Best of the rest recruiting breakdown
Schools playing in non-automatic qualifying conferences have certainly shaken up the state of college football and its postseason bowl setup. These programs are gaining more national respect and exposure, and it's ultimately a result of their work on the recruiting trail. While these classes may lack headline names, the majority have a keen eye for discovering under-the-radar talent and the coaching know-how to develop it. The chance for prospects to play early or in their own backyard can also influence a decision.
Here is a look at how some of the top schools that don't play in a BCS conference are recruiting in 2010 as we head into signing day. It should be noted that this is also the time that schools in BCS conferences begin poaching as they come to realization they are not going to land the top prospects on their board -- so expect some shakeups in the next week.
Don't let the small class deceive you; the Broncos have limited scholarships in 2010. Boise State still has commitments from a few prospects who can keep this high-scoring offense rolling. Receiver Troy Ware (Vista, Calif./Vista) has great height, a large catching radius and enough speed to separate with the ball in his hands. Athlete Matt Miller (Helena, Mont./Capitol) is the top prospect in the state of Montana and the 6-foot-4, strong-handed possession receiver could end up being an ideal H-back. Both of these prospects have BCS talent and should help the Broncos' offensive remain prolific.
The Cougars have been making their presence felt both on and off the field, since Bronco Mendenhall's arrival in Provo. Defensively, four-star DE Bronson Kaufusi (Salt Lake City, Utah/Timpview) gives BYU a tall (6-8, 240 pounds), rangy edge defender or tight end. Zac Stout (Westlake, Calif./Oaks Christian) is a productive, versatile linebacker who can run, hit and make plays sideline to sideline. Offensively, polished QB Jake Heaps (Sammamish, Wash./Skyline) is the headline recruit of this top-25 class and fits the Cougars' system extremely well. He does not possess ideal height or measurables for the position, but has been well-tutored on fundamentals and mechanics. Four-star WR Ross Apo (Arlington, Texas/The Oakridge School) is a tall, physical target.
Winning seasons and bowl births are helping George O'Leary and the Knights attract quality football players. This 2010 class boasts six three-star prospects, led by 6-foot-1 receiver Cornelius Whitehead (Mount Dora, Fla./Mount Dora), who has big-play ability after the catch. However, it's four-star receiver Joshua Reese (Miami/Miami Central) who could be a potential game-breaker in this class. He's quick, fast and explosive. Throwing to them could be athlete Jeffrey Godfrey (Miami/Miami Central) who decommitted from South Florida. He has a live arm, but is extremely athletic, which could tempt coaches to employ him elsewhere.
The Bulldogs continue to be one of the better and more consistent schools in a non-automatic qualifying conference in the country under Pat Hill. Some of that success stems from their efforts on the recruiting trail and ability to develop under-the-radar talent coming out of high school. Just look at Fresno's top-rated 2010 prospect Davon Dunn (San Diego/Abraham Lincoln). He has great speed, acceleration and athleticism needed to contribute early at a number of different skill positions. Receiver Josh Harper (Stockton, Calif./Saint Mary's) is another prospect with BCS talent. He has a large frame, great hands and is a precise route runner. Athlete Lester Fontenette (Clairemont, Calif./Madison) could develop at quarterback but his great measurables and playmaking ability may see him employed elsewhere.
Kevin Sumlin led the Cougars to a 10-win season and is now about to lead them to a solid 2010 recruiting class. Not a lot of flash to the class, but it is built on some good three-star prospects. The majority of the class hails from in-state, like top prospect DeAndre Perry (Austin, Texas/ Bowie), who is a wide receiver with good size and speed. The top-ranked passing attack in the nation also has some other potential weapons coming in, such as Jordan Jolly (Missouri City, Texas/ Lawrence E. Elkins) and wide receiver/ tight end Kenneth Bibbins (Sugar Land, Texas / Kempner), who is a big possession target. The defense is not forgotten with prospects such as three-star safety Kent Brooks (Humble, Texas / Atascocita).
John "Doc" Holliday has a reputation as great recruiter and is wasting little time proving that as the new head coach of the Thundering Herd. Since taking the job, he has been actively adding talent and the former Florida Gator assistant is busy in the Sunshine State and proving to be a thorn in the side of his former employer, West Virginia. Recently all three of the Mountaineers prospects from the state of Florida -- safety Travis Bell (Belle Glade, Fla. / Glades Central) and wide receivers Fred Pickett (Pahokee, Fla./Pahokee) and Darius Millines (Delray Beach, Fla. / American Heritage-Boca-Delray) -- have switched and joined Marshall's class. Also coming on board recently was Brian Robinson (Fort Lauderdale, Fla. / Saint Thomas Aquinas) a three-star safety from one of the top programs in the nation. Undersized, but quick athlete Antwon Chisholm (Belle Glade, Fla. / Glades Central) is another prospect who recently decommitted (Mississippi State) to join Marshall's class.
