Fast company

Up-tempo offenses in the SEC mean changes in recruiting emphasis

Updated: October 10, 2013, 11:36 AM ET
By Derek Tyson | ESPN RecruitingNation

When Texas A&M and Ole Miss square off on Saturday night at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN, it will feature two of the most dynamic offenses the SEC has to offer. The Aggies and the Rebels are part of an offensive revolution in the conference, as teams such as Missouri, Tennessee, Auburn and Mississippi State running some form of the spread offense.

The spread offense, which many thought would never work in the SEC, is now playing a key role in the conference, which means it is changing how teams recruit.

[+] EnlargeHugh Freeze
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesHugh Freeze is part of a new wave of SEC coaches using a form of the spread offense.
SEC schools are averaging 30 points per game in the conference this season, which hasn't happened over an entire season in the SEC in the past 45 years. Top recruits around the country want to play for these high-scoring offenses and be the next Percy Harvin, Cam Newton or Johnny Manziel -- players who can do multiple things with their talents.

Jet sweeps, read options and bubble screens are all part of the formula that make up the spread, but not every wide receiver or running back is suited to play in these offenses. Schools have to be more specific about who they recruit at certain positions.

Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said for run his offense effectively, he needs skill players who can turn a normal play in to a special one.

"In each signing class, you need at least a third of the players to be difference makers, and at the skill positions, those players need to have the ability to turn a normal play into a special one," Freeze said. "As a coach, those types of players give you so much more flexibility and freedom with play calling. The more playmakers you have, the more dimensions of your offense that the defense has to account for."

Six of the Rebels' 21 current commitments are offensive skill players. Last year, when Ole Miss finished with the No. 5 recruiting class, it was able to land five offensive skill players from the ESPN 300 and two more from the ESPN Junior College 100.

Auburn has shown a similar dedication to recruiting those skill players. The Tigers are off to a 4-1 start to the season, due in large part to a creative offense designed by coach Gus Malzahn.

Of Auburn's seven ESPN 300 commits, four are from offensive skill positions. The Tigers also landed three ESPN 300 wide receivers in their 2013 class.

Malzahn said it's easier to identify recruits who can play in this offense because more and more high school teams are running the spread.

"Players are coming up in high school playing in up-tempo offenses and are now wanting to play in those types of offenses in colleges, so it definitely has an impact on recruiting," Malzahn said. "You are seeing more colleges and now NFL teams playing going to this style of offensive play, so that's where it's going."

The Tigers have commitments from two of the best athletes in the country in No. 34 recruit Racean "Roc" Thomas (Oxford, Ala./Oxford) and No. 204 Stanton Truitt (Monroe, Ga./Monroe Area).

"The offense played a pretty big role in my decision," Truitt said. "Just seeing that Coach Malzahn has been running this offense even in high school and now taking it to college and see it be successful -- it showed a lot, that he knows what he's doing.

[+] EnlargeRacean Thomas
Tom Hauck for Student SportsRB Racean Thomas has the ability to come in and make an instant impact for the Tigers.
"Also, I think the way I will be used in this offense helped. The positions I'll be put in to get the ball -- I'll be more versatile in this offense than any other school."

Truitt feels teams that run the spread will start to recruit smaller backs and receivers to fit their systems.

"As far as playmakers, I feel like the smaller scatbacks are more dynamic and can do more things in the fast-paced offenses than the bigger, taller, stronger guys," Truitt said. "They still have a part to play as far as over the middle and some of the outside things, but I feel like overall the smaller guys are more dynamic and coming around and getting the sweeps and things like that."

For the traditionalists out there, the days of the two-tight-end and Power-I formations aren't going anywhere -- at least not for a while. As long as teams such as Alabama, LSU, Georgia and Florida continue to sit atop the SEC standings with their pro-style approach, their "boring" offenses will be here to stay.

And while many recruits want to play in an up-tempo, spread system, Alabama, LSU, Georgia and Florida are all in the top 10 of the team recruiting rankings this year after finishing in the top 10 last season, as well.

Tennessee, at No. 3, is the only SEC spread team in the top 10 of the recruiting rankings this year, though Texas A&M (No. 11), Ole Miss (No. 14) and Auburn (No. 15) aren't far behind.

If those teams have success on the field, they should have more luck recruiting the nation's best athletes. And that's when the full impact of the spread offense in the SEC will be felt.

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