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June 26, 2013

Cause for concern: Key holes still left to fill

MORE: Best of the best: Filling recruiting needs

Dallas Jackson is the National Columnist for Rivals.com. Email him your comments or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

The season for making premature judgments in sports is summer.

The time between spring and fall practice in college football creates too big a gap to fill with logic, and the dog days drag on with idle chatter.

Over a three-day period, Rivals.com is breaking down the current recruiting classes by jumping to sweeping conclusions seven-plus months before National Signing Day.

Tuesday was a look at which programs are best meeting their recruiting needs; today takes the other side and focuses on programs that have yet to add key commitments; and Thursday will be a breakdown of which programs atop the team rankings have staying power and which are lurking in the shadows but poised to make a run.

This series is based on needs identified early in the cycle by the team of local writers and national recruiting analysts.

CAUSE FOR CONCERN: PROGRAMS STILL SEARCHING FOR KEY COMMITMENTS
The tide in the Tidewater area has turned, and it has hurt the Virginia Tech recruiting efforts.

The current recruiting cycle may be illustrating the issues that Beamer Ball is having more than ever. One of the state's most talented crops of players is coming through this class, and the Hokies have their hooks in hardly any of the 10 four- or five-star players in the state.

Entering the class of 2014, the overriding thought was that the Virginia Tech class was going to be small, so its national rankings likely would not excite anyone. However, with the players in the state, it could be a quality-over-quantity approach -- especially along the defensive line.

The top player in the country, Da'Shawn Hand of Woodbridge (Va.) High, maintained that Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster was his favorite coach even as he eliminated the program from his list of candidates. Chesapeake (Va.) Oscar Smith defensive tackle Andrew Brown is scheduled to make his commitment at the end of the week, and Virginia is the odds-on favorite to land the five-star player. The No. 5 player in the state is Norfolk (Va.) Lake Taylor defensive end Jalyn Holmes, and the 6-foot-5, 235-pound prospect recently made his choice: Ohio State.

The remaining two talented players in the group have Virginia Tech in the thick of their recruitment, but neither has a timeline for a decision.

Virginia Beach (Va.) Ocean Lakes tackle Derrick Nnadi said the Hokies were ahead of Virginia but still in a clump with five other teams. Hampton (Va.) Bethel defensive tackle Ricky Walker said Virginia Tech was still high on his list but was alongside several other programs.

Outside of the defensive line, Virginia Tech has missed on five-star defensive back Quin Blanding, who chose Virginia; Burke (Va.) Lake Braddock quarterback Caleb Henderson, who picked North Carolina; and Fredricksburg (Va.) Chancellor offensive lineman Steven Moss, who also is going to Virginia.

Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said the emergence of Virginia's Mike London as a recruiter has hurt the Virginia Tech program.

"London is developing really good relationships in the state, and some of the guys who would have historically picked Tech are giving Virginia a real look," Farrell said. "The program used to control Hampton Roads, and now there are some battles.

"It isn't just in that Virginia Beach area, either. More teams are coming into the state and getting kids, and when they are losing Da'Shawn Hand -- a kid who has always maintained that Bud Foster was his favorite coach -- that is just tough to swallow."

The program has been in a similar boat as it is historically. The Hokies focus on developing talent more than recruiting elite athletes.

Farrell said, with that mindset, not much will change for the program but that may be the problem.

"The fans have to be sick of 10-2 or 9-3 and playing for an ACC title," Farrell said. "This is one of the best staffs for coaching players up, and that will continue. But if the talent baseline was higher, the outcomes could be more rewarding; and those ACC championship games could be for a chance to play for a national title."

