NCF On The Trail: class rankings

Class rankings: Dec. 10 update

December, 10, 2014
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Alabama, which has already signed three consecutive No. 1 classes, has occupied the top spot in the 2015 rankings since its release. Knocking the Crimson Tide's class, which features 17 ESPN 300 prospects, from the top spot might not be impossible, but it remains a tough task. Despite recently losing a commitment from ESPN 300 WR Daylon Charlot, Bama quickly rebounded, adding a verbal from No. 5 OLB Adonis Thomas. The four-star is reminiscent of 2014 Crimson Tide signee Christian Miller, and possesses excellent size and speed measurables in a hybrid OLB/DE skillset and the versatile defender should fit very well in their base 3-4 defense.

The team that could eventually push Alabama for the top class is Florida State after five-star Josh Sweat picked the Seminoles. FSU, which has had some success recruiting defensive linemen in Virginia with Derrick Nnadi in 2014 and Darvin Taylor II in this class, landed a big commitment in the one-time No. 1 overall prospect Sweat. The No. 2 defensive end is an outstanding athlete with a wonderful combination of speed and power and he can be a versatile and disruptive defender in the Seminoles defense. The current No. 5 player overall in the ESPN 300 was sidelined with a knee injury during his senior season and that could slow initial contributions, but the talented defender is an early enrollee and still possesses great upside with the potential to be an impact player while Tallahassee. The addition of the five-star helped the Seminoles to move into the No. 2 spot in the class rankings.

Inside the rankings

The most difficult thing to do in recruiting is project what a player will be three to five years down the line and perhaps no coach in America does it better than TCU's Gary Patterson. The value of having coached at the mid-major level prior to making the jump to the Big 12 has provided this staff with valuable insight and evaluation tools when it comes to developing players who predominantly will be graded in the 77-82 range for just about all their classes. This was particularly true in the 2012-2014 classes.

This includes players like former WR Josh Boyce (who was lightly recruited) as well as freshman Emmanuel Porter just to name a couple. For TCU, it is about getting the right player -- does he work hard, will he compete and does he have upside in his physical development? Those are the three key things to each TCU class. The other undervalued area that has set the Horned Frogs apart is the staff's ability to project a player at a different position than the one he played in high school. Former TCU great Jerry Hughes was a running back, current safety Sam Carter was a quarterback, OC Joey Hunt was a DT and current starting QB Trevone Boykin was a wide receiver/QB athlete that had to transition to playing QB fulltime.



To see the full rankings, click here.

Class rankings: Dec. 3 update

December, 3, 2014
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There was little positive movement in the rankings, but all was far from steady as classes on the decline took center stage in this update. 'Tis the season for coaching changes, and two dismissals at prominent programs led to some key decommitments and classes dropping.

Michigan, which signed top-10 classes in 2012 and 2013, faltered on the field, and after four years in Ann Arbor, head coach Brady Hoke was let go. After his departure, the Wolverines class, which had been in decline for a while, losing four ESPN 300 commitments in October and November, suffered another big loss with No. 3 TE-Y Chris Clark decommiting. Having now lost five ESPN 300 commitments since the season started and with a class down to just six total commits, the Wolverines are currently a long way from the top 10. Following the news of the coaching change in Lincoln, Nebraska quickly saw three key offensive prospects decommit, led by ESPN 300 WR Stanley Morgan, and dropped from the rankings.-- Craig Haubert

Inside the rankings

Alabama is at the pinnacle of college football recruiting because it simply has more resources than everyone else. Facilities, finances, booster support, alums, tradition, winning, history, etc. They are all positives. Couple that with Nick Saban's philosophy in player evaluation, attention to detail and pro personnel model, and you have the ideal recipe for long-term success and sustainability.

