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September 30, 2011

Roundtable: Programs rising, falling

MORE ROUNDTABLES: Sept. 23 | Sept. 2 | Aug. 29

Rivals.com football recruiting analysts weigh in on topics in a roundtable format.

Is any certain college program more attractive now to prospects for any reason - a change of style, winning on the field, new uniforms - so far in the 2011 season?

Mike Farrell: Wisconsin is going to become more and more popular for prospects as the season goes on because I think the Badgers have a very good chance to running the table if they get past Nebraska this weekend. They are simply destroying opponents. Granted they have played some awful teams - UNLV, Oregon State, Northern Illinois and South Dakota, but right now they look like a machine. If they were to finish undefeated and play in the national title game, recruiting would jump up quite a bit. The class of 2012 has already been a big improvement recruiting-wise over previous years. Wisconsin can thank N.C. State for Russell Wilson.

Adam Gorney: A team that has become a little trendy especially in the West is Arizona State. The Sun Devils are coming off a big win over USC, they had a lot of high-profile names on campus last weekend and they just seem to be on an upswing. It appears anyway that coach Dennis Erickson has regained some job stability and there are many more prospects in Southern California talking about taking visits to Tempe. It could be an interesting few months for Arizona State. A lot of its commits are soft in their pledges and will take visits. If the bottom falls out in the Sun Devils' season then players could head elsewhere. Or things could go really well and Arizona State could keep moving up the Pac-12 ranks.

Josh Helmholdt: No one needed a hot start more than Illinois and head coach Ron Zook. The Illini have had a lean few years on the field and on the recruiting trail. They entered this fall with just eight commitments and no real headliner in the group, but did add three-star Chicago defensive tackle Vontrell Williams two weeks ago. With a 4-0 start and their toughest remaining games on the schedule all being played in Champaign, Illinois has a chance to reestablish itself in the eyes of recruits with a strong season. That can start within the state, where five of the top 15 prospects are still undecided.

Chris Nee: When you are considered a top five or top 10 team, you are always more appealing to prospects. So I am not going to go with an easy answer such as Boise State, Oklahoma State or Wisconsin - all doing themselves a lot of good in the first month of the season. Instead, I am going with Vanderbilt. The Commodores have started 3-1 and generated a newfound excitement around the program. Given, at Alabama in early October will likely bring them back down to earth, but the efforts of James Franklin and his staff shouldn't be ignored. Optimism exists at Vanderbilt once again.

Keith Niebuhr: I'm going to say Clemson. When you combine how surprisingly well the Tigers did on signing day with their two big nationally televised wins over Auburn and Florida State in recent weeks, you've got a program that is hitting a home run with recruits right now. The season is a long way from over and anything can happen (this program knows that more than most), but many of the prospects I've talked to like what they're seeing from the Tigers right now. And because freshman receiver Sammy Watkins has been so crucial to that success, two things have happened: 1. The kids see that Clemson will play you early if you're the real deal; 2. He has given the Tigers a true marquee name, someone they can promote the program around. Right now, things seem to be going very well in South Carolina.

Brian Perroni: Baylor went from possibly being left out of a conference a few weeks ago to having one of the most exciting offenses in college football. Quarterback Robert Griffin has thrown more touchdown passes than incompletions this season so far and recruits are certainly taking notice. The top 20 ranking combined with a (relatively) stable conference certainly has the Bears looking a lot better than they did a month ago.

And has any certain program hurt itself during September in terms of how prospects are viewing it (besides Miami, of course)?

Mike Farrell: Maryland has hurt itself quite a bit after being in that first category after the opening weekend win at home against Miami with those radical uniforms. Since then it has been back-to-back drubbings by West Virginia (score was closer than game) and Temple. The Temple loss was an embarrassment and really killed almost any chance the Terps have of keeping players such as Eddie Goldman, Stefon Diggs and others in-state, in my opinion. They play FCS Towson this week and if they lose that one, people will be wonder why The Fridge was jettisoned for Randy Edsall already.

Adam Gorney: I don't think Indiana is doing itself any favors trying to keep five-star quarterback Gunner Kiel after losing to North Texas - a Big Ten team losing to North Texas!?! - and Ball State already this season. A loss to Virginia is understandable and Indiana's only win so far is against South Carolina State. I understand Kiel's family and location connections to the Hoosiers but it could be difficult to be convinced that one could be successful in this kind of setting especially when many of the nation's top programs are involved in your recruitment. Ole Miss, Boston College, Minnesota and Oregon State are some other teams that have really started in a disappointing way.

Josh Helmholdt: Ohio State had a lot of questions to answer for recruits after the May resignation of head coach Jim Tressel, and thus far the Buckeyes have yet to definitively assuage those concerns. I would not say they have hurt themselves, necessarily, but they have yet to put recruits at ease. Now that freshman Braxton Miller is at the helm for the Buckeyes things do appear to be on an uptick in Columbus, but they have two very difficult games coming the next two weekends. Several of their top targets are watching very closely this fall, and how they finish out the 2012 class will hinge on whether they show well on the field this fall.

