ESPN national recruiting director Tom Luginbill—a staple of ESPN’s annual National Signing Day coverage— was on hand to discuss the 2017-2018 Signing Period, including ESPN’s comprehensive coverage plans on Wednesday, Feb. 7.
On National Signing Day, coverage begins at 10 a.m. on ESPNU before shifting to ESPN2 at noon, with 2018 National Signing Day Special Presented by Nissan airing on both networks hosted by Matt Schick, who will be joined by Luginbill and college football analysts Mack Brown and Rod Gilmore, as well as recruiting analysts Craig Haubert and Tom VanHaaren.
TOM LUGINBILL: Sure. First and foremost, I welcome everybody. This has become a tradition for me to do this call the week of Signing Day. Always enjoy visiting with all of you. I’m sure there will be familiar names joining in.
Just a couple of things to give you guys the lay of the land. Obviously, we’ve entered into uncharted waters for the second time after completing a first early signing period and how that’s now affected this Signing Day this coming Wednesday, February 7.
To get you caught up on some numbers, on average, you’re going to have between 2,700 and 2,800 kids sign an FBS letter of intent. Each and every class, close to 72 percent of the class has already signed. That’s a little over 2,000 players. Of that 2,000 players, very close to around 900 prospects actually signed with Group of Five programs. So the early signing period made an impact outside of the Power Five conferences as well.
That leaves us with just a little over — with approximately 700 players remaining on the board, about half of which are currently verbally committed, the rest are undeclared. The player pool has shrunk from a pool to a puddle. Let’s just see how this thing works out on Wednesday.
That’s kind of where we stand numbers-wise, and then how that affects various teams and their outlook come Wednesday will certainly be different than what it’s been in years past.
With that, I will turn it back over to you, Kim, and we can get started when you’re ready.
Q. Hi, Tom. Can you assess Ohio State’s class and what you expect on Wednesday? Particularly with the offensive tackles they’re pursuing.
TOM LUGINBILL: I think the class and the numbers and what they accomplished the first time around left them with very few surprises outside of Jaiden Woodbey, who ended up flipping and go with Florida State in the early signing period. Everything else went, I think, as planned. They realized that Emory Jones was not going to be in the fold in relationship to their plans at quarterback. They prepared for that with the signing of Matthew Baldwin. That was not a surprise.
And so I think that they feel very secure and very sound in relationship to where they stand, how things played out, minimal surprises, which is very, very important.
Obviously, the high profile guy that’s out there now is Nicholas Petit-Frere at the offensive tackle position. I think he’s going to be difficult to pull out of the South. I really do. I do look at Rasheed Walker as being an offensive tackle that’s probably the next most highly coveted player that would be involved there.
So when you’re looking at just rounding out the class with a couple of prospects, you’re not just looking at a certain need. You’re also looking at best available. And that is something that is a little bit new to the recruiting process with the language that’s usually kind of reserved for NFL Draft talk. But now we’re starting to see that with high school recruiting, and certainly I think that that would relate to Ohio State’s class as well.
Q. And do you expect Ohio State to have the No. 1 class when all is said and done?
TOM LUGINBILL: That’s a really good question. I think that, with what is still left on the board for, not so much Georgia and not so much Ohio State, but for what’s left on the board for Texas, Texas is going to ultimately, I think, determine who’s going to be the No. 1 class. They still have maybe five to seven spots available, which is already a large class that sits at 24 right now. Let’s just say, if Texas were to land half, or maybe more than half of the guys left on their board to fill some of those slots, they’re the one team that I think could make the surprising big leap from 3 to 1, but I do think, if that doesn’t happen, if everything doesn’t go perfectly for Texas, Ohio State and Georgia would be the two teams jockeying for No. 1.
And Georgia doesn’t have an awful lot left to do. They’re looking for a wide receiver, looking for a best available. I think an offensive tackle in a premium position for Ohio State would trump a wide receiver for Georgia, which I think would probably add a little bit to Ohio State’s class, maybe more so than Georgia’s from a premium value standpoint, which could put them in contention for No. 1.
Q. Tom, Nebraska’s class was taking on water before Mike Riley got fired, and it looks like Scott Frost has got them into a position to be a top 25 class. I guess what were kind of the keys to make that happen?
TOM LUGINBILL: First and foremost, they were able to hit the ground running, do it quickly, and make some headway with the first signing period, which was not easy to do for any of the 11 new Power Five coaches. When you’re trying to prepare a football team to play in a Bowl game, as Scott Frost and his staff were doing, and at the same time, pulling double duty and recruiting and trying to lead up to an early signing period, I thought they did a remarkable job with the likes of Adrian Martinez at quarterback. They hit the juco ranks really hard with Jaron Woodyard and Greg Bell. Those were two huge signees.
The junior college ability to expand this class in a short period of time — and not overdoing it, but doing it just enough — was something that probably put them in contention. And if they’re able to land Maurice Washington and win that battle with Arizona State, I think they would find themselves in a very, very pleasing position considering where they started out and the work that was laid out in front of them.
