Three, four and five years ago to the week, players such as Da'Quan Bowers, Ronald Johnson and Stephen Schilling were making a decision as to where they would play college football. They were getting ready to make the jump from high school football to big-time college football.
Last week, that same trio -- as well as hundreds of other college players -- was eagerly awaiting an invitation to the NFL Scouting Combine. This time, they were getting ready to make the jump from big-time college football to the real big time, the NFL.
Clemson's Bowers (who left school after his junior season), USC's Johnson (who played four years without redshirting) and Michigan's Schilling (a fifth-year senior this past season) received those coveted Combine invitations, as did 326 other players. The Combine is Feb. 23-March 1 in Indianapolis.
A selection committee, made up of representatives from the two main scouting services as well as members from various NFL player personnel departments, decides who gets the invitations. The committee's goal is to invite every player who will be drafted in the ensuing NFL draft. Obviously, the committee misses more than a few each year. For the most part, though, the invitees are the ones who end up hearing their names called during April's draft. (This year's draft, by the way, again will be a three-day affair, with the first round on April 28, the second and third rounds on April 29 and the fourth through seventh rounds on April 30.)
The biggest position group at the Combine will be defensive linemen (57 invitees), followed by defensive backs (56), offensive linemen (55), wide receivers (46), running backs (39), linebackers (32), quarterbacks (18), tight ends (16) and specialists (10).
The SEC will be the most-represented conference, with 53 players.
North Carolina led the way with 12 invitees. Three of them -- defensive tackle Marvin Austin, wide receiver Greg Little and defensive end Robert Quinn -- were suspended and did not play last season. The Tar Heels were the only team with double-digit invitees; Iowa, Miami, Nebraska and Ohio State had nine each, while Georgia, LSU and USC each had eight.
National champion Auburn had five, which was tied for fifth-most in the SEC; three of Auburn's invitees were underclassmen. Oregon, which lost to the Tigers in the national title game, had three invitees, the fewest of any of the Big Six conference champions. Oklahoma had four.
Among those not invited were numerous players who were selections on all-league and some All-America teams, among them Arizona center Colin Baxter, Stanford center Chase Beeler, Iowa strong safety Brett Greenwood, TCU free safety Tejay Johnson, TCU center Jake Kirkpatrick and Maryland linebacker Alex Wujciak. Auburn had four senior starters on the offensive line, but only one, tackle Lee Ziemba, was invited to the Combine.
In all the frenzy around National Signing Day, we went back and did a quickie check of the past six national titlists and how they had recruited.
Texas won the national title in 2005, and the Longhorns' average recruiting finish with their previous four recruiting classes (2002-05) had been 11th.
Florida won it all in 2006, and its recruiting average in the previous four classes was sixth.
LSU wore the crown in '07, and its average was ninth. Florida won it again in 2008, and its average was fifth.
Alabama was the '09 titlist, and the Tide's recruiting average was sixth.
Auburn won it this past season, and the Tigers' average recruiting finish was 12th.
The four-year averages for some teams expected to contend for the title this fall: Alabama second, LSU fourth, Oklahoma 10th, Ohio State 11th and Oregon 18th.
N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien seems set on his starting quarterback for 2011 -- and it won't be Russell Wilson. At the news conference detailing the Wolfpack's 2011 signing class, O'Brien said, "Our plans are he's [Wilson] not coming back. He'll be a baseball player. We have to move forward with [Mike] Glennon." Wilson has one season of football eligibility remaining, but he was a fourth-round pick of the Colorado Rockies last year and spent part of last summer playing for a Rockies minor-league team.
Perhaps the upshot over the whole Desmond Howard-Phil Simms brouhaha is that both will lose their analyst jobs. But that's too much to hope for. The irony: Howard rarely says anything remotely insightful, but he was right when he said last season that Matt Simms was one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the SEC; evidently, Tennessee coaches agreed because they eventually benched Simms in favor of true freshman Tyler Bray.
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson would like to see a change to the way recruiting is handled. Speaking at a news conference to announce Tech's signees, Johnson said, "What I'd like to see happen, but I'm probably by myself: If you have 85 scholarships, and you can sign 25 a year or however many you have, when they commit, they sign the papers and you stop. It would stop all the verbal commitments and all the hats. The guys who weren't ready wouldn't commit. You'd call their bluff."
Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.