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November 29, 2012

Mind of Mike: Which is the top job?

MIND OF MIKE: Nov. 14 | Nov. 7 | Oct. 31 | Oct. 24

Mike Farrell is the National Football Recruiting Analyst for Rivals.com. Want more of what's on Mike's mind throughout the week? Follow him on Twitter @rivalsmike.

Rivals.com national analyst Mike Farrell is never shy to express his opinion on everything from commitments to rankings to how on-field performance affects recruiting. In this weekly feature -- Inside the Mind of Mike -- the most experienced analyst in the industry gives some of his thoughts on the events of the past week.

Deep Thoughts

There have been many coaching moves over the last week and it's time to rank each opening on a recruiting basis. While there are a few very good jobs on this list, I think it's clear that the team that most recently won a national title and has had two straight top 10 recruiting classes (with potential for a third) is on top ...

AUBURN: Two years removed from a national championship, a stellar recruiting class waiting for someone to take over and some of the best recruiting assistants in the country at your disposal if you want it. Auburn has very good in-state talent year after year and they do very well in Georgia. That little drawback in Tuscaloosa run by Nick Saban hurts, but this is still the best recruiting job available.

TENNESSEE: Amazing facilities, a great tradition and an awesome fan base, this is also a primo job in a big way. Tennessee doesn't have the current recruiting talent nor the same rock star recruiters on staff that Auburn does and the home recruiting territory is not great, but this is still the Vols. This is still an amazing opportunity.

CAL: You might be surprised to see Cal here ahead of Arkansas, but Cal has excellent academics to sell, it doesn't have too many academic restrictions that go along with those academics and it has the state of California to recruit. Sure USC is destroying it in recruiting, UCLA is a rising power and Stanford has even better academics and football, but this is still a very good job. If you get a good head coach here with excellent recruiters, you have a lot of potential.

ARKANSAS: The SEC is what separates Arkansas from N.C. State, which might sound odd. How can N.C. State compare to Arkansas, a team that won 10-plus games each of the past two seasons prior to this one and was a pre-season favorite by some in the SEC West? Arkansas has a tough recruiting home base and they have to go head-to-head with major powers in Texas, Louisiana and other states to pull top kids. With A&M in the SEC now and Missouri also recruiting the same areas under the SEC flag, things have gotten a lot harder for Arkansas. However, this is still a major player in the best conference in football and that means a lot.

N.C. STATE: How can N.C. State, a team that hasn't won consistently in forever and is in the weak ACC, compare to Arkansas? It all starts with the home recruiting turf. If the Wolfpack can land a dynamic recruiter who runs an exciting program, maybe some of the top players in the state will stop heading to Florida, Georgia and other destinations south. They also aren't overshadowed by hoops like North Carolina and Duke in state. This is a sleeping giant in a weak conference.

PURDUE: Purdue has Big Ten football to sell, but has a really tough recruiting home territory, and it doesn't help that Notre Dame is dominating again. Still there are good facilities, an attractive schedule to sell and the Midwest can be recruited with the right coach in charge. The Boilermakers get the nod over BC slightly because of the Big Ten attraction.

BOSTON COLLEGE: This is an interesting job for many reasons. BC has a rough home recruiting state without a lot of talent, but the Eagles have dipped into New Jersey well in the past and with the right coach they can start to make noise there again. More importantly, they do well recruiting the Catholic high schools around the nation and they have very good academics. However, fan base and academic restrictions put them behind the rest here. That being said, they've been consistent winners until recently without flashy coaches and with a great recruiter, they could make some waves.

COLORADO: It may seem surprising that Colorado, a team that has won a national title in most of our lifetimes, would be at the bottom of this list. It's not a facilities thing but it's more about being stranded in a wasteland of recruiting. The state offers very little in talent and it's surrounding by New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Kansas and Nebraska. Moving to the Pac-12 was supposed to open up California again for the Buffs, but the Golden State is already over-recruited by teams that have won games in recent years. Colorado is 12-37 in the past four seasons and the last winning season was 2005. Recruits don't like those numbers much, especially out-of-state ones Colorado needs to win games.

For those wondering, Kentucky would have been behind N.C. State but ahead of Purdue on this list.

Realignment and it feels so good

Yippee, conference realignment is upon us again!

Just when we all thought it was safe to settle in for a little while, the Big Ten swoops in and gives Maryland an offer it can't refuse and brings Rutgers in, and the ACC counters by making Louisville the 14th team in the conference. While we know all of this is posturing to attract cable viewers, is it a good move for the three involved when it comes to recruiting?

My answer is a resounding "it all depends."

