Greg Schiano could prove to be Arizona's best quarterback recruiter -- again.
The man responsible for elevating Rutgers from college football quicksand to a perennial bowl qualifier accepted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' head coaching vacancy on Thursday,less than a week before National Signing Day. That leaves RU with an air of uncertainty in a recruiting race against - you guessed it - Rich Rodriguez's Arizona Wildcats.
RU and UA are frontrunners for Rivals.com top 100-rated and third ranked dual threat quarterback Devin Fuller, who will announce his commitment on Sunday per The Star Ledger's Tim McClain. Fuller had a stellar senior campaign at Northern Valley (Old Tappan, N.J.) High School, throwing 20 touchdown passes to nine interceptions, completing 65 percent of his attempts, rushing for 17 scores and 1326 yards. All signs point to Fuller being the quintessential Rodriguez quarterback.
The Wildcats benefited from Schiano a year ago, when UA acquired quarterback Tom Savage. Savage was a 1st Team Freshman All-American in 2009, leading the Scarlet Knights to nine wins via 2200-plus yards and 14 touchdowns passing. Savage was benched midway through the 2010 campaign, bearing the brunt of college football's worst offensive line that led to a falling out with Schiano. The situation reemerged at RU in 2011 when Savage's replacement, Chas Dodd, played hot potato at starting quarterback with Gary Nova.
Savage neverr played a snap for UA, transferring due to personal reasons last month. But had Savage remained under the Mike Stoops regime, he would have been a suitable replacement for Nick Foles and then-offensive coordinator Robert Anae's scheme, much in the same fashion Fuller so adequately fits Rodriguez's vision.
Fuller visited Tucson this past week, spurning Baylor in the process per The Daily Star's Ryan Finley. The announcement of Fuller's Sunday deadline came amid that trip -- possibly a very good sign for the Wildcats. Of the five finalists on Fuller's list, UA and Nebraska employ the offenses most comparable to his prep team. Rodriguez may have a leg up on Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini though, in that Rodriguez-coached quarterbacks traditionally have more passing opportunities than Nebraska's option snap-takers.
The Pistol formation Rick Neuheisel was slowly introducing at UCLA fits Fuller's style, and the Bruins are among his finalists. However, Jim Mora assumed the reins there last month, and brought over former Arizona State offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. The combination of Mora's NFL background and Mazzone's pass-happy sets are a deviation from Neuheisel's philosophy.
Another finalist, TCU, runs a shotgun spread built around a passing quarterback akin to Brock Osweiler in Mazzone's scheme. Casey Pachall flourished as the Horned Frogs' quarterback this past season, and returns for his junior season in 2012. The 6-foot Fuller might not fit the more typically sized quarterback mold needed for these offenses, and as a standout free safety at NVHS, could convert to the secondary. If quarterback is his goal, that's certainly another boon to UA's chances.
RU was considered the frontrunner at the beginning of the week, but that predates Schiano's departure. The Scarlet Knights do still have two advantages, though: RU is the only East Coast university on the list, and the Piscataway campus is all of 54 miles from Old Tappan. Furthermore, RU recruiting guru Jeff Hafley is still in Rutgers' employ. Hafley has been the driving force behind Fuller's recruitment.
A possible pitch for Rodriguez is giving Fuller a taste of the East Coast in the Old Pueblo. That's because the new Wildcat staff is heavily rooted in the East. Aside from West Virginia-native Rodriguez, UA has Easterners Tony Dews, Tony Gibson, Jeff Casteel, and perhaps most importantly, co-offensive coordinator Rod Smith. The Franklin, W.V., native is one of the key recruiters in the chase for four-star rated Fuller.
Stay tuned, as this commitment would be Rodriguez's second recruiting splash of signing season and could prove to be the Wildcats' answer post-Matt Scott. And if he lands in Tucson, UA fans just might have Schiano to thank.