The college football recruiting wars grow more intense each season, thanks to the way the sport is changing. With more premier players coming out early for the NFL draft (36 this year) and fewer scholarships available under NCAA rules (85 per team starting in 1994, down from 105 in 1973), recruiting is more important than ever. In Florida the competition is so fierce, and so avidly followed, that the Orlando Sentinel and The Miami Herald last week set up special phone lines for fans seeking information on the state's top programs. On Feb. 3 alone, the Sentinel received a total of 3,258 calls on recruiting.
The 1,147 fanatics who called the Sentinel's Florida State line got the most impressive signing news of the week: Coach Bobby Bowden had hauled in the No. 1 class in the nation, according to a consensus of recruiting experts around the country. "This is the one and only class without a weakness," says Allen Wallace, editor of Super Prep magazine. The Seminoles landed five of the top 10 players in talent-rich Florida, including wide receiver Andre Cooper of Neptune Beach, who made a state-leading 67 catches last year for 1,060 yards and 12 TDs.
However, Florida State's most important recruit might be placekicker and punter Scott Bentley of Aurora, Colo., whose schoolboy career included seven field goals of at least 50 yards, not to mention 34 kickoffs that sailed through the uprights. Bentley's father, Bob, is a Notre Dame alumnus, and until a couple of months ago Scott was saying it was a "no-brainer" that he would play for the Irish. But after a disappointing visit to South Bend, he changed his mind. With Bentley, Florida State fans shouldn't have to worry the next time a Miami game, and a possible national championship, hinges on a last-minute field goal, as has happened the past two seasons.
Despite losing Bentley, Notre Dame was widely thought to have tied Michigan for No. 2 in recruiting. The Irish landed 6'4", 212-pound quarterback Ron Powlus of Berwick, Pa., regarded as the nation's No. 1 overall prospect. Last season Powlus threw for 31 touchdowns and ran for 20 more in leading Berwick to a 15-0 record and a USA Today national title. The Wolverines, meanwhile, outrecruited Notre Dame for Clarence Thompson of Detroit, the country's finest defensive back, and Miami for Seth Smith, a wideout from Carbondale, Ill., who last season averaged 25.3 yards per catch.
Here's a quick look elsewhere.
?Though they fell short of Florida State's haul, Miami and Florida had Top 10 recruiting classes. The Hurricanes edged the Gators, replenishing their traditional speed by signing, among others, corner-back-wideout Jammi German of Fort Myers, the No. 1 prospect in Florida.
? Tennessee, under new coach Phillip Fulmer, "won the SEC in a landslide," according to recruiting analyst Max Emfinger, who points out that the Vols got outstanding prospects from Texas, Louisiana, North Carolina and Oklahoma, in addition to dominating Tennessee. Of Tennessee's out-of-staters, running back Jay Graham of Concord, N.C., and two Dallas products, wide receiver Courtney Epps and free safety Tomell Hurd, could be impact players next fall.
?Soon after replacing coach Pat Dye at Auburn, Tommy Bowden announced on television that while Alabama was celebrating its national title, he was going to be sweet-talking the state's best recruits into helping him rebuild the Tigers' program. Sure enough, two of the nation's finest prospects, 6'6", 310-pound offensive tackle Willie Anderson of Prichard and 6'3", 260-pound tight end Jesse McCovery from nearby Theodore, signed with Auburn, even though both had been in Tuscaloosa for Alabama's national-championship parade and banquet. The two players subsequently said that Tide assistant Mike Dubose accused them of taking money from Auburn. Dubose admitted confronting the players the weekend before signing day with rumors of a payoff but denied he accused them of taking the money. Still, Alabama had the better overall recruiting class.
?Recruits in Pennsylvania showed they weren't thrilled by the fact that Penn State will begin playing in the Big Ten next fall. Of the state's best prospects, Powlus and offensive lineman Chris Kurpeikis of Pittsburgh are headed to Notre Dame; defensive lineman Damon Densen of Pittsburgh, fullback Jon Ritchie of Mechanicsburg and linebacker Rob Swett of Doylestown signed with Michigan; and defensive lineman Denny Fortney of Waynesboro is bound for Miami.
?Of the mid-level programs that Wallace rates as "on the rise in recruiting," perhaps Wisconsin had the biggest breakthrough. Badger coach Barry Alvarez beat out Florida State for running back Carl McCullough of St. Paul. As a senior McCullough, who checks in at 6'3" and 205 pounds, rushed for 1,920 yards and scored 27 touchdowns.