10 Storylines of the Week
1. Alabama finished with the No. 1 recruiting class for the seventh year in a row. According to the 247Sports' composite ranking, this was also Nick Saban’s highest-rated recruiting class as a coach. How loaded was it? Consider the story of Jarez Parks. The four-star defensive end from Florida, ranked as the nation's No. 78 overall prospect, committed to the Crimson Tide on Wednesday via an elaborate video from Paris, France. Made in conjunction with Bleacher Report and overlaid by Wyclef Jean’s “I Swear”, it depicted Parks reading an emotional letter to his mother while walking the streets of the city. By the time his letter ended, Park’s walk had reached the Eifel Tower. He turned to the camera and said: “Next stop: Bama. Roll Tide, baby.” In the foreground, the clever video editor has turned the Eifel Tower into the “A” in Alabama.
Back stateside, things got awkward after that video was released. Alabama told Parks that it didn’t have a scholarship available for him. Jilted, the stud prospect reportedly chose to grayshirt at Alabama next season instead of taking one of the myriad full-ride scholarship offers he had on the table. A who’s-who of Power 5 bluebloods pursued him on the recruiting trail, while 247Sports reported Wednesday that Auburn, Baylor, Miami and Georgia had all reached out to Parks’ camp after the news broke of Alabama’s conundrum. We don’t know how Nick Saban does it, either.
2. As for the other winners of signing day, Rotoworld’s Mark Lindquist mentioned USC (No. 6 class), Michigan (No. 4), Florida (No. 9), South Carolina (No. 16) and Oklahoma (No. 7). The Trojans had a monster Wednesday, signing six four-stars who entered National Signing Day unaligned (WR Joseph Lewis, OL Austin Jackson, DT Jay Tufele, ATH Greg Johnson, LB Levi Jones and TE Josh Falo). In Ann Arbor, Jim Harbaugh complemented four-star QB Dylan McCaffrey with four-star WRs Nico Collins, Oliver Martin, Tarik Black, Brad Hawkins and five-star WR Donovan Peoples-Jones, the top-rated receiver in the class. Jim McElwain and crew flirted with disaster before a surge on NSD vaulted the Gators' class into the top-10. South Carolina had a top-20 class despite finishing with a losing record in 2016. The Sooners, meanwhile, roped in Bob Stoops’ best-ever class.
Ohio State and Georgia finished with Rivals’ Nos. 2 and 3 classes, respectively, while Florida State checked in at No. 5. Texas A&M snuck into the top-10 at No. 10 with a 27-man class that included 12 four-stars and one five-star recruit.
3. As for losers? Lindquist singled out Virginia Tech, Syracuse, LSU, Iowa and West Virginia. The Hokies signed zero four- or five-star offensive recruits after losing QB Jerod Evans, WR Isaiah Ford and WR/TE Bucky Hodges to early entry. Conference mate Syracuse fared worse, signing zero four- or five-star recruits on either side of the ball en route to a disappointing No. 64 finish in Rivals’ class rankings. LSU lost five-star DT Marvin Wilson to Florida State, but at least the Tigers still finished with a strong class. The Hawkeyes and Mountaineers finished Nos. 40 and 51 in Rivals’ rankings despite successful seasons and veteran coaching staffs.
To the loser list, I would add Cal, which finished with the No. 75 class after firing Sonny Dykes late in the process. New HC Justin Wilcox was unable to salvage the class, which finished below recruiting wastelands like Wake Forest, Purdue, Kansas, ECU and UTSA. I’m a fan of Wilcox and his choice of assistants, but that staff has a steep uphill climb to relevancy and this barren 14-man class will really hurt in three years, when coaches are expected to ramp it up.
4. The most fun recruiting story from Wednesday began with an innocuous announcement by Illinois State that it had signed an offensive tackle from Lawrence, Kansas. Since that tackle’s name was Kobe Buffalomeat, Twitter promptly exploded. Jordan Peele of "Key & Peele" summed up everyone’s thoughts with the following tweet: "You win, God." Buffalomeat appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples wrote a story about the newfound internet celebrity, as did several of the nation’s largest newspapers (New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, etc.).
Fun aside, Illinois State thinks it found itself a player. You see, the 6-foot-7, 285-pound Buffalomeat took two years off from the Lawrence High School football team before returning to the gridiron in 2016. Perhaps this former basketball player has untapped potential hiding inside that prototypical frame? "He has some work to do in the weight room, continue development, but we think he could be a very special player," Redbirds recruiting coordinator Lamar Conrad said. "You just can't coach that kind of size and attitude."
5. Just like Jarez Parks and Kobe Buffalomeat, Cordarrian Richardson found a form of internet fame on Wednesday. Parks’ story was disheartening, Buffalomeat’s was feel-good. Richardson’s? His was just bizarre.
