The class of 2009 was a banner year for quarterback recruiting. 2010? Less so, although there are quality prospects at the top like BYU commit Jake Heaps. There's not a lot of depth this year, which means that any teams that weren't able to sign a blue-chip player at the position last February are now under increased pressure to secure one while they still can. Several programs look to end up figuratively out in the cold, unable to land a top field general for multiple years in a row. Quarterbacks typically commit earlier than other positions, before their senior seasons, and use that status to help recruit the other members of each team's class. They're valuable far beyond the obvious reason that good ones help win football games.
This year, Penn State looks positively gluttonous. In the wake of not signing a QB for two years running, they pulled Kevin Newsome away from Virginia Tech (he originally was a Michigan commitment, but no one expected it to stick and it didn't) to finish off the class of 2009 with a bang. The Nittany Lions have secured a verbal from Pittsburgh's Paul Jones, and are believed to be leading for another top prospect in Michigan's Robert Bolden. The case of Bolden is a useful one to illustrate the domino effect of one decision having repercussions far down the line. In theory, it's simple; if a program does not go after an in-state prospect, that player is free, as a result, to consider other prospets. That's a direct example of influence; what I'm referring to here is more of a Rube Goldbergian chain reaction, slinkying across the country further than one would think possible.
The Bolden story actually goes all the way back to Ohio State. After securing Terrelle Pryor (over faux-interest in Penn State and Michigan), the #1 player in the class of 2008, the Buckeyes saw several upperclassmen transfers thin their depth chart. In last year's banner class, the bigger names were scared away from competing with Pryor. They had a chance to land Devin Gardner out of Michigan this year, but put all their eggs in the Nick Montana basket, and Gardner committed to Michigan long before Montana spurned OSU and Notre Dame for Washington (right after their top target Heaps was off the board). Ohio State subsequently lost their next option Andrew Hendrix to ND, before ultimately settling for Taylor Graham, who presumably will do a fantastic job of holding the clipboard for Pryor, and 2011's Braxton Miller.
Michigan landing Gardner left Bolden without an obvious landing spot besides the other in-state option, Michigan State. However, Bolden's flirtations with PSU lead Sparty to poach Joe Boisture (a good option, but highly overrated on Rivals due to his Boston College commitment) from BC last week, his lifelong MSU fandom overcoming the thin Eagle depth chart under center. Bolden is the biggest name left on the national board, along with Jesse Scroggins out of California. There are a few other solid options out there (including Joe Brennan, Anthony Gonzalez, among others), but the number is increasingly dwindling by the day.
The ongoing Scroggins saga is causing a lot of consternation right now in Knoxville, TN. Lane Kiffin arrived last winter, fresh off a tumultuous stint with the NFL's Oakland Raiders, to a lot of fanfare; vowing to resurrect the Volunteer program, and hiring a high profile staff of well-paid assistant coaches (although, it's often overlooked now that Fulmer had an excellent staff too). When hiring the likes of Ed Orgeron (of Meat Market fame), you're clearly making a statement about aspiring for the fruits, and headlines, of a highly-touted recruiting class.
They don't have a great in-state talent base to begin with, and had fallen off on the national level in recent years. Before his firing, Phil Fulmer saw his first commit Josh Nunes bolt for Stanford during the season, but had already lined up a replacement in one Tajh Boyd (who had previously decommitted from West Virginia, and had his own interesting media saga last year before ending up at Clemson). Boyd was an accomplished passer, but that wasn't enough for Kiffin, unfairly stereotyping Boyd as a scrambler in the mold of a Newsome, and not seeing the pure dropback passer that he craved. They quickly parted ways.
New Vols coach Lane Kiffin said he didn't think Boyd would fit Tennessee's pro-style offense. That stung Boyd, who considers himself more of a drop-back quarterback than a dual-threat. As a junior, Boyd threw for 2,059 yards and 25 touchdowns. Playing on with a torn left ACL this season, Boyd led Phoebus to a state title. Boyd said he considered sitting out the remainder of the season after he injured his knee, but he just couldn't. "I'm not really a selfish person," he said. "I owed it to my teammates."
