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May 28, 2012

Prospects not often swayed by realignment

The topic comes up often when Rivals250 tight end Christian Morgan walks the halls of Plano (Texas) Prestonwood Christian Academy.

After all, realignment's a pretty hard subject to avoid for any recruit, let alone one in Morgan's position.

Morgan's a four-star prospect who has Florida State high on his list of potential schools. He also lives in the heart of Big 12 country. So the rumors linking Florida State to the Big 12 naturally have caused Morgan's friends and classmates to imagine the possibilities.

"Definitely, I hear about it all the time," Morgan said. "Everybody's real excited about how if I did go over there, a Baylor fan or a Texas fan could come out to see me play in Texas and also could see me play in Florida, too.''

Even though Morgan said a move to the Big 12 definitely would represent a major plus for Florida State, he didn't necessarily think it would influence his decision. Other prospects seem to feel the same way about realignment.

They definitely pay attention to the rumors, but conference affiliation isn't necessarily foremost on their minds when they're making their college choices.

"I don't know if it makes a difference in my decision," Morgan said. "For me, it's about fit with the players, coaching staff and system."

Even prospects who would seem adversely affected by realignment don't seem bothered by all these conference switches.

For instance, Jersey City (N.J.) St. Peter's Prep all-purpose athlete Brandon Napoleon committed to West Virginia in the summer of 2011. At the time, Napoleon figured he'd get plenty of opportunities to play relatively close to home when West Virginia went on the road to face Big East rivals Syracuse and Rutgers.

Since then, Syracuse has announced it's on its way to the ACC and West Virginia has left for the Big 12. Instead of playing road games in the Northeast, West Virginia will be heading west to play thousands of miles from Napoleon's home.

That didn't stop Napoleon from signing with West Virginia anyway.

"I just think football's football," Napoleon said. "West Virginia has a tradition of playing great competition and always doing well. So I figured it didn't matter to me - Big 12, Big Ten or staying in the Big East."

The same goes for 2012 Florida State signee Ronald Darby of Oxon Hill (Md.) Potomac and 2013 Florida State recruit E.J. Levenberry Jr. of Woodbridge (Va.) C.D. Hylton. Even though both live in the heart of ACC country, neither said he would mind if the Seminoles joined the Big 12.

If Florida State moves from the ACC to the Big 12, it wouldn't necessarily be sacrificing much of a recruiting base on the East Coast. Florida State recruits Georgia heavily - something that's unlikely to change even if the Seminoles were to leave the ACC - but it actually has signed more players from Texas than the ACC states of Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia combined over the last five years.
TexasPos.High schoolYear
Dustin HopkinsKHouston Clear Lake2009
Will SecordQBFrisco Wakeland2009
Holmes OnwukaifeLBCedar Park2010
Colin BlakeCBSan Antonio Brandeis2012
Mario EdwardsDT/DEDenton Ryan2012
MD/NC/SC/VAPos.High schoolYear
Everett DawkinsDEDuncan (S.C.) Byrnes2008
E.J. ManuelQBVirginia Beach (Va.) Bayside2008
Justin BrightSDuncan (S.C.) Byrnes2009
Ronald DarbyCBOxon Hill (Md.) Potomac2012
"It doesn't really matter," Darby said. "I have no problems with the Big 12."

Levenberry said he was picking a school and not a conference when he made his choice.

"I love Florida State," Levenberry said. "Wherever they play is where I'm going to play."

If anything, Levenberry seemed to prefer the idea of playing in the Big 12. He noted that he initially considered Oklahoma in part because of his appreciation of that conference. He also thinks his game suits the Big 12's pass-first mentality.

"I have the ability to cover running backs and receivers," Levenberry said. "Playing in the Big 12 - that's a passing league - I'd be able to show my skills."

A move to the Big 12 wouldn't necessarily change Florida State's recruiting approach. Over the last five years, Florida State has signed more players from Texas (five) than from the states of Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia combined.

Florida State does recruit Georgia very heavily, but its proximity to the Georgia border assures that the Seminoles will continue drawing players from the Peach State whether or not they're in the same conference as Georgia Tech.

Only time will tell whether a move to the Big 12 affects West Virginia's recruiting, though the Mountaineers have made much more of an a recent effort to pursue Texas prospects. The Mountaineers' recruiting base remains Florida as well as the states that border West Virginia. How many of those Florida prospects will care that West Virginia and USF aren't league rivals anymore?

The fact that West Virginia's in the Big 12 and Florida State may be considering a similar move suggests that geography isn't much of a factor in conference realignment. And apparently when it comes to recruiting, the geographic fallout of realignment isn't much of an issue either.

Consider the case of Klein (Texas) Oak linebacker A.J. Hilliard. As a Texas resident, he was quite happy when TCU abandoned plans to join the Big East and moved to the Big 12 instead. But that didn't play a role in his decision to sign with TCU.

"It actually didn't have any effect," Hilliard said. "I thought that was great, that TCU ended up in the Big 12 because it's a great conference with great competition. It was great they had the opportunity to go there. ... For a few years, I wanted TCU to offer me. I really wanted to go to TCU. And that was before the Big 12 was even in question."

Now another team's potential move to the Big 12 may or may not influence one more Texas prospect's decision.

Morgan says he plans to make a verbal commitment sometime before his senior year. His interest in Florida State arose long before the initial reports linking the Seminoles to the Big 12. And his decision won't depend on whether those rumors turn to reality.

"Florida State's a program I like no matter what conference they're in," Morgan said. "But it's definitely exciting thinking about being able to go farther away and yet still being able to come back and play around here too."

Steve Megargee is the national college columnist for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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