As I starting looking at some of the crop of quarterbacks for next season I couldn't help but wonder what happened to this year's talent pool for the game's most important position. I have been covering recruiting for 16 seasons and this (Class of 2008) has to be the most depleted year I can remember for signal callers. Sure you have a potential superstar in Terrelle Pryor (Jeannette, Pa.) and potential gem in E.J. Manuel (Virginia Beach, Va.). There are others with lots of upside like Dayne Crist (Sherman Oaks, Calif.), Mike Glennon (Chantilly, Va.) and Star Jackson (Lake Worth, Fla.). But the depth is just not there, especially if you compare to the last several years at this position. That's recruiting for you, as positions differ year to year on strength.
But as I look ahead, you can bet that next year's class of quarterbacks is strong, especially at the top. Who are the top five quarterbacks among the Class of 2008? That I am not sure of just yet but here are five that I love and a host of others to keep a keen eye on as we look ahead to the next recruiting season.
1) Matt Barkley (Santa Ana, Calif.)
If there is a better prospect in the country then I want to see him, regardless of position. Heck, I think he's the top rated quarterback prospect of this decade! Personally, I would rate him higher than Jimmy Clausen (Notre Dame) and all the other top quarterback prospects from their respective years. I think this kid is that good and he has a high ceiling at the next level and beyond.
Barkley has size (6-4, 220), an unbelievable arm, and enough mobility. Barkley is not going to be the guy you're looking for to run the spread. He is your classic, drop-back QB that can make every throw in the book. He throws the deep out with ease and precision. Barkley can throw with touch and with velocity. He has a nice feel in the pocket and can stand in there and take a hit or extend a play with his legs and throw on the run.
Just as important as the physical tools, Barkley is smart (4.4 GPA) and a field general with outstanding leadership skills. He can manage the game, perhaps the most significant attribute you look for in any quarterback.
Barkley is from Mater Dei High School. They have had their share of quarterbacks like Matt Leinart (USC, Arizona Cardinals), and Colt Brennan (Hawaii). He just may be the top quarterback from California since Carson Palmer (USC, Cincinnati Bengals). This kid has as much upside or more.
2) Russell Shepard (Houston, Texas)
When watching Shepard on film all I can say is wow. What an exciting player. To me, he's like watching Percy Harvin if he were playing quarterback. Shepard is absolutely electrifying with the ball in his hands and deadly in the open field. A natural runner, Shepard has size (6-2,185), great speed and even better quickness and vision. He doesn't quite have the combination of size and strength of a Vince Young (Texas, Tennessee Titans) or Pryor but he is certainly quicker and faster. Shepard looks like the ideal quarterback for the popular spread offense. He needs to work on passing and that should come with maturity and he has plenty of time. If quarterback doesn't work out for him in the future he could be a dynamite wide receiver.
Shepard favors the Longhorns and also likes Alabama, Arkansas, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Texas, A&M, USC and others. He has a dozen or so scholarship offers at this time but not one from Texas. That will change soon.
3) Aaron Murray (Tampa, Fla.)
This strong arm quarterback from Tampa (Fla.) Plant High School will break all of Robert Marve's (Miami) records that he previously set before graduating. In fact, Murray should own several state records before it's all said and done next fall. This past season he threw for over 4,000 yards and 51 touchdowns. Murray is an accurate passer with a big arm. He has all the throws in his arsenal and shows pretty good mobility. All the big boys are after him as Murray as a slew of scholarship offers. His favorite team is the Gators but UF has yet to offer but that could change.
4) Tyrik Rollison (Sulphur Springs, Texas)
Rollison is dangerous in the pocket because he is a guy that can run and throw. He is cat quick and very elusive. Rollison can buy time by evading the initial rush. He has good speed and a very strong arm. Rollison throws with good accuracy and can throw effectively on the run. Last season he threw for 3,691 yards and 37 touchdowns while rushing for 554 yards and 7 more touchdowns.
5) Kevin Newsome (Cheasapeake, Va.)
Newsome is another very athletic signal caller that can both run and throw. Newsome has good size (6-3,215), speed and a very good arm. He is also one of the nation's top hurdlers. Virginia Tech is the early team to beat but watch out for North Carolina, Penn State and some others.
