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Making sense of Signing Day

Who had encouraging classes -- and who didn't?

Posted: Wednesday February 1, 2006 6:43PM; Updated: Friday April 7, 2006 1:17PM
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Matthew Stafford, the nation's No. 2-ranked QB, could succeed D.J. Shockley at Georgia.
Matthew Stafford, the nation's No. 2-ranked QB, could succeed D.J. Shockley at Georgia.
Scott Kennedy/Scout.com
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The faxes are in and the rankings have been handed out. So, what should you, the fan, make of your favorite team's 2006 recruiting haul?

It depends on the context.

As longtime recruiting observer Allen Wallace of SuperPrep said, "one of the biggest misconceptions about recruiting is that one great class is going to permanently change the direction of your program. You need to put together two or three great ones in a row."

Therefore, while Florida's Urban Meyer, Notre Dame's Charlie Weis, Pittsburgh's Dave Wannstedt, Ole Miss' Ed Orgeron, Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy and Illinois' Ron Zook -- all of whom are completing the first full recruiting cycle at their school -- should be commended for their exemplary classes, it's too soon to reach any definitive conclusions about the course of their programs. The biggest theme I've noticed in covering the past eight signing days is that second-year coaches at rebuilding programs almost always clean up in recruiting. Momentum is rarely higher than when a coach first arrives. The key is keeping it going.

At schools where the coaches are more deeply entrenched, however, recruiting results are often a telling reflection of the overall state of a program. For some teams, fans have every reason to be very encouraged today. For others, the news was more sobering.

Encouraging: Georgia

Mark Richt has been quietly building a national power (four straight 10-win seasons, two SEC titles), and it's becoming increasingly evident in recruiting, where the Dawgs have landed three straight top-10 classes. Most impressive about this year's crop, which will finish in Scout.com's top five, was that Georgia was able to go well beyond its state borders, landing coveted QB Matthew Stafford from Texas, top-10 running back Knowshon Moreno from New Jersey and Scout.com's third-ranked tight end, Na Derris Ward, from California. The Dawgs were even one of two finalists for California's top prospect, Los Angeles running back Stafon Johnson, who ultimately chose USC.

Clearly, the Dawgs have greatly enhanced their national visibility under Richt. "They have the stature now where they can appeal to anyone, anyplace," said Wallace.

Encouraging: Penn State

The momentum that began a year ago when the then-struggling Nittany Lions landed elite prospects Derrick Williams and Justin King -- and continued through an 11-1 season last fall -- was evident in this year's top-10 recruiting class, Joe Paterno's first since 2000. Stealing top-five QB Pat Devlin away from Miami was a huge coup, and Penn State dominated in Maryland, landing six of that state's top eight prospects.

For several years, the Nittany Lions had a flawed approach to recruiting, filling up most of their class the summer before players' senior years and not being patient enough to wait on the type of elite prospects who tend to drag out their decisions. All that changed, however, when assistant Mike McQueary took over the duties of recruiting coordinator two years ago. With a few more classes like this one, Penn State should be able to regain its old national footing.

Discouraging: Miami

One word best describes the state of the U these days: Chaos. Only one replacement has been named to this point for the five assistants who were fired last year, and it clearly impacted recruiting. Devlin, the projected anchor of their class, decommitted in favor of Penn State, and several other key figures they were waiting on ended up going elsewhere. As a result, the 'Canes, who finished with top-10 recruiting classes every year from 2000 to 2004, will finish outside the top 10 for a second straight year, perhaps even out of the top 15.

"I think this is going to go down as a gut check for the Miami Hurricane program," said Wallace. "They're at a low point recruiting-wise."

Head coach Larry Coker, under fire locally following a 40-3 Peach Bowl loss to LSU, better have some ace recruiters on his short list for the U's coaching vacancies.

Discouraging: Tennessee

A year ago this time, the Vols were basking in the glow of landing the nation's top recruiting class, which included seven of Scout.com's top 100 players. How did Tennessee go from that to a borderline top-25 class with just one top-100 player (in-state offensive lineman Jacques McClendon) a year later?

Certainly last year's 5-6 debacle didn't help, but the seeds of a recruiting class begin well before that. For whatever reason, Phillip Fulmer's staff wasn't in on as many big names nationally this year, which begs the question whether last year's gem was an aberration.

Encouraging: Oklahoma

Last year's uncharacteristic 8-4 season, along with the departure of offensive coordinator Chuck Long to San Diego State, may have been cause for concern in Norman, but the Sooners' top-10 recruiting class should put that to rest. The ability to land blue-chippers like Oklahoma City defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and Las Vegas running back DeMarco Murray, both of whom were coveted by the likes of USC and Miami, shows that Bob Stoops' program still holds plenty of clout nationally.

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