Let's break down each team:

MARYLAND: We all know the reasons behind Maryland bolted the ACC for the Big Ten. The athletic department faced a big deficit and needed the influx of cash the Big Ten TV deal will bring them despite the $50 million exit fee. So to say this was a dumb move would be foolish; it was a necessary move by the Terps. But for recruiting I don't see it as a plus but, and here's the theme: "it all depends."

What does it depend on? Winning. The Maryland/D.C. area has become fertile recruiting ground over the last decade. Since 2002 (not including 2014), 99 prospects from the area have been ranked four stars or higher and 26 of them have opted to sign (or commit) with the Terps out of high school. That's 26 percent and not so hot, but not horrible either considering the up-and-down record of Maryland and the facilities (or lack thereof).

Twenty-three of those prospects have gone to (or are committed to) Big Ten programs, with Penn State landing 13 of them prior to their recent NCAA woes. Maryland could always sell early playing time as well as games against local rivals and now must sell games against Penn State and Rutgers instead of Virginia, Virginia Tech and the Carolina schools, so that's pretty much a wash.

The worry here for Terps fans is that the Big Ten teams will come calling much more often to try to pull players out, and if Maryland can't win in their new conference, the state could get raided and that 26 percent could slide down a bit. In the meantime, ACC schools will continue to push hard in the state and sell a more regional angle and the SEC will still come and pluck away some elites.

Maryland was 2-10 a year ago and 4-8 this past season in a horrible ACC conference. Can Randy Edsall improve the program enough so that they can compete with teams such as Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Iowa and even Northwestern, which have all been more consistent programs in recent years? Or will Maryland have to shoot for being the best of the middle pack of the Big Ten with Minnesota, Illinois, Purdue and Indiana?

There will be a ton of pressure on Edsall and company to not only win in their new home, but also keep more top talent in state. This one looks like a loss on paper when it comes to recruiting. VERDICT: LOSS

RUTGERS: The main reason behind Rutgers bolting to the Big Ten was simple -- the Knights had to get out of the crumbling Big East and this is their golden ticket. Rutgers is also a program that moved for financial reasons, but certainly not like Maryland. New Jersey is also a fertile recruiting ground and the numbers aren't even as good as Maryland's when it comes to keeping talent home.

Since 2002, there have been 91 prospects ranked four stars or higher in the Garden State and Rutgers has signed (or committed) 18 of them for a 20-percent mark. Facilities aren't the problem for Rutgers; it has been more of the conference they are in with the Big East becoming a very hard sell after Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College bolted and even tougher once Pitt, Syracuse and West Virginia also either already out or on their way.

Rutgers has taken advantage of being in the weakest conference in the country by winning more than it loses, but it still hasn't kept many of the top players from bolting. The Big Ten has signed (or committed) 21 players in the same span for a higher percentage, but once again it was Penn State (with 11) that has done the most damage. While the move to the Big Ten won't hurt Rutgers geographically like it could Maryland (the Big East has been spread apart quite a bit for years), will this be a successful move for them? Once again, "it all depends" on if they can win in the conference. Big Ten teams will focus a bit more on New Jersey as well as Eastern Pennsylvania (another successful area for the Scarlet Knights recently). With Penn State's sanctions and the ability to sell games in N.J., Pa., and Md./D.C. now, Rutgers could be inviting some strong recruiting teams into its home base.

The step-up in competition, despite what Big East defenders will tell you, is huge. Sure there are now games against Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue, Illinois and some teams that consistently struggle in the Big Ten, but with a more intense in-conference schedule, Rutgers will have to face many more quality teams, and the last time that happened was in 2003 --before the ACC defections -- when the Knights limped to 5-7. The year before that? They were 1-11.

Yes, this is a more talented Rutgers team, but the Scarlet Knights will need more of an influx of talent to compete at the highest level in the Big Ten. Still, getting out of the Big East alone makes this a win for recruiting. VERDICT: WIN

LOUISVILLE: The Cardinals pushed hard to become the 14th member of the ACC, but it "all depends" on one thing to make this pay big recruiting dividends. This time it's not winning, because I feel strong that Louisville can easily compete at a high level in an awful ACC, at least in the short term.

Even without a strong home recruiting base, Louisville will turn this into a big win if it keeps Charlie Strong as head coach. Strong can recruit Florida and Georgia effectively, especially the Sunshine State, and now he has games against Florida State, Miami and Georgia Tech to sell.

This will open up new recruiting territory for the Cardinals and their focus will be on the Southern states where Strong made his name at South Carolina and Florida.

Unlike Maryland and Rutgers, Louisville does not have a fertile recruiting ground to defend and there is little worry that the ACC will start swarming the state of Kentucky for recruits. Since 2002, the state of Kentucky has had only 23 player ranked four stars or higher by Rivals.com and Louisville signed (or committed) only four of them for a 17-percent rate, lower than both Maryland and Rutgers.

