It's time for the second annual CougCenter Elite Eight - odd considering it seems like just two weeks ago Nuss and I joined forces to bring you a SBN Cougar blog. I'm happy to report the first edition was a success. Sure, it's easy in some ways to figure out who the top players are in a recruiting class, but it's not an exact science. Which is precisely why the recruiting services can rarely ever come to an agreement on a player.
Last year's Elite Eight included Jeff Tuel, Gino Simone, Travis Long and Johnny Forzani. Those guys turned out to be pretty decent. It also included some guys whom the jury is admittedly still out on. Brandon Rankin is the JC All-American at DE who, assuming he works hard in the classroom, can make an impact once he steps on the field. Nolan Washington and Andre Barrington are two other players poised to be defensive contributors soon, if not immediately. Darren Markle is a threat to make the two-deep this year at linebacker. I'm hoping they all pan out, but it's possible they might not. It's all part of the development process.
The one thing we can do here, and we hope it's appreciated, is provide the meta-analysis of the Cougar recruiting class. What I mean by that is we seek out all the reports and ratings from ESPN, Scout, Rivals, etc. and mix them into a creamy goulash of quick information on your WSU commitments for this season. Since we aren't out actively scouting players (outside of watching YouTube videos of them), the only thing we can really do is compile the opinions of the scouts out there and provide insights on the players we think will break out for the Cougars in the next few years.
The 2010 Elite Eight was a two-part process. The first four were easy. The final four, not so much. It speaks volumes about this class that we have so many guys bunched so closely together in the middle of the class. It's that seemingly endless list of three-star players that make this group so hard to figure out. Some will rise to the top, some may never be heard from in a crimson uniform. However the depth this class exhibits makes it extremely unlikely to fail. Credit Paul Wulff.
The fun of signing day is that the possibilities are endless, and all laid out in front of us. On to the Eight:
Connor Halliday - QB - Unlike the others on this list, Halliday is a player that I hope earns a redshirt. What I mean by that is that he isn't somehow forced to play due to freakish and untimely injuries to Jeff Tuel and Marshall Lobbestael (knocks on wood really loudly). It's incredibly enticing to see a future where the Cougs get three years of Tuel's services and two of Halliday's. Regardless of how Tuel/Lobbestael shake out, the QB picture looks very bright for potentially the next five years. And that's exciting. Halliday isn't mobile, but he's fundamentally sound as a pocket passer and had good command of the offense he ran at Ferris. There's work to be done, for sure, but he hopefully won't have to be thrown into the fire the way Tuel and Lobbestael were as freshmen.
Aaron Dunn - TE - Dunn came back from a knee injury in 2008 and emerged as an elite tight end prospect, with great blocking skills and the ability to make some plays in the passing game. If he can pack on some size he may find himself shifting to the offensive or defensive line. That's unlikely, at least in my opinion, given our lack of depth at TE, but it speaks volumes about just how good of a blocker he is. Nevertheless, at 6'6" he is physically imposing and one of the true athletes out of this class. He's another great addition to the Cougar family out of Spokane.
C.J. Mizell - LB - Mizell is the coup of this recruiting class, as you've no doubt heard. Once headed to Florida State (he is from Tallahassee after all), the academic stars didn't align for Mizell, and out of college football purgatory the Cougs seem to have found themselves the defensive star of this class. He instantly became the highest rated player by ESPN when he sent in his LOI Wednesday, and he provides a level of talent and athleticism that can make him an immediate contributor. He's relentless attacking the ball, and scouts like how quick he is from sideline to sideline. If the Cougar defense needs something in the future, it's a dominating linebacker to build around. Mizell is just that.
Jake Rodgers - TE - Let's go ahead and complete the Spokane trio with Rodgers, a two-way player in high school at tight end and defensive end. While TE is a good fit for him, the Cougs may need him more on the defensive line, and quite frankly he could do some serious damage there given some time. He's the rare Cougar recruit that already looks like a Pac-10 player, and he's a good blocker, like Dunn. He played alongside current Cougar basketballer Anthony Brown at Shadle Park, so from that you can get a good idea of his athleticism and versatility. Whichever side of the ball he ends up on, expect him to make an impact.
Deone Bucannon - S - Bucannon is an excellent safety prospect. He changes direction on a dime and has a quick burst of speed that he can use to chase down a receiver or attack on the blitz. At 6'1.5", 180, he will help remedy the lack of size WSU has in the defensive backfield right away. The question is whether or not he can develop into an elite pass defender. Time and experience will sort that out; but the odds are in Bucannon's favor.
Damante Horton - CB - Wulff continues to find depth for the secondary, and Horton is a skilled player who also logged time at running back and wideout in high school. He was able to do that because he has a good burst of speed and athleticism. But he's also adept at pass coverage, and can match up well against receivers regardless of their speed or size. If he plays well in fall camp he may be able to work himself into the rotation; if not, a redshirt will help him develop into an even better player by the time he's a Senior.
Bobby Ratliff - WR - Ratliff headlines a deep group of wide receivers in this class. When you hear recruiting services throw out terms like 'sleeper' and 'underrated', you know the Cougars may have stolen one from the major programs in college football. Ratliff has excellent hands and the ability to create yards after the catch. His elusiveness makes him a good option for the slot receiver right off the bat; I wouldn't expect him to redshirt in 2010 because of that.
Rickey Galvin - RB - I was on the fence about Galvin, but after recording the signing day podcast, Nuss has pushed me onto his side. The comparisons to Quizz Rodgers exist because of his height and weight - 5'8", 172. He is quick and elusive, but don't expect Jacquizz 2.0 here. At least not right off the bat. What he can do immediately is help us in kickoff and punt returns, where quick cuts can make the difference between no return and a 30 yard swing in field position. Cal may be kicking themselves for not snatching him right out of their own backyard. It will be interesting to see how he performs catching and carrying the ball - if he can hang on to the ball like Quizz does, we may have found ourselves a star.