A season of hope

As bowl season begins in college football, no shortage exists of programs that need a lift, a boost of support to help survive the ever-increasing buzz sure to reach a deafening pitch from South Beach as the BCS title game draws near.

For traditional powers such as Ohio State, Miami and Tennessee, there's little worse than a December at home as the nation fawns over Notre Dame.

Still others dread what they view as another championship gift-wrapped for the Southeastern Conference. That would make seven straight, if you're counting.

But enough talk of such despair.

It's the time of year for positive thinking, for renewal and a long look forward.
Hold tight, fans of Arkansas, Illinois and Cal, which combined to win nine games this year and four in their respective conferences. Signing day is a mere nine weeks away, and each of your schools cling to a top-40 recruiting class in the 2013 rankings.

Yes, the hot and heavy portion of recruiting season is upon us. The season of hope.

It's the time of year when fans of downtrodden teams can peer to the future and dream of dominance.

Auburn, just two years removed from a BCS title, endured a nightmarish fall. It searches this month for a new coach. Still, the Tigers' recruiting class ranks 10th nationally. Maybe Auburn's next staff can keep defensive end Carl Lawson and linebacker Reuben Foster in the fold. Perhaps it can lure five-star defensive tackle Montravius Adams or four-star running back Derrick Green.

What do the Tigers have in common with North Carolina, Virginia and Missouri?

They're home for the holidays, sure, but they've all got promising collections of prospects pledged to sign on Feb. 6.

Even at Penn State, where signs point to a long winter ahead with less than one year out of five on probation served, recruiting provides a reason for joy and happiness.

Too bad the school can't mail holiday cards stamped with the smiling faces of quarterback Christian Hackenberg and Adam Breneman, top-rated recruits nationally at their positions and both long committed to Bill O'Brien and the Nittany Lions.

Even for programs that barely made it to bowl eligibility, recruiting often offers the best reason for optimism. At Virginia Tech, where a 6-6 season goes over like a bowl of spoiled eggnog, cornerback Kendall Fuller, the No. 14 prospect in the ESPN 150, provides a reason for excitement.

Same goes for 6-6 Michigan State, which could make its holiday season by wrestling offensive guard David Dawson, a former Michigan commit, from the Wolverines.

Or at Ole Miss, where the best gift would come in the form of a 6-foot-5, 265-pound defensive end -- No. 1 overall ESPN 150 prospect Robert Nkemdiche, who dumped Clemson last month. His brother plays for the Rebels. Connect the dots.

Sixteen of 17 USC commitments rank among the ESPN 300. It won't erase the pain of a 7-5 season. but this class offers hope that the Trojans can rebound quickly from the impact of NCAA sanctions. Surely, Su'a Cravens, Kenny Bigelow and Eddie Vanderdoes can help that defense.

There are no busts before signing day. This is the time of year when even the losing programs win.

The next two months promise joy and disappointment on the recruiting trail. Lose a recruit? Replace him with another. The sting fades.

We'll watch to see what coaches land Nkemdiche, Adams, Laremy Tunsil, Mackensie Alexander, Ricky Seals-Jones and Laquon Treadwell. The drama will be great.

Alabama, Florida State, Florida, Georgia and Notre Dame finished among the top nine last year in the recruiting race. Freshmen helped them all this season.

Who will it be next year?