Florida's recruits are first-class

Meyer makes splash

USC gets quality

Florida State closes strong

College football

February 02, 2006|By CHRISTIAN EWELL | CHRISTIAN EWELL,SUN REPORTER

By the end of national signing day, the Florida football program was sitting on the same high perch it has occupied for the past two months.

The Gators, who received 27 letters of intent yesterday, are considered to have the best recruiting class in the country, rivaled by a late-charging Southern California program and a Texas staff that did most of its work before last fall even began.

Much of what gave Florida its top position came during late fall, when it picked up receivers Jarred Fayson, Justin Williams and Percy Harvin, to go with dual-threat quarterback Tim Tebow.

On defense, Jamar Hornsby and Bryan Thomas give the Gators greater athleticism in coach Urban Meyer's first full recruiting effort in Gainesville.

"All are great athletes who can play on both sides of the ball as receivers or they can play as safeties," longtime recruiting analyst Jamie Newberg told Fox Sports South. "So they've really helped themselves with balance, athletes and speed."

Meyer said speed was a priority in the team's recruiting efforts.

"It was a premium. Our longest run from scrimmage in the big games was 29 yards," Meyer said. "It is one area that we need to improve. We've got a group of receivers and playmakers at running back that I'm very pleased with."

While much of the Gators' work was done by New Year's Day, the runner-up was still toiling yesterday. USC, whose commitment total was barely in double digits at the start of the year, is getting high marks for making its sparse class count in terms of quality.

Eleven of the team's 21 signees were among the top 150 players ranked by Scouts Inc., led by a pair of safeties, Antwine Perez and Taylor Mays, and running backs Stafon Johnson and Emmanuel Moody.

A final assessment of the Trojans' class hangs on wide receiver Vidal Hazelton, who recently re-committed to the program but is awaiting a signature from his parents, who haven't yet given approval.

"It's another key, super-impact player that USC seems to get in abundance," said Tom Lemming of CSTV.

Other teams that have moved well in recent weeks have been Florida State, Penn State and LSU, all of which have nudged into the top 10 by most recruiting analysts.

Counter to the program's former trademark of locking up players as early as possible, the Nittany Lions picked up seven commitments over the past two weeks, including three Marylanders - offensive linemen Antonio Logan-El (Forestville) and J.B. Walton (Lackey) and defensive tackle Philip Taylor (Gwynn Park).

LSU was able to get six of its 25 signees within the past two weeks. The star of this group is Jai Eugene of Destrehan, La., who until this week had intended to sign with Michigan.

But the king of the closers still resides in Tallahassee, where Bobby Bowden's Florida State team corralled 14 players over the past two weeks, including four players in the Rivals.com top 100.

What impressed Scouts Inc. analyst Tom Luginbill was the versatility of the class.

"They're all guys who can play multiple positions and can run," Luginbill said on ESPN. "That adds so much value to that class."

The top uncommitted player going into yesterday, Andre Smith of Birmingham, Ala., chose Alabama over USC, LSU and Florida, ending a process that he admitted to prolonging in order to allow attention to flow to his teammates at Huffman High School.

"I did it for my teammates to get scholarships," said Smith, a 6-foot-5, 315-pound offensive tackle who made his announcement wearing a houndstooth hat in the style of legendary Crimson Tide coach Bear Bryant. "It gives [schools] a chance to look at them and see how hard they're working."

Overall, it closed out a strong effort for Alabama, which had offensive line struggles as one of the few liabilities for a team that went 10-2 last season.

The Crimson Tide was able to pick up quarterback Greg McElroy, a talented player who was committed to Texas Tech until the past month or so. For a program that lost Tebow to Florida, it was necessary to find a quarterback to run its system.

"They lost a heated battle for Tebow," Luginbill said. "Ultimately, they go out and get McElroy, so credit them for not giving up and finding the right guy, not just any guy."

christian.ewell@baltsun.com

Best classes

Consensus Top 10 classes, using Rivals.com, Scout.com, Scouts Inc., and CSTV analyst Tom Lemming:

1. Florida ............ 6. LSU

2. Southern Cal .... 7. Penn State

3. Texas ................ 8. Florida State

4. Georgia ............ 9. Oklahoma

5. Notre Dame ..... 10. Michigan

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