Help Wanted: Struggling programs waiting for reinforcements
A handful of Power Five teams have fallen short of expectations this season. Is there help on the way to help turn these programs around in the form of the upcoming recruiting class and the true freshmen already on campus? Rivals National recruiting director Mike Farrell assess the recruiting classes of the following teams, and a Rivals publishers speaks to the true freshman class already on campus to see which players can provide help for a possible turnaround.
MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS (3-7, 1-6 Big Ten)
Recruiting overview: The Spartans' class is ranked sixth in the Big Ten and No. 30 nationally. Four-star tight end Matt Dotson leads the way as the program's highest-rated commit for 2017. He is joined by wide receiver Hunter Rison and offensive guard Kevin Jarvis as the two other four-stars so far in the Spartans’ class.
Farrell’s take: “The key for Michigan State is the ultra-competitive divisional battles not only with Ohio State and Michigan but now Penn State. The Spartans have gotten a bump recruiting-wise the past few years based on their success but their bread and butter has been finding and developing overlooked prospects like Darqueze Dennard and Le’Veon Bell. I can’t see Michigan State winning a ton of elite head-to-head battles in the near future.”
Freshman class: “Nine of Michigan State’s 20 signees in 2016 saw playing time this fall and will not redshirt. That’s the highest percentage of non-redshirts in the Mark Dantonio era, and it was out of necessity.
“Michigan State built its championship program earlier this decade through the defensive line and secondary. They’ll try to do it again, and the 2016 class has some of the seeds that can give hope a chance. Michigan State regularly played three true freshmen on the defensive line this fall - Josh King, Mike Panasiuk, Auston Robertson. They played like rookies, but they pack high ceilings, with Naquan Jones redshirting.
“Justin Layne signed as a wide receiver but started two games at cornerback. Kenney Lyke saw time at safety with the nickel defense in late October. Add redshirts Demetric Vance and Austin Andrews and the secondary has something to grow on from the 2016 class. True freshman Thiyo Lukusa has seen extended playing time as a second-string right tackle and is a candidate to start late in the season. Luke Campbell and AJ Arcuri are repping with the twos this month while redshirting, and look good of the future.” - Jim Comparoni, SpartanMag.com
NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH (4-6)
Recruiting overview: The Irish are doing fantastic in recruiting so far with the sixth-best class in the country. Ten four-star prospects lead the way along with eight three-stars to round out the class. Defensive tackle Darnell Ewell, offensive lineman Robert Hainsey, linebacker David Adams and tight end Cole Kmet are the four highest-ranked prospects in Notre Dame’s class.
Farrell’s take: “The Irish are hitting Western Pennsylvania strong with quarterback Phil Jurkovec in the 2018 class. The thing with Notre Dame is it can’t afford to miss on too many guys. The program recruits so much nationally. The Irish don’t have a regional feeding ground that, if they miss on a couple of prospects, they can rely on to churn out more at the same position. With their academics and their national recruiting they have to be very good and hit on a lot of their targets. That has been a bit of the problem. Some of the players starting aren’t Notre Dame caliber. This class looks pretty good. I’d like to see them get into the Southeast even more.”
Freshman class: “Notre Dame’s 2016 class has been called upon early and often during the team’s 4-6 start to the season, providing 18 starts – including 17 in the secondary. Despite the early production, there are a number of players who could become major contributors next season.
“Do not be surprised if Tommy Kraemer competes for a starting spot at either right guard next season. Kraemer made a hard push as a freshman for a spot in the two-deep, but Notre Dame was fortunately able to save a season of eligibility for him. Chase Claypool is still a very raw route runner, but he has star potential in Notre Dame’s pass-oriented offense. The Irish offense has lacked an effective between-the-tackles runner this season, a role that could be filled by Tony Jones Jr. next season.
“Notre Dame’s defensive line should see an infusion next season, with ends Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara poised to bust into the rotation. Kareem will be given every opportunity to take over for senior Isaac Rochell, and Okwara could provide the Irish defense with a much-needed pass rushing boost, along with Daelin Hayes, who is already a key part of the rotation.” - Bryan Driskell, BlueGoldIllustrated.com
OLE MISS REBELS (5-5, 2-4 SEC)
Recruiting overview: The Rebels are off to a slow start in recruiting with only 10 total commits, only one four-star and eight three-stars so far. Ole Miss is ranked No. 67 nationally and the only team in the SEC ranked lower nationally is Vanderbilt. Morton, Miss., athlete D.D. Bowie is the only four-star in the Rebels’ class so far.