At Alabama, if it has to do with winning and losing, winning always wins when it relates to recruiting resources. If the Tide need something because it will help them win, they get it. From an evaluation standpoint, Bama is every bit as concerned about the best player as it is with the right fit. From measurable standards to a specific set of critical factors, we have seen them bypass great players because they weren't the right fit. The bottom line is that for the last seven years, Alabama has drafted players while its competitors recruit players.-- Tom Luginbill

To see the full class rankings, click here.
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The top five remains steady, but Ohio State has moved a step closer to potentially breaking into that group. The Buckeyes, whose class is led by three five-star prospects, added a commitment from an eighth ESPN 300 player in offensive lineman Matt Burrell Jr. The top-10 OG is a big, tough and competitive player. He needs to continue to better blend technique with his aggressive nature, but with some work he can be a physical and productive presence in the trenches for Ohio State.

It has been a challenging season for North Carolina, but the Tar Heels, who have won three of their past four games, were able to score a big victory on the recruiting trail. With a commitment from ESPN 300 DE Jalen Dalton, North Carolina was able to keep the state's No. 3-ranked prospect at home. A lengthy and athletic defender with good upside, Dalton is a promising player who could grow into a potential playmaker for a team that needs major help on defense. Despite some of the struggles this season UNC has still managed to put together a strong class that now sits at No. 21 and features five ESPN 300 prospects.

Inside the rankings

The biggest challenge for Urban Meyer and his staff since he arrived in Columbus has been luring top-flight defensive front personnel and overall skill from the Midwest that is comparable to what he had at Florida. It has been a down period in Ohio for the 2014 and 2015 classes in terms of sheer numbers and caliber of players, which led to the Buckeyes going after guys like Joey Bosa (Florida), Raekwon McMillan (Georgia), Vonn Bell (Georgia) and many others to help supplement the roster. That trend is continuing with the commitment of 2015 athlete Torrance Gibson.

The good news for the Buckeyes is that the upcoming in-state 2016 class is much stronger and deeper, which hopefully will allow for them to not have to venture too far south this time around to supplement the roster. The Buckeyes already have four players committed in 2016 and all are from Ohio.



To read the full class rankings, click here.
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Alabama continues its long run in the No. 1 spot of the class rankings, but for the first time in a little over three months there is a new team sitting behind the Crimson Tide. Georgia moved up to the No. 2 spot after picking up its 13th commitment from an ESPN 300 prospect with the addition of Rashad Roundtree. The top-five safety prospect is the fourth secondary commitment in the Bulldogs?? class. A tall, athletic, and aggressive defender, Roundtree could potentially contribute early and develop into a well-rounded player. His best fit looks to be at strong safety, but with his range, size and physical nature he could potentially offer some versatility to Georgia??s back end.

While Bulldogs defensive addition helped them rise, a decommitment from an ESPN 300 LB led to Michigan slipping. The Wolverines?? class still has five ESPN 300 prospects, but their total number of commitments has dropped to eight and the loss of Darrin Kirkland Jr. is their second ESPN 300 decommitment in three weeks.

Nebraska saw a rise in the rankings after dipping into Louisiana for the second time in this class to land ESPN 300 WR Stanley Morgan, who is a good fit for the Cornhuskers, bringing good size, some playmaking ability and a competitive temperament to Lincoln.

Inside the rankings

Since coming to Kentucky prior to the 2013 season, Mark Stoops and his staff have brought an entirely new approach to recruiting in Lexington. The Wildcats are ahead of schedule in Year 2 and one game away from being bowl eligible, which would pay huge dividends in December when it comes time to host prospects.

The process began by taking a pro personnel approach to recruiting when it came to prioritizing staff meeting times and evaluation by coaches and support staff. In other words, the evaluation process of all prospects is a 365-day-a-year requirement when coaches and staff are not on the road. This is the approach he brought over from Florida State after working under Jimbo Fisher. Secondly, Kentucky needed to expand its footprint which is why Stoops was the perfect choice to lead this change. The state of Kentucky does not produce enough top-tier talent to support an 85-man roster which forces the staff to go outside its borders. Traditionally this would mean going south, and UK still will, but now the movement has moved north into Ohio where Stoops has roots.