And keep in mind that, when you’re in Nebraska in today’s climate, you have to cast a wide recruiting net. You have to be everywhere because you don’t have the in state nor the bordering state player populous to fuel your program. If you look at this class and you look at where the time is being spent with Scott Frost and his staff, it’s on the West Coast, it’s in the state of Florida, it’s in the state of Texas. You’ve got players ranging from California to Maryland to Florida to Kansas to Texas to South Dakota to Colorado — all a part of this class. Mississippi, Minnesota. And that’s what has to happen in today’s era for Nebraska to be competitive.
Q. Tom, first of all, appreciate you doing this. As you’re well aware, a lot has been written the last couple of years about the top Texas high school talents leaving the Big 12 footprint. That doesn’t appear to be the case this year, led by recruiting at University of Texas but also TCU, Baylor, Oklahoma. Do you see that trend continuing from the Big 12 standpoint? And how does the Jimbo Fisher hire at Texas A&M affect things going forward for 2019 and beyond?
TOM LUGINBILL: I’ll use Texas A&M to answer the first part of that question in the sense that the perception of the Big 12 versus the SEC, when Texas A&M joined the SEC and then the immediate on field success that followed much as a result of Johnny Manziel’s involvement, that changed the perception of the SEC for kids in the state of Texas. It became attractive. It became the en vogue thing.
I think that what you see now is with TCU’s increase in value and perception of who they are amongst college football’s elite within the state of Texas, Texas getting back to the committed players in the state of Texas. Texas A&M going through some public perception struggles, in my opinion, that have maybe tarnished that shine of the SEC as it relates to Texas A&M is helping the Big 12 right now. We’re seeing Oklahoma, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Texas, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. The two blue bloods in that conference seem to be turning the tide of the level of importance of kids staying at home.
And it’s important, not so much from an offensive standpoint, it’s important from the defensive perspective. It’s the defensive side of the football where the best players in the state of Texas have got to stay home if the Big 12 wants to thrive and put forth a national title contender that cannot just get there, all right? Because you can get there on the offensive side, and there’s plenty of offensive players to go around. But to actually win it, that has to happen on defense.
So for Jimbo Fisher in the interim, I think he’s going to have one of the toughest goes of the new Power Five head coaches because they have an awful lot of players they have to sign, but they may not be at the top of the board for some of the high profile players that are out there. I look at them in similar fashion to the way I look at UCLA and Chip Kelly as it relates to the state of California and the rest of the Pac-12.
But going forward and looking at the long term vision, I think Jimbo Fisher was hired for one reason. He understands the recruiting landscape of the footprints. He has won a National Championship because he’s recruited great players, and he can recruit in the SEC’s footprint outside of the state of Texas.
So from a long-term standpoint, I think Texas A&M and Jimbo will be just fine. Their schedule does not help them the next two years, from a competitive element of getting on the field, but in recruiting, going forward off of this 2018 class, I think they’ll be in fine shape.
Q. Tom, I’m going to ask you a combo question, Michigan, Michigan State. First of all, what do you make of Michigan’s class, a lot less Jim Harbaugh’s shenanigans this time around, I think. And I’m just curious if you think any of this news swirling around Michigan State right now will affect MSU’s recruiting or if it has already?
TOM LUGINBILL: As far as Michigan is concerned, I think you’re not seeing a lot of the shenanigans or hijinks or notable media headlines coming because the on the field product wasn’t what it needs to be. Jim Harbaugh recognizes that. They’ve had some staff turnover. They’ve had to make some shifts there. They’ve got new faces out on the recruiting trail.
If you actually look at the players that have signed in this class, it is a very, very talented group. I’m really impressed with this class in relationship to the caliber of player that has been signed. They’ve made additions at the defensive back end in the secondary, where I think is a need position for them to improve. They’ve also done so on the offensive and defensive line, two premium positions that I consider to be very, very important to the overall outlook of the success of their football team up front.
And with the addition of Shea Patterson if he’s eligible immediately, and the addition of Joe Milton, they become more athletic at quarterback. And I think even Jim Harbaugh is now realizing we need to become more diverse and more dynamic under center if we’re truly going to compete for a championship in our league or on a national scale.
With Michigan State, Michigan State doesn’t have that much more work to do in terms of their sheer numbers. You would hope in relationship to the 21 players that are currently in this class, of which 20 of them are signed, that’s not an area where you have to worry about those guys signing. I haven’t heard a lot of negativity swirling around the speculation about the future of the athletic program as a whole and Mark Dantonio. They’re obviously going to have to manage that because those questions are going to be asked, but they can only answer based off of answers that they have. Kids will have to either trust in that or they won’t.
I think it will be much more damaging for them if we were sitting here under the old regulations and having to sign an entire class on Wednesday as opposed to just a few players.
Q. I wanted to ask you, first of all, your thoughts on Arizona hiring Kevin Sumlin as their head coach and how that will impact Arizona’s recruiting, not necessarily this year, but maybe a few years down the line.
TOM LUGINBILL: I think it’s going to impact it in two very positive ways. Number one, if you go back and look at the background of Coach Sumlin and his work under Joe Tiller at Wyoming and having recruited the West Coast footprint, the state of Texas, the Arizona, Utah, Nevada area, he’s very familiar with that landscape. You fast forward, and you transition that to his time at Oklahoma. Oklahoma recruited the West Coast extensively.