I thought that Kiffin telling Boyd to get lost was dumber than any of his verbal gaffes, and everyone I've spoken to from Virginia (re: VT fans furious over losing him and Newsome) agrees that Boyd can more than handle a pro style offense. In retrospect (well, actually no, since I thought it was dumb from the start), Lane Kiffin bungled his first major decision as head coach of the Vols. The weirdest part? Kiffin may have tried to to get back in with Boyd.
"I think coach Kiffin may have called my coach or something," Boyd said. "I haven’t talked to him. I think I may have opened a lot of eyes during the Army All-America game, but I’m not looking at Tennessee.
"I don’t want to bad mouth any program, but I think coach Kiffin should have waited to see me play before saying I didn’t fit his system,"
Kiffin was just plain arrogant; coming from the NFL and USC, he thought that poaching a top QB recruit from another school would be a piece of cake. He was wrong; one by one, the top pocket passers like Matt Barkley, Tom Savage, and Allan Bridgford told Kiffin to get lost. QBs commit early for a reason; they have more invested in their choices than the players at other positions, and it's rare to see any signal caller back out of a verbal barring a coaching change, or a nightmare season on the field.
Tennessee ended up not signing a quarterback for the class of 2009, even though their depth chart at the position is wide open, and they have as much playing time to offer as any big program.
Even a potentially dire circumstance at quarterback hasn't changed the recruiting standards for Tennessee's new football coaching staff.The Volunteers are the only Southeastern Conference program with no quarterbacks still enrolled from the last three signing classes, and they have none publicly committed for 2010.
It'd be one thing if the Vols turned around and lined up a Jake Heaps or Phillip Sims right away for this year. Heaps said no, and now it appears that their next top target, Jesse Scroggins, is poised to accept an offer from USC. Tennessee is now rumored to go after the lower-profile Chase Rettig out of California, or perhaps make a run at Barry Brunetti (who committed to West Virginia last month, and is not nearly the passer that Boyd is), but that doesn't change the fact that Tennessee fans should start getting worried. They expected a savior, and one doesn't appear to be on the horizon.
Kiffin has courted the media nonstop since arriving on campus, under the apparent belief that there is no such thing as bad publicity. The latest stunt was accepting (and presumably soliciting) a verbal from thirteen year old Evan Berry (and why, pray tell is the media playing along with this latest desperate grab for attention?) These effectively promise Tennessee fans that he will return the program to relevance, and make the competition in the SEC eat his dust; both on and off the gridiron. Kiffin doesn't merely have a big mouth; he's unknowingly engaging in behavior that's counterproductive towards the longterm health of Volunteer football. It almost makes Oakland's North Korea-style press releases sound prescient.
The staff will have to live with the dangers of increased expectations and pressure. As of now, it doesn't look like they will deliver on either point. The Vols have to rebuild after attrition resulting from the end of Fulmer's tenure, and the likes of Alabama and Florida will be keen to run up the score this year (which could further impact recruiting). And you know what? In case you haven't noticed, it's nothing to write home about at this point. A "mid-level" program would be more than happy with it, but it's nothing seemingly worthy of the endless parade of headlines from the past few months.
While the class will certainly get better, and they're sure to poach several verbals from rival programs, at this point it's hard to see the Vols landing an "elite" (defined as, say, top 10 by one of the major recruiting services) group of talent. I'm no star chaser; I don't think that fact matters remotely, in and of itself. (There's a subtle distinction here; I'm explicitly not saying that recruiting doesn't matter. Please consider checking out several past posts of mine if you wish to expound on the topic.) However, through words and actions, Lane Kiffin and staff have pretty much come out and said that rankings do matter, as a criterion for evaluating his performance. That's how he wanted to be judged, and it won't be a happy offseason in Knoxville next year if he follows up a trying season with a middling class.
(note: I made several, minor changes to this post after originally putting it up this morning)