- With ace recuiters such as Jimbo Fisher, Willie Taggart and Jeremy Pruitt in new places, will we see any dramatic shifts in the recruiting landscape before the Class of 2018 starts signing letters of intent on Dec. 20?
There is no precedent for this year’s coaching carousel. The significance of the moves, the number that took place, and the weirdness that attended them made for an engrossing drama with more ridiculous details than the press release Arizona State put out to announce it had hired Herm Edwards after firing Todd Graham.
We won’t know until next fall what sort of on-field effect the new coaches will have on the programs they’re taking over, but in the shorter-term the changes are expected to shake up the recruiting landscape. For the first time this year, high school seniors will be free to sign National Letters of Intent in an early window that begins Dec. 20 and runs 72 hours. It’s not clear how many of these prospects will opt to use the early period; some will elect to wait until the traditional signing date on the first Wednesday of February. Still, the head coach swaps, and the assistant movement that came with them, could have an outsize impact on the 2018 cycle. Here are seven carousel-related recruiting questions to consider as the early period approaches.
Will Scott Frost land his first starting quarterback at Nebraska?
Frost didn’t waste any time addressing the most important position for Nebraska, the one he played for the Cornhuskers in the 1990s. The same day Nebraska officially announced Frost’s hire earlier this month, Adrian Martinez, a four-star dual-threat quarterback out of Clovis West (Calif.) High, revealed on Twitter that he had received a scholarship offer from the Cornhuskers. Martinez is verbally committed to Tennessee, but it’s not certain he’ll stick with the Volunteers after they just completed their own coaching transition by bringing in Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt to replace Butch Jones. Martinez took an official visit to Lincoln over the weekend, telling the Lincoln Journal Star that it “went great.”
Nebraska reportedly was also pursuing Juco signal-caller Terry Wilson, a former Cornhuskers commit whom Frost recruited to Oregon when he was the offensive coordinator there before leaving to become UCF’s head coach, but Wilson pledged to Kentucky on Sunday. Whether or not Martinez or a different passer signs with Nebraska during the early period, Frost should add a more mobile QB than the scholarship signal-callers on the Cornhuskers’ roster last season (Tanner Lee, Patrick O’Brien, Tristan Gebbia) to run his uptempo system.
Can Willie Taggart salvage Florida State’s class?
Jimbo Fisher’s decision to leave Florida State for Texas A&M, and the preceding period of speculation over whether he'd make the move, took a major toll on the Seminoles’ recruiting. A string of seven decommitments precipitated a huge slide down the rankings for their 2018 class. The group now counts 10 players, with six of them assessed four-star ratings and four of them three-stars, and checks in at 37th nationally.
Taggart should be able to patch up some of the holes the coaching change caused in short order. Before leaving Oregon for Tallahassee, he had the Ducks on track to sign one of their best hauls ever, in part because he convinced multiple prospects from the Sunshine State to buy into a future in the Pacific Northwest. Tallahassee is obviously a much easier sell for those players, and it’s possible not all of the recent defections are lost causes for Florida State. At the same time, Taggart knows that area well, so he may see fit to hone in on different prospects than Fisher did. This is a far more manageable situation for the Seminoles than it would have been had they hired someone without extensive local recruiting ties.
Is Florida’s ace quarterback commit going to end up in Gainesville?
One of the biggest recruiting victories of Jim McElwain’s tenure at Florida was the verbal commitment of Matt Corral, a four-star, pro-style quarterback from national powerhouse Long Beach Poly (Calif.) High. When Corral, a former USC commit, announced the news in July, it brightened the Gators’ future at a position that has provided frustration and failure in equal measure, and not much else, since Tim Tebow left campus following the 2009 season. Corral reportedly plans to end his recruitment in the early window, but it’s not clear whether he’ll honor his pledge to Florida, which hired former Gators offensive coordinator Dan Mullen to replace McElwain. Corral reportedly is set to take an official visit to Gainesville this weekend.
The quarterbacks who shined brightest under Mullen during his nine-season stint at Mississippi State could make plays with their arms and legs: Dak Prescott and Nick Fitzgerald. That’s not to say Corral couldn’t excel in Mullen’s offense, but the change in leadership does provide an opportunity for him to review his options, including two programs to which he recently took official visits, Ole Miss and Alabama.
A bunch of top recruits want to play for Chip Kelly at UCLA, right?
