Impact of the 2001 Class Academic Casualties

The Clemson coaching staff hauled in a consensus top fifteen recruiting class in February. It appears, however, that at least four of these highly-touted players will not be enrolling at Clemson in the fall due to academic ineligibility. What impact might these casualties have on the upcoming Tiger season?

Tommy Bowden's staff signed 29 stellar prospects to letters of intent to represent the 2001 recruiting class. They did this knowing full well that the maximum number of football scholarships allowed by the NCAA for enrollment in one year is 25. While this might seem strange to some, it's not fuzzy math.

Rather, it reflects the unfortunate state of current academic qualifying attrition for prospective student athletes, particularly in South Carolina. Clemson's coaches accurately predicted that a certain number of the signed players ultimately would not fulfill the minimum academic requirements set forth by the NCAA.

As of July 9, four of these signed players are reported as not meeting these requirements: DL Leo Reed, DL Wendell Singletary, WR Tymere Zimmerman and WR Derrick Higgins. All of these players, had they qualified, would almost certainly have been given a chance to compete for immediate playing time due to the current team needs.

Many fans and gurus have raised questions recently about the 2001 Tigers' lack of depth along the defensive front. This was clearly a concern of the staff as well, considering they signed seven defensive linemen in the 2001 class. It appears now, with the unfortunuate but not totally unexpected losses of Reed and Singletary, that several incoming freshmen will have a golden opportunity to come in and immediately vie for playing time.

While the current starters on the line should be very effective, the lack of quality depth almost demands that one or two freshmen contribute right away. Coaches generally prefer not to use true freshmen in the trenches when avoidable and would rather use players that have spent a year or two in a college weightroom. Next season, however, the staff won't have that option.

Projected qualified signees Charles Bennett, Rod Whipple, Mo Fountain, Trey Tate and Mark Jetton, will compete for backup positions on the line. Defensive Coordinator Reggie Herring is hoping that the talent dropoff from first to second string won't be too drastic. Due to the current depth concerns and the loss of senior starter Jovon Bush after next season, the staff will almost surely place a premium on recruitment along the defensive front again in 2002.

With the loss of phenom Rod Gardner to the NFL, the staff hoped to sign some playmakers at wideout in February. They succeeded overwelmingly, bringing in what was tabbed by many analysts as the number one wideout class in the nation. This is good news for Clemson considering that the class has been reduced by nearly half with the losses of Zimmerman and Higgins.

Remaining are two super wide receiver prospects in Roscoe Crosby and Airese Currie, and top-rated tight end prospect Ben Hall. Many high-profile programs would have been ecstatic to have gained the services of these three gems. Even though all five pass-catching prospects didn't qualify, the Tigers will still be gaining a lot of quality with Crosby, Currie and Hall. In fact, many fans would boast that having Crosby run down the Hill in September would make up for the other losses. With the excellent talents of Crosby, Currie and Hall coming in, the Tigers' class of receivers is still excellent.

Most of the incumbents at wideout are still young and only senior Matt Bailey will graduate from the two-deep after next season. Also, the expectations are very high for returning sophomore Kevin Youngblood, so the future of the wide receiver corps looks bright. Given the fact that Tommy Bowden places a priority on having playmakers at this position, it's probable that the staff will add a couple of blue-chip wideouts in the 2002 class, shoring up the position for a long time.

Make no mistake, the four players so far who have failed to qualify are excellent prospects, and are likely to become Tigers in the future. Also, the loss of these four prospects for this season is not so critical since only 25 qualified scholarship athletes may enroll in August. Bowden and his staff have done a great job of anticipating the level of attrition and it appears that the number of scholarship enrollees in the fall will be very close to the maximum allowed. Top Stories