-by Braden Gall (follow at @BradenGall)
There is no better time of the year for recruiting fans than January. National Signing Day is less than a month away, and the nation’s best are doing battle in San Antonio.
This week, recruitniks everywhere get the first real glimpse of the nation’s top prep athletes going head-to-head against equivalent talent at all-star events across the fruited plain. While inter- and intra-state all-star games can feature a state’s or region’s best prospects, the national all-star competitions clearly raise the bar.
Nowhere else in college football recruiting can you watch the nation’s No. 1 wide receiver battle with the nation’s No. 1 cornerback in practice for a full week. And this season’s U.S. Army All-American Bowl, which is expected to feature seven Athlon Consensus 100 commitments, is no exception.
West Names to Watch
Look no further than the nation’s No. 1 prospect, Springfield (Mo.) Hillcrest wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham. He set a national high school receiving record with 6,353 career yards. His 75 career touchdown receptions rank third all-time, and his 300 receptions are fourth all-time in American prep football history. The 6-foot-6, 220 pound Calvin Johnson clone will be on full display on the West Roster Saturday in the Alamodome at 1 p.m. ET on NBC. Keep an eye on No. 5.
DGB has been very tight-lipped on the recruiting trail but appears to be down to five programs. Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas look to be the five lucky programs with the Hogs, Tigers and Sooners as the likely top three. The nation’s top prospect has played this entire process very close to the vest as his coach and father do most of the talking. Expect a late announcement from DGB.
The tailback talent is heavy weighted towards the West Roster where the nation’s fifth-, sixth- and eighth-ranked tailbacks will be featured. Spring (Texas) Dekaney’s Trey Williams (AC100 No. 41), a Texas A&M commitment, has claimed national player of the year honors after rushing for an astonishing 3,884 yards and 48 TDs in 2011. He announced that he will take more official visits, so you can bet Aggies fans are keeping a close watch on the star recruit. Oklahoma City (Okla.) Heritage Hall tailback Barry Sanders Jr. (AC100 No. 45) is obviously not afraid of or unaccustomed to the spotlight. His father was one of the greatest to ever play the game. Stanford has been rumored to be his leader over in-state favorite Oklahoma State. Finally, Daphne (Ala.) runner T.J. Yeldon (AC100 No. 61) is one of the few big power backs in a class loaded with smallish speedsters at running back. The future Crimson Tider is also a fantastic receiver.
Finally, keep an eye on the massive line prospect from Elk Grove (Calif.) Pleasant Grove, Arik Armstead. The 6-foot-7, 280-pound two-way star wants not only to play two sports in college (he is an excellent basketball prospect as well) but also possibly two positions. He would be considered the nation’s No. 1-ranked offensive line prospect, but he will be playing mostly defensive end on Saturday. The former USC commitment has taken snaps on both sides of the ball this week and could end up on either side of the ball on the next level. It looks like Alabama, Auburn, Cal, Notre Dame and Oregon are his finalists.
East Names to Watch
The country’s No. 2 quarterback prospect, Columbus (Ind.) East’s Gunner Kiel, will be slinging it around for the East Team. He is committed to LSU and could compete for early playing time with continued development, and a good showing against the nation’s elite will go a long way. He has played well in practice, showing poise, leadership and the ability to work through progressions — even in the face of the normally very difficult national all-star game setting.
Expect Kiel to be looking at No. 1 for a good portion of his snaps. Olney (Md.) Good Counsel athlete Stefon Diggs (AC100 No. 11) has been incredibly impressive all week long and should get plenty of looks from Kiel.
However, the story for the East squad could be the defensive line. Eight AC100 recuits will be lining up trying to stop those talented West tailbacks. The group is led by Shelby (N.C.) Crest end Jonathan Bullard (AC100 No. 50), who excelled at the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas before dominating all week long in San Antonio. Wearing No. 90, Bullard will announce where he will be playing college football on Saturday (prediction below). Glen Ellyn (Ill.) Glenbard West tackle Tommy Schutt (AC100 No. 52) has also played incredibly well between the tackles all week. Schutt, along with East teammate Cincinnati (Ohio) Taft end Adolphus Washington (AC100 No. 23), recently committed to Ohio State after Urban Meyer was announced as the new head coach. Buckeyes fans will certainly be watching this group.
Additionally, defensive ends Darius Hamilton (AC100 No. 16), Eli Harold (AC100 No. 65) and Tyriq MCcord (AC100 No. 97) will join forces with the above names and nose tackles Jarron Jones (AC100 No. 32) and Carlos Watkins (AC100 No. 91) to form one of the nastiest defensive lines in U.S. Army Bowl history.
