1) Who will emerge as the state's top running back prospect?
Hands down this is the state's most competitive position. You could literally make a case for the top spot with a half a dozen recruits. That list includes (alphabetic order) Greg Bryant (Delray Beach, Fla./American Heritage), Alex Collins (Plantation, Fla./South Plantation), Tarean Folston (Cocoa, Fla.), Ryan Green (St. Petersburg, Fla./Catholic), Derrick Henry (Yulee, Fla.) and Kelvin Taylor (Belle Glade, Fla./Glades Day).
Right now the current state running back rankings are below.
Henry has already rushed for close to 8,000 yards and over 100 touchdowns with his senior season to go. This is a 240-pound plus high school player that's built like an NFL linebacker.
Not to be out done, Taylor is on pace to easily eclipse the 10,000-yard mark. He's sitting on 9,698 career yards. That number is inflated because it includes his 8th grade numbers when he played on the varsity. That season he rushed for 1,500 yards. The all-time record of 11,232 yards is within reach. The son of former Florida and NFL star Fred Taylor, Kelvin has an unreal combination of balance, power, instincts and great vision.
The dark horse here is Collins. In fact, many around the state already feel like he is the top prospect at this position. He has bulked up to 205 or so pounds, a big difference from a year ago where his playing weight was around 178. Last season was his first in organized football. This is a great athlete who excels in lacrosse. As a running back Collins is a big play threat every time he touches the ball with his outstanding speed, quickness and vision.
Then you have Bryant and Green, two completely different backs with different skills sets. Bryant is the most powerful of this group while Green is the most explosive. In fact, Green, who has put on 15-pounds of muscle and is now up to 190-pounds, may be the most explosive back in the country.
Not to be forgotten is Folston, who plays on one of the top teams in the state and will get a ton of publicity as Cocoa makes their way through the season. This kid is deceptive; he's deceptively strong and fast. He may not get the attention of the others above but he's ranking is well deserved.
It's almost guaranteed that these rankings won't stay in this order. As a recruiting team we met in late July and spent two hours going over the Florida backs alone. What I love about this group is that they are all big time recruits who all bring some a little different to the table.
To sum it up it's like splitting hairs. Let's see how these backs perform this fall.
2)Should we expect crazy recruiting drama in the Sunshine State?
Absolutely. Typically, kids from Florida wait the longest to pull the trigger and commit. This season is no different. Twelve of the top 25 and 44 of top 100 recruits in the state still have not made their decisions. Those are drastically different numbers compared to some neighboring states. In Alabama, 19 of the top 20 recruits have committed while 19 of the top 25 have pledged from the Peach State. This means that December and January should be very interesting.
3) Even if you are committed does it matter? Look at what's already happened with de-commitments from the state.
Consider this, running back Derrick Henry was committed to Georgia. Cornerback Mackensie Alexander (Immokalee, Fla.) was headed to Tennessee. Greg Bryant pledged to Oklahoma while Jayron Kearse (Fort Myers, Fla./South Fort Myers) was committed to two different teams. Then you have Artie Burns (Miami Northwestern) who was an Alabama commitment. All of these big time recruits have already de-committed and they all sit inside the state's top 15. Kearse is now committed to Clemson, Burns is staying home to play for the ‘Canes and the others are back on the open market. There will certainly be more de-commitments ahead.
4) Can Florida State close with a flurry again?
Perhaps the only team that has out-recruited Jimbo Fisher and Florida State over the past few seasons has been Nick Saban and Alabama. Yes, the Seminoles are back and a major recruiting force once again. They are recruiting like they did when they dominated the ‘90s.
Once again FSU is primed for another exceptionally strong close, especially if they meet expectations on the field this fall. The ‘Noles are sitting on 18 commitments and the No. 13 ranked recruiting class overall at this time. They should sign in the neighborhood of two dozen players when it's all said and done.
Linebackers Matthew Thomas (Miami, Fla./Booker T. Washington) and Mike Mitchell (Plano, Texas/Prestonwood Christian), cornerback Mackensie Alexander, defensive tackle Deadrin Seanat (Immokalee, Fla.), offensive lineman Denver Kirkland (Miami, Fla./Booker. T. Washington), wide receiver Stacy Coley (Oakland Park, Fla./Northeast) and safety Leon McQuay (Seffner, Fla./Armwood) are a handful of top notch recruits to keep a close eye on with the Seminoles.
Of course Florida State recruiting two Miami commitments in running back Alex Collins and defensive tackle Keith Bryant (Delray Beach, Fla./Atlantic). Of course the Seminoles would also love to close with Laremy Tunsil (Lake City, Fla./Columbia), who happens to be the No. 1 offensive line recruit in the nation. Don't count FSU out of this one.
5) Speaking of Tunsil where do things stand with him at this point?
