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National signing day is a commitment to craziness

CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Sticking with a school is an issue for players and coaches alike. And several schools dealing with NCAA issues (USC, Ohio State, Oregon) still manage to bring in top-notch classes.

February 01, 2012|Chris Dufresne
  • Former Texas Tech great James Gray, left, can't give the "Hook 'em Horns" gesture after his son Johnathan Gray signs a letter of intent to attend Texas in front of his mother, Tonya, and his Aledo (Texas) High School football coach Tim Buchanan on Wednesday.
Former Texas Tech great James Gray, left, can't give the "Hook… (Max Faulkner / Associated…)

The biggest winner coming out of college football's national signing day Wednesday had to be Thursday, the day it would finally be over.

Hats off to anyone who survived it — and hats on to every player who couldn't decide which one to put on his head.

The experts tell us Alabama won the day, or Texas, followed by Florida State or maybe Florida. Or was it Texas first, followed by Alabama and then Ohio State?

Actually, the school that best captures the premise of signing day is: Slippery Rock.

The only question after all the wheeling and squealing was … can any of these guys play?

Any coach who failed to say his school had a banner recruiting day either can't read a teleprompter or is the new Penn State coach while still, technically, coaching the New England Patriots' offense.

"I couldn't care less about player rankings," said new Penn State Coach Bill O'Brien, whose class was ranked a lowly No. 50 by Rivals.com and No. 48 by Scout.

"I'm not sure who does the rankings," O'Brien continued. "All I know is that I'm part of a football team right now, the New England Patriots, that if you went up and down the roster you'd find guys who were highly ranked coming out of high school, and you'd find plenty of guys who weren't ranked at all coming out of high school."

Ohio State thought it was having a bad 2011 and was about to be raked in recruiting after a scandal that led to former coach Jim Tressel's resignation and a one-year bowl ban from the NCAA.

And then Penn State came along, a story so compounded-with-interest more sordid it pushed Ohio State back onto the recruiting A-list.

While other Big Ten schools were recruiting against Ohio State's woes, first-year Buckeyes Coach Urban Meyer was able to poach four blue-chip prospects away from Penn State's unsettled situation.

"They probably benefited from the Penn State situation more than anybody," said Brandon Huffman, Scout.com's national recruiting analyst.

The Buckeyes are ineligible for next year's national title game, but watch out in 2013.

Nobody in coaching has better timing than Meyer. Penn State's situation, with Joe Paterno's death and the Jerry Sandusky case far from over, might cast a years-long pall over the program.

Rating recruiting classes is a tricky and sometimes erroneous business. Boise State won 50 games the last four years with Scout.com recruiting classes from 2007-10 ranked no higher than No. 57.

Yet, if you believe this year's analysis, plenty of other programs under scrutiny did not seem to suffer from their transgressions. Ohio State scored a top-five class while two programs facing possible NCAA sanctions, Miami and Oregon, also received top recruiting marks.

USC should allegedly start suffering soon the loss of 30 scholarships over the next three years, yet there's a sense the Trojans' brilliant, pre-sanctions planning might offset the agony.

Finishing 10-2 last year, combined with quarterback Matt Barkley's announcing his return, has kept USC a destination spot for elite players.

The tightrope walk is that the Trojans don't have much margin for error and must hope the blue-chip players they have signed are not busts.

The only setback Wednesday was losing prized offensive lineman Kyle Murphy to Stanford. The Cardinal, with its stellar class, is out to prove its recent success is not an ephemeral (big Stanford-type word) aberration of the bygone Jim Harbaugh/Andrew Luck era.

Signing day seems to get crazier every year.

Notre Dame, which may have already ceded its football/brains niche to Stanford, lost star receiver Deontay Greenberry to Houston.

"When has Notre Dame ever lost a recruit to Houston?" Huffman said.

When has a player ever committed to three schools before abruptly picking UCLA?

That happened Wednesday too, with Westlake Village Oaks Christian High receiver Jordan Payton, who previously had pledged allegiance to the flags of USC, California and Washington.

How would you like to be standing in line at Burger King behind this guy?

"If there is a theme to the 2012 class, it's that a commitment doesn't mean anything anymore," Huffman said.

It actually means about as much as a coach's commitment to a school. Ask the kids who thought they were going to Rutgers to play for Greg Schiano, who defected last week to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

It's amazing these days what can ruin a season of recruiting. The exodus of top defensive assistant Tosh Lupoi, from Cal to Washington, severely damaged Cal's class and left recruiting goodies all over the Pac-12.

Oregon was able to peel off defensive end Arik Armstead, and top defensive back Shaq Thompson followed Lupoi to Washington.

UCLA took advantage of Cal's mess by signing Ellis McCarthy, the best defensive line prospect to land in Westwood in years.

So much for UCLA's home-field recruiting disadvantage after coming off an eight-loss season while recently introducing a coach, Jim Mora, with minimal college experience.

UCLA rebounded from the grumblings of Bruin Nation to the brink of a top-10 class. Remember that a decade ago people wondered if Pete Carroll, an NFL guy, could recruit.

Mora did a smart thing upon arrival. He put recruiting ahead of play-calling and player development and hired assistants like Southern Methodist's Adrian Klemm, who arrived with recruits in his luggage.

"The smartest thing he did was attack the recruiting side of things before the X's and Os," Huffman said of Mora.

Wait a 6-8 season minute, though. Didn't Rick Neuheisel sign top-20 classes at UCLA only to fail miserably before being fired?

Well, yes. And that's why you need to check back after two or three more signing days to see if Wednesday was worth all the televised fuss.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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