Now you look at Texas A&M and his tenure there as the head coach, you could argue that the best offensive weapon they had under his tenure, outside of Johnny Manziel, was Christian Kirk outside of the state of Arizona.
So to have that intimate knowledge of the footprint, of the recruiting landscape, if you look at the University of Arizona — and you can actually apply this to Arizona State. I grew up on the West Coast. I grew up in the old Pac-10 days. When those two teams, when those two programs are at their best or competing for conference championships, the bulk of their roster is out of the state of California, and the best players within the state of Arizona don’t leave. That hasn’t been the case for either of those two schools as of late.
I’ll give you a prime example. Royce Freeman, who’s out of Cajon, and all of a sudden he goes to Oregon. Now, that can’t happen if you’re at Arizona or you’re at Arizona State. So I think the long term, it’s a really good marriage and fit between knowledge and intimate feel for instate recruiting and the West Coast and the state of California being so important to Arizona.
Q. Great. And then speaking of Arizona State, how do you compare the two hires that those two schools made, Sumlin to Arizona, Herm Edwards to Arizona State, from a recruiting standpoint?
TOM LUGINBILL: Well, one is dramatically different than the other in the sense that the process and the formula by which Arizona State has chosen to build the foundation of their in-house player personnel and recruiting is going to be much more based on a pro personnel model, and that has to be built from within. It wasn’t already in-house. It wasn’t already established.
Herm Edwards, I know, feels very, very strongly that the foundation of the entire program is going to be predicated upon recruiting above anything else. It starts and ends there. So the process may be a little bit different than maybe it’s going to be in Arizona, where you’ve hired a coach that’s been entrenched and established in the college football world. That’s not the case with Herm. Herm is having to hire the people around him that have been involved with this game, whether it’s on the coaching staff, whether it’s on the recruiting office, and then build it in his vision, but he’s having to rely on other people in relationship to how it needs to be done given he hasn’t been in college football in over 30 years.
So very unique process for Arizona State. It’s going to be fun to see how that thing unfolds over Herm Edwards’ tenure.
Q. You just touched on Michigan State with 20 guys signed and one committed. How do you evaluate the class overall that they have with the 21 guys? And who do you see them potentially adding either Wednesday or just between now and Wednesday as kind of the last couple of pieces?
TOM LUGINBILL: To be honest with you, I love what they’ve done on defense in this class. When your top two graded players are four-star corners, in my opinion, you’ve hit the jackpot because those are premium positions, and both of them have length. Everyone is looking for length on the perimeter on defense, tall corners that can match up with big wide receivers.
They added a quarterback. They added a top ten tight end in Trenton Gillison, and then they’ve really done a good job in their offensive and defensive front. Parks Gissinger, in my opinion, is one of the most underrated defensive end prospects in this entire class. We have him as a four-star player, and I know we have him graded higher than most places do. But we’re impressed with him. So I’m really impressed with this class coming in.
Keep in mind, if you look at Michigan State’s current roster, that’s the youngest, most productive team that Mark Dantonio has probably ever had because they didn’t play with a lot of redshirt juniors and redshirt seniors like you see them generally playing with. They played with a lot of young guys. So this young class is going to be coming in to what is already a young team.
I think that what they’d like to do is try and add a defensive end, if they could, whether it’s a Leonard Taylor out of Springfield, Ohio, he’s a very intriguing guy, in my opinion. Dorian Hardy is another guy along the defensive front. I think you’re looking for a front seven player, whether it’s at linebacker or defensive end, to try to round out Michigan State’s class.
Q. Just what kind of impact the signing of Rondale Moore for Jeff Brohm at Purdue is going to have for him and what he wants to do with the offense?
TOM LUGINBILL: It’s interesting, Rondale Moore is such a speedster, and what he may lack in size, he makes up for in speed, in quickness, in the ability to make plays in space. It’s interesting, I really believe that Jeff Brohm’s philosophy is very similar to Justin Fuente’s philosophy at Virginia Tech, where they don’t necessarily have this ideal measurable standard that they would like to have for each and every position across the board. Speed, quickness, and the ability to play in space for them and for their philosophy is going to trump sometimes maybe the ideal height/weight combination.
So to me, if you’re trying to build around what you think your identity’s going to be, you do it with the players that fit you. That doesn’t mean they’re going to fit everybody. So to me, I think it’s important. I think it’s a philosophy, when you’re at a place like Purdue, that you have to be a little unique. You have to have a certain type of player that’s maybe a little bit exclusive to you guys that gives you maybe an edge that, in many instances, would be overlooked by maybe some other programs, and that’s fine.
But Purdue, by and large, is more of a developmental type program — and I don’t use that as a negative connotation. I mean, they’re going to bring in a lot of players that, by and large, are going to redshirt for the most part. They’re going to develop and bring them along, and they’re going to be different players three years from the time they’re recruited as juniors and seniors in high school.
