The most anticipated decision of the 2014 recruiting year will come down on Thursday live on Rivals.com and NBC Sports Channel as Woodbridge (Va.) Woodbridge Senior defensive end Da'Shawn Hand, the nation's No. 1 player, will choose from amomg Michigan, Alabama and Florida from his high school. Rivals.com National Recruiting Director Mike Farrell' breaks down the choices, gives a little history lesson on previous No. 1's and gives his prediction.
Okay, the big day is just about here -- Da'Shawn Hand is making his announcement. If you had asked me this time last year where he'd be going to school, my answer would have been Virginia Tech; but a lot has happened since then, and Hand has shown the ability to surprise when it comes to his favorites. But before I break down the pros and cons of each of his three finalists and make my prediction, here's a brief breakdown of our past No. 1 prospects' decisions and how much drama was involved.
THE HAND FILE
Da'Shawn Hand Position: Defensive end
School: Woodbridge (Va.) Senior
2003 LB Ernie Sims: Sims tried to keep the suspense going despite being linked to Florida State forever and took official visits to Georgia, Florida, Auburn, Miami and finally FSU before committing to the Seminoles on Signing Day. Very little drama here.
2004 RB Adrian Peterson: Peterson had an early group of Arkansas, Miami, Florida, USC, Texas, Texas A&M, LSU and others, but eventually chose Oklahoma in what wasn't a surprise. While many thought it came down to Oklahoma and USC in the end, Texas was really the only team that had a shot here. Peterson, like Young, committed in January. Unlike Young but similar to Sims, Peterson took official visits. He visited UCLA, Arkansas, USC, Miami and finally Oklahoma before deciding. Not dramatic.
2005 ATH Derrick Williams: While Williams might have broken our string of overall No. 1 prospects to land in the first round of the NFL draft, he arguably had the most suspenseful announcement. Williams visited Florida, Penn State, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Texas in that order and had many thinking he was picking the Gators or OU. Williams committed to Penn State on ESPN with me in late December as an early enrollee. High drama on this one.
2006 WR Percy Harvin: Harvin didn't like the recruiting process much and after his visit to Florida in September, this was pretty much over. He took an official visit to USC in October but chose the Gators in late December on ESPN with me and his teammate, wide receiver Damon McDaniel. McDaniel eventually flipped (and flopped) to FSU and Harvin won a couple of national titles. Very little drama here.
2007 QB Jimmy Clausen: Zero suspense here as Clausen committed to Notre Dame in April during his junior year of high school and never thought about wavering. Clausen chose the Irish over USC mainly for Charlie Weis and is the earliest of the No. 1 commitments in our history.
2008 QB Terrelle Pryor: Pryor was our first No. 1 to commit to a different school initially as he had committed to Pittsburgh to play basketball before deciding that football would be his focus. He was also our latest commitment as he finally chose Ohio State, his longtime leader, on March 19, a full six weeks after Signing Day. In the end, it came down to the Buckeyes and Penn State and he delayed his original Signing Day decision out of respect for his dad, who wanted him to look at State College again, but this was not dramatic beyond the non-decision.
2009 RB Bryce Brown: Brown followed in Pryor's footsteps by committing on March 16, almost six weeks after Signing Day, but his process was much more dramatic. He made an early commitment to Miami but after de-committing he took official visits to Missouri, Oregon, Clemson, Tennessee and finally LSU before selecting the Vols. There was too much drama involved in this one to put down in words and both Pryor and Brown could be credited with taking the drama of recruiting to its current level. They were pioneers it appears.
2010 DE Ronald Powell: Powell is our only No. 1 who actually wasn't No. 1 when he made his commitment. When he committed to Florida on Jan. 9, offensive lineman Seantrel Henderson was still technically No. 1, although my staff and I had already met and decided on Powell for our final rankings release on Jan. 14. Powell was leaning toward Florida for months and chose the Gators over USC at the U.S. Army All American Bowl despite Urban Meyer's sudden retirement and then change of heart. Very little drama here.
2011 DE Jadeveon Clowney: Everyone knew Clowney was going to South Carolina, so this decision was just a matter of time. Despite that, Clowney took it past Signing Day and signed on Feb. 14 after official visits to South Carolina, Alabama and Clemson. The best player I've seen in high school was one of the easiest to call when it came to a destination.
2012 WR Dorial Green-Beckham: Green-Beckham was so quiet throughout the process that his Signing Day decision was a tough one to read. After an early official visit to Texas and early rumors that Oklahoma was the clear leader, this ended up coming down to local programs in Arkansas and Missouri. Heading into the final weekend before Signing Day, most felt Arkansas was the place for DGB but his final official visit to Mizzou cinched things for the Tigers. There was actually a little bit of drama here.
2013 DE Robert Nkemdiche: Despite an early commitment to Clemson in June, the moment his mom got heavily involved in his recruiting, this was a done deal for Ole Miss where his brother, Denzel, plays. Nkemdiche waited until Signing Day to announce for the Rebels, but this was known for months and months and was one of the worst kept secrets in recruiting.
So where will Hand land, you ask? Before I make my prediction, let's break down the pros and cons of each school on his list.
Michigan: The pros here are many -- he loves the academics, already has a relationship with certain academic folks at Michigan and he likes the coaches and scheme. However, there are cons as well. Michigan is struggling badly this year, some are questioning Brady Hoke's coaching and you could argue that Michigan is the least likely team of the three to win a national title in the next few years despite Florida's struggles.
Alabama: How about this for a pro? You can win a national title or four if you go to Alabama. The winning and stability at head coach (forget about Texas, don't see it happening) are attractive here and has to be tempting. The cons are many, however, as Hand would have to study Civil Engineering, which is his first love but a very hard major to handle while also being a football star. And he might have to learn to play a different position as well as Alabama might turn him into a linebacker.
Florida: Pros are hard to find right now, but keep in mind that this was a BCS bowl team last year and has one of the best defenses in the country. Hand is probably a more natural fit into the Gators' scheme than he is for Michigan or Alabama as well. But the cons are huge -- Florida stinks right now, recruiting will suffer and Will Muschamp could be gone after next year if he doesn't win the SEC East. If Alabama is running and Michigan is limping, Florida is prone on the floor when it comes to the 2013 season.
So here's the prediction: I'm going with Michigan here in a much closer battle than people expect. I think Alabama made a really good run at this and Florida's game atmosphere and fans calling for Muschamp's head eliminated them. In a race that comes down to academics as much as athletics, the Wolverines win this one and secure No. 1 to go along with No. 2 Jabrill Peppers.