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October 3, 2012

Mind of Mike: New guy on top?

MIND OF MIKE: Sept. 26 | Sept. 19 | Sept. 12

Mike Farrell is the National Football Recruiting Analyst for Rivals.com. Want more of what's on Mike's mind throughout the week? Follow him on Twitter @rivalsmike.
Rivals.com national analyst Mike Farrell is never shy to express his opinion on everything from commitments to rankings to how on-field performance affects recruiting. In this weekly feature -- Inside the Mind of Mike -- the most experienced analyst in the industry gives some of his thoughts on the events of the past week.

Deep thoughts

The more I look up and down the Rivals100, especially at the five-stars, and look at who could challenge Clemson commitment Robert Nkemdiche for the coveted No. 1 slot in the country, the more Max Browne jumps out at me.

The 6-foot-5, 215-pounder has some work to do as every other high school quarterback, but his feel for the game, vision and his efficiency with the ball are as good as anyone at the high school level in years. After throwing 13 interceptions as a sophomore and just seven last year, Browne has thrown only two picks this season in his first four games while amassing nearly 1,400 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Completion percentage and turnover ratio are the two biggest factors scouts look for when it comes to quarterbacks, two attributes now much more important than size or arm strength. Browne has completed nearly 70-percent of his high school passes and thrown 109 touchdowns against only 22 picks.

Browne is currently ranked No. 10 overall in the country, but he plays the most important position in football and if he continues to be a surgeon on the field, he could be the first pro-style quarterback since Jimmy Clausen in 2007 to top the charts. There are plenty of games left this season so we'll see how he finishes, and of course there is the U.S. Army Bowl for evaluation as well.

This leads me to another quarterback who will arguably be the subject of the most controversial discussion we need to have when it comes time for our next rankings in early December. Of course, I'm talking about Warren (Mich.) De La Salle's Shane Morris.

The lefty was awarded his fifth star following summer appearances at numerous camps as well as The Opening and Elite 11. However, after completing just over 50 percent of his passes as a junior, Morris started off this year 40-of-83 for 456 yards with three touchdowns and three picks. Then he was diagnosed with mononucleosis and could be out for the rest of the season, which makes it unclear if he'll be ready to play in the Under Armour All-American Game in January.

So, was the poor start due to mono or was it more of the up-and-down play from last season that held him back from his fifth star? Mono is unlikely to affect him long term when it comes to his college career, although it could delay his immediate impact depending on how long it takes to recover and gain back weight. His senior year playing sample will certainly lead to some detailed discussion.

[ Watch: Click here to see more of Max Browne in action ]

Penn State showed some serious heart and a nasty, aggressive offensive line in manhandling Illinois on the road to push to 3-2. With a field goal kicker, the Nittany Lions would be 4-1 right now (remember the Virginia loss?) and you have to hand it to Bill O'Brien and his staff for keeping this team competitive.

But before we get all giddy, this was a bad Illinois team that lost to Louisiana Tech by 28 points and also lost to Arizona State by 31. The other wins have come against a 1-3 Navy team and a 1-2 Temple team. I think what O'Brien is doing this year can possibly keep the big four of Adam Breneman, Christian Hackenberg, Garrett Sickels and Brendan Mahon, all four stars, together in this recruiting class, which is crucial. But I still don't see a four- or five-star commitment for the Nittany Lions aside from these four for quite some time.

The Big Ten is bad and Penn State can compete this year, but as the scholarship numbers dwindle and with no bowl games to sell, I see recruiting continuing to go more like it has over the last two months than it did before the sanctions.

Where the heck has all the defense gone? Top 25 teams Georgia (44 points), West Virginia (63), Texas (36), Clemson (31), Oregon State (35), Nebraska (27) and even Boise State (29) gave up a ton of points in wins this past weekend. So does a weak defensive performance turn off recruits, or does it make them want to play for those teams even more?

This is a tough question to answer, but I think it's a bit of a turnoff. Big-time recruits love early playing time and that can be easily sold with poor defensive performances, but they also like to go to teams known for great defense, and I think that wins out. Giving up a ton of points certainly won't help the above teams sell such a defensive tradition. However, I think West Virginia, Oregon State, Nebraska and Boise State, schools without a great recruiting pool from which to fish, could suffer the most if the defensive lapses continue.

Tennessee was one of the teams that racked up some big numbers against a Top 25 team when it put 44 on Georgia in a loss. The Vols showed a good balance between pass and run in the game, but it was still yet another loss to a ranked team under Derek Dooley. After going 1-7 last year in the SEC and off to an 0-2 start this year, what do the powers-that-be do at the end of this season? Let's say the Vols lose the next three against Mississippi State, Alabama and South Carolina, but finish strong with wins over Troy, Missouri, Vanderbilt and Kentucky to finish 7-5 and 3-5 in conference. Do they keep Dooley, who appears to be on the cusp of building something in Knoxville, or do they move on?

Yulee (Fla.) athlete Derrick Henry always seemed to favor Alabama since he de-committed from Georgia, but it was painfully obvious that playing time and the ability to make an early impact was much more available with the Vols. However, he still decided to join the crowded house of running backs in Tuscaloosa and one has to think the hot seat on which Dooley sits is part of the reason.