However, Louisville has signed (or committed) 19 players ranked four stars or higher compared to 41 by Maryland and 27 by Rutgers, which means that 79 percent of their big-name recruits came from out of state. That bodes well for a geographical move. Like Rutgers, just getting out of the Big East makes this a win, but for Louisville this could be much bigger. VERDICT: WIN

Quick Thoughts

If Ohio State can overcome the cold weather thing (and it seemingly has so far) the Buckeyes are the leader in the clubhouse for recent Auburn de-commitment Trey Johnson.

The December visit to Florida is a big one and it will likely come down to these two.

A very odd hiccup occurred during the firing of Gene Chizik at Auburn when the entire coaching staff was left in the dark until Tuesday (Chizik was fired Saturday night) regarding their status. That was more than 48 long hours where no one from Auburn was contacting recruits. However, now that Trooper Taylor, Tommy Thigpen and Curtis Luper, the top three recruiters on the staff, are back on the road, this class can be saved but only if all three or at least two of the three are retained. Taylor is obviously key with Reuben Foster, Carl Lawson and Dee Liner and others and Thigpen is key for Earnest Robinson, Jason Smith and a few others as well. Luper is crucial when it comes to landing one of the top running backs Auburn covets, especially Derrick Green. The two most important guys most likely to flip I think are Dee Liner (Alabama) and Tashawn Bower (Rutgers).

Alabama and Georgia are battling for a ticket to the title game but also for players such as Alvin Kamara, Laremy Tunsil and others. This is an important game for Georgia especially because Alabama came into the Peach State last year and did some serious damage and Georgia has not been able to get much traction at all in Alabama.

Indiana is ranked outside the national top 50 in recruiting and that's certainly not a surprise, but with the commitment of defensive tackle Darius Latham, they now have four different four-star prospects in this class. If you can find something more improbable from this recruiting season, tweet it at me. And they could get a fifth in Elijah Daniel as well.

The Virginia recruiting class could take a hit or two over the next month. After an awful 4-8 season (2-6 in the ACC) that followed a promising 8-5 year last season, head coach Mike London is expected to make offensive changes to his coaching staff. It already started with the firing of running backs coach Mike Faragalli and more could be coming. This is a sign that someone up above is saying it's time to win and win now. Oddly enough, it's three defensive recruits, linebacker Micah Kiser, defensive tackle Donta Wilkins and defensive back Hipolito Corcoran, that appear to be looking around. Virginia was gearing up for a monster 2014 recruiting class and is still the team to beat for some of the impressive talent in state, but not without turning things around quickly. It certainly doesn't help in state efforts that the Cavaliers have lost 13 of their last 14 to Virginia Tech.

What happens when Notre Dame goes undefeated and plays for a national title? Five-star running backs start calling you up and showing interest they haven't show for months. Florida running back Greg Bryant visiting Notre Dame on Dec. 7 might be the tip of the iceberg for an exciting December and January for the Irish. Notre Dame appears to be focusing on some USC targets and commitments not named Max Redfield and it will be interesting to see if the Irish can strike gold with any of them. Eddie Vanderdoes, Ty Isaac, Sebastian LaRue and Chris Hawkins are a few names being thrown around. And if they win the national title? Stand back.

Speaking of the Trojans, USC might have the No. 1 recruiting class in the country, but watching UCLA battle Stanford for the Pac-12 title after being a pre-season No. 1 by some publications certainly won't help efforts. Lane Kiffin and his staff can recruit, there is little doubt about that, but losing five games with so much NFL talent on the roster (scholarship restrictions or not) puts him squarely on the hot seat next season. And it will be interesting to see what happens to some of the defensive recruits if Monte Kiffin steps down as expected.

There was a lot of anger from Notre Dame fans when I wrote that Oregon was the slight leader for Max Redfield (and remember, I did say slight). While Redfield de-committed following his official visit to Notre Dame and the Irish are as hot as anyone on the recruiting trail, his favorite school is known to be Oregon. However, I think Chip Kelly bolts for the NFL and then all bets are off. Once the NFL season ends, look for Kelly to cash in and head out of Eugene and if that happens look for Redfield to land safely in South Bend.

Kudos to Pitt for landing offensive lineman Dorian Johnson. Going into the Panthers' big visit weekend, on a bye week no less, the goal was to get one of Johnson, Robert Foster or Tyler Boyd, and the most likely candidate seemed to be Foster since he had already taken his official visit. To land Johnson, who was supposed to visit Ohio State twice, is key in leading the charge to secure the other two. If Paul Chryst lands the trio, he will have succeeded in locking down the Western part of the state this year, at least for the three big ones that matter.

Maryland NEWS


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