SCOTT: SEC Ruled The Roost In Recruiting

If recruiting rankings mean anything – a debate that's long worn out its welcome – then the SEC has at least sown the seeds for future success.

The SEC placed more teams in the Scout.com Top 40 and ESPN Top 25 rankings than any other conference. There are 10 teams overall and three in the top 10 in the Scout.com ranking, and six teams overall and three in the top 10 in the ESPN rankings.

Of course, those high rankings won't mean much come August if those prospects can't even get into school. Thanks to new NCAA guidelines regarding core classes, programs could lose more signees than ever before.

Previously, high school signees were required to pass 14 core classes. If they failed to pass 14, they could still go to summer school or prep school for a year and get the credits they needed.

This time around, those signees must pass 16 core classes, including four years of English; three years of math (algebra one or higher); two years of natural or physical science (including one laboratory class); two years of social science; one additional year of either English, math, or science; and four years of an additional course of study involving the previous list subjects as well as language or philosophy.

While signees can still attend summer school and prep school, the NCAA will accept only one core course from summer school or prep school. Remember all those incredible stories about players saving their academics with one incredible summer of academic discipline and success? Good luck, kid. The NCAA is on to that act.

Schools have known this was coming for the past four years, so it's not like the NCAA suddenly pulled a rabid bunny out of its hat and let it loose on unsuspecting colleges and high schools. That gave students a full four years to earn their core classes and made it tough on kids to take a year off – or even a semester. In the end, a recruit's GPA is determined by his grades in those core classes.

That means several of last week's signees – at this point – aren't eligible to play college football and won't be until May. Or later. If ever.

College football recruiters said already overworked high school counselors, coaches and administrators have been harried and frazzled making sure these kids stay on course toward earning their core classes. That's also made it tough on college coaches to really know where many of their prospects stand.

"We are going to have four or five of these that are going to go to junior college or prep school. You have to do that," said Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville. "There isn't anybody on the list, or anybody's list, who is qualified because these 16 core courses have really tested the limits of counselors, superintendents and principals, and all the kids. They are scrambling.

"It is a new rule that we don't know what the impact is going to be, but it is out there for these players to reach. I am not saying it's not a fair rule, but it is going to be a challenge. Fourteen core courses was tough; 16 is going to be tougher. I hope we stop there, but it could change in a few years. We don't have any control over that. A lot of these guys are still working to complete those 16 core courses, and also there are several who are still short on the test, but there are several more that they can take between now and Aug. 1."

That's not just Auburn. That's throughout college football. Check back on Aug. 1 and see if all these impressive signing classes hold up.

***

If Arkansas and quarterback Ryan Mallett have their way, he'll be throwing passes for the Razorbacks this fall.

Mallett, a native of Texarkana, Texas (on the Arkansas border), recently transferred from Michigan following the hiring of Rich Rodriguez as the Wolverines' head coach. When Rodriguez isn't trying to avoid paying West Virginia $4 million or working wonders with his wizard hat and snake oil (Google Joe Tiller and Rich Rodriguez on that one), he's installing the spread option offense.

At 6-7, 253 pounds, Mallett isn't a fit for the spread option. Instead, he's a traditional drop-back passer and a much better fit for new Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino's pro-style offense, which explains why Mallett transferred to Arkansas in January.

That's also why Arkansas and Mallett and his family believe the NCAA should allow Mallett to play this fall instead of sitting out the 2008 season.

"After visiting with Ryan and his parents, we feel that it is appropriate to file a waiver in this case based on extenuating circumstances," Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long said. "While the outcome of the waiver request is uncertain, we feel strongly that as an institution we should offer our full support to Ryan and his family in this process."

Their logic runs something like this: If Mallett enrolled at the University of Michigan as an archeology major so he could study Incan culture and Michigan dropped that major or at least its emphasis on Incan studies, wouldn't Mallett want to transfer somewhere else with that major?

On the other hand, we're talking football here, not a course of study, and should student-athletes be able to transfer from one school to another just because a new coach comes in with a new philosophy?

That's an argument the NCAA will have to settle, and it might take some time and study because of its potential to set a precedent that institutions will be forced to follow in the future.

In the meantime, Petrino will have to find a way to turn Casey Dick into something he's never been – a consistently productive passer. And tight end Ben Cleveland needs to keep Mallett away from sprinkler heads.

When Mallett moved into the dorm room he shares with Cleveland, Mallett cracked a sprinkler head with a box. Water poured down from the ceiling, flooding the room and ruining some of Mallett's shoes and clothes.

***

Georgia coach Mark Richt was willing to let his son sign with Clemson. He was happy to go to the signing event at his son's school. There was one line, however, he was not willing to cross.

"I refused to wear anything orange today," Richt told the Athens Banner-Herald on signing day. "My wife was trying to get me to wear an orange hat and I said, 'Honey, if they get just one picture, those suckers are going to use that for 10 years.'"

