Inside On The Recruiting Trail this week we tackle the following:
1. Age in the recruiting wars - Bowden and JoePa
2. Of Aggies, Longhorns and Sooners
3. How bad does Tennessee need a QB?
4. Who is the surprise team in the Big 10?
5. On the Plains, Auburn is looking for help
6. Will Clemson sign a big-name recruit this year?
Is age working against Bowden and JoePa? Two legends of the coaching profession are nearing the end of their stellar careers in Florida State’s Bobby Bowden and Penn State’s Joe Paterno. Their career numbers are eerily similar with Paterno having won 338 games and Bowden claiming 337, both in 38 years of excellence on the sidelines.
Last season, however, they shared nine losses between them, and many started questioning whether that was eventually going to hinder their recruiting efforts.
Despite its 2-3 record this season, Penn State is showing no signs of weakness on the recruiting trail. The Nittany Lions currently have the No. 2 class in Rivals.com’s team rankings, highlighted by players like five-star linebacker Dan Connor and four-star defensive end Tyrell Sales.
Connor, the nation’s No. 2 rated inside linebacker, said he’s been aware of the near constant Paterno retirement whispers.
“No one has really come right out and said it,” he said of opposing recruiters, “but you’d kind of get hints about it. It affected me a little bit. I wanted to make sure the staff wasn’t going to be gone in a year or so.
"After talking to them a lot, I’m pretty confident they’ll be there, even if something happens with coach Paterno. But I think coach Paterno will be there. I really hope I get to play my whole career for him. He’s a coaching legend.”
Meanwhile, Florida State is rolling with a 5-0 record and appears poised to bring in another outstanding class in 2004. Two elite players on the Seminoles’ recruiting board say they’re hoping Bowden is still in Tallahassee if they choose FSU.
“If I did decide to go there, I was looking for him,” said St. Martinville (La.) receiver Early Doucet, the nation's No. 5 ranked prospect. “I like them regardless – it’s not going to be the deciding factor for me – but it would be great to play for a coach like him. I’m really looking forward to meeting him and getting some time to talk with him when I go down there for my official visit next week.”
Added four-star wideout Mike McIntosh from Jacksonville (Fla.) First Coast: “Not saying any names, but I’ve heard other coaches mention that he’s not going to be there anymore. I think it’s crazy the way people question him. I still see that fire in him. I’d be really happy if I chose to go to school there and he was still around. He’s a great coach and a great all-around person.”
Fans will always ask if age hurts a coach in recruiting, but it sounds to us like the opportunity to play for a legend matters more than a coach's age ever will.
Of Longhorns, Aggies and Sooners: With a whopping 17 commitments before the leaves even had a chance to change, Texas is off and running with what has the potential makings of a monster recruiting class for 2004. The Longhorns have already reeled in six four-star prospects and are in good position with a good handful of other elite players.
Under normal circumstances, that might cause more than a little concern for arch-rival Texas A&M, but the Aggies aren’t sitting back and letting the Longhorns have all the fun. Dennis Franchione has landed four Rivals100 players himself, including No. 4 pro-style quarterback Stephen McGee.
Where things could really get interesting is with the players still on the board in the Lone Star State. Both schools are mentioned prominently with the nation’s No. 1 prospect, Palestine running back Adrian Peterson. Eleven of the state’s top 25 players have yet to make a decision, which could either help blow Texas’ class through the roof or propel A&M into the spotlight.
But remember, Oklahoma looms large for both schools. Bob Stoops and the Sooners have their eyes on several recruits that both the Longhorns and Aggies are pushing for.
All three schools play each other within the next two months, and if any one of those three teams emerges undefeated in those battles, then expect that team to have the best recruiting year.
Help Wanted: With Casey Clausen ready to wrap up a long and productive career down on ol' Rocky Top, it’s no secret that the Volunteers are heavily in the market for an elite quarterback in the Class of 2004.
Three top signal callers are mentioned in connection to UT: Kentucky’s Brian Brohm, Missouri’s Chase Patton and Florida’s Brent Shaeffer.
Interestingly, Brohm recently received a rare personal visit from Vols head man Phil Fulmer, who traveled to Louisville to meet with the star during an off-week between the Marshall and Florida games. That could be an indication that he’s the Vols’ top dog at this point, although with a father and brother who played for Louisville, it may be a tough task to lure him out of the Derby City.
A sleeper is also emerging in the West. Oregon’s Erik Ainge, all 6-foot-6 of him, recently received an offer from the Vols and has been impressive on film. And if the name rings a bell, yes, he's the nephew of former NBA star and coach Danny Ainge.
The Vols have to find a quarterback this year, so going to Oregon, or the head coach himself spending time on the recruiting trail in Louisville shouldn't be that big of a surprise.
Phil Fulmer is a master recruiter and he knows what he has to do to get a big fish at quarterback.
Defending Minnesota: Glen Mason and Minnesota have quietly won five straight to open the season and 13 of their last 18 dating back to last year.
That kind of performance seems to be having an impact on in-state recruiting efforts, where the Gophers have often seen rivals in the Big Ten and Big 12 raid their territory for top talent.
Five of the state’s top prospects have already given UM verbals, including four-star offensive tackle Lydon Murtha and quarterbacks Tony Mortensen and John Carlson.
You have to like what the Gophers are doing.
Auburn targeting the O-Line: The Tigers will be losing some quality players up front over the next two years, so O-Line is considered the priority at this point in the recruiting process.
Auburn has only one verbal from a lineman thus far, and will look to add five or six more before the dust settles. Four highly regarded players currently top the wish list: Florida’s Calvin Darity and Jacky Claude, Kentucky’s Micah Jones and rising in-state prospect Antoine Caldwell.
It looks like a big-time battle is brewing between Auburn and Alabama for Caldwell’s signature. It's always interesting when the Tigers and Tide lock horns in a true recruiting battle.
Clemson awaits first elite verbal: Tommy Bowden & Co. have reeled in eight commitments thus far, but only one recruit is rated higher than two stars. So the Orange Nation is eagerly awaiting the first blockbuster announcement.
Who could it be?
Looking in-state, possibly four-star offensive lineman Corey Lambert of Greenville.
Four-star Florida wide receiver Mike McIntosh says he plans to make Clemson one of his five official visits, but that decision could be still far away. Four-star Virginia defensive end Olu Hall and four-star North Carolina linebacker Dannell Ellerbe are also listing the Tigers prominently. And one of that group would be enough to bring a big smile to the Clemson faithful’s faces.
But none of them are locks for the Tigers. The Tiger fans are waiting, and possibly restless.
On The Recruiting Trail is a collection of recruiting notes, quotes and anecdotes from across the nation by Rivals100.com publisher Bobby Burton.
This is the second On The Recruiting trail segment of the year. For last week's On The Recruiting Trail, click here.