Deep in their lairs, recruitniks are always busy working well in advance of the average fan, poring over grainy videos and dubious message board threads for the drop on still-developing teenagers who are two or three years away from paying off as college players — by which time, of course, the boards will already be on to the next crop. So while sane adults may still be waiting to see how the class of 2012 pans out beginning this fall, the hype is already in full swing for the class of 2013.
The countdown to next February began in earnest today with the ceremonial release of Rivals' annual list of the top 100 prospects in the country, its first, oft-revised attempt to judge soon-to-be high school seniors as ruthlessly as possible. For the non-recruiting obsessed, a short primer:
• Your No. 1 prospect is Loganville, Ga., defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, who began receiving scholarship offers as a fetus. (If you don't think Urban Meyer and Nick Saban are scouting ultrasounds, you're kidding yourself.) At 6-foot-5, 260 pounds, Nkemdiche is already chiseled like an NFL linebacker — has been for most of his high school career — and is being touted as the second coming of Lawrence Taylor. Unless he's the the second coming of Herschel Walker: . Breathless, exaggerated hype is a given at the top of the charts, but even by the standards of the No. 1 prospect in the nation, this kid might redefine the genre.
The scary part: Though he hasn't verbally committed, Nkemdiche is considered a virtual lock for Saban's Recruiting Death Star at Alabama, which already has a commitment from the No. 2 player on Rivals' list, LaGrange, Ga., linebacker Reuben Foster. Georgia will have its say as the home-state powerhouse, of course, but if anyone has an outside shot at outmaneuvering 'Bama, it may be Ole Miss: Nkemdiche's brother, Denzel, is a freshman safety in Oxford, and suggested last year that Robert will at least consider following him in a package deal. But I wouldn't get my hopes up.
• Five-star status was afforded on just 11 players out of the gate (there will eventually be about three times that many), four of whom have already made verbal commitments: Rueben Foster (Alabama); Bear, Del., defensive end Kenny Bigelow (USC); Trotwood, Ohio, cornerback Cameron Burrows (Ohio State); and Beaverton, Ore., running back Thomas Tyner (Oregon). Of the 24 known commitments in the top 100 as a whole, Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Michigan and Ohio State already have at least two.
•Return of the Quarterbacks. After a few relatively down years for quarterbacks, 2013 may be the strongest QB crop in a decade, headlined by towering five-stars Max Browne from Sammamish, Wash. — the first quarterback Rivals has ranked among its top 10 players overall since Matt Barkley in 2009 — and Tyrone Swoopes of Whitewright, Texas, whose ridiculous size and athleticism has earned explicit comparisons to Vince Young, Terrelle Pryor and Cam Newton. If someone can teach him to throw, Swoopes is going to be the same kind of nightmare.
Moving down the list, there are two more quarterbacks (Shane Morris, a longstanding Michigan commit from Warren, Mich., and Ryan Burns of Ashburn, Va.) ranked among the top 50, matching the number of top-50 QBs in the 2010-12 classes combined.
• There is a map. And it is here:
That's the geographical distribution of the top 100, demonstrating the usual hot spots in Florida, East Texas and Southern California, with plenty of representatives in Georgia and the mid-Atlantic. Top-10 prospects are located with a red arrow; the rest of the top 25 with an orange arrow; the rest of the top 50 in yellow and the rest of the top 100 in that gold/ochre color that was listed in the map-making application as "maize." As usual, if there was a yeti playing defensive tackle in Montana or one of the Dakotas, the scouts would be unlikely to notice.
• All-Name Team candidates in the top 100 include:
• Lake City, Fla., offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil.
• Murrieta, Calif., safety Su'a Cravens.
• Tampa, Fla., cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III.
• Woodbrige, Va., linebacker E.J. Levenberry Jr.
• North Little Rock, Ark., running back Altee Tenpenny.
• Crete, Ill., wide receiver LaQuon Treadwell.
• Belle Glade, Fla., cornerback Will Likely.
• Port Saint Lucie, Fla., defensive tackle Jaynard Bostwick.
Few surnames maintain their ethnic integrity with the beauty, defiance and dignity of "Butt," which is another way of saying I don't want a 6-foot-6, 230-pound teenager with a handful of Big Ten offers and a chip on his shoulder on my bad side.