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November 7, 2003

On The Recruiting Trail

This week's edition of On The Recruiting Trail tackles the following hot topics:

1. Byers' USC commitment.
2. Can Purdue parlay?
3. Notre Dame's struggles
4. Hot corners


Byers' USC decision The nation's top-rated offensive lineman, Loveland (Colo.) center Jeff Byers, made giving his commitment to Pete Carroll's Trojans sound like a surprisingly easy decision.

Why?

Byers cited the normal recruiting draws such as coaching, winning tradition and education at USC, but a giant piece of the puzzle had to be the opportunity to step in and make an immediate impact on what should be one of the top teams in college football next year.

The Trojans currently have a senior at center, Norm Katnik, backed by a freshman and a walk-on junior. When the gifted Byers shows up for two-a-days next summer, he's got a golden opportunity to compete for the starting job.

From what we've seen of Byers on film, it's going to be hard to deny him.

Byers was the second Rivals100 offensive lineman to commit to the Trojans, joining Chilo Rachal. If Thomas Herring joins the party, Pete Carroll will have the nation's No. 1 center, No. 1 tackle and No. 8 tackle on board. They're also in the hunt for four-star guard Dumaka Atkins out of Florida, who has scheduled an official visit for January. A dream line could be in the making.


Purdue parlay? The Boilermakers were a modest 7-6 a year ago, but upon closer examination the six defeats came by a combined margin of 26 points and left them hungry for 2003.

So it shouldn't surprise anyone that Joe Tiller's squad has rolled to a 7-2 record and No. 16 ranking entering this weekend. With league games remaining against Iowa, Ohio State and Indiana, Purdue has an opportunity to make a big statement on the field and in the recruiting wars.

Purdue's class currently ranks No. 17 in the nation, highlighted by a pair of four-star prospects in defensive end Jeremy Coley and athlete Dwayne Holmes. The Boilers have drawn an official visit from five-star Texas wideout Lance Leggett and are in good position with high-profile players like quarterback Brent Schaeffer, offensive lineman Brett Gallimore, defensive end Ryan Baker, and linebacker Chris Graham.

The potential exists for a brilliant signing class.


Notre Dame's struggles Not even the most pessimistic follower of the Fighting Irish could have predicted just how sour their highly-anticipated second season under Ty Willingham would turn.

The big question now is how will Notre Dame's 2-6 start - and average losing margin of more than 21 points per game - affect its recruiting efforts?

So far, the Irish are in damage control mode. They're ranked No. 26 nationally with six solid commitments, highlighted by four-star athlete Anthony Vernaglia. But four-star California quarterback Rocky Hinds recently missed a scheduled visit and four-star Kentucky signal caller Brian Brohm is said to be leaning to hometown Louisville now that the school has formally been invited to join the Big East. Only two prospects rated three stars or above currently list the Irish with "high" interest, which is rare for this time of year.

The Notre Dame name still packs a wallop on the recruiting trail, but a season like the Irish is experiencing will be tough to overcome in meeting the high expectations they've set for themselves. A strong close against Navy, BYU, Stanford and Syracuse - and an outside shot at a bowl game - may be needed to salvage a big signing class in February.


The hot corner: In this day and age of spread formations and wide-open passing attacks, cover men are more valuable than ever to defensive coordinators. Corners are a red-hot commodity, and many of them are taking their time in making a college decision.

More of its top prospects remain on the market than any other position - 15 of 19 ranked four stars or better. The group is headlined by Ohio star Theodore Ginn Jr., who appears destined for a classic Ohio State-Michigan showdown. Fellow five-star corner Tony Carter is said to be leaning hard to Florida State, but don't count out Miami or Tennessee just yet.

Florida figures to be a familiar battleground for several of the elite cover men with five of the top 15 coming from the Sunshine State. In addition to Carter, there's J.R. Bryant (Miami verbal), Trevor Ford, McIntosh Nicolas and Dawayne Grace.

Arkansas could be putting itself in a position to land one of the best corner tandems thanks to a childhood connection between Waco (Texas) star Marcus Walker and Riverdale (Ga.) standout Jerome Touchstone. The two cousins, rated No. 4 and No. 37 at the position, respectively, grew up together in the Lone Star State and are now discussing the possibility to suiting up for the Razorbacks.


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