We're back for our first 2014 edition of The Signing Musket. As the college coaching carousel is in full swing, we'll touch some on coaching and then get into recruiting as we blast down the home stretch towards National Signing Day just over a month from now on February 5th.
The Smoking Musket: This fist one isn't necessarily regarding recruiting, but since recruiting and the coaching staff are so closely intertwined I feel it's very relevant. We're on the cusp of another round of coaching changes and all the staff adjustments that come with them. Does it look like this entire WVU staff will remain intact and create some much-needed continuity? Should we take the rumor about Crook turning down the Wake offer as an indicator that these guys are all bought in?
Chris Anderson: There were a couple of coaches I thought could potentially move elsewhere (on their own accord), but it looks as if the staff could stay entirely the same. Of course, that's a dangerous assumption with the yearly coaches convention coming up soon (January 13th-15th).
I consider Ron Crook turning down Wake Forest as a good sign. While a solid school, losing Crook to the Demon Deacons one year after he left Stanford to "come home" to West Virginia would have been warning sign that there may be some issues amongst the staff. I have not heard anything to that affect, so it did come as a bit of a surprise when I heard Crook was considering it.
Continuity in the coaching staff could be the biggest benefit for the 2014 team.
TSM: With the coaching change at Penn State, any chance WVU can snag some of the prospects/commits from the new regime?
CA: There were a couple of players that the Mountaineers were in on before they committed to Penn State. Wide receiver Deandre Thompkins is the big name, but he is in a difficult situation. He was scheduled to enroll early, and with the dead period, he can not visit anymore schools. It's possible he could flip to UNC because of his familiarity with the school, but I have a hard time picturing him at WVU having not visited and needing to decide within a couple weeks.
Gilman (MD) cornerback Troy Vincent (son of the former NFL corner of the same name) visited West Virginia for camp last summer and was considering the Mountaineers, but things never got too serious there. The same can be said for offensive tackle Noah Beh (never got an offer from WVU), defensive back Marcus Allen (same) and wide receiver Chris Godwin.
Ultimately, I don't expect much of anything to happen in favor of WVU due to this coaching change, at least not for 2014. Still, I'd keep a close eye on who the Nittany Lions hire - 2014 was the rare occurrence where the two schools did not battle much.
TSM: From my friend Brad: Mike Stoops has been killing it over at the University of Kentucky and has taken kids out of the Ohio area that WVU and many others like to recruit. How has WVU fared on balance going head to head with the nearest SEC school? Has it caused a noticeable impact? Is there any indication WVU is gaining or losing ground in the more recent battles?
CA: There's no doubt that Kentucky and Mike Stoops have done well, but right now they are fighting to keep that class together after a strong start. They built up some momentum early with big talk and lots of promises, but the product on the field (2-10) did not follow. Of course, no one was expecting them to come out and win 10 games, but it took some of the luster off the future.
Still, the Wildcats and Mountaineers have gone back and forth on a few recruits, with the each winning their fair share. In situations where both schools were among the finalists, West Virginia got Josh Krok, Sylvester Townes and Davonte James; while Kentucky got Stanley Williams, Jarrett LaRubbio and Thaddeus Snodgrass.
I will say this - West Virginia was much better off when Kentucky's football program had no hope. Stoops has made things more difficult, and will continue to do so.
TSM: This is from Musket Staffer John Radcliff: What are some of the reasons we hear from recruits for why they don't choose WVU? Besides things we can't control like geography, how much of that information makes it back to the coaches? Do they usually have a good idea why a kid goes elsewhere?
CA: Coaches almost always know. More often than not, recruits are very straightforward about their situation, who they are choosing and why. Very rarely will the staff get caught off guard on a decision or be unsure why a kid went elsewhere.
As for those reasons, up until last year, the biggest reason was that West Virginia was not playing "big-time football." While kids viewed WVU as a marquee name, they knew they weren't playing the best competition and were not often in the biggest games week in and week out. Once they moved to the Big12, though, that changed.
The next biggest reason was no NFL presence. I would heard that all the time just a couple of years ago, but with the resurgence of WVU in the NFL, that has slowed a good bit.
Facilities do get brought up in their own way. Recruits don't talk down about WVU's facilities, but they will talk more glowingly about others', and point to them as a reason why they chose said school. That's why you will see Dana Holgorsen bring it up so much. WVU has fixed the first problem (moving out of the Big East) and they're working on the second (more NFL players), but he needs to help to do the third.
In all, though, all of those combined will never amount to the disadvantage of location. It's just a fact, unfortunately.
TSM: Final shot - We're nearly a month away from National Signing Day on Wed, February 5th. If you could, give our readers 5 or 6 prospects to keep their eyes on that will make or break this class.
CA: Four-star running back Donte Thomas-Williams has to be at the top of this list. Not only are Jacob McCrary, William Crest and Davonte James recruiting him at this week's Offense-Defense All-American Bowl, but they are doing so at the behest of "DTW's" lead recruiter, Lonnie Galloway. At this point, it seems pretty obvious that he is the top target on the board, regardless of position.
After that, I would put New Mexico Military Institute (NM) defensive end Terry Ayeni next on the list. He's a freakish athlete who has only played organized football for four years. He would provide immediate depth along the defensive line, a major position of need for the Mountaineers.
DaeJuan Funderburk may be the most likely to commit out of the remaining players and he's a solid pickup at the safety position. He is down to West Virginia, Miami and Kentucky. Tight end Darrion Hutcherson and his 6-foot-7 frame and 4.6 speed could bring an element this offense is missing. He's down to West Virginia, Mississippi State and Cincinnati.
Finally, I would say a fourth wideout would take the fifth spot. Who that is remains to be seen, and could depend on other schools as well. Slot superstars Isaiah McKenzie and Charles Nelson both have WVU in their top three, but it's believed both are leaning to Notre Dame. The Irish won't take both, though. Four-star receiver Trevion Thompson (teammates with Donte Thomas-Williams) has WVU in his top group and plans to visit soon, while three-star Cornelius Floyd (who could also play corner) plans to visit in the coming weeks, too. My personal favorite out of the group is Mckenzie, followed by Nelson.
We once again appreciate Chris lending us his insight for the week and even more appreciate you stopping by to check it out. If you want a heapin' helpin' of this type of great recruiting info on a daily basis, head on over EerSports.com where they're running a free trial for fans as we approach National Signing Day. Just wanted to give a heads up - the trial is now only seven days.
If you have questions you'd like us to pass along to Chris or thoughts please shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or shoot us a tweet at @SmokingMusket or @abpriddy. Also be sure you're following him at @CMAnderson247 to get the latest in WVU news - recruiting and otherwise. We also always welcome your comments and questions below.
See you next week!