Illinois football coach Ron Zook figures to sign another outstanding recruiting class on Feb. 6. In fact, his crop of incoming freshmen likely will rank from No. 11 to No. 15 in the nation. But the Illini still won't rate ahead of Ohio State and Michigan.
That's because one of them will get quarterback Terrelle Pryor, the nation's top-rated player. If anyone had any doubts, they were erased in last Saturday's U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio.
Pryor was a virtual unanimous choice as the game's MVP while leading the East to a 33-23 victory over the West. He scored one touchdown, passed for another and accounted for nearly 150 years in total offense.
Pryor is a great player. Whoever gets him, Ohio State or Michigan, will lead the Big Ten in the next few years. He has both feet on the ground. He is another Vince Young, a great athlete, a game-breaking offensive player, the only one in the country this year.
Some observers close to Pryor's recruiting said he is leaning to Ohio State. But Michigan could catch up in one month. New coach Rich Rodriguez must sell him on his spread offense, which Pryor seems born to implement a la one-time Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward at Florida State.
But Ohio State coach Jim Tressel is a great recruiter. He and Buckeye basketball coach Thad Matta have worked on him all year, assuring him that he can play football and basketball at Ohio State. Pryor is one of the top 50 basketball prospects in the nation.
Tressell and Rodriguez had to be happy about the performances of two of their recruits in the All-American game--running backs Lamaar Thomas (Ohio State) and Sam McGuffie (Michigan). McGuffie was the fastest kid in the game. Once in space, they are electric, very creative.
The three Chicago area products in the game--Mount Carmel linebacker Steve Filer, St. Rita defensive end Darius Fleming and Marian Central lineman Sean Cwynar, who are all committed to Notre Dame--played well if not spectacularly.
Filer had one of the biggest hits in the game, Fleming almost had two sacks and Cwynar had one fumble recovery and a few tackles. Cwynar impressed me with his quickness. He showed defensive quickness against the best players in the country. Filer is a great leader. Coaches raved about Filer and Fleming all week in practice.
Besides Pryor, one of the players who impressed the most was noseman Brandon Newman of Louisville, Ky. I rated the 6-0, 300-pounder as a three-star prospect and didn't nominate him for the game. But he lives near Fort Knox and U.S. Army officials always want someone who lives near Fort Knox to participate in the game every year. So Newman was added.
Well, Newman is better than I thought. Now he's a four-star player. He was the strongest kid in the game and dominated the middle of the line, a real run stuffer. He is committed to Notre Dame and likely will fill the spot vacated by the more highly publicized Omar Hunter of Buford, Ga., who recently de-committed from Notre Dame.
One uncommitted player who demonstrated why he is one of the leading prospects in the country is 6-6 wide receiver DeAndre Brown of Ocean Springs, Miss., who is considering Ole Miss, Auburn, LSU and Mississippi State.
Speaking of wide receivers, Mike Floyd of St. Paul, Minn., who is committed to Notre Dame, rated behind only Pryor in the MVP voting. He caught four passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns for the East. And Ohio State-bound Mike Adams of Dublin, Ohio, clearly demonstrated that he is the best offensive lineman in the country.