Q. Just two things in regard to Alabama’s recruiting class. One, you talked about Texas and things have to work perfectly for them. Does Alabama have any kind of shot of getting the top class? And, two, how do you see the quarterback situation shaping down in terms of getting a guy signed? With Tua, what he showed in the second half, maybe what Jalen may or may not do, how do you sense the importance of them getting someone at quarterback?
TOM LUGINBILL: So the answer to the first part of your question, I think they’ve got an opportunity to get into the top three. I just don’t know if their sheer numbers, because they don’t have the available scholarships to give out that the teams above them have, would get them in contention for No. 1. I do see a legitimate shot at them finishing at No. 3. We have them at No. 4 right now.
They’d love to get an offensive tackle. They’d love to get a wideout and would love to get a corner. If they were to nail all three of those, they’re in the top three in my mind at the end of Wednesday. So it will be interesting to see what takes place.
You ask a very important question about the quarterback position because right now Alabama is in a position where they are forced to anticipate that they may not have the services of Jalen Hurts after spring football depending how that competition goes. So I think we have to be very careful where we see if Alabama offers at quarterback out there, they may not necessarily be offering a quarterback because they feel that quarterback is the best player out there that can one day be the face of their program, they’re looking at bodies, they’re looking at stop gap players, they’re looking at a player that can come in and add depth, maybe be a program guy.
So there’s been a lot of talk about Brevin White and his commitment to Princeton and remaining at Princeton. There’s another quarterback actually out of Arizona by the name of Brock Purdy that they had recently offered, but he probably would not be a guy they’re normally looking at.
A lot of this doesn’t have to do with them saying, okay, we’ve got to get a great player at quarterback. We’ve got to get a quarterback in anticipation of us finding ourselves in the summer being down one if Jalen Hurts were to decide to move on and go in another direction.
Q. My question is about Florida State. How bad was the class when Willie Taggart took over, and how has he been able to kind of respond and get into the top 15, top 20, top 25 range?
TOM LUGINBILL: I think that the perception is generally in recruiting, on behalf of fans or outside looking in, that when your numbers are down, you’re in terrible shape, and that’s not always the case. In this particular instance with Florida State, they have something that very few programs have. They have a perception that, I think, affords a new, incoming coaching staff a little bit of a wait and see approach amongst prospects. Because they’re Florida State, because of who they are, the program carries more weight than one individual.
So with the early signing period, there’s challenges for all new incoming coaches. That program had started dwindling in terms of its recruiting in the verbal commitment, withdrawing their declarations long before Jimbo Fisher actually decided to leave for Texas A&M, and then that exacerbated the problem a little bit.
Now you hire Coach Taggart and his staff, and they very quickly, actually, do some nice things for the early signing period. They flip Jaiden Woodbey. They feel like they’ve at least got a workable number. And then they can spend a good 2 1/2 weeks during the dead period laying out the blueprint and identifying players and moving forward, and have done so, I think, in remarkable fashion. They’ve made a lot of upgrades. They’ve made a lot of inroads.
In my opinion, if they can somehow come away with Wednesday having potentially signed another — a quarterback, that quarterback being James Foster. If they could lure him away from LSU, I think that would be really, really important. Just this week, they got verbal commitments from Keyshawn Helton, which is a good addition at wide receiver. Xavier Peters is an outside linebacker, a four-star player out of Ohio, another verbal commitment.
I think, given the time and being up against it, they’ve done a fine job, and I think will end up being right where they probably anticipated being at the end of Wednesday.
Q. Two questions about Auburn’s class. First, just your general impression, with the main question being any concerns on your part about their offensive line when that was a position really of need the past two years? Last year they signed three guys, redshirted two of them. Right now they’ve got two guys in this class, and they were looking to get five, maybe even six. Any thoughts about the offensive line and your general impressions on the class as a whole?
TOM LUGINBILL: I think there’s probably some concerns there. When you’re sitting there watching offensive linemen and the guys that are left on the board, there’s not a ton of guys. You might be looking at Tank Jenkins as a guy that would be on the board for you late down the road in Montgomery. So, yeah, I think that’s a little bit of a concern in terms of what’s left out there.
As far as the overall class and the well-being of it, I thought that they closed with the early signing period very, very strong. They’ve had a very fruitful month of January with the likes of Harold Joiner coming aboard, Miller, the defensive tackle out of Birmingham, very strong addition as well.
But maybe more important than anything else is Joey Gatewood’s maturation and development as a pure quarterback is exactly what Auburn wants under center. He’s big, he’s physical, he’s a gifted passer that is also a gifted runner. I think, if we watched Auburn as a college football fan, when they’ve been at their best offensively is when the quarterback’s been an integral part of the run game, and they will get that from gate wood.
So half the defensive front spots, the linebacker spots, more weapons offensively in the wide receiver group, I would agree with you, some more numbers may likely need to come their way. But let’s not forget, the grad transfer that never — you never know who comes about in the spring and the summer that could join your program that may be a situation where you hold a scholarship or two hoping to get a player like that in the offensive line.
Q. You mentioned a little bit in the beginning about the uncharted waters of the second Signing Day. How have coaches generally responded to that? And secondly, how would you wrap up Penn State’s recruiting class for 2018?
