Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Mustangs begin to leave their mark
By Jeff Caplan
Is SMU the next TCU?
Think about it: proven coach in place, fertile recruiting grounds and a wide-open conference.
Who would have figured SMU to be the next up-and-coming BCS buster?
Now just imagine the annual Iron Skillet rivalry revitalized by two good teams on both ends of the Metroplex and two engaged fan bases. SMU coach June Jones has his work cut out, but he's gaining ground every day. And Wednesday, national signing day, was one of those days.
After playing in their first bowl game in 24 seasons last December, the Mustangs are celebrating what the school believes to be its most talented recruiting haul in 25 years. Of the 25 players who signed Wednesday, 11 are ranked as three-star recruits by ESPN's Scouts Inc. That's more than double what Jones roped in his first recruiting class (five) and seven more than the four SMU signed in the two years combined prior to Jones' arrival from Hawaii.
The Mustangs finished 2009 with an 8-5 record (6-2 in Conference USA) and blew out Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl. Jones said the big bowl win sealed several commitments.
"Good players make good coaches," Jones said. "I feel like the number of good players we have been lucky enough to get the last couple of years is the reason we're going to be able to get it done. Of the kids signed in this group, pretty much all have a chance to get on the field. After this class, we'll be able to redshirt three-fourths of the guys. At Hawaii, I don't think we would have even been in the ballgame on kids that signed and are coming to SMU."
At the head of the class is quarterback Stephen Kaiser, ranked by Scouts Inc., as the No. 17 quarterback in the country. SMU should have quite a fall competition with sophomore-to-be Kyle Padron, from Southlake Carroll, coming off an impressive season that culminated with him throwing for a school-record 460 yards in the Hawaii Bowl.
SMU also signed two three-star running back prospects in the wake of Shawnbrey McNeal forgoing his senior season for the NFL draft. Darryl Fields (6-1, 195, Madill, Okla.) was also looking at Arkansas, Oklahoma State and three Big 12 North teams. He blends size and strength and could be on the field immediately.
Kevin Pope (5-10, 220, Mt. Enterprise) is also a small-school talent who is a powerful and agile runner who also gave TCU a look. Jones also added two three-star wide receivers for his high-octane offense with Hayden Greenbauer (6-0, 195, San Antonio) and Kyle Guinyard (6-0, 180, Ennis, Texas).
A trio of three-star linebackers could become the backbone of SMU's defense in seasons to come. Brandon Thornton (6-3, 202, Conroe, Texas), John Bordano (6-1, 209, New Braunfels) and Anthony Beard (6-1, 201, Lumberton, Texas) all considered BCS conference schools.
"What I hope to be able to do and I did in Hawaii ... the goal is to become a consistently winning team and I knew that I could do that because offensively I knew that it could come pretty fast as long as I had a quarterback," Jones said. "I knew I'd find the receivers and I knew we'd have a chance to outscore everybody. And then as you go through the successful seasons, eventually you're going to be able to get defensive players, and then you're going to be able to beat people on defense, too. And then you've got a pretty good team."
Here's a look at how TCU, North Texas and the Big 12 fared:
With the majority of its starters returning, TCU added depth Wednesday, signing 18 players -- including two rated as four-star recruits and nine rated as three-star by ESPN's Scouts Inc.
Defensive tackle David Johnson (6-2, 250, Argyle, Texas) and Sam Carter, a 6-1, 205-pound athlete out of Alief, Texas, headline the class. Running back Ethan Grant (5-8, 167) out of Coconut Creek, Fla., decommitted from Oregon in December and had considered several Big Ten schools. Grant rushed for 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns, averaging 9.4 yards per carry his senior season.
Oregon got one back on TCU, though, when running back Josh Huff, a three-star recruit out of Aldine (Texas) Nimitz backed out of his TCU commitment and signed with the Ducks.
TCU added one quarterback, Matt Brown (Allen, Texas), who originally committed to Arizona. Of course, incumbent Andy Dalton is entering his fourth season as the starter.
In three seasons, coach Todd Dodge has yet to experience the kind of success he delivered to nearby Southlake Carroll, but he's hopeful a 22-man recruiting class with 10 junior college transfers, 19 of 22 returning starters, and the return of his son, quarterback Riley Dodge, will speed up the process in 2010.
The class is led by two three-star recruits. Antonio Johnson (6-6, 270) played tight end at Diboll (Texas), but he's being moved to the offensive line. Zachary Orr (6-0, 240) out of DeSoto could make a quick impact at linebacker.
The offensive line gets an infusion with a couple of two-star guards in Graylin Hawkins (6-4, 240, Dallas Skyline) and Mason Y'Barbo (6-0, 296, Sulphur Springs, Texas).
The late commitments of two five-star recruits, Plano West defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat (son of former Dallas Cowboys great Jim Jeffcoat) and Ohio linebacker Jordan Hicks, put an already impressive recruiting class over the top. It finishes the day ranked second nationally behind Florida.
