October 03, 2012

In this week's edition of the Recruiting Roundup, analyst Mike Farrell explores the rising stock of Max Browne, the questions surrounding Shane Morris, the resilience of Penn State, and how a weak defense affects recruiting.

Who could challenge Clemson commitment Robert Nkemdiche for the coveted No. 1 slot in the country? The answer is easy: Max Browne.

The 6-foot-5, 215-pounder has a feel for the game that is rarely seen at the high school level. After throwing 13 interceptions as a sophomore and just seven last year, Browne has thrown only two picks this season while amassing nearly 1,400 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Completion percentage and turnover ratio are the two biggest factors scouts look for when it comes to quarterbacks, two attributes now much more important than size or arm strength. Browne has completed nearly 70-percent of his high school passes and thrown 109 touchdowns against only 22 picks.

Browne is currently ranked No. 10 overall in the country, but he plays the most important position in football and if he continues to be a surgeon on the field, he could be the first pro-style quarterback since Jimmy Clausen in 2007 to top the charts.

How exactly should we evaulate Shane Morris? The lefty was awarded his fifth star following summer appearances at numerous camps as well as The Opening and Elite 11. However, after completing just over 50 percent of his passes as a junior, Morris started off this year 40-of-83 for 456 yards with three touchdowns and three picks. He was eventually diagnosed with mononucleosis and could be out for the rest of the season, which makes it unclear if he'll be ready to play in the Under Armour All-American Game in January.

So, was the poor start due to mono or was it more of the up-and-down play from last season? Mono is unlikely to affect him long term when it comes to his college career, although it could delay his immediate impact depending on how long it takes to recover and gain back weight. His senior year playing sample will certainly lead to some detailed discussion.

Penn State showed some serious heart and a nasty, aggressive offensive line in manhandling Illinois: With a field goal kicker, the Nittany Lions would be 4-1 right now (remember the Virginia loss?) and you have to hand it to Bill O'Brien and his staff for keeping this team competitive.

I think what O'Brien is doing this year can possibly keep the big four of Adam Breneman, Christian Hackenberg, Garrett Sickels and Brendan Mahon, all four stars, together in this recruiting class, which is crucial.

The Big Ten is bad and Penn State can compete this year, but as the scholarship numbers dwindle and with no bowl games to sell, I see recruiting continuing to go more like it has over the last two months than it did before the sanctions.

Where has all the defense gone? Top 25 teams Georgia (44 points), West Virginia (63), Texas(36), Clemson (31), Oregon State (35), Nebraska (27) and even Boise State (29) gave up a ton of points in wins this past weekend. So does a weak defensive performance turn off recruits, or does it make them want to play for those teams even more?

This is a tough question to answer, but I think it's a bit of a turnoff. Big-time recruits love early playing time and that can be easily sold with poor defensive performances, but they also like to go to teams known for great defense, and I think that wins out. Giving up a ton of points certainly won't help the above teams sell such a defensive tradition. However, I think West Virginia, Oregon State, Nebraska and Boise State, schools without a great recruiting pool from which to fish, could suffer the most if the defensive lapses continue.

Yulee (Fla.) athlete Derrick Henry always seemed to favor Alabama, but it was painfully obvious that playing time and the ability to make an early impact was much more available with the Vols. However, he still decided to join the crowded house of running backs in Tuscaloosa and one has to think the hot seat on which Tennessee coach Derek Dooley sits is part of the reason.

Speaking of Henry, I watched his game against Kelvin Taylor on Friday where he rushed for 363 yards and six touchdowns. Taylor, on other hand, rushed for 223 yards and a score and one thing is clear - the questions about Henry being a running back still remain. While Taylor flashed lateral quickness and runs with natural leverage, Henry is a one-cut back who is very upright and was just too big and fast for an overmatched defense. You have to love Henry's aggressiveness and effort, as well as his leadership. It's also hard to fault 865 yards and 12 scores in his last two games, but Taylor is clearly the more impressive running back prospect.

Quick Hitters

Johnny Stanton is a tough kid, playing at least a half on a torn ACL and perhaps longer, but having his season end so soon is not good for two different reasons. First, Stanton needs as much work on his passing mechanics as possible before heading off to college and his biggest strength, his running ability, could be hindered down the line by the injury.

• Unless it gets Derrick Green and Laquon Treadwell, it could be hard for Michigan to hold onto that No. 2 slot in the national team rankings behind USC. The Trojans, barring a complete collapse in their class, look to have the No. 1 slot locked up and now Alabama has tied the Wolverines with LSU and Notre Damemaking a push.

• The biggest wild card in the top 10 right now? That's clearly Auburn, which is still three commitments shy of the 20 cutoff used to rank the teams and is still involved with a ton of top talent. Auburn has a winnable stretch here with Arkansas, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Texas A&M and New Mexico State before it has to face Georgia and Alabama in two of the last three weeks. A winning season and a bowl game are not out of the question and likely needed to keep Gene Chizik and one of the best recruiting staffs in the country safe.

• South Carolina has done solid work in the state of Georgia the last couple of years, especially with the in-state talent down. Landing players Mike Davis, Chaz Elder, Joe Harris and Brendan Langley, in addition to a win over Georgia this weekend could further those efforts. In-state efforts are always crucial, but it's safe to say that the state of Georgia has become essential to the Gamecocks recruiting strategy. South Carolina has seven commits from the state of Georgia this year to only three from in-state. Last year, the Gamecocks took 12 from the Peach State and only four at home.

• Clemson is lurking at No. 13 in our rankings, but don't be surprised to see the Tigers make yet another push toward the national top 10 before all is said and done. With studs Montravius Adams, Marquez North, Mackensie Alexander, Tyrone Crowder and a few others high on Clemson (including in-state wide receiver Tramel Terry, a Georgia commitment) it will come down to whether Dabo Swinney can close on all four and keep Nkemdiche and Elijah Daniel committed.

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