TOM LUGINBILL: I think, if you really ask the coaches, do they like this, if you ask them now, they’re going to tell you, yeah, we really do like it because, while it was an inconvenience in many ways as a result of kind of unintended consequences of having to prepare for a Bowl game, once it was over with and all of a sudden the hay’s in the barn, you start to look at your month of January, and now all of a sudden you’re putting your resources and your expenditures and your manpower, you’re putting that towards the 2019 class and the 2020 class. You’re mapping out your on-the-road spring recruiting schedule with your coaches, and you’re getting it done six weeks, maybe earlier, than you normally would because you’re not out trying to hold the whole class together of 20, 22, 26, whatever the number is.
Now you’ve streamlined your board. Your player pool has shrunk to a puddle. You might have six to seven guys on your board, and you need to sign three. That’s a big luxury, and it’s not afforded to everybody. There’s 130 teams. You’re probably looking at 20 to 25 programs that have that type of luxury right now.
So I think the coaches like it, maybe more so than they want to admit. We’ll see over the course of the next several cycles, as we continue to go through this, what tweaks need to be made, but it has certainly enhanced their ability to broaden their recruiting scope outside of the 2018 class during the month of January.
I think that Penn State, to answer the last part of your question, really made some headway along the defensive front, and I was on the field broadcasting the Fiesta Bowl. I got to see this Penn State team up close and personal. And talking with James Franklin prior to the game, and I asked him point blank, where do you need to make the most strides as you’re back up to now full scholarship limit, maybe you’re not as good as you need to be in some spots. He very quickly said we’ve still got to get better in the offensive front and we’ve got to get better in the defensive front.
Look at where some of their top players are in this class. Jayson Oweh, Micah Parsons, two defensive ends, a defensive tackle in P.J. Mustipher. You go on the offensive line, you’ve got Fredrick Scruggs at offensive guard. They’ve got an offensive tackle. They’ve added more into the tight end range because they know they’re going to have losses at that position.
So I’m really impressed with how they filled their needs, the caliber of player that they’re adding to the trenches, I think is going to make them a team that’s going to be a formidable contender for a Big Ten Championship and a college football playoff contender on a consistent, sustained basis going forward.
Q. Oklahoma is on the cusp, it looks like, of having back to back top ten classes for the first time in roughly eight years. How have you seen their perception change in the past few seasons? And if you can, I wanted to know your thoughts on their pickups on the defensive line in this class, especially if they were to add Michael Thompson on Wednesday.
TOM LUGINBILL: You just hit the nail on the head. First of all, the perception, I think they’re a Blue blood. I think with the shift to Lincoln Riley, a little bit of a youth movement. He resonates really well on the recruiting trail. Even though he’s an offensive guy and has an air raid background, he has a very, very healthy respect for two things, a run game, and in order to win a championship, not get to the championship, you’re going to have to play better defense.
If you look at the focus of this class, it’s on the defensive side of the football. Whether it’s Ron Tatum, whether it’s Ronnie Perkins, whether it’s Jalen Redmond. You just mentioned Thompson. If Oklahoma — and I mentioned Texas earlier in the call. If the Big 12 wants to be taken seriously for a National Championship, they’re going to have to play better defense. And I love the fact that you’ve got an offensive coach that is putting his resources towards that end because it’s going to be what changes the face of the Big 12, and it’s very, very important.
So I like this class. I like where the attention has been placed. Listen, you’re welcome. You’re a great offensive program. If you’re a defensive player and you’re in that Big 12 footprint and you’re a defensive linemen and you’re looking at Oklahoma and you say, man, what’s the one thing that could get them over the top? It’s my position. Oklahoma’s got to be an attractive destination, if you’re asking me, because the offensive side of the equation is there. The coaching staff intact.
So I think it’s a very, very strong recruiting tool for them right now.
Q. Tom, could you expand on sort of how more programs are taking that best player available approach now with the smaller player pool, and maybe address whether you think that concept sort of creates more of a gap in the quality of recruiting classes from the big boys in the top 10, top 20, to maybe those that are more middle of the pack.
TOM LUGINBILL: You just asked a question that I’ve been putting forward to everybody that I talk to when it comes to unintended consequences because I think over the next two to three cycles, this is going to be an area that’s going to be really heavily scrutinized because I think you’re right. You’re going down a path here where you’re starting to look at a group of schools that — and I call it a luxury, and it is a luxury.
If you are sitting here in what we’ll just call team A and team B. If you’re a team A and you sign 22 players in the early signing period and you’ve got three spots left, you now are recruiting the 2019 and the 2020 class, you’re hosting junior days, your coaches aren’t out on the road as much, you’re not having as many official visitors because you don’t have to with the numbers. And you are looking at maybe fulfilling one need, or instead of filling a second need, saying this is the best player out there. Why don’t we try to go get him? By the way, that best player might be the No. 1 player and most significant need player on the board for ten of your competitors. So they’re looking at that player differently than you are.
So team A there has got, I think, tremendous advantages, versus team B that maybe had a quality early signing period, comes away, they sign 12 players, but they’ve still got another 11 guys they’ve got to sign. They’re spending their month of January in an entirely different fashion than the team that’s got to sign two to three players. And how that ends up affecting everybody in their calendar and their schedule and their work force, manpower, whatever you want to use, the resources that are available to them, you’re looking at two different blueprints, in my opinion.
