Signing Day wrap, awards (cont.)
Recruiting coach of the year: Florida State's Jimbo Fisher. We've known his name for so long now, it's easy to forget that the man responsible for the nation's No. 1 recruiting class just finished his first season as a head coach. While it certainly didn't hurt that rivals Florida and Miami underwent coaching changes in December, Fisher and his staff of renowned recruiters seemed destined to land a monster haul in 2011, and Fisher seems destined to become a fixture. He trained under two of the best, Bobby Bowden and Saban. "He's a nice blend of both," said Shurburtt. "From the organizational standpoint, definitely, he resembles Saban, but Fisher is a little more folksy than Saban. He's more like Bowden in terms of some backslapping, recruiting in the home. The kids just love him." Now FSU fans just hope Fisher will coach more like Bowden circa 1999 than 2009.
Breakout coach of the year: Virginia's Mike London. Virginia is always a talent-rich state, but in recent years its top players have been looking anywhere but Charlottesville. The Cavaliers' second-year coach reversed that trend, landing a Top 25 class highlighted by four-star cornerback Demetrious Nicholson. It marks the first time in four years that UVA landed a higher-ranked class than in-state rival Virginia Tech. Now London, who went 4-8 in his first season, just needs to translate that success to the field. Remember, predecessor Al Groh started out his recruiting tenure in similarly eye-opening fashion.
Comeback coach of the year: Georgia's Mark Richt. A year ago this time, Georgia was a recruiting disappointment. Then the Dawgs followed a poor Signing Day showing with a nightmarish 6-7 season. But a resilient Richt followed through on his pledge last summer to assemble a "Dream Team" of in-state recruits, closing over the past few weeks with Top 50 national prospects defensive end Ray Drew, cornerback Malcolm Mitchell and, on Wednesday, running back Isaiah Crowell (who came equipped with a live bulldog puppy at his announcement). If Richt is on the hot seat, these recruits either don't agree or don't care.
Hapless coach of the year: UCLA's Rick Neuheisel. Perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise, what with the Bruins coming off their second losing season in three years, their coaching staff in complete flux right up until Signing Day and Neuheisel likely entering next season on the hottest seat in the country. Still, the sheer extent of UCLA's recruiting misery this year is staggering. Normally a top 20 fixture, UCLA barely made Scout.com's top 60 as of Wednesday evening. It landed just one player (receiver Devin Lucien) rated among the Top 25 prospects in the state of California. "It's undoubtedly the worst UCLA class I've ever seen," said Scout.com's Wallace.
Best salvage job: Michigan's Brady Hoke. Given that AD Dave Brandon left Rich Rodriguez hanging in the wind until after the Gator Bowl and did not hire his new coach until Jan. 11, Michigan's 2011 class seemed destined for disaster. The Wolverines went more than a month after the regular season without adding a new commitment. But Hoke managed to add nine more players, stealing away quarterback commit Russell Bellomy from Purdue, and fended off other suitors to retain four-star defensive back Blake Countess. This class is still far from the level Michigan will need to contend for Big Ten titles, but given the circumstances, things could have been far worse.
How do they do it?: Clemson. For a program that last won a conference title 20 years ago and hasn't produced a 10-win season this century, Clemson consistently recruits the kind of talent befitting an annual BCS contender. Continuing the trend of adding mega-recruits like C.J. Spiller and Da'Quan Bowers, Dabo Swinney's team landed pledges Wednesday from the nation's top two linebackers, Stephone Anthony and Tony Steward, and remains in the hunt for Clowney. The Tigers will likely finish with a top 10 class. Recruits apparently think they can win championships in Clemson despite 20 years of evidence suggesting otherwise.
Most cocksure announcement: Defensive tackle Gabe Wright (Auburn). Minutes after Carver (Ga.) High teammate Crowell broke out a puppy, Wright showed off his own creativity. In announcing he'll be attending Auburn, Wright put on a backwards AU baseball cap with the words "NICK WHO?" After some initial confusion by many who thought the hat meant Saban, Wright clarified that he was in fact referring to Nick Fairley, the departing Auburn star Wright is apparently expecting to replace. While the Lombardi winner himself approved, here's guessing those two words will haunt Wright for four years if he doesn't deliver.
Most likely to play right away: Malcolm Brown (Texas) and Crowell (Georgia). They're not only the top two running backs in the country according to 247Sports.com, they're also joining teams that could desperately use them. New Texas co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin is looking to recreate the power running game he employed at Boise State, and the Longhorns simply don't have an elite, every-down guy like Brown on their roster. Meanwhile, Georgia coach Richt -- whose team ranked 73rd in rushing last season -- wasn't shy in expressing Crowell's potential impact as a freshman. "I would not be shocked to see him tote that rock in the [Georgia] Dome against Boise State on the opening play [of the season]," Richt said.
Tip of the hat to: Louisville's Charlie Strong (landed a Top 25 class that includes seven Miami players, most notably quarterback Teddy Bridgewater); Notre Dame's Brian Kelly (inked Rivals.com's three highest-rated defensive ends); Tennessee's Derek Dooley (finished with a splash, highlighted by in-state tackle Antonio Richardson); and Texas Tech's Tommy Tuberville (signed the first top 20 class in school history).
Better luck next year: Miami's Al Golden, Florida's Will Muschamp and West Virginia coach-in-waiting Dana Holgorsen. Late starts left all three schools with lower-rated classes than usual; don't expect that to continue.