His son Jon, a quarterback from Prince Avenue Christian High School, dressed in an orange hat, orange shirt, orange jacket and orange pants when he signed a letter of intent Wednesday to accept a scholarship to play football at Clemson.

Since Jon won't report to Clemson until May 21, it could be a long four months around the Richt household.

"He gets away with it," Katharyn Richt said. "He's been doing it for awhile. Orange is kind of hard for us, but we love Jon. ... To be able to watch part of his dream come true is a blessing."

Georgia fans, of course, aren't real fond of orange. Florida orange. Tennessee orange. Auburn orange. Clemson orange. If it's orange, they don't like it.

"I've never really been a fan of orange," Mark Richt said. "Ever since I've been coaching, orange has been the enemy. Today, it's a blessing to see Jon wearing orange and to know that he's going to a great place."

In all seriousness, Richt knew his son wanted and needed go somewhere else, and Clemson had the family's blessing.

"It was definitely the coaches and their backgrounds," he said when asked what drew him to Clemson. "Coach (Tommy) Bowden is a strong believer, and that's how I am. After seeing what they do on the field and off the field, it really drew me there."

Being on the other end of the recruiting experience has given Richt a new perspective on the process.

"This whole recruiting year has been different for me," Richt said. "You really get to see firsthand the emotions involved, to see him go through the excitement of the opportunity. I think we sometimes forget that. It was good medicine for me."

***

Interesting stuff from the never-ending Alabama-Auburn feud. Auburn has owned the Mobile area in recent years, and Nick Saban made Mobile a big priority when he came to Alabama.

This year, Alabama cleaned up in Mobile, signing Foley receiver Julio Jones, Vigor all-purpose athlete Burton Scott, McGill-Toolen defensive end Glenn Harbin, Foley defensive back Robert Lester, Davidson running back Jermaine Preyear, and three from St. Pauls – defensive back Mark Barron, running back Ivan Matchett, and receiver Destin Hood.

"They outworked everybody," St. Paul's offensive coordinator Tyler Siskey told the Mobile Press-Register. "If they were allowed to be out by the NCAA, they were here. They can say what they want to – (Saban) earns his check. They were relentless, but that's what it takes to be successful and I think you're seeing the results of it today."

The most interesting comments on Alabama's newfound success sent something of a warning to Tuberville.

"Auburn hadn't been doing an incredible job of recruiting, it's just that they had been recruiting," Vigor coach Kerry Stevenson said. "(Auburn assistant) James Willis can't out-recruit Nick Saban. Coach Tuberville is going to have to get more involved to have success in this area."

At Gadsden (Ala.) City High, however, coach Joe Billingsley wasn't so sure the 2008 recruiting class signaled a transfer of power in the state of Alabama.

"You can't tell how it will go from year to year," Billingsley told The Birmingham News. "This year, Auburn's got a lot of people coming back. Alabama has a lot of holes, so it could offer a chance to play immediately. That's huge.

"These kids don't miss a thing now. They're more mature physically, they understand the process, and they want to play right away."

Every year, coaches stand up at podiums on signing day and extol the virtues of the promising class of recruits they just signed. They do it in the SEC, but they also do it at Eastern Michigan, Idaho and Utah State.

Every once in awhile, a coach has the guts to be honest about his recruiting class.

"We were probably laughing and giggling a lot more last year at this time, weren't we, Coach Reaves?" said South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, sitting next to his recruiting coordinator. "We'd won our last three, and we had the fourth- and sixth-rated (class) in the country. This year it's probably around 25 or so, somewhere around there. It's a good solid bunch."

Spurrier admitted that a late-season slide and a 6-6 record didn't help.

"Some schools can do it year in and year out. I think losing your last five games doesn't help you, though," Spurrier said. "But we're really proud of the guys that came and we're proud of the guys we've got."

***

Kentucky's class was not one of the 10 SEC classes ranked in the Scout.com top 25, but here's a good point from Kentucky coach Rich Brooks, whose team was one of just two to beat national champion LSU last fall.

"We have beaten in the last two years, two, three, four teams that have had top-10 recruiting classes almost every year," Brooks said. "And we haven't even sniffed the top 10 (in recruiting). Not to knock the recruiting services, but the bowl wins have just shown that if you come to Kentucky it's not going to be hopeless."

***

One final thought from Richt, who was one of many coaches who had to sit and wait while top prospects waited until signing day to announce their decisions.

"I don't need all the drama, quite frankly," Richt said. "The more attention this thing gets, the tougher it is on a high school coach, the tougher it is on a parent, the tougher it is on the prospect. I think a lot of people enjoy the attention at first, and after awhile it becomes so overwhelming. This service, that service. This school, that school. This newspaper, that newspaper."

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Richard Scott is a Birmingham-based sportswriter, author and Tiger Rag's SEC expert. Reach him at rscottsec@yahoo.com.

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