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October 10, 2012

Mind of Mike: Flippin' Gators?

MIND OF MIKE: Oct. 3 | Sept. 26 | Sept. 19 | Sept. 12

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

It's no surprise that the Florida Gators are as hot as ever on the recruiting trail following a huge 14-6 win over LSU in The Swamp and an undefeated start. People who think that winning games doesn't impress recruits are full of it. Facilities, location, playing time and other factors are important, but nothing helps you recruit more than winning. With the Gators in the national top five at 5-0, Will Muschamp could be heading toward Urbanesque recruiting levels very soon. With players such as Montravius Adams and Marquez North showing more interest than ever, the intriguing part will be watching Muschamp flip commitments to other schools, just as Urban Meyer did.

With Jalen Ramsey (USC commit), DeMarcus Robinson (Clemson), David Dawson (Michigan), Ira Denson (FSU), Alex Anzalone (Notre Dame) and Elijah Daniel (Clemson) all showing tremendous interest, Muschamp could be picking and choosing from other commit lists if the success continues. Chomp, chomp, flip, flip.

It doesn't hurt the Gators that Miami got thumped by Notre Dame 41-3 this past weekend, but more importantly Florida State blew its chance at a national title with an embarrassing fourth quarter meltdown against N.C. State. Miami is filling a small class and awaiting the NCAA hammer in late November so the Canes aren't as much of a threat to Florida as FSU is when it comes to recruiting. While the 'Noles will still get their share of top recruits and likely finish in the national top 10, the ACC is simply awful this year, meaning Jimbo Fisher will have to make a few more excuses as to why the Seminoles are not a player for the national title in a year where many thought they would go undefeated. Avoiding any more losses and earning a win over Florida in the season finale is now the goal and would be a big boost to a strong recruiting finish. But regardless, the loss to N.C. State coupled with Florida's success is disappointing.

Even with a loss to Florida, the LSU Tigers will still be fine on the recruiting trail, but they sure need to upgrade that offense. The issue, at least in this class, is that I don't see a big upgrade at wide receiver or running back. However, the offensive line class has a lot of potential and there are two very good tight ends. The big question is -- can either Anthony Jennings or Hayden Rettig pan out and be the leader at quarterback this team needs down the road? My opinion on two four-star quarterbacks in the same class is clear --it never works out for one of them, so you can essentially write off one as a future flop or transfer. LSU has to hope that the one who emerges can solve a quarterback problem that has plagued the Tigers for years. However, the last time two four-star quarterbacks had real success at the same program was in Baton Rouge, as class of 2003 signal-callers JaMarcus Russell and Matt Flynn had good careers. Maybe lightning will strike twice a decade later, but LSU would be happy for one quarterback to have a good career at this point.

Georgia has long had the luxury of being the big Dawg in a talent rich state with little resistance, recruiting-wise, from Georgia Tech. But now the Bulldogs have a new competitor in state, and it's the team that just thumped them 35-7 on national television. You can bet Steve Spurrier will carry around a copy of that pasting when he hits Georgia for his in-home visits in December and January. He will sell that it appears the best chance for prospects in the Peach State to reach the SEC title game lies in Columbia, S.C. That's three straight wins over the Bulldogs for Spurrier and, as I said last week in this column, the state of Georgia has become almost as important as the Palmetto State for the Gamecocks' recruiting efforts. Look for 2014 to reflect the Gamecocks' win and put them in position to have as much success in Georgia as they have ever had.

Is Notre Dame for real as a top-10 team and national title contender? Dominating Miami was a big win, but we all suspected the 'Canes defense was not good. And it's clear that No. 10 Michigan State (at the time) and No. 18 Michigan (at the time) were both overrated to start the season. The Brain Bowl, as I call it, with Stanford, will be a true test for the Fighting Irish and Notre Dame is the real deal, at least defensively. From a recruiting standpoint, I think defensive prospects should be lining up to play for Bob Diaco. The issue here is if Notre Dame has continued success on defense, can it keep Diaco from being a head coach elsewhere next season. And if he does bolt, how would that affect recruiting? Diaco is suddenly one of the hottest young coaching names in college football.

Monaca (Pa.) Central Valley wide receiver Robert Foster is apparently down to Pitt and Alabama as his final two. From the outside looking in, you'd question why he doesn't jump all over the Alabama offer, win a couple of national titles and head off to the NFL. However, Foster reminds me of Aliquippa (Pa.) Hopewell running back Rushel Shell from last year. Shell also flirted with Alabama for a bit last year, but it was clear he wasn't going to leave the area.

What puzzles me is why Foster isn't looking at West Virginia as a local option. Either the Mountaineers are all in with Tyler Boyd and don't see Foster as a fit (as some others have backed off as well) or he's not interested in catching a zillion passes in Dana Holgerson's offense.

Speaking of talented receivers who flirted with Alabama but ultimately stayed home, one of the last kids from the class of 2012 I expected to get into trouble this early is Dorial Green-Beckham. There were questions about his hands for sure, but never about his character or focus. His recent arrest is a big deal for Missouri. Why? Unlike many other SEC programs, Missouri doesn't reel in five-stars with regularity, and landing the nation's No. 1 player was a huge deal. That makes DGB the face of the program even as a true freshman and the face of the program can't be caught smoking weed near the football stadium. Will it hurt recruiting? Not really, but if DGB becomes a bust it won't help lure local recruits to the program. He's got strike one now.