Farrell’s take: “Four letters: NCAA. That’s what is holding this up. Hugh Freeze is a very good recruiter, his staff has shown they can recruit high-level guys but with an NCAA investigation that just seemingly never ends and the moment it looks like it’s wrapping up, you have the NFL Draft debacle. It’s going to hurt them. This season won’t help. I don’t know if it’s better to get it rectified before Signing Day and know what you’re facing or have it pushed beyond Signing Day so you can recruit without knowing your infractions. I don’t think it will be wrapped up before Signing Day and it’s going to hurt them for the rest of the recruiting cycle.”
Freshman class: “Shea Patterson is the quarterback of the future. Offensive linemen Bryce Mathews and Royce Newman have drawn rave reviews inside the program and could play big roles in 2017. Donte Evans was brought to Oxford with high hopes and will get every opportunity to play a big role at one of the weakest, thinnest spots on Ole Miss' roster - linebacker - next season. Finally, D.K. Metcalf broke his leg two games into the season and will get a medical redshirt. He showed in games against Florida State and Wofford that he's going to be a high-level impact player at the SEC level.” - Neal McCready, RebelGrove.com
OREGON DUCKS (3-7, 1-6 Pac-12)
Recruiting overview: The Ducks' class is sitting at fifth in the Pac-12 rankings and No. 25 nationally with five four-star prospects and eight three-star recruits committed so far. Oregon has done especially well with speedy, versatile players from California with four-stars Deommodore Lenoir and Jaylon Redd leading the way. West Linn, Ore., offensive lineman Alex Forsyth is the only in-state four-star committed at this point.
Farrell’s take: “They’ve always relied upon their ability to get speed and versatility from California and Texas. Is that in this class? Yes. There is some speed and versatility but the biggest problem lately is their ability to be physical on both sides of the ball. That’s an area they need to address. I’m not sure if they’re the hot team anymore. The uniform thing everybody is doing now, the facilities are great but you can get great facilities in a much more convenient location. Washington has stolen some of their Pacific Northwest thunder. The staff has to be more aggressive and find some guys who can have a big impact like (Marcus) Mariota that no one else found.”
Freshman class: “Although the Oregon Ducks have struggled mightily in 2016 it is certainly not because of the program's 2016 class. Quarterback Justin Herbert, linebacker Troy Dye and safety Brenden Schooler have all looked like some of the best true freshmen in the nation this season. Several others from this signing class are destined to make their impact next season. Linebackers Keith Simms and Eric Briscoe Jr., wide receiver Dillon Mitchell and tight end Cam McCormick will all help fill the two-deep for Oregon in 2017. The biggest question for that class is whether the defensive linemen like Bryson Young, Hunter Kampmoyer and Wayne Kirby are able to contribute next year.” - A.J. Jacobson, DuckSportsAuthority.com
UCLA BRUINS (4-6, 2-5 Pac-12)
Recruiting overview: With only nine commits, the Bruins' class ranks No. 63 nationally and ninth in the Pac-12. UCLA is the only team on this list, however, that has a five-star commit in defensive end Jaelan Phillips from Redlands (Calif.) East Valley. Tight end Jimmy Jaggers and offensive lineman Kanan Ray are the two four-stars so far in UCLA’s class.
Farrell’s take: “They’re going to get some kids by default because they’re in L.A. and it’s a convenient choice for a lot kids. Development has been a problem. I don’t think they’ve made a ton of guys better under Jim Mora. I still think they’re going to finish with a bunch of four-stars, still going to finish with a top-15 class despite the awful season but I just don’t see a lot of want-to on this football team when it comes to tackling, being physical and being dynamic offensively. When I watched Josh Rosen against Texas A&M, the first thing I thought is this guy doesn’t have a lot of weapons and that’s a concern for UCLA.”
Freshman class: “There aren't really many knights in shining armor from the 2016 class waiting to rescue the Bruins next season. Guys like Theo Howard, Boss Tagaloa, Brandon Burton and Audie Omotosho have flashed big potential for the Bruins both in games and practice this year. But as far as redshirt guys go - unless Mique Juarez returns to the team - there doesn't appear to be any game-changers waiting in the wings for UCLA from the 2016 class.” - Edward Lewis, BruinSportsReport.com