As a result of a highly publicized NCAA investigation, Miami suspended eight players for the 2011 season opener against Maryland. It self-imposed a bowl ban a day after becoming bowl eligible. And it let the distractions and implications of the case eat at the heart of what could have been a much better team last year.
What Miami didn’t do, though, was self-impose any scholarship losses, or fear possible future sanctions, and as a result, Al Golden and his staff lured in one of the best recruiting classes in the country on Wednesday -- better than defending ACC champ Clemson, and better than in-state rival Florida.
This year’s class is evidence of what Golden can do when he’s got a full recruiting calendar to work with, unlike last year when the timing of his hire cut everything short. It’s proof that he can not only match his in-state rivals for the best talent within the state, but he can also beat the 'Noles and Gators for some of those elite prospects.
The guy from Philly has apparently found his way around South Florida.
How, though, did Golden manage to land the No. 8 class, six ESPNU 150 commits, and 11 four-star players in the face of an ongoing NCAA investigation?
“To be honest with you, I think the kids understand that the coaches, myself, the AD -- none of us were here when those things occurred,” Golden said. “I think they understand there’s a shift among the NCAA right now to go after the perpetrators. Certainly they know that’s not me or our coaches.
“At the end of the day it’s a top-40 education, an incredible campus, and one of the richest traditions in college football. There’s also the element of playing time. When you’re signing a class that big, kids sense that means there’s not a lot of veterans returning on the team and it’s an opportunity to compete with peers as opposed to incumbants. A lot of the kids wanted to seize that opportunity.”
Brennan Carroll, Miami’s national recruiting coordinator, said there were no secrets about the NCAA investigation when meeting with recruits.
“We tell them everything,” he said. “We don’t hide anything from them. We let them know exactly what’s going on.”
There’s only one problem with that.
“We really don’t know,” Golden said. “We think the worst is behind us. We gave up a bowl game this year, which had a negative impact on our recruiting and certainly on our team. We endured multiple suspensions, which had a negative impact on our football team and on recruiting. The lack of continuity and consistency among the team that accompanied that. We’ve endured a lot already.”
The NCAA will determine if Miami has paid its dues, but there’s no question the work the staff put into this recruiting class should eventually pay off. With eight starters either graduating or leaving early for the NFL draft, there will be plenty of opportunities for this class to make an immediate impact. Running back and defensive back would be the most likely positions up for grabs, but there will be competitions all over the field this offseason. Carroll said the staff will elevate the freshmen quickly, get them reps with the first team and see what they can do.
“It’s obviously a huge selling point,” Carroll said. “We had huge contributions from a couple of freshmen we signed last year, even in a shortened class. … Now that we’ve had a chance to recruit a full class, absolutely we expect these guys to come in and contribute early, give us some added depth if not push for starting playing time right away.”
How quickly those young players can develop and translate their recruiting rankings into BCS rankings remains to be seen. The NCAA hasn’t determined its role yet in Miami’s future, but Golden said his program has already “paid a big price.”
“We paid a huge price in terms of a penalty because we did have a veteran team coming back and we did have a team that looked like it was going to be a really good team and then we succumbed to a lot of distractions and disharmony that accompanied the allegations,” he said. “We didn’t create this.”
They did, however, take a big step forward in overcoming it with this year’s recruiting class.