NCF On The Trail: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Monday’s offerings: After a few weeks to recover from the holiday that was signing day, it’s always interesting to analyze the data to get a better understanding of what really happened. This past Friday, I took a look at the teams that saw the biggest gains from 2013 to 2014. But what were some of the teams that were on the other end of the spectrum?

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Now that the 2014 class is in the books it’s time to take a look at which teams need to make a big splash in recruiting for the 2015 class. Below are five teams we feel have to perform well in recruiting to move forward and re-establish their programs among the college football elite. There are always peaks and valleys in recruiting, but there’s also an expectation level that some programs no matter what will always perform to a high standard and that’s not always realistic.

For these programs, it won’t just be about how good the players are that they sign in 2015; it will also be about what type of person that player is to represent the program and establish a new chemistry. These programs are laying down a new foundation, and it will be this class that will be looked back upon as one that got the ball rolling. These programs need to make the Tennessee-type splash of 2014. Just ask Ole Miss about its 2013 class and what one recruiting cycle can do to reenergize a program. We’ve closed the door on the 2014 class now, here’s to opening the door for the 2015 class. Let’s get off to a fast start shall we?

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Biggest flips: Big Ten 

February, 3, 2014
Feb 3
The 2014 class has seen a very high number of commitment switches during this recruiting cycle. With so many flips throughout the process, here is a look at some of the biggest in the Big Ten.

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If James Franklin wanted to make a statement on the recruiting trail at Penn State, he has done just that. Franklin and his staff flipped athlete Koa Farmer (Sherman Oaks, Calif./Notre Dame High School) from Cal while on a visit on Saturday, then flipped another prospect to Penn State on Sunday.

ESPN 300 wide receiver Saeed Blacknall (Manapalan, N.J./Manalapan) switched his commitment from Rutgers to Penn State. He gives the Nittany Lions three ESPN 300 receivers in the 2014 class.

The No. 118-ranked prospect took a visit to Penn State on Jan. 17 and had been thinking about making the switch ever since.

At 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, Blacknall will complement De’Andre Thompkins and Chris Godwin, the two other ESPN 300 receiver commitments in this class. Both Godwin and Blacknall are bigger, physical receivers whereas Thompkins is a more athletic player who could even be a wildcat quarterback in certain plays.

Blacknall hails from New Jersey, which is an area Franklin and his staff are going to make a priority. This was a good commitment to start with for the new staff as Blacknall is now the second highest ranked commit in the class.

The ESPN 300 receiver gives the Nittany Lions 23 commitments for 2014 and some outstanding options at receiver going forward.
Three programs remain in the hunt for one of the nation's top senior risers, ESPN 300 wide receiver and returner Isaiah McKenzie (Plantation, Fla./American Heritage).

The nation's No. 286-ranked prospect took an official visit to Florida last weekend, and this weekend visited Oxford, Miss., to take in Ole Miss.

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Midyear signings: Rutgers

January, 20, 2014
Jan 20
According to Rutgers senior associate AD of communications Jason Baum, the following players have enrolled at Rutgers:

Marcus Applefield OT Weeki Wachee, Fla./Weeki Wachee
HT: 6-6 WT: 255
Positional Rank: #84 OT
Stars: 3

Brandon Russell OLB Ft. Lauderdale, Fla./University School
HT: 6-1 WT: 210
Positional Rank: No. 107 OLB
Stars: 3

Logan Lister TE-Y Katy, Texas/Katy
HT: 6-4 WT: 241
Positional Rank: No. 42 TE-Y
Stars: 3

Kamren Lott CB Jacksonville, Fla./First Coast
HT: 5-10 WT: 180
Positional Rank: No. 97 CB
Stars: 3

Eric Wiafe DE Egg Harbor Township, N.J./Milford Academy
HT: 6-5 WT: 260
Positional Rank: N/A Post-grad
Stars: 2
Al Golden said earlier this year that his native state of New Jersey will always be a priority on the recruiting trail at Miami. Sunday, he scored a recruiting win from the Garden State, coming at the expense of the local New Jersey school.

ESPN 300 athlete Kiy Hester (Wayne, N.J./DePaul Catholic) committed to Miami following an official visit to Coral Gables. His pledge to the Hurricanes comes on the heels of a decommitment from Rutgers in November.

Hester announced his commitment on Twitter.