In 2014, Kentucky signed 11 players from Ohio, and currently has seven players committed in the 2015 class from Ohio. Their home state will always be the top priority and the Wildcats have won that battle as of late with the signing of QB Drew Barker, DE Jason Hatcher and DT Matt Elam, but the roster needs support from a net that more widely cast.

There is renewed enthusiasm and leadership under Stoops, a renovated stadium and millions of dollars being devoted to facilities enhancements which could make for a bright future in Lexington.



To see the full class rankings, click here.

Class rankings: Nov. 5 update

November, 5, 2014
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Three top-50 ESPN 300 prospects made commitments in the past week and sparked some changes to the class rankings. No moves were made among the top five, but one week after moving into that group Florida State strengthened its position by adding the nation's No. 5 CB, Tarvarus McFadden, to its class. After finishing third in the 2014 class rankings, the Seminoles remain very much in the running for another top-three finish.

Torrance Gibson became the 10th five-star prospect to commit and the third to join Ohio State's 2015 class. The addition of the No. 2 athlete helped the Buckeyes to push closer to the top five.

Oregon picked up a win over Stanford on Saturday and followed that with a big recruiting win after ESPN 300 DE Canton Kaumatule chose the Ducks. With its sixth ESPN 300 commit, Oregon has pushed past UCLA for the second-best class in the Pac-12.

Virginia Tech might be fighting through a three-game losing streak on the field, but in recruiting the Hokies were able make some positive strides. The Hokies landed former South Carolina commit Austin Clark, an in-state four-star OT, and moved into the top 40.



To see the full class rankings, click here.

Video: Class Ranking Sept. 17 update

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
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National recruiting analyst Craig Haubert breaks down updates to the ESPN class rankings for 2015 football recruiting.

Video: Class Rankings Aug. 27 update

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
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National recruiting analyst Craig Haubert joins ESPN’s Phil Murphy to break down updates to the ESPN class rankings for 2015 football recruiting. The hottest program in recruiting maintained its momentum this week.

Big UW wins pay big recruiting dividends 

November, 21, 2012
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SEATTLE -- As the scrum started to spread after fans stormed the field following Washington’s 17-13 win over Stanford, as fans finally began working their way toward the CenturyLink Field exits, and as the players started to make their way to the locker room, Tosh Lupoi found the three teammates from Bellevue (Wash.).

Myles Jack
Mason Kelly/ESPN.comWashington hopes its success this year, including two wins over top-10 teams, will be enough to flip UCLA commit Myles Jack.
On the sideline, not far from the section where recruits sit during games, Lupoi bounced up and down, circling Huskies commit Sean Constantine, UCLA commit Myles Jack and 2014 prospect Bishard “Budda” Baker.

As he spun around the teammates, Lupoi said, “What are you waiting for?” It was directed at Jack, who continues to be a top target for the Huskies, despite his commitment to UCLA. The addition of Jack would improve an already-strong recruiting class that is ranked No. 19 in the country.

Just like that, with one win, Washington had something to sell. The coaching staff instantly had an improved pitch that pointed toward future success, a program heading in the right direction after a win over a top-10 team.

That victory made an impact on Jack. It provided further proof for Constantine that he made the right decision to commit to Washington. It was a win that resonated with the other recruits on both official and unofficial visits.

“That was crazy,” Jack said the day after the game. “Just running in the middle of the field and being a part of that, getting to witness an upset like that, that was big. That was cool.”

A few weeks later, with the Huskies mushing through a three-game losing streak, Jack and Constantine were back in the stands to watch Washington beat Oregon State, 20-17.

For the second time in three home games, fans stormed the field after a win over a team in the top 10. This time, though, Jack and Constantine stood in stands and watched the mayhem from a distance.

“I wanted to, I don’t know, digest what was going on,” Jack said.

USC recruiting strong despite losses 

November, 21, 2012
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An underwhelming season has hardly affected USC’s recruiting efforts, as the Trojans have maintained their standing atop the new ESPN class rankings. Preseason aspirations of a BCS championship have since been deflated, but USC commits have, for the most part, stood firm.

