Alabama repeats, Ole Miss surprises

Alabama repeats, Ole Miss surprises
February 6, 2013, 3:00 pm


National signing day is like New Year's Eve for college football fans, alumni and recruiting fanatics who follow the process like a fantasy game. For those keeping score, Alabama scored a narrow victory over SEC rival Florida and Ohio State in a consensus of the five major ranking services.

Coach Nick Saban claimed his second national recruiting title in a row -- to go along with his two BCS national championships in a row -- by landing linebacker Reuben Foster on Monday and defensive lineman Dee Liner on Wednesday. Both had committed to Auburn but flipped to Alabama after a coaching change at Auburn.

Yes, lots of people keep score, like fantasy football or fantasy baseball. Who's going where? Which school signed the best recruiting class? Where did the country's best player go? Why didn't my state's best prospect choose to stay at home? Do I want to buy tickets to see them?

According to the nation's top five recruiting services -- Tom Lemming, Rivals, Scout, ESPN and 24/7 Sports -- Alabama emerged with a slight edge over Florida, Ohio State and Notre Dame.

Curiously, the five surveys included all of the same schools in their top 10 with two exceptions. Lemming rated Alabama, Ohio State and Notre Dame 1-2-3 while Rivals and 24/7 ranked Alabama, Ohio State and Florida 1-2-3. ESPN listed Florida, Ohio State and Alabama 1-2-3.

Scout was off the chart, ranking Ohio State, Michigan, Ohio State and Notre Dame 1-2-3. No other service ranked Michigan ahead of Ohio State or higher than No. 4. Scout rated Florida No. 7 and Alabama No. 8.

The Big 10 evaluations were another matter, however. After Ohio State and Michigan, the other schools were so unimpressive that Lemming, who has been evaluating high school talent since the late 1970s, declined to rate the conference's other 10 classes.

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer bolstered his class by signing Dontae Wilson, an athlete from DeSoto, Texas, who originally had committed to Oregon and also was considering Texas, and safety Vonn Bell. Wilson is the third Texas recruit to choose Ohio State. Meyer also got linebacker Mike Mitchell from Plano and quarterback J.T. Barrett from Wichita Falls.

But the race for the No. 1 ranking in the recruiting derby was overshadowed by two other stories -- Ole Miss' rise from obscurity to top 10 status and the staggering number of decommmitments, players who reneged on original pledges and opted to sign with other schools.

Ole Miss came out of nowhere to sign a class that was ranked as high as No. 4 by 24/7, No. 5 by ESPN, No. 6 by Lemming and No. 7 by Rivals.

Coach Hugh Freeze landed defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, the nation's top-rated player; Laremy Tunsil, the nation's top-rated offensive lineman; Laquon Treadwell of Crete-Monee, the nation's top-rated wide receiver; two other 5-star performers, safety Antonio Conner and offensive lineman Austin Golson; and one of the nation's top-rated junior college prospects, defensive lineman Lavon Hooks.

"It was a remarkable day," Freeze said.

"I never have seen anything like it," said longtime recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS College Sports. "It was a case of follow the leader. After Nkemdiche committed, the others (Tunsil, Conner, Golson) followed. Tunsil wasn't even considering Ole Miss until last week."

Ole Miss lost one blue chipper, however. Defensive end Elijah Daniel decommitted and signed with Auburn. Nkemdiche originally committed to Clemson, Conner to Alabama, Golson to Florida State.

When is a commitment a commitment?

Apparently it isn't.

The most popular game in town is for a high school football player to make an oral commitment to a college, then continue to make trips to other colleges. If he finds something better, he decommits from his original choice and pledges to another school.

There are cases where some athletes have committed to one or two or even three schools before finally signing with another.

"Kids have been changing their minds for years but never like it has been in the last few years. And it is getting worse," Lemming said.

"It all has to do with the pressure of recruiting. The timetable has been stepped up. Now colleges are evaluating kids earlier and offering scholarships when they are sophomores, trying to get the jump on other schools. So kids feel the pressure to commit earlier to avoid being left out. Some kids commit without even visiting a school."

So athletes, given time to reconsider their decision more carefully prio to national signing day in February, sometimes come to the conclusion that they made a hasty decision and opt to choose another school that they believe is a better fit, educationally and athletically and socially.

Are they unethical or disloyal or immature. If they made a commitment, shouldn't they stick to it? Maybe. But should an athlete be bound to a school that fires the head coach who recruited him? Or should he be loyal to a program that accepts his commitment, then continues to recruit other players at the same position?

The colleges aren't totally innocent in this matter. Remember, this is a business. Coaches must recruit talented players who will win games and fill seats in the stadium to pay the bills generated by an enormous sports program or the college will find someone who will.

So they keep looking for better and better players, better than you. And when they find them, you become expendable. If you haven't already decided to transfer to another program where you can get more playing time, you are pressured to leave.

Others top 100 players who signed with other schools after decommitting from their first choice were defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes -- who is expected to sign with Notre Dame at 7:00 p.m. -- and defensive end Kylie Fitts, who went from USC to UCLA; defensive back Jalen Ramsey, who went from USC to Florida State; and linebacker Alex Anzalone, who went from Ohio State to Notre Dame to Florida.