February 9, 2011

2011 MAC Recruiting Analysis

Another year, and another signing day has passed in the Mid-American Conference. As usual, the MAC fails to make any Top 50 lists based on recruiting rankings, but that doesn't mean the conference didn't bring talent in. If anything, the MAC is starting to become the poster boy for doing more with less. Not one school in the MAC signed a four star or above recruit, but that hasn't stopped the conference from developing lesser known talent and sending them to the next level, as evidenced by the Super Bowl. In Green Bay's 31-25 win over Pittsburgh, the MAC fielded 14 players between the two teams , and the perception that you have to play in a BCS conference to make it to the NFL is fading away.

Rivals.com High reporter Tom Bergeron was one such expert who illustrated that point in the following excerpt from his column.

"These guys represent all of our players who have made the NFL," said CMU athletic director Dave Heeke. "It shows that even in this age of recruiting experts, guys can still fly under the radar.

"But they can develop in our league and reach the ultimate heights. This is a good football league."

Indeed it is. The MAC has more than a dozen alums in the game, including two of the biggest: Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger of Miami (Ohio) and Steelers linebacker James Harrison of Kent State.
So perhaps it should be a surprise that Central Michigan has twice as many players in the Super Bowl as Michigan. After all, MAC member Miami (Ohio) has more than the more noteworthy Miami (Florida).

"It just shows you can play in our league and reach the NFL," Heeke said.

With that information in mind, we take a look at the Mid-American Conference's 2011 football signing day classes and break them down school by school, peering through the cracks to see who has the potential to follow fellow MAC brethren from underrated high school star to the NFL.


Overall: Akron signed 24 players in their 2011 class, and they stayed north of Pennsylvania for all but one of them. The Zips also signed three quarterbacks in this class and three JUCO transfers. All in all, it was a pretty solid haul for a team that just finished up the season 1-11 overall and had just one win in the MAC.

Stud: LB Nick Rossi spurned Temple and West Virginia to sign with Akron, and the 6-foot and 230 pound linebacker appears to have a bright future for the Zips. Rossi was ranked as the No. 45 inside linebacker in the nation and the No. 16 player in the state of Pennsylvania.

Sleeper: The MAC has produced quite a few solid quarterbacks in the past decade, and many of them were of the dual threat type. Of the three QB's that Akron signed, White Plains (NY) Archbishop Stepinac's Tyrell Goodman possesses the most intriguing set of size and speed. He is 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds with 4.5 speed, and he has all the tools to develop into a dual threat type signal caller.


Overall: The Falcons signed 22 commits and continued their strong recruiting efforts under head coach Dave Clawson. Bowling Green secured commitments from 6 three star recruits and it's clear they pitched their heavy passing attack, as they loaded up on ultra-talented receivers. Clawson signed players from Ohio, Michigan, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana, California, Illinois and Maryland, making this not only a talented, but geographical diverse class. Overall, this is easily one of the top classes in the MAC, and even more amazing given the Falcons record last season.

Stud: WR Herve Coby from America Heritage HS in Florida is not only the top ranked recruit in this class, but maybe the entire conference. The 6-foot-1 and 175 pound Coby has 4.4 speed and he chose the Falcons over schools such as Cincinnati, Minnesota, Illinois, San Diego State, South Florida, Florida Atlantic, Central Florida and West Virginia. Securing a talent from the Sunshine State over offers from in-state schools such as UCF and USF was a major coup for Bowling Green.

Sleeper: DT Hunter Maynard is a recruit who probably flew under the radar more than he should have. Hailing from Watterson (OH), Maynard measures in at 6-foot-2 and 290 pounds, and also carries a 3.4 GPA into the land of brown and orange. During his prep career, Maynard was a sack machine, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him crack the defensive line rotation as a freshman. St Thomas (Fla.) Aquinas cornerback Johnny Joseph is another player who falls into the sleeper category and may see early playing time.


Overall: Hard to classify this class as anything but disappointing for Buffalo, and it's even more troubling because they were one of the few MAC teams to keep their head coach this season. Head coach Jeff Quinn managed to follow up a 2-10 season by signing just 20 recruits in 2011, and they signed only four from the New York/New Jersey area.

Stud: If there is one saving grace in this class, it's that Buffalo somehow landed three star defensive tackle Kendall Patterson from powerhouse DeMatha HS in Maryland. Patterson is physically ready at 6-foot-3 and 285 pounds, and he held offers from programs such as NC State, Wisconsin, South Florida, Central Florida and Duke. And after being overshadowed by some higher ranked teammates at DeMatha, Patterson may have a higher ceiling than some.