Yes, I do look at 20, 25, maybe 30 teams. Well, that leaves you another 100 teams that are out there that don’t have that luxury. And I’ll tell you what may have the biggest effect on what you just proposed there isn’t so much of the group of the Power Five schools, it’s the Group of Five schools. Right now there’s essentially four teams out there — Houston, Appalachian State, Arkansas State, and Boise State — that had really strong early signing period finishes. And the rest of their competitors — South Florida is another one. Throw out a fifth there. Most of their competitors have a long way to go to catch up. So while those Group of Five schools now that are pretty much done, that’s five out of the whole rest of the pack.
So it’s going to be interesting to see how this thing unfolds over the next couple of years. You know what, maybe it won’t do anything. Everybody will just manage their time and find a way to play catch up. But everybody has different resources. Not everybody’s the same. So manpower is going to play a big role in all of this if you’re one of those teams that is in the luxury of using that whole best available mantra.
Q. Tom, I was wondering if you could — it’s more of a microcosm thing, but what jumps out at you most about this Ohio State class, most of which it already has in hand? What is the strength of it from your vantage point?
TOM LUGINBILL: As per usual with Urban Meyer and their philosophy and how they go about building their roster, there’s always going to be four premium positions that trump all others. There’s going to be the defensive front, the offensive front, defensive corner, and quarterback. Now, in this particular class, in my opinion, three of those four were addressed in more the need than the fourth.
I think the fourth was they knew they had to have a quarterback come into the class, but the need was probably more in a corner, offensive line, defensive front area, and that’s where I thought they really hit a home run. That’s where I think the strength of this class is. They’ve done it at the juco ranks with the defensive front. They’ve done it at the high school ranks with Taron Vincent and Tyreke Smith, two dominating players in the defensive front. They’ve done it in the offensive line.
This is a class loaded with players that you look at and say, okay, this is how a championship roster is built. I would make the argument — because last year’s class was a very important class for them in relationship to their losses to the NFL Draft and then replenishing them, particularly at corner. This class, in my opinion, is the exact same thing in the defensive line as it relates to Ohio State.
So I was very impressed with Ohio State. I continue to be because I think that they’re one of the few programs that can routinely go outside of their footprint and be a viable option anywhere in the country, and that’s tough to do in today’s day and age.
Q. Another quick thing. Just as you look at the Big Ten, how would you assess the rankings? I think 13 of the 14 teams are in your top 50. Maybe I’m wrong about that. I was just doing some counting earlier. In the top ten, you’ve got Ohio State, Penn State, and then Michigan’s outside the top ten. Just in a quick nutshell, who are the winners or overachievers or underachievers — I don’t know what you all call them. I don’t know if losers is the right word. But who just jumps out at you in that regard?
TOM LUGINBILL: I think Nebraska has a chance to be a winner under the set of circumstances they’ve been working under. They’ve got a chance to close strong. Minnesota without question was a winner on the early signing period. I’m not sure that staff didn’t go on vacation in January. They’re sitting in a really good spot in terms of their sheer numbers. Wisconsin is exactly what they always are. Michigan State, exactly what they always are.
I really thought that Maryland made a lot of strides in recruiting to have the type of season, have the unfortunate set of circumstances that seems to be plaguing and cursing this program at the quarterback spot, and to be a top 30 recruiter right now, they’re making headway under D.J. Durkin. I would say the usual suspects. But I think Nebraska could catch someone’s eye on Wednesday, and Minnesota you could make the argument did the most solid and complete job coming out of the original signing period.
Q. Tom, you talked about Florida State a little bit earlier, but curious about your thoughts on Foster, the quarterback from Montgomery, and how he might kind of fit into Taggart’s offense. And then secondly, a big position has been wide receiver with them losing Auden Tate to the draft and just not having the numbers at that position. What you might have seen from Warren Thompson and some other receivers in this class from Florida State.
TOM LUGINBILL: To answer the first part of your question, I think that James Foster is a really unique example of how this early signing period, if you are a player at a premium position and you chose not to sign, how this early signing period could play into your favor if you happen to be at a premium position like the quarterback spot.
James Foster was a player and a prospect throughout the fall that coaches liked, they were tracking, but maybe didn’t have near the top of their boards. Then all of a sudden, the early signing period happened, you’ve got a guy that’s available out there, and now all of a sudden he becomes a hotter commodity in literally one month than he ever was the previous ten months of the cycle. Which is interesting to me because a guy like James Foster is a talent. Obviously, LSU would love to bring him to Baton Rouge. Florida State is looking at him as somebody that could be an ideal fit.
You ask how does he fit? He’s a floater that happens to be a good enough athlete, very similar to Deondre Francois, so you can do some of the plus one quarterback run stuff with him, but he’s going to be a passer first and add that to your program, which I think is really important, and you don’t have to play with him right away. So that plays a big role, in my opinion, as well.
