As the old football saying goes, “It’s not about the X’s and O’s, it’s about the Jimmies and Joes.’’
And if recent developments are any indication, Gophers coach P.J. Fleck is going full bore on getting those Jimmies and Joes lined up for his program.
Last weekend, Fleck received verbal commitments from four high school players and landed two transfers from Southeastern Conference and national powers Alabama and Florida.
‘’That’s a huge, huge weekend,’’ Fleck said.
The Gophers have 23 commitments for their recruiting Class of 2018, and that has garnered them the No. 29 national ranking by 247Sports.
For Fleck, getting that many commitments – only Navy (30) and South Florida (26) have more – is important because of the competition the Gophers face in the Big Ten, let alone nationally. Minnesota is seventh among Big Ten teams in the 247Sports rankings, trailing Ohio State (No. 1), Penn State (No. 4), Michigan (No. 15), Maryland (No. 17), Nebraska (No. 26) and Wisconsin (No. 27).
“We’ve got the second most commitments in the country,’’ Fleck said during Monday’s media day, before South Florida inched ahead of Minnesota in numbers. “Now, I understand this is not a race. … I get that, it’s not a race, but what it does show you is the amount of people around the country who want to become Golden Gophers. We don’t have to force people to ever commit. They want to do it.’’
The recruits Fleck landed last weekend – offensive tackles Jack York and Grant Norton, running back Noland Edmunds (a re-commitment) and outside linebacker Braelen Oliver – have three-star rankings, as does Fleck’s entire class.
The intriguing news from last week was the two transfers Fleck lured. Defensive tackle O.J. Smith, a 6-2, 309-pounder, left Alabama, while cornerback Chris Williamson, who played nine games and started one at Florida, both will be eligible to play in 2018. Those commitments show that Fleck is getting attention even in SEC country.
The SEC on Wednesday saw a high-profile player become available as a transfer when LSU offensive guard Maea Teuhema, a two-year starter for the Tigers, received permission to transfer after being suspended by coach Ed Orgeron for a violation of team rules. Sports Illustrated reported that Teuhema, the No. 2-ranked guard in the recruiting Class of 2015, was cleared to contact Southern California, Houston, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. No mention of the Gophers.
Certainly, the Gophers’ – and Fleck’s – national exposure will receive a boost from the ESPNU series, “Being P.J. Fleck,’’ which documents the coach’s first season at Minnesota. The first episode aired Wednesday night, and three more will follow on the next three Wednesdays.
While we won’t know how the Class of 2018 pans out for a few years, its ranking does show progress for Fleck and his staff. Last year, as Fleck took over the program in early January and had to shore up the 2017 class, the Gophers ranked 12th in the Big Ten and 59th nationally.