By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - When college football coaches assess their recruiting classes, they do plenty of spying on their neighbors.
How a class stacks up to the other teams within conference goes a long way in determining its success. During the recruiting process, many players are on the wish lists of multiple teams from the same conference.
So when a recruiting coordinator looks over his backyard fence at his conference neighbor, he might see that coordinator standing at the far end of his yard looking over the fence at the next conference rival. And so on and so on.
Those fences block the horizon, however, so don't be quick to pass judgment on Wednesday on National Letter of Intent Day. What we know now about a group of incoming freshmen probably won't be how we feel come late fall in 2014 or 2015. Some of the players won't even be around for various reasons.
But signing day is like Christmas morning to many college football fanatics. The hyperbole coming from coaches and official university releases will have you thinking your favorite program has just landed the best recruiting class in your conference, if not the nation. That 5-foot-7 wide receiver whom your heated rival passed on has suddenly become your school's three-star signee.
And that's all OK. It's February. If the Pittsburgh Pirates can be dreaming the big dreams this month, you should, too.
Enjoy. Kickoff is seven months away.
SOCON HEATS UPPerhaps the FCS' most intriguing recruiting battle involves the Southern Conference logjam of Appalachian State-Georgia Southern-Wofford.
They finished 4, 5 and 6, respectively, in The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS Top 25, with Appalachian State and Wofford tying for the conference title and then Georgia Southern going the farthest in the playoffs, losing to Delaware in a national semifinal.
App State has won or shared the last six SoCon titles, but will lose a bunch of key seniors - oh, the recruiting classes of 2006 (redshirts) and 2007 were strong - while Georgia Southern has almost every key player returning and Wofford will have a veteran team as well. They will threaten the Mountaineers' reign as champion.
What often happens in the final days leading up to signing day is FBS schools come in and cherry-pick some players who were verbally committed to FCS powers. It's happening in the SoCon, but this triumvirate will emerge with solid classes.
App State went heavy on the skills positions two years ago and with offensive linemen last year. This year, head coach Jerry Moore figures to unveil a more balanced class on Wednesday, although his team probably has to plug more holes defensively with the losses of players such as defensive end Jabari Fletcher, linebacker D.J. Smith and safety Mark Legree.
App State mainly redshirted last year's freshmen, while Monken threw a lot of his newcomers into the fire in his first season back in Statesboro, where he had been an assistant coach on two national-championship winning squads. His goal in recruiting was to add depth because the Eagles' starting lineup will be senior-laden in 2011. GSU has often relied on transfers, a la quarterback Jaybo Shaw, who followed Monken from Georgia Tech and gave the Eagles a leader who was experienced in the flexbone triple option.
Wofford's recruiting focus has been in the trenches. On the offensive line, head coach Mike Ayers lost three starters and another player who split a starting job, while his 3-4 defense will be starting three seniors upfront, including All-America end Ameet Pall, so the Terriers have to replenish there as well. They also will need depth for their triple option offense, with fullback Eric Breitenstein heading into his senior season.
NOT YOUR AVERAGE RECRUITThe top individual ranking for a FCS-bound player belongs to a recruit from - of all schools - Penn.
Yes, Connor Loftus of Anaheim (Calif.) Servite is ranked No. 12 by Rivals among place-kickers. The 5-foot-11, 182-pounder can hit from beyond 50 yards and is especially adept at putting kickoffs into his opponent's end zone.
Loftus, who has scored 2,180 on the SAT, is the perfect recruit for the Ivy League Quakers, who must replace a four-year starter and their all-time leading scorer, Andrew Samson.
Loftus had scholarship offers from such FBS programs as Michigan, Boise State, Air Force, North Carolina and North Carolina State.
Ironically, Penn's rival, Harvard, has a linebacker named Connor Loftus.
RECRUITING FOR NEEDVillanova is replacing the starting linebackers trio of Marquis Kirkland, Terence Thomas and Anthony Johnson, so coach Andy Talley knew where to place an emphasis in his program's recruiting.