Speaking of Henry, I watched his game against Kelvin Taylor on Friday where he rushed for 363 yards and six touchdowns. Taylor, on other hand, rushed for 223 yards and a score and one thing is clear - the questions about him being a running back still remain. While Taylor flashed lateral quickness and runs with natural leverage, Henry is a one-cut back who is very upright and was just too big and fast for an overmatched defense. You have to love Henry's aggressiveness and effort, as well as his leadership. It's also hard to fault 865 yards and 12 scores in his last two games, but Taylor was clearly the more impressive running back prospect.

Rankings of Yore

Eugene Smith, as he was known out of Miramar (Fla.) back in 2009, is now Geno Smith to the college football world.

He has become the leader for the Heisman Trophy following last weekend's 656-yard, eight-touchdown performance in a ridiculous 70-63 win over Baylor in West Virginia's Big 12 conference debut. Back in 2009, we ranked Smith at No. 146 in the country and No. 3 at dual-threat quarterback, behind five-star Russell Shepard and Rivals100 quarterback Tyrik Rollison. Shepard obviously never panned out at quarterback and is now a very average wide receiver for the LSU Tigers. Rollison transferred to Sam Houston State after a guy named Cameron Newton decided to head to Auburn and the rest is history.

[ Watch: Looking back: Boyd vs. Smith ]

As for Smith, he probably should have been classified as a pro-style quarterback despite his ability to run in high school. He would have ranked behind Matt Barkley (USC), Garrett Gilbert (Texas), Aaron Murray (Georgia) , Tajh Boyd (Clemson), Bryn Renner (UNC), Richard Brehaut (UCLA), A.J. McCarron (Alabama), Tom Savage (Rutgers) and Andrew Maxwell (Michigan State). Perhaps the most interesting thing about Smith's recruitment was that Boyd was once committed to West Virginia before changing his mind, thus opening up the quarterback slot again in the 2009 class. West Virginia fans were extremely upset when Boyd de-committed, but it looks as if they got the better of the deal with Smith. Boyd went on to commit to Tennessee, de-committed again and finally signed with Clemson where he is also having success.

Quick Hitters

Johnny Stanton is a tough kid, playing at least a half on a torn ACL and perhaps longer, but having his season end so soon is not good for two different reasons. First, Stanton needs as much work on his passing mechanics as possible before heading off to college and his biggest strength, his running ability, could be hindered down the line by the injury.

Unless it gets Derrick Green and Laquon Treadwell, it could be hard for Michigan to hold onto that No. 2 slot in the national team rankings behind USC. The Trojans, barring a complete collapse in their class, look to have the No. 1 slot locked up and now Alabama has tied the Wolverines with LSU and Notre Dame making a push.

The biggest wild card in the top 10 right now? That's clearly Auburn, which is still three commitments shy of the 20 cutoff used to rank the teams and is still involved with a ton of top talent. Auburn has a winnable stretch here with Arkansas, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Texas A&M and New Mexico State before it has to face Georgia and Alabama in two of the last three weeks. A winning season and a bowl game are not out of the question and likely needed to keep Gene Chizik and one of the best recruiting staffs in the country safe.

South Carolina has been doing solid work in the state of Georgia the last couple of years, especially with the in-state talent down. Landing players Mike Davis, Chaz Elder, Joe Harris and Brendan Langley, in addition to a win over Georgia this weekend could further those efforts. In-state efforts are always crucial, but it's safe to say that the state of Georgia has become essential to the Gamecocks recruiting strategy. South Carolina has seven commits from the state of Georgia this year to only three from in-state. Last year, the Gamecocks took 12 from the Peach State and only four at home.

I've talked a lot about West Virginia already in this column from the horrible defense to the amazing offense led by Geno Smith. Now a top 10 program in a real conference (sorry Big East), it's only a matter of time before some major offensive talent from the state of Texas starts to hop on board Dana Holgorsen's bandwagon. And I'm not talking about a player or two without offers from Texas, Oklahoma and the rest, I'm talking about talent with all the offers. It might not happen this year, but by 2014, West Virginia will steal a four-star from the Longhorns or Sooners, just watch.

Clemson is lurking at No. 13 in our rankings, but don't be surprised to see the Tigers make yet another push toward the national top 10 before all is said and done. With studs Montravius Adams, Marquez North, Mackensie Alexander, Tyrone Crowder and a few others high on Clemson (including in-state wide receiver Tramel Terry, a Georgia commitment) it will come down to whether Dabo Swinney can close on all four and keep Robert Nkemdiche and Elijah Daniel committed.

After slamming the Miami defense in my previous column, the 'Canes now appear to clearly be in the driver's seat in the Coastal Division of the ACC with a 3-0 conference record. Despite giving up 32, 52, 36 and 37 points to all four BCS opponents so far this year, Al Golden and his team are 4-1 overall. Yahoo! Sports' Charles Robinson recently tweeted that Miami is expected to hear from the NCAA before the end of November. If the Canes can somehow escape serious NCAA damage the same way they have escaped losses despite a struggling defense, Miami could be in the discussion with Florida and Florida State when it comes to in-state recruiting this year and beyond. Miami is currently 39th in the country after finishing ninth last season, but it is filling a smaller class and have only 11 commitments. Despite the clear path to the ACC title game, the Hurricanes still aren't close to being ranked in the national top 25. Notre Dame awaits this week in Chicago.

I've been slamming the Big Ten regularly for poor play up and down the conference, but now it's the ACC's turn. FSU is a national title contender and Clemson is pretty good (except on defense), but the rest of the league looks bad. That is reflected in our recruiting rankings as well with zero ACC teams in the national top 10.

Mike Farrell is the national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. Click here to follow him on Twitter.

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