Fire

Football recruiting never ends

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Football recruiting never ends

Football recruiting never ends. Neither does the process of evaluating prospects, determining the four-star players from the three-star players, the Big 10 players from the MAC players, separating the difference-makers from everyone else.

Tom Lemming has been doing it for 32 years, before the Internet and texting and emailing and cell phones and national signing day and recruiting services and junior days and summer camps and ESPNU and EdgyTim and Rivals and Scout and message boards.

"What has changed is Internet and cell phones. I still do what I did 32 years ago. I go to schools and meet with the kids, the same thing that NFL scouts do," said Lemming, the Chicago-based recruiting analyst for CBS Sports Network. "I pattern myself after NFL scouts. How can you evaluate a kid by talking to him on the phone? All major sports evaluate in person.

Lemming's game plan is like no other. He evaluates players the same way today as he did in 1978. Through a series of coast-to-coast trips covering four months and 49 states, including Hawaii, he personally meets with 2,000 players and their coaches. He watches them play and work out. He looks at their game film. And he talks to them eye-to-eye, man-to-man.

"I travel, see everybody in person, watch them on film and make a decision based on what I see in person and on film," Lemming said. "Today, I just have to get my information out quicker. It is more competitive. When I started, Joe Terranova in Detroit was the only other person in the country who evaluated football talent. We started something and people picked up on it. Now hundreds and hundreds of people are involved. It has become a big business."

It isn't a science. He makes mistakes. He overlooked Barry Sanders, Kurt Warner and Drew Brees. But he was the first to give national exposure to John Elway, Randy Moss and Michael Vick.

"The more things change, the more they stay the same," Lemming said. "It all comes down to evaluating players in person and on film. Today, there are so many combines and they mainly are out to make money. Kids get very little benefit from most of them. But combines have become a big business."

Lemming already has made seven trips to evaluate members of the class of 2013. In January, he went to Nashville, Tennessee and Alabama, then to Arkansas, Texas and Arizona, where he spent three weeks at the Semper Fidelis All-America Game and combine in Phoenix.

Afterward, he made three-day trips to North Carolina, Atlanta, Georgia, and Miami, Florida.

In February, he spent two days in Iowa, then three weeks touring Kentucky, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Virginia and Cincinnati, Ohio.

Future trips are scheduled for St. Louis, Memphis, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana in March, the Midwest and East Coast in early April, then the West Coast and Hawaii. He will cover 49 states by May 5.

"It will be the earliest ever that I have covered the entire country," Lemming said. "I'm trying to get everything done earlier and publish my (300-page) magazine. I used to finish everything at the end of July. But now the deadline is mid-May. Everything has moved up."

Here are Lemming's up-to-date observations:

The class of 2013 nationally is outstanding at every position, better than 2012. Overall, it projects as a great year athletically, particularly in Chicago.

The class of 2013 in Illinois could be the best since 1986. There are outstanding prospects all over the state. Peoria has three big-time players. Joliet Catholic running back Ty Isaac if the No. 1 player. There are several others -- Crete-Monee's LaQuon Treadwell, Bolingbrook's Aaron Bailey, St. Francis' Kyle Bosch, Lemont's Ethan Pocic, Peoria Manual's Logan Tuley-Tillman and Maine South's Matt Alviti -- could be No. 2.

Isaac is the No. 1 player in Illinois, the No. 1 player in the Midwest and maybe the No. 1 running back in the country. He has great size, speed and vision. He also demonstrated great production against outstanding competition in 2011. As long as he stays healthy, he likely will be ranked among the top 25 in the nation.

Tuley-Tillman is as good as Bosch, Pocic and Colin McGovern of Lincoln-Way West among the state's leading offensive linemen. If he was in Chicago, he might be the No. 1 offensive lineman of all. Athletically, he could be the most gifted of all. He is raw but his ceiling is higher than everyone else. He and Bosch are committed to Michigan.

Can you remember the last time Peoria had three big-time football prospects in the same season? Tuley-Tillman, running back Kendrick Foster of Peoria Richwoods and 6-foot-5, 280-pound defensive lineman Josh Augusta of Peoria Central are top 100 candidates.

Robert Nkemdiche, a 6-foot-5, 260-pound defensive end from Loganville, Georgia, is the No. 1 player in the country. Lemming describes him as "the next Reggie White." He rates Nkemdiche as good or better than last year's No. 1 prospect, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who went to South Carolina.

"Only time will tell if he can match Reggie White's intensity," Lemming said. "Talent-wise, he has exceptional feet and explosiveness. He may be leaning to Alabama because his high school coach played at Alabama." Nkemdiche also is considering USC, LSU, Florida, Oregon, Tennessee and Auburn.

Derrick Henry of Yulee, Florida, is a 6-foot-3, 241-pound running back who looks like a defensive end. He is committed to Georgia. He is one of the top three or four running backs in the nation, in a class with Ty Isaac.

