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On the Trail: Full Disclosure

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Regular readers may have noted mentally, subconsciously, perhaps, that SMQ doesn't do recruiting. It's a little creepy, a little too speculative, the information a little sketchy and more time-consuming to lay hands on than it's worth.

Yet with the all-important Signing Day but one week hence, SMQ thought he'd give the wooing of blue chips its due, beginning with one important note: he has no idea what he's talking about when it comes to incoming talent. These are a bunch of kids nobody's seen coming from a level that doesn't come close to what they'll be a part of next fall (for some of them, this spring), the outside world's entire opinion of whom is based solely a few very debatable stars. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but there are, you know, some inevetiable gaps, larger for some than for others. Everything SMQ knows about this recruiting season - and he means everything he knows, and even some stuff he doesn't:

Jimmy Clausen is a Bust: What, Jimmy hasn't played a game yet? Jimmy has only just enrolled? And has a rising coaching star not at all bent on destroying Jimmy as a position coach?

This is more a result of perception than actual performance. Not that Jimmy won't necessarily be a perfectly decent, or even very good college player, but Jimmy Clausen has to do two things to justify Jimmy's existence at Notre Dame: win a mythical championship, win a Heisman Trophy or both. Not inconceivable stuff. He could probably get by with an all-America selection and a minimum two BCS bowls, as long as ND beats USC and Michigan a couple times in the process. The past five top-ranked "pocket" quarterbacks approaching these expectations, though, look like this: Ben Olson (2002), Kyle Wright (2003), Rhett Bomar (2004), Mark Sanchez or, if you like, Ryan Perrilloux (2005) and Mitch Mustain (2006). Aside from being named by hack screenwriters, this highly-touted group has one common theme, best sung in operatic style: bu-u-u-u-ssssst. Some combination of hype, hubris and hormone screws with these kids' psyches along the way.

Jimmy establishes his presence quietly, with great humility, careful not to set Jimmy up for any sort of backlash against Jimmy at all...
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All have eligibility remaining, but Olson did his Mormon thing, transferred and was beat out for UCLA's job by wind-up quarterback Patrick Cowan, Wright has been an erratic, conservative punching bag with a proclivity for meager dump-offs and desperate throwaways (the best throw he's made all night, Brent...) in Miami and SMQ is not sure what's up with Bomar following last August's scintillating Lexusgate.  Sanchez, Perrilloux and Mustain all have plenty of time yet to show us something, but the first two have, or have had, legal and depth chart problems pinning them to the bench, and Mustain will be forced to sit out an entire season upon completion of impending transfer (which does not appear likely to occur before Spring practice, oddly). SMQ can direct the reader to specific, non-message board calls for the heads, so to speak, of each of these young men, and Mustain is already being bid good riddance, following a season in which he went 8-0 as a starter and won at Auburn as a true freshman, for having the unprecedented temerity to feel the situation at Arkansas wasn't the best for him. It is inexcusable, undeniably selfish and certainly not normal that an 18-year-old should feel somewhat alienated during his freshman year, or that his parents should still have any input in his life. Right? What player with hopes of a pro career would ever transfer for something as shallow as playing time, or a system he feels is the right fit for his skills? It's not like dozens of players from every school in the country do exactly the same thing every season, or that the process exists for precisely such situations. Right?

Get real: maybe Mustain deserves to be called "selfish," maybe not - SMQ doesn't have the first insight into the details - but already the kid is viewed in an overwhelmingly negative light.

For obvious reasons, so is Jimmy, who will already be ensconsed on campus by next fall and seems to have no shortage of confidence. But if Jimmy doesn't win the starting job? If Notre Dame struggles on offense as Jimmy adjusts to the speed of the college game? The guy's supposed to be Brady Quinn, better than Brady Quinn, but it took Jimmy's predecessor two years of mostly futility to emerge as a bona fide star, and he's still regularly pummelled by rival fans for having beaten but one team (Penn State last year) during his Weis-fuelled renaissance that finished its season ranked in any poll. Jimmy is brand new, and everyone else handling the ball in Notre Dame's offense will be, for all intents and purposes, brand new. How patient is anyone going to be with a spikey-haired, ring-flashing SoCal boy viewed pretty much universally as a whiny primadonna? Sing it with SMQ: bu-u-u-u-ssssst.

That Other Guy From His School Is Going to be Awesome: That would be Marc Tyler, who might put a merciful end to USC's muddled running back situation. ranks him as the second-best running back in the country in the number six overall player, two spots behind teammate Jimmy, but it was Tyler when SMQ watched Oaks Christian High in Spetember who very clearly stole the show. These two will be facing off in South Bend in a few months (okay, like and, per his ever-expanding daily guidebook, SMQ says bet against the one with the hair gel.

It's Jerrell Powe Time, Part Tres: Powe's mother once suggested the huge (6'2", 330), hugely-touted defensive tackle was a good boy but illiterate, backed up by the fact he wound up at Hargrave Military Academy after signing with Ole Miss in 2005 and whereabouts unknown after being declared ineligible by the NCAA last fall. Last week, he said his goal is to re-enroll at Ole Miss and contribute to the 2007 Rebels. Good luck. If he makes it, it will be the third consecutive season "Jerrell Powe" is listed as an "impact player" among incoming Rebels.

