Flipping out

Dalvin Cook makes no apologies for the wild ride on which he took recruiters over the past two years.

The five-star running back from Miami Central, who enrolled last month at Florida State, pledged in June 2012 to Clemson. He switched his commitment to Florida in April 2013 before flipping to the Seminoles during an ESPNU interview on New Year's Eve while practicing for the Under Armour All-America Game.

Amid the indecision, he signed scholarship paperwork with Florida, FSU and hometown Miami.

For Cook, No. 21 in the ESPN 300, reality struck as college coaches lined his doorstep in December to offer their in-person pitches.

"I started hearing the same thing from every school," Cook said. "I had to be like, 'Hey, it's a business.' I decided I had to do what was best for me, not them."

Every coach, according to Cook, told him he could be "the greatest."

"And I heard them say the same thing to other guys," Cook said.

Sound like a circus?

Such is the landscape of college football recruiting. The Wednesday arrival of signing day effectively puts an end to the madness -- until it restarts with the 2015 class. Few certainties exist in recruiting, but we know this after another wild season of commitment flips: The trend is only growing.

"I don't want to say this, but it's the style," said Georgia-committed tight end Jeb Blazevich (Charlotte, N.C./Charlotte Christian), No. 83 in the ESPN 300. "Every time I see somebody [flip], it just makes me thankful that I picked the right school.

"It's hard when you're given the world at 16 years old, and you're told this and that. These are life decisions, and guys aren't making them in the best circumstances."

Commitment flips hardly raise eyebrows today. But remember Gunner Kiel, the Class of 2012 quarterback who flipped from Indiana to LSU and actually showed up to start school in Baton Rouge before switching again to Notre Dame?

His vacillations led to outrage among fans and media. Just two years later, similar drama is met largely with tolerance, if not understanding.

Cook was one of several to shift allegiances between the power players in Florida over the final months.

"You hear all the time that a commitment is like a dinner reservation," Notre Dame recruiting coordinator and offensive assistant coach Tony Alford said. "You show up, you show up. You don't, you don't. That's the world we live in."

Kids struggle to decide on which pair of shoes to wear, Alford said, let alone a college to attend.

And coaches aren't making the process any less messy. Just the opposite, in fact.

"Unfortunately, that's just a part of it," Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton said. "It's not a part of recruiting that, I think, anybody likes. You like to get guys who commit to you and stick with you; it's like your bride. But everything that happens, it's just part of the process."

Auburn, on the heels of a Southeastern Conference championship and BCS title game appearance, has benefited from the epidemic of flipping. Nearly half the players in the Tigers' 2014 class first pledged to another school.

Cornerbacks Stephen Roberts of Opelika (Ala.) High, No. 62 in the ESPN 300, and Kalvaraz Bessent (No. 84) of Kingsland (Ga.) Camden County jumped to Auburn from rival Alabama.

Offensive tackle Casey Tucker (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton), rated No. 39 overall, flipped from USC to Stanford. Guard Viane Talamaivao (Corona, Calif./Centennial), No. 96, jumped to the Trojans from Alabama, even before the Crimson Tide hired ex-USC coach Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian left Washington to take over in Los Angeles.

The Sarkisian move, which prompted coach Chris Petersen to leap from Boise State to Washington, set off shock waves that impacted recruiting at all three programs.

It was the same at Texas and Penn State after coaching moves. The Longhorns lost five commitments for the 2014 class and two for 2015 after the departure of coach Mack Brown.

Defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson of Longview (Texas) High, once committed to TCU, joined the Texas class in December before flipping to Texas A&M a month later.

Wide receiver Saeed Blacknall, the nation's No. 118 prospect from Manalapan (N.J.) High, flipped from Rutgers to Penn State, but the Nittany Lions lost defensive tackle Thomas Holley (Brooklyn, N.Y./Lincoln), No. 51, to Florida.

Defensive end Lawrence Marshall of Southfield (Mich.) High, ranked 121st, flipped from Ohio State to Michigan. Offensive tackle Andy Bauer (St. Louis/De Smet Jesuit), No. 99, flipped from Missouri to Ole Miss and back to Missouri.

Guard Ross Pierschbacher of Cedar Falls (Iowa) High, No. 64, flipped from Iowa to Alabama. Cornerback Jalen Tabor, No. 11 out of Washington, D.C., Friendship Academy, jumped from Arizona to Florida.

Receiver Markell Pack of Purvis (Miss.) High, No. 90, flipped from Florida State to Ole Miss.

The list goes on.

"It's gotten so bad that it's almost not even worth taking commitments in the spring," Utah safeties coach and recruiting coordinator Morgan Scalley said.

Really, though, few programs would turn down a pledge from a prospect like Cook, who said he got caught up in the emotion of recruiting.

"The recruiting process can take over people," Cook said. "[Clemson and Florida] were schools that I really liked and grew up watching."

As recruiting continues to accelerate into the freshman and sophomore years, prospects often reach decisions without an understanding of their opportunities.

"We just keep recruiting until the first Wednesday in February every year," UCLA defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Angus McClure said. "That's all you can do."

Most recruiting experts anticipate a typical signing day; despite the widespread flipping, don't look for more surprises than the usual few on Wednesday. But if you're looking for a candidate to flip at the last minute, watch cornerback J.C. Jackson of Immokalee (Fla.) High, ranked No. 79 and pledged to Florida, or Ohio State-committed offensive tackle Jamarco Jones of Chicago De La Salle, rated 74th.

For all the flipping, it could be much more rampant. Many top recruits continue to take pride in staying solid. Of the nation's top 10 prospects, none have switched allegiances. And only No. 9 Adoree' Jackson, a cornerback from Gardena (Calif.) Junipero Serra, remains undecided.

"Personally, I wouldn't make a decision until I knew it was final," said defensive tackle Andrew Brown of Chesapeake (Va.) Oscar Frommel Smith, ranked No. 5 overall and enrolled at Virginia. "If you flip, that means you probably don't respect one program as much as you should.

"But I understand. After all, this is your life. It's your decision."