The top five players Lemming has observed so far are Nkemdiche, 6-foot-2, 228-pound linebacker Ruben Foster of La Grange, Georgia, 6-foot-4, 190-pound wide receiver Ahmad Fulwood of Jacksonville, Florida, 6-foot-5, 220-pound quarterback Tyrone Swoopes of Whitewright, Texas, and running back Derrick Green of Richmond, Virginia.

Foster is committed to Alabama and Swoopes is committed to Texas.
Fulwood has offers from Alabama and Ohio State. Green has more than 22 offers, including Alabama, Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma, USC and Wisconsin.

Tuley-Tillman, Bosch and Pocic aside, the No. 1 offensive lineman in the nation is 6-foot-6, 280-pound Laremy Tunsil of Lake City, Florida. He has several offers, including Alabama, USC, Florida, Florida State, Michigan, Miami, Notre Dame, Texas and Tennessee.

USL expansion team with proposed 20,000-seat stadium on North Side could be significant for soccer in Chicago

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USL expansion team with proposed 20,000-seat stadium on North Side could be significant for soccer in Chicago

Stadium talk is always circling around Major League Soccer and that goes double for the Chicago Fire, which has been criticized for playing in suburban Bridgeview since Toyota Park opened in 2006.

That's why the Chicago Tribune's story about a United Soccer League expansion team playing at a proposed 20,000-seat stadium with a retractable roof in Chicago is such a big deal. According to the report and confirmed by a USL spokesperson, real estate developer Sterling Bay has purchased the rights to a USL expansion team. The stated goal is to begin play in 2020.

The details of the stadium are not finalized so the features and capacity could still change.

The proposed location of the stadium is along the North Branch of the Chicago River between the Lincoln Park neighborhood and the Kennedy Expressway. The stadium was previously mentioned as part of Sterling Bay's bid to bring Amazon's second headquarters to Chicago. Apparently, the stadium being built is not contingent on Amazon coming to Chicago.

Further information from Sterling Bay said that "announcements on ownership and team structure will come at a later date." The team does not yet have a name, but fans will be included in the naming process.

A 20,000-seat stadium and a retractable roof will make for a fancy and impressive, but also expensive venue and a USL team as a primary tenant may prove difficult to justify the cost. The location itself would be an easier sell to draw in fans than Toyota Park out in Bridgeview. However, minor league soccer may not excite local residents in large number.

The USL had 30 teams in 2017 with eight more teams planned to join by 2019. This past season, only two USL teams averaged above 10,000 in attendance: FC Cincinnati and Sacramento Republic FC. Both of those are prime MLS expansion candidates and Cincinnati beat the Fire in the U.S. Open Cup in front of 32,287 fans in June.

Many USL clubs are either owned/operated by MLS teams or are affiliated with an MLS team. The Fire switched from Saint Louis FC to the Tulsa Roughnecks as its affiliated club in 2017, sending players to Tulsa to gain playing time as opposed to sitting on the bench with the Fire.

According to the Tribune's story, the stadium would also try to attract other events such as international soccer matches, college football, college basketball and concerts. Rugby and lacrosse were also named in documentation sent by Sterling Bay. Sterling Bay has also yet to present formal plans and still needs to gain zoning approval.

At the Fire's end of the season media availability on Nov. 7, general manager Nelson Rodriguez was asked about the proposed stadium and if he or MLS had been contacted about it.

“I can’t speak about MLS," Rodriguez said. "I don’t know if they have or have not. I have not. I haven’t spoken, been approached by anyone. I’m not sure I would be the person they approach or speak to, but I’m not aware of any conversations.”

The Fire moving to this stadium could be an ideal solution for both parties. An MLS team with an existing fan base would have an easier time drawing big crowds. Boosted by the arrival of Bastian Schweinsteiger and a team that made the playoffs for the first time since 2012, the Fire drew crowds of 20,000 or more six times in 2017. The regular season average of 17,383 was the highest since moving to Toyota Park and highest since the club's inaugural, championship-winning season in 1998.

However, things aren't that simple. The Fire are locked into a 30-year lease with Bridgeview and Toyota Park, which the Fire have played in since 2006. Getting out of that would require a significant buyout or a breach of contract.

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

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USA TODAY

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 12 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Oklahoma (10-1)

Still the team with the best resume in the country, no one can compete with OU’s wins over TCU, Ohio State and Oklahoma State, the latter two coming away from Norman. Baker Mayfield might not be a choir boy, but he’s the best player in the nation.

2. Miami (10-0)

You might think that being down 28-14 to Virginia in the second half was cringe-worthy, but the Canes made up for things by storming back with 30 unanswered points. Now they finally have to go away from South Florida for the first time since almost losing to North Carolina last month.

3. Alabama (11-0)

Tide gonna roll. But this Cupcake Weekend in the SEC has got to stop. While teams in other conferences are slugging it out against rivals, Bama gets to take a day off against Mercer? It’s just not fair. Also, Bama’s schedule is so soft, there’s no way it deserves to be the No. 1 team in the country.

