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January 27, 2011

Mailbag: Where are the Gators?

MORE: Announcement watch | Commit predictions | National Signing Day coverage

Why has Florida struggled to close on prospects since Will Muschamp's arrival?

Is Texas done with recruiting this year?

Why has UCLA been such a disappointment this year in recruiting?

These questions and more are addressed by Rivals.com's recruiting analysts as we are just days away from National Signing Day.


Missing out?

Why has Florida struggled to close out players since Will Muschamp has taken over?

- Pete from Gainesville, Fla.

Recruiting is largely about relationships. And it's difficult to build relationships in a month. Florida's targets aren't players with which the Gators are the obvious top option. If that were the case, Muschamp and his staff wouldn't have a difficult time closing the deal right now.

But the Gators are going after players with four and five stars with so many different options. And because of that, they're having to battle programs such as Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State, all of which have pretty well-entrenched coaching staffs. The top prospects already know the coaches at those schools. Most, in fact, have known them for more than a year. Florida doesn't have that luxury, and that has made it hard to land elite prospects.

Also, don't forget this: The new staff in Gainesville also had to put a great deal of energy into keeping the players who already were committed when Muschamp took over. That in itself hasn't been easy, as a few have switched to other schools. In essence, Florida has had to fight battles on two fronts.


All done?

Is Texas done with recruiting this year or will they add a couple of players near Signing Day? Will they lose any others or was Christian Westerman the only one?

- Fred from Tyler, Texas

Texas is still heavily pursuing Brenham (Texas) defensive end Brandon Alexander. He has taken official visits to Texas A&M, TCU and Texas and will head to Arkansas this weekend. Most people close to the situation feel that the three-star defender will be a Longhorn on Signing Day.

The Longhorns also have a very outside shot at Shreveport (La.) Evangel four-star defensive end Jermauria Rasco. To replace Westerman, the Longhorns are looking at the commitment lists of other teams. They made inquiries about Rockdale (Texas) offensive tackle Le'Raven Clark but he informed them that he would be sticking with his Texas Tech pledge. Now they are trying to get Cedar Park (Texas) offensive tackle Spencer Drango on campus for an official visit this weekend. The Rivals250 prospect has been a longtime Baylor commit and feels a real sense of loyalty to the Bears. However, the invite from Texas is tempting and he will make up his mind on Friday if he will visit or not.

As for the rest of its class, Texas managed to avoid defections in the wake of a 5-7 season and a lot of staff turnover. Players such as Steve Edmond, Josh Turner, Cedric Reed and Quincy Russell hinted at possibly looking around but the Longhorns managed to keep all of them in the fold. If any other prospects from their commitment list defect it would come as a huge surprise.


Mystery men

What are you predictions on where the following players will end up - Tony Steward, Timmy Jernigan, Jacoby Brissett and Curt Maggitt and why?

- John from Fort Myers, Fla.

Tony Steward will select Florida State over Clemson. Steward is an admitted fan of Florida State and will opt to stay in his home state.

Timmy Jernigan does a good job keeping everyone wondering, rarely granting interviews. It is believed to be a battle between Florida State and LSU, but nearby Florida remains in the picture and Jernigan will tell you he is a big fan of the Gators. This weekend he is expected to visit Tennessee with his final decision coming on National Signing Day. As of right now, Florida State is his most likely destination but his recruitment won't conclude until the ink is dry on the paper.

Jacoby Brissett is another prospect who rarely grants interviews. Brissett, also a very good basketball player, is entertaining the idea of playing both football and basketball at the next level. His school list appears to be down to Wisconsin, Washington, Miami, and Florida. He has visited the Badgers and Huskies and is set to see Miami this weekend. Florida hasn't received an official visit. At this point, Wisconsin appears to be the leader due to Brissett liking their coaching staffs very well on both the gridiron and the hardcourt, but Miami's need for a quarterback could swing things.

Curt Maggitt continues the trend of prospects that has opted not to speak. While rumors have swirled that Tennessee made a major impression at the end of the day he appears likely destined for the Swamp to play for the Florida Gators. The Gators have long been considered his leader and he can go play with former teammates such as Matt Elam.


Filling needs

Rivals rankings aside, which SEC team has hit its needs the most this recruiting year?

