Welcome to “Run Smash with RJ Young,” a weekly notes column filled with nuggets, anecdotes and stats from FOX Sports’ college football analyst. Let’s go deep.
1. Oklahoma and Texas are loading up ahead of their final season of Big 12 play and pushing toward the SEC.
Oklahoma and Texas each secured a top five-recruiting class, a five-star QB, a five-star LB and more blue-chip recruits than Ohio State. In fact, only Alabama and UGA put together better 2023 classes than Texas, and only those three put together better classes than Oklahoma (per 247 Sports).
Oklahoma’s 2023 recruiting class ranks No. 4 in the nation, ahead of Ohio State, LSU, USC, Tennessee and others. And this is following a losing season. Texas followed its 2021 season with a top-three recruiting class, which gives the Longhorns back-to-back top-five recruiting classes.
This also means all Texas has to show for landing Bijan Robinson, Jordan Whittington, Casey Thompson, Jake Smith, Xavier Worthy and Quinn Ewers is an Alamo Bowl win against Colorado and a close-call against Alabama in front of a sellout crowd on the Forty Acres. So if you’re here to make the annual joke about Texas — or Oklahoma for that matter — being back, you’re right on time.
As for me? I’ll lift two quotes attributed to America’s favorite rancher, John Dutton:
“This is America. We don’t share land.” And the Big 12 has belonged to Oklahoma since its inception.
“Everyone’s forgotten just who runs this valley.” It’s time Oklahoma reminds folks there’s only one Oklahoma.
The Top 5 Most Influential Prospects
RJ Young lists Texas’ Arch Manning, Colorado’s Cormani McClain and Oklahoma’s Jackson Arnold among his most influential signees.
2. The most influential high school prospects of the 2023 class are:
- Nebraska WR Malachi Coleman
He’s 6-foot-4, 190 pounds, runs the 100-meter dash in 10.46 seconds and podiumed in the 100, 200 and triple-jump at Nebraska’s state championship. There’s video circulating of him hitting his head on the backboard while sprinting to make a block in the middle of a basketball game for Lincoln East.
That’s not all.
Nearly 60% of his catches ended with him scoring six, and he averaged a gaudy 33 yards per catch — as a junior. He also recorded 57 tackles, 7.5 sacks and four forced fumbles that same season.
What’s wild about all of this is that he walked into a Nebraska summer camp as an unknown in 2021 and left it without an offer from Scott Frost’s staff. Matt Rhule had to work overtime to get him — especially after Coach Prime made a run at him — as the No. 1-ranked player in the state.
He told 247 Sports that saying no to Coach Prime “was like saying no to God.” Score one for Rhule in Nebraska.
- South Carolina Edge/TE Nyckoles Harbor
He ran the 200 meters in 20.79 and the 100 in 10.28 — at 6-foot-five, 225. His father played for the U.S. men’s national soccer team. He gets off the line of scrimmage like a fired gun, hunts the quarterback like a hungry lion, and hits and bangs, like Clubber Lang.
Comp? Rashan Gary. He’s that good.
- Five-star tight end Duce Robinson
The race for his signing isn’t over yet, as he announced on National Signing Day that he was delaying his decision. The nation’s top tight end held home visits with USC coach Lincoln Riley and Georgia coach Kirby Smart.
Riley is no doubt is trying to sell him on being the next great tight end out of Arizona since Mark Andrews, the Pro Bowler he turned from wideout to a Mackey Award-winning tight end. Smart can sell him on being the next great tight end from the West Coast since Brock Bowers, who was the best receiver on the best team in the country last season. Robinson, a Phoenix native, is also a noteworthy pro baseball prospect and could hear his name called in this year’s upcoming MLB Draft.
The Los Angeles Dodgers liked him enough to ask him to participate in a private workout alongside other prospects last month. His comp is Aaron Judge, if Aaron Judge had caught 84 passes for 1,614 yards and 14 TDs en route to a state title appearance at Pinnacle — the same high school that produced Spencer Rattler.
- Five-star Oklahoma QB Jackson Arnold
2022 Elite 11 MVP, MaxPreps Player of the Year, National Gatorade Player of the Year. He started 31 games. He won 28 of those games. As a senior, he threw for 3,476 yards, rushed for 921, and totaled 57 TDs.
He is the most decorated quarterback to sign with Oklahoma since Kyler Murray, and he could be the changeagent the Sooners so desperately need in the Brent Venables era.
