5 Most Important Flips of the 2015 College Football Recruiting Season
Perspective is an important part of the recruiting process, which take teams through peaks and valleys all the way through national signing day on an annual basis. When an athlete verbally commits to a college program, whether he's a high school senior or eighth-grader, that decision is entirely non-binding for both parties.
Coaching staff changes, philosophical differences and family influence are just a few of the variables that come into play when prospects reconsider where they want to spend the next four or five years of their life. A commitment announcement never closes the door on other possibilities, as other recruiting departments remain in relentless pursuit of players regardless of their pledge to another school.
We've seen plenty of stunning decision reversals over the years and this cycle has supplied more of the dramatic change-of-heart moments we've come to expect on the path to national signing day. Here's a look at five commitment flips that greatly impacted two teams and created a domino effect across the entire 2015 class.
5-Star QB Ricky Town: Alabama to USC
Coveted California quarterback Ricky Town initially pledged to Alabama last August. The 6'4", 205-pound passer was fresh off a breakout sophomore campaign that included 23 touchdown passes, 11 victories and All-State honors.
Town, a standout at St. Bonaventure High School in Ventura, seemed poised to become next in line for stardom in Tuscaloosa until a series of coaching changes shook up his recruitment. Lane Kiffin, then the USC head coach, was canned during the early stages of the 2013 season and ended taking over as Crimson Tide offensive coordinator.
Washington coach Steve Sarkisian replaced him in Los Angeles, returning to his old stomping grounds where he served as an assistant under Pete Carroll. Sarkisian inherited a quarterback in the 2015 class but he clearly wasn't content to move forward with just David Sills, a Maryland product who pledged to Kiffin in middle school.
He quickly developed a relationship with Town, culminating in his biggest commitment as Trojans coach so far. Town flipped to USC in late January, while Sills eventually wound up with West Virginia.
"I've seen many of the top programs and what they have to offer," Town told Blair Angulo of ESPN.com afterward. "However, when I had the chance to get on the USC campus last week and spend time with Coach Sarkisian and his staff, I knew after those meetings that USC is where I want to be."
His decision led Alabama to pursue other options (we'll get to that a little later), creating unexpected scenarios in a talented 2015 quarterback class. Town, rated second nationally among pro-style passers in 247Sports' composite rankings, could eventually become the face of a new era at USC.
"I'm really excited to get to USC and do whatever I can to make something special happen there in the future," he said this summer.
5-Star OL Maea Teuhema: Texas to LSU
The Longhorns' loss was Les Miles' gain this past signing day. LSU landed a commitment from dominant Texas offensive lineman Maea Teuhema and signed his older brother, 2014 defensive end Sione Teuhema.
Both prospects pledged to the previous coaching regime in Texas and opted to look elsewhere in the aftermath of Mack Brown's departure. Teuhema, a 6'4.5", 340-pound Keller High School standout, provided a substantial building block for the Tigers' 2015 recruiting efforts.
Rated fourth nationally among offensive tackles in 247Sports' composite rankings, he is among the most prized recruits in Big 12 Conference country and commanded early attention from a wide array of programs. His presence up front has the potential to provide stability in the trenches for years to come as LSU encounters stout SEC defensive attacks on a weekly basis.
Teuhema is extremely physical and competes with downright tenacity through the whistle. He also brings an element of versatility to Baton Rouge.
"He can play guard or tackle," Keller head coach Carl Stralow told Wescott Eberts of SB Nation last year. "However things change and how he grows—which is kind of scary—will impact that."
Texas managed to land a commitment from 4-star Houston offensive tackle Toby Weathersby six weeks after Tuehema bailed on the Longhorns.
4-Star LB Josh Barajas: Penn State to Notre Dame
James Franklin hit the recruiting trail running when he arrived in Happy Valley from Vanderbilt. Indianapolis linebacker Josh Barajas jumped on the Nittany Lions' bandwagon in late March, when Penn State surged toward the top of national class rankings with an incredible string of commitments.