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BC Eagles add ESPN 300 RB Hilliman 

December, 14, 2013
Boston College senior Andre Williams was a Heisman finalist Saturday, but before the ceremony began the Eagles replenished the running back position with a commitment from an ESPN 300 member.

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A no-visit policy should be an unspoken, unwritten, does-this-really-need-to-be-explained policy.

That is how decorated Jersey City (N.J.) St. Peter’s Prep coach Rich Hansen views it. It’s part of being a verbal commitment, he says. At least, that is how it should be.

Tyler Wiegers
Tom VanHaaren/ESPN.comFour-star quarterback Tyler Wiegers is the latest prospect to decommit from Rutgers.
“You commit to School X and your end of the bargain is you’re not gonna visit or court any other schools,” Hansen said, “... but college football created this mess and now they’re getting some of the punch back. Unless they stop offering freshmen, offering eighth graders, stop these idiotic things, then it is going to be around.”

Hansen is referring to verbally committed players taking visits, which has been a talking point after Rutgers lost a few commitments last week.

Three-star receiver David Njoku reportedly had his scholarship pulled following an October visit to Penn State; Njoku denied that to and said he decommitted. ESPN 300 receiver Adonis Jennings decommitted after visiting Pittsburgh, knowing the Scarlet Knights coaches were ready to pull his offer. And fellow ESPN 300 athlete Kiy Hester decommitted when coach Kyle Flood told him he would no longer be considered a commitment if he followed through with visit plans. Late Sunday, four-star quarterback Tyler Wiegers decommitted and is planning an Iowa visit as early as this coming weekend.

The fact is no-visit policies are still the exception rather than the rule, which is why Rutgers’ stance has created headlines. Michigan and Texas have no-visit policies, and Oregon, under former coach Chip Kelly, did not allow visits. When push came to shove, however, all three softened their stance and curtailed the policy for ESPN 300 prospects that visited elsewhere.

“Probably no school should have it, but some schools when they say [don’t take a visit] you probably don’t want to do it,” said a New Jersey high school coach who has previously sent players to Rutgers. “Nick Saban never says that, but he has the ability to say it. Only certain schools can puff out their chest and do it.”

One Big Ten assistant said he likes the idea of a no-visit policy. Another Big Ten assistant said it could end up driving away recruits who would likely stick with their commitment. Both argue legitimate points. If a player commits to a school, he should be loyal to that program. Others argue this is the only time the recruit holds the cards and feelings for 17- and 18-year old kids fluctuate wildly. The debate extends far outside the banks of the Raritan in Piscataway, N.J., too.

Two Rutgers commitments, who were granted anonymity to ensure truthful answers, said if a player is not sure about his commitment, he should be allowed to visit other schools. Both said ideally a committed prospect would not need to take visits but extenuating circumstances often arise.

“For someone who isn’t sure of their decision and the family still thinks it’s a good idea to explore, then it’s wrong for [the school to implement the policy], but if you have your mind made up, you shouldn’t take any more visits,” said one commit, speaking generally about no-visit policies and not Rutgers’.

Njoku, who parted ways with Rutgers in October, said he was unaware of the school’s no-visit policy before visiting Penn State for the Michigan game. The visit was simply to have “fun [with] my friends.”

However, a few minutes later Njoku said he indeed was looking around. “Rutgers was still recruiting other receivers so I thought it was fair to window shop, as well,” he said.

Hansen, in his 31st year at St. Peter’s, said he thought more schools would have no-visit policies. He believes the only time a recruit should take visits is if coaches leave or they weren’t upfront with the player.

Jennings, the ESPN 300 receiver, began wavering months ago. A source close to the situation said Jennings was told by the staff there was only one spot left at receiver, prompting an early commitment. Weeks later, receiver Saeed Blacknall committed and Rutgers continued recruiting athlete Noah Brown. NCAA rules forbid Rutgers from commenting publicly on unsigned recruits.

There is pressure during the recruiting process for prospects to commit early, and it's not always directly from coaches.

An NCAA rule clarification will undoubtedly thicken the plot. If a prospect plans to enroll early, a school can offer him a financial-aid agreement, which is non-binding for the committed player. The school is locked into it. In theory, a player could sign a financial-aid agreement, ensuring a spot in the class and continue visiting elsewhere without the threat of his scholarship being yanked.

“I don’t understand why college football would want to do that,” Hansen said. “It makes a toxic situation even more toxic.”

