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Mario Edwards still with FSU, but ...

9/16/2011

The nation's top prospect again has a decision to make.

Denton (Texas) Billy Ryan defensive end Mario Edwards, No. 1 in the ESPNU 150 and committed to Florida State since March, continues to look at several other schools, notably Oklahoma.

Saturday night looms large for Edwards, with top-ranked OU in Tallahassee, Fla., to meet No. 5 FSU. Edwards said he wants to play for a national championship-caliber team.

"Whoever wins this game could be the team that makes it to the national championship," he said.

Edwards won't be at the game. The son of former Seminoles cornerback Mario Edwards, he canceled a planned visit for good reason: It's homecoming at his high school.

"I'm only a senior in high school once," the younger Edwards said.

When he reviews the game, the 6-foot-4, 275-pound Edwards said he's interested to watch the Seminoles' defensive line against the powerful Oklahoma offense. Edwards visited OU over the summer, met Bob Stoops and watched the Sooners complete a workout in their offseason program.

The intensity of the Oklahoma players, especially for a summer drill without coaches in attendance, captured his attention. Largely, it's why Edwards wants to take another look at the Sooners.

"They're No. 1 in the country for a reason," he said.

Still, Edwards says Florida State is the team to beat in this race. It's been his favorite since Mario Jr. attended his father's games as a kid in Tallahassee. The elder Edwards, who played five seasons in the NFL with Dallas and Tampa Bay, won a national title at FSU as a senior in 1999.

"I let Florida State know that other teams are interested in me, and that I want to continue to look around," Edwards said. "But Florida State is still my team, my No. 1 team."

Edwards said Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher and assistant Lawrence Dawsey initially bristled when he told them of his plans. Now?
They understand the situation, according to Edwards.

While OU ranks as the top option to unseat Florida State, Edwards said he'd also like to visit LSU, Southern California and perhaps Texas.

"I feel like I earned the right to look around," he said.

Enjoy it while it lasts
The college schedule for Saturday, in addition to Oklahoma-Florida State, includes attractive nonconference matchups with Ohio State at Miami, Washington at Nebraska, Auburn at Clemson and Texas at UCLA.

No doubt, intersectional games like these appeal to recruits and help gain attention for schools in areas where they don't otherwise receive extensive exposure.

Many programs rose to prominence in part because of these games. Just ask Frank Beamer, the 25th-year Virginia Tech coach whose Hokies still schedule such nonconference duels, playing USC, Alabama, LSU, Nebraska and Boise State in recent years.

"That was one part of Virginia Tech becoming known," Beamer said.

And don't look now, but if the movement toward 16-team (or larger) conferences continues to gain steam, big, intersectional weekends like this one may exist only in the archives.

Sure, nonconference games won't entirely go away. But with the Big 12 and Pac-12 already playing a nine-game conference schedule and the Big Ten headed that way, how long until the first super conference initiates a 10-game league schedule? And who's going to want to play a power program in September with a new kind of grueling conference slate on tap for the rest of the fall?

"I think those things would go away for sure if we get into some kind of mega-conference deal," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.

His Tigers played Alabama in 2008, Swinney's first full year in charge at Clemson. Clemson seeks revenge Saturday for an overtime loss at Auburn last year.

"I've always been a traditionalist with college football," Swinney said. "I love some of the great rivalries that you have. It's great to see Alabama play Penn State, and I don't think you'll be able to do that if you're having 16 or 20 teams in a conference.

"But change is inevitable, it seems, and we'll just have to see how the landscape goes."

Programs rise and fall through recruiting. And save for a fortunate few, coaches must venture outside their home region to find players who can take teams to that next level.

Is college football ready for a more stagnant system that inhibits the ability of a school like Boise State to ascend to prominence? We may soon see.

Worth another look

Shell

Running back Rushel Shell (Aliquippa, Pa./Hopewell) surpassed 100 yards rushing for a 31st consecutive game last week in his team's 22-19 win over Montour. Shell gained 233 yards on 38 carries, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's report, and scored the winning touchdown on a 35-yard run with 1:25 to play.

The 5-11, 215-pound Shell, No. 24 in the ESPNU 150, shows remarkable consistency. He surpassed 7,000 yards rushing for his career, the 11th player in Pennsylvania history to reach the milestone. Seven games remain for Shell before the postseason, including a visit to Moon High School on Friday night.

Parting shot
Bobby Bowden revealed this week that he received treatment for prostate cancer while on the job at Florida State -- and that he feared knowledge of his condition would have been used to hurt the Seminoles in recruiting.

Bowden granted several interviews this week, discussing his treatment in 2007 and how he kept it secret from even the FSU administration and his players.

The former legendary FSU coach, 81, is now cancer-free. He said he wished he would have spoken sooner about his battle.

Good luck finding a coach to admit it, but plenty out there would have tried to scare prospects with talk about Bowden's health. They did it with his age.

In the competitive Southeast, nothing, it seems, is off limits.

Mitch Sherman is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at mshermanespn@gmail.com.

Follow Mitch Sherman on Twitter: @mitchsherman