The Wildcats' verbal commitments have scored big among the rankings for Scout.com middle linebackers. They have stayed locally with Corey Majors, a 6-1, 225-pounder from Langhorne (Pa.) Neshaminy who ranked 50th nationally, and Dillon Lucas, a 6-1, 220-pounder from Medford (NJ) Shawnee who ranked 68th, and have reached across the state for Matt McCann, a 5-11, 190-pounder (more the size of a safety) from Pittsburgh Keystone Oaks who ranked 61st.
It's a tremendous run for one position - something not often seen in the FCS.
OTHER TOP PLAYERSSome of the other top FCS individual rankings from Rivals.com (as of Tuesday):
Pro-style Quarterback: No. 27, Chris Polony, Whitehall (Pa.), 6-2, 205, Villanova
Tight end: 33, Mansell Simmons, Sacramento (Calif.) Sheldon, 6-4, 217, Portland State
Weakside defensive end: 32, Daniel Davis, Norman (Okla.) North, 6-3, 235, Penn
Outside linebackers: 55, Aarin Smith, Fresno (Calif.) Bullard, 6-1, 185, committed to North Dakota; 69, Antonio Marsh, Prichard (Ala.) Blount, 6-2, 198, Grambling State
Cornerbacks: 42, Demetrius Jackson, Baldwin Park (Calif.), 5-11, 185, Portland State; 58, Alex Carr, Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Washington, 5-9, 162, Northern Iowa
Kicker: 18, Christian Benvenuto, Palm Coast (Fla.) Matanzas, 6-2, 190, Georgia State
Some of the other top individual rankings from Scout.com:
Quarterbacks: 88, Chris Polony, Whitehall (Pa.), 6-2, 205, Villanova; 91, Conner Hempel, Union (Ky.) Ryle, 6-3, 190, Harvard; 93, Ryan Polite, De Soto (Texas), 6-1, 200, Texas-San Antonio; 94, Kal Prince, Owensboro (Ky.), 6-3, 195, Columbia; 99, Trent McKinney, Mililani (Hawaii), 5-11 1/2, 195, Montana; 108, Pete Maetzold, Friendswood (Texas), 6-2, 190, Fordham; 110, Christian Brumbaugh, McDonald (Pa.) South Fayette Township, 6-3, 200, William & Mary
Running backs: 113, DaMarcus James, Demopolis (Ala.), 5-9, 216, Jacksonville State; 120, Jalen Simmons, Charlotte (N.C.) West Charlotte, 5-8, 194, South Carolina State
Wide receiver: 83, Josh Pinkston, Forest (Miss.), 6-2, 190, Northwestern State
Tight ends: 49, Sam Rohr, Brookfield (Wisc.) Central, 6-4, 225, Northern Iowa; 74, Beau Smith, Leander (Texas) Cedar Park, 6-6, 230, Sam Houston State
Offensive guards: 95, Jared Templeton, Tyrone Area (Pa.), 6-4, 285, William & Mary; 107, John Wolfe, Gresham (Ore.) Sam Barlow, 6-2, 275, Portland State
Centers: 32, Jake Abbott, Peoria (Ariz.) Centennial, 6-3, 270, Northern Arizona; 38, Dillon O'Carroll, Tulsa (Okla.) Booker T. Washington, 6-2, 280, Brown
Middle linebackers: 52, Terry Blake, Denton (Texas) Guyer, 6-0, 235, Texas-San Antonio; 56, Cody McCarthy, Boise (Idaho) Bishop Kelly, 6-0, 230, Eastern Washington; 75, Kyle Combs, Scottsdale (Ariz.) Chaparral, 6-1, 225, Southern Illinois; 81, Carson Smith, Mauldin (S.C.), 6-2, 211, The Citadel
Long snappers (no official rankings): Michael Crispi, Dix Hills (N.Y.) Half Hollow Hills West, 5-11, 230, Elon; Nicholas Boyle, Sussex (N.J.) High Point, 6-5, 230, Delaware; Rick Lovato, Middletown (N.J.) South, 6-2, 210, Old Dominion; Barry Davis, Milledgeville (Ga.) Georgia Military, 6-3, 235, Georgia Southern