UCLA made the splashiest hire of this carousel, plucking former Oregon and NFL head coach Chip Kelly from his analyst gig at ESPN to replace Jim Mora. Kelly’s college track record suggests he won’t need long before his teams are putting up points in buckets on Pac-12 defenses, and his pace-pushing system should be attractive to the bounty of skill-position players on the West Coast.
The Bruins’ most important class of 2018 recruit, four-star Bishop Gorman (Nev.) dual-threat quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, has already signaled he’s on board with the new regime. (In late November, after UCLA fired Mora but before it hired Kelly, Thompson-Robinson tweeted, “I’m 10000000% UCLA.”) The first commitment of the Kelly era feels like an ideal cog for his scheme: three-star all-purpose back Kazmeir Allen, a 5'10", 180-pound burner from Tulare Union (Calif.) High who this fall broke California’s record for touchdowns in a single season, with 72. And on Sunday, the Bruins picked up a pledge from Junipero Serra (Calif.) High four-star Bryan Addison, the No. 1 athlete in the class of 2018, according to the 247Sports Composite.
Will Jimbo Fisher lure away any recruits from Texas’s loaded class?
Tom Herman’s first season at Texas may not have provided the instant mega-climb up the Power 5 ladder that Longhorns optimists were hoping for when the program hired him last November, but his first full recruiting class is shaping up to be just the sort of blue-chip-stacked haul that could serve as the foundation of Texas’s next national championship contender. It includes commitments from five of the state of Texas’s top seven prospects, according to the 247Sports Composite, and 15 recruits assessed four-star ratings, plus one five-star, Angleton (Tex.) High safety BJ Foster. The Longhorns’ 2018 group should stay mostly intact, but Texas A&M’s big-money play to bring in Fisher from Florida State was a statement of intent: The Aggies don’t plan to let the Longhorns dominate the state.
Fisher could really make his mark with Texas A&M in the 2019 cycle, especially now that Seminoles tight ends coach Tim Brewster, an esteemed recruiter who coached at Texas from 1998-2001, has announced that he will join the new staff in College Station. Herman cleaned up in the Longhorn State in 2018, but he could face more difficult battles for top-flight high schoolers nearby going forward. Fisher’s first commitment at Texas A&M wasn’t from a Texas prep standout but a junior college player from a different state: Northeastern Oklahoma A&M three-star tight end Jace Sternberger announced on Sunday that he’d play for the Aggies.
Will the SEC coaching turnover affect top dual-threat quarterback Justin Fields?
Fields, the top dual-threat quarterback and No. 2 player overall in the class of 2018, verbally committed to Georgia in October. The former Penn State pledge is a high-upside playmaker who has drawn comparisons to Cam Newton, and he has the potential to push true freshman Jake Fromm for playing time and develop into an All-SEC passer under head coach Kirby Smart. Fields is probably headed to Athens, but it’s not known whether the Harrison (Ga.) High product will sign in the early period.
That uncertainty—plus the coaching changes at three programs (Florida, Florida State and Texas A&M) that conceivably could offer more direct paths to the starting job than Georgia, which Fromm has guided to the College Football Playoff this season—might be enough to inject some drama into one of the most important recruitments of this cycle before it wraps up. Again, the expectation is that Fields will ultimately end up with the Bulldogs, but he did consider both the Gators and Seminoles before announcing for Georgia earlier in the fall, and the new head coaches could, at the very least, move him to think about other options before putting pen to paper and officially joining the Bulldogs.
What kind of class can Jeremy Pruitt assemble at Tennessee while still coaching Alabama?
The Volunteers’ blundering coaching search finally drew to a close last week when they announced the hiring of Pruitt. Yet he can’t devote all of his attention right away to turning around the Volunteers, because he plans to keep coordinating No. 4 Alabama’s defense as it enters its playoff semifinal matchup against No. 1 Clemson on New Year’s Day. Other assistants hired to new programs have made similar decisions to stick with the programs they’ll soon leave behind through the postseason, but the early signing period creates more urgency for instant recruiting gains.
Shoring up the commitment of Martinez should be high on Pruitt’s priority list, and Tennessee was able to retain Coffee County Central (Tenn.) High four-star athlete Alontae Taylor, who decommitted from the Volunteers last month after they canned Jones but recommitted on Dec. 13. Another former Tennessee verbal who may be up for a reunion with the Volunteers before signing his NLI is Knoxville Catholic High product Cade Mays, the No. 2 offensive tackle in the class of 2018, according to the 247Sports Composite, although Mays, unlike Taylor, excluded Tennessee from the top three he unveiled late last month.