It’s my day to steer The Bucket and there are a few things that need to be touched on. Here goes …
Kiffin's class leads field by wide margin.
USC: To Be Expected
We have been talking about the talent USC has been pulling down this year. The season has not started but USC has put together a class that would need to make an Urban Meyer-like sprint to Signing Day last year look like a trot for a school to take the No. 1 class for 2013 away from the Trojans. The class is so good the lack of scholarships due to NCAA penalties is not having an impact on it. The fact is USC is in the best position of any school in the country for recruiting. I have said before that if I could only recruit one state it would be Florida and Texas would be next on my list. But California is arguably as good as either one and the advantage is clearly to USC as an in-state recruiting school. The talent level in Florida is just staggering. Sports Illustrated did a story back in 2009 that looked at the number of players from each state that played in a BCS bowl. Florida had 981 in 2008. Texas was next with 974. California was third with 826.
What makes the Florida numbers so staggering is the population figures. Florida has 75-percent of the population of Texas and roughly half that of California. However, Florida has three top 20 programs fighting over recruits in the state. Right on the Florida border you have Georgia and the other SEC schools are right there in the neighborhood. There is a massive amount of talent in Florida but there are a lot of schools fighting for that talent. A lot of big time schools. Texas does not have the same level of pressure from in-state schools. Texas A&M was the only in-state school to ever go toe-to-toe with Texas but is not the program it once was.
Outside the state is where Texas finds its great challengers for talent. There are still some border raiders with the kind of tradition that attracts the interest of recruits in Oklahoma and LSU. Both hit Texas hard. Arkansas is very active in Texas. Oklahoma State is another going into the Lone Star state and pulling out good football players.
Who can challenge USC out there? In-state is laughable. The most underperforming football program in the country is UCLA. With the talent base in Los Angeles alone UCLA should be a top 20 program year in and year out. Like Miami, the coaching staff at that program should be able to recruit a quality football team just using the city’s public transit system. Stanford’s admissions standards guarantee it will never be able to consistently put together good teams and really get involved in the recruiting wars. California is the one in-state school that has been a solid winner in recent years but never seems to win the big recruiting battles.
Let’s look at border states and other programs in the region. You would think Arizona and Arizona State would do better in California. Washington challenged USC for recruits … back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Oregon has the attention of the football world for now. With the possible sanctions coming down, sanctions that could get Chip Kelly a pink slip, that program’s time at the top of the Pac-12 could come crashing down as quickly as it went up. USC has massive tradition. National championships. Heisman winners. One of the all-time great track records of sending players to the NFL. USC is one of the crown jewels of college football. Look around that part of the country. Where do you find another program that can bring the same resume as USC into a coach’s office or a recruit’s living room? Texas and Oklahoma would be the closest elite programs and they don't count. There is an old saying that politics is local. So is recruiting. Most schools’ rosters will be made up mostly of in-state players and the vast majority of the roster will be filled by players from the region. That USC is ever down is one of the great mysteries in college sports.
What Lane "violation" Kiffin is doing is really not that surprising when you break it down. The advantage he has, what any USC football coach has, is something every coach in the country would cough up a major organ to have: A massive recruiting base and no real challengers. What USC is doing is impressive but should be expected from that program.
Governing Bodies Out Of Shape?
We have some ridiculous sports sanctioning bodies out there. As a fight fan the ones that come to mind immediately are the boxing organizations. The sport is headed on a downward spiral, one I have
little confidence it will pull itself out of. The alphabet organizations in charge of the sport are a major part of the problem and have no clue as to a solution to the malaise. The International Olympic Committee is another sanctioning body whose rulings make sense only to them.
I have to throw the NCAA into that ugly stew.
The one word that comes to mind when I think about the NCAA is inept. I am talking specifically about how they go about penalizing schools for bad behavior. I am not talking about Penn State and their lack of action. I am not talking about any school and their rulings in regards to those schools. I am talking about how they mete out punishment in general. Our own situation is one I can point to. I see the school docked a couple of precious scholarships. A bowl ban is another thing that hurts recruiting. Miami is a school about to get in a lot of trouble. Oregon is likely to get in a lot of trouble. More possible violations are on the way for what appeared to be a rogue program at North Carolina.