[+] EnlargeChris Hawkins
Erik McKinney/ESPN.comA disappointing season for the Trojans hasn't scared off ESPN 150 recruits likes Chris Hawkins.
Aside from the unsurprising decommitment of four-star athlete Max Redfield (Mission Viejo, Calif./Mission Viejo) earlier this month, the Trojans’ bumpy campaign has arguably helped solidify the stance of some in the nation's No. 1 recruiting class.

“I just want to see the Trojans win,” four-star cornerback commit Chris Hawkins (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif./Rancho Cucamonga) said. “We’ve been fighting hard battles. I just want to see them get back on their feet and win. It was very tough to see them lose. The defense, in particular the defensive backs, haven’t played very well. It just makes me want to get there even more. Hopefully, I can get there and help my team win games.”

Redfield, who USC has recruited as a free safety, decommitted a day after the disappointing 62-51 defeat to Oregon at the Coliseum. He attended the game, but the decision to reopen his recruitment had nothing to do with the Trojans’ record.

Redfield simply wanted to give Notre Dame, Oregon, LSU and Washington clean, unbiased looks. The success of the Fighting Irish under third-year coach Brian Kelly hasn’t hurt, but it’s not entirely why Redfield has decided to weigh his options.

Apart from that, there has been minimal activity since late July when USC bagged its final commitment. Yet, that steadiness could change as the Trojans limp through the end of the regular season following a loss to rival UCLA.


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SEC success opening doors for Aggies 

November, 21, 2012
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There's one thing that's clear about Texas A&M's quick success in its first Southeastern Conference season. It has gotten the attention of recruits.

The Aggies already had 28 commitments before the season started but have added three 2013 commitments plus a 2014 commitment.

[+] EnlargeKenny Flowers
Courtesy of Hutchinson C.C.Juco linebacker Kenny Flowers is Texas A&M's only commitment since the season began.
Mesquite (Texas) West Mesquite safety Kameron Miles, a 2013 prospect who on Wednesday decommitted from Tennessee and switched his commitment from Texas A&M that night, was the first pledge the Aggies have landed since their landmark victory over then-No. 1 Alabama. Four days later, they added City College of San Francisco offensive tackle Jeremiah Stuckey.

Even before that win, he was already having positive feelings about the Aggies, who offered him a little more than a week ago, because of their success. But the Alabama win certainly sent a message about how competitive the Aggies are in their first year in the league and will be in the future.

"I've been watching them since their close game against LSU and now beating Alabama," Miles said after committing to the Aggies. "For a school to be that successful in their first year in the SEC, that's an accomplishment. That really impressed me."

The Aggies have picked up two other commitments since the season began -- Stuckey and Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College linebacker Kenny Flowers who committed on Nov. 2. And they've remained in the hunt for several of their top remaining targets, including ESPN 150 members Ricky Seals-Jones, Justin Manning, Mike Mitchell and Isaac Savaiinaea. While the Aggies have made their impressions on each of those young men when they visited College Station, Texas, there's no doubt the on-field success has only helped their recruiting efforts.

"They're probably going to win Texas now," said Seals-Jones' father, Chester Jones, of the Aggies' momentum. "In the recruiting wars in the next four-to-five years, they'll probably be the top recruiting college in the state of Texas."


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Despite Texas' losses, recruiting sustains 

November, 21, 2012
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Texas’ fall from grace as a recruiting superpower should’ve been swift and painful.

In 2010 and 2011, the Longhorns went a combined 13-12. There’s no escaping that number. For opposing coaches looking to do some negative recruiting against UT, it doesn’t -- or at least it shouldn’t -- get much easier than that.

[+] EnlargeMack Brown
Michael C. Johnson/US PresswireThe Longhorns have not felt a drop off in recruiting since struggling on the field in 2010 and 2011.
They could say Mack Brown was losing touch or that he could retire at any moment. They might argue that no matter how many new assistants he brings in or how many changes he makes, the program is trending in the wrong direction.

Yet, despite everything that has been wrong with Texas -- real and perceived -- the Longhorns signed the nation’s No. 3 class in February, and the No. 5 class the previous year.

