Here’s the latest installment of Cover 3 — my weekly take on all things college football.
1. On the Michigan State saga
On Tuesday, Mark Dantonio announced that he has dismissed three players from the Michigan State football team after they were charged with sexual assault. A fourth was dismissed earlier this spring. All four were part of Mark Dantonio’s 2016 class that was the highest-rated class in his tenure and the highest at Michigan State since Nick Saban’s 2004 haul.
“Sexual assault has no place in our community, and I want to share my deep concern for the young woman affected and her family,” Dantonio said.
The alleged crimes obviously have a tremendous impact on the victim and her family. For our purposes, we have to discuss this from a football perspective.
Dantonio has built a powerhouse at Michigan State without the benefit of highly-rated, highly-regarded recruiting classes. He’s one of the few coaches in college football that regularly proves the recruiting industry wrong with his underrated and over-performing recruiting classes. That’s what made his class of 2016 all the more exciting.
If he could produce with no-names, what was he going to do with all this talent?
Ranked No. 17 in the nation in the recruiting rankings, five of the Spartans’ 20 commits were Army Bowl All-Americans. Ten of the 20 were rated as four-star prospects by the industry-generated 247Sports Composite. Now, with today’s dismissals of Josh King and Donnie Corley, and the prior dismissal of Auston Robertson, the three highest-rated prospects in that class are gone. With Demetric Vance included, four of those 10 four-star prospects are gone.
Among those four players, three were already contributors and Corley had already asserted himself as one of the top true freshmen in the country. All four looked like they had the potential to develop into impact players.
When you recalculate that No. 17 ranked recruiting class minus the dismissals, Michigan State falls back to No. 35 nationally. In addition, safety Kenney Lyke is heading to junior college for academic reasons and Thiyo Lukusa has also quit football since the season. So just one year after that 2016 signing day, that vaunted group is down to 14 members.
Dantonio didn’t stray from his gameplan in 2016. The guys that Michigan State took were well within its typical recruiting footprint and after a 12-2 season and a Big Ten Championship, it was no surprise to see big names drawn to East Lansing. Dantonio has always been willing to take chances on prospects, whether that’s taking a chance on academics, on overlooked talent, or even on character. But the culture within the Michigan State program has typically allowed those chances to pay off.
To my knowledge, the most recent dismissals of King, Vance and Corley didn’t have character question marks coming into school. But Robertson was one of those character chances. We selected him to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on talent alone before ultimately pulling his offer due to off-field issues. Michigan State on the other hand was willing to take a chance on Robertson, one that has paid off in the past but caught up with the program this time.
After a 3-9 season in 2016, these were the guys that were supposed to replenish Michigan State football. Instead they’ve put the Spartans in a deep hole on the field are going to force Dantonio to reassess his entire recruiting model.
2. Predicting possible unrest in Columbus
I’ve talked to a few defensive coaches that played Ohio State last season and their message is always the same: “We were going to make J.T. Barrett beat us with his arm.” More specifically, defenses were focused on making Barrett beat them on the outside because there was little faith that he’d be able to do it.
With that in mind, the arrival of Kevin Wilson and the events of the Ohio State spring game make the setting in Columbus fascinating. On the one hand you’ve got a fantastic leader heading into his senior season, in Barrett, a one-time Heisman frontrunner with outstanding athleticism and ability to extend plays. His biggest weakness to this point is his downfield accuracy.
In comes Kevin Wilson, a coach that threw the ball down the field at Indiana as much as anybody in the country and produced an offense that was top 20 in the nation in hitting 30+ and 40+ yards pass plays. Ohio State was outside the top 100 in the same categories. But Wilson also inherits a wide receiver room that is coming of age and loaded with talent. He also inherits two backup quarterbacks in Joe Burrow and Dwayne Haskins that — here’s the other hand — bring the throwing traits that Barrett lacks. In particular, Haskins is one of the best pure throwers in college football. Yeah, I’m that confident in his ability having watched him as a recruit.
The spring game is never a fair setting to make any firm conclusions but it didn’t do much to quell those same concerns from last season about Barrett’s arm and it only reinforced the narrative of the arm talent behind Barrett being better; Burrow and Haskins combined for 555 yards and six touchdowns with several downfield shots.
Ohio State is talented enough to win a national championship with Barrett but fans in Columbus were getting restless with him late in the year, and for good reason. Even if Ohio State is winning this fall, if Barrett doesn’t make some strides as a passer, there is going to be some unrest among Ohio State fans to let the young arms loose.
3. Kentucky’s QB commit gives it an elite weapon
There were a lot of winners from last weekend’s Elite 11 Finals but maybe the biggest were the Kentucky Wildcats. Their commit, Jarren Williams earned an invite to The Opening Finals, validating multiple strong showings over the course of the spring and securing him among the upper echelon of this class of quarterbacks.
Traditionally when Kentucky has an Elite 11 quarterback, he’d be at risk for getting poached by the other national powers (see: Mac Jones and Alabama). Williams certainly has the opportunity. He’s landed offers this spring from LSU, Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Georgia and others.
But it seems as though Kentucky has weathered that storm. Williams has already decommitted to revaluate his options, only to recommit to Kentucky. The assumption is that he’ll stick and with that, he gives Kentucky real depth of talent at the most important position on the field.
As Kentucky tries to maintain its grip on last season’s rise in the SEC East, quarterback play is going to decide whether that rise continues or stalls. With Williams, Kentucky has the best quarterback committed out of any SEC East program in the 2018 class. There are other talented quarterbacks on some of the SEC rosters, but Williams, with sharp accuracy, strong intangibles and good athleticism, looks good enough to keep Kentucky pacing up and ready to compete with anything Florida, Georgia or Tennessee puts on the field.
Barton Simmons is a College Football Insider and the Director of Scouting for 247Sports. Simmons made the All-Ivy team twice as a four-year starter at safety for the Yale Bulldogs from 2000-04. He resides in Nashville.