Rankings of Yore

Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown is a huge part his team's undefeated start and was key in handing Bob Stoops his only home loss to a ranked team in his tenure at Oklahoma. Brown has taken a roundabout route to stardom. Out of Wichita (Kan.) Wichita East in 2008, Brown was ranked as the No. 2 outside linebacker in the country and No. 23 overall. Only FSU signee Nigel Bradham was ranked ahead of him. Brown signed with Miami, but transferred after essentially failing to pick up the defense. Now, he has found his way in Manhattan. Now he's one of the top linebackers in the country and is a potential first-round pick. Brown was one of the first prospects to cut his list to a ridiculous amount of schools early in the process when he narrowed to 22 schools in June of 2007 behind handler and mentor Brian Butler.

[ Watch: Looking back: K-State LB Arthur Brown ]

Victor Cruz had quite a weekend for the N.Y. Giants, hauling in three touchdown passes on only five catches to lead his team to a come-from-behind victory over the Cleveland Browns. In high school, out of Patterson (N.J.) Patterson Catholic, he was a little-known commodity who put up small numbers in a run-oriented program. Virginia and Rutgers recruited Cruz as a defensive back but neither school offered, mainly due to academics. Hofstra, UMass, Toledo, Buffalo and Kent State offered him as a wide receiver and the Minutemen signed him, but he spent a post-graduate year at Bridgeton Academy in Maine to become eligible. After redshirting in 2005 and being academically ineligible in 2006, Cruz was booted from UMass in 2007 and had to attend junior college to get back to Amherst. The rest is history as he had monster 2008 and 2009 seasons, made the Giants as a free agent and is now a star receiver. Back in 2004, Cruz was rated as a two-star prospect mainly because of his academic issues that we felt would never allow him to see the field in college. It's clear he persevered and overcame.

Scouting Hawaii isn't exactly the easiest thing to do. Sure we knew Manti Te'o was great based on film and two All-Star evaluations late in the process at the defunct Hawaii vs. Mainland All-Star game held in Honolulu and the Under Armour All-American Game. However, with Oregon star quarterback Marcus Mariota, it wasn't as easy. Mariota didn't earn a starting role on his team until his senior year of high school and while he showed flashes at the L.A. Nike Camp, it was hard to project such instant success at the college level. To our credit, we did have him ranked as the No. 12 dual-threat quarterback in the country based on overall potential, but he's playing more like a high four-star in Oregon's high-tempo offense. With 15 touchdowns and only five interceptions for the nation's No. 2 team, he's hanging with a loaded group of dual-threats in the 2011 class led by Braxton Miller, Brett Hundley, J.W. Walsh, Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel and Everett Golson.

[ Watch: Looking back: Oregon QB Marcus Mariota ]

Quick Hitters

Just when I said Auburn had a fairly winnable stretch coming up with Arkansas, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Texas A&M and New Mexico State, the Tigers somehow lose 24-7 to a Hawgs team that had clearly given up on its laughing-stock coach and season. Auburn is now the worst team not from Kentucky in the SEC and recruiting will start to suffer soon enough if the losses continue to mount. I keep spouting Derek Dooley stats about being 0-12 versus ranked teams at Tennessee, but now it's time for the Gene Chizik stats. Chizik is now 22-33 overall as a head coach (Iowa State included) without a guy named Cameron Newton and his predecessor, Tommy Tuberville, got fired with a career record of 85-40 (52-30 in SEC). It's still not certain Chizik will get fired this year, even if he doesn't win an SEC game, but it's clear things need to change quickly to remain a top-10 recruiting program.

If Ohio State goes undefeated, and that could very well happen, what will Meyer's recruiting look like next year and beyond? If there is one head man who can recruit like an SEC coach outside the conference, it's Meyer, and he could take the Buckeyes national with a special year, sanctions or not.

I'm not willing to retract my statement about Penn State not landing a four- or five-star recruit in the next few years. But aside from the big four already committed, hats off to Bill O'Brien. After an 0-2 start, this team has showed a ton of heart and he has shown he can be a very good head coach at the college level. If he continues to be successful, what happens when another team without crippling sanctions comes calling with a job offer?

Paul Johnson doesn't mess around and he knows when things need fixing. I disagreed with Bret Bielema firing offensive line coach Mike Markuson after two games this season and felt recruits, especially offensive linemen, should question the quick trigger. However, after six games and a 2-4 start where the defense gave up an average of 46 points and 573 yards in three straight losses, I can't argue with the firing of Al Groh. First off, Groh is the defensive coordinator, so he is more responsible for the shortcomings of a position coach such as Markuson and secondly it's not quite as much of a panic move as Bielema's. Many defensive recruits raved about Groh and his former head coaching experience in the NFL and in college, so it will hurt recruiting in that regard, but not as much as losing to teams like Middle Tennessee State will.

I was critical of then-Ole Miss head coach David Cutcliffe years ago on national television when he couldn't capitalize on recruiting after having a pretty famous quarterback in Eli Manning under center. But with Duke 5-1 and undefeated in the ACC after plastering Virginia, it's clear the man can coach. This is a situation where I think a program should admit making a huge mistake (Cutcliffe was 44-29 at Ole Miss) and call a do-over. Cutcliffe might not have taken advantage of Manning's national lure in recruiting, but sometimes coaching is more important.

Is it wrong to be interested in seeing an Oregon-West Virginia national title game, two amazing offensive powers with horrible recruiting territories that could really benefit from winning it all?



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