Texas hasn’t stopped selling the tradition and family atmosphere it offered before this two-year dip, but one thing has changed: Early playing time is now easily attainable.

Since that brutal 5-7 season in 2010, Texas has played a total of 34 true freshmen. That’s 70 percent of its signees in the past two years earning immediate playing time.

Those who have inked letters of intent with the Longhorns in the past two years have said they did so to bring the program back to prominence, to return it to national title contender status.

In order to get back to that plateau, Brown had to adjust his philosophy.

His staff’s tradition of locking up the majority of its class by summer’s end was trashed in 2011 for a full-out assault that saw 10 signees give their pledges in December or later. That included eight who were previously committed elsewhere, highlighted by a rare signing-day steal of LSU commit Shiro Davis.

Texas has pursued junior college transfers more than ever before. The Longhorns have accepted commitments from 2014 prospects earlier in the recruiting cycle than at any time in Brown’s history at UT. After years of sticking to the same approach, UT coaches have embraced change.

And so far, it’s working. The Longhorns seem to be inching closer to their previous prestige. But plenty of schools are lining up to threaten their recruiting dominance in the state of Texas.


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Winning impacts PSU's ability to recruit 

November, 21, 2012
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Linebacker Zach Bradshaw woke up every morning for two weeks and weighed Penn State's sanctions.

The 2013 recruit out of Damascus, Md., spoke with his father, reflected on his commitment and wondered just how competitive his Nittany Lions would remain -- before finishing breakfast on a Tuesday morning and calling Bill O'Brien to decommit. On Aug. 7, Bradshaw hopped into a car with his mother, drove to Charlottesville, Va., and pledged to the Cavaliers.

[+] EnlargeO'Brien
Reese Strickland/US PresswirePenn State coach Bill O'Brien has steadied a severly rocking ship through the 2012 season, and that has made a rather significant impact on recruiting.
"The deciding factor was the magnitude of the sanctions," Bradshaw's father, Mike, said at the time.

Bradshaw certainly wasn't alone. Some sportswriters opined about how 80 fewer scholarships and four years without a postseason were worse than the death penalty. Five pledges defected after the sanctions, and Penn State seemed destined to become one of the Big Ten's punching bags, a team forced to settle for MAC-quality prospects. Who would want to play on a losing team mired in controversy?

But O'Brien stood firm, telling recruits that each contest inside Beaver Stadium -- which seats more than 100,000 -- was its own bowl game. He stressed academics and an experienced staff. He invited NFL scouts to Wednesday practices.

But, perhaps more valuable than anything, he won. And, more than any other team in the country, a winning record so far has helped ease high-schoolers' concerns. PSU's 7-4 record and cries for O'Brien as coach of the year have continued to attract quality prospects.

More than 100 recruits lined up to see the Penn State-Ohio State game, and one three-star prospect decommitted from Maryland shortly after attending. Those scenes would be difficult to envision were PSU to carry a losing record.

"The sanctions don't matter to me," former Terrapins commit Richy Anderson (Frederick, Md./Gov. Thomas Johnson) said. "Being in that environment, it just proves it. No you can't play in a bowl game. And no, they lost a lot of scholarships -- but the tradition and everything is still there."

Winning this season has breathed new life into PSU's recruiting. The nation's top high school quarterback, Christian Hackenberg, and tight end, Adam Breneman, have remained steady in their commitments. Two Maryland commits, Anderson and Tanner Hartman, switched loyalty to the Blue and White.


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Ducks' success catching on with recruits 

November, 21, 2012
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Coming off three straight recruiting classes that have loaded Oregon roster with talent and an undefeated season so far, the Ducks are in prime position to close the 2013 recruiting cycle with a bang.

[+] EnlargeMax Redfield
Erik McKinney/ESPN.comAnother great season for Oregon has the Ducks primed to take advantage come signing day, when they hope to ink former USC commit Max Redfield.
Since Chip Kelly's arrival in 2007, Oregon recruiting has taken things to a whole new level. Three consecutive league titles -- and the subsequent BCS appearances -- have helped place the Ducks in the midst of recruiting battles with some of the top programs nationwide. They way they have dismantled every opponent this season has them squarely in the sights of several top prospects from across the country.