My next set of quarterbacks that I really like in the Class of 2009 are Casey Pachall (Brownwood, Texas), AJ McCarron (Mobile, Ala.), Garrett Gilbert (Austin, Texas), Tom Savage (Springfield, Pa.), Craig Crawford (Huntington, W.V.), Tahj Boyd (Hampton, Va.), Tate Forcier (San Diego, Calif.), Blaine Dalton (Blue Springs, Mo.), Morgan Newton (Carmel, In.), Eugene Smith (Mirimar, Fla.), Mikey Tamburo (Suwanee, Ga.) and Cody Green (Dayton, Texas).
One thing is certain; don't fall asleep at the wheel because I am sure by June most of these prospects will have already made their commitments. It looks like a good year for signal callers and it will be fun to watch their decisions and progress unfold.
With the recruiting success that Tim Brewster and his staff have had this year, are there any big names that look to sign on for the ride up? How do you see their 2008 and 2009 seasons looking?
I honestly believe that Minnesota is headed in the right direction and on the rise. To me, they are following a very similar path to what we saw Illinois do early with their new head coach at that time, Ron Zook. Tim Brewster took over the Golden Gopher program and they basically used the '07 season as a starting point in a rebuilding process. Brewster installed brand new offense (spread) and defense even though they didn't have quite the personal to run them.
Minnesota struggled to a 1-11 season and 0-8 in the Big 10. Like Illinois a few seasons ago, the Golden Gophers can only go up. That's good news.
Even better news is the way Minnesota is recruiting. Brewster gives recruiting the highest priority each and every day of the year. He and his staff work as hard as anyone, combing the country for future Gophers.
Currently, Minnesota is ranked fifth in the Big 10 recruiting rankings and 27th overall. That's amazing considering they only won one game. And that also goes to show you just how good this staff is in terms of recruiting. Wait until they turn the corner and start winning.
Heading this Minnesota class is quarterback is MarQueis Gray (Indianapolis, In.). He is the Juice Williams for the Golden Gophers. This is a player that Brewster can certainly build his future offense around, just like the Illini did with Williams (although Williams also had a great runner like Reshard Mendenhall the past two seasons). Gray is athletic and can beat a defense with his arm and legs. Wide receiver Brandon Green (Chicago, Ill.) is another one to watch on offense.
If there was a huge problem with the Golden Gophers this season it was their defense. Minnesota finished 120th in total defense (518.7 yards allowed per game) and 157th in points allowed (36.7). Those numbers have got to get better for Brewster and his defense and help is on the way. Their '08 recruiting class is top heavy on defense, with many players at all positions that are speedy and athletic and many will have a chance to make an impact next season. They are likely done but would hold out for a big timer if someone wanted to come.
Minnesota will continue to build, as they are on track. This recruiting class will help and the new influx of talent is just a piece of the puzzle for Brewster. To be successful, you need to recruit well consistently over time and that's exactly what he has in mind. This season Minnesota wanted to replenish the defense, find players across the board that had speed and athleticism and get a signal caller to run their offense. They did just that. Next recruiting season look for Minnesota to go after players at all positions and get the best athletes they can.
The bottom line is this, sometimes you have to take a step backwards to go forwards. That happened in Minnesota this past season and I certainly believe that they will be better from it. In year two the Golden Gophers just need to continue to take the right steps to building their program the right way. They will get their soon.
What does Miami's schedule look like next year and do you think with this recruiting class they can compete right away for the ACC?
Port Charlotte, Florida
Ryan, I wish you would define right away? Next season? I don't think so. But in '09 possibly. '10… for sure. And this recruiting class will certainly be the nucleus for the Hurricanes over the next several years.
It's strong top to bottom and one of the top recruiting classes in the country. Many should see significant playing time next season. Freshman Robert Marve will be the starter and one of the incoming guys will have to back him up (Cannon Smith, Jacory Harris and or Taylor Cook). Aldarius Johnson (Miami, Fla.), Thearon Collier (Miami, Fla.), Kendal Thompkins (Miami, Fla.), Travis Benjamin (Belle Glade, Fla.) and Davon Johnson (Miami, Fla.) could all see time and I wouldn't be surprised if Johnson starts very early next season. Certainly linebackers Arthur Brown (Wichita, Ka.), Jordan Futch (Hollywood, Fla.) and Sean Spence (Miami, Fla.) will see the field early. So will defensive tackle Marcus Forston (Miami, Fla.). One or both of their fullback signees (John Calhoun or Patrick Hill) will have to play. Even kicker Jake Wieclaw (New Lenox, Ill.) could get into the action early.
