Tuesday April 22nd, 2008

Of the 80,149 who packed Memorial Stadium last Saturday for Nebraska's spring game, the group of ticket holders milling around the field during pre-game warmups mattered most. Several dozen recruits mingled with current Cornhuskers, former Cornhuskers and future Cornhuskers (the class of 2008 signees) before taking their seats and marveling at the fact that fans packed the house for a scrimmage.

Similar scenes took place at Alabama (78,000), Ohio State (76,000), Penn State (73,000) Florida (61,000), Notre Dame (30,000 in the rain) and several other schools this spring as coaches hoped their spring games would provide a lasting memory for prospects -- many of whom will choose a school before the 2008 season begins. With so many players committing early, coaches can't rely on an official visit on a big-game weekend in October to reel in players; they need to simulate a game weekend during the spring. But does it matter to the players?

Santa Clara (Calif.) tailback Cierre Wood, the nation's No. 3 overall prospect by Rivals.com, didn't travel to South Bend this weekend thinking he would commit to Notre Dame. Unlike current Fighting Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen -- who arrived in a limo at his previously scheduled press conference at the nearby College Football Hall of Fame on the weekend of the 2006 Notre Dame spring game -- Wood considered the trip a fact-finding mission to help him decide between Notre Dame and UCLA. But after spending some time with Notre Dame coaches, Wood decided he wanted to play for the Irish. He committed to Charlie Weis before the spring game even began.

"The crowd and the game really didn't have anything to do with it," Wood said. "Basically, my decision came down to me finding out what I wanted to know."

Brentwood (Tenn.) Academy offensive lineman Alex Bullard visited Notre Dame and Alabama on each school's spring game weekend, and he also said the crowds, while impressive, likely wouldn't factor into his decision. Bullard, who took the ACT on April 12, didn't arrive in Tuscaloosa until the spring game had just concluded, but he said a Saturday night spent hanging out with Tide players and signees helped give him a better picture of the program. He said an earlier trip to Tennessee for a regular practice proved equally informative.

"I'm just trying to see as many places as I can before I make a decision," Bullard said. "I'm still getting offers in. I'll probably get a few more before the spring is over."

Coaches would prefer players such as Bullard see their schools during periods of extreme pageantry. They'll welcome an unofficial visitor on a random Tuesday, but they would prefer the recruit get the full dog-and-pony show. Alabama's Nick Saban said he believes the 92,000 who came to the Crimson Tide's 2007 spring game helped him sign the nation's top-ranked recruiting class in 2008. A recruiting advantage also helped Florida's Urban Meyer overcome his initial misgivings about allowing ESPN to televise the Gators' spring game on April 12. While Florida had several dozen recruits packing the south end zone bleachers, Meyer also wanted to reach the recruits who couldn't make the trip to Gainesville.

"At first I didn't want to [televise the game], but recruiting is such a major player," Meyer said. "It's the bloodline of our program, and if they're not here, they are going to be somewhere else, and we want people to see this great campus."

Look for other schools to follow suit, and look for schools to continue to try to break spring-game attendance records in the name of recruiting. This year, Ohio State officials tried to get more than 100,000 to pack the Horseshoe, but rain scuttled the plan. The forecast wouldn't have mattered at Nebraska, where scalpers charged some fans $95 a ticket to see the Cornhuskers practice. Nebraska coaches hope those who did pay made an impression on the few dozen high-schoolers who attended as guests of the program. One such guest, Frisco, Texas, quarterback Ryan Mossakowski, came away impressed.

"When we got there, some of us recruits got to go down on the field," Mossakowski told Rivals.com. "It was crazy. They had [more than 80,000] people in the stands. People who I didn't even know were coming up to us saying 'hi' and making conversation. It was awesome, getting to experience what the players do every Saturday."

In this space last week, we told you that Tampa (Fla.) Plant High quarterback Aaron Murray wanted to make his college choice in "the next month or two." What Murray really meant was that he would make a decision in the next week or two. Murray has scheduled a press conference for Thursday to announce his choice from a list that includes Florida, Georgia and UCLA. Murray said last week that he wanted the decision out of the way so he can concentrate on trying to win a state title at Plant. Two years ago, Robert Marve -- the redshirt freshman who likely will start at quarterback for Miami -- led the Panthers to a title.

On Monday Mobile (Ala.) LeFlore High shooting guard Nick Williams signed for the second time to play for Tom Crean. Williams, who signed in November to play for Crean at Marquette, will follow Crean to Indiana. Williams, a 6-foot-4, 215-pounder, was released from his Marquette letter-of-intent after Crean departed for Bloomington. Williams signed with the Hoosiers after visiting Arkansas last weekend. Assuming junior college transfer Devan Dumes, who committed to Indiana on Sunday, signs with the Hoosiers, Crean will have filled the two scholarships that opened when Devin Ebanks and Terrell Holloway bolted following the firing of previous coach Kelvin Sampson.

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