I think that Warren Thompson is a big kid that can run. He’s got some length to him. He’s a kid that can go up and get the football, very similar to how Travis Rudolph was utilized for Florida State although I think he runs a little better than Travis Rudolph. And then I mentioned Keyshawn Helton coming aboard. He doesn’t have the height. He doesn’t have maybe that measurable standard, but he brings a little bit more of that change of pace, lightning in a bottle type of notion, very similar to what you see from maybe an Isaiah McKenzie, who was at Georgia, that could be a sub package receiver and help you in the return game as well.
Q. You had mentioned Maurice Washington earlier in your conversation about Nebraska. I wanted to ask about Maurice specifically. I know he’s one of the guys picking on Signing Day. Here’s a kid who kind of didn’t play his junior year and then goes to Deion Sanders’ school his senior year and has this huge game in the Under Armour All-American game. How much potential does Maurice Washington have, and how did that game maybe change people’s perception of him as a player?
TOM LUGINBILL: Well, first and foremost, he’s one of those guys that’s another prime example that there are so many players out there, that it’s impossible to track everybody. It’s impossible to recruit everybody. You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to have misses. You’re going to go after players that maybe aren’t as good as other players down on your board because you’re making a projection.
With this young man, I’ve got to give him a lot of credit because he has had to do so much just to have an opportunity academically to have a chance that, regardless of how talented he is at playing the game, he has come to the realization — and unfortunately, it’s been a little late. But he’s come to the realization that, if I don’t do the other stuff, it’s not going to matter, and he’s worked very hard towards that.
He was a guy that we had rated pretty high off of ability. Took him in the Under Armour game kind of just to give him a shot to see what he would do. Not only did he rise to the occasion — and you talk about the performance in the game, but it wasn’t really the game. It was the week leading up to the game. It was every day at practice. It’s very similar to the Senior Bowl. Everybody talks about the game. It’s not the game, it’s the week. And that’s where he really started to turn heads. You could tell he is a special play right away type of guy.
If he signs with Arizona State or he signs with Nebraska and he academically pulls it off, he’s a play right away type of player. So I commend him on his efforts. But I do think he’s that impactful of an athlete.
Q. You guys moved him up quite a bit in that final rating, I think, that came out last week. Was that related to that week that you guys got to see him in Florida?
TOM LUGINBILL: No question. And if I’m not mistaken, prior to moving him up — I think he’s at No. 93 now overall, but prior to moving him up, I think we’d had him rated probably higher than most people did. That’s why we were so intrigued by him.
But then what it was was watching him stack up against everybody else that’s supposed to be so good. I’ve been in that environment down there where I’ve seen kids call their mom and say, come pick me up. I’m not ready for this. And I’ve also been in that environment down there where I’ve seen kids rise to the occasion and it’s not too big for them, and now you know right off the bat he’s got something special. This was one of those kids.
Q. I wanted to just ask you how you feel, based on just the numbers right now, about Alabama and kind of what they’ve done. They’ve brought in 15 guys, including a few early enrollees in the signing period, but they still have several spots open. I think one of the few teams among the top ten that really have those spots open. What do you think Nick has done with those spots so far? How big are some of these five-star kids that are still in? I think there are four or five five-star guys right now.
TOM LUGINBILL: I think that everybody talked throughout the entire process about Alabama and about their numbers. What you’ve got to understand about the numbers, the numbers are only reflective of the amount of scholarships that you had to give out. Your scholarships are predicated upon graduation, early departure to the NFL Draft, and attrition. Well, if you haven’t had a lot of attrition and you’re able to keep kids in the program and you manage your NFL Draft departures, you’re not always going to be at the full scholarship allotment, and that’s not a bad thing.
Certainly, they made significant strides in the pass rush area with this class, significant. I think you could make the argument that you might have more special pass rushers in this class than they’ve had in many of the previous classes.
From what they need going forward, they’d love to get an offensive tackle. Nick Petit-Frere would be that guy they’d love to pull out of the Sunshine State. They’d love to get a wide receiver, whether it’s Jacob Copeland or Jaylen Waddle. And then they’d love to get a corner. Is it going to be likely to get Patrick Surtain or Tyson Campbell? I don’t know. I think it’s a tug of war right now for Surtain between LSU and Alabama.
But if you get three players and two of them are at premium positions and you’re Alabama, I think you would feel very confident coming away from Signing Day that you accomplished the task, but it’s not going to be easy. You look at some of the undeclared players that are out there, they are at premium positions. They’re at corner. You’ve got Olaijah Griffin. He’s an option out there. You’ve got Isaac Taylor-Stuart, another West Coast guy. He’s an option out there.
For Alabama, there’s no question they’ve got to bring a wideout in, a corner, and potentially an offensive tackle, and if you don’t like the tackle that’s available and you feel like you’ve got to bring in a body at quarterback, that might be the alternative for you. Or you hold the scholarship for potential grad transfer in the spring or summer.
Q. And just from a purely recruiting standpoint, what do you think about the staff turnover? Nick went a lot younger with some of his assistant coaches he brought in. I think there are four or five spots. What do you think about that turnover he had this year?
