There really are never any losers in all-star exhibition games, even though the West beat the East 37-9 in the 2016 U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Saturday, but there certainly can be winners and several colleges reaped the benefits of extending offers to top players showcasing their skill set for a national television audience.
From a performance standpoint, Ole Miss and Stanford came out on top thanks to the play of their verbal commits. Quarterback Shea Patterson, a 5-star Ole Miss commit, won MVP honors throwing for 90 yards with two scores. Patterson set the tone on the opening drive, nailing Stanford wide receiver commit Simi Fehoko on a 35-yard touchdown pass. Patterson connected with Javon McKinley in the second quarter for another score to help seal MVP honors.
Stanford had another standout in the game, 4-star quarterback K.J. Costello. Costello also threw two touchdown passes showing various uncommitted recruits in the 2016 and '17 class what could be had if they head to Palo Alto for college. Fellow Cardinal commit, 4-star linebacker Curtis Robinson, made his own mark when he recovered a fumble in the first quarter, which set up the West’s second score.
On the recruiting side, the biggest winners of the day were the five different schools that added top talent while getting free publicity for their respective programs. Georgia, Notre Dame, Michigan State, Michigan, and TCU each landed a recruit at some point during the game.
Dylan Crawford, a high school teammate of Costello at Santa Margarita Catholic (Calif.), was the first to announce when he chose Michigan. Crawford’s commitment helped push Michigan ahead of Ole Miss (No. 3), Notre Dame (No. 4) and Ohio State (No. 5) in rivals.com's class rankings, with the Wolverines only trailing LSU.
Texas defensive tackle Ross Blacklock was the second player to announce deciding to stay in-state to play for TCU. In the third quarter, wide receiver Donnie Corley also decided to stay in-state picking Michigan State.
Notre Dame got a big, sure-handed, quick wideout when McKinley (6-2, 195) committed to the Fighting Irish in the fourth quarter. McKinley joins big British Columbia target Chase Claypool (6-5, 215) and speedy First Coast (Jacksonville, Fla.) receiver Kevin Stepherson as part of a Notre Dame class that currently consists of 22 verbal commitments.
Perhaps the biggest haul of the day, and one that was of little surprise, was when tight end Isaac Nauta decided to return home to play for the Georgia Bulldogs. Nauta, considered the No. 1 tight end in the 2016 recruiting class, was a one-time verbal commitment to Florida State. Before the 2015 season began, Nauta not only transferred from Buford High School to IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) but also decommitted from the Seminoles opening his recruiting back up.
Few feared that when Mark Richt was fired at the end of the season as Georgia’s head coach that Nauta might not head to Athens to join first-year head coach Kirby Smart. But a pairing with another 5-star and U.S. Army All-American participant, quarterback Jacob Eason (Lake Stevens, Wash.), was a combination that helped bring Nauta back into the Georgia fold.
Another standout from the game was do-everything uncommitted athlete Mecole Hardman Jr. The Elbert County (Bowman, Ga.) 5-star talent had three receptions for 36 yards and one carry for five yards, but flashed his speed returning two punts for 57 yards and two kickoffs for 45 collecting 143 all-purpose yards.
Another tight end talent that flashed his skills was Devin Asiasi. The De La Salle (Concord, Calif.) 4-star recruit only caught one pass but made it count on a 25-yard touchdown reception.
Defense travels and so does athlete/cornerback Jack Jones. Jones, a 4-star recruit from Long Beach Poly (Calif.) was one of the more impressive defenders in the game coming up with eight tackles, a pass breakup, and one interception for the West.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManInLA.