Iowa CITY, Iowa - The college football recruiting process is speeding up with no signs of slowing down. A larger number of players are committing earlier than ever before leaving programs to change their approach in their pursuit.
"I think this is the new normal and it will continue to speed up," Iowa recruiting coordinator Eric Johnson said.
It also could be a slippery slope. With plenty of time remaining before February's national signing day, athletes may change their minds. Schools must do their best to protect themselves from de-commitments, which can be difficult.
"In all honestly, it's like going into a marriage and saying "honey, I love you, but I'm going to make sure I have a back-up plan in case you don't love me"," Johnson said. "You just don't do that."
Sixteen Class of 2013 prospects have verbally committed to the Hawkeyes. At this point last year, eight players had pledged to Iowa in a group that ended up at 23.
It's a national trend. At this time, Michigan holds 23 known verbal commitments. The Wolverines were at 20 of them at this time in '11.
"We were pushing two years ago to get an early signing day (for prep players) at the same time junior college kids were signing in December (the 21st in '11)," Johnson said. "I think you might see a push getting bigger and bigger as these kids make these earlier (verbal) commitments."
For most of head coach Kirk Ferentz's 13 seasons at Iowa, the Hawkeyes built relationships with prospects. They wanted to get them on campus before accepting commitments for the most part.
In the early years, Ferentz and staff would rely on official visits in the fall and winter to impress players. They'd have 48 hours to win over the young men. Then, that clock shifted.
"Two years ago, we were bringing kids in June and they would get eight or nine hours to go around campus and then make a decision," Johnson said. "Now, they're here watching (spring) practice for two hours and making a decision."
The newer setup requires Iowa and other schools to make a good early impression. The Hawkeye coaches supply the student-athlete with as much information about the program and university as soon as possible.
"We had a couple of (Class of '13) kids come in that had been committed and hadn't been on campus," Johnson said. "You're hoping that they're as impressed with the campus coming out as they were going in when they committed without seeing it."
And then, the Hawkeyes have to hope things don't change in the next six months. A strong senior year can bring more schools to a prospect's doorstep.
"That's the scary part because you hope you're recruiting high-character kids that will maintain their commitments, but there's a lot that can happen," Johnson said. "You try to have a back-up plan if possible. But at the same time, it's hard to recruit that back-up plan if we made promises to other people, saying "hey, we're done at your position." It's a fine line and in all honesty we're trying to learn how to toe that fine line."
While taking care of the current class, Iowa needs to work on the next group of prospects. It's a balancing act.
"We've discussed some things that we'll do in season with myself and our coaching staff and it will be an experimental deal," Johnson said. "We'll try to take care of some juniors, some young kids, but at the same time maintain our relationship with our (verbally) committed guys. You don't want them feeling like you've already forgotten about them before everything is all said and done."
The Hawkeyes won't compromise their belief in taking time to evaluate players. They don't want the faster process forcing them to cut corners in that approach.
"We've got a start on the '14 class, but that is a little bit scary of a deal," Johnson said. "I know there are some schools that have a ton of guys offered in that '14 class. To us, it's really hard (to offer) unless the person is a no-brainer and a guy you feel very, very strongly about.
"We have some guys in that class (they feel that way about). But for us, to go full bore like we're recruiting the current class, it's just hard to do. We'll get some evaluations and talk to some people in the fall and go from there. But I think we have an idea in that class but we don't have a great handle on that yet."
Johnson said that Iowa is "very, very close" to reaching its total number of recruits in the '13 class.
"We're recruiting one or two positions," he said. "It could flip into the best-available (athlete) possibly. But right now, if you were giving as percentage, I'd say 60-70 percent we're recruiting a position. If something pops up, we might take somebody (at a different) position, but it would have to be a certain somebody."
Iowa still is searching for at least one running back in '13. The Hawkeyes also could be targeting offensive tackle and defensive end.