Recruiting aficionados are always 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, they'll be yesterday's news to the recruitniks, who will already be on to the next crop. So while sane adults may still be waiting to see how the stars of the class of 2011 pan out beginning this fall, the hype is already in full swing for the class of 2012.
The countdown to February begins 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 "obvious" No. 1 prospect is Springfield, Mo., wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, who may sound like a floppy-haired soccer player but is in fact a 6-foot-6, 220-pound high-wire act who also led his high school to a state basketball championship as a sophomore and runs track and has already drawn explicit comparisons to the likes of Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones and A.J. Green. Green-Beckham's numbers over the past two seasons: 144 catches for 3,322 yards and 38 touchdowns, none of them from the arm of a fellow Division I prospect.
• Hurry up and wait. Good luck sussing out a favorite for Green-Beckham's signature: Like most of the top prospects at this stage, his offer sheet is already a mile long, and each of the last four top-ranked prospects (Terrelle Pryor, Bryce Brown, Seantrel Henderson and Jadeveon Clowney) has dragged out his decision well beyond signing day for maximum drama. Of the 17 players bearing five stars at this stage, only four have made verbal commitments: Denton, Texas defensive end Mario Edwards (Florida State); St. Petersburg, Fla., defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. (also Florida State); unfortunately-named Atwater, Calif., defensive tackle Aziz Shittu (Stanford); and Aledo, Texas, running back Johnathan Gray (Texas).
Altogether, 30 of the top 100 already carry commitments next to their name, led by five top-100 pledges apiece to both Florida State and Texas. The only other schools with more than one so far are LSU, Notre Dame and Stanford (with two apiece) and USC (with three). But again: It is very, very early.
• Where have all the overhyped QBs gone? Once again, no quarterback on the initial list is afforded five-star status, though 6-4, 220-pound slinger Gunner Kiel of Columbus, Ind., is close at No. 19 overall — just two slots behind the lowest-ranked five-star, Louisiana defensive back Landon Collins — and will get a fifth star if he holds that position throughout the season. (Presumably it was withheld at this point based on Gunner's uncanny resemblance to Dwight Schrute.) If he does, he'll be the first Indianan to obtain five-star status since Rivals started keeping track in 2002, and the first five-star quarterback since current USC starter Matt Barkley, current Texas starter Garrett Gilbert and current LSU wide receiver Russell Shepard topped the charts back in 2009.
Behind Kiel, though, only one other quarterback (Zach Kline of Danville, Calif., an early Cal commit) comes in among the top 50. That's not as uninspiring as it was in 2010, when only one QB (Alabama signee Phillip Sims at No. 67) made the cut for the final top 100, or even last year, when no quarterback was afforded five-star status and only two (Florida signee Jeff Driskel and Ohio State signee Braxton Miller) finished among Rivals' top 70 overall. But compared to the classes of 2002-09 — which all included multiple five-star quarterbacks, at least one of whom ranked among the top 10 overall, and three of whom (Vince Young, Jimmy Clausen and Terrelle Pryor) ranked No. 1 — we do seem to be in the middle of a drought. Maybe all the overhyped young quarterbacks these days are still in junior high?
• Extremities. The resident behemoth of the 2012 class is uncommitted Encino, Calif., offensive lineman Jordan Simmons, who comes thudding in at 6-foot-5, 333 pounds — and, according to his Rivals profile, a sub-5-second 40-yard dash, which is dubious bordering on physically impossible. Only nine members of the class are listed as 300-pounders, and Simmons is the only one above 315.
By contrast, there are twice as many backs and receivers listed below 200 pounds, the relative shrimp of the class being Memphis, Tenn., running back Brian Kimbrow, who tips the scales at all of 5-9, 165, and still has offers from just about everyone in the South.
• Geography. And finally, the cartographic portion of our program shows pretty much what it always shows, i.e. the undeniable dominance of Sun Belt hotbeds in Southern California, East Texas and Florida:
In all, almost fully half of the top 100 comes from those three states alone: 14 from Texas, 16 from California and 18 from Florida. Georgia and Ohio are next with seven apiece, which concentrates 62 percent of the top players in five states. But such is the way of the recruiting world.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.