Those Web Sites SMQ Doesn't Read Corrupt Delicate Young Minds and Therefore Represent the Most Toxic of the Gridiron's Many Contribuitons to American Society's Unique, Inexorable March Towards the Eve of Destruction: Or so we're told over and over and over again by the likes of the Knight Commission, which released a report Monday that suggests, shockingly, "that external pressures are warping the recruiting process, damaging the psyches of 17-year-old high school athletes and corrupting parents and coaches."

Oh, for those pristine days of honest yore.
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The NCAA goes way, way out of its way, to absurd levels, to pass obscure rules to prevent the corruption that dominated the sport, and especially recruiting, up to the SMU "death penalty" case, and still can't get away from this:

They said this has helped create a generation of players and parents who covet the sites' five-star and four-star ratings. High school coaches are pressured by parents to turn out these highly ranked players, and college coaches are pressured by boosters to sign them.

Bosses pressured by boosters, eh? To sign quality talent, you say? In order to better succeed and perhaps generate more revenue? My god, when will we bring the college athletic recruiting process into the real world?

Player Rankings Are Largely Trustworthy: SMQ ragged on the top of the quarterback lists the past few seasons, but on the same lists you'll find JaMarcus Russell, Brady Quinn, Brian Brohm and John David Booty not all far below. Brian at MGoBlog has effectively examined some of the past rankings and found them pretty solid. Looking back at some old Athlon previews, 1999-2002, and most of the names at the top fared a lot better than "contributor." Whoever Bill King is, his 1999 list is fairly sensational in retrospect: the top 25 includes Chirs Simms, T.J. Duckett, Reggie Brown, Kyle Boller, Vernon Carey, Anquan Boldin, Darnell Dockett, Cory Redding, Albert Haynesworth and Saleem Rasheed, all hits on the college level or beyond, and mostly notable players in between (he's forgiven for Oklahoma State QB Chris Massey in the top ten). Busts are a fact of life, and again, the expectations that accompany being regarded as one of the nation's best five or ten players are so unrealistic it almost takes a singular talent like Vince Young or Reggie Bush to eventually fulfill them (what was the typical Texas take on Young prior to the Rose Bowl explosion against Michigan, SMQ wonders? Very bullish, he's sure).

Peeking at last year's Top 100 from, it looks outstandingly prescient already: Chris Wells, Andre Smith (TD-catching `Bama lineman), Sam Young, Myron Rolle, Percy Harvin, Mustain, Matthew Stafford, Keiland Williams, C.J. Spiller, Michael Goodson, Taylor Mays, C.J. Gable, Jarred Fayson and Tim Tebow made up half of the top 30, and all made instant impacts in extremely competitive situations. The other half has three to four years to join them. If top five receiver Vidal Hazelton never catches another pass at USC, it won't invalidate the overall success rate, which consistently shows these guys do actually have a clue. A big one. Tom Lemming actually has a raging clue about New Jersey defensive end Justin Trattou right now.

Southern Miss Will Be Lackluster, Even for Southern Miss: Perhaps at the root of his recruiting malaise is the complete inability of SMQ's alma mater to sign any player of any particular non-local distinction, ever. SMQ hasn't read Blindside yet, but he does know it contains a passage about Michael Oher performing a board drill in front of a load of recruiters who have never seen him, and Oher plants a couple of his other large teammates into premature graves on the practice field before unwittingly blocking out the sun over the entire city of Memphis, and then-USM offensive coordinator Rip Scherer says on the spot, "Well, we have no chance to sign him. Who else you got?"

Probably, then-coach Scherer was right. There's no reason to expect Southern Miss to grab a cadre of blue-chippers to play for, at best, a contender in Conference USA, in Hattiesburg - which is a better town for a certain type of student than Starkville or Oxford, for the record, but not necessarily for an athlete, and certainly not so much so it can overcome the OMG SEC! factor of its northern rivals. But it would be nice to grab one at some point. It would be nice if coaches, maybe, attempted to get some Oher-type project away from the worst operations in the SEC, rather than embracing retreads from Louisiana who invariably redshirt and sit two-three years before filling a role. Virtually no Southern player has the talent to force coaches to adjust to a role he created himself. Middle of the week or not, USM is on national television about twice as often as State or post-Eli Ole Miss, wins twice as many games, and graduates a significantly greater number of its players. It measures up easily in terms of enrollment, academics and location. And it can't pluck one of the state's best recruits from them? If these guys leave for LSU or Auburn or Alabama or someplace out of state that's legitimately competitive, that SMQ understands. He's not getting greedy. But Signing Day has never produced any excitement greater than a standard press release extolling the virtues of total anonymities, some of whom will eventually work out, some of whom won't; even adjusting for expectations at Southern Miss, never a "sure thing." Where are our grossly outsized and unfair expectations? Our years-long struggle with the eligibility of massive, headhunting illiterates?

Nick Saban is an Assassin: Gucci suits, private jets all the way. Hey, this ain't no church bake sale: Don Nicky gets the signatures. What else do you want?

Nick Saban wants YOU for Alabama football, son! Unless you're some flimsy pantywaist like Daunte Culpepper. Then don't waste his time.
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