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Early action tops recruits' wish list

Tim Brewster has been around football long enough to know when something is more than a fad.

His 27 years of experience as a head coach at Minnesota, assistant coach with ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC schools and a stint as an NFL assistant gives him perspective that is matched by few. It speaks volumes when Brewster said the biggest change with college football recruiting over the last five years is recruits are demanding to play early and more recruits are prepared to make the jump than ever before.

"This hasn't been just this year or with the Class of 2013," said Brewster, who serves as the recruiting coordinator at Florida State, the No. 2-ranked team in ESPN RecruitingNation's class rankings. "This has been happening over the course of the past couple of years, the past five, maybe 10 years. The playing-time factor has become the biggest part of the equation."

Ole Miss may be the best example of this trend. The Rebels finished with the nation's No. 5 recruiting Class in 2013, including 10 ESPN 300 prospects, headlined by No. 1 Robert Nkemdiche, No. 5 Laremy Tunsil, No. 19 Laquon Treadwell and No. 24 Antonio Conner.

In the season opener against Vanderbilt, three freshmen -- tight end Evan Engram, wide receiver Treadwell and defensive end Nkemdiche -- were listed as starters for Ole Miss. Four other freshmen were also on the two deep as backups: tackle Tunsil, right tackle Austin Golson, wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo and Conner at nickel back. Their play has catapulted Ole Miss to No. 21 in the polls and setting up a clash with top-ranked Alabama on Saturday (ESPN, 6:30 p.m. ET).

On signing day, Rebels coach Hugh Freeze talked about everything Ole Miss' program has to sell: the school's tradition, rabid fan base, improving facilities and quality education. But what ended up sealing the deal for many prospects was the opportunity to immediately play in the SEC.

"They never made me a promise that I would play the second I stepped on campus," Treadwell said shortly after signing with Ole Miss in February. "They only promised an opportunity."

And for many recruits that opportunity is all that they need to see.

"Kids want to be shown a clear path on when they're going to get on the field," Brewster said. "If you can show them a clear -- a realistic -- path, then that's very exciting to these kids. That's what they want. They don't want to redshirt. They don't want to stand on the boundary for a year or two as was done in the past. These kids want to come in and play. I think as a coach, what you have to do a great job of doing truly showing a clear visual picture for these kids of when they're going to get on the field."

Illinois recruiting coordinator Alex Golesh said in today's world, depth charts and roster information that used to be hidden to recruits are now at their fingertips. Prospects are able to see what schools have at each position.

"You show them the depth chart, show them facts," Golesh said. "They can see if there are no returners coming back and you're not deep at a spot, they will have a chance. The best-selling points are facts."

Playing time has always been a lure, but numbers show how important it has become. ESPN.com surveyed more than 750 high school recruits from the classes of 2014 and 2015 -- including more than 100 who self-identified as a member of the ESPN 300 for either class -- and 24 percent said playing time was the most important factor in their decision. Several coaches, including Brewster, say they believe in reality the number of players that pick based on playing time is significantly higher and in the 50-percent range.

"There's no question that they expect to play," Brewster said. "Once you get past the hurdle of showing them there is an opportunity, then the sell becomes easy for a lot of coaches. Once you've got them hooked on that there's a chance to play, you can then sell them on all the wonderful other things that your school has to offer."

It also raises the question why recruits are playing sooner than before. It's not just Ole Miss that's using younger players. Alabama has used 28 first- or second-year players in the 2013 season, Texas A&M has 19 true freshmen or redshirt freshmen on its two-deep, Ohio State has 15 and Georgia has already played 14 true freshman this season.

College coaches agree recruits are better prepared than ever. High school coaches are doing a tremendous job at preparing kids, but the bottom line is kids are bigger, faster and stronger than they've ever been. Many are also coming from complex offensive and defensive systems and have already played on national television, so they're more prepared from a mental and a maturity standpoint to make the leap than their predecessors.

"Kids are not intimidated by the big arena," Brewster said. "A lot of these kids have played in big games, so there's much less of an intimidation factor today than I believe there has ever been with young guys. They believe they can go play, and there are a lot of cases they can."

Coaches do agree, though, there is a fine line between showing a clear path to playing time and trying to get a recruit to fall for a misleading sales pitch. Golesh said if a recruit feels as if he has been lied to, it could develop into a team cancer. In the end, coaches agree honesty is the best policy when it comes to playing time.

"The truth is that when they arrive, the speed is different than they have ever dreamed of," Oklahoma State assistant Van Malone said. "But of course there are some who are special and you cannot keep off the field. There's no question we're seeing more and more of those types of kids all over the country."