Considering the number of schools getting in trouble every year, the penalties are not having an impact. Penalties should both punish bad behavior and deter future bad behavior. If you look at the number of schools in trouble, it looks like rules violations are increasing.
I have a couple of problems with this. First, the wrong people are being punished. Urban Meyer and this coaching staff, these players, did not commit the crime. Why are they paying for it? The current tragedy unfolding at Penn State has so many people screaming to punish the program. I don't get that. The real perpetrator of the atrocities committed at Penn State will never spend another day savoring the sweet smell of freedom. He is likely to spend the rest of his life in fear. Joe Paterno was one of the all-time icons of the sport. He is dead and his legend tarnished beyond repair.
Others who knew about this are looking at possible charges. Their lives have been changed. Their reputations tarnished in a way that they will never be the same even if they avoid jail time. Those deserving punishment are being punished. Anyone who is found to have had knowledge of this mess and did nothing should be punished. That is the American way. Do wrong and you get punished. Why we want to punish people who have done no wrong is something I do not understand. To what end? I can only assume it is to deter crimes in the future. I am awfully confident that we are not going to see Penn State, or any school for that matter, associate with a pedophile and cover up his crimes. The USC program is taking the punishment for Pete Carroll’s violations. Kiffin is no saint. I expect he will get himself in trouble in short order but I do not expect him to accept Carroll’s sentence. Punishing the current regime for the crimes of the past regime shows no signs of changing behavior.
That is because they have no bite. Jim Tressel is back in a job that has something to do with college sports. He is not the first and he will not be the last. Not with the way the penalties are set up. Not many coaches have the option Carroll had, which was to bail to the NFL. Most need to make a living in the college sport they coach.
Few have the option Tressel had. They need to get back into coaching as soon as possible. Don't let them. If you really want to do something about the cheating in college sports put total bans on these coaches who cheat. On the first offense, five years. No job at any NCAA school for five years.
Forget about the "show-cause" penalty. Make it simple and complete. They cannot be hired in any way shape or form by any NCAA member school. I am talking about the assistant who made the violation AND the head coach. They both go for five years. Second offense is 10 years. That likely ends their careers but even if one makes it back, a third offense is a lifetime ban.
This forces head coaches to be very proactive with assistants. Make sure they are not doing anything wrong. Losing million-dollar jobs and knowing they cannot make that money for five years is going to have an impact. Ten years is a career killer. As fast as things change these days being away for five years could be career threatening. If you do not like this suggestion please post your own. Whether you agree with me on what to do about it, the simple fact is the current penalties are not doing anything to stop the cheating.
It has been a remarkable period in recruiting so far this year. The first thing that comes to mind is the number of early verbals. I remember a time when recruiting did not even start until after the season. This early verbal deal is a relatively new thing.
I remember when it started. It was 15 years ago. Those of us following recruiting closely were floored to learn Penn State had offered players before their senior year let alone took a verbal. One of those players was LaVar Arrington. There was another linebacker offered at about the same time. I cannot recall his name off the top of my head. To think 15 years later most of the top programs have their classes half full or better is truly amazing. This has been evolving but this year the number of early verbals has gone over the top. Thirty-three of the top 50 players in the current 247Sports top 50 are committed. Seven of the top 10 strongside ends are committed. The one that really leaps out at me is offensive tackles. Thirteen of the 247Sports top 15 offensive tackles are committed. If you see a college coach in the stands this fall at a high school game, bet the farm he is there to see underclassmen.
Another thing that I have noticed is the participation from committed players is higher. You just assumed that committed players were not going to camps and combines. This year I am seeing a complete reversal. I was never a fan anyway. Camps and combines now amount to contact practice against a high level of competition and includes instruction from college coaches. I always saw an opportunity to get better. I don't know if that is the thinking or is it a matter that the competitive nature which is so much a part of these elite athletes will not allow them to sit by as others move ahead of them in the recruiting rankings? I don't know but it is a good thing.