Chris Nee: The 1-3 start at Ole Miss has hurt it a good bit. It has led to questions surrounding the security of Houston Nutt's job as well as others involved with the program. Any time that uncertainty exists with your head coach, it hurts you in recruiting. Not to mention the venomous negative recruiting that exists between programs in the SEC. One bit of good news that the Rebels can use when speaking with prospects, they have played a ton of true freshmen this season and the opportunity exists to help make them a better team immediately.

Keith Niebuhr: I can't really think of one from my region. People will point to the slow starts from programs such as Georgia, Mississippi and Mississippi State, but I haven't heard anything negative from recruits about any of them. Most see current on-field struggles as an opportunity for them to come in and make their mark early. The concern isn't with the product; it's more about whether the coaches in Athens and Oxford will be back. Most of the prospects I've talked to like those guys.

Brian Perroni: I'm not sure there have really been any huge surprises in a negative way so far this season. Ole Miss could be going through a coaching change soon so that would obviously affect that program but nothing major has happened on or off the field to turn kids off any particular schools.

Who is the next Andrew Luck among the QBs in high school right now?

Mike Farrell: Gunner Kiel for sure. Luck has size, smarts, vision and all the intangibles to be a great passer at the college level and beyond. Kiel has all of those attributes as well. This is a guy who reads defenses well, moves around the pocket effectively to buy more time and is accurate in the intermediate passing game as well as with the long ball.

Adam Gorney: Wow, this is sure asking someone to live up to lofty expectations. Not only from a football standpoint but a player who's incredibly intelligent and thoughtful off the field. If I had to put someone in this position - and since I'm game for seeing how he develops - I'm going to throw Max Browne out there. The 2013 quarterback from Sammamish (Wash.) Skyline is incredibly bright, engaging and smart, plus he's a fantastic, just a fabulous, quarterback. I really think he has the potential to dominate at the college level especially with really talented receivers around him.

Josh Helmholdt: The quarterback with the highest ceiling in this class is Hueytown (Ala.), dual-threat Jameis Winston, but Columbus (Ind.) East five-star Gunner Kiel seems to fit the Andrew Luck mold a little better. He is a cerebral quarterback with a game better suited for the professional level. Kiel will not have the same caliber of weapons at Indiana as Winston will have at Florida State, but then the same could have been said about Luck when he signed with Stanford back in 2008.

Chris Nee: Eagle (Idaho) quarterback Tanner Mangum has some similarities, specifically that he is a great leader, sharp kid who thinks quickly on his feet, and a surgeon with his accuracy. Watching Magnum during the Elite 11 programming made quite an impression and he is a player that can make a major impact under center at BYU.

Keith Niebuhr: Probably senior Jameis Winston. The FSU commit can pretty much do it all, but first and foremost has a big, accurate arm. I've heard Winston has had a couple subpar games but when I saw him in person he was fantastic. He's an athletic freak, but is a throw-first guy. That's key.

Brian Perroni: That's a loaded question for sure. If there was a guy we thought would be the next Luck then he would certainly be the No. 1 prospect in the Rivals100 and that's just not the case. I watched Luck over several years in high school and his maturity and decision-making were incredibly remarkable for his age. In that aspect I'd have to say that another Houston prospect fits the bill in West Virginia commit Ford Childress. Their fathers, Oliver and Ray respectively, also both played for the Houston Oilers together.

From what you can tell in talking with elite high school players every day, who is the most popular NFL player among them?

Mike Farrell: It really depends on what position a prospect plays in high school. Quarterbacks love Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, running backs love Adrian Peterson, Steven Jackson, Ray Rice and others and so on. I can't say there is one NFL guy that stands out the most among them because they usually focus on guys that play their position. I'd say if we're talking about flash and all of that, kids still love Chad Ochocinco, even though his best days are clearly behind him.

Adam Gorney: There were two defensive tackles at The Opening this summer that said they wanted to be the next Ndamukong Suh so I'll go with him. I thought it was definitely shooting high to be compared to one of the greatest defensive tackles ever in the college game but at least they weren't aiming low. Adrian Peterson is also a popular one among running backs. I just hope I never hear someone wanting to be the next Chad Ochocinco. That would make me seriously concerned for that player's future.

Josh Helmholdt: DeSean Jackson's name is starting to come up with wide receiver prospects, and that's unfortunate, I feel. Covering Jackson out of high school I remember him being a nice enough kid, but his on-field antics are just plain stupid. It started with his failed attempt at a flip into the end zone at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in his senior year of high school and has continued with careless theatrics at the end of runs in the NFL. What happened to act like you've been there before?

Chris Nee: Really, it goes position-by-position with who is cited as a player's favorite, but the most consistently mentioned player is probably New York Jets defensive back Darrelle Revis. Revis, who has earned the reputation of being a shutdown cornerback on one of the NFL's most watched teams, has inspired dozens of defensive backs to name themselves an island.

Keith Niebuhr: Either Cam Newton or Ndamukong Suh. The kids absolutely worship these two.

Brian Perroni: Although offense sells tickets, high school players love watching defenses. A guy like Troy Polamalu gets mentioned a lot when prospects talk about who they wish to emulate.

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