the ESPNU 150. Even though he lacks ideal height, he is extremely quick off the ball and his low center of gravity makes him a powerful force up front. Chandler also uses his hands to separate and pursue the football.
Don't be surprised if: the University of Miami and other big name schools keep pressing Chandler to change his mind again, since he decommitted from the Hurricanes in the middle of December. He could be one of those players who changes his mind at the last minute.
The Orangemen don't lack numbers in the recruiting class for 2010. As a matter of fact, they may not know where to put them all since they already have 27 verbals. What the class has in quantity, however, it lacks in quality. There are no four-star players and only eight three-star players. The class is surprisingly heavy in running backs with four commits at that position. Syracuse also has landed two quarterbacks to add to the skilled positions.
Top prospect: One of those quarterbacks, Jonny Miller (Denver, Colo./J.K. Mullen), is the top dog. He will go up against the other quarterback of the class in John Kinder (Cedarhurst, N.Y./Lawrence). Miller is the more polished and mobile of the two, while Kinder is raw but a few inches taller.
Don't be surprised if: Some of the best prospects in Syracuse's class come from the junior college or transfer ranks. These players could bring in some experience to go along with the numbers in the class. The Orangemen still have to prove they have the talent to get it done on the field.
As usual, the Mountaineers are hauling in a very talented class. The coaching staff does an excellent job of bringing in good players from numerous states stretching from the Midwest to the deep South. The Mountaineers again have landed speed and athleticism at the wide receiver and quarterback positions. These two four-star athletes are the standouts in a class that is still near 20, despite some recent defections.
Top prospect: Wideout Darius Millines (Delray Beach, Fla./American Heritage) is indeed a major talent at his position. He can stretch the field and makes the important yards after the reception, once he hauls in the pigskin. Millines also has sub-4.5 speed along with very good leaping ability.
Don't be surprised if: In-state rival Marshall University becomes more of a recruiting challenge for the Mountaineers with the hiring of Doc Holliday as the head coach of the Thundering Herd. He is a masterful and relentless recruiter.
Bill Conley is a recruiting coordinator for ESPN Scouts Inc. He previously worked at Ohio State for 17 years as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator.
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