New Jersey’s top two juniors are under Hansen’s tutelage. Both Minkah Fitzpatrick and Brandon Wimbush are among the top 100 prospects in the 2015 ESPN Junior 300, and Hansen’s advice is to let the process play out as long as possible.

A piece of advice from Njoku, who was asked what he would do differently if given an opportunity to go back: “I probably shouldn’t have committed so early.”

Early Offer: Rutgers reeling 

November, 12, 2013
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: Rutgers was assembling one of the best classes in the country, but that changed after a two-day stretch when two ESPN 300 recruits decommitted; while most of the attention has been on Florida State, Auburn could be a sleeper for one of the nation’s top receivers; and Ohio State loses a receiver pledge but it could open the door for other targets at the position.

Scarlet Knights lose key commits

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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: The rumor mill has started to picked up about the status of Jalyn Holmes' commitment to Ohio State, so the four-star linebacker took to Twitter on Wednesday to address the speculation; one of the most heavily courted junior-college DT prospects has his sights set on two fast-rising SEC teams; and Oklahoma State commit Tyreek Hill picked the perfect time for a breakout game.

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American recruiting class rankings 

October, 16, 2013
Each Wednesday, ESPN RecruitingNation updates its national class rankings and its conference class rankings.

The American is led by a pair of teams on their way out of the league. Rutgers, who will move to the Big Ten, leads the conference with a class that is headlined by four in-state ESPN 300 prospects. Louisville, who will leave for the ACC, is close behind the Scarlet Knights in both the top 40 and AAC ranks. The USF Bulls, who recently picked up three-star ATH Kendall Sawyer, are at No. 3.

1. Rutgers, 24 commits: The Scarlet Knights sit at No. 18 in the class rankings with a class that includes four ESPN 300 prospects. Rutgers is loading up at the skill positions with wide receivers No. 113 overall Saeed Blacknall (Manalapan, N.J./Manalapan) and No. 136 Adonis Jennings (Erial, N.J./Timber Creek Regional), along with running back and No. 286 Jonathan Hilliman (Jersey City, N.J./Saint Peter's Prep). Three-star playmaker Isaiah McKenzie (Plantation, Fla./American Heritage) and wide Kendrick Edwards (Miami/Norland) are two out of the Sunshine State the Scarlet Knights covet.

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#AskLoogs: B1G advantage in East?

October, 16, 2013
Want to ask ESPN RecruitingNation senior analyst Tom Luginbill a question about your team? Tweet it to @TomLuginbill using the hashtag #AskLoogs.

From a recruiting pool standpoint, absolutely. The markets that have now been opened up in Virginia, Maryland, D.C., New Jersey could quickly become Big Ten country, as opposed to ACC country, when it comes to the competitive landscape, especially if Michigan and Penn State continue their resurgence. Rutgers and Maryland are hitting this conference at the right time with the changing conference affiliations. They have aligned with the big boys in a conference that will be a major player in shaping the future of college football.

Between Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, DC and North Carolina, these states far outweigh the current states of Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana and Missouri when it comes to available players to service the Big Ten. I think this could create a haves and have-nots over time in the Big Ten. The ACC and some of the programs in the SEC will be this division's greatest challenge to keeping players from staying in the Big Ten.

Top 5 under-the-radar quarterbacks 

October, 16, 2013
Everyone knows about top-ranked quarterbacks such as Deshaun Watson and Keller Chryst. But those aren't the only ones with a chance to make an impact in college. The following five players may have flown under the radar -- for reasons ranging from injury to playing in a non-traditional football area -- but four seem to have found the right college fit and therefore could excel at the next level.

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OG Wilkins remains in-state with Rutgers

October, 9, 2013
Three-star guard Kevin Wilkins (Montvale, N.J./St. Joseph Regional) has committed to Rutgers, according to multiple reports.

Wilkins, a 6-foot-3, 278-pound prospect, picked Rutgers over offers from Boston College, UConn, Maryland and UCF. Other programs including Miami, Michigan, Ohio State and West Virginia showed interest.

Wilkins, however, might have some work to do academically before suiting up for the Scarlet Knights. "(A coach from another school) already gave up on me because he doesn't think I'm gonna be eligible,” Wilkins told “And Rutgers is like the only school that's actually come forward and said, 'We're gonna take a shot with you and you just do what you've got to do in the classroom.'"

Rutgers now has 25 pledges for 2014 and a top-20 rated class.