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Last year the USC Trojans were crowned as the recruiting champs over Florida of 2010 on National Signing Day in what was deemed a controversial decision by Rivals.com.
The nation's No. 2 prospect overall, offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson, verbally committed to Lane Kiffin late in the afternoon and his inclusion in the USC class essentially gave the Trojans the recruiting title.
While Henderson donned a USC hat on national television, he refused to sign a Letter of Intent that day due to impending NCAA sanctions. The confusion led to a change in policy for Rivals.com team rankings and something that can be deemed the "Seantrel Henderson rule."
As we all know, Henderson delayed his decision to sign until he put pen to paper in March for USC before eventually getting out of his letter and heading to Miami. However, what also got lost in the shuffle was another prospect on the USC commitment list last February. Junior college defensive end Marquis Jackson flipped from UCLA to USC at the last moment the night before National Signing Day last year.
But the four-star never signed with the Trojans and, like Henderson, never appeared on USC's press release, which announced 18 signees. With Henderson and Jackson bringing the Trojans' commitment numbers to 20, USC pushed past Florida in a move that shocked many. But with two of their 20 commitments being of the verbal variety and with Jackson never signing or arriving on campus, Rivals.com felt the ranking policy should be changed for 2011.
"It was a long day," Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said. "Earlier in the day we had announced Florida as the No. 1 class and then USC added Jackson's verbal commitment to go along with Henderson, and USC pushed past Florida. But Florida had all of its guys either enrolled early or signed on signing day last year while USC had two of them as verbal commitments, it just didn't seem to fit.
"Our system is based on a mathematical formula, which takes out any possible human bias when it comes to ranking the teams. But it also doesn't leave much wiggle room for situations like this, where a player is added late and is not going to sign and it pushes one team ahead of another. That's why we have a new policy in place this year and we think it makes it fair for everyone."
The new policy for Rivals.com on National Signing Day is quite simple. The top team in the rankings, on signing day, will be announced later than usual and only those players that sign a National Letter of Intent (NLI) that day will count toward a team's point totals. Players not signing, prior commitment or not, won't be listed as commitments until they actually sign. Essentially the prospects listed as signing his NLI on the official school press release will be the ones counted on Feb. 2.
"Since Feb. 2 is the first day you can sign this year, those players that choose not to sign with the school of their choice are essentially not committed to that program," Farrell said. "Otherwise, they would sign. That's how we see it."
However, with more big-name players like Henderson delaying their decisions for one reason or another, the final team rankings do remain fluid beyond National Signing Day. The 2011 No. 1 player, Jadeveon Clowney, will wait until Feb. 14 (his birthday) to sign with a school. If Clowney's signature were to propel a team to the top of the rankings, it won't be ignored.
"This year we will name a recruiting champion on signing day as we always do," said Farrell. "But just like every other year, we are aware that there are players who delay their decision to sign and we always update the team rankings following each of those decisions. With Clowney being the No. 1 player, it will obviously boost one team a bit. If he chooses South Carolina, it obviously won't change who finishes No. 1, but if he were to choose Alabama, LSU or someone else near the top and he changed the overall outcome of who is No. 1, we won't bury our heads in the sand and pretend it didn't happen."
As always, Rivals.com will recalculate and reissue the team recruiting rankings in August in the annual Enrolled Team Rankings, essentially ranking the classes based on which players actually enroll in school and show up on campus. This is, arguably, the most accurate ranking of all but doesn't get nearly the same attention as the National Signing Day list.