The Aztecs lack a four-star prospect in this class, but it's hard to ignore the numbers heading into signing day and the handful of solid three-star recruits. Jake Fely (Oceanside, Calif./Oceanside) got passed over by a lot of programs due to his smaller size. However, this top-10 rated outside linebacker in the state of California flies to the football, is physical and very productive. J.J. Whittaker (Oceanside, Calif./Oceanside) is a versatile offensive skill player and return man who is a sleeper in our eyes. Brady Hoke is starting to build a good foundation in his first full recruiting season.
The hiring of June Jones has quickly yielded dividends, leading the Mustangs to an eight-win season and snapping the school's 25-year bowl drought. On the recruiting trail, Jones is trying to bring in the talent to keep this program headed in the right direction. The Mustangs' top prospect is No. 17 quarterback Steve Kaiser (Saint Louis, Mo. / De Smet Jesuit). The three-star signal-caller is a good pocket passer who has some deceptive athleticism. While the passing attack was potent, SMU is trying to boost a ground attack that ranked No. 103 in the nation by bringing in two three-star backs in Darryl Fields (Madill, Okla./Madill) who has a great blend of size and speed, and Kevin Pope (Mount Enterprise, Texas/Mount Enterprise) a big back with some elusiveness. A good pickup on defense was Michael O'Guin (Van Vleck, Texas/Van Vleck), a three-star tackle who is already on campus.
The Golden Eagles have recruited well under Larry Fedora during his short reign, and their 2010 class is another example of that. With a class already deep in solid three-star talent, they just added four-star running back Jamal Woodyard (Fairhope, Ala./Fairhope). The No. 21-ranked back, who had his season cut short by injury, is a short and stoutly built prospect who is one of the better receiving backs in this class. While Woodyard is a great pickup as national signing day approaches, the Golden Eagles also have on board a pair of good out-of-state three-star linebackers. One is No. 10 rated inside linebacker Brandon Smith (Columbus, Ga. / Carver), who is a good-sized prospect with nice strength and power. He also could play defensive end. A familiar name in this class is Steve McNair Jr. (Hattiesburg, Miss. / Oak Grove), son of the late NFL great Steve McNair. The younger McNair is a receiver with solid size and good athleticism.
The Horned Frogs had a great season, winning 12 games and making it to a BCS bowl. However, their success on the field has not resulted in a top-25 recruiting class. Maybe their biggest get was their own coach. Head coach Gary Patterson was a popular name for vacant jobs this offseason, but he has remained with TCU, and this is big for the program and its recruiting efforts. Overall, not a big class, but it does include two four-star prospects in high-motor, under-the-radar defensive tackle David Johnson (Argyle, Texas/Argyle) and quarterback / athlete Sam Carter (Alief, Texas / Hastings). Beyond those two is some strong three-star talent such as No. 31 ranked running back Ethan Grant (Coconut Creek, Fla. / North Broward), one of the few out-of-state prospects in this class. National signing day should cap a good year for the Horned Frogs, on and off the field.
The Utes have established themselves as one of the top non-BCS programs in the country and they followed up their undefeated 2009 season with a 10-win effort this year. Despite the success on the field, Utah is not blazing up the recruiting trail and at this point again have a moderately-sized prep class. While Kyle Whittingham's class may not have any prospects that jump off the page to fans, it does consist of some good talent led by two top 40 quarterback prospects. Tyler Shreve (Redlands, Calif. / East Valley) the No. 23 rated signal caller is a prospect with ideal measurables, good arm strength and enough athleticism to fit in Utah's system. Brian Blechen (Moorpark, Calif./Moorpark) is a kid with impressive physical tools and upside and actually reminds us some of former Utah quarterback Alex Smith. The class also has some talent beyond the two good quarterback pickups, like three-star safety Damian Payne (Houston, Texas / Klein Forest). Some targets for the quarterbacks are also on board as a pair of wide receivers out of California are committed in Dres Anderson (Riverside, Calif. / John W. North) and Kenneth Scott (Fontana, Calif. / Colony). Three-star defensive end Joe Kruger (Orem, Utah / Timpanogos) is the younger brother of current Ute Dave Kruger, also a defensive lineman.
Craig Haubert is the recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. and has more than a decade of coaching experience. Billy Tucker also contributed to this story.
COUNTDOWN TO SIGNING DAY
The day that high school seniors -- and the coaches courting them -- have been waiting for has arrived. Feb. 3 marks a new beginning for programs. ESPN.com will be following all of the action. Recruiting home