January 27, 2009

National Notebook: Down to the wire

MORE: Counting Down to Signing Day | Announcement Watch | Expert Commit Predictions

Watching battles among schools for the top high school prospects is never boring. But watching the battles among schools for the remaining players with little more than a week left until National Signing Day can be downright fascinating.

Six of the nation's top 10 prospects remain up for grabs, and the jockeying, scrambling and final pushes before the dead period is in full swing. A minute doesn't go by where there's a rumor started about where some of the top players in the nation will end up.

At the top of the speculation list is the nation's No. 1 player, running back Bryce Brown of Wichita (Kan.) East. Brown remains committed to Miami, but he currently is with his uncle on vacation in Nebraska until Feb. 7. There has been rampant speculation that Brown will take an official visit to Auburn this weekend, but neither Brown nor his mentor Brian Butler have confirmed the visit.

It's believed Brown will come back the weekend after Signing Day and look at what players landed where and then decide on two official visits to either Auburn, Miami, Tennessee or USC.

Then there is wide receiver Rueben Randle, the nation's No. 2 player, from Bastrop (La.) High. He has shifted his focus to three schools LSU, Alabama and Oklahoma. But Randle said he intends to take one final official visit this weekend, to Auburn, before making up his mind.

"As of right now, I am taking my visit to Auburn," Randle said. "I'll then come back and figure out when I'll make my decision."

St. Louis Gateway defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, the nation's No. 4 player, has been a long-time Missouri commitment, but he said he is still considering an official visit to Miami on Friday.

"They are still recruiting me, so we'll see," he said. "I'm down to two Miami and Missouri. I said I was done for a minute, and then I saw they're still coming after me. We'll see if I visit. I'm talking to my father about that. We'll see."

A minute doesn't go by where there's a rumor about the nation's No. 6 prospect, Pensacola (Fla.) Escambia running back Trent Richardson. His college choice was the center of rampant Internet rumors Monday night, with most speculating he had officially de-committed from Alabama and was heading to LSU. People close to Richardson denied the speculation, but the gossip won't stop until Richardson signs.

Linebacker Vontaze Burfict of Corona (Calif.) Centennial, the nation's No. 9 prospect, pledged to USC on Feb. 26, 2008. But he visited Arizona State on Jan. 16. Burfict did visit USC this past weekend and all indications are the visit went well, but he's not spoken publicly about his status since that trip.

Then there is linebacker Jelani Jenkins of Olney (Md.) Our Lady of Good Counsel, the nation's No. 10 player. He will wait until NSD to announce his decision on one of the ESPN network channels.

"It's down to Florida, Penn State, Notre Dame, Stanford and Southern Cal," said his dad, Maurice. "We saw Southern Cal and Stanford when we went on a West Coast trip last spring, and we went to Notre Dame as well. And last weekend we were at Penn State, so Jelani is done with official visits. He has a ton of stuff to do over the next few weekends as far as awards dinners and such, so we won't be able to get any more in."

RACE TIGHTENS UP

The race for the nation's top class is nowhere near over. LSU has had a stranglehold on the top spot for several months now over Ohio State, but there are several teams with enough players left on their boards to push the Tigers for the top spot.

LSU also has plenty left on its board, especially if it can reel in Randle and Richardson and/or pull another surprise or two. That might be enough to keep the Tigers at No. 1.

Ohio State and Texas are virtually done, especially now that Devon Kennard is off the board for the Longhorns. That leaves Alabama, USC and Florida as the biggest threats to make a run at No. 1.

The Trojans surely will get a bounce after adding Kennard on Tuesday, and they could get another huge bump if five-star linebacker Manti Te'o comes aboard. The Trojans also are still involved with Jarvis Jones, Jawanza Starling, Orson Charles and Frankie Telfort.

Florida still is in the mix for Jenkins, Jones, Telfort, Charles, Denard Robinson, Joshua Evans and Marlon Brown. Alabama still has big-timers such as Randle, Reid, Eddie Lacy, Bobby Massie, Barkevious Mingo, Brandon Moore, Kendall Kelly, Dre Kirkpatrick and Darren Myles on its board.

LOGJAM AT TOP OF MOUNTAIN WEST

While most of the nation's focus has been on the intense recruiting battles going on in the SEC, one of tightest races is at the top of the Mountain West Conference. Right now, there is not a huge separation among Utah, TCU and BYU for the top three spots in the conference.

Utah is on top now with a class that includes defensive end James Aiono the nation's No. 1 junior college player two four-star prospects and 13 three-star recruits. TCU has four four-star pledges and 11 three-star commitments. BYU also has a great group coming in, with two four-star commitments and 14 three-star players.

Overall, Utah is ranked No. 39 in the nation, ahead of "Big Six" programs such as Wisconsin, Colorado, Ole Miss and Georgia Tech. TCU checks in at No. 43 and BYU at No. 49. Utah is in position to strengthen its hold of the top spot in the conference if it's able to reel in Rivals100 offensive lineman Xavier Su'a Filo of Provo (Utah) Timpview.




 

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