The excitement leading up to national signing day could be at an all-time high with two of the country's premier high school players, No. 1-rated wide receiver Julio Jones (Foley, Ala.) and No. 1-rated quarterback Terrelle Pryor (Jeannette, Pa.), making their much-anticipated college announcements. ESPNU confirmed this week two of the most highly-coveted prospects in recent years will make their college announcement live on ESPNU's national signing day special (Wed., Feb. 6, 12-7 p.m., ESPNU). p>
Jones has kept his recruiting close to the vest but has listed Florida, Florida State, Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas Tech as his final schools of interest and will have visited each by signing day. Conversely, Pryor has not been as undisclosed with his recruitment and appears to have narrowed down his choices to four programs. An early Ohio State lean, Rich Rodriguez's explosive spread offense that previously attracted the dual-threat quarterback to West Virginia could now have him thinking Michigan.
Oregon is also strongly in the mix and despite proximity issues, could be a favorite. Offensive coordinator Chip Kelly's offense that potentially had Dennis Dixon walking away with the Heisman if not for a knee injury fits Pryor's skills perfectly. LSU, the reigning national champions, are also making a late push.
ESPNU's coverage will also feature a scheduled live announcement from Brandon Harris (Miami/Booker T. Washington). ESPN's No. 3-rated cornerback prospect has Miami, Florida, LSU and Ohio State listed as his finalists. Other planned guests on the show will include recent Florida commit Omar Hunter (Buford, Ga.), Clemson pledge DaQuan Bowers (Bamberg, S.C./Ehrhardt) and many more.
Meanwhile, ESPN.com will provide up-to-the-minute commit lists, a live blog of the day's events, analysis and a live chat with prospects from across the country.
Sanders ends tumultuous recruiting process
Under Armour All-American Zebrie Sanders (Clayton, Ohio/Northmont) certainly had a whirlwind recruiting experience, but fortunately for the promising offense tackle he will land at a school come signing day he is comfortable with.
Sanders headed into the fall with the recruiting approach of visiting all of his top schools of interest in order to make a conscious decision on February 6th.
"A lot of people think that I may have played a game, but I didn't play a game -- I made sure that every college I looked at was the right place for me," Sanders explained to us this week.
One of the schools Sanders visited and enjoyed was the University of Florida.
"As for Florida I told coach (Urban) Meyer to save me a scholarship while football season was going on. I told (offensive line) Coach (John) Hevesy and Coach Meyer that I wanted to come to Florida, but I wanted to make sure that it is the right place. That is why I took my other officials."
However, Meyer has stated before that today's prospects often use their early commitment like an insurance policy, a scholarship to keep in their back pocket until something better comes along. When Sanders went back in January to tell Florida that he looked around and realized the Gators were his school of choice, the scholarship was no longer waiting for him.
"I told Florida solidly for the past three months that I wanted to go there and then when I finally committed, I guess they got a little antsy at the end and pulled it."
Presumably the commitments of ESPN 150 tackles Matthew Patchan and Ricky Barnum (Lakeland, Fla./Lake Gibson) prior to Sanders' official pledge to Gators in January had something to do with it, but it's difficult to point the finger without knowing the true strength of Sanders' original verbal to the Gators and the consensual agreement both parties had about taking other visits. As long as verbal commitments continue to be non-binding, cases like this may be prevalent in college football recruiting.
As you can imagine, ESPN's No. 18-rated offensive tackle did say he will have the Florida game circled on his calendar for the next four years, but more importantly, has found a great home down the stretch in Florida State.
Aside from noting the sound academics and great facilities offered by FSU, offensive line coach Rick Trickett seemed to play a pivotal role in his final decision.
"He is considered the best with how many players he has put in the NFL and All-Americans he has had. I like the way he can get the best out of offensive linemen," said Sanders.
Memphis tops SEC schools for Holloway
Though much of our focus as evaluators is placed on blue-chip prospects, we do make a strong effort to highlight under-the-radar players we feel have slipped through the cracks and lack the national exposure they deserve at their respective positions.
One of those prospects was linebacker Ricky Holloway (Somerville, Tenn./Fayette-Ware). ESPN's No. 32 ranked inside linebacker followed up an impressive junior campaign by collecting more than 150 tackles on his way to earning Class 3A All-State honors as a senior. His explosive short-area speed and quickness are impressive but the most exciting part is he will have a good chance to showcase those skills for the next four years.