This is shaping up to be a battle between Alabama and Georgia. If signing day were today, it's likely the Bulldogs over the Tide for this five-star tackle prospect.
But signing day is a long five plus months away and this party is just getting started.
Tunsil said earlier this month that he will make his official visits to Alabama, Georgia, LSU, USC, and Ole Miss. There's no disputing that Florida State and Florida both are on the outside looking in but I wouldn't rule out the Seminoles and Gators. Gainesville and Tallahassee are two short drives away from Lake City.
This one has a chance to get real interesting and will likely turn into a wild roller coaster recruiting ride before it's all said and done.
6) Who will finish as Florida's top prospect?
Right now Tunsil sits atop the Florida rankings as the state's No. 1 prospect with linebacker Matthew Thomas No. 2 and cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III (Tampa Wharton) No. 3.
Hargreaves is the best overall player right now and the most ready to contribute of this trio. He's a natural corner with outstanding ball skills. At 5-foot-11 and 181-pounds, Hargreaves has good size.
Thomas is a long and tall outside linebacker prospect that stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 210-pounds. This kid is a superior athlete who will get much bigger over the coming years and could eventually put his hand on the ground and play defensive end. He's raw with as much upside as anyone in this class.
Of course Tunsil is your prototypical offensive tackle with a massive frame (6-6/295), long arms and great feet. I just wonder if he's the same prospect as former top tackles like Seantrell Henderson, Arik Armstead, Cyrus Kouandjio, Andre Smith? All of these guys were top five prospects overall in their respective classes.
We will see how these three develop this fall.
7) Will the Gators finally land some offensive linemen and receivers?
Would you believe that Florida has only signed six offensive linemen and seven receivers in their last three classes? Remarkably that's the case and it's a cause for concern going into the 2012 season.
So these two positions are a primary area of concern with this current Gator class. Florida has committed a tackle in Octavius Jackson (Moultrie, Ga./Colquitt County) and a center in Cameron Dillard (Canton, Mich./Plymouth Canton). They hope to land at least two more offensive linemen. Rodderick Johnson (Delray Beach, Fla./American Heritage) was committed to the Gators but he back backed off his pledge earlier this month. He could still be in the fold but things don't look promising right now. Florida would love to turn massive tackle Trenton Brown (Milledgeville, Ga./Georgia Military) away from Georgia. There's a strong chance he could visit Gainesville for Florida's season opener this weekend. Florida is also in hot pursuit of the nation's top linemen in Tunsil. But right now it looks like they are playing catch up. They would also love to steal guard David Dawson (Detroit Cass Tech) away from Michigan. Offensive guard Kenny Lacy (Phoenix Mountain Pointe) is a name to keep an eye on.
Wide receiver looks a little better, as they have a trio committed in Ahmad Fullwood (Jacksonville, Fla./Bishop Kenney), Chris Thompson (Gainesville, Fla.) and Marqui Hawkins (Columbus, Ga./Carver). Look for Florida to land Alvin Bailey (Seffner, Fla./Armwood) soon. They will likely add one more. Two names to keep an eye on are Laquan Treadwell (Crete, Ill./Crete-Monee) and Nadir Barnwell (Piscataway, N.J./Township). This is a big priority because the Gators only signed two in February and three wideouts are no longer with the team in Chris Dunkley, JaJuan Story and Javares McRoy.
8) Will the Hurricanes land the key recruits from their backyard?
It's always imperative that the University of Miami recruits their backyard better than anyone else. There's so much talent and it's their program's lifeline. Last year the ‘Canes did well, landing Randy Johnson, Angelo Jean-Louis, and Jelani Hamilton early and Tracy Howard and Deon Bush late. This was a great sign for Al Golden and his staff, especially considering the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the program with the NCAA investigation.
The investigation still lingers and Miami needs to keep the local talent home. They have already received pledges from South Florida standouts like running back Alex Collins, defensive tackle Keith Bryant and defensive backs Jamal Carter (Miami Southridge) and Artie Burns. Atop their wish list are recruits like linebackers Matthew Thomas and Jermaine Grace, wide receiver Jordan Cunningham (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla./University School), offensive lineman Denver Kirkland, defensive tackles Jayard Bostick (Port St. Lucie, Fla./St. Lucie Centennial West) and Maquedius Bain. They need to hang on to what they have and close with those named above and more.
9) Who will be USF's second running back?
The Bulls will graduate three running backs after this season so this position is a huge need in this class. South Florida has already committed a good one in three-star recruit JoJo Kemp (Deland, Fla.). He's going to be a guy that will be a 200 plus pounder in a few years that should be able to carry the load.
Still, USF would love to land another and they are on several very good prospects like Tarean Folston, Alex Collins, A.J. Turman (Orlando, Fla./Boone), Daniel Reid (Chester, Va./Thomas Dale), T.J. Johnson (Cape Coral, Fla./Island Coast), just to name a few.
