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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Non-B.C.S. Teams Get Into the Recruiting Act

You won’t find the highest-ranked non-B.C.S. conference signing class anywhere on the list of this year’s top 50 classes, according to Rivals.com. But you will find a pair of programs, Utah and T.C.U., who have clearly benefited from their new conference affiliation. The Utes’ class came in just outside the top 25, thanks in large part to an eight-man offensive line haul that help should keep Jordan Wynn clean and Kyle Whittingham happy in 2012. The Horned Frogs continued to make hay in Texas, sweeping up a number of second-level recruits that may flown in under the radar, while adding a quartet of recruits from SEC country. How would Utah and T.C.U. have done on the recruiting trail had each remained part of the non-B.C.S. conference landscape? Not as well, one would think.

But more than a few non-B.C.S. conference programs made a splash on national signing day, including a few in the most unexpected of places: the Sun Belt. That league seems to fare better ever year when it comes to recruiting, thanks in part both to its geographical location — right smack-dab in the Southeast — and the conference’s increased level of competitiveness.

Arkansas State did very well, and surprisingly so: Gus Malzahn didn’t replace Hugh Freeze until mid-December, meaning he had a limited amount of time to keep Freeze’s current commits in place, let along add his own recruits. But the Red Wolves’ hot pace continued despite the coaching move, with Malzahn and his staff eventually signing 28 recruits, 16 of whom received three-star status from Rivals. Included in this group may be Malzahn’s quarterback of the future; he signed two at the position, Bo Wallace and Aerion Williams, who can probably stand to learn a thing or two from Malzahn and senior quarterback Ryan Aplin.

There’s a reason Mario Cristobal wasn’t too broken up over his inability to come to terms with Rutgers: Florida International’s class is the best in school history. And the Golden Panthers strayed outside Florida’s borders to fill nearly a third of its class, highlighting the program’s growth over the last two seasons. F.I.U. had 15 players from outside Florida on its roster in 2011; it’ll add another nine out-of-state residents to the roster in the fall.

Utah and T.C.U. were pleasantly surprised by the reaction they received from prospective recruits, thanks to the new doors opened by being part of a B.C.S. conference. Likewise, Texas State found a move from the F.C.S. to the F.B.S. led to more local-area prospects opening their doors to Dennis Franchione and his staff. Texas State, who joins the WAC in the fall, dipped more than its toe into the JUCO pool: the Bobcats jumped right in, with nearly half of its 22-player class coming off the JUCO ranks.

The gem of Boise State’s recruiting class is quarterback Nick Patti, who may be the immediate beneficiary of Kellen Moore’s impending graduation. Even if Patti doesn’t step right into a starting role — and history says Chris Petersen would rather he take a redshirt — he seems to have the makings of Boise State’s next multiple-year starter under center. One other position of need the Broncos addressed on national signing day? Kicker, of course. Sean Wale joins Jeff Van Ginkel, last year’s addition, to give Boise two youngsters at the position. One of the two should be able to make a 34-yard field goal.

Houston parlayed a fantastic 2011 season — as well as several solid seasons in advance of last fall — into a slot in the Big East, which the program will join in 2013. The Cougars have already stepped up its recruiting in advance of the move, bringing in Conference USA’s best class despite losing Kevin Sumlin to Texas A&M in December. Houston’s recruiting efforts heated up late, after the university hired Tony Levine as Sumlin’s successor. Levine and his staff brought in 10 recruits after Jan. 15, including one, Deontay Greenberry, who swapped his verbal commitment over from Notre Dame on national signing day.

What Toledo and Temple lacked in quality they made up for with sheer numbers: the two MAC schools — and MAC favorites in 2012, perhaps — combined to sign 60 recruits, with that total jumping to 61 when counting Temple’s addition of Penn State transfer Kevin Newsome. The Rockets, now led by Matt Campbell, were wise to go after wide receivers; Eric Page, the do-everything all-American, opted for the N.F.L. a year ahead of schedule. Three of Toledo’s top recruits are receivers, led by Corey Jones, who chose the Rockets over six B.C.S. conference offers.

So which program had the — ahem — worst class in football, according to Rivals? Fresno State’s a frontrunner, but Tim DeRuyter’s first group should be labeled incomplete, still-to-be-decided: the Bulldogs signed 14 recruits yesterday, but had a hard time even getting to that number. With a good amount of JUCO options still on the board, Fresno State should see that total rise over the next few weeks. But what DeRuyter has brought in doesn’t exactly deserve a passing grade: Fresno State was the lone F.B.S. offer for 9 of its 14 recruits.

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  1. Parker says:

    Hi Paul,

    So far so good on Tony Levine at Houston.

    1. He had the team well-prepared for Penn State (Houston led 17-0 before Penn State gained its 1st first down).

    2. He kept 14 of 19 commits to the old staff, and added 10 new commits since being named head coach including several highly regarded kids. Rivals and 247 Sports rank Houston’s class the best in C-USA.

    Tony’s got 1 staff position left to fill (Outside Receivers). Spring ball will focus on identifying starters and finding depth at the skill positions to go around All-CUSA RB Charles Sims.

    The Coogs look stacked everywhere else. They return 9 of 10 on the 2-deep OL, 18 of 22 on the 2-deep defense (plus a starting LB from 2010 who missed 2011 due to injury), as well as the punter, placekicker, holder and snapper.

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