Sleeper: Quinn has ties to the state of Michigan from his days at Central Michigan, and he dipped into the Great Lakes state for one prospect, Brandon Tammaro from Detroit Catholic Central. Tammaro will come to Buffalo as a linebacker, but at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, he has a relentless motor and could develop into a solid player at a number of positions.


Overall: In the past, I've chastised Kent State for purging the JUCO ranks for most of their talent, a strategy that brought them almost nothing but piles of losses. Well, that strategy appears to be out the window as new head coach Darrell Hazzell only signed one JUCO player, and did due diligence in the Golden Flashes home state of Ohio. While it's only a class of 18 recruits, it represent significant progress for a program that has lacked an identity the past few years.

Stud: When you think of MAC football, people often generalize with high powered offense and quarterbacks slinging it around. But 240 pound running backs powering through the line? Doubtful, but that is exactly what Kent State will be able to do with Colerain (OH) RB/FB Trayion Durham. Ranked as the No.2 fullback in the nation, Durham is a classic tweener type, but has 4.5 speed and turned down an offer from Wisconsin to stay in his home state.

Sleeper:Athlete Jordan Tarver is ranked as just a two star prospect, but the Stone Mountain (GA) Stephenson native held offers from South Florida, Memphis, Troy, UAB, Tulane and Buffalo. At 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds, Tarver projects at any number of positions, although he played quarterback in high school. As a senior he threw for 17 touchdowns and for his career, he was 20-3 as the starting QB.


Overall: To say this is a patchwork class would be an understatement. After losing head coach Mike Haywood to Pittsburgh (a move that proved to be temporary), the Redhawks hired Michigan State offensive coordinator Don Treadwell. Under Treadwell, Miami (OH) was forced to assemble/salvage a class late in the recruiting process, and the result was a so-so class of just 17 players.
Stud: QB Andre Kummer was a player who kept his commitment to Miami (OH) despite being committed under Haywood back in June. The Cincinnati (Ohio) La Salle native has the size (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) and while he won't play anytime soon with the Redhawks talented cupboard of QB's, he will be groomed for the future. As a senior, Kummer threw for 2,228 yards and 26 touchdowns, and even though he is more of a pro-style QB, he also added over 300 yards rushing and 5 touchdowns.

Sleeper: Erie (PA) Cathedral Prep running back Justin Wiley is another player who stayed committed to the Redhawks during the coaching change, and it's a decision that could pay huge dividends for Miami (OH). Wiley rushed for over 1,400 yards and totaled 34 touchdowns…as a junior. He has the speed to hit the corner, and is also a terrific receiver out of the backfield. Camden (SC) wide receiver Alvonta Jenkins is another sleeper to keep an eye on.


Overall:It doesn't seem to matter what type of talent Frank Solich brings into Athens, he just wins. But if this recruiting class is any indication, Solich will have much more talent available to him in the coming years. Ohio added players from all over the country, and under Solich they continue to recruit from the trenches out. This is arguably the top recruiting class in the MAC from and offensive and defensive line standpoint.

Stud: Even though I just got done preaching all of the talent Ohio added to their trenches, it may be linebacker Ben Russell who becomes the star. Russell decided to stay home and play and turned down offers from Minnesota, and just about every program in the MAC. At 6-foot-1 and 225 pounds, Russell is ready to play as a freshman, and he reminds many of a young Noah Keller.

Sleeper:I mentioned months ago that Ohio would love to add Lincoln (Nebr.) Southeast quarterback Derrius Vick, and that's exactly what they did. Vick took a visit to Nebraska late in the recruiting process, but did not receive an offer. That led him to Ohio, where few coaches have the respect and recruiting prowess in the state of Nebraska like Solich. At 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, Vick needs to add weight, but he is exactly the type of dual threat QB Ohio can fully utilize in their offense.


Overall: A program that has seen a dramatic rise in talent the past few years is Temple, even to the point where a player such as DT Muhammad Wilkerson can leave school early and still project as an high draft pick. It all starts with the Owls recruiting, and under Al Golden they mined the state of Pennsylvania as well as eastern states to fill their roster. Under new head coach Steve Addazio, those principles appear to be intact, although Temple signed more JUCO/Prep School players than I think a program should. And if there is any doubt that the Owls are going to be passing the ball more…look no further than the Owls 2011 wide receiver class. All seven of them. In all, Temple signed 21, but three of them were initially signed in the 2010 class before spending a year at Fork Union Military Academy.

