Will landing elite quarterback Gunner Kiel turn Indiana's perennially struggling football program into a powerhouse?
All things seem possible after the Columbus (Ind.) East senior quarterback orally committed to the Hoosiers. He is rated as the nation's No. 1 pro-style quarterback in the Class of 2012 according to Rivals.com, a national Internet recruiting service.
The 6-4, 220-pound Kiel picked IU over Oklahoma, Alabama and Missouri, among others. Rivals.com national football recruiting analyst Mike Farrell called it the biggest recruiting upset in more than a decade.
“I can't remember a top quarterback of this caliber committing to a program like Indiana that has been on the bottom of the Big Ten for many years,” Farrell said.
Kiel went with new IU coach Kevin Wilson, whose ability to develop quarterbacks and potent offenses made a huge impact. So did the opportunity to play with his older brother, Dusty, an IU redshirt sophomore who has a shot at becoming the starting quarterback this season.
Wilson was the offensive coordinator for the 2008 Oklahoma team that set NCAA records for most points in a season (716) and most consecutive 60-point games (five). That team was directed by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Sam Bradford, who now starts for the NFL's St. Louis Rams.
Last year Kiel threw for 2,645 yards and 36 touchdowns, with just six interceptions. He also rushed for 600 yards and 10 TDs. He is not a dual-threat quarterback in the manner of, say, Michael Vick of the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles, but he is more in line with Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger
“Indiana is getting a pro-style quarterback with great size,” Farrell said. “He can move a little, but that's not his strength. He has the ability to get outside the pocket. He's a big kid. He's hard to bring down. He has a strong arm and makes all the throws. I like the way he reads defense. He's a good leader. That's why he's (the) No. 1 quarterback in the country.”
Kiel was solid during last week's Elite 11 Camp in California, which featured some of the nation's top prep quarterbacks.
“This is a kid who wanted the right fit, who wanted to be with a great quarterback coach, a great offensive mind,” Farrell said via a Rivals.com video. “That's what Kevin Wilson is. What he did with Northwestern and especially Oklahoma with Sam Bradford really stuck with the Kiel family. (Kiel) knew he would play right away. They could build program. It's local. It's home. He could be a trendsetter.”
Farrell said this might be the biggest recruiting coup in IU history. Despite the Hoosiers' tradition of losing football — only one winning season since 1994 — they have recruited some outstanding players. That includes Parade All-America tailback Anthony Thompson (he was the 1989 Heisman Trophy runner-up and is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame), quarterback Antwaan Randle El (the 2001 Big Ten MVP and former receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers), Parade All-America quarterback Dave Schnell (the nation's No. 1 player in 1985 according to Sports Illustrated) and 1993 Parade All-America lineman Bo Barzilauskas.
Landing such a high-profile recruit could draw other top prospects to IU, or at least get them to give the Hoosiers stronger consideration.
“High-profile prospects want to play with other high-profile guys,” Farrell said.
What does this mean for Dusty Kiel and Tre Roberson, last year's Indiana Mr. Football as a standout dual-threat quarterback?
Assuming Gunner Kiel wins the position battle next season, and Wilson won't just hand it to him, everybody else will have to settle for backup status or switch positions, perhaps wide receiver.
But that's a debate for another day.
Kiel is the 14th player to commit to IU and the second ranked in the top 10 nationally at his position. The other is Indianapolis Lawrence Central offensive lineman Wes Rogers. Players can't sign national letters of intent until February.
“(Gunner) is going to change things for the Indiana program,” Farrell said. “They might not go to BCS games, but it will change the mentality of prospects when it comes to looking at this program and deciding to look at Indiana.”