Mike Farrell is the National Football Recruiting Analyst for Rivals.com. Want more of what's on Mike's mind throughout the week? Follow him on Twitter @rivalsmike.
Rivals.com national analyst Mike Farrell is never shy to express his opinion on everything from commitments to rankings to how on-field performance affects recruiting. In this weekly feature -- Inside the Mind of Mike -- the most experienced analyst in the industry gives some of his thoughts on the events of the past week.
The decision of Robert Foster to choose Alabama over Pitt might not be surprising to those simply looking at things from the outside. After all, why would a Rivals100 prospect reject the Crimson Tide and an opportunity to play for national titles and head off to the NFL like everyone else in the program to play for a team that went 6-6 in the Big East and is playing in the BBVA Compass Bowl?
But Foster hails from Western Pennsylvania, his family initially preferred him to stay close to home and he was a long-time lean to the Panthers. That's why it is a surprise, and another example of Alabama's unmatched national recruiting power, that Foster decided to head South. Now the Tide has two more hurdles to overcome. First, they have to hold onto the four-star between now and Signing Day as Pitt won't stop recruiting him and there will be more pressure to stay local as the day approaches. Second, Foster has to qualify, as there have been some academic question marks.
If he doesn't, he will be recruited all over again next year. However, getting this far is a testament to the recruiting job of Mike Groh and Lance Thompson. Thompson was the lead recruiter on Foster, but Groh played perhaps an even bigger role here as the wide receiver coach and the guy who won over Foster's mom. Oh yeah, Nick Saban had something to do with it as well.
Maryland landed a big prize, not literally but figuratively, when cornerback Will Likely from Florida chose the Terps over LSU and Florida State. Now before Tiger and 'Noles fans start freaking out, I know neither school had a committable offer out to the 5-foot-7 cornerback, but he's still a four-star talent and despite his lack of size he will be an impact player for Randy Edsall and company. Likely is extremely talented and if he were 5-foot-11, we could be talking about a five-star. We'll see if his height is a hindrance at the next level.
The Vols are focusing on the future which is a good thing and the new staff has done an excellent job making ground with the class of 2014. The state of Tennessee is loaded next year and an early commitment from defensive back Vic Wharton is a great start. Butch Jones has put together a solid staff and the early returns are impressive in the 2013 class as well as next year.
UCLA is going to finish strong, I have little doubt about it. This past week showed how they can lose a four-star in Jermaine Kelly but rebound by landing wide receiver Elridge Massington. I think they get Terrell Newby, Tahaan Goodman and Priest Willis to name a few. I know some people think I'm crazy about the Goodman-Willis package deal, but it's a hunch and it's my hunch, so that's all I can say.
Practice makes perfect
With the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and the Under Armour All-American Game practices set to kick off on Monday, there will be plenty of recruiting news coming out of San Antonio and Orlando, respectively.
There will also be numerous prospects looking to prove they belong and improve their rankings. And we have some intense battles at certain positions that I'm looking forward to seeing. As with any position, someone can come from the back of the pack and push past or near even with everyone against the best competition in the country (see Easley, Dominique in 2010) so with that in mind, here are the top six battles with my best guess at what happens and one name from the back of the pack.
Running back: This position is very top heavy and there are many top running back candidates behind the five-stars. However, I think in the end it comes down to Derrick Green, Greg Bryant (Notre Dame commitment), Thomas Tyner (Oregon) and Altee Tenpenny (Alabama) at Army and Ty Isaac (USC) and Kelvin Taylor (Florida) at Under Armour. Running backs don't often have breakout games in these all-star settings because there are only so many carries to go around. That makes practice, scrimmage and the little things like willingness to block much more important. Green has the edge going in, but it's a close battle right now between all of them, and you can't forget Taquan Mizzell (Virginia), who is the No. 1 all-purpose back in the country and a five-star as well. These games are built more for speed and guys who are effective in the spread so Green will need to go hard from Day 1 in every aspect to keep his top spot and hold off flashier guys in space such as Bryant and Tyner. I think Green comes out, runs over a lot of people with anger in practice and in the game, and blocks like that No. 1 title is on the line and emerges unscathed.
Watch out for: Alabama commitment Derrick Henry. We have Henry, who set the Florida career rushing record this past season, as an athlete because we're not sold on him being a running back at the next level. However, we had similar concerns about James Wilder Jr. a few years back and he simply face-palmed everyone. Henry is part of a crowded group at Army, but he could surprise.
Wide receiver: Laquon Treadwell is the only five-star wide receiver right now and the No. 2 wideout, Marquez North, is out with an injury. So Treadwell must be a sure thing, right? Not quite. Treadwell is in the Under Armour game, but will be joined by Auburn commitment Earnest Robinson and Baylor pledge Robbie Rhodes, two guys with the size-and-speed combination to make a push.
At Army, Texas A&M commitment Derrick Griffin could prove he's DGB Part II --Dorial Green-Beckham for those who already forgot -- and fellow Aggies pledge Ricky Seals-Jones could also go off and prove he's not just an athlete but a dynamic receiver. Clemson commitment Demarcus Robinson has amazing potential as well. Why do I have a sneaking suspicion that this will be determined by Griffin more than anyone? He's either going to show that he's special, or that he needs to be moved to tight end.
Watch out for: Recent Alabama commitment Robert Foster. Foster has the size, skill and speed to turn heads at Under Armour if properly motivated. Our questions have been more off-the-field than anything else with Foster, but there's little doubt I can see him doing something special.
