Big East recruiting overview

February, 2, 2012
2/02/12
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Now that national signing day has come and gone, it is time to take stock of how the Big East and its teams fared.

Rutgers was the big winner of the day, finishing with its first top-25 class. Louisville and Pitt were not far behind. Cincinnati pulled in the best class in school history, while West Virginia has an ESPNU150 talent in Ford Childress and Syracuse got a four-star player in Wayne Morgan. After a slow start, USF ended up with three four-star players.

Of course, we will not know the true measure of each class until a few years down the road. But signing day is all about dreaming big.

Top class: Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights owned New Jersey, signing the top talent in the state for the second year in a row. Incredibly, every single high school player they signed is rated with three or four stars. So the final tally gives them one ESPNU150 player in Darius Hamilton, six four-stars and 13 three-stars.

Biggest surprise: The biggest flip of the day belonged to running back Dennis Norfleet, who had been committed to Cincinnati for months. But a late offer from Michigan changed that, and he signed with the Wolverines. It was also surprising to see Louisville lose two players on signing day -- running back Ace Wales signed with Western Kentucky, and linebacker Patrick Jean signed with FIU.

First impression: This was a strong year for Big East recruiting. It is a fact of Big East life that the top players in the nation generally go to more nationally prominent schools, as evidenced by the ESPNU150. The Big East only got three players on that list (two if you count West Virginia as a Big 12 member and one if you count Pitt as a future ACC member). But forget about the list and look at the hard numbers. Rutgers got into the Top 25, with Louisville and Pitt also getting some national notice. In all, the Big East had 24 four-star players sign -- compared to nine last season. Consider that every team but UConn got at least one four-star player. Last year, only three teams signed at least one four-star.

Recruiter of the year: Kyle Flood, Rutgers. Look at the job he did saving the class from disaster after Greg Schiano left a week ago. Then look a little closer at the players he signed -- three offensive linemen ranked in the Top 25 at their respective positions. Flood was the long-time offensive line coach, of course, and this has been a major area of need for the past several seasons. Consider it filled in a big way.

Player you’ll see next season: Casey Cochran, QB, UConn. The future is now for the Huskies, who are in desperate need of a starting quarterback who can lead this team back to a bowl game. This is the biggest area of need for a team that took a step back in 2011, and UConn is putting all its hopes on the No. 1 rated player in the state of Connecticut.

Future award winner: Rushel Shell, RB, Pitt. How much he plays this season probably depends on how Ray Graham does in his return from a torn ACL. But whether he plays or not, Shell has what it takes to be a future star. Just look what he did at Hopewell High in Aliquippa, Pa.: He set a state record with 9,078 yards rushing on 1,107 carries (8.2 avg.), scored a record 110 career touchdowns and set a national record with 39 consecutive 100-yard games. That passed the mark former Oklahoma Sooners great Billy Sims’ mark of 38, set in 1975. Factor in new coach Paul Chryst and his penchant for an unyielding ground attack, and Shell should rack up the accolades in no time.

Program on the rise: It would be easy to go with Rutgers here, but I am going to stick with Louisville. Coach Charlie Strong has shown continuity on the recruiting trail with his third class, picking up six four-star players -- one more than last season. That also was tied with Rutgers for best in the Big East. The pipeline to Florida has served Strong well, and he clearly showed in 2011 that he has the chops to coach up his young talent. Flood did a commendable job, as mentioned above. Now let's see him string together classes as impressive as this one.

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BIG EAST TEAM COVERAGE