Signing Day stunners
Elite QB Morelli shuns Pitt for Penn State; Miami, Florida land coups
Updated: Wednesday February 4, 2004 2:52PM
By Stewart Mandel, SI.com
It's the first day college football recruits can officially sign with colleges, and as always, there were no shortage of surprises right off the bat Wednesday.
Two Pittsburgh-area prospects, vaunted quarterback Anthony Morelli and top 100 running back Andrew Johnson, who had been committed to the hometown Panthers since last summer, sent shockwaves through the recruiting world by each signing elsewhere Wednesday. Morelli, TheInsiders.com's third-ranked quarterback nationally, is headed to Penn State, while Johnson signed with Miami.
Rumors had been swirling for weeks about the Pittsburgh pair's possible switcheroo. Morelli made a surprise visit to Happy Valley in mid-January, while Johnson publicly re-opened his recruitiment.
In other developments Wednesday:
The 'Canes, in addition to landing Johnson, added vaunted linebacker Willie Williams, the nation's No. 2 overall prospect, and highly ranked linebacker James Bryant.
The Florida Gators went on a last-minute binge, picking up highly ranked defensive end Derrick Harvey, receiver Derrick McPhearson and quarterback Cornelius Ingram, and signing three players who had previously committed elsewhere.
USC continued its push toward No. 1 in the final recruiting rankings, adding receiver Dwayne Jarrett and defensive end Eugene Germany to an already loaded class.
Highly ranked Detroit receiver Carl Grimes, previously committed to Florida State, signed instead with Michigan State. The Spartans also nabbed Chicago offensive lineman Roland Martin.
Demarrio Presley, a vaunted defensive tackle from Greensboro, N.C., spurned Florida State to sign with N.C. State.
Tennessee, having struck out in its previous attempts to land a top-notch quarterback, signed top 15 prospect Brent Schaeffer.
Headed into Wednesday, the consensus among recruiting experts was that the battle for the unofficial 2004 recruiting title, just like the recent national championship race, would come down to USC and LSU. Both classes are loaded with top 100 players, the biggest difference being the size -- the Tigers could sign as many as 10 more players.
"LSU has such a big lead right now," said TheInsiders.com recruiting analyst Jamie Newberg. "But they have 25 commitments while USC Has 16. Certainly if USC can close [strong], they could wind up No. 1."
If LSU finishes No. 1, it would be the second straight crown for the Tigers, whose class includes such top 25 prospects as receivers Early Doucet and Xavier Carter and defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey. USC's crop includes such blue-chippers as center Jeff Byers, the No. 1 prospect in the nation, receiver Fred Davis and linebacker Keith Rivers.
Cameron Colvin, another highly ranked receiver, could still choose the Trojans as well.