- Five-star Colorado CB Cormani McClain
Coupled with Travis Hunter, secondary guru and defensive coordinator Charles Kelly, and the best cornerback who ever lived in Coach Prime, expect the formation of Voltron on defense in Boulder.
He’s got the speed and length to take away your No. 1 WR the moment he steps on campus. And he’s only going to get better.
McClain’s comp? Seattle Seahawks’ Tariq Woolen.
- Five-star Texas QB Arch Manning
He is the biggest name in recruiting this year, and has a battle ahead with incumbent Quinn Ewers. His play will have to come on strong to reach his No. 1 overall ranking, given people are still going to be skeptical because he didn’t play big-time high school football, and his father, uncles and grandfather — for whom he is named — make up the first family of football. But don’t get it twisted. Arch can sling it.
3. Who will Nick Saban hire to run his offense and defense?
It’s not uncommon for Saban to lose assistants to other jobs. In fact, Tuscaloosa is one of the best incubators of college football coaches in modern history.
Just eight years ago, his assistant coaching staff looked like this:
His offensive coordinator was Lane Kiffin, who is the head coach at Ole Miss. His defensive coordinator was Kirby Smart, who has won two national titles at Georgia. His offensive line coach was Mario Cristobal, who is the head coach at Miami. His wide receiver coach was Billy Napier, who is the head coach at Florida. His defensive backs coach was Mel Tucker, who is the head coach at Michigan State. And Dan Lanning was a grad assistant on that staff, and he is the head coach at Oregon.
There’s a reason folks like Butch Jones, Derek Dooley, Todd Grantham, Charlie Strong and Steve Sarkisian have all worked for Saban as analysts, which is a job akin to grad assistant with a better stipend.
With former offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien headed back to New England to fill the same role with the Patriots, and former defensive coordinator Pete Golding taking the same role at Ole Miss, there are no small number of suitors for either job.
And while there are names that include Jim Leonhard, Joe Brady, Charles Kelly, Freddie Kitchens and even Jeremy Pruitt, as potential candidates, the real question is what is Saban’s plan for the future with yet another top recruiting class and heading into a season that features a bona fide QB derby?
Whether Saban hires from within or without for both or either position will tell us a lot about the future of the Tide in the coming years — notably, who might be in the best position to succeed him when the time comes.
4. Is Jalen Hurts an Oklahoma or Alabama alumnus?
Who do you think should claim Hurts for the Super Bowl: Oklahoma or Alabama?
I asked this question on Twitter after Hurts led the Philadelphia Eagles to the Super Bowl, where he will join Patrick Mahomes in the first Super Bowl ever to feature two Black quarterbacks. This is a long way from when then-Alabama OC Brian Daboll famously benched Hurts at halftime of the 2017 national title game in favor of Tua Tagovailoa.
Hurts also brought the Tide back with less than five to play in an SEC title game they were going to lose to UGA a year later after riding the bench as a senior. And Saban loved him enough to tell him to go to where they have the best offense, and that was OU.
At OU in 2019, Hurts quarterbacked the biggest comeback win of my lifetime in a win at Baylor, took that team to the College Football Playoff and finished as a Heisman runner-up. While in Norman, Hurts made it clear he liked OU, but his heart is at Alabama.
Alabama or Oklahoma: Who gets to claim Jalen Hurts?
RJ Young shares his thoughts Jalen Hurts’ history with both the Crimson Tide and Sooners.
OU fans might say they should have the most claim to him because OU (Lincoln Riley) never benched him. This meant a lot more after Riley benched Spencer Rattler in the midst of a shootout against Texas in 2021 for the player who would win the 2022 Heisman Trophy — Caleb Williams.
Sooners fans might want to believe that Hurts played angry to spite Alabama, but in reality, he just wanted to play. And he honored both programs when he wore both school’s insignias at the Senior Bowl.
But the privilege to claim him falls to Alabama because he graduated from there, and thus, is an alum. He enrolled and took classes toward a master’s degree at OU, but he did not finish.
That’s par for the course when prospects are preparing for the NFL Draft each April. For instance, Stetson Bennett, who turns 26 in what would be his rookie season in the NFL, still hasn’t graduated from Georgia, though he is on schedule to do so with a degree in economics in May.
RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast “The Number One College Football Show.” Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young and subscribe to “The RJ Young Show” on YouTube.
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