AC100 Announcement Watch
Shaq Thompson, DB (No. 9)
Sacramento (Calif.) Grant Union
Ranks: Rivals: 7, Scout: 12, ESPN: 22, 247Sports: 11, O-D: 18, NCSA: 25
Finalists: Cal, Notre Dame, Oregon, Washington
Thompson is the nation’s top-rated defensive back and will be the top player making his announcement on Saturday. A recent report has Cal and Washington as his top options, and Cal has always been considered the favorite. If there is going to be an upset, however, it could be a Washington team that features his former teammate and friend James Sample. Prediction:Washington
Ellis McCarthy, DT (No. 18)
Monrovia (Calif.) Monrovia
Ranks: Rivals: 17, Scout: 28, ESPN: 43, 247Sports: 29, O-D: 62, NCSA: 21
Finalists: Cal, Oregon, USC
If there is going to be someone who backs out of his very public announcement — which happens at least once every year — it will be McCarthy. It feels like he will back out of his decision and continue the recruiting process, however, if the stud defensive tackle does make the call, look for him to pick between longtime leader USC and the surging Cal Golden Bears. Prediction:Cal
Barry Sanders Jr., RB (No. 45)
Oklahoma City (Okla.) Heritage Hall
Ranks: Rivals: 134, Scout: 64, ESPN: 78, 247Sports: 54, O-D: 42, NCSA: 15
Finalists: Alabama, Florida State, Oklahoma State, Stanford
While Alabama and Florida State are still technically in the mix, it doesn’t appear either will play a role in Sanders’ future. Stanford and Oklahoma State, where his father played, are the top two choices, and the Cardinal have long been rumored as the favorite. That said, it just doesn’t seem possible that Barry Sanders would leave his father’s school and home-state program in the lurch. There will be a lot of pressure from many angles, including his family, to stay at home. Reports late Thursday evening were Stanford has won the verbal, however, his announcement won't take place until Saturday and won't be final until February 1. Prediction:Stanford
Jonathan Bullard, DE (No. 50)
Shelby (N.C.) Crest
Ranks: Rivals: 20, Scout: 85, ESPN: 83, 247Sports: 67, O-D: N/A, NCSA: 33
Finalists: Clemson, Florida, Nebraska, South Carolina, Tennessee
Clemson was all the buzz last week when Bullard showed-out at the Shrine Bowl. He was supposed to announce last week as well, so that bodes well for longtime favorite Florida. The Gators have long been in the lead for the stud defensive end and will be the team to beat when he finally makes his decision. Prediction:Florida
Anthony Alford, QB/ATH (No. 70)
Petal (Miss.) Petal
Ranks: Rivals: 124, Scout: N/A, ESPN: 98, 247Sports: 35, O-D: 34, NCSA: 85
Finalists: Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Southern Miss
The talented dual-threat passer was considered a heavy LSU lean for much of the year, but Les Miles landed Kiel a few weeks ago, and that has turned Alford off to the Tigers. Ole Miss and Mississippi State have quarterback issues that Alford could help instantly, but the Magnolia State’s 2011 Mr. Football, and 6A State Champion, is likely locked into the starting lineup in Hattiesburg. Prediction:Southern Miss
Tyriq McCord, DE (No. 97)
Tampa (Fla.) Jefferson
Ranks: Rivals: 74, Scout: N/A, ESPN: 99, 247Sports: 123, O-D: 108, NCSA: 96
Finalists: Florida, Georgia, Miami, South Carolina, USC
No matter who McCord picks, it appears that an official visit to USC is inevitable. He has been recruited hard by Georgia commit John Theus and Florida commit Kent Taylor, but South Carolina and Miami might be his top choices. The Gamecocks have long been the favorite, but the Canes and Gators would offer a campus that is much closer to home. Prediction:South Carolina
Jordan Payton, WR (No. 99)
Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian
Ranks: Rivals: 120, Scout: 90, ESPN: N/A, 247Sports: N/A, O-D: 13, NCSA: 128
Finalists: Cal, Michigan, Notre Dame, UCLA
Payton has been one of the many bright spots this week in practice. He has made big catches all week long and has been a dependable option. He wants to play in a quality offense at an (obviously) very solid academic institution. Barring an unforeseen upset of monumental proportions, Jeff Tedford should be very happy with Payton’s decision. Prediction:Cal
Deon Bush, S (No. 117)
Miami (Fla.) Columbus
Finalists: Alabama, Auburn, Miami
Elijah Shumate, S (No. 129)
Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco
Finalists: Notre Dame, Rutgers, South Carolina
Brian Nance, LB (No. 150)
Euless (Texas) Trinity
Finalists: Arkansas, Baylor, UCLA
Kevon Seymour, CB (No. 161)
Pasadena (Calif.) Muir
Finalists: Cal, UCLA, USC, Oregon
Keith Brown, LB (No. 213)
Miami (Fla.) Norland)
Finalists: Illinois, Louisville, Miami
Nick Dawson, LB (No. 258)
Charlotte (N.C.) Phillip O. Berry
Finalists: Clemson, Louisville, NC State
Jordan Diggs, S (not ranked)
Ashburn (Va.) Briar Woods
Finalists: Tennessee, South Carolina, Vanderbilt