Football Recruiting Momentum May 3, 2012
Listen to this man. Listen to the despair in his voice. This man is me, 18 days ago.
I just got home from the Spring Game, one of my favorite days of the year, and all I can think about is a 4-star quarterback picking Northwestern. Northwestern.
As you know, if you’ve ever read any words in this space, I care way too much about recruiting. Mostly because it’s everything in college sports. The reason Kentucky and Kansas and Ohio State and Louisville went to the Final Four was 17% coaching and 83% recruiting. The reason Alabama played LSU in the title game in January was 8% coaching and 92% recruiting. If you want a chance at title games, you have to land top-end talent. It’s really very simple.
This, of course, is not to say that you can’t win games without recruiting. Boise State hasn’t exactly landed world-beating recruiting classes the last 10 years, nor has TCU or even Wisconsin. If you build a system and recruit to that system, you don’t need Alabama-like talent to win. You simply need to land the targets necessary to keep your system going strong.
But in the end, it’s about getting those players. The reason Indiana has only been to two bowls the last 20 years is because they’ve recruited the least-talented players in the Big Ten. Northwestern hasn’t won a bowl game since the 1940′s not because of a long string of poor coaches – they simply haven’t been able to recruit top-flight players. In football or basketball, where they’ve never made the tourney.
So to see them land one of the best recruits in Northwestern history today is to see me depressed. If we had a few 4-stars already verballed at this point, I’m probably not writing this. But we don’t. Not really even close. Top-flight Illinois kids just don’t seem to feel any connection to our football program. And their disinterest holds me hostage. We need them to win games. My dreams can’t come true without them. But they’re not choosing to come to Champaign. And one of them just chose Evanston. And that’s just depressing.
What a difference a Bailey makes.
18 days later, and I’m jacked – Bill Self at his introductory press conference jacked – about football recruiting. We got our four-star quarterback, and then only days later, we filled two big holes on the defensive line. This class went from “top-flight Illinois kids just don’t seem to feel any connection to our football program” to “so, will this be the best class since 2009? 2008?” I’m jacked. A quick breakdown.
I know, I’ve already talked about him in two different posts, but IT’S MY BLOG AND I’LL FLY IF I WANT TO. He’s the top verbal in the 3+ year history of this blog. In Football or Basketball. Not since Justin Green switched from Ohio State to Illinois a few days before signing day in 2009 has an athlete like this chosen Illinois. I just went to look up some of his stats… and found myself watching his highlights for the past 25 minutes (seriously). He’s a special athlete. And he’s ours.
One benefit of a spread offense in college football is that it takes some of the guesswork out of the quarterback position. In a pro-set, if you can’t find a guy who can make all the throws, you’re in trouble. In the spread, it’s more dependent on decision making and athleticism. You don’t need to make every throw – just be a good enough thrower to keep the defense honest and concentrate on perfecting the reads in the option game. Kevin Newsome was a fantastic high school spread quarterback, but he went to Penn State, tried their multiple offense, and just couldn’t swing it. With this offense, I’m not worried about that from Bailey. Teach him the intricacies of passing in the spread, and then let his athleticism take over.
We interrupt this love-fest to bring you the news that one of my 10 guys, OT Jack Keeler, just verballed to Wisconsin. They have 10 offensive tackles on their roster, we have 4… and he wants to be #11. The rest of this post will now be 19% less enthusiastic.
Sunday night I write “would love a mammoth nose guard in this class – Jackson would be perfect.” Monday, he verbals. It’s like actually getting that thing you ask Santa for.
I’ve said before that I think this defensive line will have four rather distinct positions. Leo (the old “bandit” position), a standard 3-technique defensive tackle, a nose guard, and a standard pass-rushing defensive end. And after Akeem Spence leaves, I’m not really sure who will be the brute in the middle playing nose guard. Welcome 6′-3″, 320 lb. Merrick Jackson.
I really like his film and was very much hoping he’d end up at Illinois. It came down to Missouri, Iowa, and Illinois, and we got a bit of good luck when last week, two defensive tackles (both rated lower than Jackson, FWIW) verballed to Iowa. Presto, Jackson to Illinois. You say “I’d feel better if we beat Iowa straight-up”, I say “welcome 6′-3″ 320 lb. Merrick Jackson”.
He’s fairly nimble on his feet on film, and does a good job (like Akeem Spence) of chasing down the line and running down a tailback on the edge. He overpowers linemen in high school, and he’ll learn that he won’t be able to do that in the Big Ten, so give him a redshirt year in the weight room and maybe he can contribute as soon as 2014.
Oh, and with the entire 2011 defensive tackle recruiting class not making it to campus, Jackson is our highest-ranked defensive tackle since Lendell Buckner in 2009. But that’s not all.
On Tuesday, Trotwood-Madison (OH) defensive end Jarrod Clements verballed to Illinois. He had just returned from a visit to West Virginia (where he had an offer), but felt that Illinois was the place he wanted to be. He also had offers from NC State, Tennessee, and Louisville.
When I watch Clements on film, I think of Glenn Foster’s high school film. So that’s where I’m going to project him. Start at defensive end. Possibly move inside to 3-technique defensive tackle. Continue to grow and get stronger and learn the correct pad level and then have a few highly successful upperclassmen years.
Actually, thinking about it some more, I’m somewhat hoping he ends up at defensive end. 2015 defensive line: Darrius Caldwell at the Leo, Vontrell Williams or Teko Powell at DT, Merrick Jackson at NG, and Jarrod Clements at DE? The future of the defense looks a whole lot brighter than it did a week ago.
And it all started with Bailey. Get a bell cow recruit (bell cow? am I Ron Zook?) and others will follow. We needed this class to be significantly better than the last few, and beating Nebraska/Wisconsin/Ohio State for Bailey, and then beating Missouri and Iowa for Jackson, and then beating Louisville/Tennessee/West Virginia for Clements tells me we’re inching back towards the level of the 2008/2009 classes. Which is exactly what we needed to do. We so need solid depth at key positions in the 2013 class, and after the last week, I think you can say we’re now off to a really good start.
And Northwestern still only has Alviti.