- Ted from Jacksonville, Fla.

Alabama, Georgia and LSU also are loading up with talented prospects, but Auburn is the pick. That's largely because the Tigers have the most needs out of the SEC's top programs.

But while Auburn is losing a lot on both sides of the football, in almost every area where someone key departs it is picking up a high-level player. At quarterback, where the Tigers lose All-American and Heisman-winning quarterback Cam Newton, they've landed four-star player Kiehl Frazier. Equally important was that Auburn bring in several offensive linemen (a spot at which graduation will take a heavy toll) and the Tigers will do just that. Leading that group of impressive recruits is four-star tackle Christian Westerman, a one-time Texas commit.

A lot of talent also departs on defense, but in that area the Tigers also are doing well for themselves, particularly at linebacker where five-star talent Kris Frost and four-star prospect Brent Calloway are the headliners. Calloway has been promised his first look at running back, but we still feel his future is on defense. The top pickup in the secondary is Rivals250 safety Jonathan Rose.


Not backing down

Who's left for USC and do you see them pulling any major recruiting upsets between now and Signing Day?

- Ken from Racho Verde, Calif.

Believe it or not, USC is going full steam ahead in recruiting and not looking back. The coaching staff believes they can still bring in more people and it seems like they'll worry about any recruiting repercussions from the NCAA sanctions later.

Marqise Lee from Serra is the top guy left on the board, but there are many others. Moreno Valley (Calif.) Rancho Verde teammates Junior Pomee and Ryan Henderson want to play together in college and USC and Utah are the leaders. They're expected to announce on National Signing Day.

Troy Niklas, Antonio Richardson, Aundrey Walker, Cyrus Hobbi, Torian White and Miles Mason are some offensive linemen still under consideration. Hobbi, a four-star from Scottsdale (Ariz.) Saguaro will pick USC, UCLA or Arizona State on Friday.

On the defensive side, San Diego (Calif.) Point Loma defensive tackle Christian Heyward is still a top target and the Trojans are still recruiting some defensive backs. There seems to be no slowing down Lane Kiffin's staff until sanctions hit where numbers could be drastically limited. We don't see any major surprises from USC come Signing Day but the Trojans sure are loaded up heading into next season.


Surprise class

Who has been the biggest surprise class in the Big 12 and why?

- Jed from Jasper, Okla.

Texas Tech has definitely been the biggest surprise. The Red Raiders are coming off a somewhat disappointing season with a new coach but they have done a great job in not just locking up in-state talent but from the SEC region where new head coach Tommy Tuberville has ties.

Getting a commitment from the nation's No. 2 cornerback, Marcus Roberson from Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas was huge as he had previously listed a top two of Auburn and Florida. The Red Raiders did not use a tight end under the previous regime so they needed a difference maker on campus. They landed a huge one with Jace Amaro from San Antonio (Texas) MacArthur, ranked as the No. 3 player at his position in the country. He should step in and contribute immediately. Pflugerville (Texas) Hendrickson running back Kenny Williams should also have a chance to play early and was a head-to-head win over Texas A&M on the recruiting trail.

Tech has a chance to improve their class even more with the McKeesport (Pa.) defensive line duo of Delvon Simmons and Branden Jackson. If they land those two it will easily be the best class the Red Raiders have ever signed.


Struggling Bruins

Why has UCLA been such a disappointment this year in recruiting?

- Ted from Tempe, Ariz.

A lot of factors are playing against UCLA here. The cross-town rival Trojans are taking a big class so a lot of Southern California talent is being gobbled up by USC. That's only one of the problems though. Mainly, offensive players are concerned because offensive coordinator Norm Chow left for Utah and a new coordinator is coming in so there is some uncertainty there. Coach Rick Neuheisel has not hired a new defensive coordinator yet. Hiring former Miami coach Randy Shannon would be a major boost - maybe in recruiting, too - and he recently interviewed in Los Angeles so that's something to watch.

There also isn't a lot of traction after a 4-8 season. Serious questions at quarterback, a coach that's starting to feel the hot seat, instability at the coordinator spots are only a few of the problems. The Bruins could close with a few quality prospects because Neuheisel is a phenomenal recruiter but there are a lot of questions surrounding UCLA's program.



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