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October 17, 2003

On The Recruiting Trail

This week's edition of On The Recruiting Trail we tackle several hot topics:

1. Just what makes an "athlete?"
2. The impact of hot starts by Arkansas and Michigan State
3. Mizzou's big upset of Nebraska
4. Handicapping the national recruiting race at the midpoint


Aren't They All "Athletes?" One of the most frequently-asked questions we get during the course of any season is just what constitutes an "athlete" in our position categories.

There is no exact criteria to label a prospect an "athlete," but they're generally players who are so versatile that they could play multiple positions at the next level. Many of them have played quarterback, running back, wide receiver, linebacker and defensive back at one point or another for their high school teams.

Lots of wide receiver/defensive backs, very athletic quarterbacks and running backs that will play other positions in college, all fall into this "in-exact" category.

A good example in the Class of 2004 is Fort Valley (Ga.) star Alonzo Bryant, the nation's top-rated athlete and a UGA commitment. Bryant, who plays quarterback for Peach County, said he was told during the recruiting process that he'd receive a chance to line up under center for the Bulldogs, but he also realizes that he may eventually land at wide receiver or defensive back. He's just that talented.

We feel he'll eventually be an All-SEC type player no matter where he settles in.

Another great example is Sekeli Faaeteete of San Leandro, Calif., who just committed to USC this week. Faaeteete (6-1, 212, 4.49) is being evaluated as a tailback, fullback, linebacker or safety for the Trojans.

That's a testament to his tremendous combination of size, strength and speed. West Coast observers are calling him the greatest overall athlete the well-known school has ever produced.


Woo Sooie Spartan: From the files of "Who'd a thunk it?" come two of the season's biggest surprises in Arkansas and Michigan State.

The Razorbacks were picked to finish fifth in the SEC Western Division while the Spartans were tabbed among the bottom three or four teams in most preseason Big Ten projections. Next thing you know, they're 10-2 combined and each vying for their conference championships - not to mention some serious recruiting momentum.

Arkansas (4-1, 1-1 SEC) can further solidify its standing with several top prospects, particularly homegrown talent and a handful of Texas stars, with a win over Florida this weekend. Houston Nutt & Co. already have 10 verbal commitments and the makings of a solid class in place, but making a statement against the Gators could really put them over the top with players like Peyton Hillis, Matt Stoltz and Brett Helms, the state's top three prospects.

Meanwhile, Michigan State (6-1, 3-0 Big Ten) rolls into a huge matchup at Minnesota with an opportunity to build on its impressive No. 20 position in the Rivals100 team recruiting rankings.

John L. Smith, who developed a reputation for evaluating top talent during his tunure at Louisville, has already landed 11 verbals. Eight of those are rated three stars or better and outstanding prospects like Kansas quarterback Nick Patton, Mississippi running back Brandon Jackson and Pennsylvania safety Devon Lyons all list the Spartans among their top schools.

Momentum can be a fickle thing, though. The meat of the Big Ten schedule (Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin) still lies ahead for MSU. And Arkansas still has the meat of its schedule in front of them.

Regardless, the Hogs and Spartans are making real waves in recruiting that could effect several other teams they recruit against.


Upset City: There's nothing like a major upset to light a fire under any team's recruiting efforts, especially when its fans waited a generation for that big win to come.

Such was the case for Missouri last week as the Tigers notched their first victory over Nebraska since 1978. That 41-24 triumph could be just what the doctor ordered to send Gary Pinkel's recruiting class - already sporting a No. 24 national ranking with four-star prospects like offensive lineman Kyle Riggs and linebacker Van Alexander in the fold - to the next level.

It will be interesting to watch the impact Mizzou's successful season will have on in-state recruiting, which has the potential to be tremendous.

Adding quarterback Chase Patton, running back Tony Temple, wide receiver Jerrill Humphrey and offensive lineman Brett Gallimore to the mix - all four-star prospects - would be a definite "Show Me" statement.


The National Race - Midway Report: October is a time for evaluating how many schools are faring in the recruiting wars as it represents the midpoint in the process. Summer camps kick things off and unofficial visits highlight this time of year as teams jockey for those crucial official visits headed toward signing day.

So just who will emerge as recruiting "national champ" in February?

The early odds favor Big 12 powerhouse Oklahoma, currently ranked No. 3, with 13 high-profile verbals.

The Sooners' 65-13 romp over Texas last week will certainly help in the long run.

Texas currently sits at No. 1 in the team rankings but the Longhorns are without many more scholarships.

Penn State is at No. 2, but it's unclear at this point if the Nittany Lions will be able to close strong enough to maintain that lofty position.

Keep an eye on Georgia and Miami. The Bulldogs and Hurricanes each claim only six commitments at this time, but they're packed with quality. Five of UGA's verbals rate four stars, and Mark Richt can have a monster class this season by almost focusing exclusively on the Peach State's considerable talent base. Miami has four studs in the fold already and there will be many more before Larry Coker is done.

And don't forget about USC, Florida State, Florida or Tennessee. All are currently lying low, but will definitely be heard from in the second half of the recruiting season.



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