TOM LUGINBILL: I think any time you can hire from within, it does help ease the transition because that guy is not going to be in an introductory role, as far as the process in recruiting and the Xs and Os side of it. So you’ve done that offensively. Defensively, I think you have very little dropoff because you happen to be one of the few programs in all of college football where the head coach is actually responsible for coaching a position on the defensive side of the football. So you know who’s in charge there.
And listen, if I know anything about Nick Saban — and I’ve been around that program quite a bit — they’re going to go out, and they’re going to get grinders and workers in player evaluation and recruiting, first and foremost. The coaching part of it will come second. So that’s been the approach for them, and that might also be one of the reasons why they went a little bit younger in some areas.
Q. Yeah, speaking of Penn State and the staff turnovers, losing Josh Gattis, losing Charles Huff, bringing in Ja’Juan Seider, what exactly do you think that could have on Penn State and their future classes?
TOM LUGINBILL: Well, I think this is one thing that’s very interesting as it related to the early signing period. Everybody was talking about when do you have the early signing period — and we’re going to use Penn State as the example here. Because we don’t know what the effect is going to be yet, but everybody was concerned with how do we deal with coaching staff changes? How do we deal with the head coach being fired or taking another job? Well, they addressed that by putting the early signing period in December, but what they didn’t address was how does that affect the assistant coach and how does that then affect the program?
Because if you’re a head coach in today’s era of recruiting and you want to make staff changes, as many coaches want to do year in and year out, you’re sure as heck not going to do it during the early signing period. Now you have the perfect storm of an assistant coach being added to a staff. You get the early signing period, and the players are signed, and now all of a sudden, coaches start moving around. And these coaches and these kids who had established relationships for sometimes up to two years, and now that kid has signed on the dotted line, and three weeks later, the coach that recruited him for two years is no longer there.
What’s going to be interesting is I don’t think it will have any type of negative impact on the short term for Penn State or any other program, for that matter, as it relates to this coming Wednesday, but I’m going to be interested to track to see if that puts players, who even if they were verbally committed prior to the early signing period, in a position to say, you know what, I might hold off and see that and make sure that the coaches that I’ve become affiliated with are going to be there in mid to late January. Now, the player would be running a risk if he did that, but I do think that’s something you’re going to see a lot of players now contemplating that there’s a fear you’re going to see a lot of assistant coach movement after the early signing period or after the dead period which was ended on January 11th.
And as it related to Penn State, I don’t think you’ll see negativity now, but it’s going to be interesting to see how that affects players to all programs going forward.
Q. Could you give us kind of a synopsis of the signing class for the University of Miami, including the three players who are committed who haven’t signed, which would be defensive tackle Nesta Silvera out of American Heritage, Nigel Bethel out of Miami Northwestern and defensive tackle Jordan Miller out of Pace Academy, who was relatively unknown. And then I was just wondering also do you think UM possibly — University of Miami could possibly get some of the home run type kids that, say, UM is still among the schools they’re deciding on? You know, the American Heritage kids, there’s several of them.
TOM LUGINBILL: Yeah, no question. Listen, the need is obviously at corner and the defensive line position. You just mentioned a couple of them. Nesta Silvera, very important piece of the puzzle here, especially with the unexpected departure of Kendrick Norton. That was a surprise. I don’t think the Miami coaches anticipated nor were probably in support of that move. It’s a bit premature. So it’s important that you have a Silvera in the fold.
You’re right, Jordan Miller is a little bit more of a two-gap guy, a little bit more of an unknown. Maybe not as dynamic player along the defensive front that you’d like to have at defensive tackle. I really like the guys like Al Blades Jr., and you mentioned Bethel, who they’ve still got to sign. D.J. Ivey is another one who already did sign. They’re going to have plenty of good options that are already committed to the class.
But outside of the class, I would say Campbell is probably more of a viable option than Surtain as far as a possibility, but I don’t know how significant that be would. I do think that Andre Chatfield is the defensive lineman they’re targeting the most, as well as Michael Thompson being another one would be important. Maybe Malcolm Lamar is another one. They’ve got to add more defensive linemen to this class.
I think the interesting player in the state of Florida, whether it relates to Miami, whether it relates to Florida, Florida State, is Jacob Copeland and what he does because that’s the fifth ranked receiver in this class. The top ranked receiver in the state of Florida. In six of the last seven classes, the top ranked receiver in the state of Florida did not sign with a Florida school. They all went outside of the state. So that’s got to change as far as the Calvin Ridleys and the Amari Coopers of the world staying at home and making an impact in state schools as opposed to competitors outside of the border.
Q. So if Miami doesn’t get those heavy hitters on Wednesday — you know, I’m kind of thinking they’re going to get Silvera, let’s say. Not including him, but if they don’t get heavy hitters, do you still look at Miami as a top ten, a really good recruiting year, a really good signing year?
TOM LUGINBILL: Absolutely because I think they will end up with at least another defensive lineman, like a Chatfield maybe, that wasn’t verbally committed that will be added to the class. And the teams behind them right now — Oklahoma, Auburn, Notre Dame — they’re not going to have as big of a jump to make as far as the players that they’ll be signing maybe as Miami will. The team that you’d have to worry about maybe making a jump would be the USC Trojans because they’ve got the most to gain, but clearly for Miami, it would still be a top ten class.