Let's not forget about cornerbacks Brandon Harris (Miami, Fla.) and T.J. Bryant (Tallahassee, Fla.), and running back Jamie Harper (Jacksonville, Fla.). If these guys pick Miami (and it's pretty safe to assume Harris will be a ‘Cane) then they could all see action and Harris could likely start at some point. Same with Bryant.
The bottom line is this, Miami is in a transition period and there will be a youth movement next season. These guys are very good and very talented but they are young. Young players make mistakes. While I think Miami is on the way back to becoming a college football power, I believe it's going to take a season or two. When it happens, look out.
On another note, Miami has eleven games slated and are currently looking for that 12th game. They play at Florida and Texas A&M and host a pretty good Central Florida team. In conference they have some huge games at home versus Wake, Forest, FSU, North Carolina and Virginia Tech while the ACC road is a little easier with games against N.C. State, UVa, Georgia Tech and Duke.
Miami '08 Schedule (They have not issued their schedule)
9-6 @ Florida
9-20 @ Texas A&M
10-4 Central Florida
@ N.C. State
@ Georgia Tech
With the advanced processes used in recruiting today (measurable numbers), do you feel it is more important to be a great athlete or is it better to be a great fit for the system that you are committing to? Take Auburn for example. Does Reggie Hunt fitting the spread system make him better for Auburn than a guy like Enrique Davis?
Great question. I think things have really changed. Nowadays, prospects are bigger, stronger and faster than they were a mere ten years ago let alone 20 and 30 years ago. Obviously that's a given and it's always happened. Kids are better trained in all areas of being a well rounded athlete and in the game of football. I think the big difference, at least this decade, is that the high school game has become much more sophisticated. Sure it's not college and no where near the pros, but the game is certainly more complex now than ever before at the high school level.
This means more recruits have a better football IQ and are more ready mentally for the game. At the same time though you must understand that the college game is more complex than it was. Still, more kids are ready to play at an earlier age in college than ever before and it's mainly do to the fact that they are more ready, both physically, mentally and emotionally.
So how does this translate to your question? Well, I think it's important to understand that you can mold a great athlete into a college football player. In fact, I am more old school than most and would prefer a prospect that is raw that you could groom and mold into the player you want them to become rather than someone that just about hit his plateau.
But it's all about philosophy and every coach out there is different. You hear all the time that a certain player is a "system quarterback" or that wide receiver is a "product of the system." I hate hearing that because everyone that plays this game is in a system and they are all products of the system they play in.
The bottom line is this; you recruit to your scheme, system and philosophy. Why do you think Ryan Mallett transferred from Michigan? While I think he could certainly succeed in Rich Rodriguez's system he certainly can not run the full compliment of plays because Mallett is not a runner and you obviously need to be in that offense.
I firmly believe that you recruit to fill needs with the best players (athletes) out there, make sure they get in school and stay in school. Then, it's the job of the coaches to develop them and put them in position to make plays.
You see it work both ways. You see teams recruit to their system and develop those players (Wisconsin, Virginia Tech come to mind and the old Nebraska) and you see teams recruit great athletes (the old Miami and Florida State teams) but they plug these athletes into their system so essentially it's the same thing. But a coach needs to recognize a player's limitations. Was Ron Powlus an option style and running quarterback at Notre Dame? No and he never lived up to expectations in South Bend. That wasn't Ron's fault. My point is good coaches will adapt their system(s) to their player's abilities and talents.
Auburn signees Reggie Hunt and Enrique Davis are both running backs headed to the Tigers that should assume different roles for new offensive coordinator Tony Franklin. Hunt is the versatile player that could lineup in the backfield, in the slot or out wide. He is the type of player where you want to get him the ball in space. Davis is the opposite style and most effective running the ball between the tackles. For Auburn to succeed in this offense in the SEC, they will need Hunt, Davis and others to do what they do best.
Where do you think running back Jamie Harper will commit?
Hilton Head, South Carolina
I thought he was headed to Clemson back in the summer and I am sticking to my guns and I think he will be a Tiger. Having said that, you can't count out Illinois, Florida State and Miami. He visits FSU this weekend and Miami last before National Signing Day. I also wouldn't discount the Fighting Illini, as I would pick them as my dark horse with Harper. But when all the dust settles I think he will select the Clemson Tigers.
Harper, from Jacksonville (Fla.) Trinity Christian Academy, is a five-star running back prospect.