Barajas brought a halt to some of that momentum in May by shifting his allegiance to Notre Dame. The 6'3", 215-pound Andrean High School defender is among the top-ranked recruits in Brian Kelly's class, along with former Michigan cornerback commit Shaun Crawford.
The No. 1 prospect in Indiana tallied 92 tackles and five sacks as a junior and seemed to fit in perfectly at "Linebacker U". Instead, Barajas cancelled those plans and opted to stay in his home state.
Proximity and program pride played a key role in his decision to join Notre Dame.
"When talking about tradition in college football, Notre Dame is the first thing that pops in your mind," Andrean head coach Phil Mason told Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports. "Being close to home and playing on the national stage, and I can't say enough about the coaching staff."
Barajas, rated third nationally among inside linebackers in 247Sports' composite rankings, left Franklin with a hole to fill in the linebacker corps. New Jersey product Manny Bown pledged to Penn State in June, though he seems best-suited for a role along the outside.
5-Star QB Blake Barnett: Notre Dame to Alabama
Alabama lost its grips on fellow 5-star California prospect Ricky Town in late January, setting the stage for a high-profile national quarterback search. Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and Nick Saban identified several potential replacements, but Blake Barnett wasn't widely expected to be the guy.
Committed to Notre Dame since November, the Santiago High School (Corona, California) gunslinger hadn't made much noise in the recruiting spectrum after his breakout junior campaign. That changed when the 6'4.5", 200-pound passer spent time at Oregon in early June, casting doubt on the firmness of his future with the Fighting Irish.
After a couple of days' speculation, Barnett decommitted from Notre Dame.
"I think I committed too early," he told Bleacher Report's Chris Simms. "I jumped on the whole Notre Dame picture—I jumped on it really fast."
Barnett, who received an Alabama offer in February, visited Tuscaloosa a week after reopening his recruitment. He became a crucial piece of the Crimson Tide's top-ranked 2015 class before the end of June.
Rated No. 1 nationally among dual-threat quarterbacks in 247Sports' composite rankings, Barnett brings abilities to Alabama that haven't been utilized behind center during recent national title runs. He rushed for 695 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2013, so his arrival could signal a change in offensive philosophy for Saban's squad.
"Coach Kiffin and Coach Saban were very fond about the idea of their quarterback being able to run the ball several times in each game," Barnett said in July. "It's something they were looking for and it made sense as a fit for me."
He earned Elite 11 MVP honors at Nike's world headquarters in Oregon this summer.
4-Star DL Jonathan Ledbetter: Alabama to Georgia
Alabama again lands on this list, highlighting the comings-and-goings of a Crimson Tide class that recently welcomed flips from 4-star defensive backs Ronnie Harrison (UNC) and Rico McGraw (Georgia). The team also found itself on the wrong end of the equation with disruptive defensive lineman Jonathan Ledbetter.
The Peach State prospect pledged to Georgia in August, not long after his older brother joined the Bulldogs as a tight end following a brief college basketball career. The two will team up in Athens next year, competing in the same conference Jonathan was supposed to dominate while wearing crimson and white.
“You know family is very important to Jon," his mother, Teresa Belcher, told Michael Carvell of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I guess the more he thought about it, the more he wants to be close to home. He made the decision, and I support him 100 percent. I am very excited about him going to Georgia.”
Ledbetter, who had been committed to Alabama since January, is rated fifth nationally among strong-side defensive ends in 247Sports' composite rankings. The 6'4", 265-pound prospect racked up 50 tackles, including 13 for loss and five sacks as a junior at Tucker High School.
Alabama has a bevy of young, elite defensive linemen and should manage to move forward without the talented recruit, though the loss certainly stings in Tuscaloosa.
“I don’t think he had a hard time telling Alabama he wasn’t coming there,” Belcher said. “They’ve been really trying hard to encourage him to not make a decision to leave. But I think they knew pretty much that this was coming.”
Ledbetter joins a Bulldogs class that added top-ranked defensive tackle Trent Thompson just four days before he flipped. The big-time pickups sent Georgia surging to No. 3 in 247Sports' composite class rankings.
Quotes obtained firsthand by B/R national recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.
Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.