Coach Mack Brown secured 17 four-star recruits in a class of 25 that should keep the national runner-up Horns in the thick of things for years to come. Fifteen recruits are listed in the ESPNU 150.
"This class has the potential to be the best we've ever signed," Brown said.
A trio of receivers is among the four-star recruits, led by Mike Davis out of Fort Worth Dunbar. Taylor Bible (6-3, 280) is a heralded defensive tackle out of Denton (Texas) Guyer.
The class has drawn comparisons to Texas' great 2002 class that included Vince Young, Selvin Young, David Thomas and Aaron Ross, among others.
"Not everyone in the '02 class made it," Brown said. "I hope everyone in this class makes it."
Coach Bob Stoops received a pleasant surprise Wednesday morning when outside linebacker Corey Nelson, a four-star recruit out of Dallas Skyline, walked away from Texas A&M to join the Sooners. Oklahoma again reached deep into the heart of Texas for 17 of its 29 recruits.
Seven recruits are members of the ESPNU 150. Nelson's signing helped Oklahoma move up to No. 5 nationally. Stoops took his recruiting nationally as well, landing California prospects in ESPN's No. 4-rated athlete Tony Jefferson (Chula Vista, Calif.) and four-star wideout Kenny Stills (Carlsbad, Calif.).
The Sooners again seemed to be able to stay a step ahead of their rival in Austin in the hunt for tailbacks. Another promising California recruit, four-star running back Brennan Clay out of San Diego, was added.
Even with the surprising defections of linebacker Corey Nelson to Oklahoma, and Shreveport, La., wideout Jarrett Fobbs, the Aggies landed an impressive class, finishing 16th nationally in the ESPN rankings.
The offensive line could get an immediate jolt with two four-star tackles, Luke Joeckel (6-6, 280, Arlington, Texas) and Jake Matthews (6-5, 270, Missouri City, Texas). A&M signed five offensive linemen as coach Mike Sherman tries to beef it up and get a ground game rolling along with senior-to-be quarterback Jerrod Johnson.
"The guys we have coming in have the strength and the size and are pretty good athletes," Sherman said. "They're a very interesting group of offensive linemen. They're very intelligent, they're very motivated, and they have great size and athletic ability. We're really going to push the envelope with them."
Another four-star recruit, cornerback Toney Hurd Jr. (5-9, 179, Missouri City, Texas), is undersized, but Sherman compared him to Green Bay Packers cornerback Al Harris.
"He's a little guy that plays real big," Sherman said of Hurd.
New coach Tommy Tuberville and offensive coordinator Neal Brown from Troy have promised to keep Mike Leach's high-flying passing attack intact, and because of that they were also able to keep the majority of Tech's promising 2010 class of 25 signees intact, with one notable exception: Kadron Boone.
Boone, one of the top receiving prospects out of Florida, was Tech's only ESPNU 150 commit, but he signed with LSU. Still, Tech inked another Florida receiver in Shawn Corker (6-1, 180) and running back Delans Griffin (5-9, 176, Clinton, Okla.).
Tuberville will take a close look at the 17 defensive players signed, including three junior college defensive linemen. In all, eight new defensive linemen are in the fold, highlighted by Southlake Carroll's Jackson Richards (6-4, 235), Tech's only four-star recruit.
Signing day turned into a great day when ESPNU No. 15-ranked recruit Ahmad Dixon signed with the Bears. The 6-1, 195-pound safety out of Waco Midway had gone back and forth and had most recently committed to Tennessee.
But Lane Kiffin's move to USC kept Dixon home, giving the Bears three four-star recruits, all on defense. Cornerback Tyler Stephenson (5-11, 153, Lancaster, Texas) and defensive back Prince Kent (6-3, 200) provide young, dynamic talent in the defensive backfield.
The Bears feel good offensively with quarterback Robert Griffin coming back after knee surgery -- it's possible that he could be protected by Robert T. Griffin, a 6-6, 350-pound junior college transfer from Euless, Texas, via Navarro College -- so much of coach Art Briles' focus turned to the defense. Eleven of Baylor's top 15 high school recruits play defense.
"Defensively those guys are hard to find. You fight and scratch and you find guys that fit what you are looking for and we were able to do that," Briles said. "We were looking for guys that play with a fast motor and have the desire and ability to have what it takes to play in the Big 12 South."
Coach Mike Gundy is bringing in a solid class of players, including 21 who rank as three-star recruits. Highlighting the class is outside linebacker Shaun Lewis (6-0, 197, Missouri City, Texas), the Cowboys' only four-star recruit.
One disappointment was the highly recruited Calvin Barnett, a 6-3, 295-pound defensive lineman out of Tulsa who spurned Oklahoma State to sign with Arkansas. Of OSU's 27 recruits, it dipped into Texas for 21.
Jeff Caplan covers colleges for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.