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MAC football coaches rub crystal ball in projecting prep talent

When Urban Meyer is looking for a left tackle at Ohio State, he makes offers to a dozen or so high school studs who all measure about 6-foot-5 and 320 pounds.

That’s not usually the way it works for coaches in the Mid-American Conference. They have to make projections on who will develop into starting-caliber college players after a couple years of growth and weight training.

The University at Buffalo opens its MAC season at home against Kent State Saturday, and fans will begin to find out which of the conference’s coaches are making the best projections on high school recruits.

We asked MAC coaches the question: Which position is the hardest to project in recruiting for mid-major college programs?

There was no firm clear consensus, which proves one point:

“It’s a very inexact science,” said Rob Ianello, UB associate head coach and recruiting coordinator.

Here are the differing views on recruiting evaluations:

Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck: “I think interior line is tougher. You’re projecting a lot more. We’re not going to get that 6-8, 310-pound tackle. We’re going to get the 6-6 kid who’s 240. You’re either going to make him a tight end or a tackle. What will he grow into? What’s his bone structure? What’s his shoulder width? What’s his mom and dad look like? What does his grandfather look like? What’s the potential of him growing? Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”

Ohio coach Frank Solich: “I think the MAC is loaded with really good receivers. I think there’s an awful lot of outstanding receivers around the country, and you’re going to be able to get your fair share of those guys if you work at it.”

“The position that we sometimes find difficult is those offensive linemen in terms of recognizing their potential,” Solich said. “What they’re going to be like two or three years down the road? Their bodies change a great deal once they get to your place.”

Akron coach Terry Bowden: “How many great running backs come out of our league? For some reason, we get guys who rush for 1,500 yards in Florida, and they don’t do it in college. For some reason, we’ve had more great quarterbacks than we’ve had running backs in this league. Everybody’s looking for a guy who can score in one play. A one-play drive. Take a 10-yard run and make it a 50. That changes the game. That’s difficult to find. We have to sign five to maybe come up with one.”

Bowden recalls a “home-run hitter” who played for his Hall-of-Fame father, Bobby, at Florida State.

“Warrick Dunn at Florida State was 170 pounds, the last guy signed at cornerback when he was recruited. Two people got hurt, we moved him to offense as a freshman. He ran for a touchdown that practice and never sat on the bench again. I’ve got to sign that.”

Bowling Green coach Mike Jinks: “Probably it’s up front – D-line. There’s such a shortage. Those Power Five D-linemen look different, and you know it right away.”

Kent State’s Paul Haynes: “I think on both sides of the ball, offensive and defensive line are probably the hardest.”

Central Michigan coach John Bonamego: “I always thought the secondary players are projections. Especially the corner. You’re going off a set of skills. On high school film, you don’t get a chance to see players do the things you ask them to do. A lot of times your best players are on offense in high school. You look at running backs and wide receivers and try to project them as defensive backs.”

UB’s Ianello: “Offensive line is hard in our league. You might be offering somebody early who we think is a quality Mid-American Conference offensive lineman. Then Indiana and Northwestern or Purdue make offers. So now you go to the next group. It’s a projection a little bit. Is the guy a tight end who will get big enough to play tackle? Is he a little lighter in the frame? The Big 10 doesn’t deal with that.”

“But I think the hardest position to project is defensive back overall, and not just for the MAC,” Ianello said. “If you’re a high school coach, where are you putting your best athletes? Quarterback, tailback, receiver. And on defense as a high school coach, my best guy is going to play safety. If he plays corner, they’ll just throw the other way all day. Now we have to take a safety and project him to play corner. It’s hard to see that on tape.”

Email: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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