- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Indiana coach Bill Lynch remembers eleventh-hour recruiting.
Until recent years, he found himself right in the thick of it.
For decades, Lynch anticipated his schedule in late January and early February to be consumed with finding high school players to fill the final few spots of a recruiting class. It was standard procedure during his tenure as Ball State's coach from 1995-2002. The down-to-the-wire scramble continued when Lynch arrived at Indiana in January 2005, and remained for several years as the program made another transition from Terry Hoeppener to Lynch.
"Shoot, man, we were looking for guys the weekend before signing day," Lynch recalled. "We were scrambling to fill a class."
Of the 24 players Indiana signed in 2005, 14 committed in January or early February and another didn't sign until after National Signing Day. Things improved for the 2006 class, but Indiana still got seven commitments after Jan. 1, plus a junior college addition in June.
Back then, the idea of wrapping up a recruiting class in July or August sounded laughable.
Fast-forward to last week, as Lynch talked about where Indiana stood for its 2011 recruiting haul.
"We're right at the end," he said.
The calendar read July 15.
Indiana has turned heads in Midwest recruiting circles by already collecting 20 verbal commitments for the 2011 class. The Hoosiers' total leads the Big Ten and ranks among the national leaders. Indiana has 17 more commits than Penn State and 14 more than archrival Purdue.
Although the class likely won't rank among the national leaders come February, Lynch and his staff have unquestionably upgraded their overall talent, landing decorated prospects like linebacker Zack Shaw, athlete Raymon Taylor, tight end Jake Reed and running back D'Angelo Roberts, who pledged last week.
"We've been fortunate to kind of jump ahead," Lynch said, "but throughout the process, we felt like there were kids we had targeted who we felt like we could get. We felt like we could get a good number."
Safe to say, 20 is a great number for Indiana. And this isn't new for the Hoosiers, who received 21 verbal commitments for the 2010 recruiting class before the 2009 season kicked off.
Lynch attributes the surge to several factors: good early scouting by his assistants, getting a lot of prospects on campus with their families for unofficial visits and the school's recent facilities upgrades.
But perhaps Indiana's strongest assets are continuity and stability, traits rarely associated with the program in the past 15 years.
"We've been able to keep our staff together for the most part," said Lynch, who has lost only two assistants to the NFL in his three seasons as head coach. "We've also been able to maintain the consistency in our strength and conditioning staff, our academic staff, so we're all on the same page. When kids come on campus and visit with us, they and their families are hearing the same message.
"The last two, three years, we've built a foundation, and philosophically, we're on the same page about who we're looking for and where we're going to recruit."
Early commitments are commonplace in today's recruiting. Texas has 22 commits for 2011, while Ohio State and Oklahoma both have 17 verbals.
The difference is Indiana has gone 7-17 during the past two seasons and reached just one bowl game since 1993. Lynch has two years left on his contract but has been mentioned as a coach on the hot seat entering the fall.
And yet the verbals keep rolling in.
Lynch doesn't concern himself with negative recruiting against Indiana. And although the program has lost some early verbals -- Jibreel Black decommited last year, eventually signing with Michigan -- it's not an epidemic.
"That's certainly part of it nowadays," Lynch said. "Nothing is binding until February, but the last couple years, we've done a pretty good job of being able to hold onto the guys we've gotten commitments from."
The NCAA is currently considering a proposal that would scale back the recruiting calendar, prohibiting teams from offering scholarships until July 1 between a prospect's junior and senior years of high school. Obviously, Lynch prefers the current setup, yet he wouldn't stand in the way of a change, as long as it applies to everyone.
But until a change is made, Indiana's coaches will keep breaking down junior tape, scouting prospects, landing unofficial visits and staying ahead of the curve.
"We're just further along," Lynch said. "We're where we want to be."
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