Tuesday, February 12, 2008

For Once, Notre Dame is No. 1

The 2007 season has not been kind to Charlie Weis. He has endured just about every humiliation imaginable.

First, he lost a very public trial on a questionable medical malpractice suit. Then, his Notre Dame team failed to score an offensive touchdown until leafs started to turn. The Irish began the season 1-9, including an ignominious loss to Navy that ended a 43-year ND winning streak against the academy. Weis' squad finished 3-9 (thanks to wins over brainiacs Duke and Stanford) with the nation's bottom-ranked offense.

So for 2008, Weis has no place to go but up, right?

How about starting No. 1?

While we have lambasted Weis when he deserved it, we also will bestow him credit when it's due. Weis and his assistants put together the best recruiting class of the year that mostly concluded on National Signing Day last week. This does not necessarily augur better days ahead for Notre Dame -- as these players still need to be coached -- but it's a good place to start.

So here are the Guru's Top 10 recruiting classes, giving equal consideration to quality and quantity:

1. Notre Dame -- Weis' haul of 23 players included four five-star players, whom he hopes to be the foundation of a renaissance, though that's at least a year or two away. Dayne Crist (Sherman Oaks Notre Dame HS), was among the best quarterbacks in the country and may give last year's prized signee and fellow Californian, Jimmy Clausen, some competition. WR Michael Floyd and TE Kyle Rudolph are also rated among the best at their respective positions. Weis bagged most of his recruits early, well before the disastrous 2007 season began and suffered no defections. And as is the norm with Notre Dame, this is a national class with players from 18 different states.

2. Alabama -- Like Weis, coach Nike Saban was in desperate need of good news after a dismal 7-6 season punctuated by a late collapse. In his first full recruiting season at 'Bama, Saban signed 32 players, including three rated as five-star prospects. A flurry of late signings helped boost the Crimison Tide's ranking, the most important being Julio Jones, the consensus top wide receiver in this class. Saban was able to fend off Florida and Florida State to keep the Foley HS star in state. Two other Alabama natives, LB Jerrell Harris and WR Marcel Dareus, also decided to stay home on signing day. Saban managed to keep in-house the best Alabama high school crops of recent vintage, including OT Tyler Love.

3. USC -- This is just another case of embarrassment of riches piling up at Troy. Pete Carroll only signed 19, but has as many five-star recruits as anyone. The Trojans shored up attrition on the offensive line by signing two of the top-ranked players at that position, Matt Kalil and Tyron Smith. Carroll also finished with a late surge, snatching DE Nick Perry (Detroit King HS) from Michigan and Michigan State, and CB T.J. Bryant (Tallahassee Lincoln HS) out from under Bobby Bowden and other SEC suitors. Besides the occasional forays across the country, USC as usual kept the best homegrown talent, signing 12 SoCal recruits, including TE Blake Ayles.

4. Georgia -- Coming off an 11-2 season culminated in a rout of Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl, the Bulldogs have a lot to look forward to in 2008. And Mark Richt did most of his work in 2007, with all but OT A.J. Harmon in the class of 23 committing before the bowl game. Georgia got a pair of skill position aces in WR A.J. Green and RB Richard Samuel. The Bulldogs didn't have to go very far for this recruiting bonanza, with 16 in-state recruits and the rest from neighboring states, including the class' top-rated kicker, Blair Walsh.

5. Ohio State -- Jim Tressel's class of 19 may get even better, as Ohio State is still waiting word from QB Terrelle Pryor, the top-rated recruit in this year's class. Even without Pryor, the Buckeyes hauled in a top-notch group that includes some of the nation's best linemen, including C Michael Brewster and T Mike Adams. Ohio State loaded up on defense but the class' one weakness is its dearth of skill position players. WR DeVier Posey is a good get, the question is, would he be catching passes from Pryor in a year or two?

6. Florida -- Coming off a shellacking at the hands of Michigan in the CapitalOne Bowl, Urban Meyer knew he needed to get Tim Tebow some help and also address the holes on a porous defense. Done and done. The Gators' class of 22 features some of the nation's top receivers, especially JC transfer Carl Moore from Sierra College in Rocklin, Calif. Moore's recruitment landed Meyer in hot water as an investigation ensued as to whether Meyer induced Moore to come to Gainesville by getting his girlfriend a gymnastics scholarship at Florida. Meyer, who fended off a strong late push from USC and Cal for Moore, eventually was cleared.

7. Oklahoma -- Another great regular season, another BCS bowl humiliation. For the third time in four years, the Sooners lost in a BCS bowl, this time a blowout to a coachless West Virginia team. So what does Bob Stoops do? He reloads. OU once again outmuscled Texas for some of the best recruits in the Lone Star State, getting more than half of its class of 21 south of the Red River. And it's not just quantity: The Sooners' top recruits are all Texans, including Justin Johnson and Jermie Calhoun, both among the top five running backs in the country.

8. Michigan -- Rich Rodriguez might've showed up late, but he didn't miss a beat. The Wolverines signed a class of 24, saving one scholarship for Pryor, who is trying to decide among Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State. Michigan made a late charge to vault into the top 10, signing eight players in the waning days before National Signing Day. Rodriguez kept most of Lloyd Carr's commitments and stole a couple from Big Ten rivals, including RB Michael Shaw from Penn State. Now if Pryor does decide to come to Ann Arbor, then Michigan will have a top-five class. Pryor has until April 1 to make his decision.

9. Miami (Fla.) -- Randy Shannon signed a whopping 33 players, finishing with a bang by getting five players to commit on National Signing Day, the biggest get being CB Brandon Harris (Miami Booker T. Washington HS), right in his backyard. Shannon and his staff didn't have to go far to get most of his recruits, with 23 of his signees being from Florida. The major weakness of this class is its lack of quality quarterbacks and running backs, as the Hurricanes have struggled mightily on offense in recent years.

10. LSU -- The defending BCS champion did well to preserve a spot in the top 10, though the Tigers owed their ranking more to quantity than quality. LSU did get one superstar in CB Patrick Johnson out of Pompano Beach, Fla., but the rest of the class of 26 is not laden with stars. Perhaps Les Miles' fling with Michigan caused some anxiety on the part of the recruits, but LSU didn't exactly reap any immediate benefits after winning the BCS championship. The Tigers got just three commitments after routing Ohio State in the title game.

Honorable Mention -- UCLA, Texas, Florida State, Clemson.

No comments: