The truth behind many Signing Day decisions, plus recruiting awards
An increasing number of prospects are signing based on likely playing time
Biggest disappointments: Florida (on Wednesday) and Nebraska (in general)
Biggest surprise: Stanford; Strongest finish: 'Bama; Taken for granted: USC
Rivals.com four-star safety Darren Myles sounded a bit cocky Wednesday when asked on national television what his expectations were now that he'd chosen to sign with Tennessee.
"Freshman All-American!" the Atlanta native predicted.
At least he's being honest. You'd be hard-pressed to find too many of today's big-name recruits who envision spending the next two to three years waiting their turn for a starting job.
Traditionally, that's been the path most college players' careers take, which is why Signing Day, for so many years, did not elicit nearly the level of fan frenzy it does today.
But times have changed. A true-freshman receiver, Alabama's Julio Jones, amassed 124 yards in last year's SEC championship game. (Two years earlier, then freshman Percy Harvin was MVP of the same game for Florida.) Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor was the starting quarterback in the Fiesta Bowl. Florida's Janoris Jenkins was a starting cornerback in the national-championship game. And Miami's top receiver (Aldarius Johnson) and top two tackles-for-loss leaders (Sean Spence and Marcus Robinson) were true freshmen.
"There is no such thing as a redshirt at Florida anymore," said Gators coach Urban Meyer. "We try to make that real clear."
Say what you want about the annual recruiting-hype overload and the admittedly unscientific class rankings, but several of Wednesday's developments will have a direct impact on teams' 2009 fortunes.
With the stroke of a pen, Hawaii native Manti Te'o (Rivals.com's No. 12 prospect nationally), sent shockwaves through the recruiting world by choosing Notre Dame over USC. In Te'o, the Irish landed a player who will likely start at linebacker and be a defensive difference-maker next season.
Meanwhile, it took right up until the midnight hour, but Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez may have finally landed his next Pat White in athletic quarterback Denard Robinson (Deerfield Beach, Fla.)
Down South, Glen Coffee's early exit to the NFL may have opened up a spot at Alabama for Pensacola, Fla., running back Trent Richardson (No. 6 nationally), who signed Wednesday with the Crimson Tide after entertaining a swirl of suitors over the past several weeks.
That's not to mention the biggest potential impact freshman of all, Bryce Brown (Rivals' No. 1 player in the country), who didn't sign anywhere Wednesday, but who will likely honor his commitment to Miami.
"If I were to pick one guy most likely to be rookie of the year in a BCS conference, it would be Bryce Brown," said Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell. "[Top-ranked defensive tackle] Sheldon Richardson is going to play right away at Missouri. [No. 1 receiver] Rueben Randle will play right away at LSU."
In talking with recruits across the country over the past year, Farrell noticed two definitive trends: An increasing number of coaches promising early playing time to prospects, and an increasing number of prospects choosing their schools in part due to the depth chart at their position.
"The big difference was early playing time being a factor for positions that aren't normally a factor," Farrell said. "For the last few years it was pretty clear receivers, running backs and even some DBs have been promised early playing time. That's reasonable. But now you're hearing [about] quarterbacks, offensive linemen, defensive linemen. That doesn't happen very often."
The lack of such a promise led Valdosta, Ga., cornerback Greg Reid, MVP of the Under Armour All-American Game, to back off a longstanding commitment to Florida last month, drawing Gators coach Urban Meyer's ire. Reid, aware the national champions' two starting corners last year were first- and second-year players, signed instead with Florida State, which needs him desperately.
Meyer himself will be counting on at least one freshman next season, speedy receiver Andre Debose. Rivals' No. 21 player has been described as a Harvin clone -- a convenient comparison, seeing as Harvin just bolted for the pros.
Asked where Meyer plans to play Debose next season, the coach replied: "The Percy Position. ... I think he is perfect. ... With the proper training this spring, he is going to be one of the fastest in the state of Florida."
In announcing his decision to sign with Georgia over Ohio State and Tennessee, Memphis receiver Marlon Brown (No. 53) said of the Bulldogs: "They have a good system for a receiver to come in and play early." Indeed: The 6-foot-5 Brown could be lining up alongside 6-4 A.J. Green, who notched 963 yards and eight touchdowns as a freshman.
It's a bit riskier having to count on a freshman quarterback -- but some teams might not have a choice.