Along with a berth in the first college football playoff, the Heisman — with this year’s recipient being Oregon’s own Marcus Mariota — has cast the spotlight on the “team that could” from the upper left hand corner of the country. So how will this affect Oregon football’s 2015 recruiting class?
Mariota bringing the statue back to Eugene should make an immediate impact on prep players’ perception of what the Oregon football program has become. It has been described as “up-and-coming,” “growing,” “great” and most recently “elite.” Elite players want to play on elite teams.
Oregon is currently ranked as #17 by 247Sports and #25 by Scout.com for the 2015 class. Based on the past six years, there is a good chance that these rankings will end up being near #10 on signing day. Five of the last six years, Scout.com has shown that winning the Heisman boosted the recruiting for the recipient’s team.
Just looking back one year, Jameis Winston won the coveted trophy. In the 2013 recruiting class, Florida State was ranked #16. After bringing home the Heisman, the Seminoles jumped up to #3 for the 2014 class.
In 2012, Johnny Manziel from Texas A&M won the Heisman. The recruiting class prior, the Aggies brought in the #21 class of 2012, but finished at #6 a few short weeks after Johnny “Football” touted the award.
In Baylor’s case, when Robert Griffin III won, the Bears were recruiting in the middle of the nation at #52 in 2011. Baylor finished 22 spots higher than the year prior and finished at #30 in 2012. The Bears have gradually improved each year since with a #26 mark in 2013 and finally cracking the Top 25 with the #23 best class in 2014.
The last three years have been good for those schools with Heisman Trophy winners, as their recruiting classes have improved by an average of 16 spots. Last year, Oregon was ranked #22 by Scout.com, and I would personally love to see this recruiting class improve by ranking as #16. It would make one Duck fan I happen to know quite well do a funky, spontaneous happy dance on the first Wednesday of February.
With that being said, the Oregon coaches have some work to do to make a higher ranking a reality. First, they must retain the recruits they currently have committed. This has been simplified with several top recruits enrolling early. Second, some elite defensive blue-chippers need to be brought in.
The Ducks are listed in the Top 5 or so for a few elite defensive players. The key is that these players recognize that some of the targets Oregon has sought are committing to other programs. This leaves room for those studs and opens up playing time potential for their first year at college. Oregon is known to have propelled several freshmen with this year’s playoff team.
There are several platinum-tiered athletes who would definitely give the rankings a surge. Rasheem Green tops the list as a defensive tackle from California. Green’s teammate, John Houston at linebacker, would be another needed position. Terry Beckner Jr., out of Illinois, is another lineman who could beef up the future line. A combination of these three with the current committed defensive linemen would blow up offensive lines all day long.
Defensive back is an area of need with the departure of first team All-American Ifo Ekpre-Olomu after this season. Some gold-tiered prep stars could help this transition go smoothly. Marvell Tell and DeChaun Holiday, both from California, typically project at safety, but could also get some cornerback reps. The lone silver-tier safety is Marquise Doherty (from Missouri), who is expected to make his college choice shortly after Christmas. And a platinum-tier cornerback who is likely a long shot is Kendall Sheffield out of Texas.
Oregon’s recruiting rankings can also climb with some highly touted gold-tier prospects, including Canadian Neville Gallimore as a defensive tackle and Porter Gustin from Utah. Gustin is projected at defensive end, but he has the size that could play in Oregon’s hybrid position and slip into coverage.
The challenge for Oregon won’t be getting interest from these defensive beasts, because it is definitely there. The trick is convincing the blue-chippers that the Ducks have a solid foundation and are growing at a rapid and successful pace.
If Alabama had the recruiting class that Oregon currently has, it would be considered a major failure because of the lack of five-star players. And yet it has found a way to lose the same number of games as Oregon during the last two years. If the Ducks built themselves into a recruiting machine and regularly brought in several five-star studs like Alabama, LSU, Florida State, USC, Ohio State and Auburn, then championships would become commonplace in Eugene.
We saw the meltdown at Texas A&M recently, and the coaching changes at a few major programs. Louisiana State University lost four games in the SEC, which is down this year as a whole. Florida hired a coach from Colorado State that had a great season, only to get taken behind the woodshed by a Pac-12 team in its bowl game.
We are witnessing the waste of talent at universities that consistently get the best recruits and yet cannot compete against other talented teams. Even USC has become one of those programs lately. On paper, they should destroy everyone, but on the field it doesn’t happen.
The Heisman Trophy speaks volumes about what is happening at the University of Oregon’s football program. All the right pieces are there with a great head coach, a very seasoned defensive coordinator and a sought-after offensive coordinator. The coaches are actively promoting future success for Oregon football. So even though Crystal Ball projections on Duck Territory may look bleak for Oregon to recruit those platinum-tier prospects, it wouldn’t be a surprise if elite high school players out there ultimately choose the Ducks.
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