Defending the Canes' elite ranking

Yes recruiting fans, our biggest day is almost upon us. Who says the holiday season ends with New Years Day?

National signing day is an exciting, glorious day and I am sure you are all as excited as we are here at ESPN. With the sand racing through the hour glass as we quickly approach February 6, I have reached one more time into my mailbag. Thanks so much for all your letters this year -- your interest and enthusiasm has been great and I very much appreciate the questions and feedback (positive and negative) you send me. Keep them coming, as we will soon focus our attention on the class of 2009.

Wayne in Houston: I don't see it. You have Miami the No. 1 class. They have an incredible, INCREDIBLE linebacker class but no balance in the class at all: no defensive backs, offensive linemen or defensive ends of note. You can only play so many linebackers.

Craig: Fist off, the Hurricanes will likely be in a fight down the home stretch to hold onto No. 1. Now I understand Wayne you may question why we even have them No. 1 now, as I am sure we are in the minority thinking they have a No.1 caliber class.

The linebacker class is very good, as you stated, and you are also correct in saying that you can only play so many linebackers, but you can never have enough talent at any one position at any time. Just ask programs like USC or Oklahoma, which stockpile quality running backs, or Florida, which will have a nice crowded depth chart problem at safety. Also at linebacker, it is not tough to substitute.

Linebackers Arthur Brown (Wichita, Kan./East) and Sean Spence (Miami/Northwestern) are special players, and you take those guys regardless of how many prospects you have at their position. With the proper physical development, Brown can move inside and play there. Spence and Jordan Futch (Hollywood, Fla./Chaminade-Madonna), who could be the sleeper among these 'backers, are more true outside linebackers.

Marcus Robinson (Homestead, Fla.) is listed at outside linebacker, but he will likely become a defensive end at Miami and probably in the near future. The athletic Brandon Marti (Miami, Fla. / Gulliver Prep) who could switch from linebacker to be a fine fullback/H-back.

Here are three more reasons this class is No. 1. One, Miami's need at wide receiver has been filled with five prospects (also an easy position to substitute and where you can never have enough). Aldarius Johnson (Miami/Northwestern) and Davon Johnson (Miami/Booker T. Washington) are two of the top prospects at this position and could help right away. Two, it could be receiving big-time at defensive tackle with Marcus Forston (Miami/Northwestern) and two other fine prospects. Three, talented, athletic QB Jacory Harris (Miami/Northwestern) could develop into a skilled position player if he does not make it as the signal caller, and it also has what we feel is one of the true sleepers at the quarterback position in Texas native Taylor Cook (Eagle Lake, Texas/Rice). Miami has made moves to address its problems at quarterback.

It does not have many or any notable names at corner or on the offensive line, but it has addressed those two spots some in the last two classes. Bottom line is that this class is good and has some impact defensive help coming in and as well as some very good talent at some of the offensive skilled positions. You may say it's overrated, but we feel Miami has been overlooked by many.

That being said, I truly think the Hurricanes will have a tough time finishing No. 1. They have suffered some tough losses lately with prospects like corner Patrick Johnson (Pembroke Pines, Fla. / Ely) and linebackers Lerentee McCray (Dunellon, Fla.) and Ramon Buchanan (Melbourne, Fla. / Palm Bay) committing elsewhere. Schools like Georgia, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Clemson and even Florida may make late pushes to contend for No. 1.

John in Garden City, N.Y.: Craig, why have you guys stopped doing the automated rankings? I understand that you wouldn't use that exclusively to give an overall team ranking, but it does offer some valuable information.

Craig: I would first like to start off by giving a shout to you John and Garden City, the home of Nassau Community College Lions where I played my junior college ball.

Now with that out of the way, I am glad that you asked that question. Those of you that have been visiting the recruiting page on ESPN.com since Scouts Inc. took over probably remember that we had an automated ranking system where schools classes were ranked based on a mathematical formula. That was not an official ranking, but as the question eludes, it was a somewhat interesting perspective on how classes ranked.

For the 2008 class we took away the automated ranking system and replaced it with what we know call the Commitment Scorecard. While the old ranking system had its interesting outlook, it was pretty flawed. It confused many visitors to the site who mistook it for ESPN's official rankings. Those rankings would weigh grades rewarding for the number of ESPN 150 players in class. However, it did not properly take into consideration how a program's needs were meet in a class and often times misrepresented a class.

For example, if school A had 17 kids and five were in the 150 and several others ranked highly in the 70s it might very well be ranked behind a class that had two kids, but one in the ESPN 150. While it had some merit, it the long run it was more misleading than helpful.

Here at Scouts Inc. we weigh several factors when grading classes throughout the year and on national signing day. Things like the number of ESPN 150 players, the depth and quality of talent comprising the rest of the class and meeting needs, among others. We wanted there to be one clear, definitive, and well-thought-out source for rankings, and we wanted those rankings to come from the Scouts Inc. evaluators who worked together reviewing multiple factors to put together the best and most comprehensive set of class rankings.

The Scorecard gives a good picture of how classes are doing without misrepresenting rankings. Each class is listed from most commitments to least and it breaks down how many 150 prospects a class has in it total numbers also how many junior college additions as well as an offensive and defensive breakdown.

Raymond in Bristol, Tenn.: Do you think Tennessee will finish with a top-10 or top-15 class in recruiting this year?

Craig: Raymond I definitively do not see a top-10 finish for the Vols, probably not even a top-15. For starters they have a small class with at this point only 11 prep commitments.

Low numbers do not automatically keep you out of the top ten, but in the case of Tennessee, it does not have enough highly-rated prospects. Just to compare and contrast, USC has only three more verbal commitments but currently have a top-five class because of those 14 prospects, eight are in the ESPN 150 and it filled offensive line need with numerous top prospects at that position.

Back to Tennessee, it has a very outside shot at a top-15 finish if it gets some breaks. The class currently boosts top-20 wide receiver Rod Wilks (Smyrna, Tenn.) and running back Tauren Poole (Toccoa, Ga./Stephens County), who fill needs. It still has several excellent prospects in its sight and would need several of them to come onboard between now and February 6 to make a sizeable jump up toward the top 15.

Prospects still very interested in the Vols like offensive tackle Antoine McClain (Anniston, Ala.), defensive tackle Brandon Thompson (Thomasville, Ga.), offensive guard Kenneth Page (Columbia, S.C./A.C. Flora) and linebacker/athlete E.J. Abrams-Ward (Thomasville, N.C.) would almost all need to sign. I can see Tennessee getting some of these prospects, but not getting a clean sweep. You will likely find out soon how you fare with Page and Thompson, and if they both don Tennessee hats, the Vols could rise up the rankings.

Craig Haubert is recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. Drop Craig a line in his mailbag.