It is now that time of year when I can safely cover recruiting without turning the creep factor up to 11. One sign of the transition to "stuff normal people do" from "stuff people played by Steve Buschemi in the eventual made-for-TV movie do" is the annual January proliferation of high school all-star games. Of course, the football played at these events is exactly what you would expect from a gaggle of high schoolers who've never played together and are learning how to over the course of a week. It's generally pretty bland. The real show is the commitments, a cavalcade of hat-picking, teeshirt donning, and camera mugging bound to either convince you that your squad is on the rise (thanks to its new bluechippers) or doomed for brisk failure (because who knew Rivals had started giving negative star ratings?).
The GACA North/South All-Star game already concluded. Tonight at 7 p.m. ESPNU will televise the 2011 Under Armour All-American game, which features many of the best high school players from around the country. To give you some perspective, the rosters (which you can find here) include 7 players committed to the University of Alabama, 5 each committed to Florida State, Oklahoma and Florida, and 4 Texas Longhorn pledges. Along with the U.S. Army All-American game (which will take place on Saturday) this week will be your best chance to see most of the top 100 or so high school football prospects in the country before they arrive on college campuses, competing (often for the first time in their young lives) against their physical equals.
Georgia does not have a slew of verbally committed players in the Under Armour game. Christian LeMay was selected to play but turned down the chance to enroll early in Athens. One point, LeMay. Mitchell-Baker wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley is the only currently committed Bulldog Click-Clackity-Clack All-American for the class of 2011.
The real reason for Georgia fans to watch tonight's game will be to see the players still considering the Bulldogs who will be playing. There are several, and they are very high profile recruits. At least two of those players, Troup County wide receiver/tailback Quan Bray and Griffin outside linebacker Xzavier Dickson are likely to verbally commit during the game. Another, Valdosta tight end Jay Rome might join them.
Other UGA targets in the game include Carver-Columbus tailback Isaiah Crowell and Valdosta cornerback/wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell. In short, many of the so-called "Dream Team" will be in attendance. For a football program that hasn't received a new verbal commitment since August and just endured its first losing season in a decade and a half, tomorrow night sets up as an opportunity to regain a little bit of momentum on the recruiting trail heading into the critical month leading up to National Signing Day.
If, however, several of these guys decide to go elsewhere for their postsecondary matriculation, well, let's just say that it won't buy Mark Richt a lot of goodwill, and will give the impression that instate recruiting is yet another thing that he can no longer apparently do effectively. That may not be a fair assessment, but we all know that you could die a billion deaths holding your breath while waiting for college football fans to assess their teams fairly. Except for me. I'm the one totally reasonable one, I swear.
While I generally stay away from predicting where high school football players will choose to go to college (because 18 year old boys make tornados look boring and predictable by comparison), I do have some thoughts on Bray, Dickson, and Rome. Bray will choose between Georgia and Auburn. My guess, based on no inside info at all, is that the chance to play a variety of roles in Gus Malzahn's offense is too much for a guy whose cousin and close friend Jason played cornerback on the Plains in the 90's. Georgia has recruited Bray hard these past few weeks, probably harder than anyone else. I would not be surprised if he committed to Georgia. But with the Plainsmen providing an ideal stage for his skillset and getting ready to play for a national championship, I'm afraid he's one more LaGrange native who'll cross the border.
Dickson, on the flip side, has been pitched the chance to be the next Justin Houston, and has been a major priority for Coach Richt. Heck, the head man recently took Dickson's father to lunch for a chance to explain one-on-one how young Xzavier would be used. He appears set to decide between Georgia and Alabama, and I'm guessing Georgia. It probably doesn't hurt that two other Spalding County natives (and friends of Dickson's), safety Corey Moore and defensive tackle Chris Mayes, have already pledged to the Bulldogs.
Rome has made clear for some time that Georgia is his leader, and has been singled out by other players as the ringleader of the "Dream Team." If he commits tonight, I would be surprised if it is to any team other than Georgia. I have been worried throughout the recruiting process about Clemson, the alma mater of Rome's father Stan (a two sport standout for the Tigers), but the younger Rome has indicated recently that he's all but dropped the Country Gentlemen from his radar. As with all things recruiting however, this is all subject to change. In fact, it may already have changed in the last ten minutes and I simply don't know it yet. You've been warned.
I plan to try to watch the game tonight if other commitments don't keep me away from it. So, if any other recruiting junkies want to do the same, let's set this thread aside as a sort of makeshift open comment thread. It may just be me talking to myself, but that's ok. Wouldn't be the first time. Until later . . .