Stud: If there is one area where Temple has struggled, or at the very least just been consistent at in the past few years, it's the quarterback position. For that reason, Clint Granger from Pierce CC in California will have a shot to rectify the position immediately. Nicknamed "Juice", Granger is physically ready to step in any play at 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds, and he also has mobility with 4.75 speed.

Sleeper: Nobody should be able to mine the Tri-State region like the programs located within it, and for that reason Temple can unearth some talent in their own backyard. In ATH Daquan Cooper, they may have done just that. Cooper lacks size at 5-foot-10 and 161 pounds, but he fits the mold of the type of athlete who has thrived in the MAC, and he can play either WR or DB.


Overall: Another MAC team, and another program effected by a coaching change. For a time, Ball State has one of the best classes in the MAC and they were raking up commitments left and right on the recruiting trail. Unfortunately for Stan Parrish, his best wins came in recruiting, and not on the field. Parrish was fired and Elon's Pete Lembo was tabbed as the new head coach of the Cardinals, and he was able to salvage some of Ball State's early verbals and put together a class of 18. My main concern with Lembo's initial class? It features only two players from Indiana, the Cardinals home state.

Stud: The Cardinals two top rated prospects hail from the state of Michigan, and in Corunna (Mich.) OL Jalen Schlachter, they were able to land a lineman with considerable potential. Once an Indiana commit, the 6-foot-6 and 295 pound Schlachter also held offers from Missouri and Wisconsin at one point, and he has the height and athleticism to man the left tackle spot in the near future.

Sleeper: Chicago (Ill.) Simeon running back Horactio Banks may lack size at 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, but he has 4.4 speed and a 39 inch vertical jump, impressive measureables. And I hate to keep beating in the same point, but the MAC is known for taking players who lack the extra 2-3 inches BCS programs covet, and turning them into stars.


Overall: The Chippewas signed the largest class in the MAC with 26 commitments, including RB transfer Austin White from the University of Michigan (will be eligible in 2012), and they added plenty of depth. What CMU didn't do was add any "wow" recruits who analysts and fans look at and think instant impact, or many guys who are going to break stop watches. But, CMU got much bigger, much more athletic in the trenches, and built depth that could play huge dividends in a few years. Overall, it's a very good class, and an even better class considering CMU is coming off an uncharacteristic 3-9 season.

Stud: Ithaca (Mich.) quarterback Alex Niznak is everything a program could want in a signal caller. He's smart, has a strong arm, and possesses many of the intangibles that just cannot be taught. And it helps that he's also 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds and could physically step on the field and compete today. Niznak likely would have drawn BCS offers late in the process, but by that time he was already sitting in QB meetings at CMU as an early enrollee. If I was forced to pick one player in CMU's class who I thought had the best chance to succeed, I would slide all my chips towards Niznak.

Sleeper: Kaneland (Ill.) athlete Blake Serpa. He played RB, TE, LB and DE in high school and he brings that same versatility to Mount Pleasant. At 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, he will be brought in as a DE initially. On film he is still raw with his hand in the dirt, but he the quick first step and a mean streak that coaches love.


Overall: The college football graveyard of Ypsilanti, Michigan has not been kind on head coach Ron English in recent years, and it sure doesn't look like things are going to be changing anytime soon. A great way to gauge a schools recruiting ability is to look at their pull from their home state, in this case Michigan. And EMU was only able to land three players from their home state, and none of the three were highly recruited. Admittedly, English has a tough task on his hands and I dare anyone to visit Ypsilanti and tell me there is another D-1 program harder to recruit for. And with win's not coming easy, the Eagles have resorted to hitting the JUCO ranks for immediate help, and that tactic is illustrated by EMU's eight JUCO commitments in the 2011 class.

Stud: Walther Lutheran (Ill.) safety Sean Cotton. Cotton is, quite frankly, the exact type of player EMU has not been able to get in the past. At 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, Cotton was a Northwestern commit before failing to gain admissions, and he fell into EMU's lap. Cotton also held offers from Minnesota and Western Michigan, and he should have a chance to play real early for the Eagles.

Sleeper: CB Darius Scott's size (5-foot-8, 155 pounds) scare many schools away, but he displayed savvy cover skills in high school. He has the speed and instincts to succeed in the right defensive scheme.


Overall: The Huskies reward for a tremendous season was to look for a new head coach, a trait shared by other successful MAC programs before them. But even with Jerry Kill departing for Minnesota, the Huskies were still able to assemble a very talented class of 22 recruits. This incoming class is deep, features a few electric athletes, and kept some of Illinois top talent in-state to play in DeKalb.