While Kelly has built his program by turning unheralded and under-the-radar prospects like Marcus Mariota and Kenjon Barner into stars, he has shown an ability to battle the big boys for top recruits. In each of the past two years, the Ducks have used late pushes to sign California's top prospects -- De'Anthony Thomas and Arik Armstead -- away from USC.

Despite an upset loss to Stanford, the Ducks have had another outstanding year, putting Oregon in position to close strong yet again. The Ducks currently have the nation's No. 23 recruiting class but are still in the mix for several ESPN 150 recruits, including Georgia's Montravius Adams, California's Max Redfield and Florida's Leon McQuay III. Redfield decommitted from USC in early November and is now considering Washington and LSU in addition to the Ducks.

Kelly's crew hung historic numbers on USC (62 points, 730 yards) in front more than a dozen elite 2013 and 2014 recruits. The long-term results remain to be seen, but the immediate reaction of recruits seem to signal that Oregon's Pac-12 dominance is starting to gain traction with recruits in Southern California. Not only did Redfield decommit from the Trojans the day after USC's loss, but several Los Angeles-area prospects from the Class of 2014 came away in awe of what the Ducks accomplished.


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OU hasn't made big impression on trail 

November, 21, 2012
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It’s going too far to call Oklahoma’s 2012 season a disappointment at this point. The Sooners are 8-2, 6-1 in Big 12 conference play. Goals of winning the conference championship and playing in a BCS bowl game remain within reach.

OU has only lost home games to No. 2 Kansas State and No. 4 Notre Dame, two of the best teams in the country. So why does it feel like a lackluster fall in Norman, Okla., on the recruiting trail?

[+] EnlargeJustin Manning
Damon Sayles/ESPN.comESPN 150 defensive tackle Justin Manning remains atop the Sooners' target board.
The Sooners simply haven’t made that huge impression to nab big-time recruits. OU has hosted them, a slew of top-ranked recruits in the ESPN 150 and ESPN 300. But the Sooners haven’t earned a commitment from any of them since the season began.

The struggles don’t end there. Until recently, OU hadn’t snagged a commitment of any kind since July 31. That changed when three-star athlete Dominique Alexander (Tulsa, Okla./Booker T. Washington) flipped his commitment from Arkansas to OU.

More troubling has been the trend of prospects committing to other schools following a visit to OU. ESPN 300 and four-star athlete Chevoski Collins (Livingston, Texas/Livingston) made an official visit to OU for the Kansas State game. Less than a month later, he committed to Texas.

Four-star cornerback Cole Luke (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton) made an official visit to OU for the Notre Dame game. Less than a week later, he committed to the Irish.

And despite all the Arizona ties with three-star offensive tackle Kenny Lacy (Phoenix/Mountain Pointe), the UCLA commit has opted to not visit OU. Lacy was among OU’s top targets at the position. He was very familiar with OU coaches Mike Stoops and Tim Kish from their time coaching at Arizona.

But a planned official visit to OU for Bedlam against Oklahoma State has now been switched to a visit to Kansas State at a date to be determined.

The list of recruits OU has hosted is an impressive one. ESPN 150 prospects like safety Marcell Harris (Orlando, Fla./Dr. Phillips), defensive tackle Justin Manning (Dallas/Kimball) and defensive tackle Greg Gilmore (Hope Mills, N.C./South View) have all toured the OU campus. However, OU still is searching for its first four-star commit of the football season.


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Hoke shows penchant for recruiting 

November, 21, 2012
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On the field success is normally what draws top prospects’ eyes to college programs, but Michigan coach Brady Hoke has proved with just his third recruiting class at Michigan that it’s not always necessary.

Under Hoke, the Wolverines have returned to relevance on the national scene, but through the first year and a half of his time with Michigan, he didn’t have the same resume as other top programs. Still, he has recruited as well as any of them.


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