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Five Moments from Signing Day

We won’t be able to judge how the 2011 recruiting class will fare until well down the road, when each prospect gets a shot at showing he was deserving of his ranking. That doesn’t mean we can’t take an immediate look back at five memorable moments from yesterday’s signing day; not surprisingly, three of the five moments come from the SEC. For it’s the SEC that made — and continues to make — recruiting a year-round game, one that sends coaches to the antacids and into early retirement. Without further ado, the five moments:

1. Floyd Raven and the forget Letter of Intent

Raven, a cornerback out of Louisiana, was a longtime commit to Mississippi; while he made a late switch to Texas A&M, his mother wanted him to stand firm on his verbal commitment to the Rebels. So what did she do? She forged his signature on a Letter of Intent and faxed it into the university’s football offices, of course, forgoing the laborious process of — you know –waiting for her son to make his own decision. Houston Nutt was magnanimous when reached for comment:

His mom. Mom really wanted him here. Mom wanted him here in the worst way… The bottom line is when they told us that we said “Hey, look, I want you to be here because you really want to be here.” And he was so torn. It’s really hard, it’s a hard hard decision, but when mom told me that, “Hey, look, I want you to do what’s in your heart.” And I think at the time he wanted to go elsewhere and look, I want them to want to be here.

I suppose Nutt and Mississippi could have pushed Raven on this, though that case would be flimsy, not to mention foolhardy. Nevertheless, credit Nutt for being honest and open throughout the ordeal. What’s ironic, however, is that as of Tuesday evening Texas A&M was still waiting on Raven’s real — not forged — Letter of Intent; perhaps he could end up with the Rebels after all.

2. Todd Peat Jr. and the Nebraska license plate

After months of months of deliberation, the Arizona product had trimmed his list down to two schools: Nebraska and the in-state Sun Devils. Presumably, the local ties found at Arizona State were too much for the four-star defensive tackle to turn down. That may have been the case early Tuesday morning, but a brush with the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles made Peat’s decision an easy one:

I left Mountain Pointe [High School] thinking I’m going to go to A.S.U. I’m driving down the street and I pull up to the stoplight. I’m totally spacing out, not paying attention to anything. Something catches my eye, and it’s the license plate of the car in front of me. It’s a Nebraska license plate. I’ve never seen a Nebraska license plate in Arizona in my life. I’m just like, “This is a sign, and I’ve got to go to Nebraska.” After a lot of praying about it, and asking God to send me a sign, that’s what happened. I decided that’s 100 percent where I need to be.

Finally, a reason for Nebraskans to appreciate the D.M.V. — long lines be damned, those good folks landed Bo Pelini another defenders to mold into the next all-conference interior lineman.

3. Isaiah Crowell and the puppy prop

As noted in a post yesterday, Crowell brought a bulldog puppy to the press conference announcing his commitment to — where else — Georgia. As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes:

The event peaked when Crowell ended the suspense by pulling a Georgia cap from his backpack and slipping it on his head. Shortly after, Crowell’s friend and backup running back Cequanti Ford brought out his bulldog puppy for him to hold. The two had hatched the plan Tuesday to add flair to the ever-growing pomp of signing-day announcements. Ford had to smuggle in the puppy — named Uga, naturally — to keep the decision a secret.

4. Cyrus Kouandjio and the Iron Bowl rivals

The competition between Alabama and Auburn has long been fought off the field, in small towns throughout the state as each program jockeys to land Alabama’s premier talent. In the case of Cyrus Kouandjio, the tussle over a five-star’s commitment brought both the Crimson Tide and the Tigers up to Maryland — not exactly prime recruiting ground for the SEC, though each program’s recent national titles tend to widen some previously unopened doors.

Kouandjio has long been an Auburn lean, even going so far as to give Gene Chizik and the Tigers his commitment at a press conference yesterday afternoon. Not long after, however, Kouandjio began to second-guess his decision:

After the bright TV lights went off at his slice of National Signing Day, Kouandjio apparently experienced some significant second thoughts and did not sign his national letter-of-intent to Auburn. Or to Alabama, where his brother Arie will be a redshirt freshman offensive lineman next year. Or even to New Mexico, a curious third school in the younger Kouandjio’s recruiting final three.

Yes, New Mexico remains in the conversation, though the Lobos are running a distant third behind the Iron Bowl rivals. If Kouandjio does decide to renege on his verbal commitment and play for Nick Saban, look for the Auburn fan base to claim shenanigans. On the other hand, if Kouandjio opts for Mike Locksley and U.N.M., the two Iron Bowl rivals might finally have something to agree upon: there’s no way charm and the chance at immediate playing time alone led Kouandjio to sign with New Mexico.

5. Clemson and the shocking recruiting results

Dabo Swinney has lone been left for dead: 6-7 this past fall, Clemson has not made any significant progression since Swinney replaced Tommy Bowden midway through the 2008 season. In fact, Bowden was fired for far less; he was axed for not taking the next step forward, while Swinney seems to have had Clemson moving in reverse. Like Mark Richt, who inked one of the best classes of his tenure at Georgia, Swinney might have saved his job with one of the more miraculous recruiting jobs in the country.

Despite this past season’s struggles, Clemson was able to tie up a consensus top 10 class in the F.B.S., one that includes four five stars, according to Rivals.com, and is loaded with the type of talent at the offensive skill positions the program so desperately coveted. Will this manifest itself in the win column? Not in 2011, perhaps, but Clemson’s haul should buy Swinney the time he needs to develop this sterling class into something special. If nothing else, Clemson’s newly-added recruits allow the Tigers to keep pace with Florida State, its Atlantic division rivals who have augmented a fine 2010 season with one of the nation’s top classes.

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