It would appear that Folston and Collins would be the top two of choice. Folston is completely open among a handful of programs and it appears at this point that USF's strongest competition will be out of state powers. Tennessee, South Carolina, Nebraska, Kentucky, Louisville, Notre Dame, Texas A&M, Stanford, Virginia Tech, and West Virginia have all offered. Folston keeps things very close to the vest so it's hard to project what he will ultimately do. In the meantime, Folston plays for a team that could contend for a state title. He has accepted an invite to play in the Under Armour All-America Game. That won't leave many weekends for Folston to make official visits. So it appears that the Bulls are in good position and he does speak with the USF staff on a regular basis.
Collins has been a long time commit to Miami. But he has openly shown some interest in the Bulls, as well we Wisconsin and Florida State. Collins appears more of a long shot who will be tough to pry away from the ‘Canes for anyone.
10) What team will sign Mackensie Alexander? This is one of the million dollar recruiting questions. Alexander, the nation's No. 4 ranked cornerback, originally committed to the University of Tennessee but quickly backed off his Vols pledge.
No one really knows which way this outstanding athlete is leaning. That probably goes for Mackensie as well.
Some close to the situation believe if he were to leave the state he could end up at Clemson or Kentucky. Alexander workouts out in the off-season with Tigers star-receiver Sammy Watkins. Watkins is from nearby Fort Myers and that's your Clemson connection.
Then you have the Wildcats. Alexander knows that he could play right away for the Joker Phillips and Kentucky. Plus, it's the SEC. He's also the ring leader of the Immokalee recruits and this is one of the places he could bring a few of his teammates.
Some feel he could end up at FSU. They seem to be the one in-state school with the best shot. The wild card here with everyone is Miami. Alexander grew up a huge Hurricane fan and he would likely jump all over a Miami offer. The problem is the ‘Canes prefer LSU commitment Rashard Robinson (Pompano Beach, Fla./Ely). Perhaps if they can't flip Robinson they will turn their attention to Alexander?
11) Who are some players that could rocket up the recruiting charts?
There are always some prospects that have breakout senior seasons and skyrocket up the recruiting charts or become heavily recruited kids late in the process. Here are a few names to keep a close eye on from Florida.
Two quarterbacks had great springs and summers in Akeem Jones (Miami Carol City) and Pete DiNovo (Tarpon Springs, Fla./East Lake). Dinovo has committed to UCF while Jones is wide open. Both players have a chance for huge fall campaigns, especially Dinovo, as he's the leader of a very talented high school team. Meanwhile, Jones has size, a very good arm and has made great strides since his junior campaign.
There are two big offensive tackle prospects that could become very hot in Shamar Johnson (Pensacola, Fla./Pine Forest) and Trevon Young (Bradenton, Fla./Braden River). Both are basketball players making the move to the gridiron. Johnson, who has committed to Louisville already, has aspirations to also play college hoops. Young grew up playing basketball and just started his second season of football. Both have enormous upside as college offensive tackles. In fact, you could make a strong case they are No. 2 and No. 3 respectively behind Tunsil in the state's offensive tackle rankings.
As always there will be a handful of skilled players that climb the charts. One player to keep a close eye on from central Florida is Skykeem Pitts (Davenport, Fla./Ridge Community). While he does have some academic concerns, there could likely be quite a few times fighting for him later this fall.
Defensive lineman Bobby Leath (Lake Wales, Fla.) and Paul James (Miami Norland), linebackers Marquez Hodge and Skai Moore (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla./University) and cornerback Janarion Grant (Dade City, Fla./Pasco) are five others to watch.
12) How will UCF overcome the NCAA sanctions?
In late July UCF was slapped by the NCAA because of rules violations. Some of the penalties include the loss of five scholarships per year over the next three years, a one year post-season ban in football, limiting UCF to 27 official visits per year and reducing the number of football coaches allowed to simultaneously recruit off campus during the next two years.
How will George O'Leary and the Knights overcome these sanctions?
UCF currently has the makings of a pretty good class. Some of their standouts are quarterback Pete Dinovo, safeties Shaquem and Shaquil Griffin (St. Petersburg, Fla./Lakewood) and running back Micah Reed (Crestview, Fla.). The only defector since the penalties became public has been wide receiver Richard Benjamin (Tampa, Fla./ Tampa Bay Tech).
So it appears initially that the sanctions haven't hit the Knights that hard. Going into the spring and summer months there was a lot of momentum with O'Leary and his program, especially considering they will become a BCS school soon. Now they have to deal with the sanctions.
For UCF, they have a simple message to recruits, their families and coaches – the wrong doing involved two former employees, one of which was involved with the football program. They were terminated and the problems are in the past and they are looking to the future.
The bottom line is that the biggest thing the Knights will have to overcome is the negative recruiting from their rival schools.