It has been a very good thing for the Buckeyes. Jalin Marshall, Cam Burrows, Eli Woodard, Ezekiel Elliott, Marcus Baugh, Billy Price, Jayme Thompson and Taivon Jacobs are ones I can remember off the top of my head who have taken advantage of the opportunity to work on their game. They have all performed very well. Every one has improved their rankings with the exception of Marshall. I am smiling as I type that. Considering reports have come out the only thing anyone could point to that would offer an explanation is a 4.66 40-yard dash at The Opening, an event where he performed extremely well other than that 40 time which we have learned since that there was a clock problem on. Marshall was offered the opportunity to run again but for some reason declined. I am curious as to how he could be downgraded off a 40 that we don't know what his time was. I had someone try to explain to me that others performed better. And? Moving a player up because he played well is one thing. Dropping another over a broken clock is another.
Handing Out Grades
Looking at the class as we head into the home stretch I want to grade every position:
Quarterback – A+ I have seen Max Browne sling it. Yes, the kid has a gun. Throws the ball so effortlessly. I still would not give up J.T. Barrett for him. Barrett is the kind of quarterback I always want to see under center. He is a weapon whether he is throwing it or running it. That is where Browne does not hold a candle to Barrett. Mobile quarterbacks are here to stay. They have even broken the football equivalent of the "glass ceiling" by going high in the NFL draft. There is no longer a reason to settle for a pocket passer. Barrett is not an athletic quarterback. He is a quarterback.
Receivers - B+. Getting Taivon Jacobs was huge. I wanted to see another flanker/slot/wingback to go along with Jalin Marshall. There is plenty of wear and tear out there. Marcus Baugh might be the best receiving Buckeye tight end playing football next fall. A very special player we are getting in Baugh. The one thing we still need is a split end. I will believe we have a good shot at Robert Foster until he finally verbals somewhere. I also like James Quick a lot. One thing I really like about him is like Foster, he could line up at any receiver position. He is fast enough and elusive enough to be a flanker. A verbal from either one of them pushes this position to an A+.
Running Backs - A. Who has shown better this off-season than Ezekiel Elliott? He had a great track season and followed up with a fine showing during the camp and combine circuit. Running back was not a need but if you were describing a player who would fit this offense it is Elliott. He is an everydown back. He can run between the tackles but is a threat to turn the corner, plus he can catch the ball.
Offensive Line - C. Don't mention the number of tackles on the roster. Nobody is happier about that than me. My concern is one tackle in the recruiting class. Not just one tackle but one offensive lineman … period. Losing battles to schools like Michigan, Notre Dame, LSU and Penn State is tough but those are elite schools and in several of those cases we know one of those schools or the other had a leg up. Losing a New Jersey kid, Marcel Lazard, to West Virginia and a Georgia kid, J.P. Vonachek to South Carolina, those are completely different. We are fine at tackle but it is not because we did a good job of recruiting. We need to make sure this class is the aberration, not last year’s class. I love what I see for 2014 so I believe this is the one we will look back on as the off year, but the Class of 2013 is not what we wanted it to be.
Defensive Line - A. One of the best strong side ends in the country in Joey Bosa. Arguably the best pure nose tackle in the country in Michael Hill. That is enough to earn an A right there. When players like Billy Price and Tracy Sprinkle are not the cream of a recruiting crop it shows just how good the class is. Add the pass rusher to take this class to an A+. I think that happens soon as I love Tyquan Lewis and I think it is just a matter of time before he is a Buckeye.
Linebacker – Incomplete. We are only recruiting one linebacker. If we get such a freak in Mike Mitchell this position immediately becomes an A+.
Defensive Backs - A. We have four great looking prospects coming in. Eli Woodard is a very special corner prospect. Cam Burrows might be, too. He was not as big as advertised and he performed very well in coverage in drills. No player improved his stock more than Jayme Thompson this off-season and I was always high on Darron Lee. Adding Vonn Bell would move this class to an A+. I would love to add another corner. If an elite one like Mackenzie Alexander wants to be a Buckeye, I would make room for him somehow. I am very concerned about Brad Roby. If he steps his game up another level we might not have him for his final two seasons.