Stud: DB Khambrel Garland played for one of the top teams in the country at St. Thomas (Fla.) Aquinas and he is a proven winner. At 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds he could play anywhere in the secondary, and he chose NIU over offers from Louisville, Rutgers, Western Michigan, Toledo and Eastern Michigan. JUCO RB transfer Michael Womble is another name to watch out for, and the 5-foot-10 and 230 pound back is on campus for the spring semester. Without adding too much pressure, NIU once had a back with similar size…

Sleeper:OL Matt Killian from Francis Howell (Mo.) stands at a strong 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds, and he was a stud at the few camps he attended this summer. His size, strength and athleticism project well to the LT position, and Killian is a name that will probably have All-MAC attached at some point in his career.


Overall: Fresh off an outstanding recruiting class in 2010, Toledo has once again excelled on the recruiting trail. For the second straight year they have the MAC's top class, and it's really not even close. This year the Rockets signed 7 three star prospects and also added transfers from Michigan and Florida. Adding to their class if 19 are four players who originally signed in 2010. Needless to say, Toledo is stockpiling some major talent.

Stud: Really could be any number of guys, but it's hard to ignore the rankings of Cleveland (OH) Glenville defensive end Andre Sturdivant. Sturdivant listed offers from Michigan State, Ohio State, Illinois, Indiana and Penn State, although it's unclear how many of those were valid late in the recruiting process. What is valid, is his Rivals rankings. Sturdivant was ranked the No. 10 weakside DE in the country, the No. 14 player in the state of Ohio, and the No. 244 player in the nation overall. If his talent matches his ratings, Toledo got an absolute stud.

Sleeper: Williamston (Mich.) OL Ethan Wirth is a player that consistently impressed me on the camp circuit with his energy and effort. At 6-foot-7 and 265 pounds, he simply lacks some of the sand in the pants to become a top flight OL in the MAC. Wirth also displayed good feet, a large wingspan, and he has a bright future at an OT for Toledo.


Overall: Western Flor…er Michigan once again hit the state of Florida harder than any other, and they came away with a haul of nine players in 2011. Overall the Broncos signed 21 players, with an overwhelming majority coming from outside the Midwest. Only four players were signed from WMU's home state of Michigan, and the Broncos had a flurry of decommitments on signing day. But head coach Bill Cubit is adamant in his recruiting philosophy and believes he can leave the Midwest and beat BCS schools for talent. To his credit, he was able to do that for a few guys, but it remains to be seen if this ability to recruit southern talent will ever get the Broncos a MAC Championship. If WMU is going to get some hardware, it's going to be by throwing the ball, and they are adding the MAC's top wide receiver class to bolster their passing attack.

Stud: WR's Kendrick Roberts, Timmy Keith and Jesse York all turned down BCS offers to play in Kalamazoo, and it's pretty obvious they were all told WMU is going to sling the ball around. With that in mind, all three possess unique talents and bring something different, but they all share one thing: They make plays.

Sleeper: OL/DL Travis Turner of North Miami Beach (Fla.) has the size at 6-foot-5 and 265 pounds to be a player on either side of the ball. It appears Cubit plans on starting him in the offensive line, and Turner is a intriguing prospect there due to his size, speed and athleticism.


1) Toledo
2) Bowling Green
3) Ohio
4) Northern Illinois
5) Central Michigan
6) Western Michigan
7) Temple
8) Akron
9) Buffalo
10) Kent State
11) Eastern Michigan
12) Miami (OH)


In the MAC, stability often leads to success on the recruiting trail. Only one of the top six in my rankings made a coaching change, and that was a Northern Illinois team fresh off a 41-17 win over Fresno State in the Humanitarian Bowl. Toledo and Bowling Green continue to bring in impressive talent, and it's no secret that both putting their talent rich state of Ohio first and foremost. Ohio has finally rounded the corner to bring in talent to match their incredible player development, and Northern Illinois was able to pitch a terrific year that saw the in the Top 25. Central Michigan and Western Michigan both continue to recruit well, even though the two rivals have extreme differences in their recruiting philosophy. Temple is a program trying to find an identity after losing Al Golden to Miami (FL), and they have a good start by recruiting the Tri-State areas. Akron and Buffalo are trying to shake losing cultures that have enjoyed only sporadic success in the past, while Kent State and Eastern Michigan are just trying to get out of the cellar. And Miami (OH) was never able to fully recover from the late movement of Mike Haywood, even though the Redhawks put together one of the most impressive turnarounds in NCAA history.

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