Holloway surprised many this week with a commitment to Memphis over more prominent BCS and SEC programs like Kentucky and Mississippi State.
"He wanted to have a chance to play for four years and go to a program that needed him and wanted him the most. Memphis did a great job recruiting Ricky," said Fayette-Ware head coach TimThompson.
Proximity and having a chance to play in front of family and friends proved to be key elements in his decision as well. The University of Memphis is less than an hour from Holloway's home andThompson joked that his stud linebacker is a bit of a mama's boy.
Early playing time and location saw a few more Conference USA teams cash in on BCS talent in 2008. Another recently-committed all-state 'backer to keep an eye on next year is Houston pledge Anthony Lewis (Aldine, Texas). Lewis can stack and fill the inside gaps or turn and chase down backs with great range. A Houston native, those rare linebacker skills earned Lewis offers from bigger out of state schools like Kansas, Nebraska and Arizona.
North Carolina lands top postgrad but stays stagnant with '08 class
What a difference a year has made with the Tar Heels on the recruiting trail. UNC's current 2008 class is far from the No. 11-ranked group from a year ago, but Butch Davis did receive some good news this week with a commitment from Hargrave Military Academy outside linebacker Zach Brown (Columbia, Md./Hargrave Military Academy). Brown committed after his official visit, and we think this kid possesses the physical tools to make an early impact in Chapel Hill.
Brown was one of the faster linebackers in last year's 2007 class, utilizing his state champion sprinter speed to chase down opposing ball carriers sideline-to-sideline. When evaluating this fall's Hargrave film, it is apparent the extra year of postgraduate school assisted with his physical development while still retaining his great burst and closing speed to the football. Coverage skills and awareness appear to have improved as well, increasing the probability he could see the field next fall if eligibility standards are met.
Brown was a good pickup, but the Tar Heels still lack top-tier talent from the prep level usually accustomed with a Butch Davis class. Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (Rochelle, Ga./Wilcox County) is solid, but his good speed might not be able to mask the No. 43-rated corner's lack of height and hip fluidity. Receiving skills could get the Georgia native a look on offense as well, but we are not sure if this is the type of talent needed to turn around a rebuilding program.
• Auburn quietly put together a good class heading into signing day, and this week saw the addition of its first ESPN 150 prospect, running back Eric Smith (Seffner, Fla./Armwood). Ranked as the No. 15 back in the country, Smith is a rare blend of size, speed and quickness. He possesses a compact, 240-pound frame needed to pound it between the tackles but is deceptively quick through the hole as well with the elusiveness to make defenders miss and the speed to bounce outside and turn the corner.
After the recent hiring of offensive coordinator Tony Franklin, Auburn fans may have anticipated more commitments from smaller scatback or multi-purpose backs like talented Onterrio McCalebb (Fort Meade, Fla.). However, Smith possesses great hands out of the backfield, effectively picks up the blitz and is still a threat in space with the ball. Smith is potentially a great change-of-pace back in Franklin's exciting version of the spread.
• When looking at South Florida's recent on-field success and then analyzing its current prospects and recruiting classes established over the past few years, a trend starts to appear. The Bulls seem to recruit and win with talented Sunshine State players who may have slipped through the hands of traditionally stronger programs like Miami, Florida and Florida State simply because they lack a few inches of height or two tenths off their 40 times.
Outside linebacker prospect Quavon Taylor (Miami/Northwestern) certainly fits that mold at 6-foot, 191 pounds, but it is hard to ignore this kid's skills on film; we actually thought Taylor and ESPN 150 linebacker Sean Spence (Miami/Northwestern) were equally productive in a few of the many Miami Northwestern games we broke down last year. Taylor plays faster and more physical between the white lines than his measurable would indicate and like Spence possesses a great nose for finding the football.
While his frame is bit less rangy and does not offer the same room for continued physical development to assist between tackles as his Miami-bound teammate, Taylor should have similar production covered up in the Bulls' fast-attacking defensive system and was a great land this week for the emerging program.
Billy Tucker is a recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. and has close to a decade of coaching experience at the college and high school level. Tucker has served as a recruiting coordinator for two nationally ranked Division II colleges. Most recently, he was the associate head coach and defensive coordinator for Merrimack College, which advanced to the Sweet 16 in the 2006 NCAA Division II playoffs.