Heading into National Signing Day, Richardson had whittled his finalists down to four: Ole Miss, Maryland Michigan State and Oklahoma. 247Sports.com‘s crystal ball called the Rebels a 100-percent lock to sign him. Bleacher Report released a video of Richardson’s commitment on Wednesday. In it, Richardson released a hot air balloon affixed with a camera into space. Once it reached its cruising altitude well above the clouds, the camera (with help from CGI) showed the logos of Richardson’s finalists. The video ended on the team Richardson picked, Maryland.
But that over-the-top video and shocking school choice proved to be only the beginning of Richardson’s surprises. At Terps HC DJ Durkin’s NSD press-conference on Wednesday night, he didn't mention Richardson’s name. Why? Because Richardson hadn’t yet sent in his National Letter of Intent. Richardson faxed that out the next day. It arrived at UCF—a school not on his list of finalists—not Maryland. Knights HC Scott Frost had to be thrilled with this four-star recruit falling from the sky and into his class, which was bumped to the No. 1 crop in the AAC with Richardson’s signature. 247Sports lists Richardson as the No. 160 overall recruit in the land.
6. In coaching news, Wisconsin promoted DB coach Jim Leonhard to defensive coordinator to replace Justin Wilcox, and Pittsburgh countered former OC Matt Canada’s defection to LSU by hiring Indiana QB coach Shawn Watson as offensive coordinator.
Watson is plenty experienced, having mostly served as an offensive coordinator over the past 17 years. He’s been the OC at Texas (2014-2015), Louisville (2012), Nebraska (2007-2010) and Colorado (2000-2005). Leonhard, meanwhile, will be a first-time coordinator at the tender age of 34. He’s a Badgers legend who was a three-time All-American safety while playing at Wisconsin. Leonhard played 10 seasons in the NFL.
7. Washington HC Chris Petersen calmed down his hyperventilating fanbase by passing along to reporters on National Signing Day that junior QB Jake Browning was "doing really good" following shoulder surgery. Browning got hurt in the Arizona State game on Nov. 19. He played through it as the injury was kept a secret. Petersen downplayed the severity of the malady.
"Jake’s good. Jake’s doing really good," Petersen said. "He just had a minor procedure. It really was. It wasn’t like we were in the season and said, ‘This guy’s going to have to have something done after the season.’ It was after the season, (they) kept looking at it, kept looking at it and doctors thought, ‘If we do this one little thing that might help him down the road.’"
8. We close with the NFL Draft, and boy did we have another busy week on the Deshaun Watson beat. After skipping the Senior Bowl, Watson says he will throw at the NFL Scouting Combine later this month. "Doing the little things right, completing passes, doing whatever the coaching staffs want me to do at the Combine, and just go out there and show what I've got,” Watson said.
The former Tigers’ star will attempt to regain momentum leading up the Draft after reading widespread reports that many teams don’t view him as a first-round pick. In fact, Walter Football reported that “every team we've spoken to has a second- or third-round grade” on the Clemson quarterback. It wasn’t all doom-and-gloom on the Watson front, though. CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora reported that the Cardinals are “very him” on him and “could be prepared to trade up to land him.”
Clemson HC Dabo Swinney said last month that scouts who have second-round grades on Watson should be fired. He also famously said that passing on Watson would be like passing on Michael Jordan. Dabo, can I use you as a reference if this whole Rotoworld thing doesn't work out?
9. This is shaping up to be another Draft cycle of quarterback bashing. NFL.com draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah wrote late in the week that he "couldn't find a scout or executive who was excited" about either North Carolina QB Mitch Trubisky or Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer. "When you're talking to teams that already have an established signal-caller, there's no reason for them to feed me false information," Jeremiah wrote. "In fact, it would benefit them if these quarterbacks went early, dropping talented players at other positions into their lap. I'm sure one or more of these quarterback prospects will get hot and gather some steam as we head toward the draft. Will it be [Trubisky, Kizer or Deshaun Watson,] or will we see another name emerge?"
In a wide-open quarterback crop, keep an eye on Texas Tech’s Pat Mahomes, an extremely divisive prospect in a class full of them. Case in point: Josh Norris and I agree that Mahomes is Johnny Manziel-plus across the board on the field as a prospect (without the off-field baggage, of course), but we disagree about his Draft value. I think that profile plays at the next level. Josh rightly points out that we haven’t seen a quarterback with quite this style succeed in the NFL. We’re early in the process, but stay tuned. I’ve seen the top four quarterbacks ranked in every conceivable iteration since season’s end. Today, Josh and I’s lists would probably be inverted.
10. USA Today’s Tom Pelissero reported early Friday that Oklahoma RB Joe Mixon and Baylor WR Ishmael Zamora were not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine. The infamous duo are being spurned due to a new rule instituted last year that banned players from participating in the Combine if they’d had misdemeanor or felony convictions involving violence, use of a weapon, sexual offense or sexual assault. Mixon, a first-round talent, was caught on tape punching a woman at a restaurant. Zamora, a mid-round talent, beat a dog with a belt in a tape that surfaced in August. Zamora is no sure thing to get drafted, while Mixon may tumble into the middle- or even late-rounds.