With the recruiting process sped up more than ever before, college coaches say it's imperative to actively target not just one but two recruiting classes simultaneously. And with more than 165 prospects in the 2015 ESPN 300 already committed to schools, some coaches are already on the hot seat with the 2016 class. Here's a look at five coaches who need to do well with prospects in the ESPN Junior 300, which was released Tuesday.
• Kyle Flood, Rutgers: After a dismal effort in 2014, Rutgers has rebounded with 16 commits already in the 2015 class. The only problem with those commitments is that 15 of them are three-star prospects. Recruiting in New Jersey has been flat-out dominated by Penn State and new coach James Franklin. History tells us the Nittany Lions have always recruited well in New Jersey, but four of the top six players in the 2015 class have picked Happy Valley, and top-ranked in-state prospect Minkah Fitzpatrick is headed to Alabama. If Rutgers is going to win in the Big Ten, the Scarlet Knights have to keep the top players in state. They simply can't supplement that local talent that's lost to rival programs with players from other states. That's why the 2016 class is going to be absolutely critical for Flood. The ESPN Junior 300 has nine prospects from New Jersey in it, including running back Kareem Walker, the No. 5 player overall. Walker has visited Rutgers several times, and he's a must-get for the Scarlet Knights.
• Al Golden, Miami: Things are never easy in the Sunshine State. Not only is Florida State coming off a national championship and recruiting like Bobby Bowden's glory days, but SEC schools such as Alabama, LSU, Georgia and South Carolina also have made a living out of poaching Florida prospects. Golden and the Canes have made some positive steps forward, both on the field and on the recruiting trail, but the 2016 class will be a critical point for his tenure. With 40 prospects from Florida in the ESPN Junior 300, Golden has to continue to recruit at a high level to compete with FSU and turn Miami into the championship program that's expected in Coral Gables. The good news is that early returns are very positive. The Canes already have three commitments from top 300 players, including quarterback Jack Allison, the No. 27 player in the country.
• Chris Petersen, Washington: At Boise State, Petersen's "OKG" (Our Kinda Guy) formula helped the Broncos win a lot of games with players who were under-recruited but developed into gems. Petersen has kept that as the foundation of what he does at Washington, but there is a different level of talent in the Pac-12. Petersen and his staff are going to have to their fair share of recruiting battles to compete with Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, USC and fast-rising Arizona and Arizona State. Some of the most important battles he must win are right in his backyard, with five prospects from Washington in the ESPN Junior 300. The biggest prize is quarterback Jacob Eason, the No. 4 player overall, but the competition from Alabama, Georgia, Notre Dame and countless others is going to be stiff. Washington is right in the thick of things for other top in-state targets, such as running back Isaiah Gilchrist, defensive end Isaac Garcia and safety Taylor Rapp.
• Mark Richt, Georgia: For all that Richt has done right at Georgia, there's always enormous pressure to win big with in-state prospects. The difficult task for Richt and his staff at Georgia is to keep elite players away from all the surrounding SEC and ACC programs that are just a stone's throw away from the Bulldogs' recruiting base. In some years Richt has done better than others, but many recruiting observers have noticed the Dawgs' grip on the best players from the Peach State has slipped away over the past few classes, including 2015, as five of the top eight prospects have picked out-of-state programs. That makes 2016 a big year for Richt. The good news is the talent is there for the taking. There are 35 Georgia prospects in the ESPN Junior 300, with the biggest prizes being No. 16 prospect Mecole Hardman, an athlete, and wide receiver Demetris Robertson, who is ranked No. 28.
• Charlie Strong, Texas: Strong has been dogged by negativity on the recruiting trail since he arrived in Austin. The biggest reasons: His recruiting style just isn't the same as former coach Mack Brown's, and Texas A&M continues to haul in the top prospects in the Lone Star State. Strong looks like he's going to continue to stick to his guns and find players who fit his style and scheme, but he must do a better job of luring top Texans to the Forty Acres in the 2016 class. There's a good chance five of the top 10 2015 players in Texas will end up in College Station, and offensive tackle Greg Little, the No. 1 overall prospect in the 2016 class, has already committed to the Aggies. But there still is enough talent in the 2016 class for Strong to reverse A&M's stranglehold on the recruiting trail. There are seven Texans in the top 40, including No. 7 Deontay Anderson and No. 8 Brandon Jones, who are both safeties, and 40 total prospects in the ESPN Junior 300. Strong and his assistants have spent a lot of effort recruiting 2016 prospects, and with the amount of talent in the Longhorns' backyard, there's tremendous pressure to turn things around.