The annual February ritual overly glorifying a group of young men who have yet to attend their senior proms and still live with their parents is upon us.
That's right, it's National Signing Day this Wednesday for college football recruiting. Translation: pretty soon we can all get back to work and real life.
There's just 48 more hours of pondering with our online buddies what Player X's favorite flavor of ice cream is, whether Player Y prefers boxers or briefs, and if it means anything that Player Z plays your team on his PS2.
Observing and following recruiting does strange things to grown men, myself included. It engrosses us in the lives of teenagers we have never met, young men who live life on a whim, completely ignorant of the long-term ramifications of their decision. Our emotions ebb-and-flow based upon their decisions, or at least on the way they're leaning that day.
I mean, isn't Brandon Owens aware of the self-esteem loss his de-commitment will cause some middle-aged claims executive at Wellmark? It's not like Iowa State gets a multitude of five-star players. Great, now you've got to listen to more crowing from "GonzoHawk" over at HawkeyeNation.com about how the Cyclones never get blue-chippers. And then you'll be forced to respond in kind with some sort of mention of scoreboard. Before you know it, the ensuing back-and-forth online dominates your afternoon.
In between posts, you scour the Web looking for information on your favorite prospects.
You need to know what other school are interested in these prospects. You need to know their 40-times. You need to know their prospective majors. You need to know the weather in Ames for their official visits. You need to read their diaries online. You need to know if the high school coach or the parents are overseeing the recruiting process. You need to know their ACT/SAT scores and GPA. You need to know how people named Newberg, Burton, or Lemming rate your recruits because surely they know more than the coaches do.
All the recruits that choose your school are good kids with character. All the kids that don't have issues, are buying into the lies being sold them by the enemy camp, have fallen prey to some nefarious or illegal recruiting practices, or they're overrated.
For instance, Gabe Toomey was a young man looking for a fresh start when he wanted to wear cardinal-and-gold. When he decided to de-commit in December in favor of Kansas – of all unholy places – he instantly reverted back to a soft and selfish-player, which was the knock on him at Oklahoma. It's amazing what a change in uniform does for your perspective on a situation.
And it's not just we adults who are caught up in the mouth of madness. So are the parents of the recruits, who often use websites like the one you're reading now to work an angle in favor of their kid. And then there's the recruits themselves.
Remember linebacker Shane Graham from two years ago? He committed to Iowa State, then de-committed. Then he committed again, and de-committed again. Finally he committed-and then de-committed. In the end he wound up at West Virginia, along with a relative who was given an assistant coach's job. I'm sure that was purely coincidence.
De-commitments seem to be at an all-time high this year. Take super offensive lineman Ryan Schuler, for example. Schuler originally said yes to Oklahoma last summer, but later decided to visit Iowa and re-open his recruitment. Last week, he decided to commit to Nebraska. That makes sense.
How about the aforementioned Owens? After an official visit to ISU and an in-home visit with Dan McCarney, Owens – rated the top safety prospect in the nation by TheInsiders – chose the Cyclones over heavyweights Georgia, Florida, and Kansas State. Then out of nowhere last week he takes a visit to Minnesota and de-commits in favor of becoming a Golden Gopher because he felt he would be less bored there. Now that's a ringing endorsement I'm sure Glen Mason will use in all of his future recruiting letters.
"Come to Minnesota and be less bored." Maybe they should use that one for their 2003 media guide?
One of the strangest recruiting stories I've ever heard is that of alleged Iowa recruit Mike Alvarez, a center from Florida. Alvarez told HawkTalkOnline he was a soft commitment to Iowa. He then told Hawkeye Nation he was visiting Iowa in January and fellow Floridian Fabian Dodd would be his host. He also claimed to have offers from Florida State, Oklahoma, and some school called Florida Southern. I wrote he was an alleged Iowa recruit because later on it was discovered the Hawkeye coaching staff hadn't contacted this young man since last May! Alvarez wins this year's Walter Mitty Award for delusions of grandeur.
But my all-time favorite local recruiting story comes from ISU's Stevie Hicks. You might remember that Hicks committed to ISU the summer before his senior season, and right up until Signing Day there was a lot of speculation he would switch his commitment and stay home and attend Nebraska. In fact, there were stories of him appearing on the Husker sideline when they faced the Cyclones that season.
The rumors of Hicks changing his mind reached a crescendo the week before Signing Day 2002 when Huskers Illustrated reported on its website that Hicks had de-committed from ISU and would likely end up with the Big Red after all. Soon after the story broke, I booked Hicks as a guest on my radio show. Hicks contradicted the story, and reiterated his commitment to the Cyclones. So how did the story come about?
Hicks got so sick of the Nebraska websites calling him, he allowed his best friend to answer the phone and pretend to be him. His best friend made up the story of the change of heart to the Huskers Illustrated reporter as a joke.
They stopped calling Hicks after that.
NCAA Tournament Magic Number is 7
If you're still holding out faint hope the Iowa State men's basketball team can attain an at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament your magic number is seven.
After a tough win over Baylor on Saturday night, the Cyclones raised their record to 2-5 in league play. Since Iowa State's non-conference schedule was exceedingly soft, it will need to have a winning record in the rugged Big 12 to merit consideration from the selection committee. That means seven wins in the final nine games. With road games remaining at Kansas and underrated Colorado and Kansas State, the Cyclones have little margin for error.
Our projection: an 8-8 league finish that puts ISU squarely on the bubble. If that happens, the Cyclones will likely need two wins in the Big 12 Tournament, otherwise their bubble will burst and they'll be hosting first round action in the NIT.
Randy Brown Rumors
I'd like to end this week's entry by thanking the vast majority of you on both ISU fan sites for the class, dignity, and restraint you've demonstrated the past week amid swirling rumors pertaining to the sudden leave of absence taken by assistant men's basketball coach Randy Brown.
I'd also like to extend the same consideration to Paul Clark over at Cyclone Report. Usually CR and CN compete to provide the best premium online content available to the Cyclone Nation. But last week we contacted Paul about setting business aside for the betterment of ISU athletics where this story was concerned and he graciously agreed without hesitation. We've kept each other completely abreast of the situation by sharing information and the result has been a near shutdown of the type of rumor and innuendo that can really hurt a program's image. Especially when you consider the sheer volume of folks – potential recruits and their families included – who frequent these message board communities.
For those of you looking for answers or reasoning behind Coach Brown's decision all I can say is be patient. The details will emerge from the mainstream media soon enough, perhaps even as soon as Tuesday or Wednesday. Rest assured that every mainstream media outlet in central Iowa is working on it, but before breaking a story of this nature it's wise to get all of your ducks in a row.
For now we ask that you keep the Brown family in your prayers.
(Steve Deace can be heard every Monday-Friday from 4-7 p.m. on 1460 KXNO in Des Moines, the flagship for the Cyclone Radio Network)