Wed Feb 03 08:26pm EST
Even if you're not a flame-wielding Tennessee fan, odds are that you either don't like USC coach Lane Kiffin for trading on contacts and unscrupulous bravado over substance and dues-paying on his way to one of the best jobs in his profession, or you simply don't respect him. Maybe both. But you have to give him this: The man can close.
With just two months to salvage a mediocre class at Tennessee last winter, Kiffin and recruiting consiglieri Ed Orgeron dramatically improved the Vols' final haul, stealing coveted prospects Janzen Jackson and Nu'Keese Richardson from rivals LSU and Florida, respectively, at the the last second, then sealing the deal with the nation's best player, longtime Miami commit Bryce Brown, a few weeks later. This year, with even less time to cobble together a USC-worthy class in their new digs, Team Kiffin quickly secured a pair of five-star wafflers, Kyle Prater and Dillon Baxter, from Pete Carroll's crop of commitments, added four-star target Demetrius Wright down the stretch and closed with a resounding bang today, locking up cross-country signatures from five-star Georgia receiver Markeith Ambles, hotly-sought Florida cornerback Nickell Robey and the gem of the day, towering, top-ranked Minnesota offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson. No one was pegging any member of that trio for L.A. before Kiffin and Orgeron burst onto the scene.
In a single 12-hour gambit, the Trojans' 2010 crop went from an undersized, on-the-brink group hovering around the bottom of the gurus' top-10 lists -- a mediocre effort by USC standards, to say the least -- to one of the few truly elite classes in the nation, a Carroll-worthy haul that easily landed at No. 2 in Rivals' final national rankings. It might have threatened to come in at No. 1 if they'd landed UCLA-bound targets Dietrich Riley and Josh Shirley in the afternoon, but by any standard, Kiffin and Orgeron left no doubt that the USC recruiting beat lives on for the foreseeable future.
Still, if there was any question, Urban Meyer is here to assure you that, as recruiting beasts go, there is none beastlier than the creature he's nurtured at Florida, a tyrannosaur in an F-14 whose appetite for young, blue-chip blood is never sated. Here is a man who quit his job barely a month ago, just weeks after being wheeled from his house on a gurney in the middle of the night, unconscious, having literally worked himself into a heart-wrenching stupor. As recently as three weeks ago, he was still scheduled to be on Tahiti today, or at least in a hammock or something, rather than putting the finishing touches on Florida's third No. 1 class in the last five years.
But here it is. The Gators brought in every headliner reported to be in the fold before today's proceedings -- top-ranked defensive end Ronald Powell faxed his letter-of-intent in from Los Angeles; flaky, five-star safety Matt Elam came through after months of waffling on his commitment -- and managed to add to their riches with on-the-fence offensive lineman Chaz Green and receiver Adrian Coxson as the day wore on. A title like "Best Recruiting Class Ever" has no meaning before anyone in it has set foot on a college field, but less than five weeks after Urban Meyer decided needed to throttle down for the sake of his health and family, he somehow reaffirmed his program's status as the gold standard for contemporary talent magnets:
Such continuity is startling, given the stark future the burgeoning Gator dynasty faced when it looked like Meyer may not be back this fall, if he was ever back on the sideline at all. Already, Florida had lost both coordinators, its mega-star quarterback and the core of the exceptional defense that built the dynasty in the first place. If Meyer had followed those departures, there would be no semblance of the spectacular four-year run from 2006-09 remaining at all.
Instead, today is the day Meyer put any notions of long-term decline out of their misery. The Gators aren't going to win a national championship every year, or every other year. But as long as Urban lives to stalk the trail, obviously the well that produced the last four years isn't running dray any time soon.