BIG TEN: MARYLAND
What it needed in '14: Maryland's most pressing need was for players on the offensive line as it moves into the Big Ten. Secondarily, it needed bigger bodies on the defensive line to start preparing to defend the run in its new conference. The third part of the checklist was to go after another top-flight cornerback to shore up the secondary. It was a generic list -- one shared by many teams -- but it was pretty clear what the team needed entering the cycle.
What has happened to date: Maryland has yet to get out of the blocks as the program has only five commitments and is recruiting at a higher clip than only Purdue within the conference. The class has just one offensive lineman in Owings Mill (Md.) McDonogh three-star Jared Cohen, and it is equally thin on the defensive line with two-star Spring Grove (Pa.) High defensive tackle David Shaw making the lone pledge. Maryland has yet to receive a verbal commitment from a receiver or a cornerback, and the skill player it is bringing in -- Danvers (Mass.) St. John's Prep running back Johnathan Thomas -- is just the No. 41-ranked player at his position in the country.
What it needed in '14: West Virginia looked like it was in for a substantial rebuild because many of its best players graduated and the depth chart looked shaky. The primary need was a quality quarterback, but it was far from the only one. The expectation was that the Mountaineers would have to add equal measures for the defensive line, safety, offensive line and running back. The program generally is late to fill its classes, and its region is relatively light on quality defensive line prospects, making the class likely to struggle in national terms.
What has happened to date: For this exercise, it is important to measure a recruiting class' needs and results instead of making an unqualified evaluation. West Virginia is rated just below an Oklahoma State program that was lauded in the Big 12, and WVU has been labeled as most concerning even though it is ahead of TCU, Iowa State, Kansas State and Kansas. The program has six commitments in the early going, and it checked off its quarterback need with Baltimore (Md.) Dunbar prospect William Crest. From there, it gets a little off kilter. There are zero defensive line players committed, nor is there a defensive back or a running back to discuss. West Virginia added offensive linemen and dipped into Florida to get a pair of receivers in Miami (Fla.) Coral Reef's Jacob McCrary and Miami (Fla.) Booker T. Washington prospect Lamar Parker. The receivers could be important for the offense, but the roster breakdown would indicate that there are other priorities.
PAC-12: COLORADO
What it needed in '14: The Buffs needed a little bit of everything because the program has been coursing toward rock bottom. In the last class, new coach Mike MacIntyre did a solid job of landing bodies on the offensive and defensive lines and at receiver, but that left plenty of positions wanting. There was not a big-bodied defensive tackle in the group, and there also wasn't a receiving or blocking tight end. Both of those positions are lacking on the roster. This is not a place for elite prospects, so the rebuilding of the program will need to be brick by brick. MacIntyre knows this and is working toward it.
What has happened so far: The Pac-12 is often the last conference to launch in recruiting, and that is what is happening this season. There is not a single program with more than 10 commitments. While Colorado is sitting at four verbals, it is closer to the norm -- only California and Arizona have seven or more pledges -- than the panic it would cause if it were in any other major conference in the country. That qualifier aside, the class is random and uninspiring. The highest-ranked player is three-star linebacker Grant Watanabe from San Antonio (Texas) Brennan, whose only other offer was from Utah despite having two uncles who played at BYU, another who is a tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs and yet one more who is a fullback for the Philadelphia Eagles. It also has a low three-star quarterback committed, as Cade Apsay from Canyon County (Calif.) Canyon has given his word to the program, along with an offensive lineman and a defensive back.
What it needed in '14: Arkansas needed major numbers in the trenches for this class. The program signed only one high school defensive tackle in the last three classes, and the two projected starters are seniors. It has signed just five offensive linemen in the last two classes combined. While there is going to be an offensive transition from Bobby Petrino to Bret Bielema, the program could still use a few quality receivers to get open and catch the ball.
What has happened to date: The Razorbacks landed and have kept the commitment of defensive tackle Bijhon Jackson from El Dorado (Ark.) High, and they have maintained the relationship with four-star quarterback Rafe Peavey, who committed nearly a year ago from Bolivar (Mo.) High. After those two success stories, the program does not have much to celebrate in recruiting. The other three commitments are from a running back, a tight end and a kicker. Arkansas is on the bottom of the conference in total recruiting, and it is one of just four programs in the SEC not to be in double-digit commitments, joining Auburn (nine), Vanderbilt (eight) and South Carolina (7).



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