4. Georgia (10-1)

The Dawgs should wrap an 11-1 regular season this weekend against Georgia Tech. But the SEC title game presents a kind of no-win scenario: undefeated Alabama or Auburn, who throttled Georgia earlier this month.

5. Wisconsin (11-0)

You didn’t need Wisconsin to do what it did to Iowa and Michigan to prove it had one of the best defenses in the country — but that sure didn’t help. Stockpiling national love with those two wins, a win in the Big Ten title game figures to make the Badgers a Playoff lock.

6. Clemson (10-1)

Why’d Kelly Bryant have to go and get hurt for that Syracuse game? The Tigers would be No. 1 and the undisputed best team in the country. Still, though, a win over Miami in the ACC title game ought to get the champs back into the Playoff.

7. Auburn (9-2)

Great job pounding Louisiana-Monroe, Tigers. You shall not escape the wrath over Cupcake Weekend in the SEC. That dumb game aside, Auburn and Alabama will meet in a titanic Iron Bowl this weekend with a trip to the SEC title game on the line — and perhaps a Playoff spot, as well.

8. Ohio State (9-2)

Not that pummeling Illinois is any big deal, but the Buckeyes are still alive in this thing and look like a team capable of making some Playoff noise. First, Ohio State has to win The Game and then the Big Ten title game to knock out undefeated Wisconsin.

9. Notre Dame (9-2)

Out of the Playoff chase thanks to that loss at Miami, Notre Dame squeaked by Navy this past weekend. Hope a New Year’s Six bowl game is enough for the Irish. We know it’s not enough for those ND fans. So maybe join a conference? Just saying.

10. TCU (9-2)

The Frogs can still make their mark on the Playoff race, even if they can’t get in themselves. The Big 12 title game will almost surely be TCU’s attempt at revenge on Oklahoma. Unfortunately, if revenge does come, it will probably cannibalize the conference’s Playoff hopes, too.

11. Penn State (9-2)

Why Penn State gave up 44 points to Nebraska, I do not know. What I do know is that probably no one cared because Penn State is going to go down as the most inconsequential 10-2 team of all-time. Such a bummer considering the preseason expectations for both the team and Saquon Barkley.

12. USC (10-2)

Yeah, I guess there’s still a way for USC to make the Playoff, but it’s hard to imagine that madness unfolding, even in the oft-mad college football. The Trojans get the winner of the Apple Cup in the Pac-12 title game.

13. UCF (10-0)

Finally we get our much-anticipated UCF-USF showdown this weekend. Make it count, Knights. This is probably gonna be Scott Frost’s last regular-season game in Orlando.

14. Washington (9-2)

It’s hard to say who has the edge in the Apple Cup, but certainly the stakes are high, with the winner going off to play USC in the Pac-12 title game. Can either team make the Playoff? Well, probably not, no.

15. Washington State (9-2)

Is this it for Mike Leach on The Palouse? He could be a hot candidate this offseason and leave for perceived greener pastures. Winning the Apple Cup would go a long way toward making that happen.

16. Mississippi State (8-3)

A win in the Egg Bowl means a 9-3 regular season for the Bulldogs with their three losses coming against three top-10 teams.

17. Oklahoma State (8-3)

Poor Okie State has been so good all year and had two losses to the two best teams in its conference, and then it went and lost to K-State for some ridiculous reason. The Mullet deserved better in 2017.

18. Northwestern (8-3)

The Cats are the fourth-best team in the Big Ten, simple as that, with wins over Michigan State and Iowa and conference losses to Wisconsin and Penn State. As commendable an effort as you’ll find in a highly competitive league. Plus, Fitz’s team is on a six-game win streak that could end up extending to eight.

19. Stanford (8-3)

Already with a win over Washington, Stanford could close the regular season with two wins over top-10 teams in its final three games. Also Bryce Love is back in the groove after back-to-back 100-yard games.

20. Memphis (9-1)

The Tigers have lost just one game all season, to the best Group of Five team out there. Heck of a season by Memphis.

21. Michigan State (8-3)

A 17-7 win over Maryland couldn't have been the most exciting way for anyone to spend their weekend. Sparty's had a mighty fine season, though, considering how badly things went in 2016.

22. LSU (8-3)

The SEC has seemingly gotten increasingly better as the year has progressed, with LSU and Mississippi State making for a solid-enough middle tier. But remember when LSU lost to Troy? That wasn’t good.

23. South Florida (9-1)

If not for that loss to Houston, USF’s showdown with UCF this weekend would be for Group of Five supremacy. Even without that, though, this should be a highly entertaining affair.

24. Virginia Tech (8-3)

The Hokies have a chance to salvage their tumble at the close of the season with a win at Virginia. But given how well the Cavs played at Miami this past weekend, a VT win is no sure thing.

25. Iowa State (7-4)

I understand the math and all, but can't the Big 12 just suspend its rules and send Iowa State to the title game? We all want to see the OU-ISU rematch. Why are you preventing us from being happy, Big 12?