Offensive guard: This isn't a sexy position, but it's an intense battle between two players who will be teammates on the East Squad in San Antonio at the Army Bowl.
USC commitment Khaliel Rodgers held the No. 1 title until this past summer when Notre Dame commitment John Montelus slid past him. However, only one slot separates them in the Rivals100. Florida State commitment Ira Denson will be at Under Armour and he isn't too far behind. This appears to be a three-man race, but as we know anything can happen. Rodgers has a chip on his shoulder so watch out for him in Texas as I think he takes his title back.
Watch out for: LSU commitment Josh Boutte. Everyone likes their offensive linemen to be physical and nasty and Boutte showed us that side of him this past summer. On film he's aggressive but not quite as mean as he could be. At Army, can he out-mean Rodgers, who is the nastiest lineman in the country?
Defensive tackle: Speaking of a chip on his shoulder, Rodgers' teammate Kenny Bigelow, also committed to USC, plays like that all the time. He'll be competing with fellow five-star A'Shawn Robinson in Texas, albeit on separate teams.
However, the biggest competition for Bigelow appears to be in Orlando as Montravius Adams will be at Under Armour doing his thing. All three will be stepping up in a big way when it comes to level of competition, so whoever steps up the best could take home this honor. We'd be remiss not to mention Eddie Vanderdoes as well, who will be at Army and making a huge leap in competition. This is a tough one to call and a lot depends on Adams, who is making the biggest jump in competition by far. I think Bigelow comes into the week angry and leaves with a couple of sacks and the No. 1 slot.
Watch out for: Florida commitment Caleb Brantley. Brantley is as athletic and talented as anyone in this discussion, but he doesn't have the same motor. If he sees Under Armour as a mission and decides to put it all together, he could dominate like Easley did at the same event.
Fuller, Ramsey, Apple, White and Alexander will all be battling it out at the Army Bowl while Hargreaves and Burrows will be at Under Armour. These guys don't get tested too often at their high schools these days, so they will need to shake off some rust and face bigger and faster wide receivers. As we know, cornerbacks get called out for two reasons in these games -- making a huge play or getting toasted --and it's safe to say we will see quite a bit of each from this group.
Watch out for: Priest Willis has the size, length and athleticism to be special and he could be out to prove that he's undervalued. The big question will be will he play cornerback or be moved to safety at Under Armour?
Safety: USC commitment Su'a Cravens is considered such a rare safety prospect that even with five-stars Leon McQuay III and Max Redfield pushing for top honors, it hasn't been that close a battle. But now it comes down to playing against the best and covering a lot of ground, as well as coming up in run support. McQuay covers a ton of ground and Redfield has exceptional ball skills, but the prediction here is that Cravens has a Shaq Thompson-kind of week and shows why there is distance.
Watch out for: Tahaan Goodman has impressive ability. His junior highlight film is a thing of beauty. However, Goodman isn't as instinctual or focused as those ranked ahead of him. Can he pull it all together at Army and show he belongs in the California discussion with Cravens and Redfield?
There are a few big decisions looming at the two big all-star games the first weekend of January and at this point a few of them look obvious. Max Redfield appears to be a heavy lean to Notre Dame, Ebenezer Ogundeko appears to be a strong lean to Clemson and Trey Johnson looks like a lock for Ohio State.
Some others are far less obvious, such as Leon McQuay III, Marquez North and Al-Quadin Muhammad, to name a few. McQuay is very quiet so it's hard to get a read on him but my feeling is that he wants USC, but not sure if he will end up choosing the Trojans in the end. With North, he has favored Tennessee, Clemson, North Carolina and Florida at different times, according to sources, and the Vols and Heels are the favorites now. Muhammad was a silent commitment to Notre Dame at one point but academic issues could send him elsewhere. It should make for an interesting week at both locations.
Defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson says he's solid to Texas and I think he stays that way because of proximity to home, but if he were simply making his own decision, I think he'd be committed to USC by now.
Defensive end Joe Mathis will also choose at Army and his decision is interesting mainly because he will choose between Washington and UCLA, although he'll also have USC, Texas A&M and Alabama hats on the table. Look for Tosh Lupoi and the Huskies to take this one, barring a left turn.
Don't discount Kentucky for cornerback Mackensie Alexander. He has a great relationship with Mark Stoops, who was the defensive coordinator at his rumored one-time favorite FSU, as well as D.J. Elliott and Alexander is the kind of kid who would make a surprise decision. Kentucky would also be willing to take his brother, Mackenro Alexander, something I'm not sure some other schools will do. I'm not predicting Kentucky for Mackensie, but I will say they could have a hat on the table when he decides.
Can someone tell me how Texas A&M can keep taking commitments? With 34 and counting, I know there are some early enrollees and some future academic casualties, but this is starting to be a kind of math I never studied in college.
Good news for N.C. State and Boston College fans as Dave Doeren and Steve Addazio love recruiting and have hit the trail aggressively. Fans of those programs have had trouble getting excited about recruiting in recent years, but that should change.
The JUCO rankings are done and Charlie Weis and Kansas were the big winners. Despite a 1-11 season, Weis signed seven of the top 100 JUCO prospects in the country. Ole Miss also did well signing two players in Lavon Hooks and Nickolas Brassell, who will immediately help the defense. That's two of the top five JUCOs in the nation.
Oregon State is going to capitalize a bit on a great season as I think Dashon Hunt and Brayden Kearsley, despite his current commitment to BYU, are likely to end up in Corvallis. Don't think that's a big deal? That's as many four-stars as the Beavers landed last year alone and more than they signed in 2011.